ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For the better part of a week, Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo has sent a variety of messages to a struggling team expected to be one of the most exciting and competitive in the NHL.
But after another slow start on home ice, and a rather one-sided 4-1 loss Thursday to the Vancouver Canucks, the second-year coach has to be left wondering what to do next.
Despite the messages and roster moves, the Wild played one of their flattest games of the season against the rival Canucks, who now lead them by five points in the Northwest Division.
"We just didn't show up. Pretty simple," Wild forward Zach Parise said.
Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter said, "We came out slow and you can't afford to do that when things aren't going well. The harder you work, the faster you're going to get out of it. There's no magic pill you can take to get out of it."
Vancouver dominated play in the opening 20 minutes, scoring a pair of goals and outshooting Minnesota 9-3, which earned the home team a trip to the dressing room with boos from the stands.
The boos rained again following a quirky second period which saw the Wild play almost flawless hockey for a 10-minute stretch before a colossal meltdown in the final three minutes put the game out of reach.
The Wild dominated a large portion of the frame -- they erased a six-shot deficit, threatened on a pair of power plays, and had grade-A chance after grade-A chance to get on the board. Each time, Minnesota was stymied by Vancouver's Cory Schneider.
"That's what he's always done for us," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "We lost the momentum, we took those two penalties. That's when you need saves and that's what we got from Schneids."
The Wild finally unraveled after those power plays yielded no goals.
With a faceoff in the offensive zone, the Wild's Torrey Mitchell took an interference penalty, putting the Canucks on their third power play. With 18 seconds left on the man advantage, a Vancouver scramble in front got Niklas Backstrom out of position before a bungled clearing attempt by Clayton Stoner from his knees landed the puck on Mason Raymond's stick at the left circle. His wrister labeled for the corner beat Backstrom for his fourth of the season, extending the Vancouver lead to 3-0.
The goal took the life out of a Wild team that had climbed back into the game from a momentum standpoint.
Less than two minutes later, Raymond hit streaking Jannik Hansen behind the Wild defense; he beat Backstrom with a snap shot, putting the lead at 4-0.
Backstrom finished the final 1:08 of the second period before being pulled for Josh Harding to start the third.
"Home or away, you have to be ready a certain way when it comes to fighting for space, earning what you get," Yeo said. "For a team that's fragile right now, mentally, as far as confidence and scoring goals and battling back, we found ourselves in a very quick hole."
Parise said, "They're just not coming, so we have to keep working at that and execute a little more."
Vancouver jumped ahead 1-0 at the 9:18 mark as a rebound off Backstrom off a shot by Alex Burrows landed right on the stick of Daniel Sedin for his third goal of the season. Burrows' shot from the bottom of the right circle was steered away by Backstrom, but Sedin was crashing through the slot and beat Parise to the top of the crease, slamming home the second chance.
Three minutes later, Parise committed a roughing penalty to put the Canucks on the power play. As the man advantage expired, a shot from the left half wall by Maxim Lapierre was tipped on the doorstep by Chris Higgins and past Backstrom at 14:31. The goal was Higgins' first of the season.
"We started off on the right foot, got a big goal early from Danny," Higgins said. "When you're able to get the lead on the road, that's always important. That was one of the key points in our game was getting off on the right foot."
Yeo said, "The start [was a] matter of mindset. The funny thing is, the first period, I'd say puck possession time was even -- we had the puck as much as them. But when we got into certain situations, we tried to make an extra play. When they got into certain situations, they threw the puck at the net."
The lone bright spot for Minnesota was a power-play goal by defenseman Tom Gilbert at 7:25 of the third. The tally was his third of the season, matching his 67-game total from last season in 10 contests so far in this one.
Schneider was rock solid in goal, stopping 22 of 23 shots in his third victory of the season and first game action since a Jan. 27 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
"We have two world-class goalies," Higgins said. "It's a problem a lot of teams would like to have. We'll take that effort every night from our goalies."
Minnesota, which started the season 2-0, has lost three straight and six of eight.
Vancouver, which has won four games in a row, returns home to face the Calgary Flames on Saturday night. The Canucks are 6-2-2.
"I think the whole league right now is tough to evaluate. Everybody is grinding it out," Vigneault said. "They're not all going to be pretty."
The Wild play host to the Nashville Predators on Saturday and play at Calgary on Monday before these two teams face off again Tuesday night in Vancouver.
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