PITTSBURGH – Both passes by the Wild were crisp, backhand dishes along the boards — the types of handoffs that are the building blocks of possession, pressure and productivity.
But there was one problem with the feeds. They went to the other team.
Two giveaways to the exact same player from similar spots flipped a Wild lead into a 2-1 loss to the Penguins on Thursday in front of an announced 18,435 at PPG Paints Arena, a letdown that continued a tough stretch for the team — its third consecutive setback and 11th in the past 17 games.
“We gave them two goals,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You can’t give the Pittsburgh Penguins two goals and expect to win no matter what you do.”
Pittsburgh winger Bryan Rust was the beneficiary both times, receiving setups from linemate Jake Guentzel.
Rust’s first conversion came 13 minutes, 30 seconds into the first period, when he capitalized on a miscue by goalie Devan Dubnyk. His pass behind the net went directly to Guentzel, who fed Rust for the open-net shot.
“Just a miscommunication,” said Dubnyk, who finished with 35 saves. “[Defenseman Jared Spurgeon] was just yelling at me to play it up, and I just heard him yelling. So I thought being as far over as he was, I thought he was calling for the puck. I didn’t know what he was calling for, and obviously he was calling for me to play it on my forehand. Just a bit of a slip-up. … Spurge does a good job talking. I just didn’t hear what he said.”
That miscue dented an otherwise solid start for the Wild, which opened the scoring for only the 11th time this season when rookie Jordan Greenway sent a rising shot over Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith at 7:13.
After that, both teams took turns coming close to securing the go-ahead goal. The Wild had several chances.
Center Charlie Coyle had a look in front after cutting to the middle that DeSmith snuffed out. Wingers Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund couldn’t connect on a 2-on-1 opportunity. Center Eric Staal had five shots stopped.
The Wild also blanked on two power plays while killing off three chances for the Penguins.
“It took a little bit out of our sails when we gave them their first goal, and then I thought we came back in the second period and we took it to them,” Boudreau said. “A couple of our guys that are supposed to be our scorers have pucks on their sticks and don’t put it in. It’s frustrating.”
Pittsburgh eventually resolved the stalemate in the third on an almost identical play as its first goal.
This time, defenseman Greg Pateryn’s shuffle along the boards was intercepted by Guentzel. He, again, funneled the puck from behind the net to the front for Rust to wire by Dubnyk at 8:12.
“It’s a game of inches all the time, and it’s a game of mistakes,” Pateryn said. “The team that capitalizes on the other team’s mistakes usually wins. That’s what happened.”
DeSmith posted 40 saves. The Wild has now scored only twice in its past three games, both by Greenway.
“I’m sure we’ll continue to work at it, try to maybe change some things up,” Staal said. “But there’s enough there, I believe, offensively to score more. We’re just not right now. As frustrating as it is, you keep playing [and] obviously do our best to limit some of the mistakes that we’re making. But it’s a game of reaction, and things happen. It’s unfortunate that a couple of those cost us.”