First, the good news. Niklas Backstrom was pulled!!!
He is 21-2-4 all-time in his first start after being pulled and 17-0-2 since March 26, 2008. So that bodes well for Sunday, when the Wild opens a three-game homestand against the Calgary Flames.
The Wild was trounced, 6-1, tonight inside the Shark Tank to San Jose – a 3-1 game that quickly got out of hand when the Wild gave up two goals in a 22-second span early in the third. The game got so lopsided late, the Wild sat down Ryan Suter in the last 8:59 as to not risk injury.
“We have to be honest about this game,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “We weren’t good enough, not even close, to win a hockey game. We have to get better. That’s the bottom line.”
Koivu and his first-line wingers, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle, were each minus-3, as were top-pair defensemen Suter and Jonas Brodin. Backstrom was pulled 4:21 into the third after giving up his fifth goal on 27 shots.
“We didn’t deserve anything today – not even a power play,” said Backstrom (the Wild didn’t get a power play for the sixth time in franchise history and nearly didn’t get one in its past visit April 3). “We have to be better. We know we can play a lot better. We didn’t do it today. It wasn’t our game. We didn’t do the details right. That’s everyone. Me, the rest of the guys. I have to step up there. The rest of the guys have to step up. We want to be better and we can be better.”
As Backstrom said, the Wild seemed to give up 3-on-2’s every single shift. Coach Mike Yeo said it wasn’t the play without the puck. It was poor execution with the puck all night.
The Wild’s puck support in the offensive zone was horrible. Players were soft on pucks, turning them over, getting trapped with three guys below the circles. In the Wild end, the Wild got caught running around a lot, in large part because San Jose constantly came with speed. It also didn’t help that Minnesota lost 56 percent of its draws – 67 percent in the first period. That means you just begin shifts chasing.
Now, the Sharks are better than anyone else at home. They have lost ONCE in regulation in 22 home games (16-1-5). The Wild is 2-10-1 in its past 13 visits here.
“They got a couple, three of their six were probably gimmee’s,” said Suter. “They come at ya hard. When they’re at home, they sure come at ya. It’s a tough place to play. It’s just one of those nights that we have to learn from it and move on.”
So it didn’t help when Koivu accidentally redirected the first of Martin Havlat’s two goals behind Backstrom early in the first. Koivu was trying to deflect the puck into the corner.
Jason Pominville wondered if the entire complexion of the game changes if he cashes in on his breakaway before that goal. Hard to blame Pominville though. He was great tonight and helped to set up Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s breakaway goal with a heady saucer pass to cut the deficit to 2-1.
But then again, Kyle Brodziak hits a post and soon after Antti Niemi made a nice save on Koivu that was actually similar looking to Koivu’s own goal, Logan Couture (two goals, two assists, plus-3, 6 shots, 11 of 16 in the circle), made a great play to leap and knock down Backstrom’s attempted rim.
Before Backstrom could get back in net and recover, Havlat was on the receiving end of Couture’s pass for the easy goal.
From there, all Sharks. The Wild had no fightback, no spark, in large part because Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka are hurt.
“This time of year, we’re still working on trying to get better as a team and that’s a game that’ll give us a stiff reminder,” Yeo said.
The postgame message from everybody was the team needs to quickly forget the embarrassing loss and look ahead to the final four games, including three at home.
But as we learned during the last homestand, the Wild can’t take playing at home for granted. It is 0-3-1 in its past four.
We’ll see if this humbling experience tonight proves to be a wake-up call. The Wild, now 7th in the West, hasn’t beaten a team ahead of it in the standings since March 30 against Los Angeles. In six losses since to St. Louis (twice), San Jose (twice), Los Angeles and Chicago, the Wild has been outscored 20-4.
“We’re not happy the way we played, we have to be better,” Pominville said. “We have to make adjustments. No better place than home to do that.”
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