Having his back
By Jamie MacDonald
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The Wild lost their way, and a game, in the second period.
These have come in a few shapes and sizes, these lapses, and on Saturday night in Denver, a couple of penalties and defensive zone scrambles were largely to blame for being outscored, 4-1, in the middle frame.
Playing Peter Budaj, against whom teams have been guaranteed three goals for most of the month, the Wild did manage to score four, but Niklas Backstrom allowed a career-high seven on the way to a momentum-dousing 7-4 loss.
“Yeah, he wasn’t sharp,” Todd Richards said of Backstrom. “Players in front didn’t help him.”
Saturday marked the first 2010-11 meeting between the Northwest Division rivals, which had generally been a favorable matchup for Minnesota. The Wild entered with a 6-0-2 record in their previous eight games at Colorado. And Backstrom was a career 6-1-1 in Denver.
Minnesota, which also had a chance to jump over Colorado in the division standings, instead fell three points behind Colorado.
The Wild submitted another solid first period.
“But, again, then the game gets away from us,” said Richards. “We go from one extreme to the other.”
Instead of Minnesota building on a solid first period — one that included an Antti Miettinen goal at 14:19 and Matt Cullen giving the Wild a 2-1 lead at 19:39, just five seconds into a power play, with a blast from the point over Budaj’s glove — it was Colorado that responded.
Greg Mauldin made it 2-2 at 2:45, and a Marek Zidlicky interference call at 2:59 set off a string of events that took the Wild from bad to worse. They drew another penalty at 5:53 — interference on Nick Schultz not long after his ill-advised pass in the offensive zone led to a 2-on-1 the other way. Colorado scored on the ensuing power play to take a 3-2 lead at 7:18. That was followed by another goal from Mauldin at 7:50. Less than two minutes later, Kevin Shattenkirk put Colorado up 5-2.
So, as the game was half over on the clock, it felt almost fully over for the Wild.
Minnesota didn’t take its first shot in the period until the 11:23 mark. It allowed 20 shots in the period, and three goals in just over two minutes. Another poor second period in the books.
Richards wondered if maybe one reason for the trend is his being too complimentary of his team after the first.
“There has to be something,” he said, searching for an answer to the plague of the second period. “Can I praise the guys about playing a good first? They’re established guys. We should be able to handle that.”
THE GOOD NEWS
The Wild did return fire at times. Kyle Brodziak, centering a line with Martin Havlat, scored twice. His first goal came at 14:22 of the second to bring the Wild back to 5-3.
Brodziak also fought Chris Stewart at 17:06 of the second. Truth is, Stewart did much more of the fighting, but Brodziak’s effort seemed not to be lost on his teammates. If it sparks another goal, the Wild are looking at a one-goal deficit.
Before the period ended, Havlat drew a chance while charging to the net. Cullen and Mikko Koivu buzzed in the offensive zone. Their shift was followed by Patrick O’Sullivan, Eric Nystrom and Andrew Brunette spending time in the zone, too.
“You have to give a lot of kudos to Kyle Brodziak,” Richards said. “My question is, ‘What are we waiting for? Why are we getting emotional then?”
Richards would like to see that emotion at the start of the second period.
Colorado put the game out of reach with two goals, at 5:03 and 6:49 of the third, which also chased Backstrom.
Over the span of his previous three starts, Backstrom is 0-3 after allowing five goals against the Rangers, six goals against the Flyers and the career-high seven Saturday. His highest save percentage in those games is .833.
Meanwhile, Jose Theodore is coming off a win Friday afternoon, and in four November stars has recorded save percentages of .946, .926, .932 and .941.
Will Richards go to Theodore Monday night?
“We’ll talk as a staff,” he said. “We’ll talk to Bob Mason [about] what’s the best way to approach our game against Calgary.”
Calgary has been a team in turmoil at times this season, and meeting the Wild on Monday should make for interesting theater. The Flames have won only three games in November and will enter with a 9-12-2 record after a 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh Saturday. The night before, however, Calgary topped the Flyers, 3-2, by way of shootout in Philadelphia.
The Wild are 6-2-2 this season after a loss, and their lineup may see an addition from Houston. Chuck Kobasew has been granted an indefinite leave from the team for personal reasons, Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s status remains unclear as he continues to work his way back from a concussion, and defenseman Clayton Stoner didn’t fly with the team to Colorado because of an upper body injury.