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 has no explanation for crumbling on home ice to the Islanders

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: December 30, 2013 - 12:25 AM

The Wild’s a team in crisis right now and the frightening thing is nobody, from the players to the head coach, seems to know how to get out of this.

Nobody could explain how it was feasible that the Wild, so desperate for a victory, could be up 3-zip at home and lose to a sub-par Isles team that played 24 hours earlier in New York, was playing its backup goalie and had two key forwards out.

Nobody could explain how one could dominate the first half of a game and just absolutely collapse to a team that hadn’t rallied back from three goals down to win since 1994.

There were a lot of upset comments, a lot of “this is unacceptable,” a lot of “there is no excuse,” but there was nobody who could explain what happened and offer actual answers as to how to fix it.

The Wild has lost five in a row, have sunk to 10th in the West and has allowed 24 goals in the past five games. This is a lousy road team, but its safe haven, the cure for all that ails them was supposed to be at home.

But instead, the Wild again lost battle after battle the last half of the game, ran around its zone aimlessly and allowed the Islanders to storm back and kick them where it hurts.

Kyle Okposo made me pay for somehow forgetting to include him in my U.S. Olympic column in Sunday’s paper, an honest mistake, albeit a stupid one. The Bloomington native and former Gopher scored two goals 1:59 apart in the third period, including a go-ahead goal, then the winner 27 seconds after Justin Fontaine tied the score.

But the killer shift was a minute-plus one late in the second period that was capped off when old Wild pal Cal Clutterbuck redirected Thomas Hickey’s shot to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 1:02 left. After Mikael Granlund got out of the penalty box, Granlund and penalty killers Stephane Veilleux, Torrey Mitchell, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon were traffic and scrambling endlessly.

You just knew what was coming. The players were exhausted, all of them seemed to hit the ice at one point or another, desperately trying to block shots or clear the zone. Veilleux was on the ice five or six times. At one point, he got the puck in the slot and just stopped. Veilleux, called up because coach Mike Yeo said he’s so defensively responsible and energetic and does the right things, proved that when you’re tired, it’s hard to make the right decision.

He froze and instead of just chipping it off the glass or icing it to let Yeo call time out, he coughed it up at the blue line. Another scramble and finally the momentum-turning goal. The Wild never recovered.

“In a situation like that, you have to fall back on your structure,” Yeo said. “You can’t start running around. If anything, you play a little tighter. You’ve got to stay composed.”

The Wild had two third-period power plays, one lifeless one to start the period with a chance to regain a two-goal lead, one after Okposo made it 5-4 where backup goalie Kevin Poulin made a string of huge saves, include right top stops on Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley.

You can read the gamer for the best quotes at www.startribune.com/wild

BUT, this is a major problem.

The most interesting thing that happened in my eyes after the game was Yeo, unsolicited, endorsing his system, saying, “It’s within us. Our game hasn’t changed. Our game is successful,” before saying that you can talk x’s and o’s all you want, but there comes a time where it’s up to the players to dig deep, win one-on-one battles, execute, do all the little things that are adding up to losses night after night after night right now.

After the Philadelphia game, Yeo also, “This is the same group that will fix it. I have no doubt. Am I worried? No. Ticked off? Yeah, that we’re in this funk. But I also don’t have any doubts that we’ll fix it. This is the same group that raised the expectations, this is the same group that got us to a point where we were in a good spot and this is the same group that’s going to get us out of it.”

The Wild has lost two games since. The Wild has given up 11 goals in those two games since. The Wild has finally scored goals (eight in the past two games), but yet has completely lost its defensive foundation.

It was a total mess in the third period.

“We were on our heels, we weren’t pressuring, we weren’t winning the battles the same way,” Yeo said. “It’s our job to find the answers, but that’s a tough one to come up with right there. And it’s not everybody. We had some guys that were really bringing the emotion and some guys that were really bringing their game, but we had some others that have got to play bigger and better and stronger in those situations.

“In a game with little things that add up to make the difference, we’re not coming even close right now.”

Yeo said the Wild will keep leaning on leaders like Koivu, who had two assists, five shots, four takeaways and won 19 of 27 faceoffs, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville.

As I reported, Zach Parise is expected to be out for awhile with a broken bone in his foot.

Yeo said a coach once said, “an actor’s got to act, so this is a time, the players, it doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re a lead actor or supporting actor, you’ve got to step up and you’ve got to perform.”

Mitchell says it is an absolute must the Wild gets back to its defensive foundation.

“There were a lot of mental error defensively tonight. We need be better defensively. We’ve let up 25 goals the last five games, it feels like. Just not good enough. We got off to a great start, but it’s not good enough. You take five, 10 minutes off, and all of a sudden the momentum switches. I’ve played long enough, we got enough guys in here that know better, it’s just not good enough.”

The St. Louis Blues, maybe without David Backes and Alex Steen, come to town New Year’s Eve.

“Everybody’s frustrated. That’s a game we should have won,” Niederreiter said. “Big game against St. Louis. It’s a must-win for us.”

Yes, a must-win on Dec. 31. That’s the position the Wild has put itself in.

The Wild is 5-11-1 in the past 17, 5-8 this month with no regulation wins since Dec. 8 (9 in a row).

There is zero doubt Craig Leipold is beside himself over this collapse. The question is how and when he reacts.


Tennessee 7:25 PM
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Atlanta 127 FINAL
Cleveland 98
Phoenix 111 FINAL
Charlotte 106
Dallas 117 FINAL
Detroit 106
Utah 105 FINAL
Miami 87
Orlando 92 FINAL
Boston 109
Brooklyn 89 FINAL
Toronto 105
Memphis 117 FINAL
San Antonio 116
Milwaukee 97 FINAL
Portland 104
Houston 115 FINAL
Denver 111
Indiana 100 FINAL
LA Clippers 102
Ottawa 2 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 2
Dallas 2 FINAL
Vancouver 0
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 72 FINAL
St Francis-NY 64
James Madison 72 FINAL
Ball State 52
SIU Edwardsville 65 FINAL
Campbell 70
St Francis-PA 67 FINAL
Duquesne 52
North Florida 77 FINAL
Florida State 93
Catawba 69 FINAL
George Mason 99
Ferrum 48 FINAL
High Point 106
Hampton 55 FINAL
Illinois 73
Gardner-Webb 65 FINAL
Jacksonville 68
Longwood 60 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 71
Arkansas State 69 FINAL
Miss State 55
Tennessee 72 FINAL
NC State 83
Ohio State 97
Manhattan 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 65
Robert Morris 57 FINAL
Toledo 83
Char Southern 58 FINAL
Wofford 64
Kennesaw St 90 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
Barber-Scotia 52 FINAL
NC Central 108
Detroit 70 FINAL
UCF 75
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 73
Denver 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 61 FINAL
Houston 56
UT Martin 54 FINAL
Illinois State 64
Milligan 76 FINAL
Louisiana 115
Abilene Christian 44 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 83
USC Upstate 73 FINAL
Memphis 83
Alcorn State 56 FINAL
Murray State 94
Central Mich 80 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Georgia State 54 FINAL
Old Dominion 58
TX-Pan American 69 FINAL
Saint Louis 75
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
SMU 67
Texas State 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 66
SC State 39 FINAL
Texas Tech 101
Missouri State 70 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Chicago State 60 FINAL
Western Ky 75
Morehead State 50 FINAL
Green Bay 66
Northern Colorado 82 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 92
Winthrop 62 FINAL
Auburn 80
New Mexico St 55 FINAL
Baylor 66
San Diego St 62 FINAL
Cincinnati 71
Eastern Mich 46 FINAL
Michigan State 66
Loyola Marymount 58 FINAL
Stanford 67
Incarnate Word 82 FINAL
Grand Canyon 80
Northeastern 58 FINAL
Cal Poly 60
Central Arkansas 55 FINAL
New Mexico 76
Howard 45 FINAL
Pepperdine 53
Portland 73 FINAL
CS-Northridge 56 FINAL
Oregon 79
Grambling St 38 FINAL
Washington 86
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 77 FINAL
Campbell 51
Akron 73 FINAL
UCF 64
Richmond 77 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 67
Montana 70 FINAL
Seattle 64
(7) Stanford 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 54
Florida A&M 69 FINAL
Southern U 80
Oklahoma 72 FINAL
(13) Duke 92
Savannah State 56 FINAL
Auburn 62
Northern Colorado 43 FINAL
South Florida 84
Youngstown St 73 FINAL
Robert Morris 65
Siena 75 FINAL
Sacred Heart 65
Vermont 63 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
(1) South Carolina 69 FINAL
Hampton 49
Fla Gulf Coast 91 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 46
Texas Southern 92 FINAL
Houston Baptist 80
Northwestern 88 FINAL
Appalachian St 72
NC Central 52 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 67
Drexel 50 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Cincinnati 52 FINAL
Northern Ky 66
Alabama State 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 77
Morehead St 69 FINAL
USC Upstate 75
Arkansas State 59 FINAL
Kent State 44
American Univ 60 FINAL
Manhattan 52
UNC Greensboro 60 FINAL
St Bonaventure 78
Arkansas-Monticello 56 FINAL
Northwestern St 61
Prairie View 70 FINAL
Sam Houston St 51
McNeese State 59 FINAL
(3) Texas 76
Yale 90 FINAL
Wagner 65
Oakland 61 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 54
Eastern Kentucky 62 FINAL
Alabama A&M 56
SIU-Edwardsville 47 FINAL
Northern Ill 69
McMurry 25 FINAL
TX-Arlington 82
Portland 65 FINAL
Eastern Washington 72
North Texas 42 FINAL
San Francisco 60
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