NEWARK, N.J. — At this rate, it may be 2024 or 2025 before Marc-Andre Fleury passes Patrick Roy for the second-most wins in NHL history.
That’s what Ryan Hartman was thinking as he slumped in a locker-room stall Sunday night and watched the future Hall of Famer field questions from a bunch of reporters after the Wild lost 4-3 to the New Jersey Devils to cap a highly unsatisfying winless road trip that saw the Wild pick up one lousy point out of a possible six.
“We got a guy that’s (seven) games away from going to No. 2, and we’re laying eggs for him,” Hartman said of Fleury, who is six wins from tying Roy. “That’s enough motivation to bring it every night. I mean, he’s gonna get it and I know he doesn’t think about it. But I do. And I know some guys do. We want to be here and see it and do it for him and help him out, and we haven’t really helped him out.”
Fleury has one win in four starts. Filip Gustavsson has two wins in five and the goals-against are piling up for both during this choppy 3-4-2 start to this 2023-24 campaign.
After truly laying an egg in Philly to start the trip, the Wild played well enough to beat the Capitals and Devils and return to the Twin Cities in a much better mood. But they didn’t and every night are finding different ways to lose.
But there has been one constant that has picked up right where it left off in last year’s playoffs.
Their special teams stink to high heaven.
Hartman was elevated to the top power-play unit Sunday and did score a go-ahead goal eight seconds into one power play. But the others were unsatisfying for two different reasons. The first is the Wild’s first unit of Kirill Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello, Joel Eriksson Ek, Calen Addison and Hartman spent virtually two minutes in the offensive zone on three of them and came away with nothing. The second is two third-period power plays that failed mightily, one down 4-2 and the other in the final 1:37 on a six-on-four after Jake Middleton’s goal with 4:43 left pulled Minnesota within a goal.
— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights & News (@HockeyDaily365) October 29, 2023
But on that power play, it was downright scary how the Wild’s best players lacked any urgency whatsoever.
They sat on the perimeter. They stood stationary like hot dog and pretzel carts in Times Square. And, boy oh boy, did they pass the puck around in a circle so, so prettily.
You know the one thing they didn’t do?
Shoot the frigin’ puck.
Well, not until 22 seconds left when Kaprizov almost sent Hartman to the trainer’s room. That shot was blocked, so the Wild’s only shot on that power play with an extra attacker came when Kaprizov took an easily stoppable shot from 39 feet away with seven seconds left.
“That’s what we’re disappointed with is that we sit still, and they’re able just to collapse and stay tight and we didn’t get them out of any formation because we just stood still and tried to make plays,” coach Dean Evason said. “We should have taken pucks to the net off the half wall and then we should have taken pucks when we got it down low to the net, force them to come at us and then something else opens up.
“But we just stood, tried to make plays into areas that they’re standing and have good sticks.”
That’s just the power play.
Let’s talk penalty kill, which gave up two goals to the NHL’s best power play on three chances. If you’re counting at home, that’s now nine goals allowed on 28 chances this season (67.8 percent). In last season’s playoffs, the Wild gave up nine goals on 24 chances (62.5 percent).
The glass-half-full person would consider that progress.
The glass-half-empty person would say that’s downright ridiculous how the Wild are incapable of killing a penalty when it matters.
Sunday night, the Wild built that 2-1 lead, gave up a power-play goal to Tyler Toffoli and 44 seconds later in 3-2 Devils when Erik Haula jumped on a missed pass between Addison and Vinni Lettieri and scored from atop the circles.
We call this shot “The Fuggedaboutit. pic.twitter.com/e4TGb3Y9Ja
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 29, 2023
But the Wild had back-to-back power plays, couldn’t score and you just knew what was about to happen when Dakota Mermis was sent to the box for high-sticking. Twenty-nine seconds later, Jesper Bratt scored his second goal for a 4-2 lead.
“It’s not good enough,” Pat Maroon said, who scored his first goal with the Wild in the first period. “We can’t come away with one point on this road trip and we know that. We could have won that (Capitals) game and tonight another opportunity to take two points and we didn’t.
“Got to be better obviously. We need to find ways to get wins here and just start moving here. We can’t win one, lose one, win one, lose one and play a good game, play three bad ones. It’s not good enough. And that’s what we’re doing right now. We’ve gotta string a couple games here. We got to get a five-game, 10-game stretch where we play good hockey here.”
There’s no doubt the Wild improved upon their awful, no-show game in Philadelphia the past two games. But they’re still lacking that bluster we’re used to seeing them play with that, the aggressive, physical hockey they’re accustomed to playing.
Sure, a lot of what ails them is helped by Jared Spurgeon and Matt Boldy being injured, not to mention Freddy Gaudreau, who could miss a month. Boldy is expected to practice Wednesday.
“When your top guys are out, I can’t say it, you’re not as good of a team,” Addison said. “We’ve got our captain and Bolds out, and Freddy. Those guys are huge parts of our team and they make us better.”
But nobody’s feeling sorry for them and they continue to get nondescript games from Kaprizov, who just hasn’t been a threat all season long.
“I don’t want to say we lack cockiness, but just play confidently,” Hartman said. “When we’re playing really well, we play with that swagger. We play to make plays. And we’re a frustrating team to play against.”
Evason liked parts of the Wild game, but again, it just wasn’t good enough.
“There’s a lot of positives,” he said. “But it gets tough to continue to talk about positives and not getting results.”
Added Fleury, “Another loss. It’s good to be (a) close match but at the same time, we gotta be on the winning side. … We all want to win in here. Just gotta keep pushing to get those points.”
(Photo: Andrew Mordzynski / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)