A long time friend of mine used to say, hero worship is cute…in children. Since the Minnesota Wild traded fan favorite Nino Niederreiter to Carolina, there has been plenty of back and forth on social media between fans who are still bitter and upset about the move. Some are mad because they feel they traded him for an inferior player or they felt he wasn’t given a chance to re-establish his game the way other players were when they hit a dry spell. No matter what, Wild General Manager Paul Fenton made the move he felt was best whether people accept that or not is a whole other kettle of fish. Fenton demonstrated that he is in control, not the fans, not the players or the coaches but he is going to shape this team the way he feels best serves the interests of the organization regardless of a players relative popularity.
In a way, it is interesting to now be playing the Vegas Golden Knights. A team whom the Wild helped make a near perfect Cinderella season by making a deal to protect the now-injured Matthew Dumba. At the time, some fans who liked then prospect Alex Tuch or the speedy center Erik Haula were bitter while also hoping those two cast offs would have big seasons to prove the Wild organization wrong. Haula is out with a season ending injury this season but last year he scored 30 goals. Did that really make those that are bitter feel any better? Probably not, even if it perhaps vindicated their feeling that he could’ve done more if given a bigger role. We’ll probably never know the truth (not that it really matters). The Golden Knights have found their game again and are climbing the Pacific ladder rapidly. Can the Wild get a big road win against Vegas?
1st Period Thoughts: Both clubs seemed to be a bit cautious of one another through the first minute. Minnesota would start to ramp up the pressure as the Pontus Aberg, Victor Rask, Zach Parise line got things going as Aberg took a shot that Marc-Andre Fleury steered wide but the Wild would gather up the puck down low as Parise tried to work a quick shot on goal hit the side of the goal. The Wild would take an interference penalty as Mikael Granlund screened a Vegas player off a faceoff in the offensive zone. The penalty proved costly. Joel Eriksson Ek would block a shot and he’d carry the puck down the ice where he tried to capitalize on a wrap around that never really made its way on goal. The Golden Knights would quickly transition the puck out of the zone to Jonathan Marchessault who fed a pass to Alex Tuch who sniped it by Devan Dubnyk. 1-0 Golden Knights. Predictably, the goal emboldened Vegas and Ryan Reaves would level Ryan Suter with a big hit near the Wild bench. Minnesota would try to counter a few minutes later as Granlund forced a turnover from Paul Stastny near his own blueline and he’d work a puck to Eric Staal who unleashed a snap shot that Fleury gloved. The Wild followed up that with Staal’s line and Jordan Greenway used his big frame to work the puck down low where he tried to jam home a shot from the left post but Fleury was able to close the door. Minnesota was able to put the Golden Knights on their heels a bit by working pucks deep, but when the Wild tried to work the puck out front they rarely were able to get a shot on goal. Victor Rask would get a hooking penalty in the offensive zone that put the Golden Knights on the man advantage. Marcus Foligno did a decent job on the kill applying pressure to the Vegas puck carriers and Minnesota would escape unscathed. Jason Zucker would make a pretty spin move (kind of a reverse spin-a-rama) to get by Nate Schmidt and he’d rip a shot off the post and out. The Golden Knights’ would take a foolish penalty of their own in the offensive zone that drew the ire of Vegas’ head coach Gerard Gallant. On the power play the Golden Knights let Minnesota move the puck around the perimeter before they set up Aberg for a blast that Fleury struggled with but the rebound eluded Parise. Minnesota would skate into the intermission trailing by one. Not a bad period, but some Wild players need to play smarter. On Vegas’ goal, Ryan Suter inexplicably moved into the slot in search of a pass / rebound which put him out of position as the Golden Knights’ counter attack.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Golden Knights’ 4th line would threaten Minnesota early as a shot from the point by Colin Miller narrowly missed the mark. Minnesota would try to counter with the Parise, Rask, Aberg line and they also had an ‘oh so close’ chance as Suter tried to set up Rask for a redirection. On the next shift, the Wild’s 4th line would attack the net as Foligno and Luke Kunin would crash and hack away at the puck but Fleury was able to get the cover for a whistle. Minnesota kept attacking and creating havoc in the Vegas end, but the Wild had no shots to show for it. Time after time when Minnesota would generate some speed entering the Vegas zone, they found their shots were deflected wide of the mark. Vegas was looking to extend their lead and they came ridiculously close as Marchessault found Stastny near the goal who didn’t shoot but he’d dish the puck to Brandon Pirri who had an open net to look at but he’d push a shot wide. Pirri slapped the ice with his stick in frustration. Minnesota would take full advantage of the fortuitous miss. The 4th line would swarm near the Vegas net as Eriksson Ek fed a pass over to Foligno who buried it by a sprawling Fleury. 1-1 game. Vegas nearly took back the lead as Tomas Nosek got a step behind the Wild and he’d race down the ice on a breakaway but Dubnyk stonewalled him. Minnesota followed it up with a tremendous shift by the Greenway, Staal, Charlie Coyle line as Greenway used his strength to protect the puck and then swung a pass over to Staal who fired it home. 2-1 Wild to pretty raucous cheer from the thousands of Wild fans in attendance at T-Mobile Arena. The Golden Knights would try to raise their level to answer back and after a few shifts they’d get the response they were hoping for. Stastny found Max Pacioretty in the slot and he’d snap a shot by Dubnyk. 2-2 game. Zucker would take a slashing penalty on Nosek. Minnesota’s penalty kill gave up a few quality shots but Dubnyk was rock solid and the Wild killed the penalty. As the penalty expired Parise dropped a pass back to Zucker who tried to skate into the slot for a shot but the puck would be knocked away at the last moment only to be gathered up by Kunin who backhanded a shot wide. The period would end, but Minnesota had to feel good with the way they rallied back. Greenway continues to be too much for Vegas to handle.
3rd Period Thoughts: Ryan Suter got called for a weak slash that put the Golden Knights on an early power play. Minnesota would make its cause tougher as Foligno backhanded a clearing attempt way into the crowd for a delay of game giving Vegas a long 5-on-3 opportunity. The Wild penalty killers got a big faceoff win from Koivu allowing Jared Spurgeon to clear the zone. Then it was good shot blocking as well as a few big saves from Dubnyk and Minnesota would get the huge kill. Minnesota was trying to go on the attack, but give the Vegas blueline for being physical and neutralizing the Wild. Perhaps tired of watching his peers get lit up by Vegas, Greg Pateryn leveled Tuch with a big open ice hit. Minnesota had a great scoring chance a few minutes later as Rask found Foligno with a pass and he’d charge into the Golden Knights’ end where he found a trailing Spurgeon with a shot as got a great shot that was snagged by Fleury. Spurgeon’s attempt drew a hooking call on Paul Stastny. Minnesota didn’t do much with the man advantage, unable find an open lane to shoot the biscuit. The Wild wouldn’t give up and Marcus Foligno charged to the net as Staal dished the puck to Coyle who swung a shot on goal that had Fleury sprawling and Coyle buried the rebound. 3-2 Wild. The Golden Knights tried to press for the equalizer but the Wild did a good job of denying time and space as well as the middle of the ice forcing Vegas to waste time chasing the puck. Vegas would pull Fleury with about a minute and a half and the Wild did a good job of forcing the Golden Knights to battle for the puck along the boards. Minnesota would get a few huge shot blocks down the stretch and Parise would will a puck out of the zone and then make a pass from his knees to Koivu for the empty net tally to seal a 4-2 victory.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Jordan Greenway, Victor Rask, Pontus Aberg, Charlie Coyle, Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Louie Belpedio, Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Matt Hendricks, J.T. Brown and Nate Prosser were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Charlie Coyle, 2nd Star Colin Miller, 3rd Star Paul Stastny
~ Attendance was 18,328 at T-Mobile Arena.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: (23-13-4-3) 53pts 1st AHL Central
19.8% Power Play (14th in the AHL)
83.5% Penalty Kill (8th in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #9 Cal O’Reilly ~ 8G 27A = 35pts
2. #42 Kyle Rau ~ 14G 15A = 29pts
3. #20 Gerald Mayhew ~ 12G 17A = 29pts
4. #23 Mason Shaw ~ 3G 19A = 22pts
5. #7 Sam Anas ~ 7G 14A = 21pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #17 Mike Liambas ~ 77 PIM’s
2. #37 Hunter Warner ~ 50 PIM’s
3. #21 Carson Soucy ~ 42 PIM’s
1. #34 Kaapo Kahkonen (12-7-4) 2.53GAA .913%SP 5SO
2. #35 Andrew Hammond (10-6-1) 2.88GAA .907%SP
Iowa 4, Ontario 2
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Sam Hentges (St. Cloud State, NCHC) ~ the former Totino Grace standout had an assist in the Huskies’ sweep of Western Michigan on Saturday night. Hentges has 5 goals, 12 points, 14 PIM’s and is a +10 in 20 games.
C – Alexander Khovanov (Moncton, QMJHL) ~ the skilled Russian had an assist but went a miserable 2-for-8 on his draws in Moncton’s 5-1 loss to Halifax. Khovanov has 21 goals, 53 points, 70 PIM’s, and is an ‘even’ rating in 42 games.
D – Braydyn Chizen (Brandon, WHL) ~ the giant defenseman was traded from Kelowna to hopefully have more opportunity with the Wheat Kings. So far he’s taking advantage of it as he had an assist in Brandon’s 7-5 win over Kootenay on Saturday. Chizen has a goal, 5 points, 37 PIM’s and is a -9 in 43 games.
C – Damien Giroux (Saginaw, OHL) ~ being relegated to more of a supporting role probably has been a bit challenging for the Spirit’s captain, but he still finds ways to contribute as he had a shorthanded goal as well as going 9-for-14 on his draws in Saginaw’s 6-2 win over Erie. Giroux has 17 goals, 29 points, 18 PIM’s and is a +10 in 42 games.
RW – Nick Swaney (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ the sophomore winger had another big night for the Bulldogs as he chipped in a goal and an assist in their weekend sweep of Miami on Saturday. Swaney has 8 goals, 16 points, +8 in 20 games.
D – Jack Sadek (Minnesota, Big 10) ~ the senior defenseman had a goal on 3 shots in Minnesota’s 5-3 loss to Michigan State. Sadek has 2 goals, 10 points, 30 PIM’s and is a -5 in 23 games.