There are a lot of words to describe the performance by the Minnesota Wild Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres at the Xcel Energy Center. None of them are positive in the 3-2 loss.
Lifeless. Unenergetic. No sense of urgency. No fight. No will. Insert any or all other synonyms for lethargy here.
“It’s unacceptable,” Erik Haula said. “It’s quite embarassing.”
The Wild (22-13-8) has now lost three straight games at home to Eastern Conference highly likely to miss the playoffs this season. The Wild remain fourth in the Central Division and in the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but something isn’t right.
“Every game is different,” Mikko Koivu said after a long pause. “Tonight, (the Sabres) were better. We didn’t do the things to get the momentum first off. But, why? It’s too early to say that. Emotions are still high after a loss like that. If there is a reason for (having a slow start at home), it’s better not to say anything right now.”
The Wild tilted the ice and dominated the time in the offensive zone in the second period. However, they generate very few scoring chances. The ones they did get were squandered by trying to make an unnecessary pass.
The Wild put up their biggest fight in the final two and a half minutes with the goaltender pulled for an extra attacker. Leading up to that time they had just two shots on goal in the third period. Once again trying to make an extra pass that was easily intercepted or deflected by the Sabres defense.
The Wild finally got to within a goal with 51.8 seconds remaining in the game, but could not get the equalizer. Thomas Vanek tapped a shot from Ryan Suter that hit traffic and bound to him on the backdoor into the open net. All the while tempers flared as Zach Parise and Rasmus Ristolainen exchanged cross checks in front and around the Sabres’ net.
The Sabres (17-22–4) jumped on the Wild in the first period and scored three goals, including two in a 20-second span that seemed to be the dagger.
Jamie McGinn was left all by himself at the side of the crease and knocked in a rebound off a shot from Evander Kane at the 9:37 mark of the opening period to get the scoring started. Kane easily lost Jared Spurgeon at the top of the circles on a cycle and took a backhand shot from the slot that Devan Dubnyk knocked down by couldn’t control.
The Sabres extended their lead to 2-0 when a wrist shot from point by Rasmus Ristolainen that caromed off Marco Scandella and inside the near post for a goal. On the ensuing shift Brian Gionta deflected a shot from Josh Gorges down between the legs of Dubnyk. The Wild lobbied for a high sticking call on Gionta. The play went to a review, but the situation room in Toronto could not overturn the goal. It look obvious on the camera angle from behind the net that Gionta deflected the shot while his stick and the puck were above the cross bar, but the situation room either didn’t have that angle or didn’t see it the same way.
Suter tried to provide the Wild with a spark by almost single-handedly score a shorthanded goal off a rush. After fighting through three stick checks in the defensive zone, Suter sent a pass to Haula at the blue line to work a give-and-go. Suter continued into the Sabres’ end before lifted a backhand shot off Linus Ullmark’s mask and high into the air. The puck plopped down behind the goaltender and slid into the net at the 12:57 mark of the second period.
No. 3 – Ryan Suter. The Wild defenseman had a goal and an assist.
No. 2 – Rasmus Ristolainen. The Sabres defenseman scored a goal.
No. 1 – Brian Gionta. The Sabres forward recorded a goal and an assist.