Mike Yeo tried to guard against a letdown for two days.
After getting into the West’s top eight for the first time in three months Sunday with a blowout of the Dallas Stars, the Wild coach warned his team not to drop its level of urgency and preparation Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers.
That would be natural considering the Wild, 20-2-1 in its previous 23 against Edmonton at home, has more victories against the Oilers (45) than any team in the NHL and easily shut out the West’s last-place team two games before.
The Wild outplayed the Oilers in the final two periods, but a poor first period proved daunting as the Wild let two points slip away with a disappointing 2-1 loss.
“What we were afraid of,” coach Mike Yeo said afterward. “That’s what we were trying to guard against — not being ready to go. We lost the game in large part because of our start.”
Benoit Pouliot, drafted fourth overall by the Wild in 2005 and traded to Montreal for Guillaume Latendresse, is on his fourth team in four years and is now 28.
So motivation against Minnesota has waned. But Pouliot scored twice in the first period, including 32 seconds after Thomas Vanek’s tying goal, and admitted afterward, “I enjoyed it.”
It was a frustrating game for the Wild, which had 24 shots blocked, missed the net on 11 others and failed on two third-period power plays with a chance to tie. Ben Scrivens stopped all 28 of the Wild’s second- and third-period shots in a 33-save effort for Edmonton’s fifth victory against the West in 37 games.
“They came right at him in the second and third, and they were all over us,” Pouliot said. “Benny stood in there and made the big saves. It’s been awhile since we’ve [stolen one].”
The Wild, 11-2-1 since the All-Star break, fell four points back of Winnipeg with two games in hand because the Jets beat Dallas. Minnesota opens up a two-game trip at Nashville, the best team in the NHL with three regulation losses at home, Thursday.
“As much as this one hurts and it’s frustrating, we’ve got good character in here,” Vanek said. “We’ll forget about this one and have a good day of practice and just get ready. This is a team that doesn’t take anyone lightly even though we lost to one of the worst teams in the league.
“We played hard, we played well, had chances. Could have been 5-, 6-1. But we lost 2-1.”
Still, Yeo was upset with the Wild’s sloppy start. The Wild was flat-footed in its own zone and had one shot in the first 11½ minutes.
“Some guys were able to find their game, some guys couldn’t recover,” Yeo said. “The last couple periods, we had good pressure. We had good zone time, but we didn’t finish. We put ourselves in a hole that we shouldn’t have been in.”
With the Wild flat, Yeo tweaked his first two lines to get a spark, reuniting Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville and moving Mikael Granlund and Justin Fontaine onto a line with Nino Niederreiter. Pominville, without a point and just 11 shots in six games since scoring goals in three straight, felt it worked, but in the end, “we weren’t able to put one in.”
“The first period, all we did was just throw the puck away,” said Parise, who had three shots, two penalties and was minus-2 along with defensemen Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. “We didn’t do anything with it, and we were chasing the whole period. Once we stopped doing that and made passes on the tape, the ice tilted a little bit.”
Still, Parise scoffed at the notion that this was a classic letdown game.
“We’re going to lose. We’re going to lose before the season ends,” he said.
“Unfortunately tonight was a game that one not good period cost us the game. That’s the reality. Their goalie was good. But, we’ll be fine.”