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 again, and its position in the standings becoming a big problem

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: December 27, 2013 - 11:44 PM

This season is disintegrating right in front of our eyes. The Wild better find a gargantuan Band-Aid or tourniquet for that matter and stop the bleeding ASAP.

The Wild fell to 5-10-1 in the past 16 (so, it has accumulated 11 of a possible 32 points in the past 16 games) since the last time the team came to Winnipeg.

It looks like it’s ninth in the standings with 45 points. It’s not. It is in deep, deep trouble.

The Wild is four points behind seventh-place Colorado, which got clobbered tonight in Chicago. It is one point behind eighth-place Phoenix and creeping up from the rear is Dallas, which is one point behind.

All three of those teams have played three fewer games than the Wild. As we know in this league, because of the loser point, once you get behind in the second half, it is almost impossible to catch up.

And the Wild is lower in the standings than it actually appears by virtue of the games played category.

The team, after tonight’s 6-4 loss at Winnipeg, has now lost nine of its last 10 on the road and now face a critical four-game homestand against the Islanders, Blues, Caps and Sabres.

Since the Wild has proven to be incapable of winning on the road, it has put itself in the unenviable position of having to be perfect at home. 5 out of 8 points, even 6 out of 8 points is just not good enough these days.

The Wild has gone eight consecutive games without a regulation win and none on the road since Nov. 20.

Hours after Mike Yeo said the Wild needed to get back to its defensive foundation, the Wild gave up six goals and 38 shots. It’s now 348 shots and 32 goals in the past 10 games. Remember, this is a Wild team that spent much of the first two months as the best defensive team in the NHL.

The byproduct of the three days off was evident for both teams, especially in the first period when it was end-to-end action and sloppy with oodles of scoring chances. That of course made for some downright entertaining hockey.

The Wild and Jets scored five times in the first 7:04, with the Wild – the same team that had nine goals in the previous nine road games, scoring three times on goals by Dany Heatley, Justin Fontaine and Stephane Veilleux. Fontaine and Veilleux – of all players – scored 10 seconds apart to break a team road record for fastest two goals by a second (Mattias Weinhandl/Wes Walz; remember Weinhandl????).

But then the Wild gave up two goals in three minutes to trail 4-3 going into the second. Niklas Backstrom, who has given up three or more goals in his past six starts and 17 in four starts in place of Josh Harding, settled down in the second and third and actually made some huge saves to keep the game tied. But in the third, after an awful shift in which the Wild couldn’t get the puck out, Blake Wheeler pounced on a loose puck after Bryan Little’s between-the-circles shot and score the eventual winner.

The Wild was outmuscled all night (massive hits by future stud Jacob Trouba and Anthony Peluso), especially in front of the Jets net. Anytime the Wild got near Al Montoya after Ondrej Pavelec was chased, the Jets crushed the Wild to the ice. The same couldn’t be said at all by the Jets who got near Backstrom, and that played a huge part in the losing goal.

Just a frustrating game because the Wild did settle down after sloppiness in the first two periods. Guys like Charlie Coyle were flying in front of shots. Guys were taking hits to make plays. But there were clear signs, especially early and with guys like Ryan Suter (minus-3, 2-on-1 rush on Evander Kane’s shortie) and Mikael Granlund (minus-3) and Keith Ballard (shift on Wheeler’s winner), that the team wasn’t on the ice for three days. Timing was off, coverages were off, etc.

But, as Yeo said, “We don’t have the luxury of finding reasons for things not being OK. We’re in a position where we have to make things right.”

“Our focus is not directed the right way right now,” Yeo said later. “There’s been too much losing going on and because of that, we’ve got a lot of things clouding our focus of how we’re supposed to play the game. We’ve got to find it.”

Mikko Koivu, whom I thought played well for the first part, passes up a shot twice on the first power play that led to Kane’s goal. He is the franchise leader in power-play points but finally got his first power-play goal since 2012. He made so many good defensive plays tonight, and then at the end, he’s minus-3.

So, this team has lost its way right now and I’ve got no clue how it gets changed. Things have really unraveled these past four games particularly, so going home better prove to be the tonic or the road ahead will be ugly.

Oh, and Zach Parise's hurt. And Josh Harding's return won't cure all because this team isn't playing nearly as well anymore in front of its goalie (regardless of the fact that Backstrom has struggled). Speaking of which, I've been asked 1,000 times on Twitter the past week if the Wild may use its second compliance buyout on Backstrom next summer. No, it is not allowed. He was signed in June under this collective bargaining agreement. To use a compliance buyout, your contract had to be consummated under the last CBA.

Talk to you after practice Saturday.

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