Wild extend losing streak to 5 games as Okposo scores twice to burn Wild in embarrassing 5-4 loss

Niklas Backstrom & Jared Spurgeon

Since I had a little time over the holidays I decided to catch a film at the theatre, something that I rarely do as I normally cannot find the time to do so.  I went to Will Farrell's Anchorman 2: the Legend Continues.  Before I say anything else I'll let you know I was a huge fan of the first Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy movie and like a lot of people I was really looking forward to the sequel even knowing that often leads to disappointment.  I won't ruin anyone's experience by telling you what happens, and I am not sure if I'd use the word disappointed to describe my feelings towards Anchorman 2 other than saying this film tried too hard to be funny.  Its a comedy I know, but maybe its just me but the humor is often best enjoyed when it seems natural.  This time it looked as though they were trying to squeeze everything they could and often killing some of the hilarity in the process.  In many ways it suffered from the same bit of overkill that often makes for a bad sequel.  Its just not quite as funny the 2nd time, no matter how hard you try.  I would say that also goes for NHL coaching hirings.  

Marco Scandella

During my last article, I mentioned how a loss in Winnipeg, no matter the circumstances would bring out the pitch forks.  And I was right.  A while back a cheeky General Manager Chuck Fletcher went against the grain and hired Todd Richards, a former Golden Gopher who had never been an NHL Head Coach but did have some success in the American Hockey League as a bench boss.  Richards struggled in two consecutive seasons and was given the boot in favor of another NHL Head Coaching rookie in Mike Yeo.  It was a bold move to replacce one rookie with another.  After 2 1/2 seasons fans are wanting to see Yeo's head on a pike with the team's latest slide into 9th place in the Western Conference.  Fans are always fickle and coaches often recieve the brunt of the criticism when the fortunes of their team sours.  However, this isn't the first time fans have been critical of Yeo's abilities and after limping into the playoffs last season this season was supposed to be one where the Wild stamp their post-season ticket with confidence.  Almost at the halfway point in the 2013-14 season and the Wild find themselves on the outside looking in and in a market where a good portion of your fanbase has played the game the level of patience is pretty thin.  Hearing the same comments over and over in post-game press conferences is not as much a sign of a consistent message, but you begin to wonder if anyone on the team is listening at all.  As a struggling New York Islanders team comes to town, the Wild are riding a 4-game losing streak of their own.  Can the Wild at least halt its downward spiral or will the team just add more fuel to the fire of  its angry fans?  

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Mikko Koivu

1st Period Thoughts:  Not a bad period, but one where the Wild might be kicking themselves a bit for not burying another goal or two.  I liked the hustle, I liked how the Wild worked the puck deep and were quick to attack the Islanders' defense, forcing turnovers in the process.  The top line of Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter had a great period at controlling the puck, using their body to shield it and make plays.  Koivu in particular was very assertive and taking his chances to shoot the puck, registering 4 shots on goal.  Someone needed to step up to be the offensive catalyst on that line and its only right that the team captain be that player.  Minnesota would finally score as the 4th line used its hustle to cause a little havoc down low as Stephane Veilleux fed a pass to Torrey Mitchell who quickly tried to bring it out to the crease where he fanned on the shot and Mike Rupp fired a quick shot on goal that drew a big rebound from Kevin Poulin.  Ryan Suter would jump into the play and he would get off a shot before Poulin could reset and the Wild were up 1-0.  It was a great example of puck support as well as being Suter's 1st goal of the season.  However the Wild couldn't add to this good start and that may come back to haunt them.  The Islanders continued to give up quality scoring chances but the Wild just couldn't bury it.  Even on the power play the Wild, were still guity of being static and far too easy for the Islanders to work their way into shooting lanes allowing them to block shots.  The Wild were backchecking well and they did a good job at preventing the Islanders from creating much of anything offensively.  Their best chance came off the rush as Kyle Okposo set up John Tavares for a close range chance and Josh Harding was able to get across and make a save.  Tavares should've scored, he just was not able to lift the puck up and over his outstretched leg pad.  Torrey Mitchell would drop the gloves with Colin McDonald and the two looked about ready to have a good scrap but McDonald fell before the punches really started flying.  Maybe its just me but I hope the Wild pass on taking Thomas Vanek.  I didn't see anything in the period that told me he was anything other than an expensive disappointment.  Tavares is as good of a linemate as you can want in the NHL and if he isn't looking dangerous with a linemate like that why would we expect him to be so much better here?  I liked the tone of the period, but you don't want to let the Islanders hang around feeling as though they have a shot in this game.  

2nd Period Thoughts:  Remember what I said about it being important to not allow the Islanders to hang around feeling as though they have a chance?  The Wild got out to a great start in the period; scoring twice in the first 5 minutes of the period.  The first one coming off a great hustle play by Coyle on the forecheck to work the puck back to Koivu who passed it back to Brodin who made a nice move into the slot before firing a hard shot that had  the benefit of a Niederreiter screen and with just enough inertia to sneak by Poulin to make it 2-0.  A few minutes later the top line would strike again as Koivu fed a shot back to Niederreiter who ripped a shot by Poulin to make it 3-0.  Game over right?  Apparently the Wild thought so because they immediately sat back and decided 3 was enough so they could just defend their lead.  The Islanders immediately recognized this and started to get their forecheck working and Minnesota was spending lots and lots of time chasing around New York in its own end.  The result of this passive play was predictable.  Josh Harding found himself under increasing pressure, and it was just a matter of time before a few pucks ended up in the back of the Wild net.  The first one came from the Islanders top line of Tavares, Okposo and Vanek.  It was Okposo working the puck from behind the net to slide a pass over to Vanek who tried to pass it back across to Tavares on the opposite post but his pass would deflect off the skate of Koivu and over the goal line, 3-1 Wild.  A bad tripping penalty taken by Cal Clutterbuck should've allowed the Wild to re-establish a 3-goal lead.  On the power play the Wild were trying to make the perfect play for a tic-tac-toe like goal and wasting lots of time trying to get the perfect set up.  I think this was a major mistake.  Poulin had demonstrated that even routine shots could yield rebounds that a team could potentially pounce on, but instead the Wild gave him a reprieve by waiting for that 'perfect' chance.  So the Wild fail to capitalize on the power play and of course karma would require that the Wild pay a price for its vanity.  The Wild would go on the penalty kill as Mikael Granlund was given a hooking penalty.  The Wild penalty kill did a reasonable job at forcing the Islanders to settle for shots from the perimeter but as the penalty expired the Wild's penalty killers got stuck in a super long shift (1:26 in length) and that ultimately led to Cal Clutterbuck's redirection goal off of Thomas Hickey's shot.  Pathetic, yet predictable.  So instead of going into the period with lots of momentum to go along with its lead you had a feeling of dread and anxiety.  In my opinion, this is a reflection of the coaching staff for allowing the team to take the foot off the gas.  After the first Islanders goal I probably would've called a timeout to chew my team out as the team clearly had decided to sit back and let New York go on the attack.  Need more proof of how the Wild sat back beyond the two goals the Islanders scored?  Minnesota had just 4 shots over the last 17 minutes of the 2nd period.  That shouldn't happen.  Good teams don't allow such a let down.  

3rd Period Thoughts:  Minnesota looked ok for the first few minutes, taking its chances to shoot the puck and play with a little more desire but not nearly enough as I'll mention later in this paragraph.  After some better than average hustle to start the 3rd, they'd again decide to float and watch the Islanders who were still working hard each shift and that would allow New York to bury the equalizer on a nice little pass by Colin McDonald to former 4th Overall pick Thomas Hickey who got off a quick shot from the slot that fooled Harding to make it 3-3.  The goal typified the Wild's defense as of late.  Chasing around the opposing players instead of sticking to their zones and thus giving up the slot for an easy goal.  You could hear the axiousness of the home crowd after the Islanders scored and that anxiety would turn to anger and frustration a few mintues later when New York would take the lead.  Kyle Okposo would race up the ice and he'd wind up and rip a slapper on the fly that blew by Harding and off the left post and in.  4-3 Islanders and you could hear the boo's from the sellout home crowd.  It was a very soft goal given up by Harding who was completely unscreened and had the angle to make the save.  Although if you were watching the Fox Sports Net North broadcast you got to hear a Zupruder film like explanation for why Harding didn't make that save; he actually blamed Harding's stick placement for being unable to stop the unscreened shot.  Honestly, I would've been more willing to believe the Magic puck theory than that.  C'mon Mike Greenlay, just admit the guy gave up a weak goal.  So now with the Wild trailing they decide to go on the attack.  Initially the Wild continued to try to wait for the perfect shot and time and again Minnesota would frustrate itself as a rolling puck or an off target pass would thwart their potential chances.  Kevin Poulin still looked incredibly suspect and was still fighting the puck in a big way.  The solution was obvious; get shots on goal as he'll give up rebounds and there would be your chance to tie the game.  It was no surprise to me that is precisely how Minnesota would tie the game.  A quick Marco Scandella shot was stopped by Poulin who couldn't corral the rebound and Matt Cooke got off a shot that he again could not control and finally Justin Fontaine was able to lift a shot over the sprawling goalie to make it 4-4.  Feeling good right?  Well that feeling would go away pretty quickly.  The Islanders top line went to work as the goal was still being celebrated by the home crowd, and John Tavares would work the puck deep where Thomas Vanek would fire a quick shot that was stopped by Harding but he gave up a rebound that was tapped home by Okposo and just like that it was 5-4 Islanders.  The Wild's defense just sort of stood around as Okposo followed up Vanek's shot and Harding was more or less left out to dry.  Minnesota would get lucky and get a power play late in the period, but the team would fritter way over half of it passing it around the perimeter before finally directing pucks on goal.  When it finally got a shot on goal the chances were there as Poulin's rebound control continued to be an issue and Minnesota swarmed near the crease but just couldn't bury it as Koivu rang a shot off the post and out.  A lazy penalty by Kyle Brodziak late with just over 2 minutes left more or less sealed the Wild's fate as they'd fall 5-4.  

Josh Harding was not at his best, making 26 saves in the loss.  I thought his rebound control was a bit shaky compared to what we saw before he left for the adjustment to his treatments for his MS.  However, he made enough stops for the Wild to be in the game; the only goal that was truly all on him was Okposo's slapper.  That was one I'm sure Harding wishes he had back.  Defensively, especially on the last goal the team's defense did absolutely nothing to help him out.  Ryan Suter was sort of squatting on the ice hoping to help block a shot instead of actually looking to sweep it away as he should've done and thus Okposo was there to bang home the game winner.  The team's defensive coverage has been porous; especially in the 2nd and 3rd period the Wild made it far too easy for opposing teams to gain entry into the slot and set themselves up for goals.  

Offensively the Wild had another 4-goal night; their 2nd one in a row.  However it wasn't enough to cover up for the defensive lapses.  While I like how Koivu played in the 1st period, he didn't play with the same assertiveness in the 2nd and 3rd.  In the 2nd and the 3rd we had the passive Koivu back.  The player that looks to pass instead of shoot and the was no reason not to be selfish when we were playing against a goaltender like Poulin who was having so much trouble controlling rebounds.  Too many times in the 2nd and 3rd the Wild would get a hard shot on goal, Poulin would give up a rebound but no one was nearby to pounce on it and those were opportunities we couldn't afford to miss out on.  I said it in the 1st period; when the Wild managed to get the first goal by saying that wasn't enough and it turned out to be prophetic.  The Wild never really buried the Islanders with goals and despite the fact it had been since 1994 that New York last overcame a 3-goal deficit to win a game Minnesota certainly could've made it a 4 or even 5 goal lead with a little more effort.  Instead the Wild tried to defend its 3-0 lead and the Islanders were able to claw their way back and eventually pass them up.  

"Its our job to find explanations, but holy cow, that's hard to find an explanation for one for, there's no reason, no excuse" said Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo.  Well I can explain it.  The team tried to coast after it got up by 3 goals and the Wild bench boss did nothing to stem the tide.  He didn't call a timeout to chew his team out when the team had taken its foot off the gas.  The players are stunned, the coach seems to be quite stunned but are the fans?  Nope.  Not at all.  It is par for the course.  Fans could sense the team was going to fall on its own sword when the team stopped playing hard and the ice tilted in the Wild zone.  The team has lost 5-straight and just lost to the weakest team from the NHL's weakest division at home, after they had built up a 3-0 lead.  Wow, you can't get much more pathetic than that.  Oh wait, the same thing happened back in 2012 on New Year's Eve no less, where they lost by an identical 5-4 score.  So I suppose we should expect the team to come out angry and fired up to play a weakened Blues team on Tuesday, which is ironically New Year's Eve?  Nah, probably not.  

If you have any empty good-sized cardboard boxes left over from Christmas, you might want to send a few towards the Wild's front office and coaching staff, or for the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff.  Take your pick, because I think there will be some moving that will need to be done pretty soon.  

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Mike Rupp, Stephane Veilleux, Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine, Jason Pominville, Dany Heatley, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Keith Ballard and Nate Prosser.  Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding.  Zenon Konopka was the lone healthy scratch while Zach Parise and Clayton Stoner are out with injuries.  

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Wild.com were: 1st Star Kyle Okposo, 2nd Star Thomas Hickey, 3rd Star Mikko Koivu

~ Attendance was 18,851 at Xcel Energy Center.

Wild Prospect Report:

D – Dylan Labbe (Shawinigan, QMJHL) ~ The 6'2" defenseman got the Cataractes out to a 1-0 lead with a big slap shot on the power play in their Saturday game against Victoriaville but it wasn't enough as Shawinigan would fall 5-3.  Labbe has 4 goals, 16 points, 16 PIM's and a -16 in 36 games played this season.  

RW – Kurtis Gabriel (Owen Sound, OHL) ~ The big power forward came out of the holiday break with a solid game, chipping in a goal and an assist in the Attack's 6-2 victory over the Niagara Ice Dogs.  On Sunday night the Newmarket, Ontario-natived added a goal in Owen Sound's 3-2 shootout win over Sarnia.  Gabriel, who is now an assistant captain for the Attack has 9 goals, 27 points, 60 PIM's and is a +3 in 31 games played this season.

D – John Draeger (Michigan State, Big 10) ~ The former Shattuck-St. Mary's workhorse contributed an assist in the Spartans 3-0 upset over in-state arch rival Michigan on Saturday night in the 3rd place game of the Great Lakes Inivitational.  Draeger also had a helper in the Spartans' 2-2 tie against Michigan Tech on Friday night.   The Edina, Minnesota-native has no goals and 5 assist and 6 PIM's in 9 games played this season.   

F – Avery Peterson (Grand Rapids, USHS) ~ The Grand Rapids senior continues his torrid scoring pace as he chipped in 3 assists in Saturday's 3-1 win over Brainerd.  Peterson has been steadily climbing the scoring charts of Minnesota High School hockey tallying 14 goals, 28 points in just 12 games this season.  

G – Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) ~ The Huskies starter continues to provide quality between the pipes.  Belanger stopped 20 of 22 shots in Rouyn-Noranda's 3-2 win over Val 'd Or on Sunday afternoon.  The Sherbrooke, Quebec-native has an 18-9 record with a 3.28 goals against average and an .877% save percentage.  

Jack Jablonski & Jenna Privette

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally time time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!