On April Fools Days the Joke was on the Wild’s fans. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by a 13-3-1 home record heading into tonight’s battle. Minnesota came out the day after Easter and laid an egg on their home ice in getting beat, not losing to, but BEATEN by the St. Louis Blues 4-1. It was a largely forgettable performance by the Wild as they let the Blues dictate play for much of the first two periods. St. Louis was by far the more physical of the two teams tonight out hitting the Wild 24 to 14. The Blues also won battle after battle in the corners and in the neutral zone. Two other areas St. Louis dominated were takeaways, 8 to 2 and giveaways, 0 to the Wilds 12. You can’t cough up the puck that many times and expect to win. Minnesota had opportunities especially on the power play where they went 0 for 5 on the night. They did stay out of the penalty box with the single exception being Ryan Suter‘s minor for unsportsmanlike conduct in the first period. Even with that many chances with the man advantage the Wild could only muster 12 total shots in the first two periods. After 40 minutes the Blues led 3-1 on the scoreboard and 22 to 12 in shots on goal. Minnesota came out firing in the third but couldn’t solve Blues net minder Brian Elliot. Jaroslav Halak started the game for St. Louis but when he went down to stop a Jared Spurgeon slap shot from the point he stayed down with 10 seconds to play in the first period. He was tended to by trainers then skated slowly to the bench and disappeared down the tunnel not to return. Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said Halak suffered a lower body injury and could be sidelined for some time. Elliot surrendered the only goal the Wild scored on the night in taking the victory. Niklas Backstrom took the loss and now stands at 19-8-2 on the season.During his post game comments Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said “(Tonight) gave us a reminder of some of the things we need to do, to be effective, to be successful.”
The Wild are still in first place in the Northwest Division and hold the third seed in the Western Conference. While the Blues were beating the Wild the San Jose Sharks were beating the Vancouver Canucks 3-2. That leave the Canucks and Wild tied with 44 points and Minnesota holding on to first in the division based on tie breakers. Minnesota’s record now stands at 21-12-2 overall, 13-4-1 at home and 8-8-1 on the road. Tonight was a missed opportunity to be sure. As luck would have it the Wild now travel to San Jose to face the Sharks in the Shark Tank on Wednesday night. While St. Louis was on the ice tonight their General Manager, Doug Armstrong was completing a trade for Jay Bouwmeester with the Clagary Flames. That’s the second trade that has added a D-man to their roster. The first was for Jordan Leopold on Saturday. We’ll see what the Wild do, if anything, as the Wednesday, April 3rd trade deadline approaches. GonePuckWild.com will have any news on that front as it happens so check back frequently or follow me on twitter at @DrainScott .
The Blues would strike first scoring on a Justin Schwartz unassisted snap shot that beat Niklas Backstrom on the blocker side. The goal came not long after Wild Captain Mikko Koivu was high sticked in the mouth by Chris Stewart. Both referees some how completely missed the call as the Koivu went down holding his face and then skated straight to the bench and down the tunnel. With blood on the ice it would have been a sure 4-minute power play for Minnesota. Koivu did return to the ice late in the period after getting repaired by the Wild’s training staff. Things didn’t look too bad for the Wild at this point, maybe it was just a slow start and a rare rough period on home ice. Boy was I wrong about that. After the game Minnesota Head Coach Yeo talked about recent high sticking incidents and a lack of calls saying,”It’s hard not to be frustrated, It’s four games in a row. We’ve had goals scored against us and double minors that haven’t been called. Four games in a row that guys have gotten high stuck right in the face. But, whatever we have to deal with it. I have to agree with the coach on this one. A ref was at the blue line looking right down the side boards where Koivu got hacked in the head with the puck right there. The other ref was near the net and apparently had better things to look at than the action around the puck as well.
The second period started much as the first with St. Louis being the more physical and energized team. The Wild scored their only goal of the night at the 6:59 mark just after a power play expired. The Wild were actually buzzing around and crashed the net with Dany Heatley scoring his 10th goal of the season. Torrey Mitchell slid a pass to Jonas Brodin just as the man advantage expired. Brodin fired a shot that popped out of Elliott’s glove and Heatley whacked the rebound home to tie the game at 1 apiece. That would be the extent of the Minnesota goal scoring for this contest. The tie didn’t last too long as the Blues took the lead for good just over 2 minutes later on a goal by Andy McDonald. The Wild would come up empty on 4 power play chances in the second period managing only 7 shots on goal total for the second stanza. One item in the hopefully column is that Matt Cullen was not injured severely enough to miss game action. He left the ice after an awkward check toward the end of the second period and missed all of the third. We should have an announcement as to his status some time Tuesday.
A different Wild team came out of the locker room to start the third period as they started shooting the puck every chance they had. Maybe it was desperation or maybe they realized what a poor show they were giving the 19,876 fans on hand at the Xcel Energy Center. Whatever the reasons they peppered Blues goalie Elliott with 13 shots in the third, more than their first two periods combined. It was to no avail as Elliot stood on his head to take the victory. St. Louis would score their 4th goal of the night on a Slap shot by Barret Jackman off a Blues face off win. There would be no third period come from behind heroics for the Wild this night. Jackman’s goal came on just the second shot of the period by St. Louis. It was that kind of a stinker night for Minnesota, not much went right and a whole lot went wrong. Hopefully tonight’s poor showing is a wake up call for Minnesota.
The Wild have had to win their last two games in come from behind fashion. You can’t expect that to happen over and over and over. Sloppy play has begun to emerge once again and that is what led to the Wild’s struggles early in the season. Perhaps a good practice session is needed. that is something that has been in short supply this season and just what the team will have before they leave for San Jose tomorrow. I’d expect Head Coach Mike Yeo to focus on the power play, one on one battle drills and defensive zone break outs. Those were some of the biggest areas of concern tonight.
The Minnesota Wild now head out on the road for 3 games against the Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, and Columbus Blue Jackets. They next play at home Wednesday, April 11th against the Western Conference leading Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild need to tighten things up as they face 4 teams all in the playoff hunt. GonePuckWild.com will continue to have all your Minnesota Wild news and information game in game out. Until next time this is Scott Drian saying, “LET’S GO WILD!”