COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Wild, like tires stuck in mud, keeps spinning its wheels and can’t get on a roll.
For the sixth time since Nov. 20, it failed to turn one win into two in a row, losing 3-1 to the riding-high Columbus Blue Jackets at overstuffed Nationwide Arena.
Like most other nights in December, the Wild, which fell to 11th in the Western Conference, ushered in the New Year frustratingly with an eighth loss in 12 games (4-5-3). It held a one-goal lead for much of the game but never could extend it, and the Blue Jackets ended up rallying for the victory.
“I hope that we’re a little ticked off after this one,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I don’t think we put our best out there, and we can’t afford to be going into games not going all in with everything that we got.
“That was a game that was there for us, but we didn’t dig in deep enough to get it.”
For the third time in recent weeks, the Wild failed to climb back to .500 on the road despite a strong first period and 1-0 lead on Zach Parise’s power-play goal.
With goalie Darcy Kuemper playing well, one mistake allowed the Blue Jackets to tie the score in the final minute of the second period. With the Blue Jackets swarming late, Kuemper denied Matt Calvert from between the circles.
He couldn’t swallow the puck, though, then lost his stick. Defenseman Christian Folin looked to direct the puck out of harm’s way, but when Kuemper tried to scoop up his stick, Blue Jackets defenseman Kevin Connauton, who had smartly skated down the wall, caught Kuemper off guard by firing from the boards.
“I was feeling good, and then something like that happens, it’s pretty frustrating,” Kuemper said.
Still, Yeo didn’t fault Kuemper and said the Wild must be stronger than allowing one gaffe to change the complexion of an entire game.
Ryan Carter drew a penalty with 3 ½ seconds left in the period, but despite 1:57 of power-play time to open the third, the Wild couldn’t regain the lead (it later couldn’t tie the score on a power play). A few minutes later, Ryan Suter was called for holding Brandon Dubinsky. The veteran spun to the ice from Suter’s grasp to sell the call, which Suter called “soft.”
With 17 seconds left in the penalty kill after the Wild couldn’t clear, Connauton set up David Savard’s scorching one-timer for the eventual winning goal. Ryan Johansen later added an empty-netter after the Wild got bottled up by the collapsing Blue Jackets and didn’t come close to penetrating near goalie Sergei Bobrovsky with an extra attacker.
“They had five guys below the dots,” Parise said. “We lost a couple draws and you scramble.”
Bobrovsky made 28 saves, a number of big ones in the third.
“That was the first time where I felt like we were starting to get bodies to the net,” Yeo said. “I felt we were very perimeter most of the night and didn’t really challenge their goaltender at all. On top of that … there were a lot of play-killers. We made one pass and then the next play dies with that person.”
It was a similar script, and like many other games lately, the Wild had a brief team meeting afterward.
“We’re definitely trying to pick each other up here,” Kuemper said. “We all have to get our own games intact, and then when our teammates see us taking care of our business and they start taking care of their business, I think it’s pretty contagious.”