Well, you do have to hand it to the Wild.
Just when you think you’ve seen its absolute worst, just when you think it can’t get any lower, just when you think it can’t play any crummier, the Wild does what it did tonight here at Air Canada Centre.
Just a terrible performance, a terrible effort, an unwatchable display in a 4-1 loss to the Leafs in the center of the Hockey Universe and seen coast-to-coast across Canada.
To cut-and-paste from my game story,
“I’ve been coaching for quite awhile, and I’ve been part of a lot of games I didn’t like, and this one ranks right up there,” coach Mike Yeo said.
In a maddening display, the Wild passed into skates, coughed up pucks in the neutral zone, looked like bullfighters Ole-ing at the blue line, played pylon in the defensive zone and refused to lay bodies on net-crashing Maple Leafs.
In the offensive zone, instead of playing dump-and-chase, the Wild dumped and watched the puck come right out. The Wild generated two, maybe three scoring chances in the first two periods. Nick Johnson’s goal with 2:27 left ruined Jonas Gustavsson’s shutout and was the Wild’s 11th goal in the past 11 road games.
The Wild, a fractured team in absolute crisis, literally was not in this game at any point. Yeo actually corrected my statement on that in the postgame, “First 15 seconds maybe. Then after that, no, you’re right.”
Every time I saw Chuck Fletcher again today, he was on the phone. He is trying to make a move (maybe 10 moves) and I just really have to think at this point something, anything is imminent.
Heck at this point, I’d go around the room asking for volunteers.
The room needs to be rattled, shaken, slapped into oblivion.
They’ve had meetings and hard practices. They’ve soul-searched and looked long and hard for answers. Now they’ve hit the point of all losing teams where it’s all the media’s fault.
I get the injuries, trust me. I see how sapped this team is of confidence, energy, a semblance of a pulse.
But these losses are getting more and more unacceptable.
I mean, 2 days of talking a good game like solutions were actually found, and you’re down 1-0 50 seconds in? 2-0 by 5:11? Take 12 minutes of penalties in one period alone? Watch Maple Leafs crash the net and not even think of getting physical? Generate four or five scoring chances against one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL – one that’s been struggling?
Toronto’s not the Flyers. But the Wild’s become the NHL’s slump busters. Losing games? Pray the Wild’s on your schedule.
11 straight road losses (11 goals in that stretch). 15 losses in 17 overall. ONE regulation win since Dec. 10.
Outscored 9-2 in two games in front of the fathers? To quote my favorite Jacques Lemaire line: “OH … MY … LORD!”
“The only ones that are going to do that is ourselves,” Yeo said on gaining confidence. “We do that by the way that we play. The things that we’re doing right now are not helping us get confidence, whether it’s taking unnecessary penalties or the way we’re executing and playing our system. The biggest thing we need right now is all of us, from myself, the rest of the staff, the players, to take a really good hard look at ourselves and figure out what we can do better, and what more can we bring to the table. I know I’m ready to come back to the rink and be better, and we need the same from everybody.”
Frustration was everywhere in the silent locker room. Nick Schultz, the Wild’s best player by far (plus-1, five blocked shots, three hits), went on a bit of a diatribe where five times he dropped F-bombs while talking about how the Wild’s throwing away the season and can’t wait for Mikko and Gui and Butch to save the day.
Nick Schultz! He did it in a controlled way, but he couldn’t stop himself from the expletives.
The Warren Peters to the first line experiment ended in the second period when Matt Cullen replaced him. Peters and Mike Lundin played big roles in Nazem Kadri’s goal 50 seconds in which created a “here we go again” feeling.
“It put us in a hole,” Peters said. “It’s so easy to talk about, but it’s a lot harder to [actually] do to stick with the work ethic and keep going forward. Obviously it wasn’t there tonight.”
Less than five minutes later, after a Dany Heatley neutral-zone turnover (minus-1 for the game but minus-2 by 5:11 in), Joey Crabb caught Jared Spurgeon flat-footed en route to a goal.
In the second, one by one, the Wild paraded to the penalty box. In a minute span, Joffrey Lupul (three assists) was high-sticked by Clayton Stoner, slashed across the hands by Cal Clutterbuck and slashed across the ankles by Kyle Brodziak.
The first two were called, giving the Maple Leafs a 75-second 5-on-3. The Wild killed the first minor, but Phil Kessel buried his 25th goal when three Maple Leafs swarmed the blue paint and neither Stoner, nor Greg Zanon, nor Darroll Powe attempted to put any part of their bodies on the net-crashing Leafs.
“If you don’t have that kind of battle level, if you don’t have more desperation in those areas, that’s going to be the result,” Yeo said.
Late in the period, Brodziak took a boarding penalty, then mouthed off to referee Dan O’Halloran for an extra two minutes. It was the third game in a row an angry Wild player got an extra two for yapping – Clutterbuck in Philadelphia, Stoner in St. Louis.
“It’s stupid. I let frustration get the best of me,” Brodziak said. “I just know I can’t do that. I’ve got to keep my mouth shut and go to the box.”
I thought this was a telling quote by Yeo because he basically, in my mind, let slip that players are getting frustrated with each other: “These are things we’re doing to ourselves. We can get mad at the refs, but it’s not their fault. They’re calling penalties that we’re doing. … We all have to be better. Like every one of us has to take a good, hard look at ourselves and quit looking at the refs or another player or anything else that cpuld possibly be going on, and say am I doing enough, can I be better, and if so, how.”
I asked if he’s out of answers: “We’re going to spend a lot of time thinking about it tonight and be ready to come to the rink tomorrow and start putting them into action. I mean, we haven’t done everything. There’s still more. I know.”
Niklas Backstrom had some good quotes in the paper, but I asked if he’s worried there’s no end in sight and the Wild’s throwing this season down the toilet: “I don’t think anyone has given up. If you give up, it’s better to stay home. You’re proud to wear this jersey. We’re just going to fight. If we fight, sooner or later, it’s going to turn around.”
Again, I know for a fact Fletcher’s trying to do something quickly. Could today be the day? I've got to think a shakeup is on the horizon.
I’ll be in the air most the morning. Kent Youngblood will be at practice, so pay attention to startribune.com/wild and his Twitter (@bloodstrib). Right now, he’s on to cover Saturday’s game, too, as I spend the day checking out my cousin's game at Minnetonka and Rochey's tournament in the burbs on the other side of town.
If anything massive happens, obviously I'll be sure to jump in feet-first.
Remember, Saturday is Hockey Day Minnesota. The Wild and Fox Sports North announced new details for the day, and you can find that information on their web sites. Remember, Saturday night before the game against the Dallas Stars, Matt Cullen will be honored for recently playing his 1,000th game.
Also, want something cool to do Saturday? Check out "Skate For The Troops" down at the Oval in Roseville at 1 p.m. It's free to the public. For more information, click here.