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Different week, same old story

By Josh Newman
Last week was merely a continuation of what has been happening all season – except this time, the Wild ended with a losing record.

The word “continuation” refers to several things:
- The team’s strong play on special teams;
- Strong goaltending, except for one game;
- The team’s inability to come up with a goal unless they have a power play, and;
- Lots of play in their own end.

I’ll excuse goaltender Niklas Backstrom’s effort, or lack thereof, against Atlanta because it turned out to be a fluke. Plus, we all know he is better than that.

If you want to rip on the goaltending, let’s talk about the first game of the week. The Wild took to the ice against the Thrashers at Philips Arena November 11 and drowned in a lake of humiliation. The final score was 5-1, snapping the Wild’s three-game winning streak.

It was the Wild’s first-ever loss in Atlanta after four previous visits.

The saga continued in this game: no even-strength goals. Not one. The team managed 33 shots, but their lone goal came early in the third period on a deflection by Brent Burns to end Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec’s bid for a shutout in an arena that was so empty you could have heard crickets chirping.

Game 2 of the week at Florida was not any better. Playing on the second night of back-to-backs meant that backup Jose Theodore would get the start. I remember ripping on this guy earlier in the season, but he played well on this particular night after falling behind early. He turned aside 25 shots, but he was bested by Panthers goalie

You will not win many games by falling behind 2-0 in a span of under a minute, folks. Panthers forwards Chris Higgins and Mike Santorelli scored at 6:53 and 7:46, respectively to give Florida quick momentum. Yes, there are 60 minutes in a full game, but to immediately lose control of a game like that? Ouch.

Was the team reeling from the effects of having played just the previous day? Perhaps, but don’t expect me to make excuses for this team anytime soon. The Wild managed to cut the deficit in half on a power play goal by Cal Clutterbuck, but Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun thwarted any hopes of a Wild comeback by stopping 22 shots as the game ended in a 2-1 win for Florida.

But the third and final game of their Southeast trek gave Wild fans some hope for the near future. Against Tampa Bay, everything suddenly came together for Minnesota. Backstrom rebounded from his dreadful start against Atlanta – he was due for one of those – and the league’s most potent power play was clicking. Even better though: the team got some even-strength goals! Two, to be exact. Combine all of these things and the end result was a 4-1 victory for the Wild.

This is exactly why I have been saying that scoring even strength goals is so important. Strong special teams are good, but they will only get you so far. Now the Wild need to do it again this week against Anaheim, Detroit, and the Rangers. Oh yeah, and tightening the defense wouldn’t hurt, either. The goaltending is good, but allowing more than 30 shots on goal every single game can wear down your goaltender, which will wear the team down in the long run.