Wild spring new set of leaks in loss to Penguins, hold postgame meeting

Just as the offense erupted for more than two goals, a rarity lately for the Wild, the defense loosened up.

Elsewhere, the power play that made such an impressive start continued to fade while the once-Teflon penalty kill sprouted a leak.

"It's about putting it all together," Joel Eriksson Ek said.

This season-long game of Whac-A-Mole came to a head on Thursday at the beginning of a seven-game homestand, with the Wild's inability to get all facets of their play on the same page the catalyst behind a 6-4 letdown to the Penguins in front of 18,224 at Xcel Energy Center that preceded a postgame meeting.

"Just trying to find our identity," alternate captain Marcus Foligno said. "I think we're in between right now."

Despite racking up four goals for only the second time in seven games, including two in 12 seconds, the Wild (7-8-2) were upstaged by Sidney Crosby's four-point effort.

"We're just tired of losing," Jon Merrill said. "It's not something we want to get comfortable with."

With two assists and a goal, this after opening the scoring in the first period, Crosby organized Pittsburgh's response to the newly formed line of Eriksson Ek, Foligno and Brandon Duhaime delivering two Wild goals on the same shift to patch up a two-goal hole from the first period.

Crosby converted on the Penguins' second shot at 8 minutes, 15 seconds when he scooped up a neutral-zone turnover and sent a long-range shot past two Wild defenders and over goaltender Filip Gustavsson.

Pittsburgh's third shot came with 2:57 left in the period when Lakeville's Ryan Poehling finished an odd-man break.

But the Wild rebounded in the second, with Duhaime capitalizing at 4:31 when he peeled off the boards into the slot and wired a shot behind Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry.

After a spirited celebration — that was only the Wild's ninth goal in seven games — the trio remained on the ice, driving play back into Pittsburgh territory where Eriksson Ek jammed a puck in the crease that eventually bounced behind Jarry at 4:43.

Eriksson Ek's goal was his first in 11 games, while Duhaime notched his first since coming back from injury the previous game. Foligno's assist on Duhaime's tally was his first point in seven.

But penalty trouble stalled the Wild's momentum, with Kris Letang answering on a 5-on-3 one-timer with 1:40 left in the second period.

Crosby was the one who passed off to Letang, and he wasn't done serving up offense.

Only 5:50 into the third, Crosby stuffed in a backdoor tap-in on the power play to double the Penguins' cushion.

That was the third power play goal surrendered by the Wild in six games, and the unit went 3-for-5. As for the Wild's power play, both reconfigured groups combined to go 0-for-3.

"There's different components of our game going sideways," coach Dean Evason said.

BOXSCORE: Pittsburgh 6, Wild 4

The Wild would make another comeback attempt: Eriksson Ek scored the Wild's fourth shorthanded goal of the season with 8:37 left.

But the Wild never produced the next clutch play.

That belonged to Pittsburgh.

Brock McGinn reinstated a two-goal buffer on another deep shot that eluded Gustavsson at 14:33 before Guenztel added an empty-net goal with 3:29 to go, his third point of the game. Matt Dumba scaled the deficit back to two with eight seconds remaining. Jarry finished with 19 stops and picked up an assist.

"I have to have them," said Gustavsson, who totaled 26 saves in his first start since No. 1 Marc-Andre Fleury went on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. "They're coming off the skates of players, and I'm reacting late to them. When you play in the NHL, you have to have those and give the team a chance to win the game."

This is the second time the Wild have dropped a season-high three in a row. Snapping that slide might require them to settle on a style, as evidenced by their locker-room chat after the game.

"We don't have the firepower that we thought we did," Foligno said, "and especially when two guys that pull the weight a lot this year maybe don't have it, we need guys to step up. I just feel like we gotta find our identity of becoming [a team] that wins tight games."