ST. PAUL — Tuesday night was supposed to be a celebration at the Xcel Energy Center. The pregame was devoted to honoring Mikko Koivu on having played in his 1,000th NHL game on Dec. 1. Koivu had played all of his games with the Wild and many with the captain’s “C” on his chest.
The Wild surprised the center by bringing in former teammates Marian Gaborik, Niklas Backstrom, Kyle Brodziak and Nick Schultz. Koivu’s family joined him on the ice for a ceremony that saw Gaborik present Koivu with a ceremonial silver stick. There were numerous video tributes from many of Koivu’s current and former teammates shown on the scoreboard.
Koivu accepted the awards and applause in his Wild uniform, but was unable to play because of a lower body injury suffered on the team’s recent three-game trip. So what did Koivu’s teammates do to honor him as he watched? They fell asleep, looked absolutely dismal and let the Anaheim Ducks skate circles around them. Minnesota was outshot 14-1 in the first period and fell behind 2-0 as Rickard Rakell and Cam Fowler beat Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen.
The shots would get as lopsided as 19-1 in the second. Miraculously, the Wild rebounded to tie the score at 2-2 before falling 3-2 in a shootout. If ever a team did not deserve a point it was the Minnesota Wild. And, yet, somehow they got one.
“It’s frustrating,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “The whole night was pretty frustrating, quite frankly. To start out that first period like that, to get one shot on goal at home, it’s pretty embarrassing. I told the guys that. Our first 10 games weren’t very good, like with the won-loss record, but nothing compares to what we did in the first period.”
Considering the Wild started the season by losing their first four games and was 3-7 in their first 10, Boudreau’s statement isn’t to be taken lightly. This was as putrid of performance as a team can put together and the announced crowd of 17,154 at Xcel Energy Center let the Wild hear about it. Minnesota’s second shot on goal came on a length of the rink clear while killing a second-period penalty, causing the crowd to let out a Bronx cheer as Ducks goalie John Gibson easily stopped the puck.
“We weren’t skating, we didn’t win any battles in the first period,” Boudreau said. “Anytime there was a competition for a puck they came up with it. In the third period, when we tied the game, we won a battle. That’s how we got it. In the second period, we won a couple of battles.”
The Wild pulled within 2-1 at 7 minutes, 59 seconds of the second period when Ryan Hartman’s shot from the right wing side somehow beat an asleep-at-the-wheel Gibson. Ryan Donato, who was back at center with Koivu out, tied the score at 2:03 of the third by beating Gibson for a short-side goal.
The Wild got a gift power play with just over five minutes left in the third period when the Ducks’ Hampus Lindholm was called for playing without a helmet and another penalty 27 seconds into overtime when Ryan Getzlaf tripped Donato as he skated in on Gibson after taking a long pass. It could have been a penalty shot but instead the Wild went on a 4-on-3 power play that basically became a 4-on-2 when a Ducks player broke his stick. Somehow the Wild didn’t score or even manage a quality chance with what amounted to a two-man advantage. (The overtime format is 3-on-3 but it goes to a 4-on-3 for a power play.)
The frustration of a horrendous start and a lost opportunity to get two points — Mats Zuccarello missed on an opportunity from right in front in the third period — wasn’t the Wild’s only issue. Center Eric Staal left the game in the first period after he awkwardly collided with linesman David Brisebois as he crossed the blue line along the near boards. Staal was down on the ice for an extended period as the Wild medical staff attended to him. He eventually was helped to the dressing room. That put the Wild down two centers and added Staal to an injury list that already included Koivu and defenseman Jared Spurgeon (upper body).
Eric Staal collided with a linesman and was down for a while pic.twitter.com/cfjkP6ECRQ
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 11, 2019
“I can’t give you an update, I don’t know,” Boudreau said when asked about Staal’s status. “It reminded me very much of that first year in the playoffs when he went (into the boards) and it knocked him out of the series against St. Louis. I’m going to go check after we meet here but I have no update to give you.” The Wild will be off Wednesday so there likely won’t be an official update on Staal until Thursday. Minnesota will play host to Edmonton that night.
The Wild would like to recall center Nico Sturm from Iowa of the American Hockey League but Sturm reportedly did not play in Iowa’s game on Tuesday because of an injury.
As little satisfaction as the Wild got from their performance on Tuesday, the team has now gotten a point in 12 of its past 13 games and is 8-1-4 in that time. The issue is that Boudreau’s team got off to such a bad start it’s going to need two points, not one, on many nights and it especially would have helped in the first of a three-game homestand. Tuesday marked only the Wild’s 11th home game of the season (7-1-3) compared to 20 road games (7-11-2).
“We were flat” starting out, said Wild winger Zach Parise, who assisted on Donato’s goal. “It felt like we were really spread out. … It felt like for 45 or 50 minutes we never got in their zone so we didn’t give ourselves much of a chance.”
Things won’t get any easier for the Wild if Staal (eight goals, 13 assists) is lost for any amount of time, although Koivu sounded optimistic about his return. “Hopefully, Mikko’s rehab is coming along well,” Parise said. “I don’t know what happened with Eric. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious and he won’t be (out) too long. But that’s what we have, so we have to figure it out now.”
Actually being prepared to play from the opening faceoff would be a nice start.