ANAHEIM, CALIF. – For the first two periods Wednesday night, the Wild was given an up-close-and-personal lesson as to why the Anaheim Ducks have been so dominant on home ice.
The Wild could get almost nothing done against the bigger, faster, more skilled Ducks, who skated through the neutral zone like Wild players were a bunch of traffic cones and pushed the Wild off pucks with almost no effort during Minnesota’s rare forechecks.
The Wild finally found its game in the third period, but the first two periods cost the Wild as the Ducks stretched their home record to 12-0-2 this season with a 2-1 victory over the road-weary Wild.
“In the third, we were more on our toes, aggressive, supporting each other better, were involved,” forward Jason Pominville said. “It just wasn’t there in the first couple periods.”
Pominville scored his 15th goal on the Wild’s only power play of the game early in the third, but in the end, the Wild fell to 5-7-3 on the road to open a three-game road trip that continues in San Jose on Thursday night.
“Similar problems,” coach Mike Yeo said of a Wild team that has struggled on the road.
The Wild again lacked execution the first two periods and turned pucks over to make life difficult. The Wild, which entered the game having scored 1.85 goals per game on the road and had been shut out in two of its previous three road games, could barely muster a scoring chance in the first 40 minutes.
Jonas Hiller kept the Wild from the tying goal midway through the third when he stopped Charlie Coyle on a breakaway. Hiller made 23 saves.
“He’s a big guy and he spread out pretty good. I got too in-tight,” Coyle said. “I wish I had that one back.”
If it weren’t goalie Josh Harding, the Wild still would have been blown away in a somewhat even first period. In the second, the Wild was outscored 2-0 and outshot 14-7 as it was taken to clinic.
Most disconcerting was how easy the Wild was knocked off pucks.
“Collectively, we’re not strong enough in those situations,” Yeo said. “We’re getting pucks back and then we’re losing it right away. We need some more puck strength, we need a little more urgency, a little bit harder on that puck. It’s always we’re doing one thing right and we’re not following up with another thing right now.”
After a scoreless first period, Harding would probably want the first goal back. Defenseman Alex Grant, who is about 10 or 11 on Anaheim’s injury-riddled depth chart, blew his second career goal by him from a bad angle. But it came after the Wild’s second line, particularly a poor-positioned Jason Zucker, allowed the Ducks to fly into the offensive zone uncontested with speed.
It was the seventh consecutive game the Wild surrendered the first goal on the road.
“We’re close to the guy, but we’re just not going after him. That’s not us,” Yeo said. “That’s not how we play the game. We’re about taking time and space away and we allowed the guy just to skate in.”
But that was the theme of the middle period. Time and time again, the Ducks were allowed free rein to simply fly through center-ice against backing-up, poorly-gapped defensemen.
It created chaos in the Wild end. Harding recovered from the bad goal 2 minutes, 37 seconds into the period by robbing Corey Perry’s fluttering rebound attempt of Dustin Penner’s shot off the crossbar with his glove. Later, he robbed Teemu Selanne, who has no points in 16 games, with the glove.
But after Ryan Getzlaf was again able to fly into the Wild zone without any hindrance, Keith Ballard whiffed on Hampus Lindholm’s rebound off the end boards, Clayton Stoner didn’t tie up Perry and the NHL’s hottest goal scorer potted his 21st goal.
Perry extended his career-best goal streak to seven games and Getzlaf extended his league-best point streak to 13 games.
Harding, who entered the game with a 16-4-3 record, the NHL’s best goals-against average at 1.50 and second-best save percentage at .938, was strong again in the first period.
The Wild got off to a decent start, jumping out to a 4-0 and 5-2 shot lead before taking a dip and playing with fire. The Ducks flew through the neutral zone and put pressure on the Wild constantly.
It led to a seven- or eight-minute span of icings and defensive-zone draws and near close calls. But every time, Harding was there to save the Wild’s hide.
On one Ballard whiff, Harding robbed Kyle Palmieri with a save despite being handcuffed. A few sequences later, Matt Beleskey flew up the gut, received a breakaway pass but was stopped by Harding. This also occurred against the Ballard-Stoner pair and struggling second line of Nino Niederreiter, Coyle and Zucker.
Offensively, the Wild got little done until late in the first. It came after a quality shift by the third line, particularly a surly Matt Cooke, who played with attitude all period. It started early when Hiller tried to nail him as he cut through the crease on the forecheck.
After the whistle, Cooke took an about-face, skated right at Hiller and had some words. Ryan Getzlaf took exception, got into it with Cooke and both received unsportsmanlike conduct minors.
“We’re not doing enough to create enough scoring chances,” Pominville said. “They did a good job containing us.”