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 outshot 38-13, yet Josh Harding was great in victory and the Wild actually defended well

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: December 8, 2013 - 10:20 PM

As somebody said to me on Twitter a little bit ago, “this is the opposite of former Wild clubs. Used to outshoot teams and lose 4-1.”

I just found it humorous because it’s pretty true.

Tonight, the Wild somehow managed to be outshot 38 (most at home this year)-13 (fewest home or away this year) and take a 3-1 victory from the San Jose Sharks. Wild's actually 6-0 in its past six at home against San Jose.

Good evening from the X, where the Wild bounced back kinda sorta from Friday’s 4-0 loss at Columbus. I say kinda sorta because I’m not sure we can say the Wild’s game returned to form, but a win’s a win in this conference and against a great Sharks team.

I wouldn’t say the Wild got dominated tonight, but the team certainly spent the night mostly defending. Josh Harding made 37 saves, including all 21 in the second period. 

Yet, after that period, Harding was outsaving (ripped that off from a Twitter follower too) counterpart Antti Niemi 32-9.  

Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu gave the Wild a 2-0 lead, and after Patrick Marleau scored with an extra attacker with 1:41 left, Parise scored an empty-netter for his 14th goal, tying Jason Pominville.

The big story of the night is just how difficult a time the Wild had getting to the offensive zone. The top line spent a good portion of the night there, but Parise said it was hard generating any chances because of the unique Larry Robinson defensive-zone coverage overload the Sharks use.

Robinson coached this in New Jersey when Parise was there and now the Hall of Fame defenseman is associate coach in San Jose. I’d diagram the overload to you, but you should have come to the Star Tribune Chalk Talk before the game to watch Wes Walz actually diagram it.

“It felt like we were defending an awful lot,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Our execution wasn’t good enough. Too many broken plays in the neutral zone, too many turnovers in the neutral zone allowing them just to counter right back.”

Still, everybody from Harding on out to Yeo felt the Wild defended real well and were sharp in its zone, making proper reads on rushes and keeping pucks to the outside. The D also did a great job keeping San Jose’s talented, big forwards at bay when Harding did leave rebounds.

Harding improved to 16-4-3 and was 1:41 away from his second shutout in three starts. His goals-against average is now a league-best 1.50 and his save percentage of .938 is tied for second. His 16 wins are tied for second. Apparently the top guy, Corey Crawford with 17, got hurt tonight for Chicago. That’s huge because Nikolai Khabibulin is also hurt.

Harding is now 13-1 with a 1.25 goals-against average and .945 save percentage at home.

“He made all the saves, played great,” Joe Pavelski said. “But we didn’t do a good enough job getting to him. Shots just hit him. But he was in all the right places.”

Harding really got into a groove though in the second and made some beauties, including two gloves on Pavelski and Tomas Hertl. He was seeing deflections. He was so confident, he twice himself cleared the zone up the gut, one a PK clear actually, one a pass on the Wild’s yucky power play.

But the penalty kill tonight was great and built momentum. Matt Cooke was a stud on it, at one point eating 15 seconds in the offensive-zone corner by outworking three Sharks the way Charlie Coyle did against Philadelphia last week.

The next shift, Parise scored after Marco Scandella, who played well alongside Jared Spurgeon (also was great), saved the zone and shot a puck that deflected off Pominville. Parise, who earlier in the shift slashed the stick out of Justin Braun’s hands, scored on the rebound.

The four refs did huddle to discuss if Pominville inhibited Niemi’s ability to make the save. They decided he didn’t.

“Yeah I think I was bumped. I’m not sure where it happened or if they did it on purpose or not, but it affected the play, for sure,” said Niemi, who said the ref told him he was outside the crease at the time.

A few minutes later, Dany Heatley forced a turnover and Spurgeon set up Koivu.

Heatley was in the middle of a lot of good and bad and Yeo is clearly getting frustrated with the turnovers. He had one turnover that resulted in a near Logan Couture goal then Coyle turnover. He had another turnover that led to an icing. After winning that draw, he put the puck in the Sharks bench. A second after that draw, Clayton Stoner high-sticked Couture.

Yeo met with the entire second line and especially Heatley on Saturday to talk to them about getting pucks deep and not creating momentum for the other team. Heatley needs to start simplifying the game and just dump pucks at this point.

That line actually had some good offensive-zone shifts tonight and Heatley some chances. He also drew a power play after Nino Niederreiter drove the net and Niemi turned him away.

That’s it for now. Matt Dumba, who is away from the team today because of family reasons, will be loaned to Team Canada for the world juniors.

The Wild has the day off Monday before heading to Anaheim on Tuesday for practice. I will be in studio at KFAN on Monday from 10:20-11 a.m.

I’ll next talk to you on here after practice in Anaheim on Tuesday – barring news. Big road trip coming up to Anaheim, San Jose and Denver.

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