By Michael Russo
If the number on top of my admin is accurate, this is my 1,200th blog post at the Star Tribune.
Cigars all around.
If you happened to attend tonight’s 4-1 loss at the X, hopefully you were one of the fans who took advantage of the free ticket offer by bringing in some new or used hockey equipment to donate. If you paid NHL prices for tonight, you deserved a free lower-bowl seat to a future home game.
While the Blues brought their regulars and looked in regular-season form, the Wild still dressed a collection of minor-leaguers and one tryout with so many regulars out with injuries (Koivu, Brunette, Sykora, Bouchard, Pouliot, Weller, Hnidy and Boogaard).
Not that it was these guys’ fault by any stretch, but the Wild opens in eight days and after one TV timeout tonight, Richards had on the ice John Scott and Jaime Sifers as the D pair and Danny Irmen, Nathan Smith and Matt Kassian on the ice. The next shift? Robbie Earl and Andy Hilbert.
Again, I really mean that as no disrespect.
But the season’s around the corner and the Wild has so many banged-up guys, those guys are playing a St. Louis Blues team with a roster set because they leave for Stockholm Saturday. But when you consider that you have a coach trying to deprogram a system and install a brand new one and he can’t get his full array of guys onto the ice, it’s very alarming.
And then when you consider how difficult the first two months of the season are as far as travel, this could be as tough a transition as I’ve predicted all summer. I just don’t think it’s easy to snap your fingers and install a system, and it’s definitely not easy when you’ve got like eight or nine guys missing practice everyday.
You can just see how mixed up the players are. Some of the D tonight wanted to pass, then they skated, then they stopped. Like their mind was about to combust with so many thoughts going through their heads.
Greg Zanon said the Wild is trying to play their system so much, they’re getting all jumbled. John Scott said the players almost have too much information in their heads.
This is worrisome because the players certainly look confused. As Richards said after, the players were retreating tonight and making long stretch passes, a staple of Jacques Lemaire’s system. The breakouts for Jacques were simple. Defenseman way back in his zone bypassing the center and trying to hit a wing at the far blue line.
The Wild did that umpteen times tonight, which is not at all in Richards’ system. As you can remember my story the first day of camp, entries up the middle are not optional. Richards wants you flying through the neutral zone with speed and entering up the gut.
The Wild didn’t do that at all tonight.
Here’s Richards’ postgame quotes:
“We didn’t generate much. I don’t think our compete factor was great for a good portion of the game. We lost a lot of battles. … We were a step behind.
“I don’t think it’s legs. It’s being prepared, being ready for a quick start. Again, the compete factor. There were some guys that competed and played really hard, and there were other guys that didn’t.
“It’s roster spots, it’s guys fighting for ice time. I’m going to have to probably change up my approach now because I was putting guys in certain situations just to see. And I wasn’t necessarily holding guys accountable for their actions because I wanted to see my guys and give them ice time, but with two games left here, and one tomorrow night, and coming off of the way we played tonight, I think I have to change the way I’ve been doing things. It’s got to come down to a point now where the guys that are playing are the guys that are going to go.
On the system: “It’s bits and pieces. … I think we’re still retreating at times and then when we get the puck, a lot of times we just go straight to the far blue line, and I know that was kind of how they played here last year. We aren’t coming up the ice with any speed. We’re making long plays and it’s just kind of getting chipped in. so it’s a little frustrating and a little disappointing. But that’s what happens when you’re behind and you aren’t thinking as clearly and maybe you aren’t as confident, you resort back to old habits and your old ways.
Concerned that this could take well into the season? “It’s one game. The other games, there’s been lots of positive signs. Today was a disappointing night and tomorrow’s a new day. If we have everybody come in and raises their compete level. You can’t be losing one-on-one battles all over the ice. If you do that enough time, you’re going to be chasing all night long.
What change up? “I was putting guys out on the ice in certain situations that probably didn’t warrant them getting the ice time or the minutes because I think there’s more that guys have to offer. You sit back on the bench as a coach and you have to figure out a way to get it. … Tonight wasn’t real positive.
Any positives? “There wasn’t a heckuva lot. Nothing really comes to my mind. I’m frustrated and disappointed, but tomorrow’s another day and as a coaching staff, we need to work harder.”
Anyways, I’ll talk to you from Chicago on Friday afternoon. By the way, check out the James Sheppard story about his friction with Lemaire. And check out the notebook with the John Scott quote on David Perron. If I see it was trimmed for space, I’ll put it on the blog Friday.