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Road Woes Continue for the Minnesota Wild

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 26: Antti Miettinen #20 of the Minnesota Wild flips the puck off of his stick in the corner against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 26, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Blake BenzelCorrespondent IOctober 27, 2009

The Wild’s road woes continued on Monday in Chicago, and the team is now a woeful 0-8-0 on the road this season—an unenviable feat of ineptitude matched only by the ’96-’97 Pittsburgh Penguins (lost eight straight road games without a point) and only bested by the ’92-’93 Ottawa Senators (lost nine straight road games without a point en route to going 38 straight games without a point to open the season).

 

The stress is becoming quite evident, both on the ice and in the locker room, and the team’s rookie head coach, Todd Richards, seems to be at a loss as to how to manage his team.

 

As Richards goes, so goes the team, and he has certainly not looked outmatched behind the bench this season.

 

Where he is struggling, however, is in the locker room.

 

He tries tough love with James Sheppard, scratching him in Saturday’s game against Carolina, only to see him respond with a marvelously uninspired performance.

 

His stat line?  Zero goals, zero assists, zero shots in a shade under nine minutes played.

 

He puts his trust in the team’s “superstar,” Martin Havlat, and how is he repaid?

 

Zero goals, zero assists, a minus-2 rating and one singular shot, while amassing over 20 minutes of ice time—second most among forwards on the team.

 

Richards just cannot get through to his players in the locker room.

 

The blame should not fall entirely on his shoulders, however.  If you look back to last season, there was a point where the Wild looked just like this—absolutely unmotivated.

 

If one of the best coaches in NHL history couldn’t motivate this team, why should we expect a first-year coach to be able to?

 

Richards continuously mentions that the team works hard, but does not compete hard.

 

I’ve been saying that for years.

 

Why were we unsuccessful in our past two forays into the postseason?  Because we were unwilling to do the dirty work. 

 

We didn’t want to mess up our hair down in the trenches, where games are won and lost.  No, we wanted to make the pretty play instead.  That’s the same thing this team is doing right now.

 

On top of that, our team does not look very much like a team right now.

 

On the ice, you can already see the team coming apart.  Our defense is not communicating with one another.  They’re playing an individual game as opposed to a team game.

 

They’re not talking, not saying who is taking who, and it’s reflecting in the scores.  We get behind and our forwards start pushing and pushing and get away from the gameplan and try to do everything themselves.

 

Under the previous regime, it was all about the team.  The entire emphasis was on the team; so much so that the advertisements never focused on one particular player.

 

It is undoubtedly a learning process for Richards, and despite my love of hyperbole, I don’t think he should be on the hot seat.

 

What I do think, though, is that something needs to change in the locker room.  An attitude change, a paradigm shift, or whatever you want to call it. 

 

The bottom line is that this team is struggling on the ice and the tide needs to be stemmed, because it’s only a matter of time before rifts begin to grow and the team begins to struggle off the ice as well.

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