LOS ANGELES – It’s too early to panic, but the Wild is heading into crisis mode.
Two veterans are hurt. Its defense has become leaky. Niklas Backstrom has shown signs of cracking. Scoring chances have become harder and harder to come by. And fundamentally, the Wild has lost focus.
Thursday night in a 3-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center, the Wild turned pucks over, created odd-man rushes because of coverage mistakes, and committed some foolish line changes.
The result was the Wild’s third loss in a row, fourth in five games and a trip out of the top spot in the Northwest Division. It is now five points ahead of ninth-place Edmonton.
Since shutting out San Jose on March 23, the Wild has allowed 26 goals the past seven games.
“You can’t panic,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Throughout the year, you go through ups and downs. You’ve got to work harder to get out of it.”
The Wild has dropped the first two on this three-game trip. Friday is a travel day. When the Wild practices Saturday in Columbus, it will be its first real one in 14 days.
That’s why coach Mike Yeo said before Thursday’s game, “We have to be sharper with our focus. You can see the details have slipped. We have to get back to that attitude, ‘every detail is the difference in a hockey game.’ ”
Then, after bemoaning yet another bad start the night before in San Jose, the Wild responded by giving up two goals on two shots in the first 3 minutes, 7 seconds Thursday.
It wasn’t the quickest hook of Backstrom’s career, but he was replaced by Darcy Kuemper so quickly, he barely had long enough to work up a sweat.
Just 89 seconds in, Justin Williams scored off a 2-on-1 after captain Mikko Koivu missed the net by a large margin on an easy odd-man rush.
Soon after that, Drew Doughty took the puck from Devin Setoguchi in the Kings’ end and Los Angeles took off on a harmless-looking 3-on-3. That was until Mike Rupp went for an inexplicable line change, Torrey Mitchell crossed over and Mike Richards hit Jeff Carter for a 2-0 lead.
The Kings were held to nine shots through two periods but had a 3-0 lead. That came after newly-acquired Jason Pominville turned the puck over at the offensive blue line, which was followed by a wholesale poor line change. Anze Kopitar headmanned the puck to Williams, who blew a beauty by Kuemper.
Despite losing, the Wild allowed 14 shots, tied for the team record for fewest on the road. The Wild lost that Oct. 2011 game, too, at the Islanders.
Veteran Dany Heatley is expected to return to the Twin Cities on Friday with what’s believed to be a wrist injury. The Wild says there is no timetable, but it could be awhile.
“Somebody’s going to have to elevate their game,” Yeo said before the Kings’ game. “That’s two key guys that we lost the last couple games.”