Long Island railroaded: Wild falling fast in standings after 4-1 loss
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In their first March outing, the Minnesota Wild came in like lambs, carrying over the worst habits from February in a 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders.
Where roughly a week ago the team had moved as high as fifth in the Western Conference standings and was starting a potential playoff spot solidly in the eye, the Wild has now dropped to the bottom third of the conference, out of the playoff picture for the time being.
Perhaps most disturbing is the sharp departure from the Wild's rock-solid defense, goaltending and special teams in the past two losses. In falling to Chicago on Monday and the Islanders on Wednesday, the Wild has given up eight goals. Starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom was chased from the net on Long Island, pulled by coach Todd Richards early in the second period after allowing three goals on 19 shots.
Former Gopher Kyle Okposo had a goal and assist for the lowly Islanders, who had lost their previous five games versus the Wild. There were signs of trouble right from the start, as the Wild's penalty kill unit - statistically the best in the league since Dec. 31 - gave up an early Isles power play goal, forcing the Wild to play from behind almost immediately.
"We weren't good," Wild coach Todd Richards said. "We weren't good in a lot of areas. Players that we need to be good weren't good, and at this time of year when games mean this much, points mean this much, it's disappointing when you get that."
Most disturbing for Richards was the continued lack of production from top-line offensive players. He acknowledged the continued absence of Mikko Koivu from the lineup, and how the right combination of forwards in the captain's absence has not yet been found. The Wild will try yet another new set of line combinations in less than 24 hours when the team hits the ice at Madison Square Garden versus the Rangers.
"We're going to have to switch lines for tomorrow," Richards said. "We're going to have to find ways to get (Andrew Brunette) more into the game and (Antti) Miettinen more into the game."
For the Islanders, who still sit at 14th in the Eastern Conference, getting more fans into the game is still the key. The one-time dynasty drew about 7,000 paying customers to the game with the Wild on Wednesday. By contrast, a high school game in Minneapolis between Edina and Burnsville had nearly 10,000 in attendance.
Jose Theodore, expected to start versus the Rangers on Thursday, came on in relief of Backstrom and had 21 saves. John Madden had the only goal for the Wild, an easy tip-in after a feed from Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
"We haven't been good the last couple of games," Kyle Brodziak told the Associated Press. "We definitely need more desperation. We're fighting for our playoff lives here. It's frustrating. It was a must-win tonight and we didn't get the job done. It makes tomorrow night even that much bigger. We've got to stop the slide now and do whatever it takes to turn it around."