The Minnesota Wild remain winless on the season, falling to the Nashville Predators by a 3-2 final score. The loss drops with Wild’s record to 0-1-2 and each game has gotten worse. Game 1 was a shootout loss. Game 2 was an overtime loss and now game 3 was a defeat in regulation. The third straight loss to start the season is bad, but the loss of Niklas Backstrom to a leg injury may be worse. Backstrom suffered the injury when the Predator’s Eric Nystrom was hauled down Keith Ballard by on a break away attempt and slid into Backstrom forcing the Wild net minder’s led awkwardly into the goal upright. Backstrom stayed down for a time and had to be helped off the ice. Backup goalie Josh Harding came into the game cold and surrendered a penalty shot goal to Nystrom. That goal made the score 3-1 and that was it for scoring by Nashville. Harding shut out the Predators for the rest of the game turning away 19 of 20 shots for a .950 save percentage. When asked about Backstrom’s injury in his post game news conference, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo would only characterize the injury as ” a lower body injury, that will be further examined when the team returns to St. Paul” Here’s to hoping the injury isn’t serious and Backstrom doesn’t miss an extended period of time or any time for that matter.
The game started off well enough with good puck movement and lots of energy from the Wild. Zach Parise opened the scoring for Minnesota taking a slick feed from Mikko Koivu and beating Predator’s goalie Pekka Rinne for a power play goal just over 4 minutes into the first period. That lead wouldn’t last long though as Kyle Brodziak and Koivu ended up in the penalty just 21 seconds apart giving Nashville an extended 5 on 3 power play. The Predators didn’t waste any time scoring on both the 5 on 3 and 5-4 power plays to take the lead, a lead they would not relinquish. The first Nashville goal was scored by Filip Forsberg, his first in the NHL. Rookie Seth Jones picked up an assist primary assistn the play, the first point of his NHL career. The Predators second goal, again a power play marker, came from the stick of Colin Wilson. Former Wild player Matt Cullen had an assist on the goal along with Mike Fisher. The third Predator goal came courtesy of the Nystrom penalty shot, making the score 3-1 just 11:14 into the 1st period. The score would remain the same for the rest of the 1st period and at the end of 1 the shot totals read Wild 13, Predators 10.
In the second period the Wild made it a one goal game with yet another power play goal, this one by Jared Spurgeon. With the Preds Filip Forsberg in the box for hooking on Mikael Granlund, Spurgeon took a feed from Nino Neiderreiter and buried it to bring the Wild to within a goal. Mikael Granlund had the second assist on the goal. That would conclude the scoring for the game. Minnesota ended up with a total of 35 shots on goal to the Predators 24. This makes the 3rd straight game in which the Wild has out shot their opponent and failed to earn the win. The other bright spot for the Wild is the power play units. Minnesota has scored 4 time with the man advantage in the last two games. In his post game comments Wild Head Coach Yeo said, “The power play has scored some big goals for us.” He added, “The bottom line is we have to find a way to win.”
The Wild’s power play may be clicking early in the season but the penalty kill is struggling, allowing 4 goals on 13 chances. After three games Minnesota’s PK ranks 27th in the NHL at 60% while the power play ranks third at 38.5%. The bottom line for the Wild is a few critical mistakes have cost them a victory in each game so far this season. They need to right the ship as the team plays home games against two more divisional foes before embarking on a 4 game road trip against teams in the east. It’s early in the season, but lost points now always seem to become critical late in the season as each point become crucial to a team trying to make the playoffs or move up in the seeding. There are some positives for the Wild early in the 2013-14 season. The trend of out shooting opponents and scoring consistently with the man advantage will payoff as the season progresses. It’s too early in the 2013-14 campaign to make any broad judgments about individual players, coaches or the team as a whole. If these same issues are present 20 or 30 games in then the Wild have a problem. Three games does not a season make. Minnesota has the talent and coaching staff to make the playoffs and advance past the first round as expected this season. This is a marathon, not a sprint and with 79 games to go the standings will change drastically as time moves along. The forward lines will get more comfortable with each other and develop their identities baring any drastic injury problems.
The Wild now return to the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center for games against the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars, both divisional opponents. Thursday’s game should be a noisy, sold out affair with plenty of Jets fans making the trip south. Back in 2011-12 season the Winnipeg fans were a noisy bunch and made their presence known all game long. The Wild and Jets did not meet during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.
The Wild are winless on the season and fans are getting nervous and expectations are running high. Hopefully goal tender Backstrom’s injury is not serious and the problems so far this season are little more than a bump in the road to the playoffs. Have faith Wild fans, we have a team to be proud of. The hard work and dedication by the players will show results sooner rather than later. I’ll be back Thursday morning with a game preview of the Wild vs Jets tilt. Until then, this is Scott Drain confidently saying, “LET’S GO WILD!!”