ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Like an awful movie that you still watch every time it’s on, the Wild’s seen this flick before.
So often, the Wild faces off against the Anaheim Ducks, outplays them, has the better of the scoring chances and skates away exasperated.
The latest sequel was produced Sunday night. The Wild controlled play for 40 minutes, generated plenty of Grade A chances during a lengthy one-goal game, couldn’t buy that tying goal and somehow skated out of So. Cal with a 4-1 defeat.
“Funny game. Might have been our best game of the year,” coach Mike Yeo said after his team’s first regulation loss in five games and a 1-1-1 road trip. “We’ve had too many of those [against the Ducks]. We don’t bury when we get chances and we do a lot of good things and it feels like you’re controlling the play, and then at the end of the night you leave wondering why you didn’t win.”
The Ducks, who visit St. Paul (where they’ve won six straight one-goal games) Saturday, have beaten the Wild in 10 of the past 11 meetings. It was hard to tell who was more frustrated by night’s end: The Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Nino Niederreiter line or the Thomas Vanek-Charlie Coyle-Justin Fontaine line.
The Koivu line was sensational. It threatened almost every shift and spent virtually the entire night buzzing unorthodox former Wild goalie Anton Khudobin. Besides the fact Koivu assisted on Niederreiter’s short-lived first-period tying breakaway goal, Zucker, Koivu and Niederreiter combined for 15 of the Wild’s 35 shots and 29 shot attempts.
Yet, they were hardly content. “It was right there for us,” Niederreiter said. “We’ve got to sharpen up on our chances.”
Added Koivu, who hit the crossbar on a second-period power play, had six shots and won 18 of 26 faceoffs: “It’s frustrating when you get those kind of chances and you can’t, … what can you do? Empty nets and we missed the puck and crossbars and posts.”
The Coyle line was abysmal. Discount Hampus Lindholm’s 170-foot blind, backhanded empty-net goal, Vanek, Coyle and Fontaine were on the ice for each of Anaheim’s goals.
“We’ve got to tighten up defensively,” Coyle said. “No talk, no communication. We killed our team. We were all bunched up on all three goals. We were just off. Communication is everything out there. One simple, ‘Hey, you stay there, I got this,’ you’re set. There was none of that.”
Shut out in three of their first four games, the Ducks, touted by many as preseason Stanley Cup contenders, were desperate. They entered with one goal and no wins.
Khudobin got the surprise start and made 34 saves. As is his style, Khudobin, a Wild seventh-rounder in 2004, was fishing along the ice all night and seemed to have trouble seeing pucks. Yet, the Wild couldn’t find the twine.
“Not a lot of luck on our side,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who gave up at least three goals for the third time in four starts. “There seemed to be a magnet around their net, … and they get a couple deflections and a very lucky third one off a rebound where their guy pushes Fonzie into me.”
Dubnyk felt the Wild should have challenged Mike Santorelli’s third-period goal that turned a 33-minute-long 2-1 Ducks lead into a 3-1 lead. Dubnyk kicked out Shawn Horcoff’s rebound, Santorelli pushed Fontaine into Dubnyk and next thing you know Anaheim was celebrating.
“I know that the contact is what made the puck end up in the net,” Dubnyk said.
The overheard replay makes that debatable, but nevertheless, Yeo wished he challenged. He said he didn’t because the side of the Jumbotron facing the benches inside Honda Center wasn’t working and for some reason word from the Wild video room is not making its way to the Wild bench. It’s the second time that’s happened this season.
“We have to fix our system,” Yeo said. “Everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing, but the messages are not going through.”