After dropping their first game in the John Torchetti era, the Wild got some more bad news when they learned that their alternate captain and best player Zach Parise would be out for tonight's game. For a Wild team that has struggled even when healthy, the injuries that they've suffered recently (Parise, Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker) are extremely unwelcome, and it would be a challenge to respond positively to this newest adversity. Fortunately, they were playing the Philadelphia Flyers, who were also short-handed losing star player Claude Giroux. So, at least it was a fair fight.
The Wild started the first half of the opening period ok, getting most of their opportunities from the Nino Niederreiter - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville line which has just continued to buzz since joining forces in Torchetti's first game. Haula, who has been hot in particular, had two amazing opportunities: One stopped by a brilliant save by Michal Neuvirth, the other fanning on a perfect pass from Niederreiter. But once that line was stymied, the Wild spent most of the last 10 minutes hemmed in their own zone.
The scoring started with 1:15 left in the first, when Sam Gagner found a loose puck in a mass of humanity in front of the net and put the puck just out of reach of Dubnyk's glove. Minnesota would finish the first period getting throughly out-classed, getting just one shot attempt for every three Philly got.
Minnesota would tie it on the power play two minutes into the second, when Jared Spurgeon found Thomas Vanek in the circles, who was able to deflect it past Neuvirth. The Flyers struck back three minutes later, when Mark Streit scored from the slot with a Wild defender in his face. The Wild managed to knot it up at 2 when Mikael Granlund (yes, Mikael Granlund!), found a Thomas Vanek rebound for a goal.
The Wild found themselves in an early hole to start the third, as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare crashed the net between two Wild players to beat Dubnyk an an impressive effort. The Wild tried to press, but they were handled by the shot-blocking of the Flyers, and what few good chances they got were shut down by Neuvirth. Neuvirth stopped a point-blank shot for Granlund after Charlie Coyle put Minnesota on the power play, and he again stood tall with only 2.6 seconds left, when Charlie Coyle fired a shot to a wide-open net. Neuvirth went left to right in an instant and stopped the shot at the goal line with his paddle. Wild players were in disbelief after the no-goal call, which rightfully stood after review.
The Wild were done in by stellar goaltending from Neuvirth, yes, but they also had some major missed opportunities, and their sluggishness in the first period was extremely costly, and their struggles to get the puck and empty the net in the final minutes further hurt their chances of winning.
The new-coach smell is starting to wear off with Torchetti's Wild. This was bound to happen- you can't shoot 18% as a team forever- and we're seeing an injured Wild team trying to cope with some old problems, namely long stretches of offensive listlessness. Getting the team to buy in after a coaching change is easy, this is where Torchetti's going to prove his worth as a coach. Under Mike Yeo, this team would be dormant offensively against teams it should be better than. They would carry tough luck in a game with them forward. The Wild's playoff hopes depend on whether Torchetti can get the Wild playing as aggressively as they did against Vancouver and Chicago, even if they don't get all the breaks.
The Wild will head to Washington to face the league-leading Capitals tomorrow at 6 PM. We'll see how well they can put a night like this behind them.