Driving a square peg into a round hole, beating a dead horse, trying to make chicken salad out of chicken $hit are all analogies to explain a little why the Minnesota Wild are going through in its last two games. While the parade to the penalty box has been a contributing factor, it also has come with the team’s quest to try to will Mikko Koivu a goal (which would be his first in 24 games) by setting him up repeatedly. Its a foolish quest befitting of Don Quixote or Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. Now its to the point where he isn’t even managing to get a shot on goal, as he just fumbles it away and squanders possession of the puck forcing his teammates to recover since he lacks the speed to help his team himself.
Meanwhile the Ottawa Senators have had their own share of public and embarrassing troubles. To their superstar player declaring he isn’t going to accept a hometown discount to the team’s owner Eugene Melnyk saying that unless something changes soon with its arena situation that relocation is a distinct possibility. That of course makes the Wild’s foolish ‘White Whale’ quest seem pretty trivial by comparison. Will Koivu get that elusive goal and will the Wild win so put an anxious fan base at ease?
1st Period Thoughts: To describe the first half of the period, let me just offer up a few adjectives. Sluggish, uninspired, lethargic. The Wild looked like a team that didn’t want to be there and the Senators were dictating the pace of play. Minnesota wasn’t moving its feet and the Senators were winning most of the races to the loose pucks. Alex Stalock was fairly busy and Ottawa would strike first. After a turnover in the neutral zone by Marcus Foligno, the Senators worked the puck into the Minnesota zone and it was Erik Karlsson letting go a wrist shot that at first glance appeared to be deflected by Ryan Dzingel out front. 1-0 Senators. The replay seemed to indicate that Dzingel didn’t make contact at all and that the puck changed directions only after it hit Stalock’s shoulder before going in, either way the Wild were down a goal. The Wild didn’t exactly answer back with a ton of great effort. Mikko Koivu was about 30 seconds into a shift and instead of going to the bench as asked he called off the change and stayed on the ice only to find himself a step or two too far away to challenge Bobby Ryan on a point-blank range chance that was fought off by Stalock. It was a fortunate near miss for the Wild. Minnesota would finally start moving their feet in the 2nd half of the period and they’d nearly connect on a nice tic-tac-toe play that saw one-timer by Jared Spurgeon ring off the post. A few minutes later the Wild would score as Ryan Suter sent a wrist shot on goal that was redirected by Eric Staal that eluded Craig Anderson. 1-1 game. The next few minutes was a bit back and forth and Stalock was strong making a fine play to pounce on a puck after a shot by Matt Duchene. The Wild had to feel pretty good about finishing a period without any penalties and being tied 1-1 after its ugly start. I thought Tyler Ennis continues to demonstrate his value as an offensive catalyst for the 4th line as he helped cause some havoc.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period didn’t start well as Jason Zucker took a penalty just 14 seconds in. Ottawa would waste little time in lighting the lamp as quick puck movement and the Wild gave the Senators’ point men plenty of time and space as Karlsson wired a shot from the point that appeared to glance off Spurgeon and in. 2-1 Ottawa. The poor start continued as the Wild were mot moving their feet and Ottawa would add to their lead a few minutes later as Minnesota had 3 defenseman on the ice but no one seemed interested in taking Jean-Gabriel Pageau right out in front of the Wild crease and he buried a pass from Tom Pyatt to give the Senators a 3-1 lead. At this point it seemed like the Wild were on the verge of being blown out. Minnesota would try to answer back and it was the 4th line providing the spark as Ennis, Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart put on a clinic down low along the boards. Eriksson Ek was particularly pesky as he nearly cashed in on dangling shot that Anderson kicked out. On their next shift the line would go back to work and after some terrific effort along the wall it was Eriksson Ek feeding a pass from down low to Stewart for a goal. 3-2 Senators. The goal appeared to get the other lines going again and the Wild’s hard work would draw a penalty as Cody Ceci would get tagged for interference. On the power play, it didn’t start out well as the team looked discombobulated and disorganized and they burned through the first minute and 20 seconds just trying to get set up in the Ottawa zone. Once they did finally get set up it was Ryan Suter winding up and blasting a shot that was redirected by Koivu for his first goal in 25 games tying the game at 3-3. It was a big late-period goal and Minnesota again had to feel fortunate to be going into the 3rd with a tie. Eriksson Ek had an outstanding period, demonstrating his ability to win the physical battles and set up teammates in addition to taking some chances to fire the biscuit himself.
3rd Period Thoughts: As rough as the Wild’s start was in the 2nd, it was the exact opposite in the 3rd. The Wild would strike early as a good forecheck hemmed the Senators in and as a puck went out to the point it was Nate Prosser letting go a wrist shot that beat a well-screened Craig Anderson to give Minnesota the go-ahead goal, 4-3. Minnesota continued to apply pressure and the Senators seemed to be sluggish and uninspired. A shot from the high slot by Brodin would give Anderson trouble who couldn’t lock down the rebound and as the puck moved out of his reach it was swept up by Brodin who fired it by Anderson on a sharp angle shot that found the back of the net. 5-3 Wild but the Senators would challenge the play for goaltender interference as they felt Nino Niederreiter bumped into Anderson. The replay showed Nino standing next to Anderson but it didn’t do anything to compromise his ability to move over and have a chance on that shot and the goal would stand. 5-3 Wild. The Senators tried to answer back but Stalock would be there to shut the door as he got across his crease to deny Bobby Ryan on a slapper from just inside the dot. The Senators then took a page out of the Wild’s playbook as of late and started their own small parade to the penalty box with a series of lazy penalties. Minnesota would add to its lead on the man advantage as Eric Staal pounced on another big rebound given up by Anderson and put the Wild up 6-3. The Ottawa bench wanted another goaltender interference call but they had no challenge to do so and they had to settle for berating the officials instead. Ottawa would tack on another power play goal in the closing minute of play as Brassard went top shelf on Stalock but Minnesota still cruised to a 6-4 victory.
Stalock may have given up 4 goals tonight, but he made some huge save to keep the Wild in the game as he had 28 saves in the victory. His 3rd period denial on Bobby Ryan was a huge momentum goal to keep the Wild confident at a point in the game where they’ve shown some vulnerability this season. I think the team wants to play well for Stalock and he’s giving them confidence he can bail out his team with some timely saves. The penalty kill gave 2 goals tonight, but part of that was a lack of pressure on the puck carrier but give Ottawa some credit for moving the puck quickly and efficiently.
Offensively the Wild’s defense came up big by being the catalyst this evening on 4 of Minnesota’s 6 goals. Minnesota was getting bodies to the crease and with a little shakiness from Anderson the Wild took full advantage of his ability to freeze the puck. Joel Eriksson Ek had a great game; setting up teammates, winning board battles and taking his own chances to fire shots on goal I thought he was noticeable (in a good way) on just about every shift.
The Senators have talent, but they’re a flawed team. The Wild recovered after a bad start and they rallied back and kept peppering Anderson with shots and eventually were able to pounce on some loose pucks. It isn’t the prettiest effort but it got the job done. Minnesota now gets a few days to rest, refocus and practice to get ready for a tough back-to-back in Florida before the Holiday break.
~ The Wild’s roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Joel Eriksson Ek, Chris Stewart, Daniel Winnik, Marcus Foligno, Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Mike Reilly and Nate Prosser. Steve Michalek backed up Alex Stalock. Zack Mitchell and Gustav Olofsson were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Nate Prosser, 2nd Star Eric Staal, 3rd Star Ryan Suter
~ Attendance was 13,804 at ScotiaBank Place.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 3, Cleveland 0
The Iowa Wild were still stinging a bit after Saturday night’s 6-3 loss at the hands of Chicago. But they’d respond with a terrific effort on Monday with a road win against the Monsters. The Wild had good jump to start the game, and they were peppering Matiss Kivlnieks with shots. Sam Anas would break the stalemate with a turnover and a quick strike to give Iowa a 1-0 lead. Iowa would then add another with 35 seconds left in the period as Brennan Menell scored on the power play to give Wild a 2-0 advantage going into the 1st intermission. The Monsters would try to answer back but C.J. Motte was superb. Iowa would then extend its lead late in the period as Zach Palmquist blistered a shot from the point to give the Wild a 3-0 lead going into the 3rd. Iowa was content to defend most of the period, and the Wild did a nice job of forcing the Monsters to settle for shots from the perimeter that make it pretty routine for Motte and they’d roll to a 3-0 victory. Motte had 33 saves in the victory. Sam Anas has been absolutely on fire, scoring his 6th goal in the last 7 games.