Different hockey game – probably – if the Wild could have extended that one-goal lead to two, but the Wild’s disappointing season has been all about “if’s,” so not a shock, the Wild couldn’t take a 2-0 lead and one mistake in the final minute of the second period changed the entire complexion of things as the Wild skated to a 3-1 loss here in Columbus.
Happy New Year everybody!
Another game, more frustration for the team that just can’t kickstart itself into a roll.
Six times now the Wild has failed to turn a modest one win in a row into two and tonight fell to 11th in the West, its worst position in the standings of the season.
If the Wild could get that second win in a row, “that would be nice,” Zach Parise said. “That’s frustrating. You don’t know how much of a difference that would make for us. You feel like none of the teams that we’re chasing are getting on a roll, so you feel if you did, we’d make up some ground. We’re just having a hard time getting that second game.”
The Wild had a chance to pull within five of Winnipeg tonight because the Jets lost to the Islanders, but no dice when Kevin Connauton scored with 46 seconds left in the second, then set up David Savard’s power-play goal early in the third.
It was all Wild the final 14 minutes of the first period and Parise gave the Wild a 1-0 lead after Tyler Graovac, who was one of the rare bright spots tonight, drew a penalty.
After the Blue Jackets won a faceoff, Parise pressured a defender into rushing a clear. Jason Pominville stepped up along the wall from the right point to send it back down to Thomas Vanek.
Vanek fed Mikko Koivu in the slot, who one-touched the puck to Parise to the left of Sergei Bobrovsky (9-1-1 in December) for the goal.
Parise tied Nino Niederreiter for the team-lead with 14 goals and five power-play goals in five fewer games (30).
But the Wild couldn’t make it 2-0, and then in a tight-checking second, the momentum turned when Ryan Suter was called for holding with 5:05 left. The Wild killed the penalty, but the Wild began playing a lot in its own end and Darcy Kuemper had to make some nice saves.
In fact, the maligned goalie had a great first two periods until the final minute when he denied Matt Calvert with a nice save. But he couldn’t freeze the puck and lost his stick. When Christian Folin looked to put the puck out of harm’s way, Kuemper tried to pick up his stick. Problem is Connauton rushed up the wall, got to the puck before Pominville and fired from the boards to catch Kuemper off guard.
Yup, a momentum-turning tying goal from the boards in the final minute of the second.
Coach Mike Yeo didn’t blame Kuemper, saying he gave the Wild a chance to win.
“We can’t let one mistake cost us and that’s the way we’re going right now,” he said. “We need more complete effort from every guy who laces up their skates.”
Still, Ryan Carter drew a penalty with 3.5 seconds left in the period, but the Wild didn’t come close to taking a lead on the power play early in the third. Suter was called for a questionable hold a few minutes later when Brandon Dubinsky sold it, and after the Wild couldn’t come up with the clear, bang, 2-1, on the type of one-timer you rarely see on a Wild power play.
Late in the game, with an extra attacker, Koivu, who had a good first half of the game, lost a couple big offensive-zone draws and even after the Wild got the pucks back, it couldn’t come close to penetrating near the net because the Blue Jackets did a great job bottling them up, collapsing down low and denying the Wild any room to make a real threat. In the minutes before that, the Wild did have some good looks on Bobrovsky, but the Wild couldn’t come close.
“That was the first time in the game where I felt like we were starting to get bodies to the net,” Yeo said. “I felt we were very perimeter for most of the night and didn’t really challenge their goaltender at all. There were a lot of play killers tonight. We made one pass and then the next play dies with that person and it was tough to get anything going for a while there.”
So many passengers though on this team right now.
“That was a game that was there for us, but we didn’t dig in deep enough to get it,” Yeo said. “We had taken a couple steps forward. I thought this was a bit of a step back. Doesn’t mean the world is ending, but at the same time, we want to make sure that we’re making progress, so we better be ready to do so next game.
“I hope that we’re a little ticked off after this one. I don’t think we put our best out there tonight and we can’t afford to be going into games not going all-in with everything that we got.”
Please read the gamer and the notebook for the rest of the coverage. Not much more to say. Just a broken record and similar story to every other one you’d read the past month.
Happy and healthy New Year, Wild fans and Star Tribune readers. Thanks for always returning to read about your favorite – albeit frustrating -- team.