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Post-Christmas blues hit Wild

Minnesota in giving mood in loss to struggling Penguins

Wild forward Jason Zucker scores Minnesota’s lone goal in the second period of the Wild’s 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/Minnesota Wild)

Minnesota in giving mood in loss to struggling Penguins

St. Paul — Coming out of the Christmas break does not seem to be the best of times for the Wild.

This season’s game – a 3-1 home loss to Pittsburgh Saturday evening – was summed up in exactly four words by Minnesota forward Zach Parise:

“It was pretty ugly.”

The Wild have now gone 1-7-1 in their past eight post-Christmas games, dating back to losses in three of the final four seasons under coach Jacques Lemaire. They are 0-3-1 including an overtime loss last season under coach Mike Yeo.

“Unfortunately, it’s almost become a little bit predictable, these games after Christmas,” Yeo said. “It’s something we have to fix.”

Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist for the winners, who also got goals from Eric Fehr at the 18:10 mark of the second period and – after Jason Zucker connected for the Wild – from Patric Hornqvist on a power play at 19:26 of the second period.

The Wild, now 1-3 in their past four games, did very little right and got very few breaks. It also hurt them when they took a costly penalty against Jared Spurgeon late in the second period that led to Pittsburgh’s third goal.

The crowd didn’t agree with the call.

Neither did Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk.

“I don’t understand that at all,” Dubnyk said. “Unfortunately it changed the course of the game, which is frustrating.”

This should have been an eminently winnable game for Minnesota: Pittsburgh came to town after losing five of its previous six games and also had to travel Saturday because games, practices and travel were not allowed by the NHL on Dec. 24-25.

Consequently, a season-high crowd of 19,234 showed up at the Xcel Energy Center expecting some prime hockey entertainment.

What they got came mostly from the Penguins.

According to Parise, that should not have been a shock because his team’s play has been off for a while.

“Puck movement really was not good at all tonight,” he said. “So we spent a lot of time in our own zone. A lot of turnovers. We had the puck a lot, we just gave it back to ’em pretty much the whole game.”

If not for Dubnyk, who stopped 29 of 32 shots, Saturday night’s game would have been more one-sided in favor of the Penguins. The Wild managed just four shots on goal in the first period and eight in the second period before launching 14 in a scoreless third.

Parise shook his head.

“Probably,” he said of the Penguins, “the easiest game they’re going to play all year.”

“We couldn’t execute,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We couldn’t come out of our end, couldn’t come through the neutral zone. Turning pucks over to those guys is a tough thing to do, and that’s basically it.”

Yeo said he saw good effort and battle levels from his boys in a lackluster first period, but not much more.

“We couldn’t make a play, couldn’t make a pass,” he said. “Just slapping pucks to people, not taking ice when it’s there. Didn’t seem to have the desire to want the puck in a lot of situations. And with that, obviously, I think they just took the game over from there.”

Yeo was asked if the first half of Saturday’s game was his team’s sloppiest of the season.

“It’s up there,” he said, appearing visibly frustrated.

“I think we just have to pick up our game,” he went on. “We won a game going into the break – that’s good – but I think the last four or five games, we’ve got another level that we’ve got to get to.

“And a lot of individuals I would say through that time have to bring a little bit more. This is a time of year where do you fall asleep and lose ground or make a push and gain ground? Certainly between now and the all-star break, these games are important.”

By the time Yeo finished speaking, most of the big crowd had filtered out of the Xcel Energy Center, possibly looking for entertainment in a different direction after failing to receive an overabundance of it from the Wild.

“Chalk it up,” Dubnyk commented, “as not our best game.”

BB covered sports for the Minneapolis Tribune for 13 years and for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for 20 years following stints at the International Falls Daily Journal and the Duluth News-Tribune. He was on the Wild beat as well as Gophers men's and women's hockey at the Pioneer Press. He lives in Minneapolis. Follow Bruce on Twitter @RealBBrothers

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