Hockey Night in Canada. A Canadian institution which usually features two games with Canadian teams and the NHL’s most watched intermission segment, Coach’s Corner with Ron McLean and Don Cherry whose opinions are about as loud as his suits. Cherry’s views are often of an old school mindset that glorifies tough, rugged play. I am not sure if there are any members of the Minnesota Wild that would draw Cherry’s admiration.
The Wild are at a bit of a crossroads. They have lost their last two games, but in a tight race and with so many 3-point games it doesn’t take much to fall in the standings. The Maple Leafs are on a 3-game winning streak. Can the Wild avoid a 3-game losing streak with a win over Toronto?
1st Period Thoughts: Well my thoughts aren’t starting out well, as Devan Dubnyk is in net for the Wild. What games have the coaching staff been watching these days? While Alex Stalock will never be more than a good backup goaltender (at best), we’re at the point where I think we need to see him more. With the way Dubnyk has been playing in recent games, he needs to be on the bench until he figures out what he’s doing. The Wild have a habit of having an epic slump, usually in December of January, and right now it feels like we’ve started that slump now. With that in mind, we should be counting our lucky stars four minutes in, that Dubnyk hasn’t seen a shot on goal. It would take just over five minutes for Toronto to get their first shot on net. On top of that, Matt Dumba would get the first penalty, albeit an extremely weak call for hooking. However, Toronto didn’t mess around on the power play. With a great pass by Mitch Marner to Auston Matthews became the first goal of the night. Someone needs to get the memo to the Wild players that these are not the same Toronto Maple Leafs that have been a perennial joke since 1967. They’re fast, they can move the puck, and they’re not afraid to take chances. There have been a couple of brief glimpses of offense by Minnesota, but they feel a bit few and far between. It looked like Mikael Granlund was going to score on Frederick Andersen, but Granlund’s shot would just hit Andersen’s glove and go over the net. The Wild’s recent pain would continue. The Leafs were buzzing, the Wild were dragging, a puck would go off of Nick Seeler and the goal would be awarded to former Wild player Tyler Ennis. That second goal seemed to give Minnesota a little bit of energy, as they started a buzz around Andersen. Charlie Coyle would get a good chance on goal, and Zach Parise would end up drawing a cross-checking penalty. Now let’s compare Minnesota’s power play to Toronto’s. It’s not even close. We put out slow, plodding players where Toronto puts out players with energy. And just when you think, “great we have more energetic players out there” they then do stupid stuff. Jason Zucker had an open net, but he decided to hold on to the puck to pass it to Coyle. Really? Take the damn shot. I want to know who has gotten into Zucker’s head about not shooting any more. In the last minute of the period, it’s like the Wild finally got the message. They’re moving their feet, getting the puck into the zone and with just 30 seconds remaining in the period, Eric Staal would cut the Leafs’ lead in half. Now, we need to see this kind of play continue into the next period.
2nd Period Thoughts: Just moments after the puck drop, the Zucker-Staal-Granlund line would get a quick shot on goal. It’s the kind of thing you want to see from a team that is trailing after the first period. And it’s not just that line either. Joel Ericksson Ek’s line would try as well, with Ericksson Ek making a valiant effort on tying the game. And the action in the Toronto zone would continue, with Jordan Greenway trying to even things up as well. When you’re the team trailing, you definitely need to see all lines firing on all cylinders. On top of that, if you’re spending that much time in your offensive zone, that means you’re limiting the scoring chances of your opposition. With a team like Toronto, it’s going to be important to limit those chances, as the two goals they’ve scored didn’t take many chances. Not even halfway through this period, and the Maple Leafs only have eight shots on goal. One thing limiting the Wild’s chances, in particular by the Zucker-Staal-Granlund line, is that twice the puck has been passed into one of their skates, therefore taking away a golden scoring chance. The golden scoring chances would come to the third line as well. Ericksson Ek would pass the puck to Greenway who would bury the puck behind Andersen. Now, we need to keep the pressure on. There have been moments where the Wild have caught the Toronto skaters standing still. This is not something I would have thought I would have said based on how the Maple Leafs were giving a demonstration on skating with speed in the first period. That speed by the Wild would be put on display by Zucker, with a beautiful rush, but Andersen was ready. That attempt was quickly followed up by another close in shot by Staal that went off Andersen’s pads. With just under eight minutes to go in the period, the Wild have 20 shots on goal, which is definitely a positive sign. After an extended lull by the Leafs, they would start buzzing around Dubnyk again. It would look like the go-ahead goal was scored by Zach Hyman but Dubnyk immediately called that it went off his glove. Normally, goals off of gloves are waived off, but the officials determined that it was deflected and not directed in. The Leafs would continue the onslaught on Dubnyk, where we really need to see the onslaught on Andersen. In the dying seconds on the clock, the Wild would try get that Hyman goal back. I feel better going into the locker room after this period than I did after the first period. The Wild definitely need to continue with the pressure, and hopefully the speed of Zucker will finally pay off.
3rd Period Thoughts: The initial moments of this period seemed a bit sloppy. Not a lot of direction, but the Wild would get an early power play after Jonas Brodin took a stick up high. But now we have to wait and see what kind of power play we get. More often than not, it feels like we see the same, slow, methodical plays by the same, slow, methodical players, ie the first power play unit. The first real decent try on the power play was by (no surprise) by the Zucker-Staal-Granlund crew. Now, I’ve chastised Zucker tonight for waiting too long to take a shot, but this is one time where we needed to take his time on his shot, instead he shot right away and it went wide of goal. However with as many chances as he’s had you have to imagine that eventually something has to go in. Minnesota would get another chance with the man advantage with Toronto’s Jake Gardiner getting called for tripping. Again, Staal with another great chance on goal thanks to Granlund finding his linemate. I’ll be curious to see how many shots on goals the players on that line alone have for the team. I have to hand it, we just saw a great shift by the Parise-Mikko Koivu-Coyle line. That was the most sustained pressure we’ve seen from that line in a long time. I would like to see that more than we do. Normally they just pass and pass with little point to the passing, but this shift near the midway point of the period was generating offense, and you almost felt like a puck could have gone in. And finally, Zucker gets his goal after the numerous chances that didn’t go past Andersen. If anyone was going to tie this game it would be Zucker. One great take away from this game, regardless of the final score, is that the Wild are crashing the net and getting shots in close. We’ve become so used to the numerous perimeter shots that this is a welcome breath of fresh air. Okay, time for a little revisionism. Listening to our lovely broadcasters on Fox Sports North, they’re saying that the Maple Leafs have no answer for the Wild’s speed. Um, that speed is really only one line. And let’s face it, Toronto isn’t exactly a slow as molasses team either. They’re most likely having an “off” night. And I think the broadcasters are living in the past where we had additional speedy weapons like Erik Haula and Jordan Schroeder. But yes, this is one of those games that I think for the most part Wild fans can be proud of. Well except when Seeler knocks a second goal past Dubnyk. The Wild got close to tying this one up again but Andersen would come up big when needed. With just under two minutes remaining in regulation, Dubnyk has been pulled from his net. But of course, when you need offense, for whatever reason Bruce Boudreau goes with the Koivu line for the extra skater. Now, just like that earlier power play, they’re getting plenty of chances. Unfortunately, the puck would exit the zone with Ryan Suter being unable to maintain possession and ultimately falling down, which allowed Hyman to get a goal on a wide open net. The Wild would again pull Dubnyk, but of course nothing would come of the extra skater. This would make it the third consecutive loss for Minnesota, but definitely a better effort in this loss than we’ve seen in the other two losses.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jason Zucker, Marcus Foligno, Jordan Greenway, Eric Fehr, Nino Niederreiter, J.T. Brown, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Greg Pateryn, Nick Seeler, and Jared Spurgeon. Devan Dubnyk got the start and Alex Stalock served as backup. Tonight’s scratches were Matt Hendricks and Nate Prosser.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Mitchell Marner; 2nd Star, Jason Zucker; 3rd Star, Frederik Andersen.
~ Attendance was 19,107 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 2, Colorado 3 OT
Iowa was moving its feet well and peppering Pavel Francouz with shots early and often. The Wild would light the lamp first on a blast from the point by Carson Soucy. In the 2nd period, the Eagles would rally back with more offensive pressure sending 17 shots towards Kaapo Kahkonen who appeared sharp and dialed in. But he couldn’t keep Colorado off the score board forever and two goals late in the period by Travis Barron and A.J. Greer gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead going into the 2nd intermission. Iowa would tie the game on a tap in goal by Colton Beck which would send the game to overtime. In overtime, both clubs had power play opportunities but Kahkonen and Francouz were solid so the game would go to a shootout. Iowa only managed to find the back of the net once on a shootout tally by Gerry Fitzgerald but the Eagles would strike twice giving Colorado the 3-2 victory. Kahkonen had 24 saves in the loss.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Alexander Khovanov (Moncton, QMJHL) ~ the talented Russian continues to have a strong season as he had two helpers on 3 shots and went 5-for-8 on his draws in Moncton’s 6-3 win over Sherbrooke on Friday. Khovanov has 18 goals, 39 points, 42 PIM’s and is a +2 in 28 games.
LW – Sam Hentges (St. Cloud State, NCHC) ~ the former Totino-Grace star had a goal in St.Cloud State’s 4-4 tie to Miami (OH). Hentges has 5 goals, 7 points, 12 PIM’s and is a +11 in 11 games.
D – Jacob Golden (London, OHL) ~ he doesn’t put up a lot of points but the Toronto-native had a goal in London’s 8-1 rout of Erie on Friday. Golden has 2 goals, 7 points, 2 PIM’s and is a -1 in 22 games.
RW – Shawn Boudrias (Gatineau, QMJHL) ~ the big winger has cooled off a bit as of late but he had a goal on 4 shots in Gatineau’s 6-3 loss to Drummondville. Boudrias has 14 goals, 29 points, 15 PIM’s and is a +4 in 28 games.
G – Dereck Baribeau (Quebec, QMJHL) ~ the big goaltender had 22 saves in Quebec’s 3-2 overtime win against Chicoutimi on Friday. Baribeau has a 7-6 record, 2.56 goals against average and a .903% save percentage.
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Niagara, OHL) ~ the former 3rd round pick had a goal on 6 shots as the Ice Dogs’ rolled to a 7-2 win over Kitchener. Lodnia has 8 goals, 24 points, 10 PIM’s and is a +7 in 24 games.
C – Connor Dewar (Everett, WHL) ~ the Pas, Manitoba-native is considered a B-list prospect by the Hockey News, they may want to re-think that assessment as he’s been on fire this season as he had an assist and the game winning goal in Everett’s 5-4 win over Spokane on Friday. He also went 7-of-12 on his draws. Dewar has 23 goals, 40 points, 33 PIM’s and is a +8 in 25 games.