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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Penalties derail Wild, blows 2-goal lead in shootout loss to Los Angeles

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 26, 2010 - 9:43 AM

You may want to pin not scoring on the five-minute major as reason for tonight's shootout loss, but in my humble opinion, the parade to the penalty box was Enemy No. 1 tonight.

The Wild got off to a great start, gaining a 2-0 lead before the game was eight minutes old on goals by John Madden and Nick Schultz. And then Minnesota again took penalty after penalty (obstruction type penalties) to once again turn the momentum and ruin any forecheck later because the penalty killers were sapped of energy and the non-penalty killers like Martin Havlat, Guillaume Latendresse and Andrew Brunette were ice cold.

For the final 50 minutes of regulation and overtime, the Wild barely mustered an iota of attack. They were pinned in their zone and again could barely get in on the forecheck. Just no sustained pressure for this alleged up-tempo, forechecking team.

"We just have to create more," said Mikko Koivu. "We need the puck. We need some rushes and need to manage the puck well. If you want to win the hockey game, you need the puck, too."

The Kings are bigger. They are younger. They are faster. And they are better, and the Wild should feel lucky Niklas Backstrom snagged them one point.

I just don't think the Wild's fast enough frankly in a fast-skating NHL. Every team the Wild's seen can skate circles around them. Just go line to line on Minnesota, and there's skating issues everywhere. And lately, it's been Mikko Koivu who looks lethargic and taking bad penalties. Koivu was in the box for both L.A. power-play goals tonight.

"The first one I was reacting. The second, I don't know, but I think [Jack Johnson] grabbed my stick at the end there," said Koivu. "It’s part of the game. I’m not crying about it. … but we’ve got to learn from that."

And nightly almost, Latendresse is chasing and taking obstruction penalties. Look at all his penalties, and it's Exhibit A of not skating and reaching with the stick.

The common denominator is players not moving their feet, something coach Todd Richards noted.

But Richards better get this solved. The Wild just isn't good enough to give more-talented teams power play after power play. The Wild leads the NHL with 53 minor penalties and 49 shorthanded situations.

To me, that is an indication of a team that's not fast enough.

Tonight, Wild fans got their first evidence of the league's crackdown on hits to the head. It was a bang-bang play, so it's hard to blame the refs, but I'm not so sure Dustin Brown nailed Antti Miettinen from the blindside directly in the head. It looks like he shoulders him in the shoulder and it glances up and hits him in the head.

But Miettinen was in a vulernable situation in a prime shooting area, and it's hard to blame Brown for hitting him. I just don't see Brown getting suspended. Here's the video.

On the major, the Kings did a tremendous job pressuring the Wild's power play, which was clicking at more than 50 percent at home. LA coach Terry Murray, one of the game's great coaches, gushed about the Minnesota power play in the morning, saying it was a get the shot to the net power play and the Kings had to do a great job keeping the puck out of Matt Cullen's hands. They executed that to perfection, and then scored twice on the power play for a marvelous special teams evening.

Backstrom was great through 65, but once again was terrible in the shootout, giving up 3 of 5 goals. He's 11-22 all-time in shootouts (.333 tied for 7th-worst all-time according to www.nhlshootouts.com), having lost nine of his last 10 and 6 straight since Dec. 4, 2009. His save percentage of .583 (70 saves on 120 shots) is also seventh-worst all-time according to the web site.

Jose Theodore, by the way, is 15-8 all-time with a .740 save percentage.

Other notes:

John Madden plays in his 799th game.

Nick Schultz snapped an 84-game goalless drought, scoring for the first time since Oct. 8, 2009, at LA

Brent Burns leads Wild defensemen with six points and has a point in four of his last five.

Mikko Koivu has a point in seven of the last eight games.

Eight of the past 13 games between the Wild and Kings have been decided by a goal.

Also, 2010 first-round pick Mikael Granlund is out of the lineup for IFK-Helsinki. I'm told in a recent game, he took a big run at a guy, missed and did a header right into the edge of the boards. Lost a few teeth and they're being cautious bringing him back right away.

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