It hasn’t taken long for John Torchetti to voice his frustration with this team.
And he should be.
The gameplan was so obvious tonight on how to beat the Oilers, yet the Wild basically defied the gameplan.
Chip the puck, chase it down, win the battle.
So what happened in the first period? The Wild finished with one credited hit. One.
I normally take hits, takeaways and giveaways with a grain of salt on the NHL’s subjective stat sheet, but that one David Jones hit was indicative of everything we saw in the first period: a team not following the gameplan.
Playing a blue line without four of six regulars, the Wild refused to get the puck deep. There’s not a coach in the league that wouldn’t have impressed upon his team to take advantage of such an inexperienced blue line by hitting them, cycling on them and tiring them out.
And yet, the Wild, from normally reliable defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin, to forwards like Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek, kept turning pucks over all over the ice.
The overpassing against a goalie that has given up 11 goals in his last eight starts (Cam Talbot) was unbelievable. In the second period, Justin Fontaine got two guys driving the net and instead of letting her rip, he pulled up and tried to saucer a pass that was broken up. A shift later, Vanek did the same thing.
Vanek tonight tried to thread the needle probably 20 times on a pass. Rarely was the pass completed.
Torchetti, as I said, voiced his frustration postgame.
“We didn't start the game off the right way getting pucks deep,” he said. “We had about 10-12 turnovers in the neutral zone, and we started chasing the game, and we have to be smarter. That falls right into what they want to do. They want a track meet, and it gave them confidence, and we lost the game on a faceoff play. We have to get hungry in that area, and win that edge battle. We talked about it. We have to do a better job, and be focused. We're not always trying to score a goal right out of that. We’re trying to make sure we’re in defensive posture, too. We have to play a two-way game there.”
Vanek lost the battle, then Connor McDavid gained a step on Spurgeon, who had a very tough night, and McDavid beat Darcy Kuemper with a shot that should have been stopped. Second straight start Kuemper allowed the winning goal late in a tied third period.
“He just came with a lot of speed on the play and we both got caught a little flat-footed,” Kuemper said. “He had the puck in front of him and was reaching and was still able to get pretty good wood on it against the grain which is tough to do. Not many guys can do that. It surprised me a little bit and kind of snuck in between my arm and my pad.”
Said McDavid, “You just try and put it on net. You’re kind of at an awkward angle, coming in fast. The goalie doesn’t really know how to play that I don’t think. Probably should have been a save, but we’ll take it.”
Back to defying of the gameplan, Torchetti said, “You want to get their D turning, and we felt that we could use our cycles down low, and use behind the net, and get some offensive chances. But we were trying to do it all from our blue line to their blue line. We weren't committed to it, and not playing fast enough through there, and just putting it behind them. They were gapped up, and if they want to stay gapped, you have to put it behind them, and then we start making them put it behind, and it takes away their gaps, and then you can make plays in front of them if it's there, but that wasn't there. We didn't want to commit to that, and we were trying to make passes through three guys, and then when we got over the blue line, it's a three-on-three, and we're still trying to make a pass through guys instead of trying to get it to the net, and trying to get some rebounds, and some offensive zone cycle time.”
Playing a chip and chase game early could have worn down their blue line and opened the game up late. This is not the first time the Wild has refused to play this type of game even when instructed. Player after player postgame said this was the gameplan.
Spurgeon: “We talked about it before the game, that’s what we talked about doing. I think we tried to play a little bit too fancy, making plays that we didn’t need to make. In the end it bit us. They got momentum and in the first we were trying to wear them down and didn’t do that.”
Suter: “We were turning a lot of pucks over. We had a couple good looks early and weren’t able to score. They’ve got a lot of skill. If you turn pucks over they’re going to come back hard and most of the time bite you in the butt.”
Parise: “We talked about it a lot in the room before the game. Just didn’t get through the neutral zone and when we did, we turned it over a lot crossing the blue line, so we didn’t get much of a chance to get in there.”
Coyle: “We were making too many plays, as Torch says level plays, across instead of getting it behind him and going to work down there. That set us back. That start, not getting pucks in and making them work down there.”
Yet, they didn’t do it.
Is it because it takes effort, because it’s not a fun game to play, that you have to win battles? Regardless of the Wild’s lack of size and physicality, the players certainly should have had the energy after not playing since Sunday and after being given Monday and Tuesday off.
Asked if it’s just not in his players’ makeup to commit to this type of style, Torchetti said, “We have to. Moving forward, we have to. It's my job, [Friday] morning, to let us know right out of the gate. I'm going to show some film, and say, 'this is not how we play,' and go from there. We can't be learning lessons like that now. We have to be committed as a team all the ways through. We should be playing playoff hockey now. That's what it's all about. We have to make sure that we're committed to it, and moving forward, if certain guys don't want to get it deep, then they'll sit, and we'll go from there.”
The Wild is 2-8-3 at Xcel Energy Center since Dec. 28. It remains out of a playoff spot, two back of Colorado with a game in hand. The Wild opens a three-game road trip Saturday in Montreal, the Avs start a four-game trip in Winnipeg on Saturday against the four Canadian Western Conference teams not in the playoffs.
So the Wild better get its act together and start reeling off points with 14 games left.
“This time of year you have to win your games,” Spurgeon said. “If you’re going to go into the playoffs you want to go in hot. It’s going to be a battle from now on and we have to play our best playoff hockey that we can for the rest of the year. When we have games like this, it’s not going to be pretty.”
“[The Avs are] rolling and they’re not making it easy on us, that’s for sure,” Kuemper added. “We’re still in a good spot with [a game] in hand but we’ve got to take advantage of that. The games just keep ticking away, so you don’t want to let points slip away but they’re not going to make it easy on us and we have to grab as many as we can.”
That’s it for moi. Kent Youngblood has Friday’s practice as I work on my Sunday Insider and head to Montreal.