The Wild got an up-close reminder Saturday of the impact a stellar goaltender can have on an NHL team. Exhibit A — otherwise known as Nashville’s Pekka Rinne — came to Xcel Energy Center with a league-best 27 victories and exited with 28, stonewalling the Wild over the final 45 minutes, 46 seconds in the Predators’ 3-1 victory.
But for all the Wild’s recent goaltending woes, its problems often run much deeper. It got a reminder of that, too, in a game that started with promise before veering off the rails. Inattentive defense, errant passing, costly giveaways and a dreadful power play doomed the Wild over the final 40 minutes, as it ended a three-game home stand with a thud.
Rinne stopped 36 of 37 shots in keeping the Wild winless in its past four games, allowing only a Charlie Coyle goal at 14 minutes, 14 seconds of the first period. The ugly numbers continue to pile up: an 0-2-1 mark on the homestand, two victories in the past 12 games, a 1-3-4 record since Dec. 17 in St. Paul.
The only thing different, coach Mike Yeo said, is the nightly cause of the collapse. Saturday, Yeo was loath to single out one flaw from a potpourri of problems, noting that the only thing that matters is making it stop.
“When you’re losing games like we are right now, everything’s an issue,’’ Yeo said. “We can talk about sticking together, but it comes down to the play on the ice. I thought we had a good first period, and I thought we had an opportunity in the second period to grab a hold of the game. And instead, we let it slip away.’’
Rinne made their task that much tougher. The 6-5 Finn, who once was understudy to Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom on a Finnish pro team, stifled the Wild’s best shots with his quickness and agility. Rinne’s play has earned him mention as a potential candidate for the NHL’s Hart Trophy as league MVP and is a major reason why Nashville sits atop the NHL with 60 points.
The Predators broke a 1-1 tie with Calle Jarnkrok’s goal at 3:48 of the third period, as the center snared a rebound and flicked it over an outstretched Backstrom. That came after the Wild failed to score on three feeble power plays in the second period, managing only three shots on goal.
It fell behind 1-0 at 4:01 of the first when defenseman Jonas Brodin lost the puck behind the Wild net, allowing Colin Wilson to scoop it up and find a wide-open Mike Fisher in the slot. Coyle tied it late in the period, but the Wild lost steam after that.
The power play, which finished 0-for-5, struggled to set up and wore itself out by chasing down pucks that escaped the zone. Another glaring mistake — Justin Falk’s giveaway in the left corner of the Wild zone, converted into a goal by Wilson at 8:47 of the third — magnified the pain.
“We’re in a slump right now, so when one thing goes wrong, it’s tougher to get out of it,’’ said Coyle, who scored for only the second time since Oct. 23. “We just have to get back to that positive mind-set. No matter what happens in a game, we have to stay positive, stay with it.’’
That’s become harder for Wild fans, who booed the team off the ice. When Yeo was asked what he could do to jolt the Wild out of its rut, he noted that he has tried all manner of ideas — including a well-publicized rant at practice last week. He won’t stop trying, he said, but the search gets more agonizing by the day.
“We’re spinning our tires right now,’’ Yeo said. “As much as anything else, it’s got to be a mind-set and an attitude. It was a different type of game [Saturday], but a similar result.’’