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 shamed on home ice by the Montreal Canadiens

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: March 21, 2011 - 12:12 AM

I once covered a Panthers 9-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but at least that was in Toronto.

This one was in Minnesota, in front of the Wild's home crowd, the high-paying customers, many of which have been emailing and tweeting me in record amounts after this one.

They're not pleased.

The Wild was embarrassed 8-1, the most lopsided defeat in franchise history and the most goals ever allowed at home. Rookie P.K. Subban became the first Montreal Canadiens rookie defenseman in their long illustrious history to record a hat trick, the first defenseman of all ages to ever register a hat trick in the Wild's short history.

Todd Richards didn't talk after the game about how his players were paid "professionals," like Saturday's overtime loss. That's because, as John Madden said, they didn't play like "professionals."

Their execution was "horrible," Richards said. He doesn't buy they've given up though.

Me, I think we're quibbling with semantics. Have they quit or are they just so emotionally drained because their playoff hopes are dead despite what mathematics say?

That 9-1 loss I covered with Florida was in a similar circumstance -- a team playing out the string that was emotionally and physically beaten to a pulp.

Whatever the answer, the Wild's in meltdown mode now and it's sure looking like this team that's lost six in a row is about to have a very painful final 9 games.

The veterans haven't been scoring down the stretch. The blueliners, it's not a good sign when the rookie defensemen are the best defensemen, especially tonight.

Brent Burns, Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon had tough games.

Zanon, like Burns tends to do, started it off by aggressively stepping up on Benoit Pouliot at the blue line. He didn't get the puck, Pouliot went by him and goal 31 seconds in. Downhill from there, starting next with Cal Clutterbuck's defensive-zone turnover leading to a second goal.

Then, everybody watched Subban skate in alone to make it 3-0. Then, Richards messed up before the fourth goal. He was using four forwards on the power play. The power play expired, and when they went to change, he put out a fourth forward instead of a second defenseman. But still, it was Burns' pinch that resulted in a 2-on-0 that he chased into a 2-on-1. Didn't matter. Mike Cammalleri set up James Wisniewski.

The Wild gave up a team-record tying four goals in the second and was trailing 6-0, which is the same score as the worst shutout loss at home in Wild history. Problem was there was a third period to play.

Mercy. No running time. Montreal made it 7-0. Mikko Koivu scored on a penalty shot, but then Tom Pyatt promptly made it 8-1.

Just a brutal display.

Richards came out and was tempered in his comments. He ripped the execution and things like that. He was clearly mad, embarrassed. But most coaches would have lit the team up like a rocket launcher. I don't know why he doesn't, especially considering the way this season is spiraling out of control suddenly, his seat is getting warmer again.

I don't buy this is all his fault. This team's just not good enough. But this team has completely fallen apart. If this team shows no heart or character the rest of the way, that fault could, fair or not, land right at Richards' feet.

I asked Koivu if he felt the team's given up or emotionally deflated with the reality that this is going to be another early spring:

"I don’t believe we give up at all," he said. "I think the effort’s been there every single game. I know there’s a lot of ... (the pause was classic) people who's questioning us, who’s been questioning after every single loss we always have, but we have to learn to deal with that. We can't worry about that. We can't worry what people write about us or talk about us. It’s a matter of these guys in the room. As long as we believe in each other, that’s all that matters. It’s not up to us what you guys write or people talk about."
 
Hey, I'm a big boy, but this is a constant theme with Koivu -- complaining about the allegedly negative media around this team. Whether it's true or not, I wouldn't pick after an 8-1 home loss to complain about the negative media.
 
If Koivu only knew what it was like in other markets. Imagine if he had to spend five minutes in brother Saku Koivu's skates when he captained Montreal, holy moly would Koivu learn he's got it pretty good. Imagine if he was in any Canadian market or New York or Philly.
 
Maybe one day, maybe by the end of Koivu's 7-year, $47.25 million contract, he'll start to gain a grasp of the media's role, how we don't work for the team, how our job is to be objective with our coverage and how our purpose is to be the liaison between the team and the fans -- the paying people who allow certain players to make $6.75 million a year starting next year.
 
Maybe.
 
I respect Koivu. I respect how this guy despises to lose, so I can take a couple potshots. Heck, after that 9-1 loss in Toronto, Ray Whitney, the player who hates to lose more than any player I've ever covered, and I nearly got into a toe-to-toe, drag-down brawl.
 
(It was good drama) and thank goodness pre-YouTube. 

But the questioning media didn't cause the Wild to lose 8-1 in front of 18,595 hockey fans tonight. Koivu and his teammates did that.

Good evening. You might not be getting a blog Monday because the team's got the day off before Toronto comes to town Tuesday.

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