I’ve followed this team as far back as the announcement NHL hockey was going to return to Minnesota on June 25th, 1997. They didn’t even have a name then. I’ve seen this team from its most humble of beginnings, to its best moments and its worst. Thousands of Minnesota Wild fans can probably claim the same thing, I am not implying I’m anything special. However, I do feel like I have a fair amount of perspective as to what this Minnesota Wild team is and what it is not. Last night against the New York Rangers they looked like a new team from what we’ve seen earlier in the month. They were faster, more energetic and working their way into the high traffic (i.e. high danger) areas of the ice. They were finishing checks and were anticipating the play better.
The only difference was a scratch of a 3rd pairing defenseman and the trade of a top 6 forward. Will that fast, more intense play continue against Detroit? Detroit is another Eastern Conference team out of the playoff picture as of right now and the last time the two teams faced the Wild ended up with a disappointing loss. Can the Wild demonstrate it is more than a 1-night wonder?
1st Period Thoughts: The Wild didn’t start the game with as much jump in its skates as it had in New York but they were playing attentive defensively as Detroit was trying to work the transition game early on. The ‘kid’ line of Luke Kunin, Joel Eriksson Ek and Ryan Donato worked well on the forecheck and their pressure would draw a penalty as Niklas Kronwall tripped up Kunin behind the Red Wings goal. On the man advantage, the Wild were slow and methodical, trying to work a shot from the wall and then hoping Zach Parise could pounce on the rebound. Detroit’s penalty kill was blockading near the blueline making it difficult for the Wild to skate into the offensive zone. Minnesota would try to work their way in close as Jason Zucker was able to feed a pass cross-ice to a pinching Jared Spurgeon who pushed it just wide of the goal and the Wild would come up empty on the power play. The Wild were doing a good job of denying Detroit from being able to connect on cross-ice passes and this made it difficult for the Red Wings to get much going offensively. Minnesota would have one of its best offensive chances of the period as Jonas Brodin worked a give and go with Eric Staal and Brodin’s shot from the slot was knocked down and covered up by Jonathan Bernier. The Wild was icing the puck far more frequently than you normally see and that put Minnesota in a few awkward situations with tired-ish legs on the ice. Minnesota would draw another power play as Pontus Aberg would center a pass to Parise who was hooked by Anthony Mantha as he tried to charge towards the Detroit goal. Devan Dubnyk would leave his crease to gather the puck but got caught way out of his crease as Justin Abdelkader would strip him of the puck and the Red Wings tried to take advantage of the open net only to be stopped by a smart defensive play by Mikael Granlund. It was a foolish decision by Dubnyk who has a tendency to make risky choices whenever he’s bored. On the rest of the power play, the Wild had a few good shots from the point by Brad Hunt as Staal lurked near the crease but Bernier was able to come up with the saves and another Wild power play came up empty. The kid line would strike late in the period as Donato weathered a check behind the goal and Eriksson Ek attempted a wrap around that Kunin pounced on for a goal. 1-0 Wild. Minnesota’s forecheck continued to give the Red Wings’ fit as Zucker won a battle for the puck as it was gathered up by Jordan Greenway who moved into the slot and wired a shot by Bernier. 2-0 Wild. The Red Wings would push for a goal late in the period and Dubnyk made 4-5 saves in quick succession on Tyler Bertuzzi to preserve Minnesota’s 2-goal lead going into the 1st intermission. Donato had another terrific period using his speed and strength on the puck.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Red Wings would waste little time to cut into the Wild lead as Bertuzzi deflected a point shot that Dubnyk had little chance on. 2-1 Wild. Detroit was looking to flip the script, using its speed to go on the forecheck and pressure the Wild the way Minnesota did to them in the 1st period. Minnesota wouldn’t register its first shot of the period until just short of the 5-minute mark as Greenway fired a slap shot into the Red Wings’ crest of Bernier’s jersey. Moments after that Marcus Foligno got lit up by a monster hit by Kronwall who caught him with his head down as he was just picking up the puck near the Wild bench. Foligno wasn’t happy being ‘Kronwall-ed’ and he skated after Kronwall and threw a forearm at the back of his head and would earn a penalty because of it. On the power play the Red Wings looked hungry and a cross-ice pass reached Andreas Athanasiou who ripped a shot that Dubnyk denied with a diving save. Eric Fehr would block a shot later in the power play and he’d skate into the Detroit zone and he’d drop a pass to Parise who killed off another 20 seconds of power play time and Minnesota would escape unscathed. Minnesota would go back on the attack and Zucker would hustle after a puck and draw a penalty as he was hooked and held as he got a partial step on the Red Wings’ Jonathan Ericsson. Minnesota would take advantage of power play with some persistence as a redirection from the slot by Kunin would draw a rebound from Bernier and Staal was able to chip it home. 3-1 Wild. Minnesota would continue to press the attack and they came close to adding their lead a few times as a turnover in the offensive zone by Detroit led to a great chance for Foligno but Bernier was able to make the save. A few shifts later it was Donato turning on the jets to get a step on a defender and he’d drag a puck on goal that Bernier was just able to keep from crossing the goal line. Minnesota had to feel good how weathered the Red Wings push and then worked to preserve their 2-goal lead going into the 3rd period.
3rd Period Thoughts: Detroit would draw a penalty early in the 2nd period as Zucker was tagged with a hooking penalty. Initially the Wild did a decent job of keeping Detroit to the perimeter but they kept hammering away and finally would get a shot through as Mantha blasted a shot by Dubnyk from the point. 3-2 Wild. The Wild wanted to work the forecheck, but Detroit was quick to transition the puck out of their own end and Minnesota couldn’t over commit against such a speedy Red Wings’ squad. Minnesota’s 2nd line of Staal, Greenway and Zucker managed to bottle up Detroit in its own end and even generate a few shots on goal as they used their size and strength well. Brodin was extremely active holding the zone and stepping up to support the play and even looking a little offensively dangerous. The Wild’s 4th line followed that up with a great effort of their own as they again worked pucks deep and then sent it back to the point for a on goal as the big bodies crashed the crease. J.T. Brown has been noticeable too; working well to dig pucks out along the boards. The Staal line continued to wreak havoc as Staal set up Zucker for a chance from the slot but Bernier made the save. Detroit would press for the equalizer and Frans Nielsen had a golden opportunity but was denied by an alert Dubnyk who sprawled to make the stop. Minnesota would go back on the attack with the Parise, Granlund, Aberg line as Granlund pounced on loose puck for a quick shot that Bernier denied. Dubnyk would make some nice stops, including a great stop on a Dylan Larkin shot. The Wild was trying to deny time and space as best it could as the Red Wings drew Minnesota’s defensive coverage close before working a play back door and a wide open Trevor Daley rang a shot off the post. The Red Wings would pull Bernier for an extra attacker with a little under 2 minutes left but good hustle by the Wild got bodies and sticks into passing / shooting lanes and Minnesota was able to work pucks out of the zone and they’d skate away with a victory.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Ryan Donato, Jordan Greenway, J.T. Brown, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Pontus Aberg, Marcus Foligno, Eric Fehr, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Greg Pateryn, Anthony Bitetto and Brad Hunt. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Nick Seeler and Matt Hendricks were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Luke Kunin, 2nd Star Dylan Larkin, 3rd Star Ryan Donato
~ Attendance was 19,515 at Little Caesar’s Arena.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 4, San Jose 3
After having lost its last 3 games, each in overtime or the shootout the Wild would try to get back on track against the Barracuda of San Jose. It was a high tempo first period with both clubs trading scoring chances. Former Bowling Green star Mitch McLain would break the stalemate as he buried a chance from in close that Antoine Bibeau couldn’t stop, 1-0 Iowa. The lead would not last long as the Barracuda answered just 16 seconds later as T.J. Hensick scored on Kaapo Kahkonen to make it 1-1 going into the 1st intermission. The ice would tilt in San Jose’s favor in the 2nd period, as Kahkonen found himself under siege. But despite having just 5 shots in the period, Iowa would take the lead as Michael Kapla scored his first goal as a member of the Wild as he blasted in a shot from the point. 2-1 Iowa. San Jose would again answer back just 45 seconds later as former Denver University star Dylan Gambrell scored tying it back up 2-2. Iowa would then pull ahead as Cal O’Reilly scored shorthanded to give the Wild a 3-2 lead. Yet the resilient San Jose squad responded with a power play goal by John McCarthy just over a minute later making it 3-3 going into the 3rd period. The game appeared to be headed towards overtime in a defensively tight 3rd period, but Iowa would score on a late power play as Matt Read pounced on a rebound off a Dmitry Sokolov shot to make it 4-3 Wild. Kaapo Kahkonen would shut the door in the remaining minutes and Iowa would take the victory on the strength of 31 saves from their netminder. Sokolov and Kyle Rau had two helpers each.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Damien Giroux (Saginaw, OHL) ~ the Spirit’s captain had a power play goal and went 9-for-14 on his draws in Saginaw’s 6-3 win over Barrie on Thursday night. Giroux has 24 goals, 42 points, 20 PIM’s and is a +23 in 56 games.
LW – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow) ~ the talented winger finished off the regular season by chipping in two assists in CSKA Moscow’s 3-0 win over Dynamo Riga. Kaprizov has 29 goals, 51 points, 16 PIM’s and is a +34 in 57 games.
C – Andrei Svetlakov (CSKA Moscow) ~ the 4th line center had a strong finish to the regular season with a goal in CSKA Moscow’s 3-0 victory over Dynamo Riga. Svetlakov has 8 goals, 15 points, 25 PIM’s and is +17 in 44 games.