MONTREAL – All teams have clunkers.
But the Wild has kept them to such a minimum this season — and especially during its monthlong stretch of triumphs — that Tuesday’s 6-2 beatdown from the Montreal Canadiens had a “did that really happen?” feel to it.
But in by far its ugliest performance of the season, the Wild, which had snagged points in 12 of its previous 13 games, lost for the first time in regulation in eight games this month.
“We were just sloppy — sloppy with the puck, we weren’t winning enough battles, races to loose pucks,” center Kyle Brodziak said. “It’s tough being embarrassed like that. Everybody realizes that was far from the standard that we’ve set for ourselves this year.
“We just have to respond [Wednesday night] in Ottawa.”
Coach Mike Yeo gave Josh Harding the mercy pull after Max Pacioretty finished off his natural hat trick to give the Canadiens a 3-0 lead by the 13-minute, 36-second mark of the second period.
It was clear early that the Wild didn’t have its legs (its first shot wasn’t until 7½ minutes in), but Harding did an admirable job keeping the Wild in a scoreless first period. At one point, he robbed Pacioretty of what would have his first goal with a sprawling glove save on the goal line.
But even that didn’t shake the Wild out of its siesta. The Wild sleepwalked through the middle period, gave up four goals — including the only shot backup Darcy Kuemper faced — and the Wild went on to lose in regulation for the first time since Oct. 28.
“We’re not going to get too low. We’re going to learn our lesson,” Harding said. “Unfortunately those type of games are actually going to happen. You just have to learn from it.”
Harding, who suffered his first regulation loss since Oct. 17 to end an 11-game point streak, has given up two goals or fewer in 16 of 18 appearances. The two exceptions were both to Montreal (three goals twice).
“He didn’t have a chance on any of the goals,” Brodziak said. “We were sloppy in front of him. We gave them too many high-quality chances from good areas. We just have to clean it up.”
Defenseman Jonas Brodin was minus-4. Ryan Suter and Dany Heatley were each minus-3 as the Wild, which is 10-1-2 at home, fell to 3-4-2 on the road.
“We need to play the style of hockey that brings you wins on the road,” captain Mikko Koivu said.
Carey Price never was tested, well, other than Nino Niederreiter and Heatley each scoring with the Wild trailing by five goals. On the other hand, the Canadiens, who scored three goals in their previous three games, outskated a Wild team that had no pushback all night.
“If you’re not on your game, [the Canadiens] proved tonight how much skill they have,” Harding said.
Pacioretty, who hadn’t scored in eight games and entered with only two goals, scored less than three minutes into the second period. Brodin’s pass at the offensive blue line caught Heatley by surprise, and then he didn’t even try to pressure P.K. Subban. The turnover and Heatley’s lack of pressure allowed the Canadiens to fly up ice before Pacioretty scored.
It was downhill from there. Pacioretty, who had 10 shots, scored twice more in a 3½-minute span to end Harding’s night.
Kuemper, who had given up three goals on seven shots last month in Toronto, replaced Harding and was beaten on the first two shots he faced and three overall.
Now his anticipated start in Ottawa surely will go to Harding.
“Hopefully, we’re a little ticked off,” Yeo said. “If this stings like it should, it should be pretty motivating for us to be ready for that game.”