No moral victories: Wild outplay Blue Jackets, but still fall at home
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Hockey coaches preach about the danger of giving up a goal in the first minute, or the last minute, of a period, for what it can do to a team's psyche. So the fragile Minnesota Wild could definintely have done without goals scored against them in the final minute of the first, second and third periods on Saturday.
R.J. Umberger recorded his first multi-goal game of the season, and James Wisnewski added an empty-netter as the Wild lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second time in a week, 3-1. Devin Setoguchi scored the only goal for Minnesota, which recorded 35 shots and out-played Columbus for much of the night, but ended up with nothing to show for it.
Wild coach Mike Yeo, who had ripped his team on Thursday after a 5-2 home loss to Vancouver, was more optimistic, despite his team sinking to 11th place in the Western Conference.
"Sitting up here, it's still hard to believe we didn't win the game, to be honest with you," Yeo said. "At the same time, if we play like that every night, we'll take those odds."
If Blue Jackets interim coach Todd Richards was feeling smug about this one, he was too polite to say it. Richards, you'll recall, was fired by the Wild last April after coaching them for two playoff-free seasons, and was named head coach in Columbus a month ago. He's now 2-0-0 versus his former employer.
"Honestly, it's not about me. It's not about me feeling good," said Richards. "I'm happy that we won the game as a team. This win doesn't feel any different than the one in Anaheim. Actually, I think the one in Anaheim, I enjoyed that one a lot more."
There was little for the Blue Jackets to enjoy in this one, save for the final score, as the Wild dominated in the offensive zone throughout. But with the regular season rolling along the players are fully aware that the NHL does not award points for playing well, just for winning.
"This isn't the time of year for moral victories," said Wild forward Matt Cullen, who had four of the team's 35 shots on Steve Mason. "We have to find a way to put points on the board. Certainly the response was good. Guys stuck together and battled back but we've got to take the next step and find ways to win these games. I'm confident that we will."
Still, earlier in the season there was a confidence that the troubles were not a big deal, and the Wild would be back on track in plenty of time to solidify themselves in the playoff race. Now, that knowledge of the right way to score goals (the Wild have six goals in their last five games) is clearly shaken.
"If I knew the answer to scoring goals, I'd have 50," Setoguchi said. He currently has 12. "It's a confidence thing for us right now where guys just need to be confident. We're getting shots, but a lot of them we're not getting the second and third opportunities where you score the goals, you get the dirty goals. That's what we need."
The coach thinks they need something else a bit more than goals.
"This time of year, we know we need wins," Yeo said. "At this time of the year, out-playing a team unfortunately doesn't matter a whole lot. Deserving to win, unfortunately, doesn't count for a whole lot. We have to find ways to win."
The search for those elusive ways begins again on Tuesday.
Umberger's second goal of the game, the eventual game-winner, was a power play goal that slipped past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom with less than a minute to play in the second period. The Wild had dominated the game, and felt they were winning despite the 1-1 score, but this was the 'wake up' moment where the team seemed to realize that losing was indeed a possilibity.
Afterward, the coach and players focused on the disparity in power plays, which was a big advantage for the visitors.
"I'm still finding it a little bit hard to believe that we only drew one power play compared to their four when we had the puck the whole night," Yeo said. "I'm still trying to figure that out. We had breakaways tonight, we had chances, we had shots."
• 15: Shots on goal by the Wild in the first period, their most in a first period at home this season.
• 1: Power play goals scored by the Blue Jackets in their last eight games in Minnesota.
• 2-0-0: Blue Jackets interim coach Todd Richards' record versus his former employer. The wild fired him at the end of last season.
• 3: Penalties assessed to Darroll Powe in the first 26 minutes of the game.
Cal Clutterbuck left the game in the second period, with what some thought was cramping in his leg and did not return.
"Lower body. I don't know the severity there," Yeo said. "He had some discomfort and we couldn't get him back out. I didn't see the play."
Wild - Devin Setoguchi 12 (Koivu, Zidlicky), 14:28
Blue Jackets - R.J. Umberger 8 (Nash, Brassard), 19:04
Blue Jackets - Umberger 9 (Wisniewski, Nash), 19:39, PPG
Blue Jackets - James Wisniewski 3 (unassisted), 19:11, ENG
Shots: Wild 15-5-15-35; Blue Jackets 10-7-2-19. Saves: Wild, Niklas Backstrom (16-18); Blue Jackets, Steve Mason (34-35). Power plays: Wild 0-for-1, Blue Jackets 1-4.
1. Steve Mason
2. R.J. Umberger
3. Devin Setoguchi
A pair of mid-week home games are up next, with the lowly Anaheim Ducks visiting on Tuesday, and the new-look Winnipeg Jets making their only appearance of the season in St. Paul (barring a meeting with the Wild in the Stanley Cup Finals) on Thursday.