With lots of buzz about the upcoming NFC Playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints, I wonder if the sports media will overlook what is another important game for the Minnesota Wild. The Wild took a big step forward on Wednesday night with a win on the road over Chicago. The Jets are flying high, sitting atop the Central Division and finally playing to their potential.
Minnesota is not firing on all cylinders yet, but it must start to string victories together soon in order to stay in the Western Conference playoff picture. Every night in the league seems like a game of leap frog as the two wildcard spots appear to be a revolving door of teams. Can the Wild shut down the Jets in other big game at home?
1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota had its legs working well to start the game, winning some of the small races to loose pucks and peppering Connor Hellebuyck with shots early. Joel Eriksson Ek would beat Tyler Myers to a loose puck and he attempted a wrap around that Hellebuyck fought off and then he had to make a quick stop on Marcus Foligno who was roving nearby. Minnesota was also pinching with its defense to keep the puck deep into the Winnipeg end drawing an appreciative cheer from the home crowd. The Wild’s persistence would be rewarded as Mikael Granlund drew an interference penalty. On the man advantage the Wild kept it simple and Ryan Suter would let go a wrist shot that was deflected by Granlund that found the back of the net. 1-0 Wild on the power play tally. The Jets seemed sluggish and Minnesota was not letting up in its puck pressure one bit. The Wild would miss a giant opportunity in the middle of the period as the Jets gave Minnesota nearly 70 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play. Minnesota moved the puck ok; but too often they settled the puck and shot which gave Hellebuyck the chance to square up or they simply missed the net altogether. The failed power play seemed to give the Jets a little momentum but Minnesota still continued to win most of the little races for loose pucks and the majority of play was tilted into the Winnipeg zone. Chris Stewart stripped Andrew Copp of the puck for a quick chance that was absorbed by Hellebuyck and the Wild had to feel pretty good going into the 1st intermission, outshooting the Jets 23 to 5. Still, just a 1-0 lead to show for that dominance had to be a little frustrating. Hopefully the Wild keep up the pressure to start the 2nd.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota stormed out of the gate in the 2nd period much as they had done in the 1st. The Wild were playing fast; making short little passes to breakout of their own end and putting Winnipeg on its heels. Winnipeg almost seemed overwhelmed as they fruitlessly tried to chase the Wild around its own zone. Minnesota nearly cashed in as Jared Spurgeon found Jason Zucker with a long pass that yielded a breakaway but his backhand attempt was steered aside by Hellebuyck. The Wild were undaunted and continued to attack and it was a shot by Granlund that missed wide and then pounced on by Koivu that Hellebuyck denied but he’d kick out a rebound and Zucker was there to bury it. 2-0 Wild. The goal seemed to awaken the Jets a bit and they’d draw a holding penalty on Jonas Brodin who was battling with Mathieu Perreault near the front of the Wild crease. The penalty kill was rock solid, denying the Jets from setting up Patrik Laine for the one-timer and Minnesota would suffocate the Winnipeg power play. Devan Dubnyk hasn’t had a lot of work, but he’s done a decent job at covering up loose pucks. Minnesota would go back to work offensively and Hellebuyck would luck out as Foligno had a step on the defense but he’d mishandle the puck at the last moment before he could get a shot off. Eriksson Ek continues to shine in a forechecking role and his speed and willingness to shoot has really been a blessing to the Wild’s bottom 6 forward lines. The Wild would earn another power play as Daniel Winnik‘s hustle drew a hooking call on Dustin Byfuglien. Unfortunately the Wild were a bit non-chalant handling the puck and that would give the Jets penalty killers a few easy clears and Minnesota had nothing to show for it. Overall it was a more even period of play, but the Wild were not just sitting back and resting on their two-goal lead. The Jets will start the 3rd with the man advantage so hopefully Minnesota is focused and ready to go coming out of the 2nd intermission.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Jets would capitalize on the power play to start the 3rd period as Blake Wheeler fed a pass out front that was tapped home by Perreault cutting the Wild’s lead in half, 2-1. The Jets looked hungry and aggressive after the goal while the Wild seemed to be playing rope-a-dope hockey as they just hoped to work the puck in deep and then change. The Wild realized that just sitting back and defending was a recipe for disaster and they began to apply more puck pressure and they would force a few turnovers. Tyler Ennis would steal a puck and work a 2-on-1 with Eric Staal. Ennis would try carry the puck to the middle of the ice and he’d be tripped by Myers to no call that drew the ire of the sellout crowd. Minnesota wouldn’t let it get to them too much as Charlie Coyle sent a pass to Foligno who spun and sent it back to the point for a blast by Mathew Dumba that beat Hellebuyck cleanly. 3-1 Wild. The goal deflated the Jets and the Wild did not let up as they continued to out hustle the Jets for loose pucks and it was deja vu for the Jets as Coyle and Foligno again set up Dumba for another blast from the point that blew buy Hellebuyck to give Minnesota a 4-1 lead. The sellout crowd would give their team a minute-long ovation as they were impressed by the Wild’s effort in the victory.
Dubnyk had 32 saves in the victory and while he didn’t have to face a ton of quality shots, he played well and didn’t add any anxiety by making routine saves tough. Defensively the Wild’s ability to efficiently transition the puck out of the zone was perhaps their best weapon to neutralize a very potent Jets’ offense. I thought all of the Wild’s defenseman showed terrific poise and moving the puck quickly offset the Jets want to get physical on the forecheck. The penalty kill did give up one tonight that they’ll probably want back but overall the defense did a nice job against Winnipeg.
Offensively the Wild kept it simple and swarmed all over the Jets’ zone all night long. Minnesota kept taking the puck to the crease and playing a north south game that really wore the Jets out. It was great to see Zucker get rewarded after having so many nice scoring chances the last few games. Another player that deserves some credit for being a catalyst offensively was Marcus Foligno. He had 6 shots in the 1st period alone and ended up with two helpers on the night; not too shabby for the rugged winger who’s first campaign with the Wild has been a bit underwhelming to say the least. I also thought Eriksson Ek had another solid effort on the forecheck and I thought he caused the Jets a lot of problems with his speed and tenacity on the puck.
This was another big Central division win for the Wild. Yes, the Jets were clearly tired from having played the night before, but the Wild were applying pressure almost the entire game. Minnesota played like a team that wanted the victory more and their effort was rewarded. Now the Wild have to regroup and ready themselves to play a rested Vancouver squad tomorrow night.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Eric Staal, Tyler Ennis, Zach Parise, Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek, Daniel Winnik, Chris Stewart, Matt Cullen, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Nate Prosser and Gustav Olofsson. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Mike Reilly was the lone scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Mikael Granlund, 2nd Star Mathew Dumba, 3rd Star Marcus Foligno
~ Attendance was 19,207 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Crease And Assist: the Legally Compliant Minnesota Hockey Blog would like to issue our congratulations to Team Assistant Equipment Manager Matt Benz on working his 1,000th NHL game today!
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Braydyn Chizen (Kelowna, WHL) ~ the tall, lanky defenseman might be finding his groove offensively as he had a goal in the Rockets’ 7-4 win over Spokane on Wednesday night. Chizen has 4 goals, 10 points, 32 PIM’s and is a -2 in 31 games.
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Erie, OHL) ~ the skilled winger continues to show good consistency as he had a goal and 2 assists on Thursday night but it wasn’t enough as Erie fell 5-4 to Niagara. Lodnia has 19 goals, 49 points, 20 PIM’s and is a +7 in 41 games.
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Barrie, OHL) ~ the recently traded winger apparently vented some anger against his former team as he helped the Colts crush the Wolves 10-1 by chipping in a goal and an assist (5 shots on goal). He has 21 goals, 40 points, 8 PIM’s and is a -11 in 36 games.
G – Kaapo Kahkonen (Lukko Rauma, Sm-Liiga) ~ the Finnish stopper may be sporting a near .500 record, but he’s providing quality play between the pipes for Lukko Rauma this season. Kahkonen has a 16-15 record, a 1.96 goals against average and a .930 save percentage with 4 shutouts.
C – Jordan Greenway (Boston U., H-East) ~ the junior forward got the good news he was waiting for as he was selected to represent the United States in the Olympics, where they hope he’ll produce game winning goals like he did on Friday in Boston’s 3-2 win over New Hampshire. He also had 6 shots on goal while centering the Terriers’ top line. Greenway has 8 goals, 18 points, 30 PIM’s and is a +4 in 21 games.
RW – Brandon Duhaime (Providence, H-East) ~ the sophomore forward buried the game winner (4 shots on goal) in Providence’s 4-1 win over Boston College on Friday. Duhaime has 5 goals, 16 points, 39 PIM’s and is a +9 in 23 games.
D – Louie Belpedio (Miami, NCHC) ~ the senior defenseman continues to lead the way for the Redhawks as he had a power play goal and an assist (4 shots on goal) in Miami’s crazy to Nebraska-Omaha last night. The Skokie, Illinois-native has 8 goals, 20 points, 34 PIM’s and is a +6 in 21 games.
D – Jack Sadek (Minnesota, Big 10) ~ the former Lakeville North standout had an assist in the Gophers’ 5-3 loss to Michigan yesterday. Sadek has 2 goals, 7 points, 26 PIM’s and is a +3 in 25 games.