Once he scored late in the first period, dicing the Wild’s deficit in half, Wild center Eric Staal felt like the puck might find him — and the back of the net — easily the rest of the game.
And while that goal did ignite more offense from the Wild amid a plethora of chances for the line of Staal and wingers Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund, the Wild ultimately didn’t capitalize enough since it fell 5-3 to the Maple Leafs Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
“I had plenty of looks after that, maybe two, three, four,” Staal said. “But they just didn’t go in today. Disappointing, but we’re generating a lot. We’ve just got to consistently generate and if we do, we’re going to be on the positive more often than not.”
Staal’s unit combined for an eye-popping 13 shots, with Zucker pacing everyone on the ice with six.
He also converted, tying the game at 3 in the third period, but after he fanned on an empty net earlier in the frame.
“That’s about as wide open of an empty net as I’ve missed in my whole career,” Zucker said. “It’s never good, especially for a guy like myself that feels I can help this team by scoring goals. That’s a goal that needs to go in, especially that point in the period. It changes things.”
While the Wild certainly could have used more production, the pressure was encouraging.
“The result wasn’t there,” Staal said. “But that competitiveness and that work ethic and line to line, I thought everybody was doing the right things. But we just didn’t get rewarded.”
Winger Tyler Ennis scored for the Maple Leafs on Saturday while sitting on the Wild’s payroll.
The Wild bought out the remainder of Ennis’ contract this past summer after he struggled in his first and only season with the team, recording just eight goals and 22 points in 73 games.
That freed up the 29-year-old to sign a one-year, $650,000 deal with Toronto.
“He’s a real good person,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “He plays with a lot of tenacity and with a lot of speed. He’s a depth forward for us; that’s the stage of his career. But he’s good at it, and he enjoys it and he enjoys being on the team and we enjoy having him.”
Ennis, whom the Wild added via trade from the Buffalo Sabres in June 2017 with two seasons remaining on a five-year, $23 million deal, will receive approximately $2.4 million from the Wild spread out over the next two years.
With Toronto, Ennis has become a regular lower in the team’s lineup.
He notched his fourth goal and eighth point of the season in the first period on a fortuitous bounce off Wild defenseman Nick Seeler.
“It’s such a fun rink to play in, and there’s a lot of energy here,” Ennis said. “It was easy to get up for a game like this. It was just a fun win.”
Time to vote
Voting to determine the four captains at the 2019 NHL All-Star Game is open online at NHL.com/Vote and on the NHL app.
Fans can select as few as one player or a maximum of four per ballot, with 10 ballots the maximum a fan can cast in a 24-hour period.
The top vote-getters in each division, regardless of position, will be named All-Stars.
This season’s exhibition will be Jan. 25-26 in San Jose, Calif, and once again, the action will consist of a 3-on-3, three-game tournament.
• Saturday’s matchup at Xcel Energy Center was the feature game on “Hockey Night in Canada” this week. “It’s exciting for all Canadians that play,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s what we grew up on.”
• William Nylander and the Leafs reached an agreement on a six-year contract that has an average annual value of $10.2 million this season and $6.9 million for Years 2-6. Nylander did not play against the Wild.