COLUMBUS, OHIO – There are several mysteries in this world, but one that must be solved is how the Wild can so routinely struggle at Nationwide Arena — the home of its expansion-cousin Columbus Blue Jackets, who have made the playoffs once in 12 years.
Yet again on this snowy Friday night, the Wild walked into the mostly empty arena and succeeded only in making everybody forget the elation created by its comeback victory over the Chicago Blackhawks 24 hours earlier.
One night after coach Mike Yeo said the Wild played “probably 57 of the best minutes we’ve played all year,” the Wild followed up by playing what Yeo called “the worst game we played this year” during a 4-0 trouncing.
“This was one for the garbage,” Yeo said.
In virtually every category — goaltending, special teams, forechecks, neutral-zone play, breakouts, battling, simple passing — the Wild was dismal.
“OK in the first and straight downhill from there,” defenseman Keith Ballard said. “They won races to the pucks; they didn’t turn pucks over, we did; they won one-on-one battles. You could see in the second, we couldn’t get the puck out of our end.
“We played D-zone, got it over the red, chipped it in, changed and they came right back at us and started the whole thing over again.”
One night after the Blackhawks registered a season-low 19 shots, the Blue Jackets, who couldn’t muster 30 shots in the prior 10 games, fired a season-high 41 thanks to countless odd-man rushes and shots off lengthy cycles. It was the most shots the Wild has allowed this season.
After a scoreless first, the Wild gave up a knuckling Cam Atkinson goal 77 seconds into the second before Nick Foligno scored a power-play goal four minutes later. It was the fifth time in seven games that the Wild fell behind 2-zip. That 2-0 deficit has also appeared in the Wild’s past six losses.
From there, it was all Columbus as it outshot the Wild 18-8 in the period. Even during a 72-second 5-on-3 in the second, the Wild didn’t get a shot.
The end result was the Wild’s 16th loss in 23 visits to Columbus. The Wild, 12-3-2 at home, fell to 5-6-3 on the road as it began a stretch of eight of 10 away from St. Paul.
Niklas Backstrom, making his seventh start since Oct. 8, had a tough night. He coughed up rebounds and was beaten by two long shots, but Yeo said, “I don’t know who you could have put in net the way we were playing the game.”
“We were just flat and not crisp,” Zach Parise said. “Overall we were pretty brutal through the neutral zone and couldn’t get anything generated. Right away we were just not physically involved in the game.”
The Wild was pasted often against the glass by Columbus’ forecheck, with the Blue Jackets setting a first-period tone by outhitting the Wild 18-5.
It was the most unclean the Wild has been all season leaving its zone.
The Wild had trouble getting pucks through the maze Columbus made the neutral zone, and when it did get pucks deep, it didn’t win enough battles to sustain pressure against journeyman backup Curtis McElhinney, whose third career shutout was a trouble-free 20-save one.
“We were on our heels, we were slow reacting, we were slow getting to places and spots and we were not pressuring the way we needed to be,” Yeo said. “The biggest thing more than anything else was the amount of battles we lost.