Wild’s in a bit of a pickle and now will be desperately trying to grab control of losing streak and attempt to stop a spiral downward.
That 7-3 season-opening record and dominant play is history. The Wild’s 7-6 now thanks to three losses in a row by a combined score of 11-2, the latest coming by a 4-1 score tonight here in Montreal.
The Wild’s struggling to score. It can’t stop giving up goals (23 in the past seven games, which isn’t Wild hockey). And it’s playing without three significant pieces – Zach Parise, the team’s heart and soul and go-to scorer, Jared Spurgeon, who was off to a fabulous start and is so, so, so important to the team’s puck possession game, and Matt Cooke, who plays hard-nosed hockey, kills penalties and was a key contributor to a fourth line that was scoring until the very moment he left the lineup.
The Wild’s also playing two rookie defensemen who two games in a row on the road made significant mistakes that helped turn scoreless games upside down.
The Matt Dumba one tonight was not good. Scoreless. Everything going well. Team’s following the gameplan and trying hard to get that first goal by Carey Price.
Then Dumba, instead of doing the safe thing and getting the puck deep, tried to chip a puck off the wall. It was too soft, so instead of backing up and realizing it was going to be a turnover, he stepped in front of defender Max Pacioretty (1st big mistake) and then dived to try to keep it from getting to Tomas Plekanec (2nd big mistake).
With the Canadiens coming the other way with speed, Dumba was still picking himself off the ice at the top of the right faceoff circle in Montreal’s end. Yes, the Wild wasn’t outnumbered because Mikko Koivu realized Dumba’s error and backed him up, but it seemed to foul up Marco Scandella because his gap was poor, he surrendered the blue line to the super-fast Brendan Gallagher and 1-0 Canadiens.
Dumba played one shift the rest of the game and none in the third period.
The Wild keeps playing Dumba because it’s about development and has to experience intimidating climates like Montreal, but he’s 20 years old and erratic and hasn’t yet played a second of minor-league hockey even though last I checked, that’s the development league.
The question is can the Wild continue to play him when the bad has thus far outweighed the good.
Jonas Brodins don’t grow on trees. The fact that he could step into the Wild at 19 years old was special. Dumba has all the tools to be a real good defenseman, but he is too reckless at times and tonight characteristically tried to turn something into nothing, made a careless play and it led to a goal against.
Like I said, assistant coach Rick Wilson benched him from there, so perhaps a stint in Iowa is coming for Dumba.
The Wild did tie the game when Thomas Vanek, who twice earlier in the game and once the previous shift neglected to shoot in an attempt to set up Jason Pominville. Third time was a charm when Vanek saucered a beauty to Pominville circa 2011 for Pominville’s fourth of the season and 11th of his career against his hometown Habs.
But with the Wild less than a minute from getting out of the second, 1-1, rookie Christian Folin’s turnover led to Lars Eller’s go-ahead, momentum-turning goal. There were a lot of mistakes on that shift. Folin’s was just the last, but he also had issues in Ottawa.
By the 6:04 mark of the third, it was 4-1.
The third goal, the Wild had a gripe with and coincidentally I have been working on an article on incidental contact for Monday’s paper.
Jiri Sekac made it 3-1 and Darcy Kuemper was unable to make the save because Brandon Prust pushed him inside the net. However, referee Kelly Sutherland didn’t rule it incidental contact because he was already calling Nino Niederreiter for an interference penalty because he felt Niederreiter checked Prust onto Kuemper.
The Wild was very frustrated because in the previous home game against Pittsburgh, Mikael Granlund was arguably pushed onto Thomas Greiss and Mikko Koivu still had a goal wiped out because of incidental contact. Earlier this season, Jan Hejda pushed Niederreiter onto Semyon Varlamov and Charlie Coyle had a goal waved off for incidental contact.
I’ll get more into this in Monday’s paper, but again, Sutherland didn’t rule incidental contact here because he was calling Niederreiter for a delayed penalty all along.
The Wild was upset. Ryan Suter told the ref, “You’ve got to know the play,” meaning know Prust’s MO.
Yeo in the postgame said, “We’re losing games similarly to the way that we did last year at this time. You’d like to think some of the lessons that we learned that we would use that right now. I feel we have to learn some of those lessons again.”
Yeo was frustrated because the Wild was executing the gameplan well, “it’s a 0-0 game and there’s no reason to change. I felt that we did.”
On the Dumba mistake, Yeo said, “I don’t want to pin this just on him. This is a young kid, he’s learning lessons. But that said, that was similar to our whole group. We want to be aggressive, we want to go after the next goal, but you’ve got to make sure you don’t give up the first one, too. As the game wore on, as we got impatient with our process, we started to get away from [our gameplan]. It’s not good enough.”
On the fact that Parise, Spurgeon and Cooke may not be coming to the rescue, Yeo said, “I’m going to use the night here to sort it out. There’s a couple different directions we can go. I feel we can get very hard on certain individuals right now and take that approach or the other flip side is we have some young kids who are definitely pressing. You can see it in some of our execution, some of the plays – whether it’s nerves or tension. Whatever the approach is we’ll find the right one.”
Pretty sure he’s talking about guys like Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle, who was minus-3 tonight.
“We’ll be a better team at the 20-ghame mark than we are right now,” Yeo promised. “This has to be about learning and sometimes when you face this adversity like we saw last year, that makes you better.”
Suter said, “We’ve played a soft game. First period tonight, we played a good north-south hard game the way we need to play. Second period, we got away from that. We made a mistake and then we started not finishing checks. We’re an easy team to play against when we play that way. If you want to have success, you have to stick to the gameplan.”
On the mistakes by Dumba and Folin, Suter said, “It’s a tough game. It takes time to learn. It’s unfortunate, but those plays happen to everybody. It’s not just those guys. We all have to be better. It’s too bad. We had such a good thing going and now we’re kind of getting away from what we were building.”
Koivu said, “It’s on all of us. … They get the goal, and we feel that we’re playing good, but it’s not enough. You’ve got to find another notch. That’s why on the road it’s tough. You have to bear down every single shift. It doesn’t matter what the score is, you have to play the way we need to play to win some hockey games, and right now we’re not doing that.”
The Wild’s got a mess on its hands right now, and it’s up to the healthy players and coaches to get themselves out of it.
That’s it for me. The Wild’s heading back to Minnesota as I write, will take Sunday off, practice at the U on Monday and fly to New Jersey afterward. Rachel will cover Monday’s practice because I’m heading to New York on Sunday to work on two big NHL stories you’ll see in the future, including Sunday night where I’ll be watching the league’s slate of games from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety war-room.
Lastly, goose-bump night here at Bell Centre watching the great Guy Lapointe, the Wild’s chief amateur scout, get his No. 5 retired and see his banner reunited with the “Big Three,” Larry Robinson and Serge Savard. I wrote about it in Saturday’s paper but also wrote a column on Lapointe in Sunday’s paper, so please check that out. Here’s the end of tonight’s ceremony.