Season of promise has veered into danger zone

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 5, 2012 - 6:44 AM

The Wild has tripped headfirst into the midseason -- the latest being Wednesday's 3-0 loss in which the team was again a step slow all night.

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - A month ago, the playoffs looked as certain as the snowstorm that we all know will pummel the Twin Cities at some point this dry winter.

Now?

The Wild has tripped headfirst into the midseason -- the latest being Wednesday's 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks in a game in which the Wild was an all-too familiar step slow all night.

The Wild, 1-7-3 in its past 11, ended the first half with a 21-14-6 record.

Hours earlier, coach Mike Yeo took the glass-half-full view on the Wild's recent slide, saying, "If you would have told any of us at the beginning of the year that we had the opportunity to get halfway to 100 points at the halfway point, we would have all signed up for that."

Well, the Wild didn't get to the 50-point plateau. It remained at 48 -- on pace for 96, which may be enough to end the franchise's three-year postseason drought.

A sobering thought? That's one point ahead of last season's pace.

An even more sobering thought? Once 20-7-3 and leading the NHL, the Wild is now three points ahead of ninth-place Colorado.

How quickly they fall?

"You could certainly pick up on some frustration on the bench with the guys," Yeo said. "We're going to have to fight through this. That game was hanging there for us all game long."

The Wild was beginning a critical stretch of 10 of 13 on the road. Once the best road team in the NHL, the Wild is 0-5-1 in its past six with four goals in that stretch.

Two weeks ago in Vancouver, the Wild played minus captain Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi and Casey Wellman. All three were in Wednesday's lineup.

But the Wild, 0-8-2 in its past 10 at Rogers Arena, gained no offensive boost against the division leaders. Roberto Luongo made 28 saves for his third consecutive shutout against the Wild -- and 57th of his career.

"We've got to find a way all over the ice to execute better to find a way to get the puck in their end and hold it in their end more so we don't spend so much time defending," said Kyle Brodziak, who has no goals in nine games.

Minnesota lacked battle and sustained offensive-zone time (displayed best on an 0-for-4 power play Pierre-Marc Bouchard says lacks confidence). The Wild made what Yeo likes to call "soft plays" all over the ice. Soft passes, soft shots, soft puck support, soft cycles.

And like usual, the Sedin twins sliced, diced and chewed the Wild like they were enjoying Swedish meatballs on Christmas.

In the last meeting, Daniel and Henrik Sedin combined for six points. Wednesday, they each had two by the 10-minute, 24-second mark. They've combined for 115 career points against Minnesota.

"They've got great players over there, but it's things that we did," Yeo said.

With Niklas Backstrom showing signs of cracking (18 goals in his past five starts), Josh Harding started for the third time since Dec. 6 and looked rusty early.

Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman observed the game from the press box. The Lightning could be looking for a goaltender, and Harding, a potential unrestricted free agent this summer, could be on the trading block before the Feb. 27 deadline.

Of course, Yzerman needs defensemen, too, and the Wild is carrying nine.

The Wild will head to Banff the next two days for bonding and practice time. Maybe it'll find its misplaced game in the Alberta woods.

"We've got to dig deep and someway, somehow find it," Brodziak said. "There's no other way to do it than just every guy, to a man, finding a way to get to the top of his game."

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