Niklas Backstrom stops 35 as injury-depleted Wild drop third in a row
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo said Wednesday's shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks felt like a win. He was in no mood for positive spin this time around, as the one point his team gained in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders left a bitter taste in his mouth.
"What disappoints me is just our mind-set overall," said Yeo, who preached a simple game to what remains of his injury-ravaged players, but did not get one. "Fancy plays, soft plays, things that are completely uncharacteristic of us when we have a full lineup. There should be more urgency and desperation in our game."
Cal Clutterbuck scored the lone goal for the Wild, who looked lifeless for two-thirds of the game en route to their third consecutive loss. Andrew MacDonald scored in the second period for the Islanders, and Frans Nielsen got the only goal of the shootout, snapping a four-game losing streak for New York City's second-fiddle NHL team.
Islanders forward Kyle Okposo grew up in St. Paul and played for the Gophers (briefly) so he's well aware of what an intimidating place to play Xcel Energy Center can be when the home crowd gets rolling. For more than 40 minutes on Saturday, he and his mates had a nice, serene place to work.
"It was quiet in the first two periods. Eerily quiet. It was kind of nice," said Okposo, with a chuckle. "But the third period after they scored that goal and started getting some opportunities, the crowd was pretty into it."
If only the same could be said for the home team, which compounded its rash of injuries with an effort that left nearly all wanting more.
"Particularly with the depleted lineup, you have to have a little more tenacity in your game and we didn't have that," said Matt Cullen, who assisted on the Wild's lone goal. "No matter who's in the lineup, we've had our success because of that effort and that tenacity around the puck. We just didn't have the spark that we needed tonight, for sure."
And it didn't materialize in the shootout either. The Wild have taken five shootout shots on opposing goalies this week, and none of them have crossed the goal line. In the other net, there was one of the few bright spots for the Wild, where Niklas Backstrom made 35 saves.
"He kept us in it, no question. He was really good," Yeo said. "We had no business being in that game after two periods and he gave us a chance. We got one point because of him, for sure."
His biggest save came in the second period when Okposo was streaking to the net looking to double his team's lead. Not only did Backstrom poke-check the puck away from Okposo, he also took the player out of the play.
"I thought I had him," Okposo said. "I thought I had an empty net goal, and all of a sudden his stick comes flying out at me. It was (a good play.)"
The Wild were already getting out-played and clinging a bit in the second period when two penalties caused them to play even more short-handed. The Islanders, who are far from the class of the Eastern Conference, moved the puck at will with only four Wild players on the ice, causing too much lateral movement for Backstrom to be effective. Just six seconds after a boarding penalty to Warren Peters expired, and before then Wild could get a full lineup in place on the ice, MacDonald took a cross-ice pass from John Tavares and snapped it over Backstrom's left shoulder, forcing the Wild to play catch-up for the next 22 minutes.
• 12: Minnesotans who have played at least one game for the Wild since 2000, after Jarod Palmer (Fridley) made his NHL debut on Saturday. He's the fifth Minnesotan to skate for the team this season.
• 0: Playoff series won by the Islanders in the last 18 seasons.
• 6: NHL coaches that have lost jobs since the start of the season after the Montreal Canadiens fired Jacques Martin on Saturday. The Blues, Capitals, Hurricanes, Ducks and Kings have also made moves this season.
• 4: Shots on goal by Palmer in the first two periods, when the Wild had nine as a team. He finished with six shots for the game.
It's soon going to take less time to list who's healthy than who's hurt. With Guillaume Latendresse heading back to the injured reserve list after playing four periods, and Casey Wellman, Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard all shelved on Saturday, the Wild dressed seven defensemen and just 11 forwards. This meant an occasional shift at forward for blueliner Greg Zanon. They quickly went back down to six defensemen after Marco Scandella blocked a shot in the first period and limped off with what appeared to be an ankle injury, but he returned in the second.
On the other bench, former Wild forward Brian Rolston was scratched after he suffered a concussion in the Islanders' last game.
Islanders - Andrew MacDonald 2 (Tavares, Moulson), 11:13
Wild - Cal Clutterbuck 9 (Cullen, Heatley), 8:22
Shots: Wild 5-4-9-3-21; Islanders 9-15-10-2-36. Saves: Wild, Niklas Backstrom (35-36); Islanders, Al Montoya (20-21). Power plays: Wild 0-for-1, Islanders 0-2.
After getting two points but no wins in a two-game home stand, the Wild will check in with the rest of the Northwest Division between now and Boxing Day, starting a three-game road trip on Monday with a visit to Vancouver. They'll also play at Calgary and Edmonton, before returning home to face Colorado on the day after Christmas.
"These are huge games, and it's really disappointing to let them slip away here," Cullen said. "But there's not much time to feel sorry for yourself. It's right back to work."