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Nashville Patient in 4-2 Win Over Minnesota

I hope everyone had an awesome Hockey Day Minnesota yesterday.  I know its one of my favorite days of the year and normally I needed some recovery time from the 16+ hours of hockey.  Yet someone in their infinite wisdom decided to have yet another back-to-back game, the only relief for the Minnesota Wild both games are at home.  The Wild are coming off a dramatic 5-3 Hockey Day Minnesota victory over Anaheim last night.  The comeback would be a nice story even if we were playing a bottom feeder but instead it was the best team in the Pacific which makes the feat that much more impressive.

Nashville is hoping to bring some Achy-Breaky to what has been a pretty fun weekend in the State of Hockey.  The Predators have been climbing in the Central Division rankings and they felt this was their year to make a statement.  Will the Predators take another step to be noticed by earning a win against Minnesota or will the Wild’s awesome weekend add another exclamation point?

1st Period Thoughts:  One would’ve expected the Wild to look a bit fatigued after an emotional game the night before but Minnesota looked focused and ready to start this game.  Right from the drop of the puck the Wild put the sluggish Predators on their heels and Pekka Rinne found himself under siege.  Minnesota was keeping it simple, attacking in waves by using their speed and working pucks deep.  With Mikko Koivu out with illness they had to shuffle their lines but Minnesota benefited from its simplified approach.  It started with the newly formed line of Jordan Schroeder, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund who raced into the Nashville zone and it was Zucker setting up Granlund with a pass and he’d skate out front and wrap a shot by Rinne.  1-0 Wild.  Minnesota kept pouring it on and they’d strike again a few minutes later as Jason Pominville wound up and blasted a slap shot off the rush that beat Rinne who took a horrible angle on the shot.  2-0 Wild and it looked like Rinne could be chased at any minute.  A cross checking penalty on Marco Scandella put the Wild down a man.  Minnesota kept hustling well and the Predators had trouble setting up power play, either going offsides or Wild sticks in passing lanes.  Pominville and Erik Haula skated puck into zone for a potential short handed shot, instead they used it to get puck into the Nashville zone and take time off the man advantage.   Predators finally get shot by Ryan Ellis on goal but Darcy Kuemper grabs puck out of the air Wild kill penalty after a big shot by P.K. Subban that goes wide and pops out of zone.  Kuemper did a good job making the initial save and the Wild were collapsing back to help their goaltender by sweeping away rebounds before they could turn into additional trouble.  The Wild’s 4th line struggled at times to get the puck out of their own end and even though Minnesota carried its two goal lead into the 2nd I expect Nashville to try to take advantage of that next period and beyond.  Kurtis Gabriel was particularly turnover prone.  Overall a pretty good start for the Wild.

2nd Period Thoughts:  The 2nd period would be where the Wild showed some definite signs of fatigue.  The legs labored a bit more and the passing suffered as players just didn’t have the jump to skate they appeared to have in the 1st.  The Predators would cut Minnesota’s lead to one, as a collision between Zucker and Ryan Suter turned into an opportunity for James Neal and he put a shot top shelf by Kuemper.  At times the Wild were getting caught in their own end as Nashville moved the puck with impunity in the offensive zone and Minnesota spent lots of time chasing and getting little accomplished.  The fatigue also brought some frustration and you started to see more chippy play before and after the whistle.  Cody McLeod decided to say ‘hi’ with a few cheap shots and you could also see it in the form of a coincidental minor between Nino Niederreiter and Subban.  Minnesota had a few good scoring chances in the period but they’ll have to dig deep if they want to win this one.  The Wild were outshot 10-4 which kind of sums up the overall dominance of the period.  The only question is how much gas do the Wild have left in the tank?

3rd Period Thoughts:  The Wild were still mostly tired in the 3rd but I felt they gave most of what they had.  Minnesota’s best line by far late was the Zucker, Granlund, Schroeder line which appeared to have speed and was able to give the Predators fits.  The line seemed to be able to put the Predators on their heels and work themselves open for scoring chances.  Unfortunately the Wild couldn’t finish as Zucker was denied on a toe-pad save by Rinne.  Nashville seemed content to wait for the fatigued Wild to make a mistake and that’s precisely what they did.  The Predators would counter attack and they’d get the go-ahead goal after some confusion defensively by the Wild’s forwards that left Filip Forsberg all alone for a one-timer that beat Kuemper to make it 3-2 Nashville.  It was a bit of a soft goal as Kuemper was sitting back almost along the goal line as he was beaten by Forsberg’s shot.  Minnesota tried to rally back but all too often it was errant passes or Rinne was able to make the save as he denied Zach Parise off a nice pass by Pominville.  Ryan Johansen would add an empty net goal to seal the 4-2 victory.

Darcy Kuemper was ok, making 28 saves in the loss.  Early on he was making the first save and he had good puck support in sweeping away dangerous rebounds.  Yet his tendency to give up a soft goal was again a backbreaker as the team often has to score 3 or more goals in order to have a chance when he starts.  It may not sound fair, but its the truth.  I thought Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter played well but beyond that it was a little hit or miss.

Offensively the Wild seemed to run out of gas in the middle portion of the 1st period.  The Wild stopped attacking and poor execution on the man advantage really stalled the club and the rest of Minnesota’s scoring efforts seemed to be solo attempts and less organized overall.  The Wild’s best line was the Granlund, Zucker, Schroeder line but Coyle, Staal, Parise line was sluggish and they struggled to create much in the way of scoring chances.  If Koivu’s illness keeps him out longer than just a game they need to really re-work their power play because it was a total mess this evening.

The result was not a huge surprise considering the fact it was their 3rd game in 4 nights but other teams face the same challenge so there is no use complaining about it.  Minnesota now needs to recharge and refocus as they have two more games before the All Star break.   One player who I felt was way in over his head was Mike Reilly who made a number of boneheaded plays with the puck in the 3rd period.  Whether it was sending passes into the skates of his teammates as they skated towards him or foolish high risk, low reward decisions I felt he should be sat for the next game barring the rest of the team’s core of blueliners being healthy.  You could hear the frustration in Bruce Boudreau‘s voice in the post-game interview about the small, dumb mistakes that ultimately cost the team an opportunity to earn another 2 points.  Dallas may be struggling recently, but the Wild should not coast, as they are more opportunities to gain separation on the rest of the field.

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster this evening was as follows: Erik Haula, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle, Jordan Schroeder, Tyler Graovac, Eric Staal, Chris Stewart, Kurtis Gabriel, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Nate Prosser and Mike Reilly.  Devan Dubnyk backed up Darcy Kuemper.  Christian Folin was the lone healthy scratch and Mikko Koivu was out of the lineup with an illness.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Filip Forsberg, 2nd Star Mikael Granlund, 3rd Star Jason Pominville

~ Attendance was 19,087 at Xcel Energy Center.

Iowa Wild Report:

Friday: Iowa 2, Texas 3 OT

Iowa proved the 1st period was about quality and not quantity as they were outshot 12-5, but still managed to find the back of the net thanks to Kurtis Gabriel‘s 3rd goal in the last 4 games to give the Wild a 1-0 lead going into the 2nd period.  Gabriel swept up the rebound given up by Landon Bow and fired it by the sprawling Stars netminder.  The 2nd period was another stalemate of solid defense from both squads and solid goaltending from Bow and Alex Stalock.  In the 3rd the Stars would score twice in a span of 20 seconds as Matt Mangene and Nick Ebert lit the lamp and the game seemed to be destined to be another late-game disappointment for Iowa.  Iowa would push back and with just 6 seconds left Sam Anas would net the equalizer sending the game into overtime.  The Wild had a hard time with the speedy Stars in overtime and it was the former Waterloo Blackhawk Ebert ripping a shot by Stalock for the game winner, 3-2.  Stalock had 24 saves in the loss.


Saturday: Iowa 3, Texas 2

As often happens in the American Hockey League, especially in weekend series teams often play back-to-backs against one another in an effort to save on travel costs.  It can also help raise the intensity of such games as emotions from the previous game can spill over into the next game.  Iowa was no doubt determined to rectify their overtime loss to the Stars on Friday.  The Wild would strike first as Marc Hagel deflected a point shot by Gustav Olofsson by Landon Bow to give Iowa 1-0 lead.  Texas answered back in the 2nd as Travis Morin deflected a Ludwig Bystrom shot by Steve Michalek.  Iowa would re-take the lead about 10 minutes later when it was Nick Seeler hammering a slap shot that would be deflected twice by Hagel and Alex Petan respectively before beating Bow to make it 2-1 going into the 3rd.  In the 3rd, Iowa would extend its lead with just over 6 minutes left as Mario Lucia swept up a puck near the crease and fired it home to give the Wild a 2-goal cushion.  That would be important as Texas scored with just under 3 minutes left as Brandon DeFazio‘s point shot would hit a few legs and sticks before being deflected home by Morin.  Yet it wasn’t enough as the Wild were able to hold on for the 3-2 victory.  Michalek had 33 saves in the win and Olofsson had a 2-assist effort.


Wild Prospect Report:

C – Dmitry Sokolov (Sudbury, OHL) ~ the skilled Russian forward is proving he’s not just a goal scorer, but he has some playmaking ability as well as he had two helpers in Sudbury’s 6-3 loss to North Bay on Thursday night.  On Friday he followed that effort with another assist and 5 shots on goal in their 6-3 loss to Saginaw.  Sokolov has 33 goals, 49 points, 4 PIM’s and is a -17 in 41 games.

LW – Jordan Greenway (Boston, H-East) ~ the rugged power forward continues his strong sophomore season as he had a power play goal (4 shots on goal) in Boston’s 4-1 win over Maine.  He’d add another assist (along with 6 shots on goal) in their 3-1 series sweep against the Black Bears.  Greenway has 7 goals, 22 points, 44 PIM’s and is a +8 in 21 games.

D – Jack Sadek (Minnesota, Big 10) ~ the former Lakeville North Star had good moments (an assist) and bad moments (costly turnovers) in Minnesota’s 4-3 OT win over the Badgers.  He had another helper on Saturday when the Gophers split their series after losing 5-3.  Sadek has a goal, 6 points, 8 PIM’s and is a +7 in 18 games.

C – Luke Kunin (Wisconsin, Big 10) ~ the skilled center demonstrated his terrific quickness as he lit the lamp as the Badgers and also chipped in a helper in Wisconsin’s 4-3 OT loss to Minnesota.  The next night Kunin chipped in a helper as Wisconsin prevailed 5-3 over its arch-rival.  Kunin has 14 goals, 22 points, 16 PIM’s and is a -5 in 19 games.

LW – Brandon Duhaime (Providence, ECAC) ~ the left winger is slowly adapting to the speed and strength of the college game as he had an assist in the Friars’ 4-3 win over UMass-Lowell on Friday.  Duhaime has 2 goals, 7 points, 39 PIM’s and is a -5 in 23 games.

D – Louie Belpedio (Miami, NCHC) ~ the stocky defenseman seems to make an impact (positive or negative) anytime he suits up for the Redhawks and he had a goal in Miami’s .  Belpedio has 5 goals, 13 points, 33 PIM’s and is a -3 in 17 games.

C – Avery Peterson (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ the former Grand Rapids’ star had a goal an assist as Minnesota-Duluth prevailed 5-3 over North Dakota on Friday.  Peterson has 2 goals, 5 points, 15 PIM’s and is a +6 in 6 games.

D – Nolan DeJong (Michigan, Big 10) ~ the British Columbia-native had the Wolverines first goal as Michigan tied arch-rival Michigan State 2-2 on Saturday night.  DeJong has 3 goals, 7 points, 29 PIM’s and is a -4 in 21 games.

D – Bradyn Chizen (Kelowna, WHL) ~ the big lanky defenseman will probably never be a big producer offensively but he found the back of the net on Saturday in a 4-1 win for Kelowna over Portland.  Chizen has 3 goals, 8 points, 48 PIM’s and is a +4 in 45 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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