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 frustrated, lack confidence, don't seem to have any answers to scoring woes

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: December 22, 2013 - 11:01 PM

I love playing poker, particularly Texas Holdem. I love playing craps, too.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t have a gambling problem. But when I go to Vegas or someplace like that, I partake and enjoy it.

Well, sometimes. Sometimes I absolutely hate it.

The amazing thing about poker and craps is when you’re winning, poker and craps seem like the easiest games in the world. Like there’s just no way you’ll ever lose again. You need an inside straight? The card comes. You get pocket 10s, trips is coming on the flop.

You throw some money on a couple come bets, the dice always hit and you rake in the chips over and over again.

But when you’re losing, poker and craps seem like the most impossible, frustrated games, like, ‘How did I ever, ever, EVER, win in the past?’ You never can pull that flush card or the full house, the person tossing the dice always throws three numbers and out.

You lose and lose and lose and you don’t even remember how you won.

What the heck am I talking about?

When I was walking around the locker room after the Wild’s latest road loss tonight and when I watched this game against the Rangers from the press box, I was thinking about how hockey looks so easy when you’re winning and looks so impossible when you’re losing.

The Wild’s in one of those awful, hard-to-get-out-of funks right now, (the type that plagued Todd Richards here and Mike Yeo’s first two years here) where it’s so hard to even remember what they did when they were winning routinely in November.

The players are frustrated. The coach is frustrated. Nobody seems to have any answers, which is scary when this Wild team is set to fall right back out of the top-8 again, maybe as soon as Monday if Phoenix wins in Buffalo and the Wild loses in Philly.

The words, “I don’t know,” came out of everybody’s mouth I talked to in the locker room tonight, from Zach Parise to Mikko Koivu.

Koivu knows how to play hockey well. He hasn’t played hockey well the past two games. He was minus-3 in Pittsburgh. Tonight at times it seemed like he was single-handedly trying to do everything, well, other than shoot the puck. He tried to force passes, turned some pucks over, and then he uttered a quote that again reminded me of my awful poker/craps comparison above.

“When things are going good, you’re feeling good and the game’s kind of easy,” Koivu said. “When you’re struggling, you’re not doing the right plays even if you’re trying your butt off.

“You just have to find it. There’s no other way. You just have to go through it and start playing, I don’t know, smarter or better, whatever it is, to find it again.”

Koivu was minus-1. Zach Parise, after being minus-3 in Pittsburgh, was minus-2. He, too, wasn’t a threat and is getting more and more frustrated.

This team is mentally frustrated right now. Any in-game adversity saps everything.

Tonight, they played well the first 10 minutes, scored the first goal on the road for the first time in 11 games, and then started turning pucks over. One Jonas Brodin one led to Koivu’s penalty. One Koivu one led to Keith Ballard’s penalty. That one led to a tying power-play goal by Benoit Pouliot, part of Wild folklore as one of five consecutive years of first-round busts.

“When things aren’t going well, when you put yourself in a hole, it’s hard to get out of it when goals have been tough to come by and just overall not feeling good about the way we’ve been playing,” Parise said.

The Wild has scored eight goals in a 1-6-1 road slide. It has 23 goals in the past 15 games and ranks 29th in goals per game (2.16) and 29th in goals per game on the road (1.68). The only team behind the Wild in both is lowly Buffalo.

Asked how the Wild get out of this, Parise said, “I don’t know. I don’t know. Shoot more? I don’t know. It’s just been a frustrating stretch for us. We haven’t played great. I don’t know. We have to find a way to score. That’s the bottom line. We’re not scoring. We’re not giving ourselves a chance. We’re not scoring goals.”

If it were simple, the Wild wouldn’t struggle so unbelievably, painfully at scoring goals. So, like the players and the coach, I don’t know the answer.

I do know one thing. This season is on dangerous footing right now. This team is lacking confidence, absolutely stink on the road, and if they continue to absolutely stink on the road, there is no chance they’ll make the playoffs.

The pressure’s on now.

Yeo better start figuring out some of these answers. Mikael Granlund’s back. He looked good tonight, making some great passes and helped set up Jason Pominville on their second shift reunited.

The Parise-Koivu tagteam is leading the Wild nowhere right now. With Granlund back, Yeo may want to get innovative and experiment a Parise-Granlund-Pominville line and a Nino Niederreiter-Koivu-Charlie Coyle line.

He’s got nothing to lose because the Wild CANNOT score.

The Wild is on a train heading to Philly as we speak. I assume Niklas Backstrom will make his second straight start Monday. I don’t think the Wild feels Johan Gustafsson is ready. He’s 21, has been inconsistent in Iowa during his rookie year and looks like he’s trying to find his way in Wild practices.

Other than the Chris Kreider goal in the third that Backstrom will have to see over and over again for the rest of his days, Backstrom played well tonight. He swallowed pucks and controlled his rebound. It’s up to the Wild to score for him, too. I don’t know too many goalies who can win with five goals in their past six starts, eight in their past eight full ones.

Jared Spurgeon got banged up tonight and Clayton Stoner was lost with a lower-body injury, meaning Nate Prosser may be dusted off after 13 games as a scratch.

Onto Philly. Talk Monday.

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