The Minnesota Wild fell to the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg by a final score of 6-4. The loss it the 4th straight on this road trip that was interrupted by the Christmas break. Minnesota has now lost 9 of their last 10 road games going 1-8-1 in that span. Their road record on the season is now a dismal 6-12-3. This was the first time the Wild have lost to the Jets this season. The story of the game was the first period. The two teams combined for 7 goals, five of those goals came in 7:04 of the period. It was a crazy start to the game with Dany Heatley scoring the first goal for Minnesota just 2:13 in. The Jets would answer back with a short handed goal just 1:35 later. By the End of the period Minnesota would add 2 more goals by Justin Fontaine and Stephane Veilleux. This was Veilleux’s first NHL goal since 2009. The goals by Fontaine and Veilleux came just 10 seconds apart, setting a new Minnesota Wild road record. The previous record holders were Mattias Weinhandl and Wes Walz who scored 11 seconds apart in 2006. Unfortunately the Jets would add goals by Olli Jokinen, Blake Wheeer, and Dustin Byfuglien to make the score 4-3 after just 20 minutes of play. The Wild would score one more goal, the only goal in the second period, this a power play marker by Captain Mikko Koivu. A total of 11 Wild players had at least 1 point Friday, led by Jason Pominville‘s 2 assists. The Jets would tie the game in the third period, Wheeler would pitch fork the puck out from under net minder Backstrom, scoring his second of the game. Winnipeg would add an empty net goal with 4 seconds remaining to wrap up the scoring. Seven goals in the first 17:50 and just 3 more in the next 42:10. Wow, if you missed the first period you missed the game. In his post game comments Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “Our focus is not directed the right way right now and there’s been too much losing going on and because of that we’ve got a lot of things clouding our focus of how we’re supposed to play the game and we’ve go to find it (focus).
Niklas Backstrom took the loss for the Wild, dropping his record to 2-9-2 on the season. Backstrom has allowed 44 goals in thirteen games while Josh Harding has allowed 34 goals in 23 games and posted a record of 17-5-1. Backstrom’s performance improved dramatically after the first period when he allowed goals on 11 shots he then made 26 saves on 27 shots the rest of the way. Coach Yeo said, “Backstrom gave us a chance to win that game. … I’m not going to say that he didn’t play well.” For once Backstrom got some goal support from his teammates but couldn’t make enough stops early in the game to take advantage of it. For the game Backstrom made 32 saves on 37 Jets shots. Jets starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was pulled after the Wild’s third goal of the opening period and replaced by Al Montoya who allowed just a single goal in nearly 53 minutes of play.
The Wild’s overall record drops to 20-15-5 with the loss, but home games are on the horizon. Minnesota will be home for their next 4 games. On home ice the Wild are a different team posting a record of 14-3-2. First up for Minnesota in that stretch will be the New York Islanders. Right now the Wild are still in 4th place in the Central Division with 45 points but their lead over 4th place Dallas has shrunk to a single point.
There were some bright spots for the Wild tonight. the 4 goals were as many as the Wild have scored in this road trip. Dany Heatley scored, as did Veilleux and Fontaine. That’s the kind of secondary scoring Minnesota has been looking for this season. Hopefully this four goal explosion will open the floodgates to many goals on the road as well as at home.
Mike Yeo said of the Wild’s play tonight and in recent games, “It’s the little things right now that are killing us and finding ways to lose hockey games.” Coach Yeo is right, it is the little things, missed passes, passes into skates or into empty space, losing puck battles, missing assignments, and generally playing outside of the Wild’s system. Earlier in the season the players were sticking to the game plan, buying in they call it. The Wild were flying back to the Twin Cities right after the game and hopefully will have a practice Saturday before the Islanders come calling. I’ll be back Sunday morning with a preview of the game. Until next time this is Scott Drain tiredly chanting, “Let’s Go Wild”