The Minnesota Wild fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday evening by a 4-0 final score. Just a couple of days after they shut out the Flyers the Wild looked lost, tentative, and quite beatable. This was an ugly game for the Wild and in his post game comments Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo didn’t hold back saying, “This is one for the garbage. I mean this is the worst game we have played this year.” The loss drops Minnesota’s record to 17-9-5 for the season and their road totals to 5-6-3 good for 4th in the tight Central Division race. The win improves Columbus’ overall record to 12-14-3 and 7-7-1 in Nationwide Arena.
The Wild came out of the gate slowly and never established any momentum in the losing effort. Curtis McElhinney, in his first game since Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky went on IR, stopped all 20 shots he faced. Minnesota net minder Niklas Backstrom struggled and failed to get any rhythm going in the loss that dropped his overall record this season to 2-4-2. His save percentage for the game was still above .900 for the night, .902 to be exact, as he faced a total of 41 Blue Jacket shots. Coach Yeo said, “They didn’t turn pucks over. We did. We didn’t win 1-on-1 battles. You could see in the second we couldn’t get the puck out of our end.” The first period was the best the Wild looked all game giving up just 9 shots and holding Columbus scoreless. The second period was a much different story as the Blue Jackets put 18 shots on goal scoring twice while the Wild could only manage 8 shots in reply, most of those coming from the perimeter. That trend continued in the third frame with Columbus peppering Backstrom with 14 shots, scoring two more goals, as they cruised to victory. The 41 shots put up by Columbus was their highest total so far this season and the largest amount allowed by the Wild who give up an average of just 25.2 shots per game. Minnesota’s shots against is the second lowest average in the NHL. The Blue Jackets win was their second straight shut out as they beat Tampa Bay 1-0 Tuesday evening.
Special teams were just another area in which the Wild struggled, giving up a power play goal to the Jackets Nick Foligno in the second period. The power play was the main focus of the Wild’s practice just a day earlier and it looked anemic and disjointed at best against the Blue Jackets. Columbus power play now ranks 10th in the league at 20.6% while the Wild penalty kill is floundering , near the bottom, 26th in the NHL at 78%. Wild Coach Yeo addressed the uneven pace of the game saying, “We were on our heels, we were slow reacting, we were slow getting to places and spots. We were obviously not pressing the way we need to be. The biggest thing, more than anything else, was the amount of battles we lost, one on one battles. If you don’t win those one on one battles and you allow them to play in your zone and keep putting pucks in behind you and keep wearing down your defense then it’s going to keep getting harder.” The Wild were also out hit 25 to 17, lost 26 of 47 faceoffs and blocked fewer shots despite the barrage of rubber Columbus threw at the Wild net. The list of missed opportunities for the Wild was a long one. One glaring one in particular came at the 7:03 mark of the second period as Blue Jacket Brandon Dubinsky headed to the penalty box for a slash against Wild captain Mikko Koivu just 48 seconds after Columbus’ Artem Anisimov was called for hooking on the Wild’s Charlie Coyle. The Wild had 1:12 of 5 on 3 power play and failed to register even a single shot. During the 5 on 4 power play that followed, Blue Jackets net minder McElhinney, stopped two consecutive, great scoring chances, one by Jason Pominville and the other on Zach Parise. Not scoring on those opportunities seemed to take the wind out of the Wild’s power play sails and they ended up 0 for 4 with the man advantage on the night.
Friday night was a bad game for the Wild and snapped their budding win streak at 2 games. Those victories came against the Blackhawks and Flyers. What the Minnesota Wild need to do now is to take any lessons from and then forget about Friday night. What’s done is done and it’s time to move on and not wallow in the muck of an ugly loss. The Wild need to look ahead and get prepared for one of the toughest stretches in their schedule all season. Minnesota has 11 games left in the month of December and 7 of those are on the road against some of the best teams in the league. Come January we should have a pretty good idea of how the Wild stack up against the rest of the league. Over the course of the next 11 games three are divisional battles, four games are against teams in the western Conference and four are games against teams in the Eastern Conference. Coming up Sunday the Wild host the San Jose Sharks who lead the Pacific Division with 43 points on a record of 19-5-5. There will be some familiar faces returning to the Xcel Energy Center as Brent Burns, Martin Havlat and James Sheppard are all on the San Jose roster.
The Minnesota Wild are just over a third of the way through the regular season so there is time to address any problem areas, such as the power play and penalty kill units. Friday is a good reminder that the NHL regular season is a marathon, not a sprint. Bad games will happen, even to the best teams. The Wild laid an egg on Friday night but Sunday evening the slate is clean and a chance to start another win streak presents it’s self. Until next time this is Scott Drain confidently shouting, “Let’s Go Wild!”