“Well you saw it, we weren’t very competitive,” said Minnesota Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau about Monday night’s game against Boston. He also described it as “embarrassing” and referenced the “Keystone cops” to add a little more insult to the injury of losing 5-3 to the Bruins. If you are a member of the team, such descriptions should be painful to hear from your Head Coach. Even if you have to look up the Keystone Cops, its basically a metaphor for inept. To make his message clear, Boudreau put his team through an intense practice that had his players breathing pretty heavy after every drill.
Will the tough practice mean the team will come to compete for a full 60-minutes? Hopefully as they face one of the youngest and most talented squads in the NHL in the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are a team that can blow you out if you don’t come ready to battle and play smart so the Wild face a pretty steep challenge. Will the Wild rise to the occasion and earn a victory or will the team be soul searching once again?
1st Period Thoughts: The Wild strategy was abundantly obvious through the first 10 minutes of the game. Work pucks deep, chase for the puck and try to get a cycle going if you can win that initial puck battle. The strategy was effective at avoiding needless turnovers and preventing the Maple Leafs from doing much offensively. The Maple Leafs didn’t register their first shot on goal until almost the 9-minute mark of the game which drew a Bronx cheer from the sellout crowd. Minnesota wasn’t exactly peppering Frederik Andersen with a lot of shots either. In fact, the Wild were passing up opportunities to shoot the puck in favor of passes that often were deflected away and led to turnovers. The Wild would give up an early power play as Nino Niederreiter cross checked Nazem Kadri who sold the hit pretty well which drew the disdain of Bruce Boudreau who felt Kadri went down pretty easily. Minnesota was solid on the penalty kill, getting sticks into passing lanes and never letting the Leafs get comfortable. Unfortunately the absence of the Wild’s offense meant it was just a matter of time before the Leafs would find the back of the net. A puck battle lost led to the Leafs controlling the zone and Morgan Reilly sending a shot from the point that caromed off the boards and back into the Wild crease where the puck went off the leg of Devan Dubnyk and in. 1-0 Leafs on the kind of goal that Dubnyk has been victimized by 3 times in the last two games. Minnesota would answer back late in the period with some puck pressure of its own as Chris Stewart forced Reilly to cough up the puck and it was gathered up by Eric Staal who moved out front and he’d fire a shot that Andersen stopped but he gave up a rebound that was buried promptly by Jason Zucker. 1-1 game. Minnesota had to feel very lucky to be tied since they created almost no consistent offensive pressure the entire period. While I thought the team did a decent job defensively, the team needs to be a little less picky in its shot selection. The Wild outshot the Leafs 9 to 6 but quality chances had to be pretty even.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild tilted the ice in their favor but it didn’t matter because it was Toronto making the most of their chances even if they were few and far between. Tyler Ennis would try to be the late man in after some good cycling pressure by Minnesota early in the period but his shot would go right into the Maple Leaf on Andersen’s jersey. A few minutes in the Wild’s 4th line looked like it had a goal in the bag on a pretty tic-tac-toe play as Tyler Ennis set up Matt Cullen for a quick shot only to be denied by Andersen. The Maple Leafs would counter attack with a 2-man rush, and as they drove Minnesota’s defenseman deep no one picked up Patrick Marleau who stopped in the high slot and Zach Hyman fed him a pass and he buried a one-timer by Dubnyk. 2-1 Toronto. Minnesota continued to carry most of the play with good hustle but Andersen was sharp and you could sense the frustration starting to build for the Wild. The Wild’s pressure started to draw some power plays as Andreas Borgman got caught tripping up Minnesota’s forwards. Unfortunately the Wild were unable to create much in the way of scoring chances as the Wild struggled to get set up and do much of anything beyond a few shots from the point. Eric Staal had a quick backhander from near the blue paint that skittered just wide of the mark but it was close but not quite for the Wild all period long. Outshooting the Leafs 14-6 is good, but Minnesota must work its way closer to the goal and crash the crease with a vengeance if it wants to be rewarded.
3rd Period Thoughts: Call them quirky, call them soft, call them bad bounces but they continued to plague the Minnesota Wild as the Leafs added to its lead early in the 3rd. A failed clearing bid by Dubnyk led to the Leafs controlling the puck and a shot by Connor Carrick that deflected off Matt Martin and off Gustav Olofsson and by Dubnyk. 3-1 Maple Leafs. Minnesota would try to answer back as Staal set up Niederreiter for a quick shot that Andersen absorbed. You could see the frustration in Nino’s face as he was denied once again. The Leafs would go into keep away mode and the Wild had to spend valuable energy chasing them around the ice or battling the Maple Leafs for pucks in the neutral zone. The Wild were forechecking hard and looking to send pucks on goal and crashing hard. Joel Eriksson Ek would draw a penalty as Carrick popped him beneath the chin after a whistle giving Minnesota a power play. Minnesota’s power play was the most well executed one of the game as they moved the puck quickly and were sending shots on goal that were reaching Andersen. Their persistence would be rewarded as a shot by Staal got to Andersen who tried to control it but Zucker would bat it out of the air and in. 3-2 Maple Leafs with just under 5 minutes left to play. Minnesota would pour it on late; pulling Dubnyk with a little under two minutes left to play but despite a few nice perimeter shots that yielded rebounds they couldn’t pounce on the loose pucks. Connor Brown would backhand an empty netter to seal a 4-2 Maple Leafs victory.
Dubnyk was again below average, giving up 3 goals on 18 shots. Use whatever excuse you want, but Dubnyk isn’t stopping enough pucks for this team’s offense to overcome right now. The first goal was awful and he never looked back to see that puck carom off the boards and on the 3rd goal he was pretty far back in his crease and while one may rationalize that as an unfortunate own goal but the truth is anytime the Wild started to build any momentum would have it thwarted by another soft or strange goal.
Offensively, the Wild have clear evidence how to score as Zucker struck twice off of rebounds but too many times the team was caught playing on the perimeter and no one was there to pounce on those rebounds that Andersen was giving them. Even in the closing minutes, Andersen gave up some juicy rebounds but not nearly enough people where there to crash the net and that’s inexcusable when you have an extra-attacker. I thought Eric Staal, Jason Zucker and to a lesser extent Nino Niederreiter were pretty assertive this evening. I even liked the darting play of Tyler Ennis who found way to register a few nice shots tonight.
Still, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades and the Wild simply aren’t getting it done. Defensively the Wild were actually pretty decent against the Maple Leafs, even if Auston Matthews wasn’t dressed tonight. The Wild limited the Maple Leafs’ chances to a minimum and with the exception of one lazy backcheck that hurt them with Marleau’s goal I thought they were terrific. Now the team must regroup and try to stop the free fall by earning a win in Montreal tomorrow night. The Canadiens will certainly be looking for revenge after what happened last week so the Wild better be ready for a battle, because no doubt the Habs will want to return the favor.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Luke Kunin, Marcus Foligno, Chris Stewart, Matt Cullen, Joel Eriksson Ek, Daniel Winnik, Tyler Ennis, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Kyle Quincey and Gustav Olofsson. Niklas Svedberg backed up Devan Dubnyk. Mike Reilly was the lone scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Frederik Andersen, 2nd Star Jason Zucker, 3rd Star Patrick Marleau
~ Attendance was 19,049 at Air Canada Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
W – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA, KHL) ~ the Novokuznetsk-native continues his strong start by leading CSKA Moscow in scoring. Kaprizov currently has 13 goals, 28 points, 2 PIM’s and is a +11 in 24 games.
C – Andrei Svetlakov (CSKA, KHL) ~ playing as more of a support player, the center has had a modest start to the season and even spending some time in the VHL, the minor league of the KHL. Svetlakov has 2 goals, 8 points, 22 PIM’s and is +12 in 17 games.
G – Kaapo Kahkonen (Lukko, Sm-Liiga) ~ the 21-year old goaltender is having a stellar season in the Sm-Liiga where he’s gone 10-6-2, with a 1.72 goals against average and a .933% save percentage.