With hockey Twitter all buzzing with trade rumors and mostly minor trade news, it makes you wonder if fans and players will be able to sleep ok tonight. I am not sure too many of us go to sleep with the worry that we might be relocating our lives in the next 24 hours. Sure professional athletes are used to travel, but a trade often means having to prove yourself all over again and disrupting your family in the process. That may not be that tough if you’re single, but if you’re married with children it can get a little messy. Even if you’re a ‘rental’ player it can cause stress even if you find yourself going to a team who has a better chance to make some noise in the post-season.
Both the Jets and the Wild want to make noise in the post-season but that’s easier said than done. The Jets are just barely holding on to the dream of the playoffs, while the Wild are hoping to secure their place as the top seed. So far Winnipeg has been quiet in regards to trades, but that of course could all change tomorrow as perhaps the team decides it has a chance to consider itself a contender or a pretender. Can Minnesota earn a big back to back victory tonight?
1st Period Thoughts: The Jets were coming off their own league-mandated 5-day hiatus tonight and they looked a bit sluggish as the period wore on but in the first few minutes they were moving pretty well. The Wild’s defense again would get caught playing what I call “radar” defense where they sort of stand in place and watch the opponents work the puck in their own zone instead of moving their feet to deny time and space. This is how Mark Scheifele was able to draw Minnesota’s focus and he would set up Patrik Laine for a wide open shot from the slot that Darcy Kuemper had no chance to stop. 1-0 Jets. With the sellout crowd into the game and chanting “Let’s go Jets” the Wild would respond with a goal of their own just 2 minutes later as a turnover in the neutral zone by Mikko Koivu turned into a quick pass to Mikael Granlund who had a step on the Jets’ defense and he’d skate in and beat Connor Hellebuyck with a sweet backhand-to-forehand-shelf move. 1-1 game. Minnesota’s goal deflated the home crowd and the Wild started to assert itself as Granlund and Jason Zucker really started to cause havoc in the Winnipeg zone. The Wild also started to throw its body around a bit too as Martin Hanzal, Chris Stewart and even Zucker were taking chances to dish out some hits. A strange sequence of an open-collision between Mathew Dumba and Scheifele would turn into a scrum and by the time the officials gained control of the situation it was Dumba earning a double-minor for roughing for running into a guy?!?! It was a strange call that the Wild bench wasn’t happy with, but Minnesota’s penalty kill was rock solid. Hanzal showed off his outstanding reach as he broke up a Jets’ zone entry that got cleared into the Winnipeg zone and Hellebuyck nearly coughed it up to a roving Eric Staal for what would’ve been a gimme. Minnesota got the kill and they’d go back on the attack and again it was Mikael Granlund as the catalyst. After a good play work the puck into the zone by Stewart the Wild kept hustling and Granlund found himself alone near the net and as he shot it would rebound off of Dustin Byfuglien and from his knees the Finnish wunderkind would dish the puck near the top of the crease for an easy tap in goal by Tyler Graovac. 2-1 on an incredible set up by Granlund. Then the game would get a bit scary as Paul Postma would hit Ryan Suter from behind that left him a little worse for the wear. The Wild training staff would attend to its alternate captain and help him make his way to the Wild bench. Postma would earn a 5-minute major but it was clear the Wild bench felt that didn’t go far enough, but it still gave the Wild a long power play. The first few minutes of the power play were a series of ugly mistakes. Whether it was fumbling the puck near the blueline or a failed zone entry the Wild were not making it too tough for the Jets 27th ranked penalty kill to do its job. The Wild would capitalize and it was Granlund making it happen as Stewart sent the puck into the zone where Granlund gathered it up and he’d feint at a shot that got Hellebuyck to commit and he’d feed pass to Erik Haula who sent a shot from beneath the goal line that went off the shoulder of a sprawling Jets’ goalie and in. 3-1 Wild going into the 2nd intermission.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period was a bit of a mixed bag. At times the Wild seemed to be a step or two ahead of the Jets in regards to execution with the puck and at others they kept suffering from the same kinds of let downs in their own end. Minnesota would add to its lead as Marco Scandella had some time and space and he’d wind up for a blast from the point that beat Hellebuyck cleanly. 4-1 Wild. The Jets would answer back as the Wild defense let up after Scandella’s goal and they’d get caught standing and watching as Adam Lowry worked the puck in close and he’d shovel a shot through Kuemper. 4-2 game. The goal would wake up the Wild and they’d start skating with purpose again keeping the Jets hemmed in their own end. The frustration was starting to boil over for the Jets as they would take a foolish penalty as Josh Morrissey got into it with Zucker and as the two faced one another he’d get knocked down by Lowry that gave Minnesota a power play. Shortly after the Wild’s power play came up empty Chris Stewart would follow a puck into the Jets zone and then making a nice play to foil a Winnipeg clearing attempt that allowed Ryan White to race in and then wire a shot by Hellebuyck. 5-2 Wild and Jets’ bench boss Paul Maurice had seen enough and he swapped out Hellebuyck for Michael Hutchinson. The Wild sort of let up the last few minutes and no surprise the Jets would go on the attack. After a blatant missed interference call on the Jets they’d work it deep into the Wild zone and it was Mathieu Perreault getting set up in the slot for a wrister that beat Kuemper with ease. 5-3 going into the 2nd intermission. The Wild must not just defend its lead if it wants to win this game.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period was more of that dysfunctional mix of significant let downs in focus as well as moments of resilience. In the 1st half of the 3rd, the Wild were doing a good job at applying token pressure and preventing the Jets from mounting much in the way of a rally. The team looked like it was cruising to a victory when it got a power play as Zucker drew a hooking call on Tobias Enstrom. Cue mental lapse as the Wild got too fancy and cutesy with the puck making ill-advised decisions with the puck and it ultimately turned into disaster. A failed pass to the point turned into an odd-man rush for Joel Armia and he’d skate in and fire a snap shot that slammed off the glass behind the goal and then back out front and off of Kuemper and in cutting the Wild lead to one, 5-4. The goal energized the slumbering home crowd and they’d help inspire their club to get the equalizer a little under two minutes later and now the game was tied. Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau had seen enough and he pulled Kuemper for Devan Dubnyk. The Wild seemed to do all they could to dare the Jets to get the go-ahead goal as they took back to back penalties that were somewhat retaliatory in nature. Fortunately for the Wild their penalty kill was tremendous as they kept the Jets from the middle of the ice and forced them to settle for shots from the perimeter. Minnesota would kill off that second penalty and it was Scandella flipping a puck out of the zone that was tracked down by Haula who drew the defense towards him before finding a trailing Zucker with a pass and he rifled a shot by Hutchinson. 6-5 Wild and Minnesota locked it down in the last minutes and they’d skate away with a victory.
Devan Dubnyk would get credit for the victory with just 7 saves. Kuemper was his average self and while I felt he got left out to dry he wasn’t saving the Wild’s bacon either and that’s why he’ll probably always be a backup at best. He doesn’t make the denial type saves like Dubnyk did down the stretch when he stopped Nic Petan at point-blank range. Defensively the Wild suffered from lapses in focus that allowed the Jets to keep this game closer than they should have. As Boudreau said in the post-game interview the one real bright spot was the penalty kill which delivered big time late in the 3rd to give the team a chance to win the game.
Offensively, the Wild were carried again by Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker who have really put the team on its shoulders as of late. Granlund’s 3-point first period really got the Wild out to a fast start. His competitiveness really was on display and he’s steadily developing into a go-to threat. Zucker too has taken that next step and he just wills scoring chances with his hustle and tenacity on the puck. Toss in a few contributions from the supporting cast like Ryan White and this team puts up 6 goals. That’s the scoring depth that has carried this team all season (knock on wood).
Bruce Boudreau was not happy after this game, beyond the fact the team found a way to earn 2 points. I have to agree with him. The Wild are playing with reckless abandon with an emphasis on reckless. Inconsistent defensive zone coverage and not all of the players are pulling their weight these days. Charlie Coyle anyone? Eric Staal hasn’t been much of a factor either. The Wild need to clean up their game and sickness or not they have to execute better if they expect to beat a team like Columbus. Suter’s injury will certainly be the big story in the next 48 hours; maybe bigger for the Wild than what happens with the trade deadline tomorrow. That’s it for me…see ya Thursday!
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Hanzal, Jordan Schroeder, Chris Stewart, Ryan White, Tyler Graovac, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Marco Scandella and Christian Folin. Devan Dubnyk shared duties between the pipes with Darcy Kuemper. Nate Prosser was the lone healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Mikael Granlund, 2nd Star Mark Scheifele, 3rd Star Mathieu Perreault
~ Attendance was 15,294 at MTS Centre.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW – Kirill Kaprizov (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL) ~ the playoffs have begun in the Kontinental Hockey League and Kaprizov is trying to help lift his club to the next round. The Novokuznetsk-native deflected a point shot by Linus Omark that found the back of the net in a 2-1 loss to Ak Bars Kazan. Kaprizov has 3 goals in 3 playoff games.
D – Gustav Bouramman (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) ~ the puck moving defenseman had an assist and 3 shots on goal in the Greyhounds’ 5-2 win over North Bay. Bouramman has 2 goals, 30 points, 32 PIM’s and is a +3 in 57 games.