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's mojo is suddenly MIA as it tries to find right mix since trade deadline

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: March 12, 2014 - 9:42 AM

You’re all Wild fans (at least I assume since you read this blog), so you should be well accustomed to this by now.

For as long as I’ve covered this franchise at least (nine seasons), the Wild is absolutely incapable of doing things the easy way.

So there’s just no chance you really believed that when the Wild built a nine-point playoff lead on ninth place eight days ago that it was going to actually soar into the playoffs.

So naturally, the Wild blows two points in Dallas and then gets only two points in its next two games. Sunday was forgivable because it at least outchanced and arguably outplayed one of the best teams in the NHL.

But tonight wasn’t. There’s just no excuse to build a 3-0 lead at home and end up losing in a shootout to one of the worst teams in the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers. The Wild got what it deserved when it couldn’t pick up that extra point.

Up 3-1, the Wild managed one shot on a 1:24 5-on-3. Then, to start overtime, the Wild gained a 1:51 4-on-3 and couldn’t muster a shot.

Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu scored in the shootout, but three of four shooters beat Darcy Kuemper, who gave up a couple regrettable goals in the third, including the tying goal with 4:53 left to Jordan Eberle.

So, the Wild’s lead over Dallas is down to three and lead over Phoenix is down to four.

The Wild better figure out a way to salvage the rest of this homestand with the Rangers and Blue Jackets coming to town Thursday and Friday Saturday because what’s staring the Wild in the face is eight out of 10 games on the road.

Coach Mike Yeo always says he doesn’t care about the teams behind him, that the race is how many points you need to get to make the playoffs. And that’s accurate. But right now, the Stars and Coyotes are flying and the Wild, a team that was on a 9-2-2 run only eight days ago, is 0-1-2 in its past three and coughing up 3-0 leads at home to the Oilers.

The momentum has turned south for the team you care about the is heading north for the other two teams.

The Wild’s chemistry has run afoul. Chuck Fletcher and Craig Leipold made moves at the deadline as a show of faith to the team. But the Wild’s responded by being winless in three since and the mojo that was there is now MIA.

The moves to bring in Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick caused two lines to change, Dany Heatley to drop to the fourth line and 12-goal scorer Justin Fontaine to be removed from the lineup. With seven healthy defensemen, Yeo has also tinkered with his third defense pair for three straight games. Koivu’s also trying to jump into a playoff race after not playing in two-plus months.

So right now the Wild is trying to find the right mix and the right chemistry and better do so fast.

But tonight’s loss wasn’t about cohesion. It was about an alarming amount of players lacking energy and urgency. It was about an alarming amount of players being completely off early. How many times in the first period did Wild players have pucks slide off their sticks or misconnect on passes?

“I thought we were a little bit lucky to be up 3-0. You could tell we weren’t on it right away,” Yeo said.

The one area where the Wild passed well was the power play. Unfortunately though, it didn’t shoot, and these were the big guns, the go-to guys.

On the two-man advantage, it was Parise, Koivu, Suter, Pominville and Moulson. On the 4-on-3, it was Parise, Koivu, Suter and Pominville.

Pominville said the 5-on-3 was easy to defend because with two lefties at top, the Oilers didn’t have to respect the one-timer.

I know most coaches have to defer to the big guns, the veterans, but it is a shame in a game like this that Mikael Granlund wasn’t used. He set up goals by Parise and Pominville in the first period on terrific passes and looked to be feeling it. Hey, if you’re going to pass all power play, you may as well use your best passer to actually set up a scoring chance.

“We’ll talk about these things for sure,” Yeo said. “In that situation, those guys are leaders on our team and high-skilled guys, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to put it away for us.”

Yeo pointed out how there were questions about not using Parise and Koivu in shootouts or at least fiddling with his shootout order and Parise and Koivu both scored back-to-back in the shootout tonight.

“Sometimes you have to be careful not to overreact and sometimes you have to make hard decisions,” Yeo said.

There were a couple quality efforts. One guy who had a ton of energy and was a constant threats shorthanded was Erik Haula. He also assisted on Jared Spurgeon’s goal. Maybe Haula should have gotten more ice time.

But the Wild just lacked urgency tonight and besides the momentum-killing 5-on-3, the Wild took three minor penalties – two by Charlie Coyle, one by Kyle Brodziak – in the second. The Oilers didn’t score, but it just gave the sense that they were back in the game. And then in the third, they eventually got back in the game.

The Oilers had nothing to lose and didn’t quit.

“We were trying to challenge the group with that,” Yeo said. “And I actually mean it as a compliment to Edmonton, where they don’t care if they win or lose right now. They’re just going to keep playing hard. We knew they were going to keep coming.

“We’ve got to be on our game, doesn’t matter who we play, and we weren’t.”

“This is one game. We can’t overreact. We didn’t lock it up, we weren’t tight enough, we weren’t strong enough, it was the back end of three in four, we have to find ways to win games where we’re not perfect.”

Read the gamer for some of the other quotes. Parise was pretty candid. That’s it for me.

Rachel Blount is actually covering Wednesday’s practice and I’ll be back with you Thursday. I am co-hosting Common’s show on KFAN from noon-3 live from the car show. We’ll be talking some hockey and NFL draft. Some of the hockey guests include Rangers play by play man Kenny Albert and the Wild’s Matt Cooke.

I’ll also try to line one of my reporter pals who covered the GM’s meetings.

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