The Wild fell to 0-1-2 on the season Tuesday night after losing to the Nashville Predators. What is more unimpressive is that they lost in a span of 6 minutes in the first period. After Kyle Brodziak took a two minute minor for interference and Mikko Koivu followed with a tripping minor just fifteen seconds later, the Wild would surrender two goals with the 2-man disadvantage. So what went wrong with the suddenly meek Wild penalty kill? Could anything have been done to change the outcome?
The first goal from the Predators would come off the stick of Filip Forsberg. The Wild were in a zone-triangle for their penalty kill formation. Wild players on the ice were Keith Ballard, Torrey Mitchell, and Matt Cooke. The scoring play would start immediately off of the faceoff after Koivu's minor was called. Nashville would then go to work moving the puck around the triangle in the offensive zone. Cooke and Mitchell would be the high forwards to put pressure on the point-men for the Predators power play. After moving the puck around the perimeter, Seth Jones would eventually get the puck at the left point. Now, since it was a 5-on-3 advantage, the defensemen for Nashville, like most teams do, collapse down to the top of the faceoff circles.
Jones would pass it to Forsberg, who was on the left wing side of the net. The pass would draw Matt Cooke down low to help support his defenseman and also guard against the cross-ice pass, because by this time, Shea Weber has rotated to the weak-side wing position to help create mismatches on that side on the ice. The pass would then go from Forsberg back to the point where Jones would take a right-handed shot (which means his release was right in the middle of the slot). The puck would get partially blocked and start to bounce towards the net. Ballard and Hornquist would fight to get possession of the puck out in front of the net. The puck would eventually end up on Forsberg's stick and he had about as easy of a slam dunk you could get for his first career goal. Backstrom went down into the butterfly on the initial shot and could not shift over in time to make a save on Forsberg's shot.
It's hard to place blame on this goal because the Wild were down two men and the fact that the initial shot was partially blocked and ended up on the tape of a guy who was just standing at the doorstep. Sure, Backstrom could have moved faster in his attempt to block the Forsberg shot, but it would have taken super human athletic ability to stop that one. Like I said, it was as easy as a slam dunk as you'll see.
For the second goal, the Wild would only be short-handed by one man. This one just happened to be a nicely placed shot under the crossbar that Backstrom really could not have done anything to do about it. What about his penalty killers? What could they have done about it? The PK unit for the Wild consisted of the Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Jonas Brodin. Right before the goal was scored, the box for the Wild had collapsed way down low as the puck was behind the net and in the left corner. Mike Fisher would come out from behind the net with the puck and dish it from the left corner all the way out to the point. Because the pass was sent to the blue line so quickly, Granlund had to hustle out to apply pressure and over-committed to Matt Cullen, who passed it to Colin Wilson. The over-committal of Granlund would take him out of position, which gave Wilson time to wall down the side wall and pick his spot for a shot. Ryan Suter, who was positioned in front of Backstrom trying to protect against the backdoor pass, was caught in No Man's Land. The shot would get through Suter and pick the upper left corner over Backstrom.
The second goal is really tough because the Predators were able to gain the lead rather quickly after the Wild opened the scoring with a power play goal of their own. The shot by Wilson was a real snipe. It took some serious accuracy to place the puck where he did. Backstrom played the puck carrier correctly, but just did not cover the entire 4x6 frame of the goal. I wonder if the penalty killers had played the pass to Cullen at the point a little more conservatively, they might have gotten in the correct position to stop the shot from happening.
The penalty kill for Minnesota is now at a ghastly 40 percent (4/10) convergence. The Wild need to find ways to improve their special teams play in order to win these close, one-goal games. It's also perfectly legal to score on the power play or kill penalties while dominating a team. Bottom line, the reason the Wild is 0-1-2 is because their 5-on-5 defense play has not been great and the penalty kill has been pretty abysmal.
Eric Nystrom would add a goal on a rare penalty shot against Josh Harding, who came in relief for Backstrom, and that would be all that the Predators would need to down the Wild. Minneosta would muster only one more goal that came on the power play in the second period. The Wild will next play host to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center. Thursday will be the first time the Wild and Jets play since the 2011-2012 season, and first as Central Division rivals. The Wild hopes to put a whole game effort together and finally get off the snide.