ST. PAUL, Minn – When Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo walked into the locker room on Saturday night, no one would have blamed the first-year bench boss if he would have confused the Wild with his previous team.
Sporting a lineup that looked more like the Houston Aeros than Minnesota Wild, the NHL’s best team battled their way to a point in a 2-1 shootout loss against the New York Islanders before 18,209 unsatisfied fans at Xcel Energy Center.
However, the point wasn’t enough to please players and staff, which was made clear in the locker room after the contest.
With four of his top six forwards on the shelf, Yeo mentioned over and over before the game that the Wild needed to stick to their roles, execute well and show some emotion.
Instead of playing the way that had made each individual effective – and made the Wild click– Minnesota got fancy, overpassed and tried to compensate for the missing scoring. The result – a disappoint loss on home-ice to the league’s third-worst team.
Wild studs Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi and Guillaume Lattendresse – 68 points worth of forwards – were all missing from the lineup. Because of that, Jarod Palmer was called up from the AHL, and Yeo was forced to dress seven defensemen after it was decided Bouchard couldn’t go after the morning skate.
Palmer was one of the few bright spots for the Wild, notching 15 minutes, 38 seconds of playing time and a team-high six shots on net in his NHL debut. Darrell Powe filled his role well, putting in quality shift after quality shift on the penalty kill while blocking five shots.
The best Wild player was Niklas Backstrom, who had 35 saves in a game the Wild could have easily been losing 5- or 6-0 by the end of the second period.
When a team only gets a handful of solid efforts, wins usually come at a premium.
Andrew MacDonald opened the scoring midway through the second, scoring on a rocket from the left circle just as an Islanders’ power play expired.
Minnesota was booed off the ice after 40 minutes, a deserved response from a sellout crowd that had only been treated to seven shots at that point.
The Wild responded with a good third period, and eventually forced overtime thanks to a Cal Clutterbuck tap-in from the edge of the crease.
But the Wild missed chances to finish off the Isles, let the game get to a shootout and became the first team to lose in overtime or a shootout to New York all year.
The Wild now has an important road trip, which begins in Vancouver in a couple days. Yeo not only expects his team to respond better against division opponents, but he also thinks the depleted lineup will have a fundamentally different look to it.