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Sloppy Defensive Play and Lack of Focus Dooms Wild in 5-4 Loss to Vancouver

I just recently purchased an old Nintendo game called the Boy and his Blob.  The plot is basically you are a teenage boy who has a blob from an alien world called Blobonia that needs your help because an evil leader has taken over his planet.  Avoiding going into specifics, you feed the blob varying flavors of jelly beans so that he’ll transform into useful devices (like a ladder, or an umbrella) for you to use in order to complete a variety of tasks which allow you to provide the help your friend needs.  The game play is not overly exciting or action packed and somewhat repetitive.  So what does this have to do with hockey?  Kind of like the game itself, the Wild don’t try to do too much and in many ways still try to do the same thing and hope for a positive result.  While line shuffling has certainly taken place, the team keeps making the same mistakes in overtime.

Keeping with the Boy and his Blob theme, you might think its time to try some new jelly beans, but like the game your choices are extremely limited so you are left to make do with what you have (and you have spent almost all of your allowance on what you have so you can’t get any more, sound familiar?).  The Vancouver Canucks got out to a hot start but have cooled off significantly in the last few games.  Do the Wild have enough tricks up their sleeve to earn an important road win over its old rival?

1st Period Thoughts:  The game started with the Wild asserting itself physically over the young Canucks squad.  It was almost surreal to watch Wild players throwing their bodies around and using their superior strength against an opponent.  Minnesota would get out to an early lead when Nino Niederreiter would race into the Canucks’ zone to track down an area pass and then charge towards the goal where he was stopped by Ryan Miller but Jason Pominville was there to bury the rebound and give the Wild a 1-0 lead.  The Canucks tried to answer back and one player looking to cause some trouble was Bo Horvat, who isn’t very big but he reminds me a lot of the old Zach Parise with how he plays a north-south game and isn’t afraid to go into the tough areas to take shots on goal.  Minnesota seemed content to occasionally attack the Canucks; usually off a solo power move like Charlie Coyle had where he lowered his shoulder and raced towards the crease but Miller was make the stop and this time the puck was out of reach for Eric Staal who didn’t seem to want to get his nose dirty near the blue paint.  The Canucks would appear to even the game as a shot by Ben Hutton was bobbled and dropped to the ice by Darcy Kuemper and Vancouver would crash the crease as Brandon Sutter and Henrik Sedin pounced who managed to chip it over the sprawling Wild goalie.  The Wild would challenge saying that Kuemper was interfered with.  Watching the replay it did not appear to me that Sutter made a lot of contact with Kuemper, but the officials agreed with the Wild bench and they ruled ‘no goal’ much to the disdain of the Rogers Arena crowd.  Minnesota would count themselves lucky and keep their timeout in the process.  Kuemper was ok, but he didn’t have to defend too many quality chances and at times he seemed to be guessing a bit on shots.  Minnesota outshot the Canucks 14-7.  I know this is random but Nikita Tryamkin is pretty intriguing, a 6’7″ giant defenseman that can move pretty well, the Canucks may have a gem in this 3rd round pick (66th Overall in 2014).  An ok 1st period for the Wild.

2nd Period Thoughts:  The Wild would score early in the period as the Haula-Pominville-Niederreiter line would make their presence felt again as Erik Haula sent a pass to Pominville who wired a shot by Miller, blocker side to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead.  Unfortunately after the goal the Wild would lose focus mentally that allowed the Canucks to get back into the game.  Oddly enough it would start on the power play.  Minnesota would earn its first power play of the game as former Penticton Vees star Troy Stecher high sticked Jason Zucker.  The Wild didn’t do much on the man advantage and Mathew Dumba would get tagged with a lazy interference penalty negating their power play.  The Canucks would make the most of the power play as Stecher stepped into a slap shot that was deflected down off the ice by Sutter and by Kuemper.  2-1 Wild.  Minnesota would immediately take another penalty as Jonas Brodin got caught hooking Sven Baertschi.  The Canucks power play would come up big again as they’d crash the net and Henrik Sedin’s bid seemed to be stopped by Kuemper but the puck got loose in the scramble to cover it up and Hutton chipped it home tying the game at 2-2.  The next few minutes were a bit contentious as Kuemper seemed to be fighting the puck and turning every save into a bit of a white knuckle ride than seemed to be necessary.  The Wild would eventually stabilize a bit defensively, but Minnesota was unable to generate almost any offensive chances in the latter part of the 2nd period.  A disappointing turn for the Wild who seemed to be in control, especially at even strength only to let it slip away with their own lack of discipline and focus.

3rd Period Thoughts:  The Wild would pick up where they left off in the 2nd, that being where they were being outworked and outhustled and the Canucks would add to their lead just a few minutes in.   Michael Chaput sent a shot on goal that Kuemper made a nice save on, but his defenseman would start dropping to the ice and flopping about instead of getting to the puck and Loui Eriksson would bury the rebound to give Vancouver their first lead of the game.  3-2 Vancouver.  The pain didn’t stop there as the Canucks would score just a minute later as Luca Sbisa stepped into a slap shot that was deflected by Baertschi and by Kuemper making it 4-2 Vancouver.  It was the kind of goal you get for working hard and the Wild were really feeling it.  Minnesota would get a rare boost off a breakaway goal as Zucker raced in and beat Miller with a backhander to cut the Canucks’ lead to one, 4-3.  The goal seemed to get the Wild going a bit and they’d draw an interference call on Markus Granlund.  Unfortunately on the power play all the urgency seemed to dissipate.  The Wild moved the puck slowly and predictably along the wall and the Canucks applied a little pressure and the Wild wasted lots of time just trying to get set up.  By the time they did all they could manage was a weak shot on goal that Miller blocked aside and as the puck sat near the top of the crease the Wild only tried to poke at the puck instead of charging for the rebound.  It was the lazy, soft play you’ve come to expect from this team.  The next few minutes were a bit back and forth with the Canucks coming close to adding to their lead as Chaput turned on the jets and got around the Wild defense but his backhander was blocked away by Kuemper.  Minnesota’s 3rd line would deliver another goal as Ryan Suter sent a pass that was deflected by Haula and by Miller who had no chance to tie the game at 4-4.  The Wild would ease up in their pressure as perhaps they were content to play for overtime at this point, but the Canucks would continue attacking and use a simple formula to re-take the lead.  Chaput and Eriksson would take advantage of some very relaxed defense and fire a shot on goal that turned into a mad scramble in and around the Wild crease where Kuemper managed to somehow keep the puck out of the net but as they tried to recover the Canucks worked the puck back out to the point and it was Stecher firing a shot wide that was redirected perfectly by Baertschi and by Kuemper.  5-4 Canucks.  Minnesota would try to score late but they just couldn’t get the shots on goal beyond one last slap shot by Pominville in the closing seconds with the extra attacker and they’d fall to Vancouver.

Darcy Kuemper looked pretty shaky tonight in Vancouver.  Kuemper had 26 saves in the loss.  I thought he looked like a goaltender who was fighting the puck all too often and even when he wasn’t struggling to control his rebounds he appeared to be guessing too.  He didn’t look like a goaltender with a lot of confidence and I’m not going to say this game was all his fault, but his effort was matched by an equally scrambling, sloppy effort from his defenseman.  Especially on the Canucks goals you saw the same sort of sequence.  The shot is stopped by Kuemper, Wild defenseman drop to a knee and try to sprawl to sweep away pucks and can’t and the Canucks pounce on the rebound.  The penalty kill was not good tonight, and did not provide much in the way of pressure on the puck carrier giving the Canucks the time and space to work the puck to its point men and get the deflections that changed the momentum of this game.  The team needs to consider scratching Mathew Dumba as he’s become a significant liability and isn’t scoring nearly enough to justify the amount of mistakes he’s making defensively.

Offensively the Wild were carried by the Haula-Pominville-Niederreiter line but the Wild got precious little from everyone else.  The Koivu-Granlund-Zucker line was missing in action virtually the whole game and the Staal-Parise-Coyle line wasn’t much of a factor either.  Too man passengers and even though the Wild should’ve been able to dominate the Canucks instead of decided to coast after a 2-0 lead and the Canucks were able to get back into the game and believe that they can win.  The power play was horrible and needs some serious re-thinking and doing the same predictable (not to mention ineffective) plays last year isn’t going to get it done.  Suter’s weak wrister on the point on the power play is a waste of a possession.

This is a game that hurts because the Wild threw this one away.  Like it or not Kuemper needs some starts and whether there were games to have their starter rest is irrelevant.  The team needs to know if Kuemper can spell him from time to time and this should’ve been a start he could win.  He didn’t provide much confidence and the Wild basically fell asleep at the wheel minus its 3rd line and squandered a chance to earn another 2 points in the standings.  The Wild have not fared well against the bottom dwellers of the Pacific division this season and those missed chances could prove costly as the season wears on.  Nothing can be done to change that now, all they can do is try to be better on Friday against Calgary.

Wild Notes:

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

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Ben Hutton, 2nd Star Jason Pominville, 3rd Star Sven Baertschi

~ Attendance was 17,917 at Rogers Arena.

Iowa Wild Report:

Iowa 5, Charlotte 1

This was Iowa’s day as the Wild weathered a Checker’s attack through the first few minutes to answer as Teemu Pulkkinen wired a shot off the rush that beat Alex Nedeljkovic off his arm and into the back of the net.  Iowa would add another on the power play as Pulkkinen wound up and blistered a shot by Nedeljkovic making it 2-0.  The Wild score again a few minutes later as Christoph Bertschy gave a drop pass to Alex Tuch who one-timed it by his former U.S. National Development teammate to give Iowa a commanding 3-0 lead at the end of the 1st.  Checkers’ bench boss Ulf Samuelsson had seen enough of Nedeljkovic and swapped him out for Daniel Altshuller.  In the 2nd, the Wild would score again on the power play as Grayson Downing dove to swing a pass out to the point to Gustav Olofsson who stepped into a wrist shot that beat Altshuller to make it 4-0.  The Checkers would score late in the period as Roland McKeown blasted a slap shot that beat Alex Stalock to cut the Wild lead to 3 going into the 3rd.  Iowa would add one last goal, again on the power play as Pat Cannone buried a rebound by Altshuller who had denied Jordan Schroeder at point blank range just moments before as Iowa cruised to a 5-1 victory.  Stalock had 21 saves in the win.  Pulkkinen had two goals and an assist and Schroeder had 3 helpers to their credit.


Wild Prospect Report:

D – Nolan DeJong (Michigan, Big 10) ~ the Wolverines may not have been successful in their showdown versus Ohio State on Saturday, but the hockey team earned a split against Lake Superior State with a 4-1 victory as DeJong chipped in the game winning goal in the effort.  The Victoria, British Columbia-native has 2 goals, 4 points, 6 PIM’s and is a +2 in 11 games.

D – Nick Boka (Michigan, Big 10) ~ Boka has been a healthy scratch the last few games and Wolverines’ legendary head coach Red Berenson gave the sophomore an opportunity on Saturday and he helped salt the game away with an empty net goal.  The former U.S. National Development team product has a goal, 2 points, 2 PIM’s and is a -1 in 12 games.

RW – Luke Kunin (Wisconsin, Big 10) ~ the Wild’s top pick from this summer’s entry draft has had an up and down season so far just as the Badgers have had.  On Saturday Kunin had a goal and an assist as well as 7 shots on goal in Wisconsin’s hard fought 6-5 loss to Denver.  Kunin has 7 goals, 12 points, 12 PIM’s and is a -7 in 12 games.

D – Gustav Bouramman (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) ~ the puck moving blueliner is a source of stability for the Greyhounds and he was so on Sunday as he contributed an assist, 5 shots on goal and was a +2 in their 8-3 win over Oshawa.  Bouramman has a goal, 11 points, 16 PIM’s and is a -5 in 24 games.

C – Dmitri Sokolov (Sudbury, OHL) ~ the Russian sniper embraced the role of set up man as he chipped in two assists as well as 7 shots on goal in Sudbury’s 6-4 win over Niagara.  Sokolov has 14 goals, 19 points, 2 PIM’s and is -13 in 22 games.

About Derek Felska

I am a hockey blogger originally from Elk River, MN. I have been blogging about Minnesota hockey for over 13 years and I like to cover it from the NHL on down to High School hockey. I try to provide honest, objective perspective from a 'non-homer' sort of fan. I hope my work reflects this approach.

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