“We need to bounce back”, “we need to be better”, “got to be ready to play” are all empty cliches Minnesota Wild fans have been treated to in the weeks after the All Star break as it more or less spins its wheels in the NHL standings. Sadly, they were also cliches we heard all too often prior to the break as well. Just empty phrases given to the media to explain yet another embarrassing loss such as was the case against the Philadelphia Flyers who were on the 2nd night of a back to back facing a fairly rested Wild team on Tuesday.
Now the team has had a few days off to think and reflect (you hope) and prepare themselves to play the worst team in the Metropolitan Division, a team they defeated last Saturday in New Jersey. But will the Wild be ready to play, or will they start the game as sluggish and uninspired as they did against the Flyers? The Wild fanbase is tried of the excuses and calls for the organization to blow it up and rebuild are as strong as it has been in years. Can the Wild stem that unrest with a win against the Devils?
1st Period Thoughts: The game had a tense feel as the Devils tried playing with pace early. Both clubs were pursuing the puck well and time and space was in short supply. The Wild and Devils were taking any chance to send shots on goal, but most were missing wide of the mark. Minnesota would draw the first penalty of the game as Jordan Greenway was battling for a puck along the boards behind the goal and Jason Zucker skated in for puck support where he was cross checked by Damon Severson which put the Wild on the power play. On the man advantage the Wild would capitalize on the man advantage as Brad Hunt who was given some time and space and he’d move in and ramp a shot off the stick of Ben Lovejoy and up underneath the crossbar. 1-0 Wild. The goal seemed to boost the confidence of the Wild who kept applying pressure in the Devils’ zone. The pressure would yield a terrible mistake by Keith Kincaid who left his crease to play the puck and he’d look to swing a pass but then decided to bail back to his crease but the puck was gathered up by Joel Eriksson Ek and he’d wrap a shot off Kincaid and in. 2-0 Wild. The mistake really seemed to deflate the Devils who are all too familiar with costly mental errors this season. The Devils continued to be careless with the puck as a lazy pass through the middle by Mirco Mueller was intercepted by Kyle Rau who moved in and was stopped by Kincaid. The Wild continued to swarm and Mikael Granlund tried to go top shelf by Kincaid stood tall as the shot hit him just above the Devils’ crest and then he pounced to cover up the biscuit before Zach Parise could shovel home the rebound. The Devils could only generate token offensive pressure but you could sense their frustration as their seemed to be lots of chirping between the clubs during any stoppage in play. Minnesota was content to carry its two-goal lead into the 1st intermission and Devan Dubnyk had one his most relaxing periods of hockey in a long time. Not a bad start, but they need to continue to attack and bury a few more goals so they don’t let this Devils club hang around and start to think they have a chance.
2nd Period Thoughts: New Jersey would waste little time in the 2nd to cut into the Wild lead as Marcus Johansson would blast a slap shot that skittered off the ice and ramp off the leg pad of Dubnyk and just underneath the crossbar. 2-1 Wild in a goal that drew an anxious groan from the crowd who has grown accustomed to seeing the team squander leads on home ice. Dubnyk stared up at the Jumbotron in disgust but it seemed to be another case of a lack of focus by the Wild goaltender. Minnesota would try to go back on the attack with the Eric Staal, Greenway, Zucker line but despite some good hustle all they could generate was a no-look backhand shot by Zucker that missed wide. Yet the Wild’s answer would happen on the next shift as Hunt carried the puck down low and he’d turn and swing a pass back out to the point where he set up Nick Seeler that stepped into a shot that deflected partially off a Devils player and by Kincaid. 3-1 Wild. New Jersey would draw a holding penalty on Parise. On the man advantage the Devils moved the puck well to set up a few big blasts from the wall by Jesper Bratt but they’d miss high and wide. The Wild was exhibiting some desperation; especially as Marcus Foligno‘s stick broke early in the penalty kill and Jared Spurgeon earned some cheers for dropping to the ice to deny the passing lane and Minnesota got the big kill. Minnesota would go back on the attack and Mikael Granlund wind up and fire a shot that went off the glove of Kincaid and in. 4-1 Wild as the Devils swapped out Kincaid for Cory Schneider. Minnesota did not ease up and continued to apply pressure and a shot that skittered through the New Jersey crease had Schneider flopping in his paint and the Wild came dangerously close to adding to their lead. The Devils would answer back as Severson let go of a shot from the point that glanced off the shoulder of Parise and then was redirected by Travis Zajac and by Dubnyk. The Wild immediately protested saying the redirection was a high stick and indeed the replay seemed to indicate Zajac’s stick may have been above the crossbar. After a fairly quick review it was ruled ‘no goal.’ Still 4-1 Wild. The Wild appeared to ease up their pressure a bit, but a quick turnover in the neutral zone gave them a chance to go on the attack and Granlund lifted a backhander that Schneider just got enough of to force it to go up and over the netting. Minnesota would get tagged with a penalty as Coyle went to the box for holding as the Wild tried to scratch and claw near the crease in search of another goal. The Devils did little to nothing with the man advantage and Minnesota appeared content to sit back and play defense. After some nice work along the wall by Bratt he’d work a puck to Nico Hischier who sent a pass over to Will Butcher who ripped a quick shot by Dubnyk. 4-2 Wild. The Devils kept applying pressure late in the period as Minnesota looked a little tired as New Jersey kept swarming and Dubnyk was forced to sprawl to cover up a rebound off an Matt Agostino shot. In the closing seconds of the period, Severson would cross check Zucker just underneath the chin and Minnesota would have a power play to start the 3rd period.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild would start the period with a power play and Brad Hunt tried to thread a centering pass towards the crease that just missed Staal for what would’ve been a tap in goal. Perhaps the crowd enjoyed the fact their team had a lead and they’d start the wave as Minnesota squandered an early chance to add to their lead. Just as the power play expired the Wild would take a careless penalty as Seeler was caught for high sticking with a little help by Bratt to cover his mouth even though the stick actually hit him near the back of his shoulder. Minnesota’s penalty killers did a good job of applying pressure to the puck carrier to force a few errant passes to clear the zone and force New Jersey to waste lots of time on the power play just trying to get set up. The physical play and chippy scrums after the whistle now became a regular occurrence as both clubs were finishing their checks and then doing plenty of talking after the whistle. Another questionable high stick as Spurgeon’s stick struck the shoulder of Kyle Palmieri who then threw his head back to draw the attention of the official. The Devils took advantage of the power play as they’d score just 6 seconds in as Palmieri ripped a shot by Dubnyk. 4-3 Wild with an anxious sound from the home crowd who is sensing another late-game collapse. The Wild would try to back on the attack to try to extend the lead back to two, and they came dangerously close to doing so as Granlund made a no-look pass from behind the goal out front to Parise who fired a shot high and wide despite being within 12 feet from the crease. The one goal game meant every Devils’ rush was met with an anxious groan from the crowd and they had every right to feel that way as Devils would tie the game as Ben Lovejoy would uncork a slap shot that beat Dubnyk 5-hole. 4-4 game to an anxious roar from the crowd and Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau would erupt on the bench. Minnesota looked deflated and desperate as they tried to simply hold on for overtime. The Wild would try to swarm early as Charlie Coyle tried to swing a pass out front that was pounced by Parise in the slot that he’d steer aside. The game would go to overtime as the home crowd anxiously awaited another big failure on ‘Our Ice.’
Overtime Thoughts: Mikael Granlund would start overtime with a nice skate to stick move to get by Hischier but the youngster would recover and knock down the Wild winger before he could get a shot off. Minnesota controlled the pace of overtime, but their shots were not going on goal and they were missing high and wide. Minnesota continued to control possession as Coyle and then Staal took a big circle in the New Jersey zone but Schneider was up to the task. The Wild would then retreat with the puck back in their zone and Dubnyk would try to pass the puck off the boards and Palmieri was able to work the puck back out front to Hischier for the game winner. 5-4 Devils. Collapse complete.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Jordan Greenway, Jason Zucker, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Marcus Foligno, Eric Fehr, Kyle Rau, Brad Hunt, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Anthony Bitetto, Greg Pateryn and Nick Seeler. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Matt Hendricks and Victor Rask were scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Nico Hischier, 2nd Star Marcus Johansson, 3rd Star Brad Hunt
~ Attendance was 19,041 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Crease And Assist: A Legally Compliant Hockey Blog would like to congratulate Minnesota Wild Athletic Trainer John Worley on working his 1,500th NHL game.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Alexander Khovanov (Moncton, QMJHL) ~ the skilled Russian has managed to stay healthy and is having his most productive major junior season yet as he added two more assists on 1 shot and went 3-for-7 on his draws in Moncton’s 5-3 win over St. John on Tuesday. Khovanov has 22 goals, 59 points, 76 PIM’s and is a +4 in 50 games.
LW – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ Minnesota’s most notable prospect continues to be on fire as he had 2 goals and a helper on 3 shots in CSKA’s 3-2 win over Ak Bars Kazan on Wednesday. He had an assist in Friday’s 4-1 win over Slovan Bratislava. Kaprizov has 29 goals, 47 points, 12 PIM’s and is a +32 in 54 games.
C – Damien Giroux (Saginaw, OHL) ~ the Hanmer, Ontario-native is more of a secondary player after some of the high powered offensive talents Saginaw acquired but he’s still finding ways to chip in offensively as he had a goal and two helpers in the Spirit’s 9-2 win over Flint. Giroux has 23 goals, 39 points, 20 PIM’s and is a +23 in 52 games.
D – Braydyn Chizen (Brandon, WHL) ~ the big defenseman had an assist in Brandon’s 5-2 win over Edmonton. Chizen has a goal, 6 points, 59 PIM’s and is a -13 in 49 games.
High School Hockey Report:
With the Girls battling their way through sections right now, t’s Let’s Play Hockey has released its final regular season rankings for both Class A & AA for Boys Hockey. Before I do that I would also like to show you the finalists for Ms. Hockey 2019 are in (drum roll please). You can read more about each of these tremendous hockey players here.
CC Bowlby ~ (F) Edina ~ 26G 26A = 52pts
Izzy Daniel ~ (F) Blake ~ 25G 36A = 61pts
Kelsey King ~ (F) Elk River / Zimmerman ~ 45G 21A = 66pts
Kaitlyn Kotlowski ~ (D) Warroad ~ 12G 29A = 41pts
Madeline Wethington ~ (D) Blake ~ 21G 31A = 52pts
Goalie of the Year Finalists
Calla Frank ~ White Bear Lake ~ 10-12-3, 2.17GAA, .938%SP 1SO
Quinn Kuntz ~ Warroad ~ 24-0-1, .60GAA, .964%SP 14SO
Lucy Morgan ~ Maple Grove ~ 17-7-1, 1.44GAA, .939%SP 6SO
Makayla Pahl ~ Rochester Mayo ~ 4-8-3, 2.56GAA, .940%SP 2SO
Taylor Smith ~ Mound-Westonka ~ 19-0-5, 1.09GAA, .954%SP 6SO
Here is the top 10 rankings for Boys hockey in Class A & AA as of February 13th, 2019.
#5 St. Cloud Cathedral
#6 East Grand Forks
#7 Thief River Falls
#5 St. Thomas Academy
#6 Maple Grove
#7 White Bear Lake
#8 Eden Prairie
#10 Benilde-St. Margaret’s