The Vegas Golden Knights recently announced the fact they are going to be the NHL’s most successful expansion team. Yet that fact should include an asterisk. No expansion team was ever given a better chance to be the record holder than this franchise has been. Yes, it paid far more for its expansion fee than any other team but to tout it as a record is like a varsity high school hockey team touting a victory against a pool of pee wee clubs. The expansion teams of the 2000 and 1990’s as well as even going back to the 1970’s and 60’s were clubs more or less expected to be whipping boys of the league for its first few seasons. Those clubs were primarily older players and minor league journeyman.
The Vegas Golden Knights got to pick from players teams really didn’t wish to give up and while they did take on some bad contracts they also got other assets in return for doing the dirty work. The previous group of teams, which the Minnesota Wild was a part of didn’t get any sort of courtesy. They had bad and worse to choose from and the inaugural season saw its top goal scorer (3 players, Darby Hendrickson, Marian Gaborik, and Wes Walz) score a scant 18 goals. Now this isn’t a woe is me story, but to say Vegas is your typical expansion team of cast offs and players that failed to launch is wrong. They were an expansion team on steroids from the start, with rules that were stacked mostly in their favor. This is the first clash between these two organizations, can Minnesota earn another win against its fellow ‘expansion team’?
1st Period Thoughts: The 1st period featured a focused, resolute Wild team that was ready to play right from the drop of the puck. Vegas found itself quickly on its heels as the Wild were swarming into their end and taking just about any opportunity to send shots on goal. Zach Parise was particularly hungry as Joel Eriksson Ek sprung him for a partial breakaway that was fought off by Malcolm Subban. Minnesota was able to work pucks deep on Vegas and worked the cycle and the Wild were able to sustain offensive pressure that was beyond just possession, it was yielding quality scoring chances. At times it appeared as though the Wild were on the power play, when they were simply out hustling and out working Vegas for pucks along the wall and in the corners. After one failed power play the Wild drew another penalty as Shea Theodore held up Eriksson Ek. Minnesota would not come up empty on its 2nd power play of the game as Mike Reilly made a pretty diagonal pass to Eric Staal for a quick shot that Subban had no chance on. 1-0 Wild. With the crowd roaring the Wild continued to not only play smart, but also throwing its body around too as Nate Prosser stapled Will Carrier to the boards. Minnesota would find the back of the net late in the period as Eriksson Ek won a draw and Mathew Dumba pushed a pass up to Charlie Coyle who had an open lane and he’d rip shot short side that beat Subban cleanly. 2-0 Wild. People watching on television were treated with an authentic, in-person Andres Cantor GOOOOAALLL call and Minnesota gave Vegas little to nothing offensively to build any sort of momentum. The toughest save Devan Dubnyk had to make was a redirection chance by Alex Tuch. Minnesota out shot Vegas 19-8.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota picked up where it left off in the 1st period, working pucks deep and putting pressure on the Golden Knights early as Jason Zucker came dangerously close to cashing in with a quick chance off a Mikael Granlund set up. The Wild would not be denied and they’d score moments later as Tyler Ennis ripped a shot from the wing that beat Subban just over the glove. 3-0 Wild on what was a pretty soft goal given up by Subban. I thought Gerrard Gallant might pull Subban, but he kept him in the game and the Wild kept peppering him with shots as they looked to add to their lead. The team seemed to try to set up Nino Niederreiter for a goal in his first game back but Subban made a few nice saves to keep him off the scoresheet and the Swiss-forward would take a penalty putting the dangerous Vegas power play on the ice. On the man advantage, the Wild would give Colin Miller a little too much time and space and he’d let go a shot that Erik Haula deflected by Dubnyk. 3-1 Wild. Minnesota would then ramp up their intensity and Vegas found themselves chasing the Wild around its own zone for most of the rest of the period. The Wild would draw another penalty as James Neal was tagged for slashing. On the man advantage the Wild were really working pucks from low to high and back out to the point and Jared Spurgeon stepped into a shot that would carom off the skate of Brayden McNabb and trickled by Subban. 4-1 Wild on the strength of its 2nd power play goal. A few minutes later Dumba nearly lit up an unaware Haula with a check, and Ryan Carpenter went after Dumba wanting a fight and the Wild defenseman would oblige his request. It wasn’t much of a fight as Carpenter started throwing jabs and Dumba just wrestled him to the ice. Thankfully, Dumba didn’t appear any worse for the wear and Minnesota had to be feeling confident going into the intermission leading by three. Can the team finish strong?
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild had little bit of a dip in their intensity but they still managed to take care of business. Vegas would get their opening for a comeback thanks to the power play as hooking penalty on Mike Reilly gave them a man advantage. The first 10 minutes the Wild were pretty solid, working pucks deep and forcing the Golden Knights to defend and Minnesota overall looked pretty sharp. Yet they’d ease up a bit and Vegas started to get its legs going. The Golden Knights certainly have a lot of speed and It was Nate Schmidt picking up a puck down near the goal line and he’d let go a sharp angle shot that snuck through the pads of Devan Dubnyk who seemed to be a bit distracted. Minnesota would get a strange empty net goal as Staal was chasing down a loose puck and David Perron tried to hold up Staal and the officials gave him the goal without having even taken a shot to seal a 5-2 victory.
Devan Dubnyk was reasonable, but he didn’t have to be great making 22 saves in the victory. Defensively the Wild did a great job at keeping Vegas to the perimeter and Minnesota’s ability to transition the puck quickly out of their own end helped them put pressure on the Golden Knights most of the game. The penalty kill took a hit by giving up two to Vegas’ potent power play.
Offensively the Wild really poured it on through the first two periods of the game, as they peppered Malcolm Subban with 30 shots. The Wild embraced a shoot first mentality and they were rewarded with a soft goal and it was good seeing Minnesota taking the initiative right away. Joel Eriksson Ek didn’t have a goal tonight, but he was very noticeable (in a good) way in the offensive zone and he set a perfect screen for Coyle’s snipe in the 1st period. It’s great to see Coyle playing confidently and pulling the trigger. I thought Parise looked more comfortable to start the game and liked seeing him working near the crease where he’s at his best. Nino Niederreiter certainly has to get into game shape, but he had a few good chances to score which is a good sign.
This was a big win for the Wild. Yes, the Golden Knights were tired after having played the night before in Winnipeg but those are the kinds of opportunities Minnesota needs to take advantage of. Minnesota now need to regroup and dig deep for another big game on the road in Dallas. Either way, this was one of the team’s better efforts in a while and hopefully they can follow it up tomorrow against the Stars.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Joel Eriksson Ek, Zach Parise, Daniel Winnik, Matt Cullen, Marcus Foligno, Nino Niederreiter, Tyler Ennis, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Mike Reilly and Nate Prosser. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Gustav Olofsson and Chris Stewart were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jonas Brodin, 2nd Star Eric Staal, 3rd Star Charlie Coyle
~ Attendance was 19,057 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Barrie, OHL) ~ perhaps one of the more interesting trends has been the transition of the sniper into being more of a set up man for the Colts as he chipped in two helpers in their 4-2 loss to Owen Sound on Wednesday night. He still had 6 shots on goal so it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He made up for it on Friday with a goal and another helper in an 8-4 win over London. Sokolov has 29 goals, 58 points, 12 PIM’s and is a -10 in 45 games.
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Erie, OHL) ~ January was a rough month for the Otters but they’re off to a good start in February after earning a 2-1 win over North Bay on Thursday. Lodnia had an assist (2 shots on goal) in the victory. The Novi, Michigan-born winger has 20 goals, 53 points, 22 PIM’s and is a +1 in 49 games this season.
Minnesota High School Hockey Rankings:
Let’s Play Hockey released its latest round of rankings for both Boys and Girls of Class A & AA respectively. Tournament time is approaching quickly (Girls hockey starts sectional playoffs next week!) and no doubt section seeding is probably a hot topic at your local rinks. Here are their rankings as of January 30th, 2018.
#4 Red Wing
#5 Thief River Falls
#6 St. Paul United
#7 South St. Paul
#8 East Grand Forks
#9 Duluth Marshall
#10 Proctor / Hermantown
#4 Maple Grove
#7 Forest Lake
#10 Eden Prairie
#6 St. Cloud Cathedral
#7 East Grand Forks
#8 Sartell-St. Stephen
#2 St. Thomas Academy
#3 Duluth East
#5 Cretin-Derham Hall
#6 White Bear Lake
#7 Holy Family