TORONTO – Josh Harding has been red-hot, but the Wild doesn’t want to risk burning the goaltender out.
Harding has multiple sclerosis and missed two months last season because of complications. So the Wild needs to be cautious with his health and thus opted not to start Harding for the second time in 24 hours and fourth time in six nights Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“He’s been playing so well, I don’t want to put him in a bad spot,” Yeo said before the Wild put forth undoubtedly the most dominant 4-1 loss in franchise history. “He hasn’t had any complaints, he hasn’t come to us and shown any kind of fatigues or symptoms or any problems whatsoever. With that said, at this time of the year, back-to-back games are pretty tough on those goalies.”
Harding ended up playing anyway.
In a game the Wild controlled from start to finish but maddeningly couldn’t finish, Darcy Kuemper gave up three goals on seven shots. Finally, with the Wild trailing 3-1 despite a 21-7 shot lead 32 minutes, 23 seconds into the game, Yeo gave Kuemper the hook.
Kuemper, 23, making his fourth career NHL start, looked defeated on the bench afterward.
“Everything couldn’t have gone much more poorly for me out there,” Kuemper said. “I just feel really bad for the guys because they battled so hard and had a heck of a game and probably deserved a better fate.”
The Wild outshot the Maple Leafs 37-14, tying a franchise road record for fewest shots allowed. It has happened three times, amazingly all ending in losses. Just like against Los Angeles, Anaheim and Nashville to start the season, the Wild felt it deserved better.
“You can only say that so long,” simmered forward Zach Parise. “Eventually we need to win these games. There’s no consolation in us coming here and saying, ‘We outshot them, we outplayed them.’ We didn’t win, and that’s happened too many times this year.”
James Reimer, who got the start over Jonathan Bernier even though three of his seven career shutouts are against Minnesota, made 36 saves. On one power play, he denied Parise on three deflections. Later, he denied Dany Heatley, the two-time 50-goal scorer who has none in seven games this season, on a one-timer from the slot. Reimer stopped Mikael Granlund and Torrey Mitchell on breakaways.
Nate Prosser hit one post in the second period, Matt Cooke one in the third. Granlund fanned on a breakaway in the third. It was representative of Minnesota’s night and thus, the Wild’s three-game winning streak ended.
“I’ve been part of a few 4-1 losses, but not many of them felt like that,” Yeo said. “There’s been too many of these.”
Yeo couldn’t have been happier with the Wild’s execution, puck possession time, the way it attacked with speed and the chances generated. But the Wild couldn’t convert other than Jason Pominville’s power-play goal late in the first.
The 3-2-2 Wild gave up two power-play goals and has now allowed eight in seven games. The first by Tyler Bozak, Kuemper had no chance on. The second — the first of two Mason Raymond goals — Kuemper lost his post.
In between, a harmless-looking Trevor Smith shot squeezed through Kuemper’s pads.
“I feel bad for the kid,” Yeo said. “We’re not pinning this on him by any means.”
That’s because it’s hard to win games scoring one goal on 37 shots.
“At the same time, we’ve got to keep doing that,” said captain Mikko Koivu, who has no goals and had three shots one night after missing the net eight times in Buffalo. “We’ve just got to find a way to find the net. Very frustrating, but at the same time, we have to keep doing that and just crash the net more.”