With just 5 games under their belt, the Minnesota Wild have played the least amount of games of any team in the NHL. That has been a popular topic on Twitter the last two weeks as fans have complained about the long layoffs early on because fans realize how it will be 4-games in 7 nights throughout the entire spring that makes it such a grind. That will change this week as the team has games this evening, Thursday and Saturday. The long break has given fans more time to discuss the team’s injuries woes.
The Canucks used to be a big rivalry of the Wild during the old Northwest Division days. Since moving divisions, the feeling of rivalry has admittedly faded, but the club has been through lots of good battles and both clubs will see this as an opportunity to move up in the standings. Can the Wild take advantage of home-ice and earn another win to try to move out of the Central Division cellar?
1st Period Thoughts: The period resembled a chess match as both clubs were very wary of giving each other too much room in the middle of the ice. It was all about keeping your opponent near the boards and if you did manage to work your way to an area for a shot the teams were quick to tie up crashing forwards and 2nd chance opportunities were non-existent. The Wild tried to control the pace early but were only able to generate a few long-range shots that were fairly simple for Anders Nilsson to dismiss. A slashing call on Alex Burmistrov gave Minnesota’s power play an opportunity. On the power play the Wild moved the puck around the perimeter but beyond a few point shots the Wild didn’t generate a whole lot of pressure. The best chance on the man advantage came off a cross-ice pass to Tyler Ennis who fired a quick shot and the rebound shot back out front where Chris Stewart wiffed on an attempt to bat the puck in. If there was any solace in the fact the Wild were not generating many quality offensive chances, it came from the fact the Canucks had even less opportunities offensively. Minnesota did a great job of limiting Vancouver to one-and-done opportunities and taking the body in the area around the blue paint. Kyle Quincey and Ryan Suter were both knocking down Vancouver forwards looking for rebounds which was a refreshing change from a group that isn’t known for their physical play. Joel Eriksson Ek had a few nice chances late in the period. Not a bad start, where Minnesota outshot Vancouver 11 to 6.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period was somewhat similar to the 1st with scoring chances few and far between. This time I felt the Wild’s level of execution regressed a bit and Minnesota had a number of lazy and errant passes that thwarted any chance at creating anything offensively. The Canucks were quick to try to pounce on the loose pucks and Vancouver began to dictate the pace of play. Vancouver was transitioning well to offense and that meant Devan Dubnyk was asked to make some good saves off the rush. The Wild were guilty at times of overhandling the puck instead of keeping it simple and sending shots on goal and crashing for rebounds. The only Wild player that I felt seemed to understand pucks needed to go on goal was Eriksson Ek as he had Minnesota’s best opportunity of the period on a sneaky wrist shot. The Wild seemed content to wait for someone else to make a play but no one really seemed to be looking to make that play. Chris Stewart made a nice long saucer pass that seemed to spring Eric Staal for a breakaway but he was held up by Ben Hutton to no call before Nilsson was able to pounce on the loose biscuit. The crowd was pretty sleepy by the end of the period and so were the Wild as the Canucks were buzzing in the closing minute looking for a goal and they came dangerously close as Michael Del Zotto blasted a shot that was deflected up into the netting. Not a good period. Uninspired and sloppy. Vancouver outshot the Wild 14-10.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period was much the same as the rest of the game. Players going through the motions, with no one really looking to take the initiative in order to take control of this game. Vancouver simply waited patiently for their moment to strike and it came a few minutes into the 3rd when Jake Virtanen stole a puck in the neutral zone and he’d skate into the Minnesota end and fire a wrist shot that was partially blocked by Jared Spurgeon and back to Virtanen who ripped it by Dubnyk. 1-0 Vancouver. The Wild didn’t seem to have a ton of urgency to strike back. The team only seemed to give a token amount of effort for a ‘comeback.’ Even when they got gifted a bad power play on a weak call to Alex Biega the Wild inexplicably appeared to be coasting and lethargic on their passes that allowed the Canucks to easily disrupt their attempts to move the puck for a shot on goal. Ultimately the Wild would take a foolish penalty with a minute left in their man advantage and really kill their last chance to tie this game. The last few minutes after the failed power play, the Wild started to skate with some purpose and throw their bodies around. It was a distinct contrast to the way too comfortable, we have all the time in the world mentality they had the rest of the game. Even then, the Canucks were getting pucks in shooting lanes and Nilsson wasn’t really all that challenged in the closing minutes and the Wild would fall 1-0.
Devan Dubnyk was reasonable, making 24 saves in the loss but he didn’t have to face a ton of quality chances. While I think the play in front of him was better overall, the Wild were not exactly going against a real dangerous attack either. Even Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin were mostly invisible tonight. I liked Mike Reilly being back on the blueline, he was one of the few defenseman that seemed to have any real jump to his skates and decisiveness with the puck. I thought the combination of Kyle Quincey and Mathew Dumba was a vast improvement defensively over what we’ve seen from the Jonas Brodin-Dumba combination we had earlier in the season.
Offensively it was easily the Wild’s most uninspired effort of the season. No one seemed to really want the puck on their stick other than Joel Eriksson Ek. Ek was the only Wild forward who consistently seemed to take his chances to shoot the puck. Way too much passing, and far too many of those passes lacked the crispness which made them easy to knock away and thus the team spent lots of time chasing the puck around instead of creating offensive pressure. The power play was plagued with slow, predicable puck movement by the same players who are notorious for plodding play that helps kill momentum even though you’re the team with the man advantage. I hope Justin Kloos enjoys the drive back to Des Moines, he did nothing at all to distinguish himself beyond making a terrible mistake deep in his own end and then doubling down on his mistake with a bad penalty.
This was a boring and ugly hockey game. The Wild looked like the team completing a long road trip; instead of a team that had two days off after a very slow start to the season. In some ways, we’ve grown to expect a lethargic effort from this team when its well-rested. Injuries or not, the Wild should’ve been able to handle the Canucks and earn a victory this evening. On Thursday the Islanders are coming to town and they’re going to be fast and physical and if the Wild put out the same kind of effort they have tonight they will get blitzed. If this effort was an aberration or typical example of what to expect they will get a rude awakening in a few days.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Chris Stewart, Eric Staal, Luke Kunin, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis, Daniel Winnik, Matt Cullen, Justin Kloos, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Kyle Quincey and Mike Reilly. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Landon Ferraro, Zach Parise and Gustav Olofsson were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Anders Nilsson, 2nd Star Jake Virtanen, 3rd Star Devan Dubnyk
~ Attendance was 18,694 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Justin Kloos wore #82 in his NHL debut joining Marian Gaborik as the only Wild player to ever having worn the number.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Erie, OHL) ~ the strong season continues for the Novi, Michigan-native who had 2 goals on 2 shots in the Otters’ 6-4 win over Owen Sound on Saturday. Lodnia has 8 goals, 12 points, 10 PIM’s and is a +1 in 11 games.
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Sudbury, OHL) ~ the Omsk, Russia-born sniper continues to light the lamp for Sudbury as he earned 1st star honors after tallying two goals (5 shots on goal) in the Wolves’ 3-2 win over Kingston on Saturday. Sokolov has 8 goals, 14 points, 2 PIM’s and is a +2 in 12 games.