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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Struggling Wild finishes "grueling stretch," admits fatigue; Heatley, Pominville, Haula updates

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: April 5, 2013 - 9:08 AM

 

The Wild lost its third in a row tonight and fourth in five games tonight when it was shut out for the first time this season by a 3-0 score at Los Angeles.
 
Try to get down to the end of the blog because I have some interesting news and notes down there.
 
The Wild is starting to look like a worn down team and it certainly said it was after playing its eighth game in 13 days tonight.
 
The legs look like mush and the minds are tired, too, which leads to bad decisions, turnovers and mental mistakes, like the two bad line changes that led directly to goals tonight.
 
Bad starts continue to kill. For the fifth game in a row, the Wild fell behind 1-0. That quickly became two by the 3:07 mark and Niklas Backstrom was on the bench after giving up two goals on two goals. Both were off odd-man rushes.
 
“It’s tough for sure to start the game like that,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We have to eliminate some of the big mistakes that we’re making. Two goals on line changes, and that’s actually usually something that we’re pretty strong at.
 
“The reality is this has been a grueling stretch. We have a couple days now, but having said that, it doesn’t mean that it’s just going to be better. We’ve got to use the couple days the right way. We’ve got to make sure that we get the rest that we need and we’ve got to get focused on this final stretch.”
 
The Wild fell out of the top spot of the Northwest tonight and is now five points up on 9th-place Edmonton. The attention to details and focus has been shoddy to say the least.
 
Asked if there’s concern the Wild is going to be able to fix this, Yeo said, “That’s the last thing we need. We need to focus on the next game and that’s it. It becomes increasingly more difficult to do that, you start looking at the big picture, you start thinking about what other teams are doing. The reality is the only thing that matters is our next game and going out and playing well. That’s a huge part of the challenge with this, of being a winner and managing the emotions involved with it. If you don’t do it the right way, it’s not productive. We have to get focused on improving our game and getting back to our game and eliminating some of these mistakes that we’re making.”
 
Asked about the forecheck, and how there’s been little sustained pressure, Yeo said, “I’m not one for making excuses, you know me, you can see it on the video that we don’t have the legs. You see it in the game tonight. We’ve got one guy going and F2 and F3 are dragging their feet coming up the ice, it’s not because we’re not working. It’s because we don’t have that extra push to get there right now. The good news is the schedule eases up now, but on top of that, we can’t just sit here and say ‘ok, that’s great. We’ve got to demand a little bit more of ourselves.”
 
I know a lot of you are probably flipping out reading all this, but look, it’s the reality. You can say every team has to deal with it, and that’s only partially true.
 
The East do not. They have cupcake travel. The Wild logs the most air miles in the league, and the reality is, these guys aren’t robots. They’ve played a lot of games. Anthony LaPanta figured out that it’s been 15 straight games since the Wild’s opponent basically had less rest than the Wild. Because of this schedule, when the Wild practices Saturday, it will be its first real practice since March 22. That’s 14 days.
 
The team is tired. I can tell you that I feel like the walking dead, and I’m not playing (Of course, I’m the one with 4 a.m. wakeup calls every day and have another in the morning, so I better wrap this up) :)
 
I asked Ryan Suter about the lack of practices because the attention to details has been so bad. He said it’s because they’re tired mistakes.
 
“Practices aren’t that important this time of year,” he said. “I think the travel is the biggest thing. You get worn down. It’s tough. I’m sure it’s tough for you guys and it’s tough for us. But we’re not making excuses. We just have to dig down and just get back to playing simple hockey. I think we’re trying to complicate it and that doesn’t make it any easier for us.”
 
Friday will be a full travel day to Columbus. The question now is how does it get out of this. Whether it's real or not, it can't be used as an excuse because the standings don't accept excuses.
 
“I don’t know if it’s a crisis,” said Backstrom. “We know we’re a good team. We know we can play good. It’s not like we’re getting outplayed every night. It’s just some mental errors that’s costing us. I know I can play better. A lot of guys know they can be better. It’s up to us as individuals to play better. But as a team, we have to play the right way the whole game and lately we haven’t been doing that. We have to get back to that.”
 
Said Suter, “Obviously you’re concerned, but you can’t panic. Throughout the year, you’re going to go through ups and downs. You’ve got to work harder to get out of it. At the beginning of the year, we weren’t playing well, we weren’t playing to our capabilities. You just have to dig down and work harder to get out of that hole. We have the guys in here that can do it, we just have to do it.”
 
Yeo still was happy with the effort despite the lack of legs. He also was very happy with the Parise-Koivu-Pominville line, which did have a ridiculously good shift in the offensive zone for almost a minute. But it didn't result in a goal or penalty -- despite some clear ones by LA.
 
Couple other notes:

-- Dany Heatley, who will be out for an undetermined amount of time, is expected to return to the Twin Cities on Friday. Matt Cullen, whom they hoped to meet the team in Columbus, is not expected to.

-- I have confirmed the Buffalo Sabres are picking up part of Pominville's $5.5 million salary and $5.3 million cap hit this season and next. The Wild right now is a little more than $100,000 from the cap ceiling, which is why the Wild's got to be careful with its callups. Plus you only get four (not including emergency recalls) the rest of the season. 

If Buffalo wasn't picking up part of the salary, the Wild would be above the cap. Together with the webmaster of capgeek.com tonight, we went over numbers. He estimates that Buffalo must be picking up around $225,000 of Pominville's salary this year, which would translate to around $900,000 next year. The good news is in a daily cap world, you accrue cap space daily. Slowly but surely it should gain more cap space. If the Wild ever gets in a pickle though, I think the only way out of it would be to LTIR Josh Harding.

-- Pregame note tonight from Mike Yeo on Clayton Stoner: Despite struggles in recent games, Yeo resisted pulling defenseman Clayton Stoner from Thursday’s lineup.

“I’m not concerned about him,” Yeo said. “This has been a very difficult stretch. There’s been a lot of hockey and what I’ve seen are tired mistakes. Nobody is more aware of those mistakes and harder on themselves than Stoney. Quite often that lends itself to making another mistake to making another mistake.
“I have a lot of confidence in him. He’s played some great hockey for us. He’s gotten us to this point, so I know he’ll get it back.”
 
--Erik Haula could soon be the fourth University of Minnesota hockey player to leave the program since season’s end.
 
The Wild, the 2009 seventh-round pick who led the Gophers in scoring the past two seasons, is closing in on a contract with the Wild, sources say. This week, Nate Schmidt signed a free-agent contract with Washington, while draft picks Zach
Budish and Nick Bjugstad signed with Nashville and Florida, respectively.

OK, that's it for me. I am really exhausted and have to wake up in a few hours to fly to Columbus through Minneapolis, which is a tease. No blog Friday unless there's news as I'll be working on my story for Saturday's paper and my Sunday package.

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