The home opener. Breaking out the jerseys and other Wild paraphanalia and heading off to the arena or local drinking hole to celebrate with your fellow fans. It is supposed to be a time of excitement, full of the festive moments at the arrival of another season. I have little doubt the fans will show up, but what sort of a team will they see?
Will they see the team that mostly failed to show up against Colorado on Thursday? I am sure the thousands of fans that are paying top dollar to see the 2018-19 version of the club are hoping the real Minnesota Wild arrive this evening. Vegas is also hoping to avenge a sub-par effort of their own. Which team will rebound with a victory in St. Paul?
1st Period Thoughts: Compared to Thursday, the opening period of hockey was an improvement. At least a little bit as Minnesota seemed to moving its feet more than it did in Denver. However, it was also evident that the Wild were not as fast team-wise as Vegas. The pace was frantic, but Minnesota struggled to demonstrate much cohesion as breakout passes were often not on target and the Wild were only able to generate shots from the perimeter. The Golden Knights seemed to want to keep the tempo high as they could tell the Wild were scrambling and playing rope-a-dope in their own end. Devan Dubnyk had to make a few saves early on as he denied William Karlsson on a blast from the high slot. Minnesota would get lucky about mid-way through the period as Matthew Dumba would block a shot and then work the puck through the neutral zone and on up to Charlie Coyle who took the puck down below the dot before sending a pass back out to Dumba who stepped into a one-timer that caught the post and went in. 1-0 Wild. The pace of play continued to make it difficult for the Wild to do much of anything; especially the offensive zone as time and space disappeared quickly. The line of Jason Zucker, Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund finally caused a little trouble as Zucker managed to get a step on Colin Miller and then skated out towards the top of the Vegas crease only to have his stick slashed in half by Paul Stastny. The Wild would get a power play, but Minnesota couldn’t even get set up in the offensive zone and they didn’t even register a shot on goal during the man advantage. The 4th line of Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks and Marcus Foligno was painfully slow and I am not sure how the Wild can expect them to really be able to hold their own against the speedy lines of the Golden Knights. It just seems like a disaster waiting to happen. The Wild mustered just 5 shots on goal, none of them from up close on Marc-Andre Fleury and while Minnesota had the lead its hard to expect 1 goal to be enough to win this game. Minnesota must find more ways of generating scoring chances from in close. I thought the 3rd line was ok, but they don’t seem to have a lot of synergy. It looks kind of like a line where no one is sure what they’re really supposed to do in the offensive zone besides cycle the puck. Vegas’ best chance came off the stick of Erik Haula who rang a shot off the pipe. Minnesota is very fortunate to have a lead going into the 2nd period.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period was great if you enjoy spending over 10 minutes chasing around the puck in your own zone watching your goaltender contort himself to come up with big save after big save. When Dubnyk wasn’t dazzling with great saves, he was getting good help from some timely sliding blocks by Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon. Yet the theme was consistent. Wild unable to handle the Golden Knights’ speed, Minnesota appeared disorganized and frazzled as they gave away pucks with blind clears out of their own zone. Vegas was patrolling in the neutral zone waiting to transition against these lazy clears and Minnesota was playing with fire. The pressure also drew two power plays. Down a man, the Wild actually did a fairly good job at keeping Vegas to the perimeter but this is not a formula for success. Without Dubnyk’s saves and some lucky bounces the Wild could be down 3-1 or 4-1 easily. Ryan Reaves made his presence felt with some big hits as well as two terrific scoring chances from in close as Minnesota continues to be unable to handle opposing forwards who will charge into the high traffic areas of the ice. Minnesota generated a few token shots of their own, but mostly off the rush and without the benefit of screen or support to take advantage of rebounds. The 3rd line of the Wild continue to be problematic because they’re not strong enough defensively to be used in a shut down role, and they’re not strong enough on the puck to allow them to generate offensive pressure by working the puck down low in the offensive zone. Towards the end of the period, Boudreau deployed Greenway along side Foligno and Coyle. It still wasn’t that great of a line. I am sure Vegas is frustrated a bit as they should be ahead in this game, but if they keep generating opportunities like this its only a matter of time. The Wild better dig deep or this one is going to get away from them.
3rd Period Thoughts: This was far and away their best period of play this season which is interesting when you consider this is where the opportunity for two points would slip away from them. The Wild seemed to be skating a bit better and showing a bit more determination in the offensive zone. Minnesota worked pucks closer to Marc-Andre Fleury and forced him to make some quality stops. The Wild’s willingness to counter attack prevented them from simply playing rope-a-dope in their own end. Unfortunately the Golden Knights would take Minnesota out of its game with one hit as Ryan Reaves leveled Greg Pateryn into the boards on a late check. Marcus Foligno would challenge Reaves rather reluctantly and Reaves easily dominated the Wild tough guy before wrestling him to the ice. Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau was annoyed there was no call for the needless and very late check but Minnesota couldn’t bury the chances they were being given. Vegas would pull their goalie late in the game to give them a 6-on-5, and they’d tie the game with a little under 2 minutes left as Max Pacioretty ripped a one timer by Dubnyk from just inside the left faceoff circle. That would send the game to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: The Wild started overtime with almost a 1:30 in power play time to work with. Minnesota sent out Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Matthew Dumba in search of the game winner. The resulting combination was amazingly slow and predictable. The line seemed to be committed to setting up Matthew Dumba for one timers from the left side ala Alex Ovechkin. Dumba has a great shot, but considering no one else on the line seemed to be the least bit interested in shooting the puck. The Golden Knights penalty killers gave Suter at least 20 feet of space to take a shot of his own but they knew he wasn’t going to pull the trigger and it was simply a matter of waiting for the Wild to turn the puck over on their own. Koivu would ring a shot off the post on the power play but that was as close as Minnesota would get to winning this game. The Wild had little rhyme or reason to their additional personnel groupings in overtime and no one seemed to really know how to utilize the time and space overtime gives you. The team seemed to be more worried about defending than going on the attack and the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Summary: Minnesota decided to shoot first and their first shooter was Zach Parise. Parise would move in where he’d try to beat Fleury with a wrist shot going 5-hole but he kicked it aside. The Golden Knights sent out William Karlsson would go left to right, staying on his backhand a long time before trying a backhander that was stopped by Dubnyk. Minnesota’s next shooter was Jason Zucker. Zucker would go forehand to back hand but he’d lift his shot up and over the goal. Vegas’ next shooter was Jonathan Marchessault would go wide left and then take a slow approach to the middle of the ice before firing a wrist shot that Dubnyk gloved. Minnesota’s next shooter was Mikko Koivu who actually made a decent backhand to forehand move but he’d lose control of the puck and failed to get a shot off. Vegas’ next shooter was Erik Haula who moved in and beat Dubnyk with a wrist shot giving the Golden Knights a 2-1 win over Minnesota.
Devan Dubnyk was mostly excellent as he had 41 saves in the loss. At times he was spinning and twisting to make saves, and while at times he was helped by some desperate shot blocks by Seeler, Spurgeon and Suter but overall he kept the team in the game far longer than it deserved to be. The penalty kill ended up perfect for the night.
The offense again did little to nothing for the first two periods of the game. Minnesota’s lack of team speed, a viable 3rd line makes it tough to generate much in the way of offensive pressure and shots on goal. They certainly did a better job in the 3rd period, working their way closer to the net but it was too little too late. The truth is, this team has scored 2 goals in 2 games. Nino Niederreiter looks absolutely lost on a line with Koivu and Parise. The team cannot afford a valuable goal scorer like Nino to be that lost and aloof offensively. Staal looks slower and dare I say it weaker on the puck.
For a 2nd straight game, the team’s skating was a major disadvantage and it is difficult to be hopeful when you consider this club has to be fairly fresh considering its just game 2 of an 82-game regular season. I’d be really concerned if I were the coaching staff and management. Unless something changes the signs of decay among the veteran group are pretty tough to ignore. The Wild get another 4-day layoff before playing Chicago on Thursday, so they’ll have a chance to recharge and hopefully they’ll look faster. If they don’t, yikes folks…this could be a real rough season.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, Charlie Coyle, Eric Fehr, Marcus Foligno, Matt Hendricks, Ryan Suter, Matthew Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Nate Prosser and J.T. Brown were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Devan Dubnyk, 2nd Star Marc-Andre Fleury, 3rd Star Matthew Dumba
~ Attendance was 19,077 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Connor Dewar (Everett, WHL) ~ the pesky centerman has picked up where he left off last season for the Silvertips as he had a goal and an assist in Everett’s 2-1 overtime win over in-state rival Seattle. Dewar has 4 goals, 7 points, 6 PIM’s in 5 games this season.
LW – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ the Wild’s most talented and highly awaited prospect had a helper in a 2-0 win over Novosibirsk on Friday night. Kaprizov has 5 goals, 8 points and is a +5 in 14 games this season.