The Minnesota Wild ended their 3 game road trip on a sour note, getting beat up by the San Jose Sharks 6-1 Thursday night at the HP Pavilion aka The Shark Tank. This marked the first time this season the Wild have lost by more than 3 goals. The defense for Minnesota had an uncharacteristically poor game with way too many turnovers, missed assignment, and errors clearing the puck. The Wild’s forecheck was almost non existent and the offense had trouble getting any sustained pressure in the offensive zone. With the win the Sharks are now 16-1-4 at home this season. With the loss the Wild are now 11-11-1 on the road. The Wild have now fallen to 7th in the Western Conference with 4 games to play and 51 points, just 2 points ahead of 8th place Columbus and 4 ahead of 9th place Dallas. The Wild now trail the Sharks, Kings and Canucks by 4 points and the Blues by a single point. Tonight the Wild looked tired. They were out worked, out hustled, out shot heavily through two periods and just generally beaten. This was not a good night for the Minnesota Wild, but they did get 4 out of 6 points on this 3 game road trip. Minnesota now returns to the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center for three straight games against Calgary, Los Angeles and Edmonton before closing out the regular season at Colorado. There are some very winnable games in that group for the Wild. For Minnesota the song remains the same, “Win and you’re in.”
Tonight the Sharks opened the scoring on a strange goal as Mikko Koivu unintentionally redirected a Martin Havlat shot past Niklas Backstrom. This came shortly after Jason Pominville was denied on a breakaway by Antti Niemi. The Wild spent the better of the period chasing the puck around with little success while being out shot 12 to 7. For the most part when Minnesota did develop some offense it was one shot and a clear by San Jose. The Sharks made it 2-0 in the second period when Logan Couture scored his first of the game, a power play marker. Couture would have a monster night against the Wild, scoring two and picking up assists on two other goals. Pierre-Marc Bouchard would cut the San Jose lead in half with a brilliant break away goal. Bouchard took a nice pass from Jason Pominville, skated in full speed on Niemi and beat him up high for the score. It was a highlight reel goal for Bouchard and the lone scoring highlight of the night for the Wild. The assist was Pominville’s 8th point in 9 games for the Wild since the trade deadline. The Sharks would regain a 2 goal lead less than 5 minutes later when Backstrom flung the puck up the right side wall, San Jose’s Couture jumped to intercept the clearing attempt, dropped the puck down and passed it to an open Havlat who snapped a wrister home before Backstrom could scramble back into position. That’s how the score ended after two periods, Sharks 3, Wild 1. The shots on goal favored San Jose 24 to 16 after 40 minutes. In the early stages of the 3rd period the Sharks put the game out of reach with 2 goals over a 22 second span. Those came from the sticks of Raffi Torres and Joe Pavelski, ending Backstrom’s night at the 4:21 mark of the 3rd. Darcy Kuemper took over in net and surrendered the 6th goal of the night for San Jose and for Couture, his second of the game. The next task for the Wild is to forget this loss and concentrate on the next game, Sunday on home ice versus the Calgary Flames. The loss did drop Backstrom out of a three way tie for most wins in the NHL, Niemi now leads that category with 23 wins. Backstrom is now in a three way tie for second with 22 wins, joined by Nabokov of the Islanders and Fleury of the Penguins.
Tonight’s performance by the Wild was forgettable. They were beaten on the score board and in just about every offensive category. Minnesota was shut down defensively as well. The Sharks won the turnover battle with the Wild in both take aways and give aways. San Jose had the only power play of the game and scored on it. Throught the first two periods there was but a single penalty called and that was on Clayton Stoner for Holding Havlat. Kyle Brodziak and Scott Gomez got into a pushing, shoving and whacking match with each other. That was the end of the night for both as they each received 2 minutes for roughing and 10 minute misconducts. Throughout the game the Wild had poor puck support, poor passing, and a couple of poor lines changes, one of which led directly to a Sharks goal. Highlights from this games are in very short supply for the Wild. In even shorter supply were players with a + rating. Tom Gilbert was the lone Minnesota in positive territory with a +1 rating. Some notables with a -3 rating for the game include, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter, and Jonas Brodin. That’s the Wild’s top line and top defensive pair, not a group you’d expect to see that deep in negative territory. That’a a lot of players who had a bad game all at the same time. Well boys, I hope you got it out of your system. You need to win 3 out of your last 4 games to have any realistic chance of a decent first round match up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 7th and 8th seeds in the Western Conference can expect to face the Chicago Blackhawks or the Anaheim Ducks as first round opponents, not a pretty picture is it?
The Wild will fly home and have two full days, Friday and Saturday to prepare for Sunday’s matchup with the Flames. That’s a team Minnesota beat 4-3 this past Monday night. The Wild need to look ahead not behind them. Three straight games at the X could do wonders for their playoff position or see them drop out of the top eight in the Wester Conference altogether. Outside of Chicago and Anaheim spots 3-8 are up for grabs and span just 6 points. It’s going to be an exciting finish for the Wild and the rest of the Western Conference. Might as well enjoy it because next year the playoff structure changes along with the teams in each of the four new divisions, conferences or what ever the NHL decides to name them. GonePuckWild.com will be with you every step of the way. Our team of writers, correspondents and editor will bring you all the Wild news and information you need. I’ll be back Sunday morning with a preview of the Wild vs Flames. Until then this is Scott Drain telling you to keep the faith and keep on shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!!”