A return home after eating through more than half of its road schedule by the end of December was billed as a potential turning point for the Wild, one that could lift it up the standings after it clawed its way back to relevancy during that rigorous road-heavy stretch.
But what the team apparently forgot to unpack once getting back to Xcel Energy Center was its scoring touch, as it’s been limited to one goal in its first two tests on a four-game homestand — most recently slipping 4-1 to the Maple Leafs on Tuesday when it wrapped up the first half of its season.
“We got to figure that out,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We got to start putting the puck in the net. It’s too hard to win in this league 1-0, 2-0. Got to start scoring goals. That was kind of our recipe before.”
Suter was responsible for the Wild’s single tally, which came on the power play, and it was amid the Wild’s best push in the second period.
During that pressure, players were moving their legs, hemming Toronto in its end on the forecheck and simply getting more involved in the play — a shift that came after winger Marcus Foligno rattled the action with a hit on Travis Dermott.
Foligno finished with a game-high seven hits, and he earned an in-game promotion from the fourth line to the top six because of his physical presence.
“I’m happy to do it and when I’m called upon, I’ve got to do it,” Foligno said. “Just something that we needed against a team that’s very skilled and plays forward and spreads us out.”
But that spark didn’t sustain the Wild, which had trouble getting shots through to the Maple Leafs’ net. Aside from the 27 shots it registered on goal, the team had another 17 blocked and eight miss the target.
“It’s a great art, blocking shots,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “[But] we gotta find a way … to get pucks around these guys.”
Captain Mikko Koivu was back in action Tuesday after missing 12 games with a lower-body injury.
He logged 14 minutes, 47 seconds and assisted on the Wild’s lone goal — which saw him set the screen on Suter’s successful shot through traffic on the power play.
“For sure you can be better, but I think that’s realistic,” Koivu said. “Especially the first one, especially when you get the puck, the timing is a little bit off and things like that. I think now with a couple days off here, good practice time for me and kind of find that timing and the little things inside the game.”
Defenseman Greg Pateryn has yet to play this season, getting sidelined after undergoing core muscle surgery in October, but Pateryn took another step in his recovery Monday by practicing with the Wild.
“It’s just so much fun getting back out there and playing some hockey with the boys,” he said. “It’s been a long road. I’m just happy to be feeling better and progressively moving forward from here.”
Pateryn was hurt in training camp and was initially expected to miss approximately six weeks following surgery. He went on a conditioning assignment in the minors last month but suffered a setback while with Iowa in the American Hockey League.
“I felt something and finished the game and afterward knew something was off,” Pateryn said. “Just had it looked at and came back here and have been rehabbing [a lower-body injury] ever since.”
Although he doesn’t have a sense of when he can return, instead evaluating his status day by day, Pateryn said, “I’ve had some good days in a row, so everything is looking good now.” But being out has been frustrating.
“It’s definitely one of the tougher things I’ve been through,” Pateryn said. “But I’ve been through quite a bit in my career, so I don’t see this slowing me down or anything like that. I want to build of this and just come back with fresh jump.”