Wild remain goal-challenged in 2-1 loss to Predators

Wild remain goal-challenged in 2-1 loss to Predators

Respectable defense and little to no offense equaled another tight loss for the Wild, this time 2-1 to the Predators on Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena to extend their struggles against their Central Division rival.

Not only have the Wild dropped four of their last six to the Predators and nine of 11, they fell to 1-6-2 over their last nine trips to Nashville.

“We’ve got to do something for the net guys,” Marcus Foligno told reporters in Nashville. “They’re doing a really good job. Our D-zone has been a lot better. We’ve got to start finding more pucks and saving pucks.”

How the wild was lost: The Predators scored two goals in 44 seconds in the first period, an efficient start that was enough to outscore the visitors.

Goalie Juuse Saros made 32 saves, improving to 5-1 in his career against the Wild.

Former Wild forward Nino Niederreiter snuck in uncontested to send a rising backhand over goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at 11:20 before Matt Duchene converted the power play with a clock after assisting on the goal by Niederreiter. Ryan Johansen set up both Nashville scores.

Duchene’s finish was the Wild’s first power-play goal in five games, making it a flawless 16-for-16 run on the penalty kill. But the drive rallied, stopping the next three attempts as the Predators went 4-for-5.

Fleury totaled 23 saves.

Crucial moment: Duchene’s goal stung the Wild.

That meant they would have to score at least three goals to advance in Nashville, a rare feat in recent times; only once in the Wild’s previous five games did they score more than three.

They had a good chance on the power play before the first period ended, getting a four-minute look after Brandon Duhaime was fouled in his return from injury, but the team failed to capitalize.

“It seems like we’re a little tight, not tight, but a little tight right now, and we’re just not making the plays,” coach Dean Evason said. “When the shot is there, we don’t see it and we don’t put it on the net. So he has to improve.

“Obviously we’ll take a good look at it tonight and decide if there are personnel changes or if it’s something we’re doing systematically.”

Not until the third did the Wild finally spoil Nashville’s bid.

32 seconds into the period, Frederick Gaudreau slipped a shot past Saros for his second goal in as many games. Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello each picked up assists to extend their individual point streak to four games.

With their deficit cut in half, the Wild went on the power play.

But as before, the unit didn’t provide the lift the team needed and finished the night 0-for-5 to go scoreless in three straight games (0-for-10) after an impressive debut.

“Those are power plays that we have to capitalize on,” Foligno said. “These are game changers. These win you games or help you out.”

That means: The Wild have played well on the road this season, winning more than twice as many games on the road as at home, but Nashville is a tough stop for them.

Not since Dec. 15, 2016, have the Wild been winless in regulation at Bridgestone Arena; During those 11 games, the Wild were victorious in overtime just twice.

More pressing for the Wild is a long home stretch that begins Thursday, and the team’s performance at Xcel Energy Center has been a work in progress.

This seven-game stretch is an opportunity to build some momentum, but it will be a challenge if the Wild don’t start generating more goals.

After the defense and goal were early, it’s now the turn of the attack, with this drop coinciding with the turn in their own area.

Over their last six games, the Wild have scored eight goals and been shut out twice while giving up 10 regulation goals to go 2-3-1.

“It’s fun because you work on one thing and then it gets fixed and then another one comes along,” Evason said. “But that’s what the season is for. That’s why it’s 82 games, and we’ll keep working on it.”

The Star Tribune did not send the author of this article to the game. This was written with a broadcast, interviews and other materials.

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