A few weeks ago, the outlook for the Minnesota Wild appeared to be pretty bleak. Goaltending was leaky, offense was mostly missing in action and the club was at the cellar of the Central Division. With injuries and a cap situation that left the club with little options beyond riding out the bad times and hoping their fortunes would return. A few wins and a resurgent effort from its star goaltender and suddenly the Wild quickly put itself back in the wildcard spot of the division. Well at least for a game or two as a loss on Saturday pushed Minnesota back down to 6th in the Central. It was fun while it lasted, right?
For the New Jersey Devils, a bit of a rebuild and a few bold moves over the summer have paid off as they sit atop the Metropolitan division standings. Unlike the Wild, who up against the salary ceiling the Devils are 28th in the NHL in salary and have $8.3 million in cap space to work with. The Devils are young, fast and affordable. The Wild have struggled against the Devils last season, they will no doubt have their hands full on Monday. Can Minnesota beat one of the best teams in the East?
1st Period Thoughts: Superficially speaking, the Wild may have been able to fool the Fox Sports Net broadcasters into thinking the team dominated the 1st period but the stats can be deceiving. The Wild out shot the Devils 12 to 3, but the quality of the chances the Wild generated were pretty low. A few perimeter shots and nothing that really threatened Cory Schneider. Charlie Coyle‘s first few shifts were ok, but just like a lot of his teammates he was too unselfish and passed up open opportunities to send shots on goal. Minnesota even managed to get on the power play as Andy Greene, the Devils’ best defenseman hooked Mikael Granlund. The Wild leisurely wasted half of the power play on predictable zone entries that led to easy turnovers. By the time the Wild managed to get set up on on the power play there was only about 30 seconds left of the man advantage and Nino Niederreiter tried to set up Mikko Koivu on a back door play. Koivu was wide open and there was a fair amount of net to work with but the captain pushed a shot wide of the mark instead. The Devils went nearly half of the period before registering their first shot on goal. The Wild almost appeared to be satisfied they had a big edge in shots and nothing to show for it and the Devils would go on the attack. Taylor Hall would turn on the jets and fly by Kyle Quincey with ease, but fortunately he’d rip a shot high over the Wild goal. With less than 2 minutes into the period they’d send a shot on goal that Devan Dubnyk couldn’t track down and the puck would just sit on the blue paint while he tried to find it and before he could drop on the biscuit it was shoveled home by Adam Henrique. 1-0 Devils. Minnesota seemed to be a bit emotionless after the Devils’ goal and that was more than a little concerning going into the intermission.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild would start the period out right as Niederreiter would send a shot on goal and crash the crease a bit as the puck rolled off the blocker of Schneider and in. 1-1 game. Unfortunately the Wild thought they had the game in hand at this point and they’d go back to just playing and taking a shots every now and then from the perimeter. No one on the Wild seemed to want to venture near the Devils crease at all and that made it pretty easy for Schneider to see incoming shots with the peace of mind knowing we weren’t nearby to pounce on loose pucks. The Devils’ were patient, biding for their time to strike and that time to push for a goal was whenever Gustav Olofsson was on the ice. The tall but rail thin defenseman could not prevent a Devils skater from making his way to the blue paint even if his life depended on it and New Jersey was apt to send pucks on goal when he was out there knowing full well they’d probably have a prime scoring chance if they could get the shot on goal. And it happened as Olofsson was on the ice and a puck would be sent towards the goal that Dubnyk knocked down and off the behind of Olofsson and in. 2-1 Devils. A few minutes later the Devils nearly cashed in again and there was Olofsson, physically overwhelmed by diminutive rookie Jesper Bratt driving towards the blue paint. The Wild meanwhile were content to cycle the puck and send unscreened wrist shots from the point that barely made Schneider break a sweat deflecting them harmlessly to the corners. The period would end mercifully after the Wild were completely outplayed, outcompeted and mostly outmuscled by the Devils yet Minnesota still trailed by just one going into the 2nd intermission. The Devils out shot the Wild 12 to 11 in the period which may seem fairly even but New Jersey had far more quality opportunities than did Minnesota. That will have to change if the Wild are to have any chance at a comeback this evening.
3rd Period Thoughts: The period was kind of a mix of all the emotions of the game to this point. Frustration, a little promise and a disturbing trend of team weakness. Let’s address the latter issue first, team weakness. Olofsson was played sparingly in the 3rd but on one of his few shifts he’d skate in and let go a shot that was stopped and as he tried to skate away he was bumped and confronted by the Devils and didn’t even try to shove anyone back for their aggression towards him. His passiveness prompted Quincey to try to stand up for his partner and he’d get sent to the box along with Miles Wood for roughing. Unfortunately the Wild would continue to settle for shots from the perimeter. The Devils would add to their lead as Will Butcher took the chance to skate up the ice and he’d rifle a shot off the rush that beat Dubnyk cleanly. 3-1 Devils. The feisty play continued, as Damion Severson would get into a battle behind the Devils net with Eric Staal, delivering multiple cross checks to no call at all. Minnesota would go on the power play thanks to a holding the stick call on Wood, and the Wild would make New Jersey pay as Mikael Granlund would pick up a puck from the left faceoff dot and unload a slap shot that snuck through the pads of Schneider. 3-2 Devils. The after the whistle scrums continued as the chippiness intensified but the officials seemed to be a bit selective as to who they sent to the box. After one back and forth wrestling match between Henrique and Niederreiter along the wall the officials sent Niederreiter to the box for roughing. Earlier in the game, after a save, Henrique jackhammered Jared Spurgeon behind the Devils goal 6-7 times to no call by the officials. Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau tore into the officials for the lack of consistency but Minnesota had to rally to kill off the penalty. With the penalty killed they’d pull Dubnyk for an extra attacker and their persistence would be rewarded when Granlund stepped into a slap shot from just above the right faceoff dot that beat Schneider to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Overtime Summary: The Wild started overtime with Granlund along with Suter and Koivu. Granlund has two goals and is clearly the hot hand for this evening and I have no issue with it but Suter and Koivu who had been dogging it most of the game? Sounds like a recipe for disaster and it certainly was just that. After Suter decided to skate the puck deep in the Devils zone and then send sort of a pass into the corner for Koivu the Wild scrambled back to its own end, and instead of changing Suter and Koivu stayed on the ice which gave the Devils a chance to sneak on a skater. That skater was John Moore who was left all by himself and he’d bury a Henrique pass to give the Devils a 4-3 overtime victory.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Marcus Foligno, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Tyler Ennis, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Daniel Winnik, Matt Cullen, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Gustav Olofsson and Kyle Quincey. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Chris Stewart and Mike Reilly were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star John Moore, 2nd Star Mikael Granlund, 3rd Star Will Butcher
~ Attendance was 19,048 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Erie, OHL) ~ the Wild’s top pick from 2017 had a strong game on Saturday with a goal and 7 shots on goal and finished the night with a +3 rating in the Otters’ 5-2 win over Flint. Lodnia has 13 goals, 23 points, 12 PIM’s and is a +10 in 22 games.
D – Louie Belpedio (Miami, NCHC) ~ the senior defenseman continues to be a workhorse for the Redhawks as he had an assist and 3 shots on goal in Miami’s 3-2 win over Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday. Belpedio has 4 goals, 10 points, 18 PIM’s and is a +1 in 12 games.
C – Jordan Greenway (Boston U., H-East) ~ the Terriers blitzed Maine 7-0 on Saturday and the power forward did his part by chipping in a goal and an assist in the effort. Greenway has 4 goals, 10 points, 18 PIM’s and is a +2 in 14 games.
RW – Brandon Duhaime (Providence, H-East) ~ the Florida-born winger had an assist in the a crazy game where the Friars rallied to a 6-6 tie against Merrimack on Saturday. Playing on the Friars’ top line, Duhaime has 2 goals, 6 assists, 27 PIM’s and is a +1 in 12 games.