The Minnesota Wild were beaten by the New York Rangers Sunday night 4-1 at Madison Square Garden. The Wild did manage to score first for the first time in 11 road games. One of the few bright spots for the Wild was the return of Mikeal Granlund. The reunited line of Granlund, Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter produced early in the opening period. Pominville tipped in a pass from Ryan Suter who took a pass from Granlund to start the play. Just 4:08 in the Wild led 1-0. Minnesota was skating hard, getting shots and looking good. It was the best start to a road game in a while. Then the Rangers tied the game late in the period on a goal from Benoit Pouliot. From that point on the Wild were missing in action. They gave up a total of 4 unanswered goals and were out shot in the last two periods 24 to 14. Wild Defenseman Ryan Suter said after the game, “The last 40 minutes tonight were embarrassing.” That pretty much sums up the Wild’s play in the second and third periods. The defense was soft, the offense lost battles and misfired on passes and shots much too often. Niklas Backstrom took the loss for the second straight game and has now allowed 9 goals in two games. He played much better than in Pitttsburgh but one again received very little in the way of goal support from his team mates. Head Coach Yeo said of Backstrom, “I thought he looked as good as he’s looked this year. It would be nice if we could give him some more support.” Yeo is being rather kind there. Lately the Wild’s net minder’s teammates have let him down, big time. In the last 6 games Backstrom has started, the Wild have given him 5 total goals in support. 5 goals in 6 games, that’s not support, that’s pathetic. It’s pretty darn tough to get wins when you’re not scoring and that’s the kind of funk Minnesota is in again. The Wild get a chance to shake it off and salvage one game out of this road trip when they face the Philadelphia Flyers in Philly tomorrow night.
Minnesota Head Coach Mike Yeo in his post game comments addressed the lack of scoring saying, “When you’re not scoring goals it’s frustrating.” “When you struggle to score goals like we have, you look to make a perfect play, you look to get yourself in a better position and we’re missing opportunities because of that.” There were several times tonight when Wild players had control of the puck in front of the net in the slot area and instead of taking a shot they tried to make a pass to get an even better shot. Each time that failed and an opportunity was lost. As the game progressed the problem seemed to get worse. On the other side the Rangers were playing loose, like a team with nothing to lose. They have one of the worst home records in the Eastern Conference and on their current home stand they had gone a very poor 1-4-2 entering tonight’s game. Players including Zach Parise and Matt Cooke mentioned the mental aspect of the games as the reason for the Wild’s scoring and road woes. From the mid point of the second period when the Rangers scored to make it a 2-1 game the Wild’s offense ceased to be much of a factor in the game. After getting 11 shots on goal in the first period Minnesota would only manage 14 for the rest of the game. The second period was the worst as the Rangers out shot them 17 to 5 and scored twice to take a 3-1 lead into the final frame. Minnesota’s power play was also missing in action Sunday as they only drew 2 power plays to begin with and then went 0 for 2 with the man advantage. The power plays suffered from the same problems as the rest of the Wild’s offensive game as they kept passing looking for the perfect shot instead of pounding the puck on net and looking for redirections, rebounds and opportunities. Once the Wild fell behind tonight they seemed to take their foot off the gas and instead of pressing harder they seemed to slow down and start over thinking things and playing hesitantly.
Defensively the Wild looked uncharacteristically sloppy at several points Sunday and those led to easy goals for New York. One of the worst came late in the second period as Mats Zuccarello collected the puck on a pass from Derick Brassard after skating into the slot area unchallenged and fired off a shot while surrounded by 5 Wild players that beat Backstrom and made the score 3-1. The caption on the photo to the left says it all, “Ryan Suter WATCHES as….puts a shot on goal.” The only Minnesota defenseman that seemed to be fully invested in the game was Jared Spurgeon. Playing in his 200th NHL game he played a physical contest and was his usual puck controlling self until taking a cheap shot from Derick Dorsett and leaving the ice with 7 minutes to go in the second period. He was back on the bench to start the third period and played hard the rest of the way. The rest of the Wild D seemed to be a step slow and avoided making big hits or really getting into the corners and winning puck battles. I’m not sure if they were waiting for someone else to step in and pass them the puck or what. There was too much looking and not enough doing this night in New York.
The Wild are taking the train from New York to Philadelphia Sunday night and have a morning skate scheduled at the Wells Fargo Center. Monday is the second meeting between the Flyers and Wild. Minnesota took the first game earlier this month on the 2nd at the Xcel Energy Center by a 2-0 final. Josh Harding got the shut out making 21 saves. This will be the Wild’s last chance to get a win before the Christmas break and to salvage something out of this three game road trip. I’ll be back Monday morning with a preview of the coming action between Minny and Philly. Until then let’s put this dreadful outing against the Rangers in the rear view mirror and look to a brighter future tomorrow. Until next time this is Scott Drain hopefully chanting, Let’s Go Wild!