Offensive desert: Wild falls 4-2 to Coyotes
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Do you prefer the Midwestern cold or the Southwestern desert? The Minnesota Wild served up a little of both on Wednesday night, falling 4-2 at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes.
For the Wild, it was the fifth loss in six games, and a perfect illustration of the offensive troubles that are causing the team to sink fast in the Western Conference standings.
For example, coach Todd Richards praised the on-ice efforts of Martin Havlat after the game, saying that every time the European right wing was on the ice, he was dangerous. But it's worth noting that despite a team-high six shots on Phoenix goalie Jason LaBarbera, Havlat recorded just one assist, and the Wild recorded another loss.
"Ask any of the great hitters in baseball, and they go through streaks when they're not hitting the ball," Richards said. "I don't think it's any different in sports with athletes. Marty's created a lot of chances, he's playing great hockey for us right now, and tonight was one of those nights where (the puck) wasn't finding its way in."
It was not for lack of opportunity, especially early in the game, when the Coyotes spent six of the game's first seven minutes with a man in the penalty box. But instead of scoring early to get the crowd and the momentum on its side, the Wild instead gave up a season-high 17 opening period shots by Phoenix.
"We weathered the storm," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. "LaBarbera was very good. Penalty killers did a really good job early and sometimes that can turn into a positive for you, when you kill the penalties you can get some momentum off that and I think that's what happened to us."
Wild goalie Jose Theodore, appearing in his fourth consecutive game, stopped Ray Whitney on a first period breakaway, but could not stop defenseman Ed Jovanovski's deflection of an Adrian Aucoin shot, giving Phoenix a 1-0 lead.
Scottie Upshall got the first of his two Coyote goals in the second, and by the latter stages of the final period it looked likely that the Wild was headed for being shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since 2003. That was before Matt Cullen scored his first even-strength goal of the season, after a great effort by Patrick O'Sullivan to get the puck to the net.
Three more late goals, two of them by the Coyotes, and the projected fairy tale comeback by Pierre-Marc Bouchard - playing for the first time in 14 months after coming back from a concussion - turned into more of the same recent disappointment.
Bouchard played nearly 15 minutes, notching one shot on goal, which was thwarted by a sweeping LaBarbera glove save.
"It was good to be back out there," said Bouchard, who got a noticeable ovation from the crowd the first time he came up ice with the puck. "I was pretty excited, a little nervous. I was rusty all game long."
On another night when goals were few and far between for the Wild offense, Bouchard looked to have plenty of company in the "rusty" department.
The Wild hosts Calgary on Friday night.