Like NBC Sports Network in the third period, I’m kind of in the mood to pull out the “technical difficulties” card with this blog tonight and head out for the night. Not much more I need to add than what I wrote in the game story that’ll be up on startribune.com/wild soon.
Actually, that’s a copy and paste from the postgame blog after Sunday’s 2-1 loss to New Jersey, … but the same could apply tonight.
I don’t feel like writing too much more on this 3-2 loss to Buffalo than what will appear soon on the Strib’s Wild page.
Not nearly as bad a game, granted. Nothing will ever top the horrificness (yes, I’m making up words now) of Sunday’s 35-combined-shot extravaganza (those 35 shots, by the way, being the fewest combined shots in a Wild game since 2004!!!).
But the Wild’s in a funk right now and maybe it dearly needs some kind of spark.
As I reported in Wednesday’s paper, the Wild is one of several teams that has talked to Tampa Bay about Jonathan Drouin. Here is the article for you to peruse, and the cost for the talented scorer with huge upside could be a talented defenseman with huge upside as you’ll read.
I can't stress enough the Wild is one of MANY teams after him.
As for tonight’s game, the Wild spotted a 3-zip lead to the team that was tied for the fewest first-period goals in the NHL. The Wild had given up three goals in the previous 11 first periods.
The Wild tried to mount a comeback. Armed by Mike Yeo juggling the lines in the second (Mikael Granlund moved from second-line center to first-line right wing with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, Erik Haula centered Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville and first-line right wing Jason Zucker, a minus-2 in the first period, was demoted to the fourth line), the Wild didn’t give up a shot in the first nine minutes and outshot the Sabres 14-5 in the period.
But it could only get a Ryan Suter shorthanded goal (the second of his career and the Wild’s fourth this season and first since Nov. 10) after a give and go with Haula in the neutral zone.
Not getting another (Linus Ullmark, 28 saves, including two dandies on Zucker off a 4-on-2 late in the period) proved costly because the Wild showed zero push until the final three minutes of the third.
Thomas Vanek cut it to 3-2 with 51.8 seconds left, but the Wild overpassed, passed up golden opportunities (Jonas Brodin, pointless in 17 games, tried to feather a pass instead of taking a shot at the bottom of the left circle with the net partially open up top) and as usual failed to muster a shot off odd-man rushes.
“We don’t want to play off the shot right now,” Yeo said. “We’ve got shot opportunities and we’re looking for a better play. This has been going on for awhile. I can’t count how many 2-on-1s we’ve had that we don’t get shots on goal let alone scoring chances. This is something we’re going to have to change. We’ve got skill, but we have to create with our work ethic and other ways as well. If you’re not willing to shoot against a team, … they’re protecting. They’re protecting a lead. They’re obviously going to play tight. If you’re not willing to create off the shot, then you’re not going to get much.”
That led to a third consecutive home loss against a struggling Eastern Conference team. Philly couldn’t win on the road until facing the Wild. New Jersey had scored three goals in three consecutive losses until facing the Wild. The Sabres, near the cellar of the East once again, snapped a six-game losing streak in Winnipeg two days before facing the Wild.
Haula called the home losses “unacceptable” and “quite embarrassing.”
This is the same Wild team that walked into Dallas, the best home team at the time in the NHL on Saturday, and took a 2-1 win.
“It’s a humbling league. A couple games ago we were feeling pretty good about ourselves and obviously not so much today,” Yeo said.
Why all the slow starts? “I wish I had the right answer for you right now. I have a couple theories, but it’s not going to do us any good right now. We’ve got to rectify it. I think a rest day [Wednesday], and I think a practice the next day will be two things that we dearly need right now and things we have to take advantage of.”
The Wild has had two practices since Christmas and Yeo said the Wild needs the work. But he wants the players to get their rest and turn their brains off Wednesday so to speak and get ready for a big work day Thursday in anticipation of back-to-back division games home Friday against Winnipeg and in Nashville on Saturday.
On demoting Zucker, Yeo sarcastically joked, “What was our fourth line tonight? Maybe that was a promotion, I don’t know. We needed to make a change and we tried to spark him and some other guys, and he responded. The second period was the best that I think that he’s played in a couple weeks. That’s good. We’re all a little bit frustrated right now, we’re all a little ticked off, and that’s probably a good thing. But at the same time, we have to find a way to clear our heads tomorrow. We’ve got a couple games that we can’t carry this stuff into, and if you can’t get up for those kind of rivalry games, then obviously there’s something wrong.”
Suter said of the slow starts at home, “It’s obviously frustrating for sure. I don’t know what it is. We’re in a good place, so we’ve got to figure it out and move on.”
Koivu said, “It wasn’t even close to a start that is enough. If you’re down three-nothing it’s obvious that we weren’t ready to play the game.
Asked why such little push in the third, Koivu said, “For sure they defend well, but we’ve got to look at ourselves and what we can do better. It’s not about what they do. Every team can play defense in this league, so for sure give them credit, but the reason is here, in this room.”
That’s it for now. Barring news Wednesday, day off for the team. I’ll have a follow in Wednesday’s paper.
If you want to hear more about the Wild and the Drouin scuttlebutt, please listen to my podcast with Jim Souhan here.
Also, Thursday at 6 p.m., Anthony LaPanta will join Jim and myself at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub at 6 p.m. Come on by, having dinner, listen and ask questions. Later.