The Wild picked up its pursuit of a playoff spot after an eight-day break propped up by the cushion from a three-game win streak, but since the team resumed playing, all it’s done is lose.
And after dropping its fourth straight, a horde of clubs are now nipping at its heels — pressure that will be difficult to hold off if the Wild continues to sleepwalk through games like it did Thursday at Xcel Energy Center in a listless 4-1 loss to the Oilers.
“It’s either find your sense of urgency and do what you have to do to win,” coach Bruce Boudreau said, “or bad things are going to happen.”
The Wild holds the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference, but five teams chasing the Wild grabbed at least a point on the same night the team sagged against one of those challengers. That trimmed its cushion to just two points only hours after General Manager Paul Fenton made it clear he’s still evaluating the roster’s play to determine his course of action ahead of the NHL trade deadline this month.
“Everyone wants to be here in this room and win,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “But if we keep putting up efforts like this, it’s pretty easy for the GM to make a phone call.”
It was also a poor first impression of what the rest of the Wild’s season could look like without captain Mikko Koivu, who missed his first game since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee.
“Whenever you hear about our leader going down, it’s a little bit of a lull,” Foligno said. “But you’d think in that sense you’d pick yourself up with the character you have in this room and want to play for Mikko.”
Instead, the Wild looked flat most of the night — especially early, when the Oilers capitalized 2 minutes, 15 seconds into the first period on their first shot, a windup from defenseman Darnell Nurse.
“It seems our mental toughness is a little weak right now after the first goal [goes] in,” Foligno said.
The Wild didn’t register its first shot on net until almost 10 minutes had expired.
Edmonton went ahead by two when winger Ty Rattie buried a pass from center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on a 2-on-1 rush at 4:32 of the second, a period in which the Wild blanked on 15 shots.
Not until the third did it finally get one by goalie Cam Talbot, a one-timer from center Joel Eriksson Ek at 2:50. The youngster was promoted from the minors to the Wild’s top nine amid Koivu’s injury, and his five shots tied for the most in the game.
An interference penalty later in the period by winger Jason Zucker, who checked defenseman Kris Russell into Edmonton’s net, drained the Wild’s momentum.
On the ensuing power play, the Oilers reinstated their two-goal cushion on a finish by winger Leon Draisaitl at 5:35. Winger Zack Kassian added an empty-netter with 1:20 to go.
“I think the whole arena was asleep tonight after that effort,” Foligno said. “It was pretty embarrassing.”
The Oilers went 1-for-3 on the power play, while the Wild didn’t even get a shot on net on its two looks.
A retooled top line featuring center Eric Staal with wingers Jordan Greenway and Mikael Granlund combined for just five shots; only two belonged to Granlund, who’s scored twice in his past 37 games.
“I can’t go out there and hang on his back and follow him up like a close-talker and say, ‘Hey, shoot the puck,’ ” Boudreau said. “He’s a smart enough player.”
Boudreau is left to wonder where his players went.
“There’s some guys there that just are a shell of the players that I’ve known for 2½ years,” he said.