How did you spend your 5 day NHL furlough. Did you fly off to some place sunny and not inundated by a fresh blanket of snow? I am sure a lot of Wild fans wish they could’ve avoided this latest winter blast, but it goes with the territory of living in this part of the country. So beyond shoveling snow what did you do? Did you make your way to your local rink to watch High School hockey or did you watch some college games instead or did you take your own break from NHL hockey?
‘The break’ has not been kind to most NHL clubs returning to action but the home stretch truly begins now and they will not have time to get back up to speed. While the debate about the benefit or the detriment of the break will continue in the media the Wild start back up with a game against the Los Angeles Kings. Can the Wild pick up where they left off or will they still look like they’re on the beach somewhere (mentally speaking of course)?
1st Period Thoughts: I will start talking about the first with a small confession. I don’t get hangovers. I don’t know why, but I just don’t but the Wild certainly do. The 1st period was sloppy, uninspired much in the way you’d expect from a team just making its way back from sunny beaches and other vacation spots yesterday. The focus wasn’t there at all and not having Zach Parise and Jason Pominville there due to mumps certainly did not help when the team was trying to break in Martin Hanzal and Ryan White to their new club. As bad as Minnesota was, the Kings were not exactly lights out either. The Wild did an ok job of keeping the Kings’ to the perimeter, but defensive breakdowns would prove costly as the game went on. Los Angeles would strike first as Marian Gaborik would get as step on Marco Scandella and draw the defense towards him as Minnesota followed the puck like lemmings this created a little space for Nick Shore and Gaborik set up a one-timer for the former Denver star and he’d beat Dubnyk with ease. 1-0 Kings. Minnesota was having a hard time connecting on passes and especially the newcomers Hanzal and White were at times guilty of kind of getting in the way as the team tried to work its breakout plays. Minnesota had a good chance from its 4th line as Chris Stewart pounced on a rebound where he tried to dangle a backhander by Jonathan Quick but he’d stoned Stewart with a nice leg pad stop. Minnesota would keep battling and it was White winning a battle for the puck along the wall and was able to send a pass out front to Nino Niederreiter who made a nice little move from in close before lifting a backhander by Quick tying the game at 1-1. The good feeling were short-lived as a turnover in the neutral zone turned into small opening for Tanner Pearson who fired a shot that deflected off the stick of Jonas Brodin and eluded Dubnyk. 2-1 Kings. The Wild just seemed to be out of sync. The Wild were slowing the game down at the wrong time and trying to force long, cross-ice passes that were not really there to be had. Minnesota needs to simplify its game. Los Angeles is 13-1-1 when holding a lead after the 1st so they have their work cut out for them.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild showed more snarl and physicality as Minnesota started to throw their bodies around more liberally. Minnesota’s physical play started to slow down the Kings who seemed to be a bit stunned by the Wild’s new ‘heavy’ style of play and they’d cash in on a somewhat of a fluke play. It started with a turnover by Stewart who then tried to feed a pass to Tyler Graovac who passed it down low to Jordan Schroeder who tried to give it back to Graovac but his pass would go off the stick of Nick Shore and by Quick. 2-2 game. Minnesota kept feeding off the physical play and Erik Haula was stoned on two great open chances where he waited a few precious seconds before pulling the trigger and Quick was up to the task. The Kings would take back the lead as Jake Muzzin flung a wrist shot that beat a well-screened Dubnyk. 3-2 as Hanzal more or less ended up screening his own goaltender. The Wild would go back to work and after another great energy shift by the 4th line of Graovac, Schroeder and Stewart who seemed to have plenty of jump in their skates, Minnesota was able to tilt the ice in their favor. Minnesota would tie the game after a nice play by Eric Staal to win a battle for the puck along the boards and he’d send a quick shot that was redirected by Quick by White to loud cheer from the home crowd of their newly drafted winger. The physical play wasn’t without its dangers as Nino Niederreiter seemed to get caught with an elbow of Jake Muzzin that seemed to leave his nose looking a bit crooked. Minnesota outshot Los Angeles 15-9 in the 2nd so a nice rally after a sluggish 1st period. This more truculent style of play was kind of refreshing for a team that normally is known for taking hits rather than dishing them out.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period had a back and forth playoff-like energy to it. The Kings would try to quell the Wild’s momentum to their strong finish of the 1st, as they had some quality opportunities early. Marian Gaborik would pounce on a rebound to give the Kings a 4-3 lead. Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau would challenge the play saying the Kings were offsides but after review it was clear Los Angeles was in fact onsides and the goal would stand. At times the Wild would get caught watching a little too much and the Kings would just work the puck in close and try to jam it in. Los Angeles’ best chance of the period was on a flurry near the crease where Trevor Lewis came oh-so-close to burying it but a desperation sweep of the puck by Dubnyk bailed his team out. The Wild would regroup and both clubs were quick to tie up forwards after the initial shot and 2nd chance opportunities were hard to come by. One player that looked like a man on a mission was Jason Zucker who was using his speed to drive the Kings crazy all game long. Zucker’s persistence would be rewarded when he helped create a turnover and then ripped a shot by Quick to tie the game at 4-4. Minnesota seemed to run out of gas in the last few minutes and the Wild seemed to be just hanging on with desperate scrambles in their own end and were able to battle the Kings to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: It did not take long, just 12 seconds for the Wild to decide this game as Mikael Granlund gathered up speed in his own end and then sliced right through the Kings’ defense as he skated by Kopitar and then protected the puck from Drew Doughty and then beat Quick backhand to forehand. 5-4 Wild on one of the most memorable solo efforts in a long time.[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=074hRP72L8k&w=560&h=315]
Devan Dubnyk was ok in his return from the 5-day break, making 26 saves in the victory. I thought at times he seemed to see the pucks well through traffic, but he clearly got caught a few where he had limited disability. Defensively the Wild were being a bit more physical with the Kings this evening, but I also felt they had sequences where they were getting caught watching the play far too much. They will be tested in similar fashion tomorrow night against the Jets so they better clean that up.
Offensively the Wild continued to showcase their scoring depth by putting up 5 goals with a lineup that did not include Parise or Pominville. The power play had some decent chances and if it wasn’t for some nice stops by Quick it would’ve cashed in. Zucker, Granlund continued to deliver the clutch plays to win the game. Yet, the tremendous effort of the 4th line of Graovac, Stewart or Schroeder who provided energy and caused lots of trouble for the Kings in their own end most of the game. I thought it was a bit of a mistake by Boudreau for not giving the 4th line more shifts late in the 3rd when it was clear some of the Wild were looking a bit gassed out there.
The Wild earned a big 2 points that allows to give them a 5-point cushion from Chicago and they overcame a sluggish 1st period. Minnesota’s resilience continues to manifest itself just when you think they might just mail it in, they don’t. Now they have to enjoy it for an hour or so and then re-focus for another tough battle against the Jets up in Winnipeg tomorrow.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Tyler Graovac, Jordan Schroeder, Martin Hanzal, Erik Haula, Chris Stewart, Ryan White, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba and Nate Prosser. Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk. Zach Parise and Jason Pominville were out of the lineup with the mumps while Christian Folin was a healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Mikael Granlund, 2nd Star Ryan White, 3rd Star Jared Spurgeon
~ Attendance was 19,118 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Martin Hanzal wore #19, joining Stephane Veilleux, Brett Bulmer, Jeff Nielsen, Patrick O’Sullivan, Andy Hilbert and David Cullen in having worn the number.
~ Ryan White wore #21, joining Mark Parrish, Mikko Koivu (his original number), Cam Stewart, Eric Chouinard and Kyle Brodziak in having worn the number.
Iowa Wild Prospect:
Iowa 3, Chicago 4 OT
It was a rough weekend for the Iowa Wild who had hoped to solidify itself as a playoff contender only to stumble and lose ground instead. Even when it seemed to be on its way it seemed to find a way to take at least one step backwards. Sunday’s game was case in point. The 1st period was back and forth and seemed to be destined to end 0-0 when Wade Megan ripped a shot that found the twine behind Alex Stalock making it 1-0 Chicago. Iowa and Tyler Graovac would answer back with two goals of his own to give the Wild a 2-1 lead going into the 3rd. Graovac would score again on the power play early in the 3rd to complete a natural hat trick and it seemed as though Iowa was well on its way to a victory. The Wolves would cut the Iowa lead to one a few minutes later on Vince Dunn‘s power play goal and then Dunn would get the game tying goal on another man advantage with less than 3 minutes left sending the game to overtime. In overtime, it wouldn’t take long as the Wolves lit the lamp just 24 seconds as Wade Megan buries a pass by Jordan Schmaltz to give Chicago a 4-3 come-from-behind victory. Stalock made 19 saves in the loss.[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_QwpydmRt4&w=560&h=315]
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Dmitry Sokolov (Sudbury, OHL) ~ the Russian forward continues to terrorize OHL goaltenders as he scored his 41st and 42nd goal on Friday, earning 2nd star honors in the process as the Wolves defeated Barrie 6-5. Sokolov has 42 goals, 63 points, 6 PIM’s and is a -27 in 54 games.
D – Braydyn Chizen (Kelowna, WHL) ~ The big defenseman will never be mistaken for an offensively gifted blueliner but he did manage to register an assist in the Rockets’ 8-2 dismantling of Kamloops on Friday night. The St. Albert, Alberta-native then had another assist the next night in a 5-3 loss to Seattle. Chizen has 3 goals, 10 points, 69 PIM’s and is a +3 in 57 games.
G – Ales Stezka (Chicago, USHL) ~ the still uncommitted Czech-born goaltender just keeps plugging away for the Steel as he had 33 saves in their 3-1 win over Green Bay on Friday. Stezka has an 18-7-3 record, a 2.24 goals against average and a .917% save percentage with 3 shutouts.
RW – Luke Kunin (Wisconsin, Big 10) ~ the shifty Chesterfield, Missouri-native had just one shot against the Gophers on Friday but he made it count as it created a rebound that teammate Aidan Cavallini pounced on to swing momentum as the Badgers earned a 3-2 victory over the Gophers. The next night, the former U.S. National Development team star had a goal in the Badgers’ 3-2 loss to Minnesota. Kunin has 20 goals, 35 points, 28 PIM’s and -2 in 29 games.Read next
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