Same old story for Wild: Offense goes silent, losing streak grows
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - If your goalie and your defense play near-perfect hockey, you should only need one goal to win a game.
The Minnesota Wild defense and goaltending have been very good, but not close enough to perfect at a time when the offense has suddenly gone silent. Another example was served up on Tuesday night, when a national TV audience got to see the Wild score once, just once, and lose a late lead, falling 2-1 to the red-hot Anaheim Ducks.
Dany Heatley got a power play goal in the first period to give the Wild a lead, and for a long time, it looked like that would be enough. But in the end the Ducks wore down Minnesota's defenses, scoring a pair in the third period and extending the Wild's winless streak by another two days at least.
"I know it's an on-going story, but we need to play better," said Wild goalie Josh Harding, who had 23 saves in the loss. "They have an underrated team. Their offense is good, they buzz around the net, they jam. I thought they played great."
The calendar says Valentine's Day, but it seemed more like Groundhog Days for those who have watched the Wild flail, and fail, with regularity in recent weeks. Again there were the rays of hope that came via an early lead, there was solid special teams play, there was good-enough goaltending. And again, in the end, none of it mattered, as the Ducks needed the minimum of offense - two late goals, to win, extending the Wild's winless streak to five games (0-4-1).
"Disappointing for sure. It felt like that was a game we were going to win, and it's tough to not come out with two points," said Yeo, sounding like a man who is running out of answers quickly.
The coach and players admit growing frustration with the offensive drought, and the losing, but in their win streak in November and December, which had them leading the Western Conference and the NHL for a time, they see a glimmer of what they can be, and hold out hope for a turnaround, even with the playoffs getting further out of reach with every loss.
"We're a good enough team to close out a game when we're up 1-0," Yeo said. "We're still a good enough team that we should be able to win that game. But we've just got to keep fighting."
There was plenty of fight early, as Heatley tapped the puck past Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller in the opening period for his team-leading 19th goal of the season. But momentum started to swing to the side of the Ducks in the second and never went back to the home side. Anaheim has been on a tear since firing Randy Carlyle and hiring Bruce Boudreau a little more than two months ago, and while the hole they dug early in the season may keep them out of the post-season, the Ducks played like a team not giving up on the hope of playing in May.
"For them and for us, it's playoff hockey already right now," said Anaheim forward Niklas Hagman, who score his team's first goal. "They needed that win a lot, and so did we, and both goalies played really well."
Hiller finished with 17 saves for the Ducks, who are now just three points behind the Wild in the Western Conference standings. The Wild have now lost four consecutive home games in regulation, which is a first in team history.
With the Wild still clinging to a 1-0 lead, captain Mikko Koivu tried to advance the puck out of the defensive zone and ran into a familiar face. Koivu's brother, Saku, forced a turnover for the Ducks, and the puck went to Hagman, who was alone in front of the net. He had two whacks at the puck, the second of which went in.
"It's turnover and it cost us a goal and they tied it up," Mikko said. "So yeah, it's my mistake. That's about it."
• 7: Goals scored by the Wild, total, in their last six games.
• 13-3-3: Anaheim's record since Jan. 1.
• 39: Number of different players who have skated for the Wild this season after Kris Foucault made his NHL debut on Tuesday. He is the 13th rookie to see ice time with the Wild in 2011-12.
• 8,007,189: Regular season tickets sold in Wild franchise history, after Tuesday's crowd of 17,552 put them over the eight million mark.
The Wild were without forward Cal Clutterbuck on Tuesday. He sat out with what is officially called a lower body injury, suffered early in the Wild's loss to Columbus on Saturday. The other most notable injury in the game came late with the Ducks on a power play. Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler blasted a dump-in shot into the Wild zone, only to see the rising puck hit referee Dennis LaRue in the head. There was a brief stoppage and many Wild fans, upset at what they viewed as a non-call earlier in the period, cheered the injury. LaRue did not leave the game.
Wild - Dany Heatley 19 (Zidlicky, Koivu), 3:56, power play
Ducks - Niklas Hagman (unassisted), 8:38
Ducks - Corey Perry 27 (Sbisa), 12:21
Shots: Wild 5-4-9-18; Ducks 5-10-10-25. Saves: Wild, Josh Harding (25-23); Ducks, Jonas Hiller (18-17). Power plays: Wild 1-for-3, Ducks 0-4.
• 1. Corey Perry
• 2. Josh Harding
• 3. Dany Heatley
The Wild are doing the whole "three games in four days" trick starting Thursday when the new and (possibly) improved Winnipeg Jets makes their first-ever visit to St. Paul. The Wild travel to St. Louis for an afternoon game with the Blues on Saturday, then zip home for a Sunday afternoon meeting (on national TV) with the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.