A short Eastern road swing is a nice way to get acclimated to a new season. A chance to travel, maybe bond a little bit and develop some on-ice chemistry that will help ready you for the grind through the Central Division. Especially if you are to earn a few points in the standings along the way, only that didn’t happen. None of it happened for the Minnesota Wild. The two games against non-playoff teams only exposed their shortcomings defensively and physically in their own end and up front they couldn’t seem to sustain any sort of offensive pressure beyond a few short bursts. Did I mention that the two clubs they faced both missed the playoffs last year?
As the Wild make their way to face Chicago, their divisional nemesis and the main psychological hurdle to overcome if they are to ever be taken seriously as a Stanley Cup contender there is more than a little trepidation surrounding the club even though its had had the last 4 days off to think about it. Chicago is playing with confidence and some of its young core is playing a big role in its fast start. Can the Wild right the sinking ship or will the frustration continue?
1st Period Thoughts: While the 1st period wasn’t all that exciting you could definitely tell the team was determined to play a more structured game than what we saw against Detroit and Carolina. The Wild was very conservative at working pucks deep and then trying to cycle instead of trying to play a free-wheeling run and gun game against Chicago which is smart against a team that has averaged over 5 goals a game through its first 4-games. Neither club had many prime scoring chances although I think you could argue Minnesota had a few reasonable scoring opportunities. The best chance coming of a rebound chance after a Tyler Ennis shot that just bounced over the stick of Eric Staal that appeared to be a wide open net. The Wild were very wary to give Patrick Kane and their forwards any open ice to work with as they used Jason Zucker to shadow him. Marcus Foligno provided the most memorable moment of the period when he sent Brent Seabrook head over heels into his own bench. Although a few minutes later Chicago would answer back with a big hit of their own as Connor Murphy sent Ennis flying with a big hit that had him lose his helmet. Minnesota would start to have some success with their forecheck late in the period and they were able to draw a penalty as Richard Panik hauled down Charlie Coyle. On the power play, the Wild moved the puck around the zone, but they were not directing very many shots on goal so it was no big surprise they’d come up empty. Corey Crawford was never really tested but the Wild survived unscathed, at least for one period of play.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would take an early penalty in the 2nd as Staal was sent to the box for slashing. On the penalty kill; the Wild did a great job of denying shooting and passing lanes and with some excellent plays by Joel Eriksson Ek and Jared Spurgeon they’d keep the game knotted at zero. The game would start to tilt in Chicago’s favor a few minutes later after John Hayden dropped the gloves with Marcus Foligno and the former Yale grad held his own against the Wild tough guy. Hayden initially caught Foligno with a few jabs before catching a few big hooks of his own. Yet he’d lean away before landing a massive right that stunned Foligno and he’d let go and skate away much to the Wild tough guy’s frustration. Clear win Hayden. Perhaps that generated some momentum because the Blackhawks would bottle up the Wild in their own end with a relentless forecheck and they’d tire the Wild out and they’d take a Too Many Men penalty. On the power play, the Wild zone looked like a shooting gallery as Devan Dubnyk was being peppered with all kinds of shots and he was able to fight off a few tremendous chances from in close. Pucks were just missing just high or a little wide as Minnesota was holding on for dear life, but a shift late in the period turned it all around. It started with a great hit by Ryan Suter to Brandon Saad that sent him to the ice and knocking over his linemate and the Wild would quickly counter attack by moving the puck up Staal who lost the puck but then an alert play near the Chicago blueline by Charlie Coyle who then made a perfect pass back to Staal who snuck it just by Crawford to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. The period would end with the Wild holding an improbable lead, despite being outshot 16-9. Tyler Ennis needs to work on avoiding hits because with an injury history like his he doesn’t want to keep getting lit up the way he has been by Chicago defenseman this evening as Seabrook buried him with a big hit during the middle part of the 2nd.
3rd Period Thoughts: Foligno would not be seen at the start of the 3rd period, perhaps still feeling the cobwebs from getting clocked by Hayden. The injuries continued in quick succession to start the period as Nino Niederreiter would have Ryan Hartman fall on his leg that sent him to the bench hobbling and then moments after that Coyle was hit in the back of the skate by a Jared Spurgeon slap shot that left him limping. Both players would go to the locker room and not return for the rest of the game which shortened the Wild’s bench by a whole line. The pain continued as Chicago scored early in the period as poor defensive zone coverage left Dubnyk all by himself and Ryan Hartman banged home a rebound tying the game at 1-1. Minnesota was resilient and they’d strike back as Jason Zucker made a nice play in the neutral zone to steal a puck and then carry it by a sprawling Brent Seabrook and then feathering a perfect pass to Chris Stewart for a tap in goal. Blackhawks’ bench boss Joel Quenneville would challenge the play saying Zucker was offsides but upon further review the puck appeared to be moved into the zone by the flailing Seabrook and the goal would stand. And with the new NHL rule the Wild would also receive a power play for the failed Chicago review. Minnesota would make them pay on the man advantage as Jason Zucker redirected a shot by Crawford late in the power play to make it 3-1 while Quenneville fumed from the Chicago bench. The Blackhawks would get a power play late on a high sticking call on Koivu. Minnesota’s penalty kill was pesky enough to contest most of the shots and Dubnyk stood tall on a few sharp angle chances and the Wild got another momentum boost. Chicago will pull the goalie early and Minnesota would immediately make the Blackhawks pay as Stewart would steal a puck in the neutral zone for an easy empty net goal with about 4 minutes left to play while Quenneville glared. Minnesota would add another power play goal two minutes later when Koivu scored from just past the red line. Chicago would net a power play goal late on a crazy deflection and Minnesota would roll to a 5-2 victory.
Devan Dubnyk was tremendous, stopping 36 shots in the victory. He was rock solid, with great rebound control and while he certainly got lucky on a few bounces he made the saves early to keep Minnesota’s head above water when it looked like it was on the verge of drowning. Defensively the Wild were a bit erratic at times. Kyle Quincey was inexplicably chasing players out to the point instead of staying closer to the crease leaving Dubnyk without proper support. The team’s defense will certainly need to be solid if the Wild are going to have a chance in the face of all these injuries up front.
Offensively the Wild managed to get it done with a depleted group to start the game and even more diminished group to end it with as they had just 8 healthy forwards left. No Zach Parise, no Mikael Granlund, no Coyle, no Niederreiter and no Foligno and the Wild still found a way. Chris Stewart continues his hot start and Jason Zucker and Eric Staal continue to help stir the Wild’s offense. The extra injuries will no doubt prompt a promotion from Iowa but here are your candidates as they make less than $750,000 to use that rarely used part of the CBA to be able go over the league’s salary cap.
Kyle Rau is hurt but he’d also be on this list based on his salary of $700k. Either way upper management will have to get creative and Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau did not seem hopeful about Coyle or Niederreiter being able to play Saturday in the team’s home opener against Columbus.
It wasn’t your typical path to victory, but the game was a vast improvement in terms of quality over the previous two games. Minnesota was much more structured and they avoided giving up lots of prime scoring chances to the ever dangerous Blackhawks. The team’s defense at times was bending, but Minnesota didn’t break and just have a parade to the penalty box and they found a way to come away with a victory. We’ll take it.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Tyler Ennis, Joel Eriksson Ek, Chris Stewart, Marcus Foligno, Daniel Winnik, Matt Cullen, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Mike Reilly, Kyle Quincey and Gustav Olofsson. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. There were no healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jason Zucker, 2nd Star Devan Dubnyk, 3rd Star Chris Stewart
~ Attendance was 21,386 at United Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 4, Milwaukee 5
The Iowa Wild lost their first two home games of the season, a back-to-back series with Milwaukee. While the losses are disappointing the team is showing early signs that it might finally have the offense necessary to compete most nights. The team is composed of far more veteran players than in season’s past in part because the team simply doesn’t have a lot of NHL prospects that are near enough in their development to fill out their roster.
Through the first weekend Iowa’s listing of top scorers looks like this.
1. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 2G 0A = 2pts
2. #20 Gerald Mayhew ~ 1G 1A = 2pts
3. #27 Brennan Mennell ~ 1G 1A = 2pts
4. #36 Colton Beck ~ 0G 2A = 2pts
5. #23 Zack Mitchell ~ 0G 2A = 2pts
While that may not be eye-popping totals to look at, the fact that 11 different Wild players have registered at least a point in the opening weekend is a good sign.
One player who made a big impression during opening weekend was Ryan Malone. The long-time NHL’er and former St. Cloud State Huskie let it be known he was not going to allow other teams to take liberties with their club with two huge fights in back-to-back nights. The team still has Kurtis Gabriel, Hunter Warner and Nick Seeler who are no strangers to dropping the gloves but the team prides itself on being tough to play against and that is a big part of what Head Coach Derek Lalonde hopes will become the team’s trademark.
The team still has young players in development like headlined by 2016 1st round pick Luke Kunin, Mario Lucia, Christoph Bertschy, defenseman Carson Soucy, Gustav Bouramman and Brennan Mennell. Yet there are plenty of AHL journeyman that are hoping a strong performance may earn them an invite with the big club. On the blueline, Ryan Murphy had a strong Wild training camp and along with Derek Grant will probably log the lion’s share of the minutes.
Niklas Svedberg had the first two starts, and the 6’0″ Swede may not be your prototypical big goaltender but he’s athletic and precise in his movements and so far looks like he’s Iowa’s ace. Steve Michalek is currently out with an injury and he’ll no doubt give Svedberg a push to split time. Hungarian Adam Vay is the goaltender waiting for a chance to make that step up from the ECHL. Iowa’s next game is this Friday against the Ontario Reign.
Wild Prospect Report:
W – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ the uber talented forward is off to a hot start with CSKA Moscow this season. He leads CSKA in goals (9) and points (16) in 15 games.
C – Andrei Svetlakov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ the Wild surprised a few by taking Kaprizov’s teammate at the draft this summer. The 21-year old has 2 goals, 7 points and 10 PIM’s in 10 games this season.
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Erie, OHL) ~ the Wild’s top pick in 2017 is trying to help do the heavy lifting offensively on a rebuilding Erie squad. He had a goal and 5 shots on goal Wednesday night in a 5-2 loss to Owen Sound. The Novi, Michigan-native has 3 goals, 7 points, 6 PIM’s and is a +1 in 8 games.