The Minnesota Wild lost 5-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night at Consol Energy Center. This was probably the ugliest road game the Wild have played this season. Minnesota Head Coach Mike Yeo summed up the evening’s effort by his team saying, “We Stunk tonight.” ”We were not ready to play the game hard enough and that’s something we have to look at ourselves in the mirror tomorrow, all of us.” Minnesota was beaten in all areas of the game by a Penguins team that was missing 5 of their top 6 defensemen and star forward Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh out scored, out shot, out passed and generally out performed the Wild, but most of all they OUTWORKED their opponent. The Penguins scored just 49 seconds into the game when Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom mishandled a rebound, dropping the puck in the crease where Chris Kunitz poked it in for the score. At that point is looked like it was going to be a long night for the Wild and its was. This was the 10th road game in a row in which Minnesota has surrendered the first goal. The Wild had few scoring chances in the opening period and after 20 minutes were lucky to be only down 1-0 on shot totals of 13-9 in favor of the Penguins. Minnesota did try and step up the physical aspect of the game out hitting the Penguins and getting in to two fights in the opening period. Just over 2 minutes into the game Zenon Konopka and Craig Adams dropped the gloves and just a few minutes later Keith Ballard and Chuck Kobasew fought as well. Ballard was definitely in a bad mood as he also dropped the gloves with James Neal midway through the second period.
The second period is when the Penguins fully took over the game and put it out of reach, scoring three times by the 10:47 mark. Goals by Brandon Sutter and Matt Niskanen sandwiched a power play marker by Chris Kunitz. Pittsburgh went 1 for 4 with the man advantage for the game while the Wild were 0 for 5 on the night. The Wild finally got on the scoreboard at 11:20 of the period with a goal by Jason Pominville, his team leading 16th. Assists on the play went to Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Suter, their 11th and 20th of the season respectively. That would wrap up the scoring for the second period.
In the final frame the Wild briefly looked as though they might make a game of it when Dany Heatley scored his 7th of the season with assists to Charlie Coyle and Keith Ballard, at the 3:13 mark cutting the Penguins lead to 2, making the score 4-2. Then Pittsburgh would hand Minnesota a golden opportunity to cut into that lead even more when they took two penalties just 14 seconds apart. With Ollie Maata and Craig Adams in the box the Wild had a 1:46 of 5 on 3 power play time. I don’t care which team in the NHL you are, if you have 5 on 3 that long YOU SCORE. Unless you are the Minnesota Wild. The Wild failed to score tonight and have not scored on any of the 5 on 3 power plays they have had this season. Not one, zip, zilch, nada. Then just as the 2 man advantage expired Maata hopped out of the penalty box took in a pass and headed in on Niklas Backstrom on a break away chance that was thwarted by a hook from Jonas Brodin. Maata was awarded a penalty shot and converted, snapping off a shot the dribbled under Backstrom’s arm in in for the shorthanded goal. The score was now 5-2 and any momentum the Wild had built up was gone. The game ended with a final score of 5-2 and the Penguins out shooting the Wild 36-26 for the night.
This loss drops the Wild’s road record to 6-9-3 this season while the Penguins move to 16-3-0 on home ice. The win gives Pittsburgh a total of 53 points, the most in the Eastern Conference. They have also won 6 straight and 11 of the last 12 games they’ve played. Minnesota now has an overall record of 20-12-5 good for 45 points and 4th place in the Central Division and if the season ended today the last wildcard playoff spot. Lucky for the Wild there are still 45 games left in the regular season.
Minnesota’s #1 goalie Josh Harding is on IR and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury played a shootout game last night. That turned thursday into a battle of the backup goaltenders. Niklas Backstrom for the Wild and Jeff Zatkoff for the Penguins. Neither had played many games this season. Backstrom started just his 10th game of the season, made 31 saves on 36 shots and saw his record fall to 2-6-2 with the loss. His goals against average now stands at 3.12 and his save % dropped to .896. A good bit worse than his career averages of 2.45 and .916.
After the game Wild Captain Mikko Koivu said, “They were ready to play. We Weren’t. We just need to be better, starting with myself.” Coach Mike Yeo in his post game remarks when asked about Backstrom’s performance said, “It’s not all on him. It’s not the only story of the game. I’m not going to say he was nearly good enough, but you know what there’s 19 other guys wearing a Wild uniform tonight that weren’t either.” Yeo’s right, none of the Wild looked very good tonight. They were losing puck battles all over the ice, passes were going into skates, out into empty space, or worse onto opponents sticks. When the Penguins did make a mistake and there were plenty of them the Wild failed to capitalize. They did manage to score two goals but any momentum generated by those was short lived. Sustained puck possession in the offensive zone was nearly nonexistent and the whole effort was disjointed and uneven. Luckily this is only one game and tomorrow is a new day. You can bet there will be an intense practice at Consol Energy Center before the team flies to New York for Sunday’s game against the Rangers. This was one game out of 82, one lousy game, and there are still two more road games before the Christmas break. Time for the Minnesota Wild to put this one behind them and concentrate on a better effort next time out. I’ll be back Sunday morning with a preview of Wild vs Rangers Live from Madison Square Garden. Until then this is Scott Drain still calling out, “Let’s Go Wild!”