The Wild made a small splash Wednesday night when it traded former Minnesota Golden Gopher star Justin Kloos to Anaheim for Pontus Aberg. Aberg is on his 4th NHL team in a fairly short career, and this just might be his last chance to really stick as an NHL player. Wild General Manager Paul Fenton drafted Aberg 37th Overall in 2012 when he was an assistant GM with the Nashville Predators. There are probably few people in the league who know Aberg’s game as well as Fenton does. He will make his Wild debut tonight. However, that was not the big splash. That came earlier today. Leaving the Minnesota Wild is six year member, Nino Niederreiter. He is heading to Carolina in exchange for Victor Rask (although Rask won’t be in the lineup). Should be interesting to see how these changes will effect this team. They definitely needed changes, and hopefully the Niederreiter moves sends the message that no one is safe.
Meanwhile, the Ducks come to town with the feeling of a club going through a prolonged nightmare having lost their last 12 games. Their GM, Bob Murray has released statements to their fans about their disappointment. This has the makings for another classic trap game. Will the Wild be able to kick Anaheim while it’s down or will the Ducks fly away from this game with a victory?
1st Period Thoughts: Well that was a bit of a surprise for me (and probably many), but Alex Stalock is getting the start two games in a row. I suppose Bruce Boudreau is deciding to give Devan Dubnyk as much time off as possible, especially since he will be playing in the All-Star Game and won’t get the time off like many of the league’s players. Aberg got an early shift, and I have to wonder when your first game after a trade is against your former team, if you think of their habits to your benefit. But then it’s hard to say if anyone can really pick on specific problems of Anaheim since they’ve lost the previous twelve games. When you lose that many in a row, there usually are more problems than just one or two. While there’s been a lot of puck movement early in this game, there have been no shots on goal registered by either team in the first four minutes. That probably won’t bode well for either team. And of course since I’m making that observation, it comes back to haunt me, with Adam Henrique putting the puck over Stalock’s right shoulder. Then before you even have time to process that goal, eleven seconds later Rickard Rakell tallies the Ducks second goal. It also forced Boudreau to call the team’s timeout four minutes and eight seconds in. This is definitely not the way Minnesota needed to start this game, especially against a team with a twelve-game losing streak. So one has to wonder if we’ll see Dubnyk yet this game. Minnesota would get the first power play of the night when Anaheim was called for too many men. Aberg got a great shot on goal just seconds into the man advantage. And of course, it would only make things worse when Ryan Suter got called called for slashing just under 30 seconds into the power play. There are times when I wonder what the thought-process is for this team. Just after Anaheim killed its penalty, the Wild skaters had the chance to clear the zone, but instead the Wild look to make a pointless cross-ice pass. Suter’s penalty would be killed, but the Wild skaters continue to stand and look around. That would come to haunt the team as Brian Gibbons would score Anaheim’s third goal of the night on seven shots. It also would send Stalock to the bench and bring Dubnyk in. Yes, the Ducks are determined and have absolutely nothing to lose but their pride, but Minnesota is making it way too easy. Sure part of it could be a chemistry issue with Aberg in and Niederreiter out, but again, these are professionals. You figure out how to make things work, especially when things aren’t working. The Wild would head back to the penalty kill with Nick Seeler getting called for slashing. And of course, we get to hear cherry-picked stats by Minnesota’s broadcasters, because the Wild have the best penalty kill in the league for games played on home ice. I guess that’s supposed to make us feel better about the score. The crowd in the Xcel Energy Center is beyond quiet, and this team deserves the silence and the occasional Bronx cheer for simple things like Mikko Koivu clearing the puck on the penalty kill. Minnesota would get the next penalty after Josh Manson was called for cross-checking Zach Parise who was trying to push a loose puck past John Gibson. Aberg and Mikael Granlund were definitely trying their best to find the back of the goal, but ultimately came up short. Minnesota just never seemed to get their feet under them and their heads in the game. The boos from the fans after the buzzer were definitely well deserved. We shall see if the team can get their crap together.
2nd Period Thoughts: Well it looks like they didn’t figure much out during the first intermission. When you can’t handle the little things, you wonder why they even bother. Heck, I was half tempted to sit out the rest of this game. For this period and the next one, my write up would have been something like Not Applicable. Too many little mistakes for me to really care. If they don’t care, why should I? Why should we as the fans? It looked like the Wild were going to score, as the puck was right along the line. A second look was needed, as the overhead camera made it look like the puck crossed the goal line, however it would be Toronto to decide that it was no goal. It was close, and could have gone either way, but considering how the Wild have been playing, they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Considering that Niederreiter was moved, you would think a player like Charlie Coyle who has had a less than spectacular season, would play like a fire has been lit under him. But no. It’s the same old Coyle. And with the few exceptions by Parise, the other cash cows on this team Koivu and Suter) are completely missing in action. They know they can’t be traded without their express permission or request, so they can’t be bothered to improve matters. And when you only have twelve measly shots on goal over halfway through the game, well that says a lot. But then Anaheim managed three goals on seven shots. What’s worse is that Anaheim really isn’t have to work hard to defend their lead. They can afford to make mistakes of their own, because the Wild can’t manage to take advantage of them. Aberg keeps trying to make things happen for his new team, whether he’s taking the shots himself or setting up his teammates, but he’s about the only player. In the last minute and a half of the period, Cam Fowler would go to the box for high sticking. For most teams, a power play is a good thing, but I doubt they’ll find a way to do anything with it. And with fifteen seconds remaining in the period, the Wild finally decided to pepper Gibson with shots, but of course, none of them got past the Anaheim goaltender.
3rd Period Thoughts: Well, we’re being told by the Wild broadcasters that the second period was better than the first and the third period needs to be even better. Oh really? Thanks for pointing out what is beyond obvious. It’s games like this where you realize just how patronizing sportscasters really are. In the moments where we get a little pressure from the Wild, Gibson comes through for the Ducks. And then of course as soon as Minnesota does get some offensive zone time, they also take a penalty like Koivu for tripping. Sure, the Ducks have given up seven shorthanded goals, but this is the kind of game where I don’t see them giving up number eight. The Wild would kill the penalty, only for Jonas Brodin to get called for high sticking. When you pretty much have four minutes of penalty killing to do, it’s hard to get whatever momentum you had just before those. The penalties really are the result of the team being lazy and not playing smart hockey. That behavior rests solely on the shoulders of the players. It’s not the coaches, management, trainers, etc. This flop belongs completely to the Wild. Minnesota would head back to the power play after Brandon Montour was called for hooking. Again Parise had several chances in the power play, but again Gibson has kept the Wild off of the scoring sheet. It should come as no surprise that Anaheim would successfully kill the penalty. Somehow, Minnesota has widened the shot differential. When you are greatly outshooting the opposition, you would think that your team would be the one with the 3-0 lead. But many of those shots are thanks to Parise. As we watch the final three minutes of regulation, you definitely wish you had seen the Wild of the third period (minus the penalties) for the entirety of the game. All I know is that there better not be any optional practices between tonight and Saturday night. But knowing this team, tomorrow will either be no practice or optional.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin, Pontus Aberg, Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Greg Pateryn, Nick Seeler and Nate Prosser.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, John Gibson; 2nd Star, Adam Henrique; 3rd Star, Zach Parise.
~ Attendance was 18,907 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Pontus Aberg wore #26 in his Wild debut and joins Christoph Brandner, Kurtis Foster, Christian Matte, Tony Virta, Jaime Sifers, Erik Christensen, Matt Moulson, Thomas Vanek, Kyle Quincey, and Daniel Winnik in having worn the number.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ the supremely talented winger had an assist and 4 shots on goal in CSKA’s 3-0 win over Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Kaprizov has 20 goals, 32 points, 10 PIM’s and is a +26 in 45 games.
RW – Shawn Boudrias (Cape Breton, QMJHL) ~ the rugged power forward had a goal with 4 shots in Cape Breton’s 4-3 loss. Boudrias has 17 goals, 33 points, 19 PIM’s and is a +6 in 38 games.
C – Ivan Khovanov (Moncton, QMJHL) ~ the skilled Russian has an assist and went 7-for-11 on his draws in Moncton’s 4-3 victory. Khovanov has 20 goals, 51 points, 64 PIM’s and is an ‘even’ rating in 41 games.
High School Hockey Report:
Let’s Play Hockey has released its updated rankings for the week for both boys and girls in Class A & AA. Here are their Top 10 rankings as of 1/16/19, check it out!
#3 Mound Westonka
#4 South St. Paul
#5 Proctor / Hermantown
#6 Thief River Falls
#7 Rochester Lourdes
#9 East Grand Forks
#10 Duluth Marshall
#3 Forest Lake
#6 Brainerd / Little Falls
#8 Eden Prairie
#10 Maple Grove
#2 St. Cloud Cathedral
#4 East Grand Forks
#5 Thief River Falls
#9 Sartell-St. Stephen
#4 Maple Grove
#5 Duluth East
#6 White Bear Lake
#8 Eden Prairie
#9 St. Thomas Academy