Minnesota Wild fans have to admit they’ve had it pretty good this season. For the most part the Wild have been breaking records and been near the top of the NHL standings throughout the majority of the season. That has meant fans haven’t had virtually any (knock on wood) panic or hysteria beyond how many more goals are they going to score. It certainly is a nice shift from the more frequently experienced bi-polar Wild where you had no idea which club was going to show up each night; the team on the cusp of being a Stanley Cup contender or a pathetic joke. So with the Wild dropping back to back games in regulation for the first time since Novemeber, it is amazing (and sad) to see a ‘Sky is falling’ mentality settling in so soon.
But isn’t that part of being a cynical Minnesota sports fan? We’ve all learned that in most cases, success is usually too good to be true and we end up terribly disappointed. Yet on another level, its their first back-to-back regulation loss since November. November people! It makes one wonder how they survived the emotional roller coaster years under Mike Yeo. Will the Wild push itself out of this rut in Carolina or will the Hurricanes make those fans really feel as though the sky is falling (literally and figuratively)?
1st Period Thoughts: I said on Twitter earlier in the day that I feared this would be a classic trap game, where the Wild would overlook Carolina and not start out ready to play. That seemed to be true at the drop of the puck with the Hurricanes outworking the Wild for loose pucks and this was how Carolina drew the first penalty of the game as Ryan White tripped up Derek Ryan. On the power play, the Hurricanes’ didn’t waste much time and a long point shot by Noah Hanifin drew a big rebound from Devan Dubnyk and Derek Ryan would sweep up the puck and he’d jam a shot through. 1-0 Carolina with a host of Wild defenders just standing around and watching. The Wild seemed to be in a haze and the Hurricanes would look to add to their lead with more effort and jump in their skates. After a few minutes of listless play, the Wild finally generated a shot on goal as Eddie Lack denied Jared Spurgeon who took off on a rare breakaway for the defenseman but he was out of gas and so he blasted a shot high that was deflected aside by Lack. A few minutes later it was Eric Staal gaining a step on a defender and he’d race in and rifle a long range shot that was kicked away by the Hurricanes’ netminder. Minnesota would then take another penalty as Nate Prosser got a slash for tapping a Carolina player on the arm with his stick. It was soft but the Wild would be the aggressor on the penalty kill. A blocked shot turned into a 2-on-2 opportunity and inexplicably the Hurricanes’ defenders got caught being mesmerized by Mikko Koivu who threaded a perfect pass to Mikael Granlund who skated in and beat Lack forehand to backhand. 1-1 game on the shorthanded goal and Minnesota seemed to get its legs going. Dubnyk would make a few saves down the stretch, and Minnesota would come away with penalty kill but he seemed to be fighting the puck a bit. The Wild had to be a little relieved to not trailing this game for as poorly as it executed. Minnesota must be better if it wants to earn two points tonight.
2nd Period Thoughts: I am somewhat amazed that I’m still awake to write about this period for how boring the 2nd period was. Neither club was able to generate much in the way of shots, chances, or even decent rushes through the neutral zone. Carolina was hustling well enough, but Minnesota was winning most of the races to the loose pucks. Penalties threatened to derail the game, as Mathew Dumba and Nate Prosser took foolish penalties. Minnesota’s penalty kill wasn’t exactly stifling. The Hurricanes moved the puck efficiently, albeit on the perimeter and every time they wound up to blast a shot you just feared you’d see it find the back of the net. Fortunately the Wild were able to get sticks into the shooting lanes and disrupt some of those shots. Minnesota would finally get its forecheck going in the latter minutes of the 2nd period as Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, and Charlie Coyle cycled the puck and Coyle nearly cashed in with a nice power move to his backhand that was kicked aside by Lack. Minnesota had another great chance as Koivu stole a puck and then sent a quick pass to Mikael Granlund who got a step on the Hurricanes’ defense and he’d rip a shot that Lack held onto. Dubnyk would come up with a huge breakaway save on Sebastian Aho. Hopefully the 3rd period provides some more excitement an the Wild start playing like a team near the top of the standings instead of an uninspired bottom feeder.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period went about as I expected. The Wild were saying the right things at intermission how this was an important game, etc, but when it came to really raising their game they appeared to still be coasting. The Hurricanes just focused on the defensive side of the puck and basically worked to take away time and space. Beyond a few token chances the Wild were still frustratingly lackadaisical in the offensive end. Only the Koivu, Granlund, Zucker line seemed to be taking chances; as Zucker tried using his speed on a wrap around only to be denied by a Lack toe save. Minnesota had a few other golden chances but couldn’t seem to be ale to get sticks on pucks in the tough areas and the Hurricanes were allowed to hang in there. And as if on cue, Carolina would turn this game into a crier late in the period as Victor Rask did a nice job of sealing off Zucker and he’d power towards the net. Dumba made a half-hearted effort to help out his forward that was in trouble and Rask was able to sneak a shot with just enough inertia to cross the goal line. 2-1 Hurricanes with 3:48 left in the regulation. Minnesota tried to storm back, showing the kind of effort that made you think they were a playoff bubble team or something like that. The Wild still couldn’t cash in as Lack was flopping in his crease but stopping pucks and getting good support from his defense who were tying up Minnesota forwards before they could really pounce on the rebounds. Minnesota would pull Dubnyk for an extra attacker but Carolina would stay patient, block a few shots and it was Teuvo Teravainen burying the empty netter to seal a 3-1 victory.
I am not blaming this loss on Devan Dubnyk, but I don’t think he played that great either. Both goals he gave up to players from in close were a bit soft-ish in my opinion. I thought he was fighting the puck tonight and while he did come up with some nice stops (Aho’s breakaway denial comes to mind) I think he’s showing signs of fatigue. Defensive coverage let him down in those critical chances. The Wild could really use a mean defenseman to be a guy who makes the area in front of the crease painful, but we don’t have guys like that. Nate Prosser is a disaster and the Wild need to get him out of the lineup as soon as possible. Mathew Dumba is taking bad penalties and his defense continues to be incredibly sub-par.
Offensively the Wild had some chances, but Minnesota was too picky through the first two periods of the game. Minnesota waited until the 3rd to start to really crash the crease and while Lack made some great saves, the Wild need to do that all game long not just in the waning minutes of the 3rd. I still do not understand why we are continuing to play Charlie Coyle on the power play. He had a bunch of opportunities but he can’t seem to bury a goal to save his life. The Wild also need to get more out of Pominville too and unfortunately there are virtually no real good options in the system. One short-fix would be swapping out Chris Stewart or Ryan White which have been a non-factor recently and replacing him with Jordan Schroeder who will give the team a welcome dose of speed.
This was a game the Wild needed to have against a non-playoff team and Minnesota allowed Carolina to hang around long enough so they believed they could win. It certainly won’t be any easier this weekend as Minnesota has a brutal back-to-back against a very solid New York Rangers squad and Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. The team has already stated the team will have the day off tomorrow as the return home, so hopefully they get some good rest because they will be in for a helluva battle against New York.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Ryan White, Tyler Graovac, Chris Stewart, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Nate Prosser. Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk. Jordan Schroeder was the lone healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Elias Lindholm, 2nd Star Eddie Lack, 3rd Star Victor Rask
~ Attendance was 10,894 at PNC Arena.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Joel Eriksson Ek (Farjestads, SHL) ~ the Wild’s top prospect according to the Hockey News‘ latest Future Watch issue is off to a great start in the Swedish Eliteserien’s playoffs. Eriksson Ek has 3 goals, 5 points, +3 in 3 playoff games.