A week ago when former St. Louis Blues’ player Nail Yakupov‘s father told the press that Blues’ Head Coach Mike Yeo is terrible, Minnesota Wild fans had flashbacks. While it wasn’t a player’s coach that complained, but we remember a former player (Zenon Konopka) and his pet rabbit Hoppy who lobbied for Yeo’s termination. While Yeo had his pitfalls as head coach, he’s still managed to win 242 games. Yet he finds himself on the hot seat as the Blues have struggled out of the gate for the 2018-19 season.
Minnesota has had its ups and downs since Yeo’s departure towards the latter half of the 2015-16 season. The core of the team is still mostly the same as the one that Yeo once coached, and the Wild are facing an ‘upgraded’ Blues squad that is underperforming. Can Minnesota win their first of two meetings against the Blues on this 7-game road trip?
1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota had its best opening period of the season, moving their feet well to put St. Louis on its heels for large portions of the period. The line of Charlie Coyle, Jordan Greenway and Eric Staal was especially effective at working the puck deep and handling it with impunity. This line would create all kinds of havoc in the Blues’ zone and they’d break the stalemate early as a shot from the point by Nick Seeler would skip along the ice where it was masterfully deflected by Staal that Jake Allen had no chance on. 1-0 Wild on Staal’s 400th NHL goal. Just 45 seconds later, the Wild would add to its lead as Charlie Coyle helped hold the zone and he’d swing a pass out to the point that was stepped into by Seeler who wired a slap shot by Allen to make it 2-0 Minnesota. It was Seeler’s 1st NHL goal. The sellout crowd sat in stunned and anxious silence as Minnesota continued to dominate. Even the Wild’s 4th line was able to give the Blues fits as they couldn’t seem to get the puck away from Minnesota’s skaters. Greenway would ring a shot off the post and this seemed to finally wake up the Blues a bit. NHL official Brad Meier would do his part to help the Blues’ cause when he called Greenway for a pretty weak ‘holding’ call when he pushed down Vladimir Tarasenko. The Blues would cash in on the man advantage as they worked the puck to Ryan O’Reilly who went top cheese over the shoulder of Devan Dubnyk to cut the Wild lead in half, 2-1. Minnesota would go back to work and they’d draw their first power play of the game and Minnesota generated a number of quality chances as Allen made a great save on a crashing Matthew Dumba to keep his team only down by 1. The Wild would come up short on the power play, but you could sense they were back in control of the game. Minnesota would add a goal late in the period when Eric Fehr pushed a puck up the ice that was chased down by J.T. Brown who got behind the Blues’ defense for a breakaway and he’d lift a shot over Allen’s shoulder to give the Wild a 3-1 lead going into the 1st intermission. It was a great period all around for the Wild. Minnesota was moving its feet well and working their way in close on Allen as evidenced by the fact they were outshooting the Blues 13-5.
2nd Period Thoughts: Of course the period would start 4-on-4. The Wild would get the puck into the St. Louis zone and try to apply pressure on the Blues. However both teams would get back their respective players, it seemed that neither team really had the ability to get the puck under control. Sure, they would get the puck into their offensive zones, but once there, not much would be accomplished. In the case of Minnesota, the passing was off, which of course makes it difficult to do anything with the zone time. The first real decent offensive chance came just before the fifth minute of the period with a close in shot by Zach Parise. Of course that great chance was then shortly rewarded by a boneheaded move by the Wild themselves. The combination of a weird bounce off the back boards and Dubnyk being a little more active than many are really comfortable with, Fabbri almost got a quick goal. However with the Blues almost being as unlucky as the Wild, nothing came of it. Minnesota would head back to the power play after a slashing call on Tyler Bozak. While not much came of the power play, they certainly gave it their best try. After the Blues killed the penalty, they made a push with a great rush by Fabbri, but this time the puck got bumped off his stick by Greg Pateryn. The crazy part, is at the midway point of the game, the Minnesota Wild have 20 shots on goal. There are nights where that’s all we may see for a game. It’s the Blues’ paltry seven shots on goal at the midpoint of the game, that feels more like a Wild game. Watching Mike Yeo on the bench, you almost wonder what goes through his mind. And how many of those thoughts are around how much longer he will be employed. In fact, I wonder if he’ll get another another head coaching job if he gets fired in the middle of a season. I mean, he’s not a storied coach where he’ll get the benefit of the doubt. And with a weird, weak shot resulting in a trickling puck, Matt Dumba would make this 4-1 Minnesota. Will Jake Allen remain in net much longer tonight? However, it’s most likely going to be waived for offsides. And color me surprised, but the goal stands. Not only do they get the goal, they also get the power play because Yeo lost the coach’s challenge. This is not the kind of lucky bounce that the Wild are used to. The crazy part, is that the Blues are giving the Wild time and space to make things happen. Minnesota is not a fast team, so that says a lot more about St. Louis than Minnesota. The Blues would kill the penalty only to go back to the box after Joel Edmundson would get called for slashing Marcus Foligno. While it’s nice to pretty much finish the period on the power play, it’s feeling a bit sluggish and lazy. At least it meant it didn’t allow St. Louis any time in their own offensive zone. The Wild would head to the locker room with a 4-1 lead and a decided lead in shots on goal as well.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Blues spent more time in the Wild zone in the 3rd than they did all game, but Minnesota was winning all of the races to loose pucks and the Wild always appeared to be in control. All night, the Wild had terrific puck support and anytime Minnesota was in the Blues zone they were able to sustain offensive pressure. The Wild’s 4th line of J.T. Brown, Eric Fehr and Marcus Foligno got extra shifts for working so hard earlier in the game and they made it pay off as Seeler stepped into a point shot that drew a rebound off Allen and Fehr would dive and sweep the puck in. 5-1 Wild. The Blues just didn’t seem to have the heart to make a real game of it and you could hear the apathy in the normally raucous Scottrade Center crowd as they left the arena early at any stoppage in play. Minnesota did get a little sloppy with the puck at times down the stretch but they continued to battle and deny time and space from the Blues until the closing seconds of the game and they’d cruise to a 5-1 victory.
Devan Dubnyk wasn’t all that busy, making just 15 saves for the victory. Defensively the Wild were physical at the right times and did a great job at getting sticks into passing lanes and not giving up any easy set ups for the Blues. I thought the 3rd paring of Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn were arguably Minnesota’s best tandem. They were fantastic at both ends of the ice. Seeler not only registered his first NHL goal, but had two assists as well. Minnesota did give up a power play goal, but beyond that they gave up very few quality chances to the Blues tonight.
Offensively, the Wild applied offensive pressure from all 4 of its lines. The Staal, Greenway, Coyle line was absolutely superb. Controlling the puck and working their way in close and the Blues seemed unwilling to pay the physical price to stop them. I also felt the 4th line was tremendous and they had two goals this evening with Brown and Fehr lighting the lamp. The power play didn’t score, but they created a lot of quality scoring opportunities and I liked the variety they had in generating shots made things tough for the Blues penalty killers.
This was easily the Wild’s best effort from start to finish this season. The Blues didn’t seem to want to be there, but the Wild didn’t wait to find their legs and they took it to St. Louis right away. That is the way a good team should play. Minnesota moved their feet well and the defense did a great job of holding the zone and extending the time spent in the offensive zone. A great game and a bad sign for Mike Yeo whose club seems to be giving up on him. The axe might fall pretty soon. Big win for the Wild and now they head out to California before returning to St. Louis a week from this Sunday.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno, J.T. Brown, Eric Fehr, Ryan Suter, Matthew Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Matt Hendricks was the lone scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Nick Seeler, 2nd Star Jordan Greenway, 3rd Star Matt Dumba
~ Attendance was 17,767 at Scottrade Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 3, Grand Rapids 2 SO
Iowa would get out to a slow start at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena, a place where the Wild have traditionally struggled. The Griffins would take a 1-0 lead as Axel Holmstrom buried a rebound off of Libor Sulak‘s shot from the point. It appeared as though Iowa may be on the verge of being blitzed as they were out shot 18-6 in the 1st period. Iowa would start to find its legs in the 2nd period and while scoring chances were hard to come by, the Wild were getting closer tying the game. Iowa would get the equalizer early in the 2nd period as Mason Shaw made a pretty toe drag move before rifling a shot by Patrik Rybar. Iowa would then take the lead a few minutes later on the power play as Kyle Rau scored to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. Andrew Hammond did his best to hold onto that lead, making some fantastic saves but the Griffins would tie the game as Chris Terry scored off the rush. After an inconclusive overtime, the game would go to a shootout. In the shootout, Iowa would strike twice as Sam Anas and Gerry Fitzgerald found the back of the net to give the Wild a 3-2 victory. Hammond had 34 saves in the win.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Andrei Svetlakov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ the 4th liner had an assist with a shot on goal in CSKA Moscow’s 4-2 win over Sibir (Novosibirsk). Svetlakov had 2 goals, 4 points, 15 PIM’s and is +4 in 16 games.
LW – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ the top line winger has had a muted 2018-19 campaign so far as he had a helper and 3 shots on goal in CSKA’s 4-2 win. Kaprizov has 10 goals, 17 points, 6 PIM’s and is +20 in 22 games.
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Niagara, OHL) ~ the Novi, Michigan-native continues his just over a point-per-game pace with an assist in the Ice Dogs’ 3-1 win over Mississauga on Thursday. Lodnia has 6 goals, 17 points, 10 PIM’s and is a +5 in 16 games.
C – Alexander Khovanov (Moncton, QMJHL) ~ the skilled Russian earned 2nd star honors on Friday for burying a goal, chipping in an assist as well as the game-winning shootout goal in Moncton’s 4-3 win over Val ‘d Or. Khovanov has 9 goals, 21 points, 22 PIM’s and is a +2 in 17 games.
C – Connor Dewar (Everett, WHL) ~ the Silvertips captain earned 2nd star honors as he had a goal and an assist with 8 shots on goal in Everett’s 4-2 loss to Tri-City. The Pas, Manitoba-native has 11 goals, 20 points, 21 PIM’s and is a -1 in 12 games.