Minnesota returns home after a short Canadian road swing less than 24 hours before puck drop this evening against the Nashville Predators. With the trade of Mikael Granlund less than a week ago it will be strange seeing ‘Finnish Baby Jesus’ in Gold and Navy instead of Green. The Wild will see if they can translate this terrific success on the road into some better luck at home where they’ve been miserable since the All Star Break.
The Predators are in a battle to try to position themselves atop the Central Division but are struggling to find consistency despite a bunch of roster moves at the trade deadline. Nashville spent the night in St. Paul while the Wild made their way back on a red-eye flight from Calgary. Can the Wild muster enough energy to earn a victory over the Predators?
1st Period Thoughts: Well if you were curious, tonight is the night of the backup goaltenders, Alex Stalock for Minnesota and Juuse Saros for Nashville. As a longtime fan of the Wild, I’m used to this team making a backup look great. However, maybe we’ll see a different trend with the new faces on this team. At the very least, both teams are looking to set the pace early, and since the Wild got in late from Calgary last night, they need to get a goal or two early. I am worried though because Stalock is wandering a bit behind the net, even when the puck and all the skaters are all around him. Seriously Alex, stay in your crease. For as fast paced as things are in the first five minutes, each team only has one shot on goal each. A couple of failed clearing attempts would end up becoming the first goal of the night. New member Wayne Simmonds was able to protect the puck behind the net, and became an easy goal for Nick Bonino. Now it’s up to the Wild on the second half of the back-to-back to get that goal back instead of sulking. Thankfully, they’re not looking absolutely exhausted. Considering how well Minnesota played in Calgary last night, we need to realize that Nashville is a very different beast. With the recent improvements that the Predators have made over the years, they’re a formidable opponent for the Wild. In fact, I would rather face Winnipeg or Chicago these days than Nashville. However with about nine minutes remaining in the period, we are finding Minnesota pinned more and more in their zone. That certainly makes things more difficult to generate offense of your own. When Minnesota does get the puck into the Nashville zone, the Predators are able to keep the Wild to the perimeter and easily break up passes. Also as the time ticks by, we’re starting to see that Nashville has more jump. With that lack of jump by the Wild, perhaps that explains why Stalock feels an incessant need to keep leaving the crease. With just about five minutes remaining, the Wild definitely found some energy. They were able to keep the puck in the zone for a considerable amount of time. Unfortunately, they were unable to take advantage of that possession. The first power play of the game would go to Minnesota after Ryan Johansen was called for slashing. While the Wild were able to keep the puck in the offensive zone for about a minute, they were guilty of too much passing and not enough shooting. And that would become the story of the game’s first and only power play of the game so far. The good thing though, is even to the buzzer they kept trying to gain the offensive zone, and hopefully that bodes well for the remainder of the game.
2nd Period Thoughts: Well we definitely got a good start to the period. Minnesota was able to get into the zone with the puck and move it around. There were a couple of close calls, but again, nothing resulting in a goal. Some of the guys who have been quite successful tonight at moving the puck would be Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway. Again, it seems to be the youth of this team (or at least the new guys) trying to make a difference. Probably the best chance tonight would come from Brad Hunt and Luke Kunin looking for the rebound, but Saros would come up big. Just when the Wild were beginning to look a bit sluggish again, the fourth line would make a decent appearance. I tend to really enjoy watching third and fourth lines on teams. They’re not flashy. They’re never going to score a lot of goals. But when they do score, it’s kind of exciting, because their goals are a little more few and far between. What you want from those lines are steady, consistent role playing. They’re also going to play more of a basic style of hockey, just good fundamental hockey. This has also been a game where the officials are letting the players simply play hockey. But then there hasn’t been headhunting style of hockey, so there hasn’t been a need for a lot of whistles. Just past the midway point of the game, Kevin Fiala would get a decent scoring chance. His trademark move is a drag to the middle and shoot. However, at some point he needs to make that move actually pay off, or find a new move. I would say our most troublesome defenseman would be Anthony Bitetto would epically cough the puck up just past the blue line in which Nashville would easily nab that puck. He owes Marcus Foligno a drink for saving his and Stalock’s bacon. Again, I have to ask, how is he better than Nate Prosser? But when your General Manager spent so much time in the Nashville organization, you can pretty much believe that Paul Fenton is going to look at just about every player he had in the Predators organization at some point, even if it’s to the detriment of this team. It’s become apparent that Prosser’s biggest drawback is that he never played for Nashville, so he’s not going to get the benefit of the doubt. Stalock is having to bail his skaters out again and again, after Fiala chose to do an ill-advised drop pass at the blue line. Have we not figured out already, that Minnesota can’t do that against most teams, but especially not against Nashville? Nothing puts a bigger smile on my face to see Rocco Grimaldi’s shot get blocked which then allowed Eric Fehr to skate into the zone pretty much unimpeded to get the Wild on the board tonight. The goal by Fehr would certainly energize the other lines, and we’d get another flurry in front of Saros. That energy would come from a perfect goal by Jason Zucker after a great set up by Eric Staal and Ryan Suter. The big thing, is that Zucker was ready for the shot and Suter was able to change the angles on the ice by getting the puck as deep as he and Staal did. The Wild almost lost the lead with a desperate Nashville in the waning seconds. Thankfully the Wild were able to create just enough traffic and were able to clear the puck.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild would get the second power play of the game early in the period after Mattias Ekholm was called for hooking Fiala. Comparing the first minutes of both power plays, the first power play was much, much better. Minnesota definitely struggled to gain and maintain possession. They need to realize, they’re only winning by one goal. With just ten seconds of the power playing remaining, Pontus Aberg would get called for tripping Viktor Arvidsson. Just what you want, is enough time with an extra skater for the Predators to even up the score. I know that Nashville has one of the worst power plays in the league, but still, you don’t want to make anything easier. Minnesota would successfully kill the penalty and even had some offensive zone time short handed. However, when you have those short handed chances, Kunin needs to realize he can shoot the puck. Stalock would take a hard shot off the mask that had him momentarily dazed. However, there would be no stoppage of play, like most of this game which has had a nice flow. Considering how much time is being spent in either end, neither team is really willing to ice the puck. With about nine minutes remaining in regulation, we’re seeing a Wild team that I feel we haven’t seen in a long, long time. We’re seeing a team that’s just sitting there depending on the one-goal lead. They’re looking to score more goals. Players like Zucker are even using their body to defend and keep talented players like Roman Jusi to the perimeter. It’s feeling like a Three Musketeers “all for one and one for all” kind of game. Forwards and defensemen are working as one cohesive unit, and they’re not leaving their goaltender out to dry. With just over six minutes remaining, Minnesota would head back to the penalty kill after Ericksson Ek got called for holding. This is definitely the time for the Wild to figure out how to clear the puck again, as we’ve seen some questionable clearing attempts, both even strength and on the penalty kill. Minnesota would kill the penalty, but since the Wild were never able to really clear the zone at any point, it would allow the Predators to maintain the all important possession. That possession would then become the tying goal by Filip Forsberg. Right now, Nashville has the momentum, and Minnesota needs to find a way to get it back. Fiala also struggles with carrying the puck over the blue line, I don’t know why he (or anyone in a Wild uniform) keeps insisting on a drop pass. The game would end up tied after regulation, and so now we have to see if their better play also applies in overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: It speaks well for how he’s played tonight that Kunin got the start in the overtime. Although, he was also with Fiala (who’s been a bit questionable) and a quiet Jared Spurgeon. Truthfully, I haven’t thought much of Spurgeon tonight, and he’s a defenseman you really can’t afford to be super quiet. The Wild’s pushes near the end of the five minute overtime were certainly more exciting, however there was too much waiting around and on occasion in decision. And this one will go to shootout.
Shootout Thoughts: Minnesota would shoot first, with Donato. He would lose control and run out of room and Saros made the easy save. For Nashville, it would be Kyle Turris, but Stalock would get a piece of it and the puck would go wide. Next is Fiala, and he would go wide, stickside. Next for Nashville would be Ryan Ellis, who would get Stalock to bite and go down early, and Ellis would score. It would be up to Parise, and he would slow it down, and go five-hole and extend the shootout. Forsberg could win the game, but Stalock would stack the pads and keep the puck out. Zucker would be the next Minnesota skater, he opted for speed but it went right into Saros’ glove. Johansen would be next. They would score, but it will be reviewed as it appears that Johansen pushed Stalock’s pads into the goal. The goal would stand however, and the Wild have a chance to get this one back on Tuesday night in Nashville.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Kevin Fiala, Pontus Aberg, Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin, Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan Donato, Marcus Foligno, Matt Read, Eric Fehr, J.T. Brown, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Greg Pateryn, Brad Hunt and Nick Seeler.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Ryan Johansen; 2nd Star, Alex Stalock; 3rd Star, Jason Zucker
~ Attendance was 18.885 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 4, Ontario 5 OT
With the confidence of having broken the Bakersfield Condors’ 17-game winning streak the night before, the Wild made their way to Ontario hoping to add another victory to the ledger. Iowa would jump out to an early lead as Kyle Rau struck a little past the opening minute of the game. The Wild would extend their lead to 2-0 a few minutes later as Mason Shaw would score his 5th goal of the season. The Reign tried to answer back but Kaapo Kahkonen was sharp and Iowa would go into the 1st intermission holding a 2-0 lead. In the 2nd period, former Iowa Wild forward Brett Sutter found the twine behind the Kahkonen. Iowa carried the period but was unable to solve Peter Budaj but still had a 1-goal lead going into the 3rd period. There was some craziness as Mike Liambas would get into it with Craig Wyzormirski and both players would get tossed after some rough stuff. Rau would strike two more times on the power play in the 1st half of the 3rd period to get a hat trick and with a 4-1 lead it looked like Iowa was well set to cruise to a victory. They’d hold that lead until about the 3-minute mark and the wheels would fall off in a hurry as Nikita Scherbak, Sutter and Matt Luff each scored in the next few minutes to tie it up at 4-4 sending the game to overtime. In overtime, the Wild were clearly shaken by the late game collapse and in the extra session it was all Reign and they’d bury the game winner as Matt Moulson buried it to give Ontario the 5-4 come from behind win. Kahkonen had 49 saves in the loss. Rau ended the night with the hat trick and a helper to his credit.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ the talented winger hasn’t been lighting the lamp but he has been contributing as he had an assist on 4 shots in CSKA Moscow’s 3-1 win over Vityaz Moscow on Saturday which gives them a 3-0 lead in the series. Kaprizov has 3 assists in 3 playoff games.
C – Damien Giroux (Saginaw, OHL) ~ the Hanmer, Ontario-native is finding the back of the net with greater frequency over the 2nd half of the season as he had a goal and an assist on 3 shots in Saginaw’s 7-1 win over Kingston. Giroux has 27 goals, 46 points, 20 PIM’s and is +28 in 60 games.
D – Jack Sadek (Minnesota, Big 10) ~ the senior defenseman had two helpers in the Gophers 5-2 win over #11 ranked Arizona State which completed a sweep of the Sun Devils. Sadek has 4 goals, 18 points, 36 PIM’s and is -1 in 35 games.
C – Sam Hentges (St. Cloud State, NCHC) ~ the former Totino-Grace star had a goal in the Huskies’ 8-2 rout of Western Michigan on Saturday night. Hentges has 8 goals, 16 point, 18 points, +11 in 30 games.
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Niagara, OHL) ~ the Novi, Michigan-native had an assist on 5 shots in Niagara’s 5-4 loss to Barrie on Saturday. Lodnia has 14 goals, 38 points, 18 PIM’s and is +15 in 34 games.
LW – Jack McBain (Boston College, H-East) ~ the Toronto-native had an assist on 2 shots in the Eagles’ 4-2 loss to Northeastern. McBain has 6 goals, 13 points, 35 PIM’s and is an ‘even’ rating in 30 games.
D – Braydyn Chizen (Brandon, WHL) ~ the lanky blueliner had an assist on 1 shot in Brandon’s loss to Edmonton. Chizen has a goal, 8 points, 65 PIM’s and is -10 in 57 games.
C – Connor Dewar (Everett, WHL) ~ the Pas, Manitoba-native had the primary assist on the game winning goal in overtime as the Silvertips ground out a 1-0 win over arch rival Seattle last night. Dewar has 34 goals, 75 points, 56 PIM’s and is a +25 in 54 games.