This is going to sound awfully repetitive, I know. But here goes: the Wild couldn't sustain a good effort Saturday, had too many defensive breakdowns and offensive stallouts, crumbled on the power play and lost the goaltending battle. And the game.
Only the true believers would have predicted the Wild would have busted its slump against Nashville, the NHL's best team. That didn't make it any less aggravating for fans to see it drop a 3-1 decision at Xcel, ending a three-game homestand with a dreadful 0-2-1 record. The Wild has won only once in its past eight at home, dating to Dec. 17, going 1-3-4.
The Wild got worse as the game went on Saturday and was booed during its last couple of power plays, as well as at the final horn. In the third period, a guy in the upper deck yelled, 'Let's play hockey!" in a very irritated tone of voice. It sounded as if he thought the activity happening on the ice was something else entirely. From the Wild's point of view, it certainly wasn't good hockey, and no one tried to sugar-coat this one.
Coach Mike Yeo thought the Wild played well enough in the first period, when it outshot Nashville 14-8 and tied the score 1-1 on Charlie Coyle's first goal in eight games. Then it started getting sloppy. The Wild lost puck battles, passed erratically, didn't handle good passes, fell asleep on defense. And the power play ... ugh. The Wild got five power plays--including three in the second period, with a chance to seize the lead--and managed a total of six shots on goal.
"In the second period in particular, we started to get loose with the puck, careless with the puck,'' Yeo said. "And a lot of plays, a lot of chances, were coming off the rush. And I think because of that, we not only gave them momentum, but we lost momentum in our own game.''
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, the best netminder in the NHL, contributed to the Wild's demise. But Yeo didn't want to give him too much credit, despite a handful of marvelous saves. Rinne stopped 36 of 37 shots; the Wild's Niklas Backstrom made 24 saves on 27 shots.
"Early on, I thought we challenged (Rinne) a little bit,'' Yeo said. "I liked the way we scored our first goal: putting pucks at the net, getting bodies to the net. I thought we drifted further away from that as the night went on. No doubt he made a couple of big saves, but I do think we could have done some things better to challenge him more.''
The Wild really made some huge mistakes Saturday, including Jonas Brodin's giveaway behind the Wild net that led to the first Nashville goal; Justin Falk's turnover in the third period, when he had the puck in the corner of the Wild zone and flung it out to Colin Wilson for an easy goal; and Thomas Vanek's failure to shoot on a breakaway in the first period, when he instead tried to pass to a trailing Zach Parise.
Regarding the power play, Yeo criticized the Wild for failed entries, an inability to get set up in the zone and a reluctance to shoot. "I always believe shooting the puck brings a lot of momentum, especially when you're playing at home,'' he said. "And we didn’t have that feeling tonight.''
Asked the million-dollar question for the millionth time--how can the Wild turn things around?--Yeo said:
"We've got to win games. It’s a different type of game tonight, but a similar result. We've got to find ways to win hockey games, and as lame as that might sound, that’s what it is. It's executing. It's making a tape-to- tape play when there's an opportunity there. It's grabbing a lead when you have the opportunity, or making sure you prevent goals against in certain situations. It's something different every game.
"We're spinning our tires right now. Our last game (a 4-2 loss to Chicago), we played a good game, but we fell short. We need the mindset coming back today, at the very least, (to play) a similar type game. And I thought we did that for 20 minutes. But to not do it for a full 60, that’s tough.
"I don’t want to say it's mental. It's mental, it's physical, it’s a focus, it's an execution, it's been something different from one night to the next. But I would say as much as anything else, we've got to make sure we bring an attitude where we're going to be at our best for 60 minutes.''
Though this loss wasn't Niklas Backstrom's fault, it did demonstrate how an outstanding goalie can pump up his entire team. Parise had this to say about Rinne's role in the victory:
"(Rinne made) a big difference. He made some really big saves at key times. He seems to be a guy that always keeps them in games and really wins games for them and gives them a sense of belief they can win every game. He's a great goalie.''
So now the Wild hits the road again, going to Chicago, Pittsburgh and Buffalo with only two victories in its past 12 games. As Parise also said, it doesn't get any easier.