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Russo's Rants

Michael Russo gives you complete coverage of the Minnesota Wild and the NHL

With NHL's best team coming to town, heat is on Yeo

The Wild has lost 14 of 17 games in 2016 (3-10-4), 11 of the past 12 games (1-9-2), six in a row overall since Jan. 21 (0-4-2) and six straight at home since Dec. 28 (0-3-3).

“To get off the schneid,” as Mike Yeo said this morning, the Wild will have to beat the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.

The Caps: The No. 1 team in the NHL which is one win from 40 and with 84 points. The team that leads the NHL with 3.29 goals per game, ranks second with 2.25 goals allowed per game, has the NHL’s best power play at 24.4 percent and fourth-best penalty kill at 84 percent. The team with a league-best plus-56 goal differential.

The team with Alex Ovechkin, who is second in the NHL with 31 goals, second with 12 power-play goals and tied for fifth with a plus-22. The team with Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is fifth with 54 points, third with 39 assists and third with a plus-24. The team with Nicklas Backstrom, the one who plays, not the goalie who sits, who is tied for fifth with 20 power-play points.

The team with goalie Braden Holtby, who has ONE regulation loss in the past 31 games and a 34-5-3 record with a 2.08 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.

The team with T.J. Oshie, Matt Niskanen and the bubbly Nate Schmidt. #threeofus.

To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “Good luck with all that!”

Now that I lowered your expectations to the nth degree, watch the Wild win Thursday night. Maybe Ovechkin will take his teammates out on the town tonight.

The Wild had an optional practice today. Coach Mike Yeo didn’t go on the ice, nor did forwards Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Charlie Coyle. We know Koivu is banged up because he left practice a few days ago, and we can assume the same for the other two.

Yeo said all the players are good to go against the Caps.

Also, defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who said he got hurt early in the Blues game Saturday and it got progressively worse until he could go no more early in the second, practiced today. He said it’s up to the coaches whether he plays, but he thinks he’s good to return after missing Tuesday’s game against Dallas.

If he plays, one of the D would come out. Yeo indicated the Wild probably wouldn’t bring back Tyler Graovac right now because he liked the line construction in the Stars game, especially Erik Haula centering Thomas Vanek and Justin Fontaine.

Speaking of Vanek, the Wild’s 1-10 in overtime and shootouts and last night’s loss came after Vanek’s mistake.

Vanek had a huge first period, but he also made a series of mistakes in overtime starting with disregarding a line change well before his decision not to just get the puck deep and go for a change before his turnover led to a loss.

Yeo said there will be personnel changes the next time the Wild gets to overtime and “hopefully we get there a whole bunch more times and you guys get to see.”

I asked him if he regretted using Vanek,. Yeo said, “I’m not going to talk about that. Going forward, I’ve got some different ideas that we have that we’ll try and we’ll continue to do that. The one thing I’ll say is we didn’t try him a whole lot early in the year and we started to lose some games. Obviously with his skills, you think 3-on-3 is a game of skill, so that’s why we gave him an opportunity there.”

Fair enough. I’d almost guarantee one of those personnel moves will be no longer using Vanek in 3-on-3.

Yeo is under the gun right now.

I’m hearing from sources that his job is not as secure as GM Chuck Fletcher led to believe Saturday in St. Louis.

Yeo knows the pressure is on. He has met with Fletcher a lot lately.

“That’s the life of a coach in the NHL,” Yeo said. “I’ve got no problem with that. I deal with that just fine.”

He said, “I’m not going to sit around and say, ‘Poor me.’ This is not about me, this is about us, all of us together and I’ve got my job to do. The guy  have been doing their job the last couple games and if we keep going that, then we’ll be fine.”

On Zenon Konopka’s tweets on the previous blog, Yeo said, “I really don’t care what he says.” He added with a laugh, “I will say I was very disappointed to see Hoppy holding that sign.”

On a serious note, the reality is Yeo and the Wild has gone through this before. The reality is they’ve gotten out of this before, too, and usually for the better.

But it does seem like Yeo’s not able to find the right buttons to push right now and his words are bouncing off the locker-room wall.

The possible good news is the Wild has played much better the past two games, outshot and outchanced two very good teams. It has one point to show for it in those games, but quite often in losing streaks, you hear about how a coach started to see cracks in a team’s game before.

Maybe the coach is starting to see signs of the game building and a win streak on the horizon?

Yes, “We’ve got to get a win, we’ve got to back it up with another. It’s difficult to keep trying to point toward positives even though there are signs that the game has been better. With the shots that we’ve been creating and the chances that we’ve been creating, those are positive signs and we’re doing it against good teams. Those things are hard to see and hard to feel good about if you’re not winning hockey games. The way things are going, we need some things to feel good about right now.”

I’ll have more in Thursday’s paper.

Postgame: Wild's latest loss at least allows it to gain ground

I’m nothing if not Mr. Positive, so I come with good news.

The Wild still gained ground on 7th-place Nashville and 8th-place Colorado tonight with a 4-3 overtime loss to Dallas. Both of them lost in regulation, and the Wild moved within two points.

The Wild has a game in hand on the Preds, three on the Avs. But the tricky thing about “games in hand” is they’re absolutely, utterly, entirely meaningless if you NEVER, EVER WIN!!!

But I digress.

The Wild fell to 1-10 in overtimes and shootouts with tonight’s John Klingberg dagger. The Stars star defenseman scored his second OT winner against the Wild this season and the Stars’ third overall.

After Jamie Benn fed him in the high slot, Klingberg said, “I had a lot of time to aim where I wanted to shoot, so I was trying to go high and it was nice to see it go in.”

He had a lot of time because the Wild gave up an odd-man rush because Thomas Vanek finally chose to change after a 70-second shift. He had a chance to change about 20 seconds before, but instead curled right and went back into the zone.

Finally, Mikey Reilly sent him a bouncing back in the neutral zone. Tired at the end of a long shift, Vanek probably should have chipped it and change. Instead, he shoveled it to the bench saying that he thought Reilly would continue into the offensive zone. He didn’t. He changed for Marco Scandella.

So by the time the puck was turned over, that’s when Vanek finally changed for Zach Parise and the Wild was dead meat en route to a sixth consecutive overall loss since Jan. 21 (0-4-2), sixth consecutive home loss since Dec. 28 (0-3-3) and 11th loss in the past 12 games (1-9-2).

That’s the risk of using Vanek I suppose in OT. I remember in a training camp scrimmage, Vanek scored a 3-on-3 goal and I noted it on Twitter and then commented that I wasn’t too sure how much we’d see Vanek in 3-on-3 though.

After all, 3-on-3 is about speed. I asked Yeo though, and he pointed out to me that 3-on-3 is also about skill and scoring.

Fair enough. But this is not the first time Vanek had an OT shift where you had to hold your breath this season. It’s just amazing how many of the Wild’s eight 3-on-3 losses this season can be pinned on a veteran either overextending his shift or a bad change.

When I asked Yeo about using Vanek in overtime after tonight’s game, he didn’t want to go there.

Regardless, this was a game the Wild very easily could have won. Trailing 3-2 heading into the third, the Wild had one heck of a push after Mikko Koivu’s power-play goal to snap a 17-game drought 1:44 in.

The Wild had the period’s first 12 shots and outshot the Stars 17-4 in the period.

“They got us on our heels,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We got caught in a couple of long shifts; one time, we had three different players from three different lines. It’s why I used the timeout to try and gather ourselves and get going. I thought the last seven minutes, we got ourselves going in the right direction. But they’re a desperate team, we knew they’d be desperate. I thought they started off well, I thought we had a pretty good push in the middle of the game and they had a pretty strong push at the start of the third. That power-play goal gave them some life. Sometimes you have to survive through a team’s push and I thought we did.”

And that’s the thing. The Wild pushed and couldn’t cash in more than the once. And that proved costly yet again.

Up 1-0 and 2-1, the Wild blew a pair of one-goal leads, which I supposed is nothing compared to the 2- and 3-goal leads the Wild blew to the Stars at home in separate losses earlier this season.

But what’s concerning is even though the Wild has shown positive signs of getting out of this thing the past two games, defensively, it’s giving up goals left and right. The Wild has allowed 17 goals in the past four games and at least four goals in a game in five of the past six.

Of course, tonight was behind a very undermanned blue line with Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin hurt. Ryan Suter logged 33 minutes, 15 seconds.

The Wild outchanced the Stars for the most part, outshot them 40-30 and attempted 68 shots with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter combining for 21 attempts.

“We’re playing better,” Parise said. “We’re not getting results, so that’s a problem. I think we’re playing with a little more enthusiasm, a little more jam, and that’s a good sign.”

For a second loss in a row, Yeo went looking for the positives after this one. He feels the Wild’s taking steps in the right direction.

“It’s very easy right now to find negatives. It’s extremely easy,” he said. “But nothing easy is going to get us out of this. It’s a concern, if you look at that game, for sure there were some opportunities to point out some things that were not good enough, but it’s another step compared to the last game. Unfortunately …. We’re not all about moral victories and we’re not all about trying to just point out the positives and deflect against what’s real, but truth of the matter is, that’s the only way out of this.

“The fight that we had in the third period, that was great. That hasn’t been there for us lately. We went after it. We went out, tied the game up and obviously had great opportunities to take the lead, as well. Second period, obviously not good enough, but I think we addressed what was going wrong there and that’s what we have to combat right now. You have in a shift in your mind where you go from, ‘Let’s go win this game,’ to, ‘Oh boy, I hope we don’t lose it.’ When that happens, you start watching and you start reacting. I think that was the case in the second period.”

The Wild has been outscored 10-2 in the past four second periods.

“I put a quote on the board tonight,” Yeo said. “It kind of reflects where we’re at right now. Tough times, they don’t last, but tough people do. That’s what we have to do right now. And this is how we’ve gotten ourselves out of it before. There have been many times before where it felt like the end of the world, and I can sit here and point to a lot of different times where the season was on the line, regular season, playoffs, whatever, and we responded. That’s what we have to do again. We only got one of the two points tonight, but we gained a point on Nashville [and Colorado], and these are little things that we’ll keep building. If we can stay strong and continue to get stronger in our game and continue to have a chance and outshoot teams, we will win.”

Erik Haula scored a goal and assist. Justin Fontaine scored his first goal since Dec. 5. Vanek had two assists. That line was going early.

Vanek and Fontaine always seem to have chemistry and Yeo told Haula the other say, “If he keeps going like this, I don’t want to take him out because he’s playing very well. I've been happy with his game – Another positive for us. The speed, obviously, and the second goal, it’s coming back and doing the right things on our end and it’s countering and that’s a little more glimpse of Minnesota Wild hockey.”

In Wednesday's Star Tribune, check out my gamer, Alex Tuch notebook, Chip Scoggins' column, Jason Gonzalez' digital inclusions from the TCF Bank Stadium move-in by the NHL and a live blog with videos he did during tonight's game with fans.

Check out the latest Russo-Souhan Show right here. Lots of honesty in here (or opinion) on the Wild.

Lastly, you will see this Wednesday, but former Wild enforcer Zenon Konopka took two big Twitter potshots at Mike Yeo after tonight's loss. It blew up after. All I can tell you is that Konopka and Yeo had a lot of issues behind the scenes and that's why he ended up on waivers two Januarys ago right before it erupted in the second half.

So, there's a lot of history there.

But, I include the tweets because it exploded bigtime on Twitter tonight and because the lovable Hoppy makes an appearance (here's a Konopka feature I once wrote).

TV Listings

Local Schedule

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  • Toronto at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Michigan at Gophers men's basketball

    8 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Nebraska at Gophers women's basketball

    7 pm on 1500-AM

  • Washington at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers men's hockey at Ohio State

    5:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Minnesota Duluth

    7:07 pm

  • Boston at Wild

    1 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Minnesota Duluth

    4:07 pm

  • Gophers men's hockey at Ohio State

    6 pm on 1500-AM

  • Gophers men's basketball at Iowa

    6:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Iowa at Gophers women's basketball

    7 pm on BTN, 88.5-FM

  • Wild at Vancouver

    9 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

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