As the Minnesota Wild concluded its longest homestand of the season (6 games) on Saturday with a 2-0 loss to Chicago, the Wild had to re-assess and get ready for what will be a grind of 4 games in 6 days on the road. The travel won’t be that tough, since its against Eastern Conference foes but the games are bunched together which makes for the busiest week of the season thus far for the Wild. With a 3-3 homestand, what should we expect from a club out of the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center?
Boston is a team a lot like the Wild, a team that has been frustratingly inconsistent and with just one more point in the standings than Minnesota. The Bruins will be eager to earn a few points against a non-Conference squad as they try to climb to the top of the Atlantic Division while the Wild hope it can claw its way out of the Central Division basement. Can Minnesota work some road magic in Boston?
1st Period Thoughts: Sometimes you just get that feeling about a goaltender just a few seconds in. That was kind of how I felt about Devan Dubnyk as I watched him fighting off a few shots early, shots that were not deflections or had the benefit of a screen. The difficulty had the hallmarks of a goaltender struggling to track the puck. Minnesota would score early as a point shot by Ryan Suter reached Tuukka Rask and the rebound was gathered up by Nino Niederreiter and wrapped around the sprawling Bruins’ goalie to put the Wild up 1-0. It was the kind of two-player near net presence that we haven’t seen enough of. Unfortunately that early lead was as good as it would get for the Wild. The Bruins seemed to want it more while Minnesota seemed to coast a bit. Part of it started on the physical side as Boston took offense to a nice open ice hit by Mikko Koivu on Anders Bjork. The Bruins responded with big hits to Mikael Granlund and Joel Eriksson Ek. The Bruins would tie the game as Jared Spurgeon was stripped of the puck by Jake DeBrusk and the former Swift Current star skated in and backhanded a shot off Ryan Suter and by Dubnyk. 1-1 game. The damage wasn’t over yet as Boston would tally the go-ahead goal a few minutes later as Frankie Vatrano skated in off the wing and he’d rip a shot off the right post that caromed off the inside of Dubnyk’s right leg and then his left and into the back of the goal. 2-1 Bruins and TD Garden crowd was rocking. On the following shift, Matt Beleskey jabbed at Mathew Dumba twice to the crotch area, who the Wild defenseman took offense to, but he’d then poke at Luke Kunin who wasn’t too happy either. Moments later, Dumba would get poked again by Beleskey and Kunin had seen enough and went after the veteran forward by dropping his gloves while Dumba had done the same. Dumba, with his gloves off and no dance partner would back off as Kunin did his best to throw a few jabs at Beleskey before he wrestled the rookie to the ice. Not much of a scrap, but Minnesota would earn an extra penalty because Dumba had dropped the mitts. The Bruins would storm out the gate on the man advantage and Patrice Bergeron would nearly cash in as a wrap around bid struck the left post and skittered through the crease before Spurgeon was able to sweep it out of the blue paint. Minnesota would kill the penalty but the Wild’s confidence was shaken and the Bruins’ continued to ramp up the physical play as Brandon Carlo leveled Granlund with a big hit. Marcus Foligno would return the favor by running Charlie McAvoy that had him on the ice reeling a little bit. Yet the Wild had to feel fortunate to only be trailing by one after such a shaky beginning for Dubnyk.
2nd Period Thoughts: As ugly as the second half of the 1st period was, the 2nd was even worse. The Bruins would add to their lead a few minutes in as they got caught pinching and the Bruins would counter attack and then have 3 straight shots on goal before Sean Kuraly shoveled it by a sprawling Dubnyk. 3-1 Bruins. It was a lazy backcheck that had each of the 3 forwards on the Bruins’ 4th line have a chance to score on the play. The pain didn’t stop there as the Bruins would make it a 3-goal lead on a blast from the point by Torey Krug after a nice set up by David Pastrnak. I’ll give Dubnyk a little slack as he was screened pretty well by Bergeron, but Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t seem to care as he knew the team wasn’t going to work hard for anyone tonight so he kept the team’s workhorse between the pipes. Down 4-1, the Wild could barely connect on a pass let alone send much of anything in the way of shots on Tuukka Rask who had to be getting board from a lack of action. The only shots Minnesota was able to create were a few weak chances from the perimeter. Dubnyk seemed to be getting up slower and slower after each save he made. The Wild had a nice potential chance as Tyler Ennis set up Chris Stewart from in close but he’d whiff twice from in close and the team was probably glad to see the period come to an end after being out shot 4 to 15. It was perhaps the team’s worst period of play this season.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild certainly teased fans around the State of Hockey with a resurgent 3rd period. Minnesota started the shakeup by swapping out Dubnyk for Alex Stalock. Minnesota seemed to have a little more jump in its skates and a turnover in the offensive zone turned into a nice set up by Dumba to Granlund for a one-timer that beat Rask. 4-2 Wild and the team seemed to have a little life. Yet over the next few minutes the team couldn’t seem to generate a lot of offensive pressure. The team appeared to have a golden opportunity a few minutes later on the penalty kill when Mikael Granlund was tripped up before he could spring for a breakaway. Granlund was awarded a penalty shot but on his opportunity his wrist shot was steered aside by Rask. The team just couldn’t seem to find the time and space necessary. Yet they would stay patient and even after one of the weaker ‘slashing’ calls you’d see to Matt Cullen the Wild tried to rally back. A steal of the puck by Jason Zucker threaded a pass up to a streaking Eric Staal for a breakaway and he’d beat Rask to cut the Bruins’ lead to one, 4-3. With a little under six minutes left it appeared like the Wild might have a chance to escape with a win. The Wild would pull Stalock with a little over 2 minutes left to play and they were able to generate a few shots but the team would tire out a bit and was unable to track down the loose pucks and Tim Schaller was able to seal the game with an empty netter, 5-3.
Devan Dubnyk was shaky right from the start, giving up 4 goals on 24 shots. He seemed to struggle tracking the puck and calculating his angles which makes me wonder how focused he was this evening. I don’t want to hear a bunch of whining about knucklepuck shots being so tough to stop. He’s a 6’6″ goaltender; the puck never should’ve reached the post to then carom off his leg pads to begin with. Whether its fair or not, Stalock didn’t give up anything on 9 shots and I think a lot of people are going to wonder why Bruce Boudreau didn’t pull the hook sooner (after the questionable 2nd goal). Defensively it was a game to forget for just about every Wild player who contributed some kind of error that ultimately resulted in a goal for the Bruins this evening.
Offensively the Wild were rewarded early by sending players near the blue paint in search of rebounds and then they seemed to abandon that part of the ice for the rest of the game. The Wild managed just 4 shots in the 2nd period and that can’t happen. It meant they spent too much time defending (and defending poorly for that matter) and putting little to no pressure on the Bruins. Minnesota avoided the middle of the ice too often and so they settled for shots from the perimeter. Those are low percentage chances that any team will be happy to let you have. Jason Zucker seems to be avoiding the middle of the ice as much as possible and he’s not that effective if he’s going to just stop and look to pass from the wall or taking a long-range shot from that area.
This is another painful loss to a struggling Eastern Conference team. Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau called the first two periods the most embarrassing two periods of hockey in the last few teams he’s coached. He also talked about players not doing their jobs and taking their man on defense. Boudreau remarked how the team’s lack of shots mean the team isn’t putting enough pressure on opposing goaltenders and I agree with that completely. The Wild simply have to be better if they want to beat anyone let alone the Bruins. Another painful game.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Luke Kunin, Joel Eriksson Ek, Chris Stewart, Marcus Foligno, Daniel Winnik, Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Kyle Quincey and Mike Reilly. Alex Stalock shared duties between the pipes with Devan Dubnyk. Gustav Olofsson was the lone scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Zdeno Chara, 2nd Star Frankie Vatrano, 3rd Star Jason Szwarz
~ Attendance was 17,565 at TD Garden.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: (3-6-2) 8pts Last place in AHL Central
10.7% Power Play (28th in the AHL)
89.8% Penalty Kill (2nd in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #36 Colton Beck ~ 6G 3A = 9pts
2. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 4G 3A = 7pts
3. #9 Cal O’Reilly ~ 2G 4A = 6pts
4. #25 Justin Kloos ~ 2G 4A = 6pts
5. #2 Alex Grant ~ 4G 1A = 5pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #21 Ryan Malone ~ 16 PIM’s
2. #36 Kurtis Gabriel ~ 16 PIM’s
3. #3 Nick Seeler ~ 15 PIM’s
1. #35 Niklas Svedberg (3-6-1) 2.84GAA .904%SP 1SO
2. #34 Stephen Michalek N/A
It has been another frustrating start for the Iowa Wild. Iowa has brought in a more veteran-laden group due to the fact the team does not have a plethora of young prospects waiting for ice time and opportunity with the hope the team can perhaps qualify for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. That hope seems to be fading with each week as the team continues its trend of one step forward and two steps back. So what has been the main cause of their struggles?
- Offense Lacking – No one other than maybe Colton Beck can say they have really stepped up to give Iowa the semblance of a consistent offensive presence from game to game. The club has a bunch of former college stars playing on the roster and at least 3-4 need to start taking the lead and putting on at least 30 shots on goal. Too often the Wild are trying to win games on 20 shots or slightly under that number.
- Minnesota’s Injury Woes Have Been Iowa’s Woes – The rash of injuries early to the season in Minnesota has meant the big team has called up a number of Iowa’s better forwards to fill the void. Most notably, Luke Kunin who was likely going to be the team’s go-to player has shown he’s ready for NHL duty and it doesn’t look like he’ll return to Iowa anytime soon. Meanwhile, Zack Mitchell, Justin Kloos, Cal O’Reilly, Landon Ferraro have all spent time in St. Paul. They are all back now so Iowa needs to them to be productive, sooner rather than later.
- Power-less Play – this sort of goes with the first topic but another area of frustration is the team’s inability to take advantage of its power plays. With a conversion rate a little over 10%, too many times Iowa is letting their opponents off the hook with the man advantage. As any coach will tell you, failed power plays embolden your opponent and they gain confidence whereas your club is somewhat deflated emotionally by your inability to convert. Whether is Head Coach Derek Lalonde or Assistant Coach Brett McLean coming up with some new strategies, it has to get fixed soon.
Niklas Svedberg has carried most of the mail so far for Iowa and has been a source of strength for the struggling club. While his numbers may not be glowing, they are more of a reflection of very limited goal support than sub-par play. Steve Michalek has returned to the team after a conditioning stint in Rapid City (ECHL). The Minnesota Wild recently went down to Iowa to check things out, and no doubt they realize its better for their club if the farm team is successful too. Especially when you consider the Minnesota Wild owns the Iowa Wild, it would be likely be helpful at the gate but so far they’ve given the locals in around Des Moines little reason to be excited this season so far.