A Mike Reilly slapshot went wide and then another was blocked.
But the Wild wasn’t deterred.
And after captain Mikko Koivu’s throw from along the half-wall made it to the crease, the puck kept bouncing around amid pressure from winger Mikael Granlund until winger Nino Niederreiter could bury it past Capitals goalie Braden Holtby.
It was the quintessential reward for funneling pucks and bodies to the net, a blueprint worth mimicking on ensuing power plays, but the Wild couldn’t sustain this rhythm throughout its next three tries with the man advantage — a slip-up that underscored an eventual 3-1 loss Saturday in Washington.
“Sometimes we just stop doing what gets us the right thing,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s sort of bothersome.”
The game was emblematic of how the season has gone for the unit, which ranked 20th in the league at 18 percent after its 1-for-4 showing against the Capitals. There have been bright spots, such as the pair of goals in the thrilling comeback victory over the Predators last week, but also costly dry spells. In five of the team’s eight regulation losses, the unit has been scoreless.
And since the personnel is mostly the same as the group that slotted in the top-10 in the NHL last season, the spotlight shifts to execution.
“Sometimes guys see openings and they get a little excited about it instead of doing what we’re supposed to be doing — getting back to the basics that work for us,” Boudreau said.
Return to action
Backup Alex Stalock was busy Saturday, turning aside a season-high 40 shots in his first start since Oct. 31 and only his second appearance this month.
The effort improved his save percentage to .927 through five games, a workload that could increase with the Wild about to embark on a hectic schedule that has the team playing its next four games in six days starting Monday when it plays host to the Devils at Xcel Energy Center.
“He’s played good every time he’s gone in a game. He’s given us a chance to win,” Boudreau said of Stalock, who’s 1-2-1 with a 2.56 goals-against average. “It’s just unfortunate we haven’t played up to the way he’s played when he’s played.”
The NHL season is far from over, but a gauge on which teams might be postseason-bound will arrive this week.
Typically, teams that sit in a playoff spot on Thanksgiving hold onto it, while it’s generally tougher for the clubs on the outside looking in to snag an invite.
Take last season, when all but three of the 16 teams in a playoff position after games on Thanksgiving advanced to the postseason.
After Saturday’s slate of games, the Wild was only one point shy of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference but it needed to leapfrog three other teams (San Jose, Vancouver and Dallas) to take over the berth.
This might be the season, though, when more teams buck the trend because of how cramped the standings are; six points separated the third-ranked team from No. 11 in the West, while No.3 in the East was only five points up on No.13.
“If you look at it as this is a truism and you’re not in it at that time, you have a tendency, ‘Ah, man, we’re not going to make it,’ ” Boudreau said, “and I don’t want anybody on our team thinking along those lines. But it’s going to be close. Everybody’s 8-9, 9-8, 10-9, 9-10. There’s only half-a-dozen teams that have really sort of took off a little bit.”