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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Tension mounting for slumping Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo under Rookies, Wild game coverage Updated: February 7, 2013 - 11:51 PM
The anxiety around the Wild right now is frankly unreal.
 
“Oh yeah,” Ryan Suter said when asked if he senses it after a 4-1 loss to Vancouver. “It’s not fun right now. Things aren’t going well.”
 
This is the type of thing you hear in the middle of a midseason swoon, but this season is so condensed, it feels like the season’s been going on for weeks.
 
In a shortened season, every loss is magnified and feels like the end of the world. And right now, these three losses the Wild has experienced successively have created an unbelievable tension in the air.
 
We’re 10 games in. It feels like 60.
 
Just think of what has happened since last Friday’s one-sided loss in Anaheim.
 
Charlie Coyle was recalled. Devin Setoguchi and Mikael Granlund was put on the fourth line. Darroll Powe was traded for Mike Rupp. Loss at Phoenix. 25-minute player-only meeting. Setoguchi still on the fourth line. Granlund scratched. Loss to Vancouver.
 
Last season, coach Mike Yeo tried everything to hoist the Wild out of its 50-game, injury-filled swoon. He played bad cop. He played exasperated cop. He played good cop. He played consoling cop.
 
He’s done that this week alone. After sending pointed messages left and right to a few underperformers, his next play tonight was to play the psychologist, saying this is the Wild’s adversity and the team will be better for it and the guys who aren’t scoring goals – Setoguchi, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, even Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Dany Heatley – “it’s like, ‘OK, 10 games, no training camp, no exhibition games, it’s a clean slate for those guys right now. Clean slate.”
 
He tried everything last year and it didn’t work. He’s trying the same cards this year, but reminds, this is a very different group than last year’s one littered with minor leaguers late because of injuries.
 
Most disconcerting tonight is that a team that has all the reason in the world to be desperate and play with urgency showed no fire in the first period.
 
Scary: Zach Parise said the Wild didn’t show up tonight. Ryan Suter said they came out dead. Mikko Koivu said “I think we were right there” and the Canucks did the “little things.”
 
Yeah, like shoot in the first period.
 
Zenon Konopka tried to spark his team with an early fight. Koivu and his line worked its butt off every shift. But there were no sustained forechecks, no shift after shift momentum, little physicality and no shots.
 
One would think you’d figure out that throwing pucks on net is a good thing when Vancouver threw two harmless looking ones at Niklas Backstrom and scored. The Wild? Three shots in the first. Absolutely unbelievable.
 
And then, turnovers galore began.
 
Then the second started and the Wild again was completely lifeless the first five minutes until the fourth line of Konopka, Rupp and Setoguchi had a big shift. Finally, that filtered to the first line and boom, shift after shift, the Wild buzzed, created chances, forced icings, drew two power plays.
 
But as usual, the team that’s scored 21 goals in 10 games couldn’t finish. And as hard as the Wild always tries to score, the opponent seemingly needs no effort to tack on goals and the Canucks did that with two in a 1:35 span to send the Wild off with a 4-0 deficit after.
 
The fed-up fans let the Wild have it.
 
I got tons and tons of questions regarding Yeo’s future on Twitter. I’ve gotten them all week.
 
Is his seat getting hotter? Undoubtedly. This is the NHL after all and it was the team that made it clear that this was the year to take the next step. They created the expectations by using the signings of Parise and Suter to sell, sell and sell some more.
 
"We all feel pressure. We want to win," Yeo said.
 
Now, it’s got to be a helpless feeling when you’ve had a six-day training camp and you have a laundry list of fixes needed and there’s just no practice time to address these issues.
 
But those are all excuses at this point and fans don’t care. I’d say these next four games in six nights (including a back-to-back at Calgary and Vancouver) are huge for this team, its season and its coach.
 
I know the personality of this team. I’ve covered this league long enough. This season has the capability to take a nosedive these next four games.
 
The lack of fire early tonight by many, especially the veterans, was alarming. And sorry: It’s an indictment when two rookies – Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin – are arguably two of the best players on the ice. Not good. Not good at all.  
 

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