I know I’ve talked about these guys before, but my friends at the podcast 3 in the Box are pretty fun people. Even as the Minnesota Wild season has turned more sour than those leftovers you forgot way too long in your refrigerator they still find a way to keep you laughing and wanting to watch more games. And when you consider how things have gone this month that’s no small feat. Minnesota has played noticeably better in their last two losses, both in overtime but still have had their lapses that have cost them opportunities to earn two points to solidify their place in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Another team hoping to solidify its spot in the standings is the Ottawa Senators who have quietly been one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Of course, its a bit easier to do that in the weakest division in the league (the Atlantic) but Minnesota has typically struggled against the Senators. Minnesota is in desperate need of good news and they are calling upon their resources in the American Hockey League and even overseas to change their fortunes. Can Minnesota end the free fall this evening?
1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota started out the period with good hustle and focus you could sense the crowd was anxious to see what Alex Stalock and Joel Eriksson Ek could bring. Early on, both players showed they came ready to play. Eriksson Ek demonstrated good strength on the puck as well as a willingness to throw his body around a bit on the 4th line, and he seemed to make something happen each shift. At the other end of the ice, the crowd gave an appreciative cheer for Stalock as he deflected aside a Bobby Ryan shot to start the game. The South St. Paul native looked focused and dialed in early, although the Senators were probably a bit guilty of giving him a little too much respect as the consistently were missing high and wide. Give him some kudos though as Ottawa was working to get traffic in front of him but he stayed poised and square to the puck and used some of his athleticism to corral pucks. The Wild were trying to work the puck in close, but Craig Anderson wasn’t tested too much through the first half of the game. Even on the power play the Wild were guilty of predictable puck movement that made it pretty easy to disrupt. Minnesota would let up a bit during the middle of the period and the team’s overuse of area passes allowed the Senators to work pucks deep and keep the Wild hemmed in their own end. Nino Niederreiter would get tagged with a pretty weak hooking penalty that put Ottawa on the man advantage. Minnesota’s penalty kill was a bit scrambly to say the least as they chased Ottawa all over its own zone as they attempted to set up their power play sniper Mike Hoffman for shots. Luckily he was blasting most of them wide. Yet he’d find the mark just shortly after the penalty expired as he rifled a one-timer Alex Ovechkin-style one timer from the right faceoff dot. Stalock tried to get across but just couldn’t get there in time. Minnesota would answer back 45 seconds later as Craig Anderson gave up a terrible rebound on a fairly weak wrist shot by Jonas Brodin and Niederreiter was able to poke the puck into the back of the net. 1-1 game going into the 1st intermission. Not a bad start for the Wild, but Minnesota needs to avoid using area passes as much as possible.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota brought a lot of energy for the 2nd and that effort would be rewarded with some goals. One player who was really flying all over the ice was Chris Stewart who was charging into the Senators’ zone with a purpose and doling out checks consistently. It was Stewart’s forechecking that would help result in a go-ahead goal for the Wild as he’d lock the puck down deep in the Ottawa end that was passed out towards the top of the crease by Eric Staal to Nino Niederreiter who calmly moved in and beat Anderson with a backhander. 2-1 Wild. Ottawa tried to answer back on the power play, but Minnesota did a nice job of forcing the Senators to the perimeter and forcing them to settle for opportunities 40+ feet from the Wild crease. Alex Stalock was reading the play well and even when they managed to set up Kyle Turris for a one-timer he was where he needed to be to make the save. Minnesota would get the kill and then the Wild would go back on the attack. There was a little bit of tension as Stewart took offense to a hit by the Senators’ Mark Borowiecki to Staal and as he let the Senators defenseman he didn’t appreciate it he’d be confronted by Dion Phaneuf. The two veterans called out each other’s manhood, but no punches would be thrown. Shortly after that the Wild’s forecheck would cause another big play as Jared Spurgeon swung a pass up to Coyle who then dished it to Eriksson Ek who rifled as shot top corner to give Minnesota a 3-1 lead. Minnesota fans were appreciative of the solid effort and the positive momentum that it hasn’t seen in a while.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild were playing with confidence and swagger in the 3rd. The chirping of Phaneuf continued as Ryan White joined Stewart in their harassment of the Senators defenseman who didn’t seem to want to back up his talk at all. Jean-Gabriel Pageau tripped up Joel Eriksson Ek as he seemed to be on his way to a near breakaway giving the Wild an early power play. This time the Wild would cash in as Mathew Dumba stepped into a slap shot that blew by a well-screened Anderson to make it 4-1. The Senators tried to push back, but Minnesota was playing smart defensively and not giving the Senators much in the way of time and space. Ottawa had some good opportunities as they sent Mark Stone to screen as Ryan Dzingel let go a shot that Stalock knocked down and covered up. Minnesota would add another goal midway through the period as Martin Hanzal did a nice job of rumbling in on the forecheck that drew a turnover that allowed Jason Pominville to gather up the puck and then thread the needle on a nice not that went between the legs of both Turris and Anderson on its way into the back of the net. 5-1 Wild as they roll to a much-needed victory.
Alex Stalock was great, making 18 saves in the victory. Minnesota was really committed to limiting the shots Stalock had to face, but he had to make some good stops with a fair amount of traffic near his crease. He was efficient in his movement and he was doing a good job of challenging shooters and not sitting back near the goal line. Yet give Minnesota’s defense credit for tying up bodies and allowing him to gather up any rebounds he gave up. The penalty kill got stung early on a painfully familiar play, but after that the team got more aggressive on the kill and Ottawa had a tougher time generating shots.
Offensively, Eriksson Ek really helped make the Wild 4th line relevant by bringing some speed and skill to that line. Stewart (who also had 2 assists) and White were dishing out hits and making things happen on the ice. It certainly didn’t hurt that the Senators were without Erik Karlsson, but Minnesota were taking pucks to the net and they were rewarded because of it. Nino scoring twice is big, because this team needs get some players beyond Eric Staal going offensively. It just seemed like the Wild were taking more of what the Senators were giving them and that straight-forward approach is more akin to what Minnesota embraced earlier in the season.
This was a good win for the Wild and hopefully it helps build their confidence going into yet another weekend with back-to-back games. While its been speculated Devan Dubnyk will get the start on Saturday, I might even give him another day of rest and let him start Sunday against Colorado. Either way the team resembled more of that team that won with depth and a team effort which they’ll need in the home stretch as well the post-season. Nice win.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Nino Niederreiter, Eric Staal, Chris Stewart, Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Martin Hanzal, Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan White, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Christian Folin. Devan Dubnyk backed up Alex Stalock. Jordan Schroeder, Zach Parise and Nate Prosser were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Nino Niederreiter, 2nd Star Joel Eriksson Ek, 3rd Star
~ Attendance was 19,044 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Alex Stalock wore #32 in his debut with the Minnesota Wild, joining Niklas Backstrom, Marc Chouinard, Jason Marshall and Brian Bonin in having worn the number.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 4, Rockford 0
Iowa is hoping to qualify for the American Hockey League since arriving in Des Moines 5 years ago, and being on the outside looking in makes each game crucial to that goal. Not to mention with Charlotte and Cleveland ahead of them for that final spot they are doing their share of scoreboard watching as well. The Wild would give the 3,800+ fans at Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena a lot to cheer about as Luke Kunin had a night to remember. The former Badger would tally his first professional goal on a pretty give-and-go play between him and Sam Anas giving Iowa a 1-0 lead. A few minutes later Kunin would showcase his deft hands a little more when he made a pretty redirection of a point shot by Maxime Fortunus to give Iowa a 2-0 advantage going into the 2nd. After a scoreless 2nd period where both clubs traded a plethora of quality chances but the Ice Hogs’ Mac Carruth and Wild’s Alex Stalock were very sharp, Iowa would add to its lead early in the 3rd. Alex Tuch would put his shoulder down and then beat Carruth on a beauty of a backhander that did not have much open net to work with to give Iowa a 3-0 lead. Kunin would add an empty netter to get the hat trick and Stalock his 4th shutout of the season on the strength of 32 saves.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Dmitry Sokolov (Sudbury, OHL) ~ the skilled Russian is playing like a leader so far in the post season for the Wolves and Tuesday night was no different when he chipped in a goal and an assist (as well as 6 shots on goal) in Sudbury’s 3-2 win over Oshawa. On Thursday he added another goal an assist (9 shots on goal) in a 4-2 loss to the Generals which tied the series at 2-2. Sokolov has 4 goals, 7 points, and 30 shots on goal as well as an ‘even’ rating in 4 playoff games.
D – Gustav Bouramman (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) ~ the Greyhounds took a 2-1 series lead over the Firebirds on Wednesday with a 5-2 win as the Swedish blueliner had a shot on goal and finished the evening with a team-best +4. Bouramman has no points so far in the post season, just 4 PIM’s and his +4 rating in 3 games.