PITTSBURGH – If that 7-1 loss in Dallas 10 days ago was “rock bottom,” what was Tuesday’s 7-2 beatdown to the Penguins?
The scene inside the Wild locker room after a 26-minute player-only meeting included skates angrily being slammed into equipment bags, more words like “embarrassing” and Zach Parise, still in his skates, staring at the carpet despondently holding a rolled-up ball of hockey tape.
“I feel like we’ve been asked [how do we get out of this] for the last three weeks now. We’re not getting out of it,” a perturbed Parise bristled minutes before.
“We’re so easy to play against. We lose battles, we don’t bump off draws, the details of our game are terrible.
“We don’t even make it hard on the other team. They tic-tac-toe right around us.”
Yup, same old, same old.
The ingredients to another Wild loss reared their ugly head again: Good start, create turnovers, generate scoring chances, don’t score, give up a couple softies, and as besieged coach Mike Yeo said after the Wild’s sixth consecutive loss (0-5-1) and 12th in the past 14 games (2-8-4), “unravel.”
While Marc-Andre Fleury was swallowing mostly everything, Niklas Backstrom was kicking out rebound after rebound. That’s how Pittsburgh scored its first two goals.
Then, after Jonas Brodin trimmed the Penguins’ lead to 2-1 on a delayed penalty, it took Chris Kunitz five seconds into a Penguins power play to bury a puck sitting in the crease after Backstrom didn’t react after a stop on Evgeni Malkin.
It was a backbreaking, deflating, momentum-switching goal.
“The power-play goal was just one of those … just the way it’s been going,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, a minus-4 one game after being minus-3 and now minus-22 in his past 20 games. He also has a hearing with the NHL on Wednesday for his errant elbow that knocked Pittsburgh’s Steve Downie out of the game in the second period.
At the end of the second, Suter sent an apology to Downie through Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
“Obviously that’s not the type of player I am,” Suter said.
Justin Falk also got hurt in the game, so if Suter is suspended, the Wild will need to call up a defenseman.
The Wild got out of the second period down only 3-1, but Backstrom gave up three more goals in the third before he was pulled for John Curry.
Curry gave up one more as the Wild surrendered seven for the second time in three road games. The Wild has lost four in a row on the road, scoring five times.
Backstrom, looking his age, 36, since taking over for the injured Darcy Kuemper, is winless since Dec. 13 and has allowed 30 goals in his past eight starts. Still, with little options in net, Yeo wouldn’t blame Backstrom and said he’ll start Thursday in Buffalo.
“This is about us,” Yeo said. “We use the word unflappable and for whatever reason it’s not in our vocabulary right now. As a team, we just, for whatever reason, we just fall apart.”
Asked if the Wild is quitting, Yeo gestured to the player-only meeting that at that point was 15 minutes deep and said, “If they had quit, then they wouldn’t be in there meeting right now. … I don’t believe that we’re giving up. I believe that we’re getting just completely lost.”
Yeo liked the way the Wild played in the first period and most of the second. He said effort wasn’t the issue but another example of his team crumbling under adversity.
“The only way is to do a lot of things better,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “It’s not one thing or two things.
“It’s a lot of things that have to change. The way we play, the way we do things on a daily basis. It’s everything. Every single detail. Everything.
“It has to be better. With this effort and the kind of game we’ve been playing lately, it’s embarrassing and every single guy should feel that.”