The day started so blissfully, yet ended so badly.
Hours after Zach Parise surprised everybody in attendance at the morning skate by at least trying to play against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Wild plodded through another hard-to-watch first period, lost second-line center Mikael Granlund 29 seconds into his return to the lineup and paid for both.
With the Wild already minus Parise, the Granlund injury triggered a chaotic night of line juggling right off the hop. The lines looked like a mess, and it certainly created a messy scene, especially in the first period, as the Wild fell 3-1.
“We’re not coming out with the same force in our game, like we’re going to dictate, we’re going to take control,” coach Mike Yeo said. “It seems like we’re very reactive, we’re on our heels. I really think the injuries, coupled with us looking at the magnitude of these games, we’re going out there trying to be a little safe.”
Dany Heatley made it a 2-1 game with 9 minutes, 58 seconds left when he buried his fifth goal on a rebound, but the Wild lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time since Oct. 15-17. A six-game home winning streak also ended.
Mikkel Boedker and Radim Vrbata each scored for the Coyotes, while seldom-used backup Thomas Greiss made 27 saves. The Wild lost at home for the first time since Oct. 28.
“The first 10 games of the year, we were concerned with getting pucks deep and managing the puck and playing the right way and being a physical team,” forward Matt Cooke said. “We didn’t do that tonight until the second period.”
Granlund, who missed two games because of an “upper-body injury,” lasted one shift. Fewer than two minutes in, he skated in on the forecheck and tried to check defenseman Connor Murphy. Murphy reacted by meeting Granlund with a high hit. Granlund fell in a heap, was slow to get up and then skated gently to the bench looking dazed. He was met by athletic therapist Don Fuller, who sent him to the dressing room.
Granlund, who has a history of concussions, never returned. Yeo said that it was for precautionary reasons and that Granlund was feeling “better.” But Yeo admitted concern with the three hard hits Granlund has taken lately.
With Parise out because of a bruised left foot, Heatley was supposed to take Parise’s spot on the first line with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle. Granlund was supposed to be reunited with Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville.
Speedy Jason Zucker had been returned to Iowa so the team could activate defenseman Keith Ballard and forward Torrey Mitchell off injured reserve. Yeo said Zucker, who scored twice in Iowa’s win at Chicago on Wednesday night, likely will return now.
So immediately into the game, Yeo had to scramble his already depleted bench and return Coyle to center, a position he hasn’t played nearly as well as wing.
“Regardless of who’s in or out of the lineup, it shouldn’t look that much different for us,” Cooke said. “The way we approach the game, it should be identical.”
The Wild spent the first period chasing the Coyotes. Phoenix made the Wild look slow, outshooting Minnesota 12-5 and jumping out to a 1-0 lead on Boedker’s goal off a 2-on-1.
The Wild was lucky to get out of the period only down a goal. Niklas Backstrom didn’t look comfortable and the Wild spent a lot of time in its own end. Finally the 1-0 deficit became 2-0 just 3:42 into the second on Vrbata’s goal.
The Wild outshot Phoenix 10-3 in the second and had nine scoring chances in the third, but by that time it was a 2-0 hole.
“We can’t play from behind and have desperation kick in,” Wild forward Justin Fontaine said. “We have to start from the drop of the puck.”