Another night, another loss as the Wild fell 4-2 to Toronto. Beyond the overall effort, which had improved if there was any other silver lining was the chance to interview former Wild Head Coach Jacques Lemaire who is a consultant for the Leafs now. Listening to the interview was great fun to hear his voice and personality once again. It is with some irony that Lemaire is now working for the Maple Leafs after being such a key part of the Montreal Canadiens as a player and a consultant. What is too often forgotten, is that he is a Hall of Fame player who was one of the most consistent and underrated two-way forwards of his era.
Minnesota defeated the Montreal Canadiens last week as Carey Price was horrendous and soon went on the injured list after the game. Since then the Canadiens have gone 3-0 while the Wild have gone 0-3. Historically the Wild have struggled in Montreal, but can Minnesota stop the free fall tonight?
1st Period Thoughts: The Wild had great jump to start the game, carrying most of the play through the first 5 minutes where they were shooting early and often. Charlie Lindgren was being tested early but Minnesota nearly gave up an early goal as a bad turnover turned into a 2-on-1 for Max Pacioretty and the Canadiens’ captain fired a shot wide of the mark. Minnesota continued to attack through the neutral zone with speed looking to create offense but at times they were guilty of overhandling the puck. Case in point, Jason Zucker would drop a pass back to Mathew Dumba who tried to dangle but lost the puck as Minnesota squandered a potential 3-on-2. Montreal would settle in and they’d spring Pacioretty for a breakaway who was denied by a nice blocker save by Devan Dubnyk. The Canadiens approach was simple, send any pucks you can on net and hope for another ugly bounce and with Dubnyk sitting back in his crease you could tell he was a little wary of any shot. A few minutes later Mikael Granlund made a nice saucer pass to Tyler Ennis who had a step on the Canadiens defense and he rang a shot off the post. The Canadiens would counter attack and a shot by Alex Galchenyuk which ramped off the skate of Jonas Brodin and was batted out of mid-air by a pinching Karl Alzner and in but no sooner did the puck reach the back of the net it was waived off by the officials. The ‘no goal’ call would be reviewed and I must admit, it looked like he mad contact with the puck beneath the crossbar but the war room in Toronto would affirm the on-ice call and it stayed ‘no goal.’ After the no goal call, the Canadiens started to assert their speed more and Minnesota felt the ice tilt to its end. Luckily for the Wild, Dubnyk was sharp as he stopped a number of quality chances in quick succession as Minnesota held on for dear life. Late in the period the Wild would get a power play and they generated a nice chance from the high slot by Zucker but Lindgren steered it aside. It was reasonable road period with the Wild outshooting Montreal 13-12. I thought Ennis and Zucker were the standouts for Minnesota.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Canadiens carried most of the play through the first half of the 2nd period. Minnesota just didn’t seem to have the legs and the Canadiens’ extra jump was allowing them to win the majority of the races to loose pucks. At times the Wild were scrambling about their own zone as Montreal peppered Dubnyk with shots, but to his credit he looked focused and was tracking the puck fairly well. The Canadiens kept taking chances to fire sharp-angle chances looking to sneak in a cheap goal, but Dubnyk was hugging the post big time. The pressure drew a Canadiens’ power play as Marcus Foligno was sent to the box for interference. On the power play the Wild did a reasonable job of getting sticks into passing lanes and were able to clear the zone. Minnesota would regain its legs in the 2nd half of the period and the two clubs started to trade offensive chances with one another. As the Wild tried to create offense off the rush as Zucker set up Staal for a nice opportunity the Canadiens would set up one of their own as Charles Hudon rifled a shot high and wide. The Wild had another great chance of their own as Zucker set up Niederreiter for a fairly close in chance that he sent up and over the goal. Minnesota would get a power play of its own late in the period when Daniel Winnik was crosschecked viciously by Joe Morrow. Yet on the man advantage the Wild were again a bit cutesy with the puck and were not able to generate much of anything offensively. The Wild are holding on, but they need to simplify their offensive approach to take the shot and crash the net. Too many times Minnesota is trying to set up some kind of pretty goal. That may have worked last week, but recently the team has had its best success in burying rebounds and they’d be wise to go back to that approach.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild demonstrated some terrific resilience as an early tripping call to Mikko Koivu and managed to turn it into a game changing moment. That moment came off a steal of the puck by Mikael Granlund who recognized he didn’t have the legs to take it up the ice for a breakaway so he poked the puck over to Zucker who turned on the afterburners. With half step on the Habs defense he’d move in and make a great forehand to backhand move to beat Lindgren and break the stalemate. It was Minnesota’s 4th shorthanded goal this season, 1-0 Wild. Minnesota would add to its lead a few minutes later on the man advantage as Niederrieter found the puck in the slot and he’d turn and fire it on goal that was deflected perfectly by a screening Zucker and by Lindgren to make it 2-0. The Canadiens would try to answer back and they appeared to do so as Charles Hudon got into the Wild crease where he got stopped once but was able to turn and shovel home a second shot. The goal would be reviewed because of a challenge by Bruce Boudreau for goaltender interference. Hudon certainly initiated contact and shortly after he did so he swept in the rebound and remarkably the review agreed and it was ruled no goal much to the consternation of Canadiens Head Coach Claude Julien and Bell Centre crowd. Minnesota continued to give their goaltender good support and Dubnyk was sharp down the stretch which led to Zucker getting a hat trick on an empty net goal to seal a solid 3-0 victory.
Dubnyk easily had his best game of the season, making 41 saves in the victory. He was controlling his rebounds better and he was tracking the puck through traffic. He was sharp on his angles and looked much more under control than he has throughout most of the season. Defensively the team gave up too many shots; especially to some of the Canadiens more dangerous players but to Dubnyk’s credit he bailed them out tonight. Minnesota still had its share of nice plays to deflect pucks and disrupt passes at key moments in the game.
Offensively, it was all about Jason Zucker. He’s certainly been the hot hand with 5 goals in the last two games including his first NHL hat trick (a pure natural hat trick at that) this evening. I thought Tyler Ennis was particularly pesky this evening and he had some terrific chances too and I think he looked assertive the last few games. I thought Staal had another good game and he continues to be a catalyst for this club offensively. Niederreiter also seems to be heating up too.
This was a big road win for a team that really needed it after giving a decent effort the night before in Toronto. Minnesota has a chance to make the road trip an even split in Philadelphia who is playing some of its best hockey this season. The shutout also cannot be overstated for a goaltender who has had kind of a slow start to the season. Hopefully its a sign this team is perhaps turning the corner and a win on Saturday would be a nice way to boost that feeling. Nice win!
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Chris Stewart, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Joel Eriksson Ek, Tyler Ennis, Luke Kunin, Daniel Winnik, Matt Cullen, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Gustav Olofsson and Mike Reilly. Niklas Svedberg backed up Devan Dubnyk. Kyle Quincey was the lone scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jason Zucker, 2nd Star Devan Dubnyk, 3rd Star Philip Danault
~ Attendance was 21,302 at Bell Centre.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 5, Rockford 3
The Iowa Wild had its annual school day game where they invite area school kids to attend to see a game. This year, 13,422 were in attendance to see the Wild face AHL Central division rival Rockford and Iowa certainly gave the big crowd an entertaining performance. The Wild jumped out to an early lead as newly-minted team captain Cal O’Reilly found the back of the net on the power play. A few minutes later Zack Mitchell added another power play marker to make it 2-0 Wild. Rockford would answer back just two minutes later as former Eden Prairie star Luc Snuggerud found the twine behind Steve Michalek making it 2-1 going into the 1st intermission. The Ice Hogs would then tie the game on the man advantage as Andreas Martinsen had a pretty set up for Laurent Dauphin early in the 2nd. The Wild would take back the lead a few minutes later as Mario Lucia netted his first goal of the season giving Iowa a 3-2 advantage going into the 3rd. Under 4 minutes into the 3rd, Iowa would extend their lead with its third power play goal of the game as Ryan Murphy stepped into a slapper from the point that beat Collin Delia. Rockford would cut the lead back to one with just under 13 minutes left to play as Vinny Hinostroza rifled a shot by Michalek. Yet Iowa and Michalek would shut the door on the Ice Hogs as alternate captain Pat Cannone buried an empty netter to seal a 5-3 victory. Michalek really was the x-factor as Iowa struggled to create much offense against the Ice Hogs and he had 33 saves in the win. Mitchell and Murphy both had a goal and two helpers and captain Cal O’Reilly finished with a goal and an assist. Iowa’s next game is this Saturday against Cleveland. In the video below Iowa Wild head coach talk about his newest cast of team captains (Cal O’Reilly, Pat Cannone and Christoph Bertschy).