The holidays, beyond time to reconnect with family and enjoy a day (or more) with their company is also a saturation of professional and even high school sports. Everyone wants to take advantage of the days off and lure you to come and down and watch a game, whether at the local arena or on TV. For a sports fan like myself it is like being a kid in a candy store. So many great options, which one to choose? Games with some significance to them is how I prioritize my TV viewing. And of course, hockey always comes first!
The Minnesota Wild no doubt got some extra eyes on their game yesterday against the Avalanche, which resulted in a pleasing 3-2 shootout victory. St. Louis fans may not be feeling so cheery as their club got shutout by Nashville and no doubt the Blues will want to get back to their winning ways against a Minnesota team that is playing with more confidence as of late. Can the Wild get a big road win on the 2nd game of a back to back?
1st Period Thoughts: The period had some good and promising moments and others where pretty ugly. Let’s start with the ugly portion of the period first. Defensive let downs and mental mistakes continue to haunt this team; especially against the Blues where the Wild always appear to be a bit more anxious with the puck. Especially at Scottrade Center, the Wild seem to handle the puck like a live hand grenade and far too often the Wild were settling for area passes that made for easy turnovers allowing the Blues to control the pace of play and keeping Minnesota pinned in its own end far too much. On the 1st Blues power play, a real lazy effort by Ryan Suter to sweep up a pass from Jared Spurgeon resulted in the Wild failing to clear the zone and a few moments later it was Paul Stastny deflecting a Vladimir Sobotka shot / pass from the point by Devan Dubnyk. Suter was totally lost and could get back to contest Stastny’s redirection chance. A few minutes later Kyle Quincey who turned the puck over once on a shift got it back to then send a moronic diagonal pass deep in his own zone that was picked up by Dmitri Jaskin who then got Dubnyk to flop and he dangled it around the Wild goaltender to make it 2-0. The Wild would again pay dearly late in the period when Eric Staal failed to clear the zone and the Blues swarmed the Wild’s crease and it was Jaden Schwartz burying a chance from in close. 3-0 Blues. Quincey wasn’t done doing his part to submarine the game as he took a lazy high sticking call late in the period that will have the Blues on the power play to start the 2nd. That about sums up the ugly part of the period now for the good part. The good part was the Wild had some high quality scoring chances. Nino Niederreiter practically had a goal gift wrapped for him after a nice little pass by Eric Staal set him up all alone with Jake Allen and he managed to dangle around Allen’s poke check attempt but the rolling puck just wouldn’t settle for him to just shovel it in. A few minutes later the Wild had another terrific chance as Tyler Ennis got a little room thanks to a nice stretch pass and he’d fire a shot on goal that Allen stopped and as Charlie Coyle followed it up he’d send the puck back to a trailing Zack Mitchell who seemed to have Allen in a vulnerable spot only to be denied by a great recovery by the Blues goalie. Then later in the period Mikko Koivu would dangle a puck around a defender for a short breakaway chance on Allen but he couldn’t lift the puck (he was on his forehand side) over Allen’s leg pad. So it wasn’t as though the Wild had no chances at all and spent the whole 1st period in the fetal position as the ugly portion would imply. Chris Stewart would try to rally the team with a spirited fight against the Blues’ Chris Thorburn and it was a pretty easy battle with neither pugilist gaining a decisive advantage. It was a horrendous period, but it certainly illustrates how mistakes and missed opportunities are amplified when playing against a quality opponent like St. Louis.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period saw more Wild penalties but fortunately it also witnessed a resurgent effort from Dubnyk. Dubnyk seemed determined to not let the game get out of hand and raised his aggressiveness on saves. It all started with a pretty glove save on a 2-on-1 where he snatched a Paul Stastny shot out of the air. Dubnyk continued to be aggressive in his play; catching the puck whenever he could to draw a whistle and get fresh skaters on the ice. An elbowing call gave the Blues another power play but Minnesota’s penalty killer were pressuring the puck carrier well and forcing some turnovers. On one such sequence Jason Zucker tried to track down a cleared puck but he was sealed off by a heavy check by Alex Pietrangelo and the puck left the zone, but youngster Sammy Blais would pick up the puck and skate it back into the Blues’ end and an opportunistic Coyle would steal his pass and race in on Allen where he ripped a shot by him. The shorthanded goal cut the Blues lead to 3-1, and it was a super alert play by Coyle who took full advantage of the fact Blais basically muted a potential offsides call by carrying the puck back into the St. Louis zone. The goal seemed to give the Wild a bit more life in its skates and they started to look for another goal in the latter minutes of the period. The line of Coyle, Niederreiter and Zucker was particularly pesky as Niederreiter was set up for a quick shot that was steered aside by Allen. Still, the power play time the Blues had gave them a giant shot advantage in the period as they out shot Minnesota 19 to 9.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period was sort of like the game as a whole where at times it showed genuine promise and it was also where the wheels fell off. An early Wild power play would quickly turn into another nighmarish gaffe as Spurgeon fumbled the puck and a pressuring Kyle Brodziak would race down the ice on a breakaway where he beat Dubnyk with a wrist shot. 4-1 Blues on Brodziak’s shorthanded tally. Minnesota would regroup with the remainder of their power play and in the closing seconds Tyler Ennis, Daniel Winnik and Mitchell would combine on a pretty tic-tac-toe play off the rush before Mitchell tapped home Winnik’s pass cutting the Blues lead back to two, 4-2. A few minutes later and the Wild would draw another Blues penalty and they’d strike off the rush as Mathew Dumba sent a diagonal pass / shot that was shoveled on goal by Staal who then swept up his own rebound and buried it by Allen to cut St. Louis’ lead to one. At this point, with roughly 10 minutes left in the game and trailing by one there was some genuine hope. It would be short-lived as Alex Steen was able to goad Ryan Suter into a lame trip that the former Leaf gladly embellished giving the Blues another power play. St. Louis would cash in as Colton Parayko found Schwartz all alone on a cross-ice pass and he had at least 2-3 seconds before he would dangle a shot around Dubnyk extending the Blues’ lead back to two, 5-3. The Wild were clearly frustrated as Zucker would get tagged for slashing. The Blues would again strike on the power play as Steen set up Blais for a quick shot that he got off just a half second before Matt Cullen arrived to contest it and it found the back of the net. 6-3 Blues and that was all she wrote.
Dubnyk had a nice recovery in the 2nd, but that all disappeared in the 3rd. The goals were soft, but it seemed like anytime the Blues got an open shot it was in the back of the net. Defensively Ryan Suter and Kyle Quincey were a complete dumpster fire. Suter couldn’t seem to get his feet moving and his lack of urgency led to at least one goal if not two as he didn’t really skate too hard after Brodziak on his shorthanded goal. The normally rock-solid penalty kill was gouged 3 times this evening. Minnesota found its way to the box way too often and while its debateable whether it was a bit one sided the Wild certainly deserved most of the penalties it received.
Offensively, the power play continues to be a source of strength as they cashed in twice tonight. Yet it was missed opportunities that also played a major role in the outcome of this game. Early in the 3rd, Spurgeon had a shot that went off the crossbar and out and there were numerous other close but not quite chances throughout the game. If the Wild cash in on half of those, they may have pushed this game to overtime. Another silver lining was the assertive play of Charlie Coyle. Coyle looked calm, under control and he took his chances to pull the trigger which is always a good thing.
The result of this game probably didn’t surprise too many people, not even Wild fans. The Blues are a good team and their style of play and their strong, bigger defensive corps has always given the Wild lots of trouble. Minnesota still struggled to work their way to the middle of the ice but I like how they didn’t just settle for shots from the perimeter. That in itself is the realization they know they have to pay a physical price to score on the Blues and that to me is a big step forward. The Wild now must put this game behind them (because they’ll see St. Louis again next week Saturday) and refocus for what will be another tough one against Winnipeg on Monday.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Daniel Winnik, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Tyler Ennis, Zack Mitchell, Chris Stewart, Matt Cullen, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Kyle Quincey and Gustav Olofsson. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Mike Reilly was the lone scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jaden Schwartz, 2nd Star Sammy Blais, 3rd Star Colton Parayko
~ Attendance was 18,610 at Scottrade Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 2, Rockford 1 OT
On Wednesday the Iowa Wild were humbled 3-1 by the Rockford Ice Hogs, so with a day off in between the two clubs met again Friday night. Shots were hard to come by in Wednesday’s game and it was clear that wasn’t going to be the case this evening as Iowa was shooting early and often. Iowa would break the stalemate with just 13 seconds left in the opening stanza as Ryan Murphy wired a shot by Jeff Glass to give the Wild a 1-0 lead going into the 1st intermission. Rockford would answer back in the 2nd as former Eden Prairie Eagles’ star Luc Snuggerud blasted a shot by Steve Michalek tying it up at 1-1. The 3rd was a back and forth affair with both clubs trading chances but Michalek and Glass were solid sending the game to overtime. In overtime it was Landon Ferraro sending a pass to Joel Eriksson Ek who unleashed a laser that went top cheese on Glass to give the Wild a 2-1 victory. Michalek had 33 saves in the win. Eriksson Ek seems to be player wanting to send a message to the big club to call him back up as he’s had a goal and two helpers, 6 shots on goal in his two games in Iowa. Luke Kunin isn’t taking the demotion so well as he has no points and no shots in two games.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Louie Belpedio (Miami, NCHC) ~ the senior defenseman continues to be a leader on and off the ice for the Redhawks as he had 2 helpers, 5 shots on goal in Miami’s 6-3 win over in-state rival Bowling Green on Friday. Belpedio is 3rd on the team in scoring with 4 goals, 12 points, 20 PIM’s and is a +2 in 13 games.