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

Postgame: Yeo says, 'Same story. Here we are again'

Update: The Wild placed Jordan Schroeder on waivers Sunday. He'll be assigned to Iowa on Monday if he clears. He scored one goal and had 11 shots in 11 games.

When the coach himself walks into his postgame press conference and unsolicited alludes to the fact that the Wild could be in the beginning stages of another winter swoon, it’s safe to say this will be the story line for a few days or at a minimum until the Wild figures out a way to break out of this skid.

“It’s the same story. Here we are again,” coach Mike Yeo said.

Again, Yeo volunteered that to start his presser. He wasn’t responding to a reporter’s question. I only point this out so fans or players don’t think this is a media driven story line. This is Yeo’s fifth year as the Wild coach. In only three of those years were there late Novembers and Decembers because the 2012-13 lockout wiped out November and December that season.

So in those three previous three seasons (2009-10, 2013-14 and 2014-15), the Wild fell apart starting in either late November or December.

Yeo said tonight, “It’s the same story. Here we go again.”

After tonight’s third-period collapse and 4-3 overtime loss to Dallas, the Wild is 1-4-2 in its past seven now and 0-2-1 in the final three games of a four-game homestand that if you recall started so well with a shutout over Nashville.

With the Wild up 3-0 on goals by Thomas Vanek, Charlie Coyle, and yes, Jason Pominville for the first time in 22 games, Alex Goligoski got it started early in the period right after the Wild killed off a Ryan Suter cross-checking penalty. The Wild then got a golden opportunity to regain its three-goal lead or at least reestablish momentum, and Mikael Granlund coughed up the puck twice, the final one resulting in a Jamie Benn shorthanded dagger. There’s a reason he leads the NHL with 18 goals.

Finally, with 5:43 left, John Klingberg, who leads all NHL D in scoring, slid left and walked the blue line like all gifted offensive defenseman can do. He then wristed a seeing-eye puck through traffic for the tying goal. In OT, Benn set up Tyler Seguin’s winner with 1:03 left after Darcy Kuemper, who stopped 40 of 44 shots, stopped Benn on a 2-on-1 and Patrick Sharp hit iron after Granlund first refused to shoot point-blank, then turned the puck over.

The Wild’s best OT scoring chance came on a Suter shot. Jason Zucker’s rebound stab somehow didn’t get by Antti Niemi and then Mikko Koivu missed the net.

The Wild lost at home when leading by three goals in the third for the first time since Jan. 31, 2012 vs. Nashville (lost 5-4 in regulation). The last time the Wild allowed three third-period goals in a loss/OT/shootout loss at home was Dec. 29, 2013, vs. the Islanders.

Those two previous notes are according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

This was the Wild’s first blown three-goal lead at home for a loss since March 11, 2014 (vs. Edmonton, up 3-0 in the first, lost in a shootout, 4-3). And I’m sure you remember, this is the first blown three-goal lead for a loss overall since Oct. 27, 2014, at the Rangers (up 3-0 in the third, lost 5-4).

If you thought Yeo ripped into the team after Friday’s loss to Winnipeg, that was nothing compared tonight.

I’ll do a follow for Monday’s paper with a lot of the stuff you’re going to read now because the Wild has Sunday off, but Yeo opened his presser my just saying we “might as well just take some of my quotes from last year at this time and use those.”

When I asked which quotes, Yeo said, “Not very happy probably. It’s the same story. Here we are again.”

“Boy, what a great 21 minutes and [11] seconds we played. That’s great,” he said, sarcastically, next. “Too bad the game didn’t end there. It doesn’t.”

So how does a team get a 3-0 lead on a goal by Pominville that should have lifted the team even further and then give up 19 second-period shots, have their bacon saved by Kuemper stopping all of them and then still collapse in the third?

“Well first off, losing battles,” Yeo said. “You look at how many one-on-one battles were lost all over the ice. They had the puck an awful lot more than we did. In order to have the puck, you have to do certain things in position. But there’s 50-50 pucks that they came up with. No. 2 we scored three goals and were far more concerned about getting the fourth and who’s going to get it and, ‘I want my goal,’ than we were about making sure we don’t give up the next one.”

On the Granlund power-play turnovers that changed everything, Yeo said, “It was coming. It was coming right from the second period. Tried to talk about it in between periods, but not quite, … you know.”

On the fact that the December swoon will now be a story line, Yeo interrupted and said, “It should be. How do we stop it? You win hockey games. You make plays for 60 minutes that win hockey games. They were more determined to play their game than we were. It was more important and they stayed with it, so credit for them. Great job. That’s why they’re in first place, that’s why we’re not. We talk about, we’re a good team and everything, the teams at the end of the year, they’re not the most talented teams, they’re the teams that play their game and buy in and do the things the right way night after night after night regardless of who you’re playing against, where you’re playing, what the circumstances are, and for whatever reason, we get to this time of the year, and whether we think we’re good enough, I don’t know. I’m not sure why and we haven’t been able to get to the bottom of it. But we’ll see. We’re either going to decide if we’re going to be a good team or a decent team. I think we’re all a little bit tired of being a decent team, but the only way to do that is to be better in our team game than the other team.”

Like I said, please don’t be upset when you read that stuff again in Monday’s paper. I wasn’t able to squeeze all that into Sunday’s and had to save some stuff.

Suter said, “It’s disappointing. We played well the first two periods and then we sat back, and that’s what happens when you sit back against a team like that. You knew they were going to come. You knew they were going to have a push. And they did.”

Asked why they tend to sit back, Suter said it’s just a natural, maybe unconscious thing in hockey: “You get up and you want to just defend. You don’t think about playing offense and making them defend. Every hockey team that gets up, that’s the same situation. We have to learn from it. It’s disappointing, but it does no good to sit here and dwell on it.”
With Justin Fontaine back tonight for the first time in 12 games, the Vanek-Coyle-Fontaine was reunited and they were great early.

Vanek scored his team-leading 10th goal. To put that in perspective, on Nov. 28 last season in the Wild’s 22nd game as well, Vanek scored his second goal. He didn’t reach 10 last season until Feb. 1.

One shift after Vanek scored on a seeing-eye knuckler from the left circle through Fontaine and Jonas Brodin screens, Vanek made an unbelievable pass to spring Fontaine and Coyle for a 2-on-1.

The line was just getting warmed up. Coyle made it 2-0 after Fontaine picked off Valeri Nichushkin’s risky drop pass in the defensive zone. Fontaine then dived to create a 2-on-1 for Vanek and Coyle.

With only defenseman Patrick Nemeth back, Vanek faked a shot on Antti Niemi and crossed a perfect feed to Coyle, who buried his sixth goal.

“We played good for the most part the first 40 minutes,” Vanek said. “That’s a good team over there, and there’s a reason they have 17, 18 wins. They kept coming and ultimately I think our power play, instead of gaining momentum when we’re up two goals, lost it for us.”

Vanek said the room was “pretty quiet” after. There’s not much you can say. Most of the guys have been around and know that’s not good enough, not acceptable.”
Early in the second, after the Wild killed off a power play by the team that owns the West’s most prolific one, Chris Porter forced Seguin into a turnover. Granlund fed Pominville along the right wall at the blue line.

Pominville skated to the top of the right circle and put every ounce of power he had into a shot that blew over top of Niemi. Pominville, who has scored 238 career goals and two years ago led the Wild with 30, didn’t even smile but got a very cool congratulations from Granlund.

The goal came one game after Yeo played Pominville 12 minutes, 11 seconds, to try to cajole him out of monster slump. It was the lowest ice time Pominville has logged in four seasons with the Wild (excluding injury.

Pominville said after the game it was a huge relief and I’ll try to put more from Pominville on the goal in Monday’s paper. Parise kiddingly motioned to Pominville if he should get the puck as a keepsake. Parise said he was just trying to make light of it, and Pominville said even in practices guys have been making similar jokes when he scores. He said it was a cool feeling to see how happy his teammates were doing his fly-by.

Unfortunately, it all went for naught.

Pominville mostly felt bad for Kuemper, saying the team wasted his effort.

Kuemper deserved better tonight. He faced 44 shots, stopped all 19 in the second, only faced seven in the first when the Wild did what Yeo told them to do and protected him early and played with purpose early. Unfortunately for the Wild, it didn’t protect him or play with purpose late.

“I think we got away a little bit from what was making us successful in the first,” Kuemper said. “We were on the cycle, getting pucks deep and controlling a lot of possession, and we got away from that a bit once we got up and I think they kind of sensed that and took advantage of it.
“It’s really frustrating. It was there for us and obviously one point is not what you should be coming away from there.”

Not much more I can say on this one. It’s after midnight and I should get out of this empty press box.

But buckle up, folks. As player after player said after this game as you’ll read in Monday’s paper, we’ll see what these guys are made of now. They don’t want to once again put itself in position where it needs a miracle second half like the past two seasons to save its behinds and make the playoffs.

The whole objective this season was not to do this yet again. Now, as Yeo said, “Same story. Here we are again.”

The calendar's about to turn to December, and the Wild's one point up on 9th-place Vancouver.

After the game, Gustav Olofsson and Kurtis Gabriel were reassigned. Marco Scandella is expected to return Tuesday in Chicago. If not, it’ll likely recall Olofsson again. Also, Jordan Schroeder ended up playing tonight because Ryan Carter had what the team called an “upper lower-body injury,” so likely groin or hip or something.

He did take part in warmups, so perhaps it’s not too serious.

Talk to you Monday unless there’s news Sunday.

Justin Fontaine returns to Wild, Darcy Kuemper starts vs. Stars

Wild and the Central Division-leading Dallas Stars tonight.

The Stars are the best team in the conference, won six of seven including an OT win over the Wild, have scored the most goals in the conference and have the best power play in the conference.

Wild should try to avoid the penalty box tonight since it owns the NHL’s 29th-ranked penalty kill and 30th-ranked penalty kill at home. It is expected to get penalty-killer Justin Fontaine, who has missed 11 games with a sprained MCL, back tonight though.

Jamie Benn leads the league with 17 goals and Benn and Tyler Seguin rank second and third in scoring. John Klingberg leads all NHL defensemen with 20 assists and 25 points.

Both the Wild and Stars played yesterday, which could make for a muckfest tonight. Of course, the Stars played late into the night (won a shootout at home vs. Vancouver) and had to travel here and arrived in the wee hours of the morning, so we’ll see if the Wild can take advantage tonight.

The Wild has defeated the Stars five consecutive games at home since March 13, 2012, and in seven of their past eight visits.

The Wild is 1-4-1 in its past six and coach Mike Yeo lit ‘em up last season by saying that inconsistent play all year has caught up to the team and the early record was misleading.

Yeo said Fontaine’s return to the lineup will give the Wild a chance to “reassemble our lines the way they were earlier in the year when we were having success, and we’ll see if we can recapture that.”

Remember though, that success was misleading smiley

The early-season lines were as long as everybody is playing tonight (Jordan Schroeder will skate in warmups as insurance in case one of the banged-up forwards who didn’t skate this morning can’t play):


Yeo said with Zach Parise and Fontaine back, it creates more competition internally and gives him more options. He said he hasn’t had the luxury the last number of weeks to cut somebody’s ice time if they’re struggling or give somebody more ice time if they’re going.

Speaking of that, Jason Pominville logged 12 minutes, 11 seconds last night, his lowest ice time in part of four seasons with the Wild excluding that 2013 game against Los Angeles when he was injured by a Dustin Brown elbow to the head. Yeo said he expects Pominville to respond tonight.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff wouldn’t say this morning whether he’ll start Antti Niemi for the first time in a back-to-back situation or if Jack Campbell will make his second NHL start. Remember, Kari Lehtonen is hurt.

Dallas Morning News beat writer Mike Heika suspects it’ll be Niemi. Of course, maybe after watching the Wild do nothing to test to test Connor Hellebuyck last night, Ruff will lean the other way.

Darcy Kuemper gets the nod for the Wild. Kuemper has started since Oct. 25 when he was pulled in Winnipeg. He hasn’t started at home since Jan. 6, the final game of his bigtime winter struggles last season.

“We all hope that he’s able to go out there and get on top of his game quickly,” Yeo said. “I guess what we want more than anything else is that he is ready to start the game, but whatever he faces through the course of the game, let’s just make sure you’re building. I’d like to see him get stronger as the game moves along.”

As you know, the issue with Kuemper has been that he crumbles with adversity in games.

On whether the Wild needs to protect Kuemper tonight with a strong defensive game, Yeo said, “We have to put more of an emphasis on our team game. Our no. 1 identity, one of our No. 1 characteristics has to be our defensive play. I don’t think that should change no matter who’s in the net. I would like to see our group come out with a real strong purpose early in the game to give him a chance to settle into the game. It’s not the type of [opponent] that you want to come out and just open things up and give up some real big scoring chances. We have to play pretty close to the vest early in this game to make sure … we’re giving him a chance to settle into the game.

“But more than anything else, this is a good opportunity for Kuemps, but I’m really anxious to see how we respond here as a group. We haven’t been playing our type of game. We’ve been too easy to play against, and there’s a way that you have to respond and it’s not going out and trying to be a hero. It’s about going out and doing the little things, so that’ll be a good test for us.”

The Wild sent Christian Folin to the minors today and recalled Gustav Olofsson. There are a number of reasons: 1) Folin has been up and down lately, especially his play with the puck; 2) With Marco Scandella hurt (Scandella skated today and is a possibility to return Tuesday in Chicago), the Wild needs a left-shot D who can execute coming out of his zone and Olofsson, who debuted in Boston recently, has the ability to get the puck out and up the ice; 3) Fifteen more games, Folin will play his 70th game and will require waivers to get to the minors. The way has before let the waiver clock run out on guys like Kuemper and Erik Haula and regretted it.

Yeo on Folin: “He’s a young player on our team, and our job is to win here, but our job is to also develop players and sometimes those guys can do it here and sometimes they need to spend a little time down in the American League. It’s a good opportunity for him to play some big minutes down there and get back on top of things.”

On his play with the puck lately, Yeo said, “He’s a physical guy. He’s a big body who defends well, but he has the ability to execute. It’s a sign that he needs to go and play and execute and get some confidence.”

On his waiver status, Yeo said, “I didn’t know anything about that. It was the right time for him to go and play some games. He might be gone for one game, he might be gone for a few weeks, I don’t really know. He’ll get back up here.”

So Folin flew to Charlotte to play for Iowa, which has lost 11 games in a row, and Olofsson came here from Charlotte. Again, Mike Reilly is a league-worst minus-24, so the Wild’s trying to protect him by not putting him in this situation and wants him to get his game together down there (Zach Palmquist is somehow a plus-1 down on the farm).

Yeo on Olofsson: “He’s got some execution to his game, he’s got some poise to his game, but he’s not going to come here and fix everything. A lot of our time that we’re not getting out of our zone or getting to the offensive zone, I believe a lot of those problems fall on the shoulders of our forwards. Our forwards are playing a game that is tough for our defensemen right now. We’re either turning pucks in the neutral zone over or we get to the offensive zone and we’re one and done. We get in there for 15 seconds…. We’re a team that usually consistently plays with the puck and we’re a team that’s usually a good puck possession team, and being a good puck possession team is not just about making plays. For sure you need skill to do that, but I would say the decisions you make are easily as important if not more important, and right now we’re making some poor decisions.”

I believe Jonas Brodin will skate with Nate Prosser tonight and Olofsson will skate with Matt Dumba.

Olofsson is looking forward to his home debut. He has played here before in the preseason and also has seen a lot of games here because he watched games here at times after his shoulder surgery last season. He has also watched preseason and postseason games here.

He said he hopes his debut last week helps him release the nerves a little bit tonight.

Olofsson’s brother, Freddy, plays for University of Nebraska Omaha, so his dad, Hakan, and grandfather, Gunnar, were there watching. They’re now driving up to the Twin Cities.

Olofsson grew up in the United States, grew up in Boulder, went to school in Colorado Springs. But his grandpa lives in Sweden and is here for only a few weeks, so “it’s crazy how this worked out. It’ll be so much fun to play in front of him tonight.”

Olofsson said his grandfather gets up at 3 a.m. in Sweden to watch him play hockey games on the Internet.

Talk to you tonight.

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