A few days ago I happen to stumble across the late 1990’s film Dude, Where’s My Car which I had seen exactly one time prior to this latest viewing. I vaguely remembered the plot which was about as messed up as one would expect from a film headlined by Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott. Thankfully for Scott, he redeemed himself with the Goon series more recently, but without revealing any of the film the rest is not really worth recalling other than to say its so bad you can’t look away. That would also describe the Minnesota Wild’s last effort against the New Jersey Devils when they beat Minnesota 4-3 in overtime in November.
Minnesota has gained a little bit from the bottom pack of the Central Division but they have Pacific clubs nipping at their heels for the final wildcard spot. The Devils find themselves in a similar situation in the Metropolitan and are doing their best to hold it together despite losing their starting goaltender Corey Schneider due to injury. Can the Wild earn another big road win in New Jersey?
1st Period Thoughts: The Wild started out with some good energy; winning races to loose pucks and giving New Jersey fits in its own zone. Eddie Lack, a goaltender who hasn’t had a lot of action this season was fighting the puck early as every shot seemed to force him to twist and contort himself to keep out of his goal. Minnesota’s forechecking pressure started with the 4th line of Joel Eriksson Ek, Daniel Winnik and Chris Stewart who got a little time and space and he’d let got a shot that Lack fumbled and the puck wound pop up into the air and behind the Swedish goaltender and land in the crease before being swept out of danger by an alert Andy Greene. Unfortunately that was as good as it would get for Minnesota as penalties would derail the momentum they had built up. It started with Ryan Suter tripping up Nico Hischier. On the power play, the Devils were able to move the puck around the perimeter without much difficult and Alex Stalock started to find himself pretty busy. The Devils were able to generate a fair amount of traffic in front of Stalock and they were trying to thread shots from the point. Minnesota couldn’t seem to clear the zone and the pressure continued to mount. The Wild would manage to get the kill but the good feelings would be short lived as Eric Staal would take lazy tripping penalty on Pavel Zacha. The Devils power play; already feeling pretty good would go back to work and the team gave Taylor Hall way too much time and space and he’d thread the needle on a shot from right near the right faceoff dot that worked through a screen and off the post and in. 1-0 Devils. Minnesota tried to regroup, but the penalties seemed to rob the team of cohesion and they’d invite further pain as Nick Seeler got a pretty weak interference call as Stefan Noesen would trip over the back of the goal but because the Wild defender was nearby he was sent to the box. Minnesota’s penalty killers did a bit better and depriving time and space from the Devils on this power play and they managed to get a kill. Stalock had his own struggles to cover up pucks which would’ve helped out his defense a bit on the man advantage. The last few minutes, the Wild resembled the opening hockey scene in Slap Shot with the Devils firing away from the left and then to the right with lots of Minnesota players sort of standing around and Stalock under siege. Thankfully the period would come to an end, but Minnesota was out shot 18-6 and were fortunate to only be down 1-0 at this point.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would get off to a slow start in the 2nd as the Wild seemed to lack fire and energy despite having had the last few days off since their game against the Islanders on Monday. The Devils would extend their lead as Minnesota got caught standing around and watching as a shot block by Mikko Koivu ended up on the stick of Noesen who swept it by Stalock. 2-0 New Jersey. The goal seemed to finally awaken the Wild a bit as they’d force a Devils penalty and Minnesota was able to finally sustain some pressure in the offensive zone. Lack seemed to be shaky as each shot seemed to require a desperate effort to steer it wide of the goal. Minnesota kept hustling, particularly Zach Parise who seemed to have a little extra burst tonight. The period would end but Minnesota would light the lamp as Mike Reilly fired a shot from the point that went off Devils’ defenseman John Moore and by Lack cutting the Devils lead to one, 2-1. Minnesota continued to work hard and the 4th line would really step it up with one of the best single shifts of the season. It started with a strong effort by Winnik who protected the puck against Damon Severson and he’d swing a pass towards the crease that was tapped home by Eriksson Ek. With the game now tied at two goals apiece the Wild kept its 4th line out on the ice and they’d find the back of the net again as Winnik won a battle for the puck along the wall and Chris Stewart would sweep up the puck and then rifle a no-look shot that surprised Lack to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead. The two goals came just 29 seconds apart and you could sense the anxiety in the Prudential Center crowd. The Wild continued to carry most of the play throughout the rest of the 2nd period and Minnesota had to feel good at the effort and resilience they demonstrated to answer back with 3 goals after being down 2-0.
3rd Period Thoughts: In the 3rd period, it was mostly about the play of Alex Stalock. Minnesota again would sit back and focus itself more on defending than attacking which invited the Devils to apply most of the pressure offensively throughout the period. Stalock was demonstrating outstanding anticipation as he stopped Hall early on a sly pass back from beneath the goal line by Kyle Palmieri that Hall pounced on only to be robbed by the glove of the former South St. Paul Packer. Minnesota was working hard to try to contest shots and work pucks out of the zone and force the Devils to waste valuable time working the puck up the full length of the ice. Minnesota would try to go on the attack and Tyler Ennis was pesky as he used a few quick turns and spins to send a pass over to Nino Niederreiter that he fired on goal only to be stopped by Lack. Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau was not hesitating to play the guys he felt had good legs down the stretch so that meant we saw lots of Daniel Winnik and Joel Eriksson Ek in the closing few minutes which I felt was helpful to apply pressure and keeping the Devils to the perimeter. Minnesota would seal the game in the last minute as the Devils pulled Lack and Staal buried an empty netter to make it 4-2. It was almost 5-2 a few minutes later as the Devils looked to pull Lack again and Stalock decided to take a chance to score as he let go a shot that was stopped by Lack who backtracked to make the save but it was another huge win for the Wild.
Stalock was absolutely superb, stopping 38 shots to allow the Wild to ‘escape’ with a victory. He did a pretty good job at freezing the puck in the 2nd and especially in the 3rd period which really helped lock it down. Defensively the Wild were physical at the right times as Ryan Suter, Nick Seeler, and Jared Spurgeon were tenacious on pucks along the wall and quick in transitioning the puck out of the zone.
Eric Staal’s empty net tally was his 900th NHL point and he continues to be Minnesota’s most consistent offensive player. Eriksson Ek got another goal and hopefully its a sign of more to come as his hard work and effort is finally being rewarded. The 4th line came up big tonight with two critical goals to give the Wild the lead. You could certainly tell the team was excited for players like Eriksson Ek, Stewart and Reilly cash in when they get limited chances and limited opportunities.
Minnesota gets a huge two points that at least for the time being places the Wild into 3rd place in the Central Division. It may not be that way by the time most of us wake up tomorrow, but the Wild are showing some good resilience after a rough start to this game. Minnesota dug in and started small and then built from there to overcome some adversity. The Wild now have a quick turn around to play a chaotic New York Rangers club who played tonight and lost to Montreal. Hopefully Minnesota can regroup, refocus and get another victory tomorrow!
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Tyler Ennis, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Matt Cullen, Charlie Coyle, Joel Eriksson Ek, Chris Stewart, Daniel Winnik, Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Nick Seeler, Mike Reilly and Nate Prosser. Devan Dubnyk backed up Alex Stalock. Gustav Olofsson and Marcus Foligno were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Chris Stewart, 2nd Star Joel Eriksson Ek, 3rd Star Taylor Hall
~ Attendance was 13,316 at Prudential Center.
~ Crease And Assist: A legally compliant Minnesota Hockey Blog would like to congratulate the U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team on their dramatic 3-2 shootout gold medal victory over arch-rival Canada. Special stick tap to Minnesotans Gigi Marvin, Lee Stecklein, Dani Cameranesi, Kelly Pannek, Hannah Brandt, Sidney Morin, Maddie Rooney and Head Coach Robb Stauber on bringing back gold to the U.S. for the first time in Olympic hockey since 1998.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: (26-16-7-3) 62pts .596 win percentage 2nd in the Central
19.5% Power Play (8th in the AHL)
86.3% Penalty Kill (2nd in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #9 Cal O’Reilly ~ 9G 35A = 44pts
2. #7 Sam Anas ~ 18G 22A = 40pts
3. #25 Justin Kloos ~ 16G 22A = 38pts
4. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 13G 18A = 31pts
5. #42 Kyle Rau ~ 14G 14A = 28pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #2 Alex Grant ~ 67 PIM’s
2. #22 Ryan White ~ 54 PIM’s
3. #28 Carson Soucy ~ 49 PIM’s
1. #35 Niklas Svedberg (16-9-3) 2.43GAA .921%SP 2SO
2. #34 Steve Michalek (9-5-4) 3.04GAA .908%SP
Recent Score: Iowa 2, Texas 1
Iowa had lost to Texas on Sunday in a hard-fought game, so could they rally back for a weekend-series split? The period was pretty even as scoring chances were hard to come by but Texas would strike first after a defensive breakdown left the middle of the ice wide open for Michael Paliotta to take advantage of as he pinched and Travis Morin found him with a pass for an easy goal. In the 2nd period, Niklas Svedberg did his best to keep Iowa in the game and he made an outstanding save to rob Jason Dickinson of a goal. Iowa would tie the game as Ryan White made a nice no-look pass to Pat Cannone who buried it by Landon Bow. With the game tied at 1-1 Iowa started to take over the game with an aggressive forecheck that put Texas on their heels and the Stars had to feel lucky to be tied going into the 3rd period. In the 3rd, a power play gave Iowa the opportunity it needed as Cal O’Reilly set up Justin Kloos for a one-timer that he blasted by Bow to give the Wild a 2-1 advantage. Texas tried to pour it on in search of the equalizer but Svedberg and Iowa shut the door and would earn the victory. Svedberg had 26 saves in the win.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Braydyn Chizen (Kelowna, WHL) ~ the tall defenseman earned 2nd Star honors as he had a goal and an assist (5 shots on goal) in Kelowna’s 3-2 shootout loss to Edmonton on Saturday night. Chizen has 5 goals, 15 points, 65 PIM’s and is a -8 in 49 games.
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Barrie, OHL) ~ the Omsk, Russia-native’s strong latter half of the season continued on Saturday he had a goal and two helpers (6 shots on goal) in Barrie’s 3-1 win over Niagara. On Monday, the sniping winger had a goal (4 shots on goal) in Barrie’s 5-2 loss to Kingston. Sokolov has 39 goals, 72 points, 16 PIM’s and is a -9 in 53 games.
LW – Avery Peterson (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ the former Mr. Hockey has had to fight for ice time but he’s trying to show Minnesota-Duluth Head Coach Scott Sandelin he should be a regular in the Bulldogs’ lineup as he had an assist in UMD’s 3-0 win and series sweep of Miami. The Grand Rapids, Minnesota-native has 5 goals, 9 points, 23 PIM’s and is a +2 in 22 games.
G – Dereck Barribeau (Quebec, QMJHL) ~ the goaltender has certainly been tested mentally after being supplanted by teammate Antoine Samuel as the team’s #1 which has meant the starts have been few and far between. Perhaps he’s making a case he should get more of a look as he had 22 saves in Quebec’s 4-2 win against Chicoutimi on Sunday. Barribeau has a 18-15 record, 3.04 goals against average, an .891% save percentage and 3 shutouts.
F – Jordan Greenway (Team USA, Olympics) ~ the power forward is not afraid to play on the edge as he threw his 6’5″, 230+lbs frame around, earning 4 PIM’s in Team USA’s 5-1 win over Slovakia. Unfortunately, penalties by Team USA limited Greenway’s ice time as the Americans fell to Czech Republic 3-2 in a shootout. Greenway finished the tournament with a goal, 10 PIM’s and 13 shots on goal in 5 Olympic games.
F – Kirill Kaprizov (‘Team Russia’, Olympics) ~ while Greenway’s Olympics are done, the same is not the case for the talented winger who had an assist and 2 shots on goal in the ‘Olympic Athletes From Russia’s 6-1 win over Norway on Wednesday. Kaprizov has 4 goals, 5 points, 11 shots on goal and is a +4 in 4 Olympic games.
High School Hockey Rankings:
Perhaps a little late for some teams, but Let’s Play Hockey released its final poll of the top 10 Boys Teams for Class A & AA. Here are the rankings as of February 21st, 2018.
#4 St. Cloud Cathedral
#7 Sartell-St. Stepehen
#8 Virginia / Mt. Iron-Buhl
#10 East Grand Forks
#3 Duluth East
#4 St. Thomas Academy
#5 Cretin-Derham Hall
#6 White Bear Lake
#7 Holy Family