ST. PAUL, Minn. Captain Mikko Koivu's return to the Minnesota Wild lineup was supposed to be the spark that re-energized the slippingsquad.
However, after Thursday's 5-2 loss at home to the Northwest Division-leading Vancouver Canucks, Minnesota was again searching for answers.
Told that his players seemed upset following the game, coach Mike Yeo wondered why the attitude didn't show up earlier, and he couldn't help himself from showing frustration.
"They were unhappy after the game?' Yeo asked. "What about during the game? What about before the game? We flat out stink the last two months. We stink.
"And we come in and we don't have good enough effort from too many guys. That's concerning. I'm concerned about the fact that we come into games and we don't have enough guys when we should have absolute desperation in our game. Playing against a team like this and we have too many guys not ready to pay a price. That's speaking honestly right now."
Koivu's return went just as planned at least for the first five minutes.
Dany Heatley scored the quickest goal to open a game in franchise history, beating Vancouver goaltender Cory Schneider just 13 seconds with an assist from Devin Setoguchi. The Wild then had a power play 1 minute, 49 seconds into the game after a goaltender interference call on the Canucks.
Then momentum shifted. Minnesota's Matt Cullen and Nate Prosser were called for penalties only 14 seconds apart. Vancouver scored on the ensuing 5-on-3 opportunity and went on to score four straight goals to hand the Wild their fourth loss in five games.
After Tuesday's loss in Columbus, Yeo put his team through "battle drills" in practice Wednesday in preparation for Thursday's game. After Thursday's loss, Yeo wasn't sure what to do next.
"We'll have to look at this carefully," Yeo said. "What we do in practice and the Xs and Os and all these things that we talk about is completely irrelevant right now. If we don't have complete desperation, an urgency and a willingness to pay the price that winners do, then it's just going to lead to more disappointment.
"One good game maybe here and there and then another bad game, a good game and then we feel good about ourselves and then another bad game. I'm sorry, that's not the way winners do it."
Minnesota was leading the entire NHL with 45 points as recently as Dec. 15. Thursday's loss dropped the Wild to 10th place in the Western Conference after wins by Dallas and Phoenix on Thursday night.
When Vancouver's 5-on-3 power play began, the two teams were even with five shots a piece. The Wild were still stuck on five shots midway through the second.
"When you have five shots halfway through the game, I mean, it's not a good sign for us," said Setoguchi, who later scored his 11th goal of the season. "We started the game good for five minutes and we got five shots and then we didn't have one for 20 minutes of the game, so you can't really expect to swing momentum when you don't shoot the puck."
Koivu returned to a line with Heatley and Setoguchi and the trio was active. They accounted for all of the team's five shots in the first period and had eight of the first 14 shots after two periods.
Setoguchi, who had scored once just once in the previous nine games, rifled a shot past Schneider with 4:02 left in the third to temporarily make it a 4-2 game.
"That line was great," Yeo said. "Every time they were out there, they created something. They had emotion. They were battling. They were playing the right way. They were aggressive. And good things happened when they were out there."
Koivu said he felt good in his return.
"Obviously it's always fun to play the game and be part of the team," Koivu said. "I think I felt OK too. Obviously, timing-wise and just the little plays that will get better, but overall I felt good."
Minnesota outshot the Canucks 24-19. But Yeo used the Canucks success as the example of what the Wild should be doing.
"What did we think; we were going to come in here against Vancouver and outskill that team tonight?" Yeo questioned. "That didn't work for us against Columbus. Columbus has got some skill. And with that, we're 28th in the league in offense. And you look at the goals that they scored tonight; they have a point shot and a deflection, they have a point shot and a rebound, 5-on-3 is a point shot and a rebound, and we still want to either skate the puck into the net or pass the puck six times to get the puck into the net.
"You think that we would look at a team that is that skilled and score as many goals and say, 'Wow, they score like that. That might be a good idea for us to try it.' Or we might say that we don't have that much skill, it might be a good idea for us to do that.
"Yet, it's tough to get that across right now."
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