The Minnesota Wild had a solid two-game home stand to finish last week with some positive momentum going into a 3-game California road trip that begins tonight in Los Angeles. The Kings finished out of the playoffs a season ago, but they appear to have re-established an efficient combination of a stifling defense and reasonably potent offense. They sit atop the Pacific Division and the Wild have another tough test on their hands.
The Kings are trying hold off the plucky Vegas Golden Knights and every game is crucial in order to stay ahead of them. Los Angeles features a bunch of players with Minnesota-connections from former Wild prospect camp tryout Alex Iafallo, to St. Cloud State star Nic Dowd and native-sons Derek Forbort and Jonny Brodzinski. Can the Wild past this latest test tonight?
1st Period Thoughts: With about half of the Staples Center crowd dressing up for ’empty seat night’ the Wild got their feet moving early; working the puck deep into the Kings zone. The Wild was not able to generate much in the way of shots on goal but they were activating their defense to keep Los Angeles pinned in its own end. The Kings would generate the first quality scoring chance as they counter attacked after a failed pinch by Mike Reilly. Anze Kopitar would drive deep into the Wild zone before sending a pass back to a trailing Dustin Brown who hammered a shot on goal that was steered aside by Devan Dubnyk. The half-filled arena made for a sterile game environment and you could sense both teams wanted to get the crowd into the game. Chris Stewart would drop the gloves with Kurtis MacDermid. Stewart got off to a good start in the fight as he got in a few right-handed jabs that seemed to catch MacDermid by surprise. He’d switch hands and land a few lefts before MacDermind started to square up and start throwing some haymakers himself and the two fighters were trading punches for about 15 seconds until the officials moved in to break it up. Slight win to Stewart. The bodies started to get involved as both clubs were looking to step up with some big hits; as Nino Niederreiter sent Drew Doughty onto his can. Moments later, Eric Staal would trip up Kopitar to give the Kings their first power play of the game. The Wild’s penalty kill was aggressive and they never really let the Kings get settled in the offensive zone. Their best chance came off an errant pass by Alec Martinez that was redirected on goal by Brown that hit the left post and out. Minnesota did a nice job of challenging the puck carrier and they would get the kill. The Wild would try to go on the attack and Jason Zucker gave a quick burst to get a step on the Kings and for a shot that was stopped by Jonathan Quick. The Wild would go back to working pucks deep and cycling down low; activating their defense to hold the zone with the hope of wearing Los Angeles down. Quick wasn’t too busy, but Minnesota was moving well and its just a matter of time before that starts to manifest some scoring opportunities. Not an exciting 1st period, but a solid one at both ends of the ice. The Wild were outshot 8 to 11.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period would be more eventful. The Kings would force a turnover in the Wild zone and Marian Gaborik would find Trevor Lewis all alone on the back side but luckily for Minnesota the puck would bounce before he could pull the trigger. The Wild would try to go on the attack and it was the 4th line leading the way as Tyler Ennis was shifty, using quick turns to gain a step on the Kings defense as he tried to set up a few opportunities from in close as Matt Cullen tried to wrap a shot around and then Zack Mitchell was denied by a toe save by Quick. The Kings would draw another Wild penalty as Mathew Dumba was tagged for hooking. Minnesota’s penalty kill was again superb, applying timely puck pressure to keep the Kings’ power play off balance and unable to generate any sort of momentum. Nate Prosser was particularly solid, blocking shots and clearing the zone. Minnesota would break the stalemate as they caught the Kings pinching and they’d counter attack as Daniel Winnik pushed a puck up to Stewart who then made a perfect saucer pass towards the top of the crease that was redirected on goal perfectly by Charlie Coyle. 1-0 Wild. A few minutes later, Winnik would have the time and space to get the puck out of the Wild zone but he inexplicably stops which allows him to be stripped of the puck by Drew Shore who sends it over to Doughty who draws the Minnesota defense towards him before sending a pass to Jake Muzzin who wires a slap shot by Dubynk. 1-1 game. Minnesota would answer back with its 4th line and Tyler Ennis was again the catalyst as he worked the puck down low and with the help of Mitchell and Cullen the line was able to work the puck back to Ennis who then ramped a shot off the arm of Quick and in. 2-1 Wild. The Kings would try to respond with another game-tying goal but Dubnyk was sharp and Minnesota was able to preserve their lead going into the 3rd.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild would not get off to a good start to start the 3rd period, as Mathe Dumba would try to join the attack. Dumba would then lose the puck and as Los Angeles counter attacked, he would take a strange run at a Kings player behind the rush which conceded a 2-on-1 to the Kings. Ryan Suter left alone would not really commit to Kopitar or his passing option which was Marian Gaborik. Kopitar made a simple pass to Gaborik who promptly finished by a sprawling Dubnyk. 2-2 game. The Wild were not moving their feet and the Kings were starting to raise their intensity. Minnesota appeared to be indecisive and that hesitation led to missed chances and bad turnovers. It was only a matter of time before the mistakes led to a goal and it came on a diagonal pass by Adrian Kempe would be sent towards Tyler Toffoli who was defended by Brodin. Dubnyk would reach out hoping to poke check the puck away but the puck would go off the skate of Brodin and slide right underneath the arms of the Wild goalie and in. 3-2 Kings. The bleeding wouldn’t stop there as Kopitar would win a draw in the offensive zone and he’d get the puck over to Gaborik who moved towards the slot and he’d rifle a wrist shot that went off the stick of Dumba and off the post and by Dubnyk. 4-2 Kings on Gaborik’s 400th NHL career goal. A few minutes later, Staal would hook Gaborik who appeared to be on the verge of a breakaway and Minnesota would give the Kings a late power play. The Wild had no choice to play extra aggressive on the penalty kill as there was only about 2 minutes left in the game. Minnesota would pull Dubnyk with a little over a minute left and the Kings would bury an empty netter to seal a 5-2 victory.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Daniel Winnik, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Zack Mitchell, Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis, Matt Cullen, Chris Stewart, Ryan Suter, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Ryan Murphy, Nate Prosser and Mike Reilly. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Gustav Olofsson is the lone scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Marian Gaborik, 2nd Star Jake Muzzin, 3rd Star Anze Kopitar
~ Attendance was 18,230 (yea, right) at Staples Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Jack Sadek (Minnesota, Big 10) ~ the former Lakeville North star had his 1st goal of the season but unfortunately it came in a 3-2 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday. Sadek has a goal, 4 points, 26 PIM’s and is a +1 in 18 games.
RW – Nick Swaney (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ the former Lakeville South star had an assist in Minnesota-Duluth’s 2-1 loss to Denver on Saturday. Swaney has 3 goals, 9 points, 2 PIM’s and is a +4 in 11 games.
D – Braydyn Chizen (Kelowna, WHL) ~ the lanky defenseman isn’t known for being a scoring threat but he’s been on fire this week by his own modest standards as he notched an assist earlier in the week and on Saturday he lit the lamp in the Rockets’ 4-2 win over Kootenay. Chizen has 2 goals, 4 points, 20 PIM’s and is a +2 in 18 games.
G – Dereck Baribeau (Quebec, QMJHL) ~ as a goalie you learn to accept that sometimes you can play very well but it won’t really matter if you don’t get enough goal support. Saturday was such a case for Baribeau who earned 3rd star honors as he stopped 32 shots in the Remparts’ 3-2 loss to Charlottetown. Baribeau has a 15-8 record, 2.77 goals against average and an .898% save percentage with 2 shutouts.