While the NHL Trade Deadline is miserable for players and coaches who wonder about who they will still have by the end of the afternoon on Feb. 26th, but its either fun or annoying for fans depending on who you ask. For many, its hitting refresh on your TSN Trade Tracker to see that your team hasn’t made any moves; or moves that are likely not all that significant. For the Minnesota Wild who have had made the trade deadline its sort of annual opportunity to make a surprising splash I think each year the deadline is met with more anxiety and eager anticipation. Minnesota fans are pretty happy with their club right now and even the news the team was going to move fan & locker room favorite Chris Stewart by placing him on waivers drew a bit of a back lash on social media (he was picked by Calgary).
The St. Louis Blues were sellers last year at the deadline as the dealt Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals even though they ended up bouncing the Minnesota Wild in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs. St. Louis was again a seller as they dealt Paul Stastny to Winnipeg for a 1st round pick (2018), a 4th round pick (2020) and prospect Erik Foley. The Wild’s lone ‘trade’ was dealing defenseman Mike Reilly for a 5th round pick in 2019. So with team chemistry mostly unchanged will the team answer with another solid home effort?
1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota had good energy to start the game and right on their first shift the top line of Eric Staal, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund nearly cashed in as Staal found Zucker for a redirection off the rush as Jake Allen fought it off. The Wild would draw a penalty as Vladimir Sobotka held up Joel Eriksson Ek. Minnesota did not wait long to strike on the man advantage as they scored 7 seconds later as Ryan Suter let go a wrist shot from the point that was redirected by Zucker and by Allen. 1-0 Wild. The Blues tried to answer back by raising their physical game as they blew up Daniel Winnik with a few big hits as they hoped to impose their physical will over the Wild. St. Louis seemed to be working the puck closer and closer to the Minnesota crease when the Wild were able to work the puck out of the zone and the top line would strike again as Zucker pushed a puck by Vince Dunn and he drew the Blues defense’s attention before turning and sending a pass to a trailing Staal all alone in the slot and he sniped it by Allen. 2-0 Wild. Minnesota would then take its foot off the gas as Matt Dumba would demonstrate a painful lack of focus in his own end as he had plenty of time to wok the puck out of the zone only to turn it over and Vladimir Tarasenko would cut the Wild’s lead to one, 2-1. It was the kind of mental mistake that makes Dumba a terribly frustrating player to follow. Undeniable skill, but takes some horribly unnecessary risks. Luckily for Dumba, the Wild would answer back and it was the top line making it happen as Nick Seeler would send a shot from the point that would hit a Blues defender and off the chest of Granlund who then batted the puck out of the air and by Allen. 3-1 Wild. As good as the top line was, the rest of the team seemed to just be enjoying the ride as they were out to lunch mentally. Overpassing and overhandling of the puck squandered potential chances. This was best seen when Nate Prosser got a stick into the face from Dmitry Jaskin that earned him a 4-minute sit in the sin bin. Minnesota’s power play got bogged down along the wall and lazy passes did the rest to completely drain away the man advantage as Nikita Soshnikov intercepted a lazy pass near the Wild blueline and he’d race towards the goal where he went head first into the post. That penalty offset most of the rest of the Wild man advantage and Minnesota seemed content to get out of the period still ahead by two goals. While the goals were fun, the Wild seemed to be resting on their laurels way too soon and this team isn’t good enough to coast and expect to win.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Blues would swap out Allen for Carter Hutton. Remember what I said about not being able to coast? Minnesota looked pretty sleepy as the Blues attacked right off the faceoff with it still 4-on-4 from the late 1st period penalties; and it was Jay Bouwmeester flying by Dumba and setting up Alex Pietrangelo for a simple goal. 3-2 and worse yet it appeared as though Devan Dubnyk was worse for the wear. I initially thought Dubnyk had injured his groin trying to push across but the replay would show that it was Dumba’s knee that made contact with the goaltender’s head. After a minute of shaking loose the cobwebs with some advice from the Wild training staff he said he was good to go to stay in the game and the whole arena breathed a sigh of relief. There certainly was some feisty play after the whistle as Tage Thompson got into the Wild’s crease knocking down Dubnyk who was not happy about it and he’d give Thompson a nasty slash to the back of the leg who thought Seeler did it and the former UConn star went after Seeler. Seeler would end up earning an interference penalty somehow out of the whole scrum. Minnesota’s penalty kill was solid, getting sticks and bodies into passing lanes and the Wild would escape unscathed. Dubnyk seemed sharp as well making some quality saves with traffic near his crease. The Wild would then draw a penalty as Alex Steen boarded Jonas Brodin. Perhaps Steen was angry over the fact he missed on a wide open net earlier in the period. Just seconds into the Wild power play, the Blues would take another penalty as Bouwmeester tried to clear a puck but instead sent a line drive the full length of the ice and into the netting above and behind the Wild goal earning him a delay of game call and giving Minnesota a 5-on-3 power play. On the 5-on-3, the Wild was all business, working quick plays and taking shots from just about anywhere. Hutton looked like he was in a shooting gallery and the Wild kept working until they got a puck over to Staal who shoveled it home. 4-2 Wild. The Wild still had another power play to work with but they were unable to add to their lead, but the damage had been done as Minnesota managed to deflate the Blues momentum from their early goal. Minnesota would add to its lead late in the period as Charlie Coyle went into beast mode, using his body to protect the puck and send a shot on goal and then gathering up the rebound before dishing a pass back to Mikko Koivu who sniped a shot by Hutton. 5-2 Wild. Nino Niederreiter would tackle Dunn earning him a trip to the penalty box. Minnesota clearly was feeling pretty comfortable as they held their three-goal lead and the Wild got caught standing around and St. Louis cut the lead back to two as Tarasenko went top shelf on a sprawling Dubnyk. Yet the Wild would answer again in the closing seconds of the period as Jared Spurgeon found a little time and space and he’d send a low lying shot from the point that appeared to go off the leg of Hutton and Bouwmeester and in. 6-3 Wild going into the 3rd period. It was another period of fortunate plays on offense, but some ugly defensive breakdowns as well. Fans may like it, but I doubt the Wild coaching staff will, but can they finish strong in the 3rd?
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period was kind of a prolonged celebration for the Minnesota Wild and its fans. Minnesota initially looked like a team that was interested in carrying its 3-goal lead and just defending. The Blues looked fatigued both mentally and physically. Dubnyk wasn’t particularly busy as the Blues were settling for shots from the point as Minnesota was shadowing Tarasenko pretty closely. This is where things would get fun as Eric Staal was found on a long pass as he split the Blues defense and he’d rifle a shot by Hutton to make it 7-3 Wild. Fans at the arena apparently did not hear the score correction as the hats rained down at Xcel Energy Center as they thought Staal just buried a hat trick. I am sure team public address announcer Adam Abrams had to have a smile on his face as he told the crowd it was only Staal’s 2nd goal after the correction. Yet, the Blues just didn’t have any fight in them at all. A few minutes later the Wild’s top line would again swarm and it was Zucker setting up Staal for a quick shot that went off the post and he calmly gathered the puck back up and then fired it by Hutton who was flopping his crease to make it 8-3 and send the hats flying once again. It was fun moment as Staal sort of relished the rare double chapeau serenade. Fans at home wondered if there would be any hats left in the arena if Granlund, who had two goals at the time could net a hat trick as well. But Bruce Boudreau would call the dogs off and for the rest of the game he mostly sent the 3rd and 4th lines, even on the power play as he let the game coast to an 8-3 victory.
Devan Dubnyk played reasonably well, making 22 saves in the victory. He certainly got great goal support and benefited from some big whiffs by Blues players but he did well enough to keep St. Louis bey at key moments to prevent them from building too much momentum. Defensively I thought Nick Seeler had a good game and Jonas Brodin was pretty good for a player that has missed the last few weeks due to injury. Matt Dumba was horrible; lots of poor decisions with the puck and he factored in on two of the Blues three goals this evening. This was his worst game in a long time.
Offensively the 1st line had a monster 14 points collectively this evening as Staal, Zucker had 5 points and Granlund had 4 points of his own. They quickly answered every Blues goal that really never let St. Louis get back into the game. Minnesota had some fortunate bounces, but a big part of it is confidence and the feeling that if you pull the trigger you will be rewarded.
Despite the NBC broadcast’s efforts to try to paint this game as a big opportunity for the Blues, Minnesota jumped all over the Blues early. It wasn’t perfect though, the Wild had some ugly breakdowns defensively and some general lapses in effort. That worked against a demoralized and downtrodden Blues team, but that won’t work against one of the better clubs in the league. It was still a big 2 points in the standings that helps continue to apply pressure on the clubs chasing them and distancing themselves from an opponent that wants desperately to catch them. Fun night!
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Eric Staal, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, Joel Eriksson Ek, Charlie Coyle, Tyler Ennis, Matt Cullen, Marcus Foligno, Daniel Winnik, Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Nick Seeler and Nate Prosser. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Gustav Olofsson was the lone scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Eric Staal, 2nd Star Jason Zucker, 3rd Star Mikael Granlund
~ Attendance was 19,261 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: (26-17-7-3) 62pts .585% winning percentage 4th in the Central
19.3% Power Play (8th in the AHL)
85.2% Penalty Kill (6th in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #9 Cal O’Reilly ~ 9G 35A = 44pts
2. #7 Sam Anas ~ 19G 24A = 43pts
3. #25 Justin Kloos ~ 16G 21A = 37pts
4. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 13G 18A = 31pts
5. #42 Kyle Rau ~ 14G 15A = 29pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #2 Alex Grant ~ 67 PIM’s
2. #22 Ryan White ~ 61 PIM’s
3. #29 Viktor Loov ~ 49 PIM’s
1. #35 Niklas Svedberg (16-10-3) 2.42GAA .921%SP 2SO
2. #34 Steve Michalek (9-5-4) 3.04GAA .908%SP
Recent Score: Iowa 2, Grand Rapids 3
An early faceoff violation penalty just 30 seconds into the game, this penalty would prove costly as the Griffins would strike about 30 seconds later as Filip Hronek blasted a shot by a well-screened Niklas Svedberg. Grand Rapids would then get hit with a series of penalties that gave Iowa a number of quality opportunities. Sam Anas would light the lamp behind Matej Machovsky to tie the game at 1-1. In the 2nd period Iowa would take the lead as former Ferris State star Gerald Mayhew found the back of the net as he shoveled home a rebound off a shot from the point by Brennan Menell. The lead would be short-lived as Grand Rapids tied it back up just 2 minutes later as Matt Lorito found the twine behind Svedberg. In the 3rd period, Iowa had a difficult time generating shots on goal but Svedberg was solid at keepin the Griffins off the board and the game would go to overtime. In overtime, Grand Rapids carried most of the play but they could not solve Svedberg so the game went to overtime. Unfortuantely the Griffins’ Dominic Turgeon scored on their first shootout attempt and that’s all they needed as Iowa’s 3 shooters failed to score giving Grand Rapids a 3-2 victory. Svedberg had 32 saves in the loss.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Barrie, OHL) ~ the Russian winger earned 2nd star honors on Sunday by contributing a goal (6 shots on goal) in Barrie’s 4-0 rout of Owen Sound. Sokolov has 42 goals, 76 points, 18 PIM’s and is a -9 in 56 games.
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Erie, OHL) ~ the Novi, Michigan-native is inching closer to his point-per-game pace that he had during the first half of the season as he had an assist (3 shots on goal) in Erie’s 7-3 loss to Windsor. Lodnia has 21 goals, 57 points, 24 PIM’s and is a -1 in 60 games.