After a 6-2-1 October that saw the Wild shoot an obscene 13.7 percent and get away with about one period a game where it looked as if it didn’t belong on the ice, things reverted to the norm Tuesday night.
Working exhaustively to beat big Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner, the Wild scored only once on 28 shots, couldn’t flee yet another game of not coming close to a 60-minute effort and this time saw one of its former draft picks score the third-period winner in a 2-1 loss, its first at Xcel Energy Center this season.
“It was frustrating. Sometimes it’s a frustrating team,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It can play so good one period and not show up for the [next] period.”
Thursday, it was the first period when the Wild had, in Boudreau’s words, “no life and no energy.”
But then the Wild emerged for the second period and curiously controlled virtually every second. Despite 15 shots on goal and a multitude of scoring chances, though, it struck only once, tying the score on Mikael Granlund’s power-play goal with 2 minutes, 29 seconds left.
But in the third? “It was like we were playing for a tie,” Boudreau said.
Finally, after right-shot defenseman Nate Prosser, playing his off side, got caught on a pinch, Johan Larsson, a 2010 Wild second-round pick traded to the Sabres in the 2013 Jason Pominville package, broke a 1-1 deadlock with 6:26 left.
“Third [period], 1-1 in your rink, you want to make sure you’re getting points out of it,” veteran Eric Staal said.
But the Sabres packed the middle and the Wild did a horrendous job of getting inside. Of the Wild’s 18 shots that were blocked, 12 came in the third period. And the Wild, in search of the tying goal, didn’t even hit Lehner with a single puck in the final 6:07.
“You could tell they had a push and a little energy in them,” winger Charlie Coyle said of the Sabres. “Especially when they scored, they had a little jump in them. But we’ve got to come right back and push back and take it to them. We didn’t do that enough.”
It was the Wild’s final home game until Nov. 15. The team now hits the road for four games starting Saturday in Denver. With two games in an 11-day stretch, “You’ve got to get points or you look up in a week and … teams are passing you by,” Boudreau said.
The Wild was unable to beat the Sabres for a second time in five days despite Buffalo missing Jack Eichel and Evander Kane because of injuries and defenseman Zach Bogosian injuring his knee in the first period.
Of course, the Wild is ravaged by injuries, too, with Zach Parise, Erik Haula, Marco Scandella and Zac Dalpe out.
Not only did Devan Dubnyk’s bid for a fourth consecutive shutout end quickly on Ryan O’Reilly’s goal 3:16 in when Jonas Brodin’s attempt to shovel a rebound out of trouble was picked off, the Wild was slow and sloppy all first period.
Dubnyk’s career-best and franchise individual record shutout streak ended at 183:16.
“I wasn’t going to go another 80 games, so it was going to happen eventually,” Dubnyk said. “I don’t think we were really ready at the drop of the puck, and then we’re down one early after we scramble around our end for a bit.”
In the second, as well as the Wild played, it was maddening the way the team overpassed or couldn’t even get shots off odd-man rushes.
“You have no idea how frustrating it is,” said Boudreau, 10 games into his Wild tenure. “We talk about it in between probably every period about just funneling pucks to the net and going to the net. Like [General Manager] Chuck [Fletcher] just told me, ‘For the last four years, we’re a team that doesn’t get a lot of second chances. We’re a team that when we score, we score on the rush.’
“And that’s a hard way to win it if you don’t want to get down and dirty and score those grungy goals.”