NEW YORK – Mike Yeo hoped Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville could rekindle their early-season spark when the Wild’s second-line center returned to the lineup from a concussion in the Big Apple.
Granlund and Pominville did, teaming up for a goal on their second shift reunited against the New York Rangers.
Unfortunately, the rest of Yeo’s disjointed, mentally fragile group lacked any spark during Sunday night’s Broadway flop at Madison Square Garden.
The Wild, admittedly incapable of handling in-game adversity, routinely passed up shots and threw pucks away as the Rangers, a lousy team at home, beat an even lousier team on the road 4-1.
“It’s mental. It’s 100 percent mental,” Matt Cooke, seething, said afterward.
That was clear on the ice and in an uncomfortably silent, plainly frustrated locker room afterward.
The Wild, close to tumbling again out of the top eight in the West, fell to 6-10-3 away from St. Paul. It lost for the seventh time in its past eight road games, in large part because of only eight measly goals scored. After the loss, the dejected team took a train to Philadelphia, where the Flyers have won eight in a row, for a Monday night game.
The Wild’s latest trouncing came against a Rangers squad that was 1-4-2 in the first seven games of its nine-game homestand.
Things started wonderfully. The Rangers were so overwhelmed, they iced the puck five times in the first six minutes. One resulted in Pominville giving the Wild its first 1-0 lead in 11 road games after Granlund’s faceoff victory.
“The way we were moving the puck, it felt like we were in a spot where we were a few weeks ago, a month ago maybe, but you can tell that confidence is shaken right now,” Yeo said. “When they scored the first goal, we tightened up a little bit. When they scored the second goal, we tightened up completely.”
After 2005 Wild first-round pick Benoit Pouliot tied it with a power-play goal, the second period was a nightmare. Almost every moment was spent in Niklas Backstrom’s end as the Wild was outshot 17-5 and outscored 2-zip.
The Rangers got the go-ahead goal nine seconds after the Wild wasted its first of two power plays. The Wild displayed impressive passing ability but passed up shots, the most glaring by Charlie Coyle. Moments later, Keith Ballard put a puck onto Carl Hagelin’s stick for the eventual winning goal.
“We became a little demoralized, a little flustered and changed the way we were playing the game,” Zach Parise said.
You could tell players were pressing, almost trying to make plays out of nothing. One game after being minus-3 in Pittsburgh, captain Mikko Koivu forced passes and turned pucks over.
“When things are going good, you’re feeling good and the game’s kind of easy,” Koivu said. “When you’re struggling, you’re not doing the right plays even if you’re trying your butt off.”
Mats Zuccarello scored the 3-1 dagger after Koivu first passed up a shot and then the Wild’s top line and defensemen Marco Scandella and Clayton Stoner allowed Derick Brassard to skate 200 feet with the puck.
The Wild, outshot 36-25, has scored 23 goals in the past 15 games (1.53 a game). It ranks 29th in the NHL at 2.16 goals per game, 29th on the road at 1.68.
Asked how the Wild turns this around, Parise said, “I don’t know. I don’t know. Shoot more? I don’t know.
“It’s just been a frustrating stretch for us. We haven’t played great. I don’t know. We have to find a way to score. That’s the bottom line. We’re not scoring. We’re not giving ourselves a chance. We’re not scoring goals.”