A Minnesota Wild podcast I’ve talked about quite a bit the last two years is 3 in the Box, which is the longest-running underground Wild podcast around. In their most recent episode, 3 Non-Blondes they brought up the intriguing thought about whether Nashville Predators fans will choose to boo Matt Cullen the way they have Ryan Suter ever since he left for Minnesota in 2012. Wild fans have loathed the continued boo’ing of a player whenever he touches the puck when the club is playing in Nashville. While tonight’s game is in the friendly confines of St. Paul it will be interesting to see if they give Cullen the same treatment when the team makes its way to Music City for the first time this season on December 30th.
The Predators came within one game of winning a Stanley Cup and they return with a team that is mostly the same as last year’s squad. The organization wants to repeat as Western Conference champions and if there was any doubt as to how committed they are that went away with their early-season deal for Kyle Turris. The Wild haven’t had a lot of in-division games, can they continue their rise in the Central with a victory over the Predators?
1st Period Thoughts: It was evident right from the drop of the puck that the Predators possessed more raw team speed than the Minnesota Wild. Minnesota seemed ill-prepared for Nashville’s speed and Devan Dubnyk‘s shutout streak ended just two minutes in as Filip Forsberg found Ryan Johansen with a wicked cross-ice pass who got off a quick shot that beat the Wild goalie 5-hole. 1-0 Nashville, it was a pretty soft goal given up by Dubnyk who couldn’t close the 5-hole as he slid across his crease. The Wild continued to struggle with the Predators’ speed as they took a series of weak penalties by Nino Niederreiter, Gustav Olofsson, Jonas Brodin. Fortunately for the Wild, Dubnyk returned to his sharp form as he made a number of nice saves against a pretty good Nashville power play. The Wild would try to threaten a bit shorthanded as Eric Staal tried set up Kyle Quincey who had jumped up from his defensive spot but instead of pulling the trigger he waited, his angled worsened and shot a puck into the midsection of Pekka Rinne. Brodin’s turnover late in the period was pure carelessness that led to him tackling Nick Bonino giving the Predators their 3rd power play of the game. Because the Wild spent so much time on the penalty kill, they did not have much of an opportunity to put much pressure on the Predators offensively. Minnesota was outshot 14 to 8, but the Wild were probably fortunate to only be down by one at this point. The Wild need to show more intensity and hustle unless they want to be blown out.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd was a mix of lethargic, uninspired play and intense hustle. It doesn’t make sense, but its true. The Wild started the 2nd with a scrambling effort in their own ended which led to lots of activity near the Wild crease that had Dubnyk flopping trying to find the puck and before he could get reset, Roman Josi would rifle a shot just inside the right post. The Wild would challenge the play saying that Viktor Arvidsson interfered with Dubnyk but the review didn’t show any egregious contact and the goal would stand. 2-0 Predators. Minnesota would finally get on the power play as Forsberg was called for tripping. The Wild’s best chance came on a low lying shot by Ryan Suter that was redirected on goal by Mikko Koivu that was steered wide by Rinne. A vicious cross-check by Colton Sissons gave Minnesota a 5-on-3, but instead of working the puck in close they worked the perimeter and Ryan Suter fired a shot wide of the mark that caromed out of the zone and a big opportunity was missed. If a bad power play wasn’t enough, the Wild would make it worse as Brodin coughed up a puck near the blueline and Mattias Ekholm raced down the ice on a breakaway and he ripped a shot over the shoulder of Dubnyk. 3-0 Predators. At this point the Wild looked dead in the water. An offensive zone faceoff with just under 4 minutes left in the period would yield a little hope as a win on the draw by Staal led to a wicked one-timer by Mathew Dumba that blazed by Rinne. 3-1 Predators. The goal seemed to give life the apathetic squad and the Wild started to swarm all over the Predators’ zone. The Wild were skating hard and making life miserable for the Predators and they appeared to cash in again on an intense flurry near the crease where Niederreiter appeared to score. The Predators challenged and upon further review it was clear that Niederreiter had punched the puck in with his glove and correctly ruled no goal. The Wild would continue to attack and they’d earn another power play late but this time they’d find the back of the net as Mikael Granlund set Niederreiter for a one-timer from just inside the left faceoff dot where he beat Rinne with a wicked shot. 3-2 Predators and Minnesota had to be feeling as though they had the momentum going in the 3rd. Still, its tough to see the team so lifeless and apathetic throughout most of the period and then showing urgency late. It makes you wonder if certain players are saving themselves. It doesn’t make sense to me.
3rd Period Thoughts: Wild are feeling good to start the 3rd, how do you kill that momentum? By surrendering a goal off a terrible turnover in your own zone like Nino Niederreiter did who fed a blind pass that was intercepted by Forsberg who sent a pass to Johansen who found Arvidsson all alone and he unleashed a laser that beat Dubnyk who couldn’t get across his crease fast enough. 4-2 Predators. Minnesota wouldn’t give up but you had to wonder if the team had enough in the tank to overcome another 2-goal deficit. The Wild was hustling and playing with the kind of desperation we haven’t seen in a while; players diving to make plays on the puck and Minnesota’s effort would be rewarded. After a great play to hold the zone by Staal to work the puck over to Spurgeon who stepped into a slap shot that beat Rinne cutting the Predators lead to one. 4-3 Predators. Minnesota would draw a hooking call a few minutes later and the Wild cashed in on the man advantage on a lucky play as a screening Marcus Foligno got a pass and as he tried to spin a shot on goal he’d lose the puck which went right to Staal who tied it up at 4-4. The Wild didn’t let up and Mikko Koivu would send a pass out front to Zucker who was about 6-10 feet in front of the blue paint and the winger would spin and fire a shot by Rinne giving the Wild a 5-4 lead. The Predators would pull their goaltender but the Wild were still winning most of the races to the loose pucks and Spurgeon would seal it with an empty netter as Minnesota felt the glow of a 6-4 victory.
Devan Dubnyk gave up an early soft goal, but I thought it would be tough to give him too much flak for the next 3 he let in as he had 26 saves in the win. He still had some shaky moments where he seemed to be guessing a bit, but at other times his rebound control was solid. Defensively, some costly turnovers left Dubnyk exposed as the Predators finished on a few tic-tac-toe plays. The penalty kill was again perfect, against a fairly decent Predators power play. I thought Brodin had a rough game and I’m not convinced Olofsson really is NHL ready. His lack of physical strength continues to be exposed.
Offensively the Wild got the power play working by working pucks in close. Too often they’ve simply settled for the point shot and tonight they managed to get a few pucks to the screening forward for quick shots. They need more of that. Zucker and Staal continue to pace the team offensively with important goals, especially in the 3rd period.
The only complaint I have is how the team started the game with such little intensity and they were fortunate the Predators didn’t blow them out right away. Give the Wild credit for rallying back, but I don’t think this is a recipe for consistent success. Minnesota certainly has shown when it fully commits itself it can be a stifling and dare I say it explosive team. However they need to find that kind of intensity to start the game instead of waiting until the late 2nd or 3rd period to really pour it on. Still, we’ll take it.
~ The Wild roster tonight was a follows: Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Tyler Ennis, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Joel Eriksson Ek, Chris Stewart, Luke Kunin, Marcus Foligno, Daniel Winnik, Matt Cullen, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Kyle Quincey and Gustav Olofsson. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Mike Reilly was the lone scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jared Spurgeon, 2nd Star Eric Staal, 3rd Star Mathew Dumba
~ There were 18,888 in attendance at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: (7-6-2-0) 16pts 5th in the AHL Central
16.2% Power Play (21st in the AHL)
90.3% Penalty Kill (1st in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #23 Zack Mitchell ~ 4G 9A = 13pts
2. #36 Colton Beck ~ 6G 5A = 11pts
3. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 6G 4A = 10pts
4. #25 Justin Kloos ~ 4G 6A = 10pts
5. #9 Cal O’Reilly ~ 3G 5A = 8pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #3 Nick Seeler ~ 24 PIM’s
2. #39 Kurtis Gabriel ~ 18 PIM’s
3. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 14 PIM’s
1. #35 Niklas Svedberg (5-6-1) 2.60GAA .910%SP 1SO
2. #34 Steve Michalek (2-0-0) 2.00GAA .940%SP
Recent Game: Iowa 2, Rockford 1
Last week the Iowa Wild had their annual school day game where they treated the students to a rousing victory over the Rockford Ice Hogs. The Wild now had to return the favor and be the school day game for the Ice Hogs, but Iowa would not give their 5,066 school kids in attendance the satisfaction of a victory. Rockford would strike first as Alexandre Fortin jammed home a rebound after a David Kampf shot. An Ice Hogs’ power play would provide an unlikely opportunity to tie the game as Colton Beck intercepted a pass near the blue line and would work a 2-on-1 along side Zack Mitchell. Beck would make a perfect saucer pass to Mitchell who lit the lamp behind Jean-Francois Berube. The Ice Hogs worked hard throughout the 2nd period looking for the go ahead goal but Niklas Svedberg was poised and in control. Iowa would take the lead in the middle of the 3rd period as Justin Kloos blasted a one-timer by Berube. The Ice Hogs attempted to tie the game, but Iowa’s team defense was strong and kept the Ice Hogs to the perimeter the Wild would prevail 2-1. Svedberg had 26 saves in the victory.