First impressions are big. Whether its interviewing for a job or meeting someone on a blind date we all know that first impression can make or break your chances of having success. In the course of an NHL season, a first impression usually doesn’t carry that much weight. At least the Minnesota Wild are hoping its first impression isn’t a sign of things to come after a disappointing season-opening loss to Detroit. The Wild were at times guilty of lacking intensity and focus in their own end and the Red Wings took advantage of it.
Speaking of first impressions the Carolina Hurricanes are eager to make their first impression of the 2017-18 NHL season with their home (and season) opening game tonight against the Wild. Minnesota should feel a little embarrassed after their last game, but will we see a fired up squad or one that looks somewhat disinterested as it did on Thursday? What impression will Minnesota make this time around?
1st Period Thoughts: The Hurricanes had the initial push to start the game as the Wild appeared to be a little disorganized. Maybe that was due to the club being forced to reconfigure its lines with the groin injury to Mikael Granlund. Carolina was pressing the attack and this had Minnesota scrambling in its own end. The disorganized play continued until about 6 minutes in when Matt Cullen was slashed by Noah Hanifin that gave the Wild its first power play of the game. Minnesota opted to use Mike Reilly and Mathew Dumba on the points and that would pay off with a great diagonal pass by Dumba to Jason Zucker for a nice redirection goal that Scott Darling had no chance on. 1-0 Wild. Justin Faulk tripped up Marcus Foligno on the very next shift and Minnesota went back on the power play. Yet as efficient as their first attempt was, their 2nd was poorly executed and mostly uninspired. The kill seemed to spark the crowd as well as the Hurricanes who went on the attack. Minnesota was caught flat footed and Carolina forced a Wild penalty as Jonas Brodin was tagged for slashing Jeff Skinner who nearly buried a goal off the rush. On the power play, the Wild zone looked like a shooting gallery as Alex Stalock was peppered with shots; including a close in chance by Jordan Staal. The Wild would escape unscathed but the Hurricanes kept swarming in the Minnesota end and they’d tie it up shortly thereafter as Marcus Kruger would send a puck on goal and after a flurry in the blue paint the puck was pushed through the pads of Stalock by Mikko Koivu and credit for the tally would be given to Joakim Nordstrom. Minnesota’s lack of nastiness in around its crease was glaring as the Wild chose to reach for the puck than aggressively clearing out the area with physical play. Minnesota would have the next great scoring chance in the waning minutes of the period as Jason Zucker set up Joel Eriksson Ek all alone but unfortunately he wasn’t able to lift a puck over the outstretched arm of Darling. Luckily the Wild would find the net late in the period as Jared Spurgeon quickly moved a puck up to Chris Stewart who got behind Hanifin and he’d evade a poke check by Darling to beat him on a pretty backhander. 2-1 Wild, silencing the crowd and giving the team some much-needed momentum going into the 1st intermission. The Wild were outshot 14-11. For all of the crap Stewart and Foligno have received online, they’ve been pacing the team in points so far this season and right now the Wild need all the help they can get.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period started with an intense pace with both teams exchanging rushes. Jason Zucker nearly cashed in on a 2-on-1 that was stonewalled by Darling. Minnesota was a bit reckless with the puck, chipping and chasing and attempting small finesse plays hoping to spring an odd-man chance. It mostly led to lots of turnovers and time spent chasing back and forth than creating a lot of offensive pressure. Stalock had to stretch to make a steer aside a few dangerous chances by Jeff Skinner. The pace would finally slow down after about 5 minutes into the period. Still Stalock had to be sharp as he denied Hanifin on a wicked one timer with a fine glove save. Minnesota would get itself into trouble as Chris Stewart got tagged with a faceoff violation. Shortly after that Matt Cullen was given a hooking penalty giving the Hurricanes a 5-on-3 power play for a 1:28. The Wild penalty killers stayed in their triangle as much as they could, but did a fine job of challenging passes and shooters to contest just about anything that was able to be sent on Alex Stalock. Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter made some nice places to poke passes off target and force a few big clears to relieve the pressure even if temporarily so. Minnesota would get the big kill and shortly thereafter, it was Zucker chipping a puck up to Eric Staal for a breakaway who moved in and beat Darling with a wrist shot giving the Wild a 2-goal cushion. The Wild kept buzzing and Darling denied Coyle on a wrap around chance. That would be needed as the Hurricanes would cut that lead back to one on the power play as Justin Williams ripped a shot that was deflected by Derek Ryan that beat Stalock over the shoulder, top corner. 3-2 Wild. Minnesota made one last push late in the period unfortunately Suter let his emotions get the best of him after being denied on a chance from the slot and he’d slash Darling for another trip to the sin bin. Even though Minnesota added to its lead, the Wild had a lot of undisciplined play and spent way too much time in the penalty box.
3rd Period Thoughts: As chaotic as the 2nd was, the 3rd was an even greater amalgam of freelancing and sloppy hockey. It was mostly chip the puck into an open area and hope a teammate can skate it down. Defensive zone coverage was optional at best, with lots of scrambling play where players were mostly just chasing the puck. Minnesota had a great chance to score early in the 3rd as Jason Zucker fired a shot on goal that Darling stopped and Coyle pounced on and pushed wide of the mark. On the Hurricanes counter attack, Noah Hanifin who had been burned a few times by the Wild this evening pounced on a puck and rifled a shot over a sprawling Stalock tying the game at 3-3. With the game tied, the end to end pond hockey continued which I’m sure had to be grating to Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. The Hurricanes were fine with just playing free-wheeling hockey while the Wild seemed to be only able to generate a few token chances. The game was playing right into the hands of Carolina; and it seemed to be confirmed with a little under two minutes left when Sebastian Aho pulled off a spin-a-rama and swung a pass over to Victor Rask who one-timed a blast by Stalock giving the Hurricanes a 4-3 lead. Minnesota would pull Stalock for an extra attacker. The Wild were sending any pucks they could on Darling and hoping something would connect. It seemed to be all over until the last flurry when the Wild stormed the crease and after making one save the Wild managed to work a puck over towards Koivu who tapped it in with just .1 second remaining. The goal would be reviewed and confirmed and then the Hurricanes challenged the play for goaltender interference. The replay seemed to show Dumba in the way of Darling being able to make a save on the last play but it was determined he was pushed in by the Hurricanes deal and the goal stood much to the outrage of the home crowd so we went to overtime. I am not sure I agree with that it wasn’t goaltender interference but that was the ruling by Toronto so…(shrugs)
Overtime Thoughts: The overtime had the potential for great scoring chances but they really didn’t materialize. A missed pass, a solid backcheck thwarted most of the opportunities. Minnesota’s best chance came with a 2-on-0 between Eriksson Ek and Zucker but the line was so gassed as they entered the Carolina zone Eriksson Ek’s pass was behind Zucker so he couldn’t pull the trigger. The Wild were then lucky the Zucker / Eriksson Ek group was able to get off the ice as they had a 2:11 shift and struggled to get off the ice. The game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Summary: The Hurricanes opted to shoot first. Sebastian Aho was their first shooter and he’d skate in adn let go a wrist shot, denied by Stalock who steered it aside with his glove. Minnesota’s 1st shooter was Tyler Ennis who picked up the puck with speed where he tried to fool Darling with a wrist shot and blocked away by Darling who didn’t move at all. The Hurricanes’ next shooter was Justin Williams who took a wide right approach and he fired a shot wide right of the goal. Minnesota’s next shooter was Mikko Koivu forehand to backhand that was alertly gloved by Darling. Carolina’s next shooter was defenseman Jacob Slavin who went wide right and polished off a wicked forehand to backhand shelf move over Stalock who sprawled for the puck. 1-0 Carolina in the shoootout meaning Eric Staal had to score to keep the Wild’s hopes alive. He’d move in and his wrist shot was steered aside and the Wild fall 5-4.
Alex Stalock actually was pretty decent in his first start of the season, stopping 38 shots in the loss. The Wild didn’t always give him much support in front of him and he was victimized by skaters watching and reaching instead of taking the body and forcing Carolina to pay a physical price to be near the crease. 42 shots are a great example of how loose Minnesota’s coverage was in its own end and that will need to be fixed if they really expect to contend for the playoffs let alone a Stanley Cup.
Offensively the Wild’s attack reminded me of a bad high school game where it was mostly individual efforts and little team play. There was little cycling and imposing Minnesota’s size advantage over the Hurricanes but instead getting caught into a run-and-gun contest where it exposes the team’s deficiencies in its team speed. Eric Staal look focused and motivated and beyond him and maybe Zucker and Stewart I felt the rest of the team looked like lost sheep out there. The power play did light the lamp tonight, but after that first goal it was a lot of passing and not a lot of shots being directed on goal. Minnesota has to generate more shots in general if they want to succeed and take some pressure off their goaltending.
I am fairly certain Bruce Boudreau was frustrated by the effort the last two games. Minnesota is not only loose in its coverage but terribly soft around the crease and considering they are right up against the cap there is no relief in sight unless it happens from within (unlikely) or they make a trade. No offense to Carolina who is a team that is scrappy and competitive and Detroit but these should be wins if you really are a contending team. The Wild don’t look anything like that right now, but luckily for them they have a lot of time to practice to figure it out before they play Chicago on Thursday.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Tyler Ennis, Jason Zucker, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno, Chris Stewart, Matt Cullen, Daniel Winnik, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Mike Reilly, Kyle Quincey and Gustav Olofsson. Devan Dubnyk backed up Alex Stalock. Mikael Granlund, out with a groin injury was the lone scratch.
~ Attendance was 18,680 at PNC Arena (yea right).
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Sebastian Aho, 2nd Star Jaccob Slavin, 3rd Star Justin Williams
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Bryce Misley (Vermont, H-East) ~ the freshman recorded his first collegiate point on Friday, an assist in the Catamounts 3-0 win over Colorado College. Misley anchored Vermont’s 3rd line.
LW- Avery Peterson (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ the former Mr. Hockey had the assist on the game winning goal in overtime to give the Bulldogs a 4-3 win over in state arch rival Minnesota on Friday. Peterson had 3 shots on goal and finished the evening with a +1 rating.
RW – Nick Swaney (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ the former Lakeville South star registered his first collegiate point, an assist in UMD’s 4-3 OT win over Minnesota. Swaney played on the Bulldogs 2nd line where he also had 3 shots on goal.
LW – Brandon Duhaime (Providence, H-East) ~ Duhaime demonstrated a significant amount of improvement at this year’s prospect camp and that seems to be carrying over into this season with the Friars where he had an assist in Providence’s 3-1 win over Miami (OH) last night.
G – Dereck Baribeau (Quebec, QMJHL) ~ the big goaltender continues his hot start, as he had 31 saves in the Remparts 3-2 OT win over Halifax last night. Baribeau is 5-0 on the season with a .99 GAA and .958% save percentage with one shutout to his credit.
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Erie, OHL) ~ the Wild’s top pick in the 2017 Entry Draft had an assist, 2 shots on goal in a 5-3 loss to Kitchener. Lodnia has a goal, 4 points, 4 PIM’s and is a -1 in 6 games this season.
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Sudbury, OHL) ~ the ‘enigmatic’ Wild prospect had a goal and 6 shots on goal in the Wolves’ 5-4 loss to Mississauga this evening. Sokolov has 2 goals, 5 points, 0 PIM’s and is a -4 in 7 games this season.