Wild can’t catch a break when they need it most

By Jamie MacDonald
FOXSportsNorth.com

January 14, 2011

Frankly, Friday’s game did not set up well. The Wild, after rolling to a four-game winning streak that came to a close on the East Coast late last week, had been outscored, 9-1, in consecutive losses this past Sunday and Tuesday.

Sunday’s loss was almost predictable based on scheduling, but Tuesday’s 5-1 loss in Nashville hurt. Especially in the face of what confronted Minnesota: a pair of games at home, where the Wild entered a mediocre 10-10-2, against the top two teams in their division.

Add to this the loss of the team’s top two goaltenders, Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore, which left Anton Khudobin to make his first start of the season and 2009 draft choice Matt Hackett as the Kazakhstan native’s backup.

Khudobin, often good on the night but victimized by one nightmarish bounce, went on to allow three goals in the front end of this mini home stand.

While Khudobin was hung with the L, Friday’s game likely came down more to what didn’t happen in the offensive zone, where Minnesota peppered the Avalanche net with 33 shots, 15 more than Colorado took, yet came away with only one goal.

“As a coach, you’re disappointed because I really felt that the guys worked hard and competed and played, and deserved a better fate,” Todd Richards said. “And you want to see them get rewarded for their efforts.”

‘PUCK LUCK’

Richards talked about a bit of magic the Wild could have used Friday night.

“We definitely need the scoring,” he said. “It’s not because of lack of effort or caring. We created chances. That’s what you want to do. We need either that extra effort to finish or we need a fortuitous bounce.”

Trailing by one after Kevin Porter gave Colorado a 1-0 lead at 8:55 of the first, it wasn’t long before the Wild’s work pointed things in the right direction, only to be on the wrong side of that puck luck.

Khudobin made a nice save on Daniel Winnik, who had walked in almost alone on a busted play, at 10:53. Martin Havlat began a rush at 11:10 by kicking the puck from his skates to his stick and, after he gained the zone, Minnesota spent much of the shift in the Colorado end.

Kyle Brodziak was set up twice — once on each side of the net — and Havlat was in top play-making form. Marco Scandella hammered a shot from the point off the post at 11:54 to keep things going, and the Wild forced a penalty on Ryan Wilson at 12:22.

Unfortunately, for the 18,218 in attendance, not only did the Wild fail to score on the power play that ran through 14:22, but they would give the Avalanche the next power play. And that’s where Colorado took a 2-0 lead at 17:34 of the first — with only :06 left to kill on Greg Zanon’s tripping penalty.

There were instances throughout where puck luck could have helped: Cal Clutterbuck had a golden one-timer thwarted at 6:50 of the second, Brodziak nearly worked himself free for another chance from the slot at 12:06, and Eric Nystrom had a clear shot to the net at 15:52. (Nystrom took that shot, barreled into Craig Anderson and was called for goalie interference.)

Between the Brodziak and Nystrom efforts, however, Colorado had already extended its lead to 3-0.

THE BAD HOP

In what was the most unfortunate play of the night, and not just because of its timing or the fact that a three-goal deficit is so much steeper a climb than a two-goal deficit.

Anton Khudobin is, by all appearances, a nice story. And he was more than willing to talk — though his best quote was regarding the lack of scoring: “Yeah, one goal, but sometimes the goalie has to maybe shut the door … whole game” — after being scored upon by what has to be among a goalie’s worst nightmares in his second NHL start.

Victimized by a dump-in.

Tomas Fleischmann merely flipped a shot toward the net from an awkward position at the blue line. It was slow. Not particularly high, either. But the first bounce it took puck-lucked its way over Khudobin and into the back of the net.

“Tough situation, it’s just unfortunate,” Richards said. “A young guy coming in, wants to impress, and you see that happen. These things happen. You’re a goalie and it takes a bad bounce on you, and it looks bad. If you’re a forward or a defenseman and it takes a bad bounce, you always have your goaltender or you have time to recover and make the play.”

THE ONE

Mikko Koivu can’t seem to do enough good things for the Wild. Friday’s lone Minnesota goal was scored by linemate Andrew Brunette, but the goal was made possible by Koivu.

He was on the ice for more than a minute leading up to the goal, and it was his work from the half wall and behind the net that made it happen.

Working on the right wing with Antti Miettinen, Koivu moved the puck low, then followed the pass deep. Once it squirted behind the net, Koivu picked it up while curling behind the cage and pulled a full 360-degree pirouette with the puck on his backhand before sending it out front to Brunette.

Brunette knocked his 10th of the year in at 4:14 of the third, but the Wild would not cut the lead further.

POWER OUTAGE CONTINUES

The Wild’s goal came :12 after a Colorado penalty had expired, meaning Minnesota is now scoreless in three games on the power play. That stretch spans 10 chances, though Richards was more encouraged by Friday’s three man advantages than he had been in previous home efforts — which had often led to boos from the Xcel Energy Center crowd.

“It was better,” Richards said. “It wasn’t deflating or [a] demoralizing thing. We can be better, but I think we created some shots and some chances that kind of stirred things up a little bit.”

One concern, however, is that the Avalanche penalty kill entered the game ranked No. 29 overall in the NHL.

INJURY CONCERNS

At 5:22 of the second, Ryan O’Reilly, who had lunged at Matt Cullen to play a puck during a Wild power play, crashed awkwardly and essentially head-first into the boards in front of the Wild bench.

After more than five minutes on the ice, O’Reilly, tended to by medial and training staff of both teams, was carted off on a stretcher. Taken to Regions Hospital in Saint Paul for what his coach later referred to as “precautionary measures,” O’Reilly was able to move his arms and legs, hands and feet.

He was released from the hospital and made the trip back to Denver with the team.

For the Wild, Marco Scandella was hit in the head with a puck in the third period and did not return to action. The last shift for which he was officially credited came at the 3:12 mark of the third.