Skidding Wild moves from bad to worse

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 23, 2011 - 12:45 AM

Minnesota is 0-3 on a road trip on which the team has only scored twice. Two weeks ago, the Wild was the NHL's best.

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EDMONTON, ALBERTA - As members of Team Sweden for the upcoming world junior championships, Jonas Brodin and Johan Larsson got to watch their first-ever Wild game live and in person Thursday night at Rexall Place.

Hopefully they don't conveniently lose their signed contracts.

The two prized Wild prospects were forced to watch a Wild team falling apart at the seams.

A shadow of what it was only two weeks ago, the Wild stretched its winless streak to six games when it was beaten decisively by the Edmonton Oilers, 4-1.

"It's very apparent that we've got a long way to go," said coach Mike Yeo, spitting fire but trying to bite his tongue after an 0-3 road trip on which his team scored twice. "We have to understand that the league gets tougher. As the year goes on, teams get better. We better not only be keeping pace but setting the pace. This trip was a step back."

The Wild, which scored seven times during this 0-4-2 stumble, sputtered dreadfully into the Christmas break.

In two weeks, the Wild has gone from being the best team in the NHL -- at least in terms of points in the standings -- to arguably one of the worst.

It's no longer playing like the "team" that was so unbreakable during a stretch of 17 wins in 21 games. Its division lead is down to one point over red-hot Vancouver.

"Is the Christmas break coming at the perfect time?" defenseman Justin Falk wondered. "Everyone gets to get rest; we've been playing with battered bodies. We can recover and get a fresh mindset."

A team ravaged by injury, the Wild especially misses its ignition, captain Mikko Koivu, who was out his fourth game.

Over that time, the Wild's unmistakable work ethic and unbreakable style have vanished. "All those little things that we were doing earlier to win games that end up making the difference, we're not doing it -- plain and simple," Yeo said. "The details in our game -- completely nonexistent."

The Wild was outshot 20-3 in the first period. It took three penalties in the first 15 minutes. Falk was called for delay of game (he felt the puck hit the glass) to give the NHL's fifth-best power play a third crack, and it capitalized on Jordan Eberle's first of two goals.

The penalty came on a shift in which the Wild was beaten repeatedly to loose pucks. The one time it got there, Brad Staubitz froze, turned the wrong way and turned it over.

"Puck's on our tape, if we don't get it down 200 feet eventually, it's going to end up in the net," Falk said.

It did when Eberle picked off Clayton Stoner's weak backhanded clear. Less than three minutes later, Ryan Smyth made it 2-0.

In the waning seconds, Stoner tripped Taylor Hall for a penalty shot, but Niklas Backstrom stopped it.

The Wild, now with a chance to rally, opened the second with two minutes of power-play time. It had a 17-minute intermission to draw up a power play. It needed an hour and 17 minutes.

Jeff Taffe was stripped for a Lennart Petrell shorthanded breakaway goal, and for the fifth time in two games, the Wild was held without a measly shot on a power play. The Wild had 7:50 of power-play time to open the third and couldn't score before Dany Heatley ruined Nikolai Khabibulin's shutout bid.

"We just weren't ready. We weren't ready, and it cost us the game -- a big one, too," Kyle Brodziak said.

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