The honeymoon for John Torchetti lasted nine days.
Four days after moving into his St. Paul apartment and two days after moving into his new office at Xcel Energy Center for the first time, the interim coach who was riding high through four consecutive victories witnessed the type of thing that cost Mike Yeo his job: a dud at home.
It has been 57 days since the Wild left Xcel Energy Center a victor. The Wild lost for the ninth consecutive time in St. Paul (0-6-3), in this instance by a 4-1 score to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.
“I don’t think it’ll be anybody’s surprise if we don’t pick it up here at home that we probably won’t make [the playoffs],” center Jarret Stoll said. “That’s the honest truth. We’ve got to pick up our home record, our home game in front of our great fans.”
The ninth-place Wild, which leaves Wednesday for back-to-back road games in Philadelphia and Washington, has seen seventh-place Nashville’s lead expand to five points. The Wild remains two points behind eighth-place Colorado with two games in hand.
Things are easy when things are going well. Now Torchetti gets to see if the Wild, not long ago a fragile team anytime adversity struck, handles what the coach called “a bump in the road.”
Just 96 seconds into Tuesday’s game, the Wild faced its first deficit in the “Torch” era. That didn’t bode well since the Wild has the league’s worst winning percentage when giving up the first goal (3-17-6, .115).
That deficit stretched to two, but when Chris Porter scored a last-minute, second-period goal, that should have turned the final 20 minutes into a hotly contested battle.
But Erik Haula’s hooking penalty 1 minute, 56 seconds into the third resulted in John Tavares scoring the Islanders’ second power-play goal of the game.
“It’s not the way you want to start the third,” Porter said.
In a neat gesture, Islanders coach Jack Capuano started Minnesotans Nick Leddy, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Kyle Okposo in front of family and friends.
Three of those four played a big part in Tavares’ tally. After Okposo drew the penalty, Leddy, the 2009 Wild first-round pick, fed Okposo, who set up Tavares while Lee stapled himself to the goalmouth and occupied the attention of defensemen Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon.
The Islanders went 2-for-3 on the power play. The Wild went 0-for-5 against an amazingly aggressive Islanders’ penalty kill that ranks first in the NHL at 87.2 percent. The Wild also gave up a shorthanded empty-netter to Frans Nielsen, his second goal of the game.
“Even when we had possession, they were coming hard,” Stoll said of the Islanders’ penalty kill. Stoll isn’t on the Wild power play, but he does play the penalty kill and was on the ice for both the Isles’ power-play goals along with Suter, Spurgeon and Ryan Carter.
“We definitely lost the special teams battle. Special teams is work. We didn’t bring that work.”
The Wild, which scored 21 goals in the previous four wins, had 22 shots blocked. Suter and Matt Dumba had nine shots blocked and Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle and Suter registered a combined one shot on goal.
The Parise-Mikko Koivu-Coyle line had a ghastly game. The trio was shut down mostly by the Nikolay Kulemin-Nielsen-Okposo line. Torchetti got the line away from that matchup, but he felt he waited too long to make the move. The players couldn’t generate sustained pressure, were bounced off pucks and turned them over.
“It felt like a lot of zone time in our own zone,” Coyle said. “We’ve got to get into that other end and play. That’s where we shine. But not a lot of that tonight.”
Said Torchetti, “They’ll bounce back for us. We’ll talk to them, and I’m sure we’ll get a better game out of them next game.”