Hype, it can come from those around you pumping up your ego with positive comments or from the media who produces favorable reports to convince you really are as good as you might think you are. It gives a person or in the case of the Minnesota Wild a bit of a swagger. But it can also blind you to lapses to your game. That hype can put a person in a state of denial, whether they’re a running back past their prime asking for elite-level money or a player not taking responsibility for their mistakes this is where buying in to the noise can really hurt you. Its where confidence departs and leaves arrogance in its wake. In a way, this is where I think the Minnesota Wild are at right now. Or at least where they were on Tuesday against the Blues.
Facing their former coach Mike Yeo, the Wild strolled into that game with an arrogance that they could simply show up and overwhelm St. Louis and put another 2 points in the bank. It didn’t work out that way, because in that arrogance the team (for the most part) didn’t come ready to work and the Blues played like a team that wanted it more. Minnesota faces almost the exact same scenario as they make their way to Tampa Bay to take on an equally desperate (and motivated) Lightning squad. Will it be deja vu all over again, or will they refocus after being outplayed on Tuesday?
1st Period Thoughts: The opening kind of typified what we’ve seen from the Wild the last few games. Minnesota started out like a team where they seemed to want to transition on virtually every turnover but as they gained possession they squandered their own chances with foolish area passes and the Lightning was able to retreat and gather up the pucks before we could get there. The Lightning were taking what the Wild were giving them and they’d draw a tripping call on Ryan Suter. Just six seconds later Tampa Bay would take the lead as Nikita Kucherov one-timed a Victor Hedman pass that beat Devan Dubnyk top shelf, glove side. 1-0 Lightning. Minnesota seemed to be stunned by the Lightning’s ability to fire the puck and they’d feel the pain a few minutes later as some horrendous defensive coverage allowed Hedman to skate just beneath the right faceoff dot and he’d bomb a shot by Dubnyk. 2-0 Lightning as Nate Prosser and Marco Scandella got caught covering a single Tampa Bay forward down low which gave Hedman the chance to step into that slap shot so close to the Wild goal. The 2nd goal seemed to finally awaken the Wild and they started to skate with more purpose and energy to chase pucks which was lacking early on. Even as Minnesota started to buzz in the Lightning zone it seemed to almost get in its own way. Classic example, a blocked shot turned into a 3-on-1 between Mikael Granlund, Jared Spurgeon and a trailing Jason Zucker. Granlund carried the puck in and instead of taking the shot he tried to pass it but Spurgeon couldn’t get a stick on it and Zucker was only able to muster a weak backhander that was easily dismissed by Andrei Vasilevskiy. Minnesota was winning the races but all too often they’d rifle shots high and wide as they attempt to pick corners on Vasilevskiy and the Lightning’s collection of tall defenseman were able to get sticks on shots. So lots of good effort, but nothing to show for it. Martin Hanzal is really looking out of place on this team which is not a good sign considering the price the team paid to get him here. On the bright side I thought Jonas Brodin looked decent and assertive offensively.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period was a lot like the 1st. The Wild looked like a team that was trying but mentally out of focus as they continued to attempt area passes or passing up on obvious opportunities by forcing passes that led to easy turnovers. The Lightning were all too happy to let the Wild make the mistakes for them. Devan Dubnyk would make Minnesota’s challenge that much tougher as he gave up a soft unscreened goal to Ondrej Sustr who stepped into a slap shot that snuck through his pads. 3-0 Lightning. At this point I was almost surprised Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t pull Dubnyk just to kick his team in the ass but he kept him between the pipes. The game started to get more physical and the Lightning would lose two forwards to injuries as Vladimir Namesnikov who got tangled up with Zach Parise and seemed to tweak his knee. The Lightning training staff would attend to Namestnikov and he was done for the night. A few minutes later it was Parise again getting into a battle for the puck with Tyler Johnson and the former Wild prospect camp tryout went awkwardly into the boards. He would also not return. The Wild tried to go on the attack but poor passing and the rangy play of Tampa Bay’s tall defenseman kept disrupting passing and shooting lanes making Vasilevskiy’s job pretty easy. Minnesota had a few token chances but beyond that it was clear that Tampa Bay wanted it more while the Wild appeared to be having yet another game where it kind of went through the motions. Pathetic.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period saw the Wild really start to sell out but ultimately come up with too little, too late. The effort the Wild had make one wonder where this was at the start of the game? Charlie Coyle and Eric Staal appeared to both be particularly determined to light the lamp as they were sending lots of shots towards Vasilevskiy, but Minnesota wasn’t able to get to the rebounds as the Lightning did a nice job of tying up Wild forwards. Minnesota finally seemed to understand the importance of playing with speed and keeping it simple instead of working for the perfect shot. Martin Hanzal would find Eric Staal with a nice little pass that sent him on a break away and as he tried to dangle a backhand by Vasilevskiy he seemed to tap in his own rebound but the officials immediately waived it off citing goaltender interference. Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau wasn’t happy and he challenged the call and after a review the officials affirmed their decision and it was ruled ‘no goal’ not surprisingly. Personally, I didn’t think it constituted goaltender inference but I know the league doesn’t want to undermine their officials on judgement calls like that so the decision didn’t really shock me at all. Minnesota was really working hard for some kind of ‘feel good’ goal and they’d cash in as a Jonas Brodin point shot drew a rebound that was shoveled home by a pinching Marco Scandella. 3-1 Wild as Scandella also managed to draw a penalty in the process giving Minnesota a power play. On the power play the Wild seemed to overthink the play and even with token challenges from the Lightning they’d clear the zone all by themselves with mentally unfocused play. The Wild tried to help their cause with the power play by pulling Dubnyk for an extra attacker but it didn’t really help much at all and Kucherov would seal the game with an empty netter and Minnesota would fall 4-1.
This was another effort where it appeared the Wild’s collective mind was in another place. Minnesota was lacking in focus, mentally and emotionally most of the game. The Wild were overthinking the game and getting caught standing and reaching and the Lightning were able to take full advantage of it. It is disheartening to see the team play back to back games as poorly as they have the last two games. Nate Prosser, I know he’s from my hometown but can’t we sit in the pressbox permanently. He’s awful and he’s not even providing good defense anymore.
Minnesota better be focused tomorrow night against Florida. I kind of wonder if the reason Boudreau didn’t pull Dubnyk was to force his club to win a game with Kuemper tomorrow. I don’t care if this team is tired, or isn’t happy about the grind of the schedule, the Wild better suck it up and be ready to play. Chicago isn’t going to go away and getting 1st in the division is important for a team that may want that home-ice advantage against the Blackhawks in the future.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Martin Hanzal, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Chris Stewart, Ryan White, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Gustav Olofsson, Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser. Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk. Jordan Schroeder and Mathew Dumba were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Andrei Vasilevskiy, 2nd Star Victor Hedman, 3rd Star Nikita Kucherov
~ Attendance was 19,092 at Amalie Arena.