After Tuesday’s uninspired effort, its tough to have high hopes for the Minnesota Wild who still sit near the bottom of the NHL standings. Optimists will tell you that there is a lot of hockey left and that we shouldn’t read too much into the struggles of a team that has been ravaged by injuries to key forwards. But fast starts in professional sports often mean your team will make it to the post-season and early woes often become too big of a hill to climb. The Wild have parlayed fast starts in the past and still barely made the playoffs, but the key of course is that they still made it.
One could try to assign blame to the injuries, but Tuesday’s poor effort was poor no matter who was or wasn’t in the Wild’s lineup. It was pathetic. So will Minnesota rebound from that poor showing against the New York Islanders; a team that has often given the Wild fits with its tenacity and physical style of play? Will the Wild put forth the effort to win or will it underwhelm hometown fans with another paltry performance?
1st Period Thoughts: Right from the drop of the puck you noticed that there was considerably more fire to the Wild’s game. Minnesota was moving its feet well and being far more deliberate in the offensive zone as they were taking shots early and often at the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss. The Wild would draw an early penalty and even make it a 5-on-3 when Thomas Hickey sent a puck up into the seats. Inexplicably the team started with Mathew Dumba and Mike Reilly which moved well and seemed dangerous as they blasted shots on goal, but with the 5-on-3 the Wild trotted out Ryan Suter and all of that great player and puck movement went by the wayside. Minnesota was like traffic cones on the 5-on-3 and that made it easy for the Islanders to disrupt shooting lanes and the Wild came up empty. Fortunately the Wild would strike just moments after the failed power play as Marcus Foligno would gather up a rebound off a point shot by Jared Spurgeon and wrap it by Greiss to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. The Wild continued to apply pressure and less than 2 minutes after that tally Greiss tried to help his defense by sending a puck up off the boards that was intercepted by Mikael Granlund. Granlund then stepped around an Islanders defender and then drew the focus of Greiss before making a nice little pass to Jason Zucker on the backside for a tap in goal. 2-0 Wild. Minnesota would then get tagged for interference as Kyle Quincey was sent to the sin bin. The Wild would add to its lead while shorthanded as Eric Staal poke checked a puck by Nick Leddy and he’d chase it down and race in on a breakaway where Staal beat Greiss with a nice little deke to extend Minnesota’s lead to three, 3-0. Yet predictably, the Wild seemed to coast after this goal. The Wild stopped moving their feet and the Islanders went on the attack. Brock Nelson was particularly dangerous and Devan Dubnyk had to come up with a big glove save after not having seen too many shots through the first half of the period. The Wild continued to coast and it was just a matter of time before that resulted in a goal for New York as they’d cut the Wild lead to two, on a point shot by Johnny Boychuk was deflected by Anthony Beauvillier that beat Dubnyk. 3-1 Wild. Minnesota still was a bit sloppy and took another dumb slashing penalty. Minnesota again would threaten shorthanded as Luke Kunin was denied right near the blue paint. In the closing minutes of the period the Wild appeared to add to its lead, when Foligno checked Casey Cizikas into the Islanders crease and with bodies all around the blue paint the puck was swept up and wrapped in by Chris Stewart. Islanders’ bench boss Doug Weight would challenge the play, and it was pretty clear Foligno checked Cizikas into the crease but Greiss appeared to have time to recover. Yet the officials saw the contact and agreed with Weight and it was ruled no goal and Minnesota would carry its two-goal lead into the 2nd. Not a bad start, but I didn’t like how the Wild took their foot off the gas.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild would kill off a power play to start the period and they’d go back on the attack. An odd penalty call on Scott Mayfield who knocked the Islanders goal off its pegs got a delay of game call. Mayfield protested and the Wild went on the man advantage. Fortunately for the Islanders, the Wild put Ryan Suter out on the man advantage and the alternate captain seemed to mandate all the pucks come to him and New York was more than happy to let this happen. A weak wrist shot from the point was about all Minnesota would muster on the man advantage and in the closing second of the power play, Tyler Ennis would cough up the puck in the neutral zone and then haul down Nikolai Kulemin for a penalty of their own. On the man advantage the Wild would be aggressive and it was Staal forcing another turnover near the point but instead of going in all alone he worked a 2-on-1 with Kunin and Staal fed a pass over to Kunin for a quick shot that went up underneath the crossbar. 4-1 on Kunin’s 1st NHL goal, and the first time a Wild player ever scored his first goal as a shorthanded tally. A great ‘first’ moment for any player. The Wild would then take their foot off the gas a bit and the Islanders started to apply a bit more pressure in the Minnesota end. The Islanders would cut the Wild lead back to two late in the period when Nick Leddy wound up and blasted a slap shot that beat an unscreened Dubnyk cleanly. It was a very soft goal. Minnesota would finish off the period still holding onto their 2-goal lead, but you had to wonder a bit after that soft tally given up by Dubnyk. Still plenty of time for the Islanders to mount a comeback.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild had a good start in the 3rd. Minnesota would strike early as Zack Mitchell scored his first NHL goal after a pass by Daniel Winnik and without much room to work with he’d bank a shot off the leg pad of Greiss and in. 5-2 Wild. It was great to see Mitchell be rewarded with a goal, as he’s been a good solider for the organization ever since the club signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Guelph (OHL). The good fortune continued for the Wild as they’d light the lamp a few minutes later as Jonas Brodin gathered up a puck off the faceoff and stepped into a slap shot that deflected off the glove of Calvin de Haan and by Greiss who seemed disgusted by the unlucky goal. 6-2 Wild. The Wild kept buzzing and they appeared to have a chance to add to their lead as Jason Zucker won a battle for the puck along the wall deep in the Islanders zone and fed a pass out to Mikko Koivu in the slot who was stopped twice by Greiss. The Islanders would push the Wild lead back to three on a shot by Anders Lee that seemed to fool Dubnyk who was out of position. It was another soft-ish goal by Dubnyk. The Wild would tighten up defensively over the latter half of the 3rd period, but they also avoided taking many offensive risks which invited the Islanders to go on the attack. Matt Barzal would score with just under 2 seconds left as he snuck a shot off the wrist of his glove and in. 6-4 Wild win.
Dubnyk was pretty blah in the 6-4 victory as he gave up 4 goals on 32 shots. I doubt he’ll be happy about the last 3 goals, which were soft-ish. It wasn’t bad defense, he had to take care of the details in positioning and he didn’t do it. Defensively the Wild were at their best on the penalty kill where the team kept the Islanders at bey plus managed to strike with two shorthanded tallies of their own. Either way, the team is fortunate giving up 4 goals this evening didn’t matter but its not a formula for sustained success.
Offensively the Wild did a nice job on converting turnovers into goals. Whether it came off good puck pressure on the power play as in the two shorthanded goals, or just keeping it simple and sending pucks on goal with no other options readily apparent. Jason Zucker continues to shine and its great to see him reunited with Mikael Granlund as he now has a linemate that can keep up with him a bit better. Mikko Koivu was the snake-bitten one tonight, as he was stopped on a 3 solid scoring chances. Minnesota was rewarded for going to the net and they need to remember that when they play Pittsburgh on Saturday.
This was a much better effort than what they had on Tuesday and in a way it makes it that much more frustrating. The Wild got its first home win of the season, and hopefully the team can use this confidence to go on a bit of a roll. Let’s face it, the team is in the basement and despite the games in hand, those games in hand don’t mean anything if you don’t turn those games into wins. If Dubnyk gets the start he’ll have to be a lot better, but overall the feeling in the locker room has to be better after a win like tonight compared to the debacle on Tuesday.
~ The Wild roster this evening is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Chris Stewart, Marcus Foligno, Daniel Winnik, Joel Eriksson Ek, Matt Cullen, Zack Mitchell, Luke Kunin, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Mike Reilly and Kyle Quincey. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Eric Staal, 2nd Star Jared Spurgeon, 3rd Star Luke Kunin
~ Attendance was 18,824 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: (2-4-1) 5pts 7th in the Central
6.5% Power Play (26th in the AHL)
84.8% Penalty Kill (14th in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #36 Colton Beck ~ 5G 2A = 7pts
2. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 3G 3A = 6pts
3. #27 Brennan Menell ~ 1G 3A = 4pts
4. #9 Cal O’Reilly ~ 1G 2A = 3pts
5. #25 Justin Kloos ~ 1G 2A = 3pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #21 Ryan Malone ~ 16 PIM’s
2. #3 Nick Seeler ~ 11 PIM’s
3. #2 Alex Grant ~ 8 PIM’s
1. #35 Niklas Svedberg (2-4-1) 2.83GAA .903%SP 1SO
2. #30 Adam Vay N/A
Recent Score: Iowa 1, Rockford 2 OT
With owner Craig Leipold, general manager Chuck Fletcher and Bruce Boudreau in attendance, Iowa would storm out to a 1-0 lead on a wicked shot by Colton Beck that beat Jean-Francois Berube cleanly. After the goal, the game would sort of stall out as both teams locked it down defensively and shots became hard to come by. The 2nd period was spent with the Wild struggling to generate even a few shots on goal while the Ice Hogs started to tilt the ice in the Iowa end. That pressure would finally lead to a goal as the Ice Hogs lit the lamp shortly after killing a Wild power play as Matheson Iacopelli beat Niklas Svedberg on a quick shot. Both goaltenders stood tall throughout the rest of the 2nd and 3rd period sending the game to overtime. In overtime, it didn’t take long as Tomas Jurco got a little time and space and he rifled a shot by Svedberg to give Rockford a 2-1 overtime victory. Svedberg had 29 saves in the loss. Iowa’s next two games are this weekend in Tuscon against the Roadrunners.