Wetmore: Slow start proves costly as Wild blanked in uninspired clunker
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The sky isn't falling, the way it seemed to be in the waning days of 2013.
But a calendar flip and a mini-winning streak haven't erased all the shortcomings for the Wild.
There wasn't much for the home fans to cheer in a lifeless 3-0 loss Tuesday to Ottawa. The arena attendants, however, got in their fair share of exasperated "oh"s. As in, "Oh, I wish the Wild had converted that mediocre scoring chance; they're not getting many."
Or perhaps, "Oh, Minnesota dodged another bullet there on that Senators drive."
The Senators outshot the Wild 15-3 in the first period.
Coach Mike Yeo told his players after the first period: "That's the story of the first period, let's try not to make it the story of the game."
Easier said than done, apparently.
Yes, they're still playing without top goalie Josh Harding, top forwards Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu and top-four defenseman Jared Spurgeon. But Tuesday's uninspired clunker seemed due to lack of crispness and perhaps preparedness.
"We've got to come out more prepared," forward Justin Fontaine said. "They play good positioning, we've just got to come ready to start the game."
Minnesota found its legs a little better in the second period, outshooting Ottawa 10-8 and finally finding some touch on its passes. High-grade scoring chances, however, were few and far between. In fact, the final shot total only slightly favored the visitors, 32-27.
While that appears close, the Wild lacked in the Grade-A opportunities that NHL teams crave.
"You've got to be good at home," forward Jason Pominville said. "For the most part this year we have. But if you want to be a team that climbs in the standings and want to be a team that's tough to play against, you have to be better than we were at home and tonight just wasn't good enough."
The Wild cycled the puck just fine in the offensive zone, but the passes never seemed to click and the Senators made a determined effort to take away space in front of the net.
"I think we do a good job at cycling the puck and then getting the puck behind the net but we've got to find a way to get those looks in front of the net and not always cycle it behind," Pominville said.
It was almost as if Ottawa would bait the Wild into skating behind the net, only to collapse and remove space at the point of attack when Minnesota sent someone to crash the net in front.
"They box out really good. They take away the net, they let you wrap it or have the back of the net and then they collapse," Fontaine said. "We had to find a way to get the pucks to the net and outnumber them."
After getting outplayed for a period and a half and showing some signs of life in the second, the Wild took a gut-punch goal when Marco Scandella broke his stick on a shot from the point.
Erik Condra scooped up the loose puck and accelerated down the length of the ice before Scandella could recover to get in defensive position. Condra buried it past Darcy Kuemper on the other end to give the Senators a 2-0 lead.
A power play goal with just less than 2½ minutes to go in the third period sealed the appropriate outcome. The Wild were shut out on a night they could scarcely generate quality scoring chances, and lost to Eastern Conference foe that controlled play most of the night.