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, one point from dead-last in the Western Conference, finds new way to shoot self in foot

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: December 17, 2010 - 1:13 AM

I don't even know where to begin with this 3-1 loss to Ottawa and if you expect one iota of positivity, stop here.

Here's the game story for exactly what happened and the post-game reaction from the players and coach Todd Richards

Just a brutal, uninspired loss to a team lower in the standings, to a team as fragile, to a team that's coach could be inches away from losing his job. How the Sens have been so bad, I've got no clue, considering it's a team with Spezza, Kovalev, Michalek, Fisher, Alfredsson, Gonchar, Karlsson.

Regardless, the Wild let another opponent walk into their building, an arena that used to be a formidable challenge for 29 teams in the league, no matter how mediocre the Wild was. The Wild's now 7-7-2 at home (one loss in Finland), 1-4-1 in its past six. Again, this in a building that used to provide incredible home-ice advantage, a building in which the Wild used to actually score in, create plays in, at least give the fans reason to cheer.

Now, nothing. Just flat, lifeless yuck night after night.

What's this mean? A very-deserving spot in 14th in the West -- one point from being below the Edmonton Oilers for dead-last in the West.

The glass-half-full optimists will tell you they're only five points from a playoff spot.

Sorry, folks, but I've written this story before -- about 10 times in my career. As George W. Bush once said, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

The point margin is an NHL-manufactured mirage to let people think their favorite team is close.

The only two things that matter is 1) Traffic in front of you, and the Wild's got to hop 6 teams to get to 8th and 2) Pace for 8th team, which in this case is 98.9 points by Los Angeles.

The Wild has 30 out of a possible 60 points (50 percent). They'll need 69 out of a possible 104 left (66.3 percent) to get to 99. Let's say conservatively 8th-place pace goes down to 95. The Wild will need 65 out of a possible 104 (62.5 percent).

Can the Wild pull that off? It's not impossible. But after 30 games, it's also safe to say the Wild is what it is -- an average team that's shown zero evidence it can string six, seven, eight wins together. And that is the only way the Wild's going to get itself on a playoff pace.

The Wild continues to be a team that's unable to respond when something negative happens in a game. Tonight it was a bad line change turning a 2-1 lead into a 2-1 deficit in nine seconds.

The rest of the game, I don't know if it's fair to factually say players sulked or dug their head in the sand, but they certainly didn't have any pushback, any jolt, any spark, any anything the final 28 minutes of the game.

The too-many-men penalty tonight is Hockey 101, although not to make excuses for the players, it was very easy to understand how it happened.

The mistake was a combination of Mikko Koivu and Kyle Brodziak, who then connected for the Koivu-to-Brodziak gimmee goal.

What happened is the Wild went for a wholesale change, but Antti Miettinen went for a forecheck to keep possession alive. Light-as-a-feather but very good defenseman Erik Karlsson bounced off Miettinen like he was Todd Bertuzzi or something.

So suddenly, Miettinen's holding the puck along the wall, stalling for the change to be made.

Koivu was idling to the bench like a peacock. But when he spotted his linemate with the puck, he jumped back in the play. Problem was, by that point, Brodziak saw Koivu coming to the bench, so he jumped on.

Miettinen to Koivu to Brodziak. Goal. But Patrick O'Sullivan, who was playing wing this shift, counted bodies before this and tried to curl back to the bench, which drew the attention of the yelling Senators' bench and a very alert linesman.

No Goal. Penalty. Nick Foligno winner nine seconds later.

"It was a kind of a cheat line change. Everybody does it," said coach Cory Clouston.

Exactly. Everybody does it. Unfortunately, as Nick Schultz said, the Wild scored on this one. If they don't score, the officials probably let it go.

Amazing, eh? Miettinen makes a great play and it messes everything up. If he doesn't go in on the forecheck or just gathers the puck and dumps it deep, no harm, no foul.

Kinda like in Anaheim when Miettinen slid Mikko Koivu's stick into the faceoff circle in an attempt to get the twig back to his linemate. Instead, Koivu had Bobby Ryan's stick and Koivu's was in perfect position for Ryan to pick up and score a backbreaker because of Miettinen.

Miettinen should clearly stop helping out. Obviously, I'm being tongue and cheek here. A little.

Wild again just can't score. Plain, simple. Last in the West at 2.4 a game. Chris Phillips made two key blocks on Eric Nystrom (hasn't scored with a goalie in net this year) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (Phillips cut his ear on this block). If the Wild score on either of those, different game.

And if I had a dime for everytime I could write "if the Wild scored on one of those, different game," I'd have 10 million dimes.

Wild can't score. They just don't get unlucky every single night. They just cannot score.

Deficient at scoring. Clear?

Anyway, two massive games coming up in a rare home-and-home series against Calgary, the team now directly in front of the Wild. Desperation better be on the line, or again, changes could be coming. What's scary is the Wild just lack that spark sometimes (too often at home), and when players start waiting for something external to happen like a big trade or a firing, things start to go really haywire.

The Wild's 3-7-2 in its past 12 but still "in it" because the NHL constructed standings allow them to be. But it won't be like that forever if the Wild doesn't start racking up W's gang.

I'm off to Calgary in the morning. Kent will be with you on the blog after practice Friday and then I'm on the team for pretty much the rest of the month except I think Dec. 26.

Lucky Wild.

 

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