TAMPA, Fla. – Looking slow and discombobulated, the Wild is suddenly in the midst of something that had become foreign this season: a losing streak.
The Wild lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time in four months when the Tampa Bay Lightning put on a defensive clinic Thursday night during a 4-1 beatdown of the Western Conference leaders at Amalie Arena.
The Wild fell to 3-3 since acquiring Martin Hanzal and Ryan White and more disconcertingly looks like a shell of the team that made a brilliant December-February run.
“I’m concerned,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We haven’t played very well. … After 65 games, this is our first really little bit of adversity that we’ve seen, so it’s going to be interesting to see how we handle it on the rest of this trip.”
The effort was an ugly way to open a season-long five-game road trip that continues Friday at Florida and continues to powerhouses Chicago and Washington before ending at Carolina. The Wild, previously so good after losses, fell to 16-4-2 following a loss and saw its 10-game winning streak following a loss end.
The good news is the Blackhawks lost to Anaheim, so the Wild didn’t lose its one-point lead in the Western Conference and Central Division.
But the Wild suffered consecutive regulation losses for the first time since Nov. 1 and 5 and consecutive losses overall for the first time since Nov. 29 and Dec. 2. It has scored five goals in the past four games, including one empty-netter and one waning-second goal to St. Louis that only served to evade a shutout.
“We need to get it going, and everybody in here knows that,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “Everybody in here also knows that we’re more than capable of getting it going. … There’s just going to be stretches and times in a season where things aren’t going to be perfect, and we just have to work through it. We know we’ve got the bodies in here, and the talent, and skill to do it.”
Since the Hanzal and White pickups, Boudreau has been switching lines incessantly to try to assimilate the newcomers and jump-start struggling Charlie Coyle. Zach Parise, for one, is playing right wing.
“You’d wish that right now we’d be able to find some consistency with [the line changes] and build a little familiarity right now,” Parise said. “But that’s not happening. So we’ve got to do the best that we can with whatever’s on the board and try to make it work.”
Said Boudreau: “I’m dying to get consistent lines. I really, believe it or not, dislike changing them, but some guys are not playing as well as they should and sometimes that means they don’t deserve to play up in the position that they’re playing.”
Only Marco Scandella’s goal with 3 minutes, 58 seconds left spoiled Andrei Vasilevskiy’s shutout bid. He made 17 of his 32 saves as the Wild pushed in the third period against a Tampa Bay team battling for a playoff spot.
The Wild had a tough time generating any scoring chances the first two periods, and that was even after the Lightning lost centers Vladislav Namestnikov and Tyler Johnson to serious-looking injuries. The NHL was reviewing the Nino Niederreiter knee-on-knee with Johnson to determine if it was incidental or warrants discipline.
In the third, the Lightning lost a third center, Cedric Paquette, when he yanked down Niederreiter. This is a big blow because the Lightning recently traded centers Valtteri Filppula and Brian Boyle. Lightning coach Jon Cooper said none of the injuries looks “encouraging.”
The Lightning jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Nikita Kucherov’s power-play goal (the first against the Wild in 12 games) and Victor Hedman’s goal after the Wild’s third line and third defense pair couldn’t sort out a mess.
The Wild pushed the final eight minutes of the first but couldn’t penetrate the Lightning’s suffocating defense. So when Dubnyk gave up a soft third goal to Andrej Sustr, the Wild’s game took an even bigger turn for the worse. Players could barely complete a pass.
“Third one’s mine,” Dubnyk said.