UNIONDALE, N.Y. - The Wild might want to respectfully decline the next invitation to play in the New York Islanders’ traditional Columbus Day matinée.
Either the Wild players’ body clocks malfunctioned across the board or they misread their travel itinerary and thought Monday’s opening puck drop was meant to be a morning skate.
Overskating pucks. Committing turnovers. Dodging checks. Inability to connect a pass. Zero scoring chances.
Although the Wild impressively took over the game in the final two periods, that ghastly, unbearable-to-watch first 20 minutes doomed Minnesota en route to its first loss of the season, by a 2-1 score at Nassau Coliseum.
"First period looked like a team that wasn’t ready to play," said Matt Cullen, who scored the lone Wild goal.
In spite of holding the Islanders to five shots the last two periods — and setting a team record for fewest shots allowed in a road game (14) — the Wild never recovered from an early 2-0 deficit. The Wild skated so well in the final 40 minutes,
it kept drawing power plays. That’s normally a good thing, but on this afternoon, it turned out to be a killer.
The Wild’s power play, which scored twice in the opener, continually doused any momentum created at even-strength. The Wild went
0-for-7 (including one short 4-on-3 and a 5-on-3) with four shots.
"We did a lot of good things to draw the penalties, but we’ve got to score on those power plays," said Dany Heatley, who has popped 129 power-play goals in his career. "I had two or three real good chances that have to go in."
One missing piece was Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who had his two-game suspension for high-sticking Columbus’ Matt Calvert upheld after a morning appeal with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
"It was a long shot. We tried," Bouchard said. "I know that deep down it was an accident. This was not fun. It was not a good feeling. I wish I would have been on the ice."
The Wild missed Bouchard, who had two assists Saturday. Cullen moved to the point on the first power-play unit, and the second unit featured Jared Spurgeon, who struggled all game, and at times defensive defensemen Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon.
Bouchard’s replacement in the lineup was enforcer Matt Kassian, who logged 92 seconds in three shifts.
The power play was lousy, but credit should also go to the Islanders’ fast, aggressive penalty kill.
"They pressure," Cullen said. "The ice was very suspect. Pucks were bouncing around, and when you add pressure coming from everywhere, it’s tough."
It was clear the Wild hit the snooze button from the outset.
Back-to-back power plays resulted in nothing even close to a shot. But when Mikko Koivu took down John Tavares, Cullen couldn’t clear the zone and Andrew MacDonald sailed a
bullet past Niklas Backstrom.
Before Frans Neilson gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead, Marco Scandella and Kyle Brodziak overskated a puck moments before Scandella’s breakout pass was sent into Brett Bulmer’s skate for a giveaway.
"One-on-one battles, they were dominating. Loose pucks, they were dominating," coach Mike Yeo said. "They were winning them every time, and when that happens, you don’t execute the right way."
Harsh words were said during the intermission, and the Wild responded. Darroll Powe and Colton Gillies brought some physicality, and the momentum shifted. During a one-sided second period, Al Montoya made 10 of his 20 saves. Cullen scored 1:13 into the third, but the Wild never could get the equalizer, even though, as Yeo said, "it felt like … [the Islanders] were just hanging on."
"The second and third period, our energy level was up, our battle level was up, we started doing the right things," Brodziak said. "We took over the game. We have to learn from it and move on."