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Wild Sweep the Penguins on the Strength of 3 Power Play Goals as They Roll to 6-2 Victory

Whether it was the delicious turkey, the mountain of mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie I hope you had a good time with your families.  In the U.S., we go from that big day of gastronomic consumption to what Minnesotan Thorsten Van Veblen called ‘conspicuous consumption’ of Black Friday the next day, the biggest day of shopping in the nation.  People become ravenous about deals while other shoppers decide to sit that day out because they’d rather not watch two people literally fight for (insert trendy toy here) at Target.  It is also another black Friday of sorts as the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town for a rare afternoon game.

The defending Stanley Cup champions were overwhelmed by the Wild last month in a somewhat rare road win in  Steeltown.  The Penguins are sharpening up their game and again look like a solid Stanley Cup contender while Minnesota is coming off a nice home victory over division rival Winnipeg.  Can Minnesota follow up that win with another victory or will they look about as sleepy as your uncle was after Thanksgiving?

1st Period Thoughts:  The Minnesota Wild would jump out to an early lead Coyle won a battle for the puck along the wall to work it over to Zach Parise was able to carry the puck into the Penguins slot and he’d send a shot on goal that Marc-Andre Fleury stopped but it was Charlie Coyle burying the rebound.  1-0 Wild just 40 seconds into the game.  The Wild used quick, efficient puck movement to keep the Penguins on their heels all period long.  Not only did the Wild move the puck quickly but the passes were tape-to-tape and Minnesota was driving Pittsburgh crazy with their pressure.  The Eric Staal-Parise, Coyle line would come close to adding another goal but the puck was just out of reach of Staal.  A delay of game power play on Matt Cullen would give the Wild another great opportunity and the quick puck movement continued, working it from high to low and back out top where it was blasted on goal by Jonas Brodin that beat Fleury cleanly.  2-0 Wild and the Black Friday sellout crowd was rocking.  The Penguins would answer back as Jake Guentzel put a good shoulder into Ryan Suter and then won a puck back to Evgeni Malkin who threaded a perfect cross-ice pass to a wide open Phil Kessel for an easy goal to cut the Minnesota lead in half 2-1.  The goal seemed to settle the Penguins down a bit and they were able to set up their 1-2-2 trap making it tough for the Wild to work the puck in the Pittsburgh zone.  Yet the Wild would adjust, using its speed to chip pucks by defenders and then track them down.  Pittsburgh was able to generate a few shots, but mostly from the perimeter that Devan Dubnyk was able to block aside.  The Wild would score late in the period as another battle along the boards had the puck move out into the slot that Coyle pounced on that went off the arm of Fleury and in, 3-1 Wild.  Minnesota’s defenseman were another unsung x-factor, moving the puck quickly out of the zone and allowing the Wild to counter rather effectively all period long.  The Wild outshot Pittsburgh 14-8, in arguably their best period of hockey of the 2016-17 season.

2nd Period Thoughts:  The Wild knew the Penguins were going try to answer back after being thoroughly outworked in the opening 20 minutes.  The Penguins did have more jump, but the Wild kept hustling well and did a nice job of supporting Devan Dubnyk.  Even as the Pittsburgh did manage to set up Phil Kessel for a shot for the slot, it was Dubnyk looking calm and collected as he made a pretty glove save.  Yet penalties threatened to give the Penguins a chance to get back into the game.  First it was a ‘too many men’ penalty and the Penguins did get a few shots but mostly from the perimeter that were not too much trouble for Dubnyk to deal with.  Timely puck pressure prevented Pittsburgh from getting too settled in the offensive zone and the Wild would get the big kill.  Then a few minutes later, after some bad turnovers, Mathew Dumba would high stick Carl Hagelin.  This time the Wild were far more aggressive on the penalty kill and set up a near breakaway for Staal who skated in and then tried a little spin-a-rama shot that was steered aside by Fleury.  Minnesota’s puck pressure would continue to disrupt the Penguins’ power play and the Wild would get another kill.  The Wild would then go on the attack themselves as Jason Zucker got a long pass from Jared Spurgeon that sprung him for a breakaway but he’d fire a shot high and over the goal.  Minnesota didn’t let that setback stop them and their persistence would be rewarded on a power play of their own as Eric Staal won a battle for the puck along the boards and sent a pass to Zach Parise in the slot who then weathered a lazy check by Kris Letang and then fired a shot by Fleury.  4-1 Wild.  The Wild were not done yet as Mikael Granlund got a little time and space and then toe dragged a puck around a defender and then went top corner with a shot to make it 5-1 and the rout was on.  It was another quality period where the Wild continued to outwork and outsmart the Penguins.  Still there were some facepalm moments as Chris Stewart and Tyler Graovac raced in on a 2-on-1 only to fail to even come close to registering a shot on goal.  Stewart just kept skating and the opportunity to shoot or pass just kind of slipped away, embarrassing.

3rd Period Thoughts:  In the 3rd period, you just hoped the Wild wouldn’t get sloppy and careless and turn this one into a game.  The Penguins surprised some by keeping Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, but since they play tomorrow (like the Wild do) they wanted to keep Matt Murray fresh.  The Wild kept hustling and the Penguins continued to be mostly frustrated by the Wild’s stingy defensive game.  Pittsburgh would eventually cut into the Wild lead as Scott Wilson fed a pass over to Bryan Rust who redirected it on goal that seemed to completely surprise Dubnyk.  5-2.  The Pittsburgh comeback is on right?  Nope.  The Wild would turn on the intensity and they’d start to put the Penguins on their heels again and again drawing penalties in the process.  On the power play the Wild would add an exclamation point to tonight’s game as Granlund sent a pass that was redirected by Nino Niederreiter just over the shoulder of Fleury which would make it 6-2.  It was their 3rd power play goal of the game.  The Wild would try to set up Coyle for a hat trick but they just couldn’t give him another golden opportunity.  The Penguins tried to rally for a few pride goals late, but Dubnyk was there to shut the door and Minnesota would seal a 6-2 victory.

Dubnyk didn’t have to make a ton of saves, but he made the timely stops to prevent the Penguins from building any confidence in this game.  He had 34 saves and did a great job of managing the game by freezing pucks and not allowing Pittsburgh to overwhelm them with their wave-like attack.  Defensively the Wild got a great effort from Jonas Brodin who had his first 3-point night but he was just as solid in his own end as was Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella who I felt were superb.  The Wild penalty kill finished a perfect 3-for-3 which again I think demoralized the Penguins.

Offensively the Wild were burying their chances tonight.  Part of that was keeping it simple and taking what Pittsburgh was giving them instead of trying to be too fancy.  The straight forward approach resulted in more scoring chances in prime scoring areas and go figure they were able to find the back of the net.  Minnesota is guilty of making the game harder on itself by passing up on those kinds of opportunities looking for some perfect tic-tac-toe play instead of taking what their opponent is giving them.  The Coyle-Staal-Parise line was dangerous virtually every shift and even though he did not end up with goal I thought Staal had another strong game.

This was a big win after its short Thanksgiving layoff.  It was at an oddball time which at times does not bode well for a team that struggles with the mental game.  Instead, they were focused and their passing was outstanding with crisp tape-to-tape passes that meant the breakouts were efficient and clean and the Penguins didn’t look so ridiculously fast as they did in the Stanley Cup finals.  In my opinion this was their best game (execution-wise) of the season which hopefully can carry over to tomorrow night against the Blues.

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster this afternoon was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter, Tyler Graovac, Chris Stewart, Zack Mitchell, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Christian Folin, Mathew Dumba and Marco Scandella.  Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk.  Nate Prosser was the lone scratch.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jonas Brodin, 2nd Charlie Coyle, 3rd Star Zach Parise

~ Attendance was 19,212 at Xcel Energy Center.

Iowa Wild Report:

Iowa 3, Manitoba 1

On Wednesday the Iowa Wild had the 2nd game of their back-to-back with the Manitoba Moose.  After having defeated the Moose in a tight 1-0 OT game you knew the Moose were going to be motivated to get a split.  However the Wild would get out to a fast start as Jordan Schroeder turned on the jets to track down a puck deep in the Manitoba zone and he’d sweep in behind the goal and attempted a wrap around bid that skittered through the crease and out front to Teemu Pulkkinen who buried it by Eric Comrie giving Iowa a 1-0 lead just 48 seconds into the game.  A few minutes later it was Kurtis Gabriel gathering up a puck behind the Manitoba goal and sending a pass near the blue paint that was jammed home by a crashing Nick Saracino, 2-0 Wild.  Iowa continued to swarm and they nearly added to their lead a few minutes later as Christoph Bertschy set up Alex Tuch on a point blank range chance that was denied by the leg pad of Comrie.  Manitoba would cut the Wild lead in half late in the 1st as Jimmy Lodge buried a rebound by Alex Stalock after Dan DeSalvo’s initial shot.   Over the next period and half the two clubs continued to punish each other physically but the Wild kept attacking offensively instead of just sitting back and defending their lead.  Grayson Downing would bury an empty net goal with a little less than a minute left int he 3rd to seal a 3-1 victory.  Stalock was tremendous, giving up just one goal in back-to-back starts and making 26 saves in Iowa’s victory.

Wild Prospect Report:

D – Gustav Bouramman (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) ~ the offensive defenseman’s poise is becoming more apparent as he starts to be a regular on the scoresheet as he tallied an assist and 4 PIM’s in the Greyhounds 6-1 win over North Bay on Thanksgiving.  The Stockholm-native has a goal, 10 points, 16 PIM’s and is a -7 in 22 games.