By Michael Russo, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
TORONTO — Mike Yeo was asked Thursday morning if he was stressed to wake up and see the Wild outside the top eight in the West for the first time in 11 weeks.
“Nope,” the coach said. “It’s not how you drive, it’s how you arrive.”
But in four excruciatingly long weeks, the Wild’s gone from driving a snazzy red Ferrari to a beat-up yellow Chevy Cavalier, a Cavalier that looks like it has been in a 50-car pileup.
In a game Yeo said was a chance for the Wild to “remind everybody that we’re not going away,” the team was a complete no-show in a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.
“There’s no excuses right now. It’s embarrassing,” perturbed defenseman Nick Schultz said in an expletive-laced rant. “We’ve got to be a lot better. The season’s going to be over before we know it if we don’t snap out of it.
“We’ve got to realize it now. We can’t wait for anyone to come back to save the day. It’s got to be us in here. It’s got to come out of this group. Right now, it’s not good enough.”
It has been 11 games since the Wild last won on the road. It was the 15th loss in 17 games overall.
As usual, the Wild talked a tremendous game since getting pasted in Philadelphia 5-1 on Tuesday night. The Wild spoke of a productive practice, a healthy team meeting. And just when you started to believe remedies were found … Toronto had a 1-0 lead 50 seconds in.
“I’ve been coaching for quite awhile, and I’ve been part of a lot of games I didn’t like, and this one ranks right up there,” Yeo said.
In a maddening display, the Wild passed into skates, coughed up pucks in the neutral zone, looked like bullfighters olé-ing at the blue line, played pylon in the defensive zone and refused to lay bodies on net-crashing Maple Leafs.
In the offensive zone, instead of playing dump-and-chase, the Wild dumped and stood as the puck came right out. The Wild generated two, maybe three scoring chances in the first two periods. Nick Johnson’s goal with 2:27 left in the third period ruined Jonas Gustavsson’s shutout and was the Wild’s 11th goal in the past 11 road games.
In the second period, the Wild took six minor penalties.
“We can’t have 12 minutes in one period. We can’t even have 12 minutes in a game,” said Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, who made his first start since Jan. 7 and gave up three-plus goals for the seventh consecutive start (1-6).
“We have to be a team that’s going to be tough to get into our zone. Today it felt like every time they got into our zone. Three goals were from that. But me and (Josh Harding), we have to find a way to cut it down to two or less.”
Epitomizing the Wild’s frustration, Brodziak became the third Wild player in three games to get an extra two minutes for yapping at a ref (Cal Clutterbuck in Philadelphia, Clayton Stoner in St. Louis).
“It’s stupid. I just know I can’t do that,” Brodziak said.
Added Yeo: “Every one of us has to take a good, hard look at ourselves and quit looking at the refs or another player or anything else that could possibly be going on, and say, ‘Am I doing enough, can I be better? And if so, how?’ ”
Backstrom said the Wild can’t give up.
“If you give up, it’s better to stay home,” he said. “You’re proud to wear this jersey. We’ve just going to fight. If we fight, sooner or later, it’s going to turn around.”