OK, OK. You win. Five losses in the preseason, this one with the A team out against the Blue Jackets' C squad is definitely time for concern. Zidlicky did go down hurt early in the game, but that can't be an excuse. The fact of the matter is, the Wild simply were outplayed by a bunch of guys who are going to find pick slips in their lockers in the morning.
The game started off in a manner that could only be described as "improved." The Wild were out shooting the Jackets, the lines were buzzing, and forcing Mathieu Garon to make some big saves. Matt Cullen hit a cross bar to end the first period, and then opened the second with a quick goal. They had momentum, and they had the Jackets right where they wanted them.
Eric Nystrom added a tip in goal from Mikko Koivu at the 15:12 mark, and the Wild looked to be cruising. However, after a Drew Bagnall tripping call, the Wild's penalty kill made a fatal mistake. They forgot Nikita Filatov was on the ice, leaving him completely alone on the right side of Backstrom, and Filatov buried a very nice, sharp angle shot to pull the Jackets back within one.
The Wild came out flat in the third, and then, inexplicably, the feed for the game died. When it came back up, Columbus had tied the game, and the Wild were deflated. They created only a few chances to end the game, relying heavily on some big saves by Backstrom, and allowing the Jackets to do pretty much what ever they wanted to do. Nothing seemed to be working, and the game headed for overtime.
In the extra frame, the game turned into a shinny game with both team going back and forth, playing absolutely no defense. Nick Schultz ended up behind the offensive net at one point, though he did recover in time. Backstrom was beaten at least twice, but the shots at the open net went wide, allowing the Wild to advance to the shootout.
That was the end of the road, as only Koivu could manage to score in the shootout, and the Jackets farm team would take home a win, putting the Wild at 0-3-2 for the preseason.
By all accounts, this was the first of two tests. This was the first part of the pass or fail for the Wild, and this has to go squarely in the fail column. Even if they can pull out a win against the Jackets in two days, it is going to be difficult to convince anyone that the pre-season was a success. The Wild have no momentum headed into the season, and they have shown nothing that resembles what it takes to win once the games count.
Time to hit the panic button? No. However, it is certainly time to look in the mirror and ask some serious questions.
Hockey Wilderness Three Stars:
1. Anton Stralman (2A, 25:53 TOI, kept top line in check all night)
2. Nikita Filatov (1G, 3 SOG, 15:31 TOI)
3. Matt Cullen (1G, 3 SOG, 20:08 TOI)
1. How will the team look with the season ready line up together for the first time? Looked good for the first half of the game, then fell apart. Lost to the bottom of the depth chart in Columbus. Not good.
2. Sounds like Backstrom for two, Borat for one. Can the two goalies show some solid backstopping today? It ended up Backstrom for all three. It made no difference.
3. How will Clutterbuck do, playing out of position and on a scoring line? He certainly was not mentioned much tonight. He looked to have changed his game a bit to fit with what the second line is intended for. A non-factor.
4. With injuries mounting, can the Wild escape back to Saint Paul unscathed? Negative. Marek Zidlicky was injured early on and would miss nearly the entire game. Listed day-to-day with a charley horse.
5. Can the team defense finally play... you know... some defense? For the first half of the game, yes. For the second half? Nope.