There was a three-minute span in the second period Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center when a scientific calculator was needed to figure out the power plays.
As the referees got whistle-happy in a 2 ½-minute span, there was everything from a 49-second Calgary Flames 5-on-3 advantage to a pair of 4-on-3s lasting 41 seconds and 37 seconds. In between, a couple of abbreviated 4-on-4s and a lot of boiling-over Wild tempers, both with the Flames and the zebras.
In the end, the Wild left frustrated after Flames backup goalie Chad Johnson and the NHL’s worst defense posted a 1-0 shutout.
“I think you have to look way past [the officiating],” said Wild winger Zach Parise, who played for the first time since Oct. 27. “We’ve got to, as a group, ask ourselves, ‘Did we really do enough to give ourselves a chance to create offense, to sustain offense, to get scoring chances?’
“I don’t think we did. I think we left a lot out there and there’s a lot of things that go into making plays and creating offense and we just didn’t do it tonight.”
In the its first home game since Nov. 1, the Wild opened a stretch of five games out of six in St. Paul by suffering a 1-0 loss for the second time in five games. Johnny Gaudreau’s power-play breakaway goal in the first period would be all Calgary needed.
Johnson made 27 saves for his fifth career shutout.
It certainly was a disappointing start to a three-game homestand after the Wild won two of three on the road the hard way: winning at defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, then at Ottawa in the second of a back-to-back with opening faceoffs 22 hours apart.
On Tuesday, the Wild’s penalty kill got on the ice a season-high six times, taking three penalties 2 minutes, 35 seconds apart in the second period and two in the first 5:55 of the third.
“We were in the box for half the [second] period,” said Wild coach Boudreau, exaggerating slightly. “So we’re trying to use as many as eight penalty killers. The guys are exerting all their energy to kill penalties, not to score goals. Not making excuses for us not scoring, but that’s a byproduct of that.”
When the Wild wasn’t killing penalties, it couldn’t beat Johnson, backstopping a team that was leading the NHL with 10 regulation losses and 3.63 goals-against average.
The Wild looked to have him beat three times, but Jason Zucker and Mike Reilly hit iron and Mikko Koivu fired over the net with a backhand on a shorthanded breakaway. That proved costly. Seconds later, Gaudreau slipped alone behind three Wild players and made them pay.
Boudreau bemoaned a consistent theme for the Wild for years: The team’s inability to finish odd-man rushes.
“There was a 4-on-1 and a number of 3-on-2s and, I think, there was a 4-on-2 there as well,” he said. “We practice that every day so it’s frustrating.”
On the first shift of the game, the Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle line registered three shots. Right after, Parise threw a puck at the net with linemates Erik Haula and Jason Pominville crashing, but Johnson kept the door closed.
“I wish we could have those chances first shift back,” Staal said. “If you bury one of those right off the bat in our rink, you get it buzzing and it’s usually a different story.”
The first four minutes, the Wild cruised past flat-footed Flames defensemen shift after shift. Reilly’s hooking penalty 5:24 in ceased momentum and created a 1-0 deficit, but in the end, the Flames are a team that most others exploit defensively. The Wild, partly because of the penalties, didn’t.
It missed the net 16 times, had another 14 shots blocked. The Wild, unable to convert on a late flurry with an extra attacker, fell to 0-6 on 6-on-5s this season totaling 7:24.
“Feels like every 6-on-5 we’ve had, we seem to be inches away from tying it up,” Staal said. “It just hasn’t happened yet.”