ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild know they’re letting the young season slip away.
Already last in the Western Conference, Minnesota fell behind by a pair of goals early and gave up a short-handed goal late in the third period in a 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night.
The result ended a streak of 13 consecutive games at Xcel Energy Center without a regulation loss and dropped the Wild to 3-9-0 this season.
Jerred Smithson’s winning goal midway through the third period came after Minnesota failed to keep the puck in the offensive zone on a power play.
“It’s one of those things where as it goes on, it gets worse and worse,” Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck said. “Your confidence dips and dips to a point where you start believing it’s going to happen. We’ve got to get to a point where that mentality can’t creep in.”
Minnesota set a team record with three goals in 1:47 early in the second period to take the lead, but Mike Santorelli’s first career goal at 6:44 of the second period tied the score.
Smithson’s goal at 10:44 of the third put Nasvhille, which won in regulation for only the second time this season, ahead for good. J.P. Dumont and Shea Weber scored the Predators’ first two goals before the game was six minutes old.
Pekka Rinne improved to 2-3 on the season, stopping 11 shots after replacing Dan Ellis at the 2:18 mark of the second period.
Clutterbuck, Brent Burns and Owen Nolan scored for Minnesota, while Niklas Backstrom stopped 18 shots.
“It was pitiful – having a two-goal lead and losing that was unacceptable,” Smithson said. “But the boys rallied back after that. We’re not a team that’s scoring a lot of goals, so hopefully that’s something we can get snowballing.”
The only thing snowballing for the Wild is negativity. A team meeting Tuesday did little to turn things around for Minnesota, which is 0-8 on the road and quickly falling behind the Western Conference pack.
“My feeling is when we got up 3-2 … we weren’t playing the game to win, we were playing not to lose,” Wild coach Todd Richards said after what he called the toughest loss of the season. “To me that’s a huge difference in mentality. What I saw us doing from the bench – I have to watch the tape to see if I’m right or if I’m wrong – was just retreating.”
Predators coach Barry Trotz said his team was on the flip-side of that coin, playing to win despite falling behind during Minnesota’s stretch of three goals on three shots.
“Those are hard lessons sometimes, but those are lessons you take,” Trotz said. “In Chicago we gave up back-to-back goals and lost 2-0. Today we gave up three. Hopefully we’re not giving up four tomorrow. But we’ve gotta learn from that.”
Nashville entered the game as the league’s worst scoring team at 1.7 goals per game and with the league’s worst power play conversion rate – 8.3 per cent. But by 5:33 Nashville led 2-0 on Dumont’s goal from David Legwand and Steve Sullivan and Weber’s power play missile from Sullivan and Ryan Suter. Minnesota entered the game second in the league with an 88.1 per cent penalty kill.
Not to be outdone, the Wild – tied for 28th in the league at two goals per game – scored on their first power play, just three seconds after Dumont’s tripping penalty to get on the board 31 seconds into the second period. Burns’ second goal of the season started the run of three goals against Ellis before he was pulled.
Ellis was removed from the game for the second time in seven starts this season. He allowed three goals on three shots in seven minutes at Dallas on Oct. 14 in the Predators’ 6-0 loss.
Trotz said he decided to pull Ellis because things weren’t going well, but said he isn’t worried about his netminder.
Nashville (4-6-1) tied it again at 6:44 of the second period when Joel Ward’s shot from the slot went wide, but ricocheted off Santorelli’s skate and past Backstrom.
The victory ended a 1-6-1 stretch for the Predators.
“That’s what we need, guys playing with confidence,” Weber said. “Hopefully we’ll keep rolling and get some momentum.”
NOTES: Nashville returns home for two games after playing six of its last seven games on the road. The Predators are 3-3-1 away from Sommet Center. … Minnesota RW Petr Sykora was a healthy scratch, two games after returning to the lineup from a groin injury. … G Anton Khudobin joined his Wild teammates in uniform for the first time after being called up from Houston of the AHL on Tuesday. Josh Harding was scratched because of lower-body soreness. … Koivu had an assist in his third straight game and has seven points in his last seven contests.