WINNIPEG – Mike Yeo said Friday morning it was time for the Wild to get back to its defensive foundation.
“When we were winning a lot of games, we weren’t winning a lot of 6-5 games,” the Wild coach said of a team that had scored 22 times in the previous 15 games.
Hours later, instead of rediscovering that Wild squad that led the league in fewest goals and shots allowed for much of the first two months, the Wild tried to go run and gun with the Winnipeg Jets.
That’s rarely going to work for the NHL’s 29th-ranked offense, and despite scoring the most goals it has scored on the road in five weeks, the Wild dropped a 6-4 decision at MTS Centre, extending its month of reeling.
“That’s not the type of game we’re going to be successful playing,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “You’re not going to be successful in this league the way we played — the way we’ve been playing.”
In losing for the ninth time in 10 road games, the tumbling Wild fell to 5-10-1 in the past 16 games overall. It now heads home for a “huge” four-game homestand.
“We can’t win on the road, so we better make sure we play hard at home,” Suter said.
Dany Heatley, Justin Fontaine, Stephane Veilleux and Mikko Koivu scored, but that wasn’t enough. Former Gopher Blake Wheeler broke a 4-4 tie with his second goal with 9 minutes, 20 seconds left.
After the Wild failed to clear the zone umpteen times, a long shift proved deadly when a mad scramble ensued after Bryan Little’s shot. With a pileup of players searching for the puck, the persistent Wheeler crashed and jammed the puck underneath Niklas Backstrom.
“They had a few of those shifts that period where they hemmed us in,” said defenseman Keith Ballard, who was behind Backstrom on the erratic shift. “It was there for us, and we blew it.”
The goal was emblematic of the night. The Jets crashed Backstrom’s crease with little to no pushback all night. When the Wild got near goalie Al Montoya, the Jets punished. The Wild was also outhit 28-9.
“You can never be tough enough in front of your net when you’re giving up goals like that,” said Yeo, adding, “It’s little things right now that’s killing us. Earlier in the year, we prided ourselves on all these little things. It’s still there. We just have to find it.
“Our focus is not directed the right way right now. There’s been too much losing going on, and because of that, we’ve got a lot of things clouding our focus of how we’re supposed to play the game. We’ve got to find it.”
In a seven-goal first period in which Backstrom gave up four goals on 11 shots and Ondrej Pavelec was pulled after giving up three goals on six, the Wild and Jets looked like two teams that didn’t practice for three days.
In the first period, 20 out of 36 skaters recorded a point. There were five goals in the first 7:04. At one point, Fontaine and Veilleux scored 10 seconds apart, beating the Wild team road record by one second for fastest two goals.
That gave the Wild a 3-2 lead — an advantage that lasted eight minutes until Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien scored three minutes apart. Koivu’s power-play goal early in the second tied the score at 4-4.
Backstrom has allowed three or more goals in his past six starts and 17 during his four starts in place of Josh Harding. He settled down in the second and third, and Yeo wasn’t pinning this loss on him.
The Wild has allowed 34.8 shots and 3.2 goals per game the past 10 games.
“That’s not who we are and that’s not how we’re going to get it done,” Yeo said.