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 loses close game at Anaheim, but honestly, it wasn't close in a lot of areas

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: December 12, 2013 - 12:59 AM

The Wild’s road winless streak reached four games Wednesday night when the Anaheim Ducks, the only team in the NHL without a regulation home loss, improved to 12-0-2 at the Honda Center with a 2-1 win.

Jason Pominville’s power-play goal early in the third made it a game again, but in reality, the Wild didn’t play nearly well enough in the first 40 minutes to pull this one out.

I know it’s the Ducks. I know they’re bigger and faster and more skilled with a sniper-and-a-half with the great Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf running hot right now, but this was a disconcerting display.

The Ducks skated through the neutral zone for the first 40 minutes like the Wild was a bunch of pylons. Defensemen had poor gaps all night. And during the Wild’s rare forechecks, it took a gust of wind to knock forwards off pucks.

That is just unacceptable. This wasn’t just a size differential thing. It honestly took no effort at times by Anaheim for Minnesota to just lose pucks in the offensive zone.

The Wild was soft on pucks all night. Coach Mike Yeo agreed.

“Collectively, we’re not strong enough in those situations,” Yeo said. “We’re getting pucks back and then we’re losing it right away. We need some more puck strength, we need a little more urgency, a little bit harder on that puck. It’s always we’re doing one thing right and we’re not following up with another thing right now.”

Early in the third, the Wild finally exited its zone cleanly, got into the offensive zone, made a good play on the wall and drew a power play because of it. Then Pominville, who has been lost at times without injured Mikael Granlund, scored his team-leading 15th goal.

But for the 13th time in 14 games, the Wild drew three or fewer power plays. That one was Minnesota’s only power play of the game.

There have been instances where the refs don’t seem to give the Wild the benefit of the doubt, but this is more an indictment of how the Wild plays. It’s just no aggressive enough. It doesn’t have the puck enough. It’s not in the offensive zone enough.

“Again, we draw one power play,” Yeo said. “Other teams are [either] extremely disciplined against us or we’re not doing enough to draw penalties. We’ve got to force them into situations where we’re drawing more. It’s tough right now when you’re getting one power play, two power plays every game. This has been an unbelievable streak of this. We have to do more to draw more.”

The second line is giving the Wild no offense since Granlund’s concussion (he is skating on his own and working out, GM Chuck Fletcher says, but he’s not close to returning). Tonight, Nino Niederreiter got to the net but couldn’t score. He also wasn’t hard enough on pucks on the wall. Jason Zucker was largely responsible for the game’s opening goal by defenseman Alex Grant, although it was a bad goal surrendered by Josh Harding, who did play great and did everything he could to give the Wild the cushion to find its game. Zucker just seems lost at times with how the Wild plays in all three zones. And Charlie Coyle finally looked like the old Coyle in the third period. Yeo wants him to take charge and in the third, he resembled the player he hasn’t been for much of his time since returning from a sprained knee. Jonas Hiller made a nice save on him on a breakaway in the third with the Wild down 2-1.

Coyle said he got in too tight and wishes he had it back, although Hiller made a nice save on a nice move after Coyle made a great play to create the breakaway for himself. But Coyle knows he needs to do more offensively and I’ll write about that in Thursday’s paper.

The third line was again good tonight. They can’t score for the life of them, but many shifts in the offensive zone and Matt Cooke was physical, surly and played with attitude all game. The Keith Ballard-Clayton Stoner pair had a tough night. It’ll be interested to see if the super-fresh Nate Prosser draws in at San Jose.

Just not good enough tonight against a great Anaheim team. Perry scored the winner for his 21st goal to extend his goal streak to seven games. He had seven shots.

That’s it for me. I’ll come to you from San Jose, although it’s doubtful they’ll have a morning skate. Niklas Backstrom likely the Thursday starter against a Sharks team that has dropped four in a row and will be looking for payback after losing in Minnesota on Sunday.

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