Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Wild's freefall continues in Vancouver

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: January 5, 2012 - 10:35 AM

How dramatic and fast this freefall has been.

The best team in the NHL (at least, in terms of points) for three weeks, a team once 20-7-3 overall, a team once the best road team in the NHL ... is now clinging to a playoff spot by three precious points over 9th-place Colorado because of a 1-7-3 face-first stumble.

Most amazing what this slide has accomplished? The Wild ushered in the midway point ONE POINT ahead of last year's pace. That's absolutely unbelievable when you consider where the Wild was one month ago.

The Wild's at a fragile juncture and will spend the next three days in the Banff National Park practicing, and bonding in a desperate search for 1) its game and 2) its need for each other.

When the Wild was so successful for six weeks, it worked as five-man units, in waves, with tremendous puck support and stick-to-it-ness.

Now, an absolute shell of what they were. Nobody on the ice can rely on the guy next to him to be in the right spot, support the play the right way, to give that extra oomph. And it's created a team that is a step slow in every area.

The Wild is a disjointed mess right now, especially offensively, where it generates little sustained offensive-zone time and is constantly chasing the play. During an 0-5-1 road slide, the Wild's scored FOUR goals. That includes consecutive shutouts in Vancouver. Roberto Luongo's shut em out three times in a row and has a 194 minute, 23 second shutout streak going against Minnesota.

On the Banff trip: "Probably the timing of it couldn't be better of us right now," coach Mike Yeo said. "We need to get the group together. We’re not in a bad spot. … The way things have gone lately makes you think about what you’ve lost, but there’s been a lot of good things through the first half of the season.

"Just not so much lately, and that’s obvious the focus right now. But I’m very confident that when we can get back to playing our game that the wins will keep flowing for us."

I know from multiple folks that I talk to that GM Chuck Fletcher is talking trade. There's been a lot of conversation among GM's at world junior. The Wild's carrying nine defensemen right now.

Tonight, two GM's were in the house because of the easy flight from world juniors in Calgary -- Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman and St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong.

The Lightning is one team in desperate need for a goalie (Josh Harding, free agent to be?) and defensemen.

The trade deadline is Feb. 27, and right now, very few trades are taking place because cap-strapped teams are not at that point where they're able to take on cash yet. And if they are, they want you take on a player you don't want.

But it's at that point where Fletcher's going to have to do something.

This isn't an aberration anymore. The Wild's game has vanished and it's clear they can't just snap their fingers and rediscover it.

That "team" that was so impressive during that 17 for 21 is long gone. This? This is not a good team right now.

There was again not that extra battle tonight needed to win games against one of the class teams in the league. Offensively, this team that added so many finishers last offseason cannot finish.

Anaheim's desperate, and lots of talk that Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry could be had. Hey, pipedream maybe, and it would take a monster package.

But Fletcher did have a monster hand in drafting each.

Update: the Wild sent defenseman Nate Prosser back to Houston this morning.

That's it for me. I will not be at practice tomorrow as I cover the world junior bronze- and gold-medal games.

I'll get to watch Mikael Granlund and the Finns take on Canada, and Johan Larsson, Jonas Brodin, Johan Gustafsson and the Swedes take on Russia.

I'm sure I'll be a tweeting fool Thursday during these events, so follow me at www.twitter.com/russostrib

 

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