Welcome back everyone after what I hope was a restful and relaxing summer. Another season is upon us and its quite possible that expectations have never been greater in the State of Hockey. The Minnesota Wild’s owner Craig Leipold said as much to the Athletic’s Michael Russo, going as far as saying “anything short of winning the Stanley Cup right now would be a disappointment. I think probably 30 other owners would say the same thing, but I think we have the team that can do it.” Its impossible to misinterpret such a boom or bust statement. In the past, Leipold has hesitated from saying the club was a contender for the Stanley Cup, but he clearly feels the time is now for this franchise.
Only time will tell us if those expectations are realistic or not. Tonight’s game might give us our first true idea of what the 2017-18 Wild are as a team. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised the expectations have been raised as the club is coming off a season where it set highs in points (106) and goals scored (266). So will Minnesota start the new season with a victory in Detroit?
1st Period Thoughts: Early in the period the Wild were carrying the play. Good focused attack and the line of Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter got involved early. A ‘too many men’ penalty put Minnesota on the man advantage and after a slow start to the man advantage Mikael Granlund had a pretty set up of Niederreiter from the slot that was denied by a great save by Jimmy Howard. Towards the end of the power play the Wild simplified their approach by sending a puck on goal and then crashing the net and after a scramble Minnesota appeared to poke the puck over the goal line. The play then had an extensive review; probably in the 4-5 minute range. The replay showed Marcus Foligno crashing the net and what looked like Staal poking the puck just enough as it slowly glided over the goal line. NHL referee Gord Dwyer would move out to center ice and explain that it was in fact a good goal but then said he was waiving it off for goaltender interference on Foligno. When I saw the call I wasn’t surprised, Foligno was standing in the middle of the crease and making it tough for Howard to make any sort of save. However, the Wild would ludicrously challenge the goaltender interference call. I think just about anyone knew the officials were not going to overturn their own call. No goal. The Wild were clearly a bit bothered by the ‘no goal’ call because for the next 5 minutes Minnesota was both mentally and physically skating in quick sand and the Red Wings started to go on the attack. Mathew Dumba would get caught flat footed and Gustav Nyquist would fly by the Wild defenseman for a breakaway on Devan Dubnyk only to be totally robbed by a crazy reach back save. Minnesota then killed off a Mikko Koivu slashing penalty and the Wild resumed its attack. Minnesota would appear to take the lead again as Ryan Suter fired a quick wrist shot that Howard got a piece of before it trickled into the net. Yet this goal would be reviewed because of a Detroit challenge for goaltender interference as Granlund appeared to have slightly bumped into Howard just before the shot reached Howard’s cheater on his glove. Dwyer announced no goal again because of interference and unlike the Wild it didn’t waste their only timeout. Minnesota continued to carry most of the play for the rest of the period but Howard was up to the task and they’d finish still knotted at 0-0. I liked what I was seeing out of the Wild so far as they were generating chances from all over its lineup thus far. Good start.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had a great start to the 2nd period, outworking the Red Wings in races to the loose pucks as well as battles along the wall. The Wild had some quality work in around Howard’s crease but they couldn’t manage to get one by him. Even with a long 5-on-3 the Wild couldn’t cash in. Despite all of the hard work, Minnesota would feel the pain of not capitalizing on its chances as Detroit would turn the tables late in the 2nd. It started with a cross checking penalty by Dumba on Luke Glendening. The Wild would compound its problems when Daniel Winnik got tagged with a slashing penalty giving the Red Wings a 5-on-3 advantage and they would seize the opportunity. The Red Wings would light the lamp first (officially at least) when Mike Green‘s point shot reached Dubnyk and Anthony Mantha promptly buried the rebound. 1-0 Detroit. Detroit still had a nice chunk of power play time to work with and they made it count as another point shot by Green was redirected perfectly by Dylan Larkin to make it 2-0 Red Wings. Minnesota didn’t seem to have a lot of fire after Detroit took the lead and seemed to be content not to get hurt worse as they left the period trailing by two goals and looking like a team that was a little sluggish and maybe even disinterested.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would get off to another solid start to the period as the Wild would light the lamp twice in 48 seconds as Eriksson Ek found the twine behind Howard. Moments after that, Tyler Ennis sent a pass out front to Chris Stewart who patiently waited for Howard to sprawl before wrapping a shot beyond its outstretched arm. 2-2 Wild just 2:48 into the 3rd. Inexplicably the Wild would ease up and the Red Wings would catch Minnesota sleeping a bit in its own end as Henrik Zetterberg pounced on a puck in the high slot and he’d rip a shot that beat Dubnyk 5-hole. 3-2 Detroit on what was a fairly soft goal given up by the Wild goaltender. A few minutes later Detroit would add to its lead as Martin Frk wired a shot by Dubnyk to make it 4-2 Detroit. The game would go off the rails a bit as Darren Helm low-bridged Charlie Coyle sending the power forward toppling over and right onto his back. Coyle wasn’t happy and he went after Helm who conveniently turtled near the Wild bench. The Red Wings then had 9-10 skaters out on the ice to Challenge Coyle and his line and ultimately it was only Coyle going to the penalty box for cross-checking. Minnesota would kill off the Red Wings power play, but the chippiness continued between the two clubs. I didn’t mind seeing the Wild a little upset, but some players didn’t seem to understand the team was down by two and needed to start sending more pucks on goal. Case in point, Jason Zucker who would skate into the Detroit zone and despite a nice lane to fire the puck instead attempted to thread a pass through a few skates and the puck never made it to an open Eric Staal. With the Wild unable or unwilling to pull the trigger, Minnesota would pull Dubnyk for an extra attacker with about 2 minutes. Minnesota had some decent chances but Howard stood tall and the Wild would fall 4-2 tonight.
Devan Dubnyk was only ok, stopping 27 shots in the loss. Dubnyk gave up some soft-ish goals in the 3rd that really put the game out of reach for a club that was struggling to generate scoring chances late in the game. He had a clear view of the last two goals and got beat cleanly. That can’t happen. Defensively I thought the Wild were at times shaky in their own end. I felt the defense didn’t seem as comfortable as we’ve grown accustomed to the last few years.
Offensively the Wild didn’t sustain offensive pressure and despite firing 39 shots on goal, most were from the perimeter. Minnesota did not get nearly good enough effort from the Zucker, Koivu, Granlund line. They were a non factor most of the game and Koivu looked slow and lethargic. The 2nd and 3rd lines were arguably about the same. Foligno and Stewart and Eriksson Ek did a nice job working the puck down low and asserting their size. Coyle, Niederreiter, Staal were not too bad but overall the Wild could’ve used a dose of assertiveness. The power play was too predictable and too centered around Suter’s ability to handle and shoot the puck. While he did have a goal called off, Suter’s shot generally doesn’t cause much havoc and I think most teams are content to let him fire the biscuit.
While some fans will fixate on the two goals called back, the truth is both were fair calls. Foligno was in the middle of the Detroit crease on the 1st goal and Granlund did make head contact to Howard just prior to Suter’s shot reaching him. The Wild lost this game because it let up in its attack and ultimately Detroit was smart enough to recognize Minnesota was coasting and they made us pay for it. Dubnyk gave up two softies and despite a nice little early 3rd surge a lull ultimately doomed the club to an opening night loss. Minnesota will have to be better when they face a very pesky Carolina Hurricanes’ squad on Saturday night.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno, Chris Stewart, Matt Cullen, Daniel Winnik, Tyler Ennis, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Kyle Quincey and Mike Reilly. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Gustav Olofsson was the healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Anthony Mantha, 2nd Star Jimmy Howard, 3rd Star Mike Green
~ Attendance was 19,515 at Little Caesar’s Arena.
~ Tyler Ennis wore #63 in his first official game for the Wild joining Kurtis Gabriel and Charlie Coyle having worn the number.
~ Daniel Winnik wore #26 in his first official game for the Wild joining Thomas Vanek, Christoph Brandner, Kurtis Foster, Erik Christensen, Jamie Sifers, Matt Moulson, and Christian Matte having worn the number.
~ Kyle Quincey wore #27 in his first official game for the Wild where he joins Sean O’Donnell, Kyle Wanvig, Joel Ward, Nathan Smith, Cody Almond, Mike Rupp, Zac Dalpe and Brett Sutter.
~ Marcus Foligno wore #17 in his first official game for the Wild where he joins Filip Kuba, Wyatt Smith, Todd Fedoruk, Casey Wellman, Nick Palmieri, Torrey Mitchell, Petr Sykora and Teemu Pulkkinen having worn the number.
~ Crease and Assist would like to give a stick tap to the Minnesota Lynx on their 4th WNBA Championship after winning hard fought series with the Los Angeles Sparks.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW – Jordan Greenway (Boston U., H-East) ~ the big power forward had an assist in the Terrier’s 4-1 win over Union on Saturday.
G – Dereck Baribeau (Quebec, QMJHL) ~ The 6’6″ goaltender earned a contract with a strong performance as a tryout player at Wild Prospect Development Camp and the Traverse City Tournament. Barribeau has had a solid start to his 2017-18 campaign as he had 19-save shutout against Gatineau on Saturday. He is a perfect 4-0 so far with a .75 goals against average and a .965% save percentage which earned him CHL Goaltender of the Week honors.