The Minnesota Wild lost to the Colorado Avalanche by a 3-1 final score Friday evening at the Xcel Energy Center. This was the first game of a back to back, home and home series with Colorado that wraps up Saturday night in Denver. This was the third straight regulation loss for the Wild and their second in a row on home ice. Once again it was a slow start that doomed the Wild. They managed just 6 shots on goal in the first period and surrendered the first goal of the game for the fifth consecutive game this time it was a seeing eye shot from the point by Jan Hejda. The Av’s added another just over four minutes into the second frame by Nathan MacKinnon and an empty netter by Gabriel Landeskog sealed the deal in the third. The lead drops the Wild out of a tie for third with the Avalanche in the Central Division. Colorado leads Minnesota by two points, 36 to 34 heading into Saturday’s contest on the Av’s home ice. The Wild came out slow in the first, were a little better in the second and finally came to life in the third registering 16 shots on goal but it was once again a case of too little, too late.
For the second game in a row the lone Wild goal came from the stick of Dany Heatley his 6th of the season with the assists going to Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula. The goal was Heatley’s 4th over the last six games. Niederreiter sent a perfect flip pass to the front of the net and Heatley was in perfect position to tip the puck past J.S. Giguere. Haula was called up to the NHL squad from Des Moines and picked up his first NHL point in his NHL debut. Haula was also named the third star of the game and earned praise from Head Coach Mike Yeo who said, “He looked very good right from start. Certainly didn’t look out of place. His speed is evident. I Liked what he brought”. The Wild also saw the return of Zach Parise just four days after suffering what was termed a severe contusion blocking a shot against the St. Louis Blues Monday night. The team initially announced Parise was expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks. He surprised everyone including Head Coach Yeo by skating during the morning skate on Wednesday. Parise couldn’t go that night but was back in uniform Friday vs Colorado. Wow, that is hard core. It’s also a testament to Parise’s competitiveness and pain tolerance. The Wild need more players like this. Jason Zucker also returned to the Minnesota Wild just a game after being sent down to Des Moines where he led the Iowa Wild to a victory over the Chicago Wolves with a pair of goals. He had a couple of grade A scoring chances tonight but couldn’t put the puck past Giguere, who improved his record to a perfect 6-0-0 on the season. The Wild also lost Zenon Konopka to an injury after he took a puck in the face and suffered an eye injury while Matt Cooke was dishing out a hit near the Wild bench. He grabbed his face and immediately headed down the tunnel not to return. Konopka was take to a hospital for treatment. He is not expected to travel with the team to Colorado for Saturday’s game. The Wild also announced that Mike Rupp has been moved to non-roster status and has left the team to deal with a personal matter. Rupper had just returned to action after missing the first quarter of the season rehabbing from knee surgery.
The Wild had several opportunities to score against Giguere who uped his record to a perfect 6-0-0 on the season. The biggest missed opportunity came after Cody McLeod hit Jonas Brodin from behind sending the Wild’s defenseman crashing head first into the boards in front of the Avalanche bench at the 17:24 mark of the first period. It was another dirty play by one of the cheapest and dirtiest players in the NHL. The league office is sure to take a look at the hit which drew a five-minute major for boarding and game misconduct penalties. Brodin would leave the game but thankfully would return for the start of the second period, so not apparent damage was done to his still healing broken cheekbone. The Wild would go on to waste the entire five minutes spanning the end of the first and opening of the second periods. They power play units managed just 1, that’s ONE, shot on goal for the entire five minute power play. In his post game comments Wild Coach Yeo when asked about the missed chance said, “It’s huge. It’s huge. I don’t even think we brought enough momentum out of it. It’s one thing not to score on it, you come out it with not a good feeling. It’s one thing if their goalie robs you or you hit a couple pipes. We sunk down a little bit after that and they rose up.” The Wild had one other power play on the night and managed just a single shot during that man advantage as well. The goal drought seems to be back for the Minnesota Wild. They have now scored just 2 goals over their last three games going 0-3 in that span.
Josh Harding returned to the net for Minnesota but a lock of goal support doomed him to a loss. His record now stands at 13-4-2 with a 1.51 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. Those stats still rank him among the top three goal tenders in the NHL. Harding ranks 7th in wins overall. He made 18 saves on 20 shots giving up an early goal in both the first and second periods. Harding shut the door for the rest of the game but his teammates just couldn’t find the equalizer or go ahead goal.
The Wild flew to Denver immediately following the game and play that Avalanche again Saturday evening with puck drop slated for 8 pm Central Time. The Minnesota squad needs to put Friday night in their rear view mirror and focus on scoring some goals to move back into a points tie with the Av’s. The Wild cannot afford to drop 4 points back of Colorado in the tight Central Division race. I’ll be back with a game preview tomorrow morning and until then this is Scott Drain shouting confidently, “LET’S GO WILD!!”