Ouch! That one stings. The Minnesota Wild remain winless on the road this season, as they drop a 2-1 decision to the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes have now won 10 straight games in which they have scored first. The Minnesota squad certainly looked better than they did in their loss to Anaheim last Friday, but the result was the same. The Wild head back to St. Paul after going 0 and 2 on this short West Coast road trip. The loss drops the Wild below the 8th and final playoff position in the Western Conference with a total of 9 points and a 4-4-1 record. Phoenix moves to 4-4-2 good for 10 points as they jump ahead of the Wild in the Conference standings. Minnesota’s lone goal on the evening came from Zach Parise. It was the 200th of his career and makes him just the 8th Minnesota-born player to score 200 NHL goals. At the conclusion of the game, the Wild players locked the locker room door and held a long players only meeting. No word on what was discussed, but you can bet it didn’t involve high fives, rookie hazing and loud music. Right now, the players are not happy, coaches and management are looking for answers and the fans want wins. Once again, the Wild were hurt by inconsistent play, lack of scoring on the power play and failure to capitalize on chances. While they played better than in Anaheim, the result was the same–another disappointing road loss. Head Coach Mike Yeo’s message to Devin Setoguchi and Mikael Granlund, and the entire team for that matter, came through loud and clear. The fourth line, with new wings Setoguchi and Granlund played very well, possibly the best line for the evening overall. The trio, centered by Zenon Konopka, had several scoring chances, no penalties, smart passing and were quick to make good decisions with and without the puck. Again, as good as they looked, they couldn’t score. They didn’t score, the second line didn’t, the third line didn’t. The only goal, as usual, came from the number one line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Dany Heatley. This time, there were no assists to be had on Zach’s goal. Mikko got the play started as he pressured a Phoenix puck handler in the corner, causing a bad pass up the wall that was mishandled. That allowed Parise to swoop in, take the turnover and snap off a wrist shot that beat Phoenix netminder Mike Smith down low. That was exactly the type of play the Minnesota system is supposed to create. It works when the players work it.
In the first period, both teams looked good with a lot of back and forth action. The two sides were making it difficult for the opposition to build speed coming into and out of the neutral zone. Rookie Charlie Coyle got right into the action on the second line, totaling 12:55 of ice time, firing a few good shots on net and had a couple of blocked shots. The Coyotes had the only power play of the period on a hooking call to Torrey Mitchell. Nicklas Backstrom faced a couple of good shots, but none got by him. The highlight of the penalty kill, and the period, for the Wild was a short-handed break-away by Kyle Brodziak. He poked the puck free, gathered it in and raced in on Smith only to have the Phoenix goalie make a great poke check to foil his scoring chance. The Coyotes scored their first goal of the game at the 15:09 mark of the first as Lauri Korpikoski redirected a Keith Yandle shot from the point. The puck dropped flat to the ice and beat a sliding Backstrom to the right corner of the net. Coyotes 1 Wild 0. Bad news for Minnesota since Phoenix is second only to the Vancouver Canucks over the past two seasons in winning games in which they have scored first. As the period ended, the shot total read Coyotes 17, Wild 10.
In the second stanza, the Wild came out of the dressing room fired up and took control of the action. Although the Wild limited the Coyotes shots and chances in the second, we did see problems with outlet passes and poor decisions in the neutral zone on several occasions. One area the Wild failed to capitalize on was poor puck handling choices by Phoenix netminder Smith. Three times Smith flat out turned the puck over, trying to make passes out of the zone by himself. Each time, the Wild gained immediate control of the puck and failed to score, failed to score and failed to score. See a pattern here? The Minnesota Wild simply MUST TURN THESE CHANCES INTO GOALS!! Phoenix, on the other hand, capitalized on one of the few good scoring chance the Wild afforded them in the second. The Wild got caught watching the puck as former Wild defenseman Zbynek Michalek tossed the puck to Martin Hanzal who took a shot from the top of the circle, skated by three wild players, grabbed the rebound, eluded Backstrom and slid it home for the score. That sure looked easy. No other Phoenix players were within 20 feet of the net. The Wild did cut the lead in half soon after. Parise scored the Wild lone goal on a Coyote turnover as mentioned earlier. Another great chance for the Wild came on a Matt Cullen pass to rookie Charlie Coyle who snapped off a great shot that Smith barely gloved to keep the score 2-1. The Minnesota squad had at least 5 great scoring chances in addition to Parise’s goal in the second, yet none found the back of the net. One of the best was a Jonas Brodin rocket that clanged of the iron, bouncing harmlessly away. Coaches and players keep saying that “If we keep getting the chances the goals will come.” Well, the chances are coming and coming but the goals sure as heck are not. The Wild did play very well defensively in the second, limiting Phoenix to just 3 shots on goal through the 13 minute mark. With two periods in the books, the Wild trail 2-1 while posting a total of 18 shots on goal to the Coyotes 23. There were no penalties in the 2nd for either team. This is the 2nd game in a row that the Wild have not taken a second period penalty. Through the last two games, the Wild have on been to the box a paltry 3 times total. The Wild had the games only penalty through two periods–a hooking call on Torrey Mitchell midway through the 1st period.
The third period is where the Wild’s inconsistent play really showed. They went from controlling the action in the second, to going over 12 minutes without a shot on goal in the third. The Wild were out shot 11 to 4. Backstrom kept the score 2-1 with several magnificent saves. Minnesota did have some chances late in the game but none of those went from chance to goal. The Wild had two power plays in the third but couldn’t get a shot on net either time. Koivu and Bouchard both had one-timers with clear looks and missed the net. They both have GOT to hit the net with those chances! They make it easy on the opposing goaltender when the shots whistle wide or over the net. The Wild had one more great opportunity to tie the game when Heatley fed Parise to the side of Smith and slid into position for an easy tap in on the rebound. Smith juggled the puck but covered it, chance over, no goal yet again. Bouchard also rang a shot off the post that sailed away harmlessly. With Backstrom pulled in the last minute no more chances materialized and the Coyotes take the win 2-1. After the game, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “We have to come out and re-establish the momentum we had in the 2nd period and we failed to do that.” ”We have to shoot the puck, We have to attack the net.” He added that, “We had a lot of guys that had a good game, but we have to find a way to win. Bottom line we have to win on the road.” The next chance for the Wild to get that elusive first road win is a week form now against Calgary.
One big difference between the Jobing.com arena and the “X” is fans support. There were thousands of empty seats in Glendale tonight. It is apparent that this is a market that really doesn’t care about having a NHL Hockey team. The sooner the NHL brass admit this and allow a buyer to move the team the better. The Coyotes are a good team. They deserve better fan support and treatment by the NHL. Just look to the Winnipeg Jets as an example. GonePuckWild.com will be here to bring you all the news and information you need as the Wild move on in this crazy compressed season. To close out the week, the Minnesota Wild head home with two days off before the Vancouver Canucks invade the Excel Energy Center Thursday Night at 7pm followed by Nashville at 7pm on Saturday. The Wild need points and home ice is the place to get ‘em.