UPDATED WITH SUTER HEARING INFO
Where do they go from here?
Yes, Mike Yeo was expected to be on the plane for all the Twitter folks who asked me if he got left at the building. GM Chuck Fletcher not only was lucky enough to miss the 7-1 display in Dallas 10 days ago in person, he wasn’t at this 7-2 loss at Pittsburgh either because he’s conducting scouting meetings right now with his staff.
So even if Fletcher wanted to pull the plug, he wasn’t here to do so.
In those scouting meetings, just perhaps, the name of a goalie (both professional and amateur) or 10 are on that scouting list because that was again the catalyst of tonight’s meltdown despite Yeo doing everything he could to not pin the loss on Niklas Backstrom. What choice does he have? There’s nobody else with Josh Harding sick, Darcy Kuemper hurt, John Curry obviously not having the team’s faith and Fletcher not yet delivering a goalie.
Yes, the Wild has a gazillion problems and with what’s going on, there’s no simple fix. But there was no bigger problem tonight than goaltending and when your goalie gives up bad goals when you’re fragile as it is, it deflates you as a team and you just don’t play the same way.
Just look at the bench after the second and third goals against tonight. Players just slumped over.
I know this will be hard to believe judging by the score, but if you didn’t watch this game, the score was 3-1 after two periods.
The first period, the Wild had the better of the chances and the more quantity on the shot clock, but Marc-Andre Fleury made 12 saves and swallowed everything. The Wild was causing turnovers and pressuring, but next thing you know, the Wild couldn’t bury pucks (five goals total during a four-game road losing streak) and it was suddenly 2-0 because of two rebounds goals, the second coming off a harmless-looking shot by Christian Ehrhoff that Backstrom let drop and David Perron put in.
In the second, the Wild also came out of the gate looking fine and got a Jonas Brodin goal on a delayed penalty.
The score’s 2-1 at that point. It’s back in the game. But Charlie Coyle takes a tripping minor and it took only five seconds for Chris Kunitz to score after Backstrom couldn’t stop a tough Evgeni Malkin shot, but then just stood there like a statue in his save pose until a reaching Kunitz put in the loose puck that was just sitting in the crease.
That was a back-breaker. The third period, the Wild’s down 3-1, and Backstrom gave up a Brandon Sutter goal past his blocker from atop the right circle after Brett Sutter’s cuz flew past Ryan Suter, then Backstrom coughed up a rebound before Paul Martin made it 5-1. Nothing Backstrom could do on the Kris Letang mini-break and Backstrom, who has allowed 30 goals in his past eight starts and is winless since Dec. 13, was mercifully pulled finally for Curry, who gave up one more after Jared Spurgeon turned it over.
The Wild has now given up seven goals in two of the past three road games, has now lost six in a row, 12 of 14 and 17 of its past 24.
After the game, a 26-minute player-only meeting.
Yeo, who we usually get second, came out first because the locker-room door was closed.
He said the game was “similar to a lot of our games right now. We unravel.”
He talked about how the team had a good start, good energy, created turnovers and chances and defended well and “something bad happens, and one bad play turns into many.”
On Backstrom’s play, Yeo said, “Tonight I'm not going to pinpoint this on any one person. This is about us. We use the word unflappable and for whatever reason it's not in our vocabulary right now. As a team, we just, for whatever reason, we just fall apart. We start to press and we start to make bigger mistakes. There’s lots of hockey game left, but … things just compound quickly.”
He and Suter mentioned how that Kunitz power-play goal started the deterioration.
Asked if the Wild has quit, Yeo said, “It’s not about quitting. If they had quit, then they wouldn't be in there meeting right now. It's not about that. It's about doing things the right way.”
Again, on Backstrom, whom he said will start in Buffalo, “I’m not going to blame Backy for that. There’s mistakes that lead up to those plays, there’s other people that are involved. I’m not letting anybody off the hook, but now’s not the time to single one person out.
“I don’t believe that we’re giving up. I believe that we’re getting just completely lost.”
Justin Falk sustained an upper-body injury tonight, so Suter played another 29 minutes in a blowout.
Suter and Spurgeon were minus-4, Mikko Koivu was minus-3, four others were minus-2.
Suter is now minus-22 in his past 20 games.
Yeo said, “Plus-minus is a dangerous stat, and I’m not saying that he’s perfect right now. Certainly that’s a topic that’s on his mind right now and he’s putting a great deal of pressure on himself. It’s something that we talked about. I’m not saying that he is perfect, but plus-minus, we keep our own stats and we don’t go by that one.”
Suter tonight also elbowed Steve Downie in the head in the second period and Downie never returned. Suter will have a hearing with the NHL on Wednesday and faces a suspension. If he is suspended and with Falk hurt, Jon Blum will draw in and the Wild will need a defenseman -- I'd assume Matt Dumba.
Suter said it was a fluky play and doesn’t think he will be suspended, that he went to reach for the puck and when he put his hand back on his stick, that’s when Downie skated into his elbow. The video is being inspected by the league and it did look like his elbow jutted out.
I saw Suter talking to Sidney Crosby at the end of the period and he said he was telling Crosby to apologize to Downie, telling Crosby that you know that “I’m not that type of player.”
“I personally never want to see anyone get hurt,” he said.
Koivu on the meeting: “Whatever said here stays here. I’m not going to talk about what’s been said or talked in the room. Like always, that’s going to stay here.”
“The only way is to do a lot of things better,” Koivu said. “It’s not one thing or two things. It’s a lot of things that have to change. The way we play, the way we do things on a daily basis. It’s everything. Every single detail. Everything. It has to be better. With this effort and the kind of game we’ve been playing lately, it’s embarrassing and every single guy should feel that.”
Zach Parise on how they get out of this: “I feel like we’ve been asked that question for the last three weeks now. We’re not getting out of it. We’re so easy to play against. We lose battles, we don’t bump off draws, the details of our game are terrible. We don’t even make it hard on the other team. They tic-tac-toe right around us. Can’t happen.”
Backstrom: “I felt OK out there, but we didn’t win, so you’re not happy. Have to find a way to be better. …
Well you want to get better every game. I never really look back and try to learn from that. Move on and try to be better.”
Just a mess right now. Like I said, Fletcher’s away from the team. But this is serious. Goaltending is an issue and the team just looks drained from all the losing. It’s fragile, it has no confidence, and because of that, it doesn’t take much for the team to fall apart.
Yeo has gotten two public votes of confidence from Fletcher recently. The Wild has lost three times since the last one. So, is that enough to change Fletcher’s opinion or owner Craig Leipold? If Yeo loses his job, I don’t buy that things will magically be repaired. This team is completely fractured right now.
But, what’s next?
As always, please check out the gamer and the game notebook. I have a wakeup call in five hours, so bye. Talk to you from Buffalo.