Simply, an awful start from the Wild triggered an awful game from the Wild as the fresh team with pretty much its entire healthy lineup got trounced by a Pittsburgh team that play a later-than-normal game on the road the night before.
The Wild was the clichéd “team waiting for us” for a change. It theoretically got a good night sleep in Pittsburgh as the Pens arrived late.
This is a team missing five top-6 defensemen and Evgeni Malkin, among others. Yet, the Pens keep winning because other players are stepping up night after night after night. They have now won six in a row, nine in a row at home and 11 of their last 12 overall. They’re 16-3 at home.
Mikael Granlund was the only skater out of the lineup and has been the only one for some time. The backbone of the team though, Josh Harding, is out at least three games and tonight we saw why that is a big loss.
After the Wild talked on and on about how much faith and confidence it has in Niklas Backstrom, he gave up a terrible goal 49 seconds into the game. Now, Backstrom has got basically zero goal support this year. He has received seven goals of support in his last seven full games he has played and four goals in his last five.
But in two of the past three games he has played, the Wild’s ghastly efforts began after a bad goal. You’re a team that can’t score. You’re a team that struggles winning on the road. You’re come out ready to play on the road, and 49 seconds into the game, you’re down 1-0 because Backstrom couldn’t hang on to two pucks.
It just deflates you. Now coach Mike Yeo said he’s not accepting that as an excuse and the Wild needs to be stronger and respond better than being outbattled the rest of the night.
The Wild couldn’t get to most rebounds being served up by Jeff Zatkoff, but Yeo felt his team was outworked all over the ice.
The Wild is now 6-9-3 on the road with no regulation wins since Nov. 20 on the road and three this season.
“We were not ready to play the game hard enough,” Yeo said. “We have to look ourselves in the mirror – all of us. We did what we did to ourselves tonight.”
For the sixth time this year, the Wild failed to score on a 5-on-3, this one for 1:46 and with a chance to turn a 4-2 deficit that even Yeo said was “smoke and mirrors” to 4-3 or 4-4. To make matters worse, Jonas Brodin hooked Olli Maatta coming out of the penalty box and the 19-year-old stud defenseman scored on the ensuing penalty shot for technically a shorthanded goal to make it 5-2.
It was a crazy sequence of events.
“Generally we’re a team that gets what we deserve and we didn’t deserve to be there,” Yeo said. “It was an opportunity to make something of a game where you haven’t been at your best and we have to recognize that. We haven’t scored one. We have to address it, we have to change something.”
Yeo on Backstrom: “I want to see him win. We want to see him win. This game shouldn’t be about Nik Backstrom. I’m not going to sit here and say he played well or he deserved a better fate. Obviously it’s easy to pick this out as a story in the game, but we stunk tonight. It’s not all on him. I’m not going to say he was nearly good enough, but there were 19 other guys wearing a wild uniform tonight that weren’t either.”
On not pulling him, “He needs to fight through it.”
Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise had poor games. They finished with six shots, but I believe two at even-strength and were each minus-3.
Koivu: “They were ready to play. We just need to be better. That’s the bottom line, starting with myself. I don’t think we were ready to play.”
Backstrom: “Today I could have been better.”
So, the scoring woes continue. So does the inability to win on the road. If the Wild doesn’t improve on the road, it won’t make the playoffs – period.
Talk to you after Friday’s practice, but it may be very late because the Wild practices here in Pittsburgh. I then need to hustle and catch a flight to New York, so my guess is I won’t be able to post blog until I get to New York – maybe from the Rangers-Islanders game, because yes, that’s how I’m spending my night off in New York.
So follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib for real-time info.