As I’ve gotten older I’ve grown to appreciate the subtle comfort of the warmth a space heater provides in winter. In a strange way, it reminds me of bygone days when I’d make my way down to the warming house at Handke Pit in Elk River and lace up my skates. There was an old wood stove there that provided the heat as well as kept some hot cocoa warm which was always nice if you’d been out playing some pickup hockey. No doubt the cold weather has brought about the possibility for outdoor skating to many a pond across the tri-state area.
Juxtapose this very traditional winter tradition with the Wild undergoing its 2019-20 tradition of yet another road trip. The road-heavy schedule now has the Wild traveling to southeastern United States for the first of a 3-game road trip as they play the Florida Panthers this evening. Can the Wild make it 10-straight games with at least a point?
1st Period Thoughts: The ‘GEEK’ line had great energy to start the game, working the puck into the Florida zone and giving the Panthers fits with their hustle. The Panthers would counter attack as Aleksander Barkov would lead a 3-on-2 breakout before setting up Evegenii Dadonov for a quick shot off the rush that was fought off by Kaapo Kahkonen. The pace was fast which suited the Panthers just fine. The GEEK line again would give Florida a lot of problems as Luke Kunin had a few different chances, but the Panthers had circled around Chris Driedger and most of his his attempts never even reached the Driedger. The Panthers were able to spring Brett Connolly for a partial breakaway but Kahkonen was able to make the save, but moments later Connolly was tripped up by Mikko Koivu. The Wild’s penalty killers did a great job of getting sticks into passing lanes and applying timely puck pressure to force some turnovers. Jordan Greenway would intercept a pass and race down the ice on a shorthanded 2-on-1 along with Zach Parise. Greenway fed a nice pass to Parise but his shot was blocked aside by Driedger. Minnesota would get the kill, but a few minutes later they’d take a delay of game penalty when they sent a puck up into the stands giving Florida’s power play another opportunity. The Wild penalty killers did a good job of keeping the Panthers to the perimeter but they’d have some luck too as Jonathan Huberdeau wired a shot that rang off the post. The luck wouldn’t last, even as Jared Spurgeon blocked a Barkov shot that left him reeling a bit the Panthers kept moving the puck quickly as they set up the Florida captain again for a blast that he ripped by Kahkonen. 1-0 Panthers. The Panthers’ ability to pass the puck quickly seemed to have Wild players on their heels and so it took a little while for Minnesota to calm down to go back on the attack. Minnesota would earn its first power play of the game as Frank Vatrano tripped up Kevin Fiala. The Wild’s first decent chance on the power play came off the stick of Koivu who backhanded a shot on goal but unfortunately no one could pounce on the rebound as Driedger made the save. The Panthers’ penalty killers kept Minnesota to the perimeter and were quick to clear the zone making most of the Wild’s chances one and done. Florida would get the kill and they’d add to their lead just moments later as Vatrano fed Huberdeau for a one-timer that beat Kahkonen top shelf. 2-0 Florida. The Panthers seemed to have a step or two ahead of the Wild all over the ice and the puck never seemed to be out of their control for more than a second or two. This meant the Wild were literally chasing the game on the scoreboard and on the ice as the Panthers were very adept at making short accurate passes. The Panthers were standing up at the blue line challenging the Wild’s zone entries and Minnesota struggled to maintain possession after going into the offensive zone. The Wild would dump it in and the Panthers would win the races for the dump in’s and Minnesota never was finding itself chasing the puck out of the offensive zone. The period would end with the Wild probably feeling a little frustrated, trailing 2-0 after being outshot 13-5. They must find away to enter the zone without dumping it in because its just leading to a bunch of easy turnovers and the result is very few shots being sent on goal against a goaltender making his 2nd NHL start.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Panthers went right back to work at dominating the pace of play to start the 2nd period and this time without Spurgeon who was declared out with an upper-body injury. Minnesota was just trying to chip the puck off the glass and out but the Panthers were quick to gather the puck up and they worked it back in the offensive zone. The Wild would finally break out of their own end as Ryan Suter joined the rush but his wrist shot would beat Drieger only to hit the right post and stay out. Minnesota had to work really hard just to exit the zone with any kind of cohesion as Victor Rask fed a puck to Ryan Hartman who dropped a pass back to Greenway who stepped into a slap shot that Drieger knocked down before poking the puck to the corner. The Panthers looked comfortable as they forced the Wild to scramble and work just to exit the zone with an area pass and Kahkonen had to stay sharp as Florida created a few chances off the rush. Huberdeau would set up Michael Matheson for a quick shot but his shot would be deflected up and over the net by Kahkonen as Minnesota breathed a sigh of relief at only being down by two goals. Minnesota would generate a few shots mid-way through the period as Kevin Fiala and Brad Hunt hammered a few shots on goal from the perimeter that were little trouble for Drieger. The Wild continued to look for chances to attack and a steal by Jason Zucker on a pass to Mike Hoffman and the speedy Wild winger turned on the jets to create a breakaway and he’d score on a forehand to backhand move. 2-1 Panthers still had the lead.
GOAL. Jason Zucker, who has had a hard time finishing on scoring chances, scores on the breakaway! pic.twitter.com/QVrnZxHzlt— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
Minnesota would then take a penalty as Matheson was tripped up by Marcus Foligno giving Florida a chance to extend its lead. On the Florida power play, they’d move the puck quickly as they set up Hoffman for a chance and he rang a shot off the post. Minnesota’s penalty killers did a reasonable job at sweeping pucks away from the middle of the ice and they’d get a big kill. The Wild would go back on the attack and they’d strike as Mats Zuccarello would lift a stick of a Florida defender and then rip a shot by Drieger to tie the game at 2-2 to the stunned silence from the mostly empty-seats at BB&T Center.
GOAL. Mats Zuccarello gets in on the forecheck and scores to tie the game.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
The 2nd goal seemed to back off the Panthers a bit and Minnesota was able to exit their own zone with more ease. The Panthers came close to taking back the lead as Dadonov raced into the zone with Suter pursuing him before hitting the breaks and causing Suter to slide out of the way before ripping a shot on goal that was fought off by Kahkonen who had to make another stop on Huberdeau a few seconds after that. The Wild would take their own chances to net the go-ahead goal as the 4th line set up Brad Hunt for a rocket from the point that Driedger was able to steer aside. A better period for the Wild even though they were outshot 18-9 but they were even where it counts; 2-2.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period started with a bit more cautious pace as both teams were quick to retreat and defend in their own end. The Panthers sat back in a passive 1-1-3 hoping to force the Wild to turn the puck over and then trying to catch them with an odd-man rush. The GEEK line would throw their weight around on the forecheck. The Panthers would counter with its top line as they moved the puck down low and back out to the point where Keith Yandle let go of a shot on goal that was saved by Kahkonen. The Wild stayed patient and as Parise found Carson Soucy moving towards the slot and he’d move in and cash in on backhander that beat a stunned Chris Driedger. 3-2 Wild.
That's No. 2 on the season for Soucy. pic.twitter.com/nUWmpjb5zK— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
The Wild kept applying pressure without being reckless as Zucker ripped a shot from the wall that nearly fooled Driedger. The play would be reviewed but it was determined the puck didn’t cross the line and the game would resume. Minnesota set up Kunin for a partial breakaway but the puck wouldn’t settle so he could get a shot on goal but he’d set up set up Matt Dumba for a shot on goal. The Wild were being very diligent in their own end, supporting their teammates well in battles along the wall. Victor Rask would make a nice little pass to Parise who moved in and was stopped on a backhand and then he’d chip his rebound up only to have it batted out of danger by Matheson.
Truly baffling that this didn't go in. pic.twitter.com/fufiENEbfR— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
Minnesota continued to control the puck and it was Dumba blistering a shot on goal that was gloved by Driedger. The Wild were winning the little races for loose pucks and their forecheck was causing havoc as they continued to set up point men and to Driedger’s credit he was making the saves to keep his team within one. Dumba was also getting involved physically as he leveled Barkov with a big hit.
Goodness gracious, Matt Dumba just destroyed Barkov. pic.twitter.com/dZvDdFDhWC— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
The Wild would spring Parise for a breakaway but again the puck would roll as he closed in on Driedger and was unable to get a shot off. He was also hooked a bit on the chance but no call was made as Parise held up his arms in frustration. Kahkonen was solid down the stretch making some nice saves with a fair amount of traffic near his crease. Minnesota was content to just work pucks deep and then doing their best to deny time and space. Barkov was looking hungry as he got a step on the Wild defense but his shot off the rush would miss high. The Panthers would pull their goaltender with over two minutes left. One player who tried to take advantage of the empty net was Kahkonen who stepped out to gather up a dump in and he tried to fire in a shot but he’d miss wide for an icing call. Minnesota would continue to deny time and space and it was Kunin chipping a puck off the boards and the puck would curl its way into the empty net to seal a 4-2 Wild victory.
An impressive comeback after the Panthers’ pace really put the Wild on their heels. They weathered the storm and then chipped away at Florida’s lead until they pulled ahead and then kept up the hustle to earn a big road win and to extend their point-streak to 10 games. Kahkonen earned his 2nd NHL victory on the strength of 44 saves.
On the not so great news side, Mikko Koivu also seemed to be hurt and was out of action for most of the 3rd period. Spurgeon and Koivu’s injury status will be important storyline going into Thursday’s game against Tampa Bay.
~ The Wild roster was as follows tonight: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Mats Zuccarello, Jason Zucker, Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Ryan Hartman, Marcus Foligno, Victor Rask, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Carson Soucy and Brad Hunt. Alex Stalock backed up Kaapo Kahkonen. Nick Seeler and Ryan Donato were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Kaapo Kahkonen, 2nd Star Jason Zucker, 3rd Star Jonathan Huberdeau
~ Attendance was 10,167 at BB&T Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: (12-6-2-2) 28pts 2nd in the AHL Central
15.5% Power Play (21st in the AHL)
89.5% Penalty Kill (2nd in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #7 Sam Anas ~ 6G 13A = 19pts
2. #20 Gerald Mayhew ~ 12G 6A = 18pts
3. #27 Brennan Menell ~ 2G 16A = 18pts
4. #40 Gabriel Dumont ~ 7G 7A = 14pts
5. #11 Nico Sturm ~ 6G 5A = 11pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #27 Brennan Menell ~ 32 PIM’s
2. #55 Cody McLeod ~ 30 PIM’s
3. #17 Mike Liambas ~ 30 PIM’s
1. #60 Mat Robson (4-4-3) 2.68GAA .907%SP 1SO
2. #30 Dereck Baribeau (1-0-0) 2.00GAA .938%SP
Recent Score: Iowa 3, San Antonio 2
The internet hated us earlier so here's Luke Johnson's goal to top it all off! pic.twitter.com/Y45KgCGKup— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) December 1, 2019
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Matvey Guskov (London, OHL) ~ the center had an assist and went 7-for-13 on his draws in the Knights’ 6-5 win over Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday. Guskov has 5 goals, 12 points, 16 PIM’s and is a +1 in 24 games.
C – Alexander Khovanov (Moncton, QMJHL) ~ the skilled Russian did about all you could ask as he had 3 helpers on 5 shots and he registered 3 hits in Moncton’s 5-4 loss to Cape Breton. Yet one area his game needs work is on his draws where he was a paltry 3-for-18. Khovanov has 19 goals, 45 points, 46 PIM’s and is a +28 in 23 games.
RW – Shawn Boudrias (Cape Breton, QMJHL) ~ the right-shot power forward had a goal and an assist on 8 shots and registered 3 hits in Cape Breton’s 5-4 win over Moncton on Sunday. Boudrias has 16 goals, 32 points, 38 PIM’s and is a +15 in 26 games.
F – Nikita Nesterenko (Chilliwack, BCHL) ~ the skilled Boston College-commit had an assist in the Chiefs’ 3-2 shootout loss on Black Friday. Nesterenko has 9 goals, 23 points, 19 PIM’s and in 27 games.