As Minnesota Wild fans contemplate who the team’s 2021 NHL Winter Classic opponent might be, the team is in a critical stretch of home games as it hopes to scratch and claw its way back into the Western Conference playoff picture. As we are just past halfway mark of the season, the fanbase finds itself looking at the league standings more carefully, did we gain ground, did we lose it?
The Calgary Flames are in a similar place in the Pacific Division standings, where they can look great one night and look inept the next. The Wild ambushed the Flames the last time they played and now the schedule has them playing in an odd home-at-home series as they travel to Calgary on Thursday. Can the Wild earn another home victory tonight?
1st Period Thoughts: Calgary had a great chance early in the game as T.J. Brodie fired a shot that caromed off the boards and back out front where Matthew Tkachuk couldn’t quite tuck it inside the right post. Minnesota would answer back with the line of Eric Staal, Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Donato who caused Calgary some trouble on the forecheck and it was Zuccarello being set up near the Flames’ crease but his backhand would miss high over the goal. The Flames answered back with a great chance of their own as Sam Bennett set up Derek Ryan from in close that was denied by Alex Stalock. With both teams trading chances, Ryan Hartman would be tripped up by Brodie giving the Wild the first power play of the game. Minnesota would cash in on the power play as Kevin Fiala pulled the trigger on a shot from the right faceoff dot that just had enough inertia to trickle over the goal line. 1-0 Wild. Calgary would try to raise the tempo of the game as they were hoping to answer back with the equalizer. At times the Wild and Stalock looked a bit loose and out of control in their own end, but the puck stayed out and Minnesota kept the lead. A ‘too many men’ penalty gave the Flames its first power play of the game. Minnesota’s penalty killers did a nice job of getting sticks into shooting lanes and clearing the zone. Unfortunately, an easy zone entry by Mikael Backlund would get sent on goal near the right post and Stalock couldn’t cover it up nor could Jordan Greenway clear the zone and the puck went off Milan Lucic‘s skate and in. 1-1 game. On the very next shift Joel Eriksson Ek carried the puck in deep, drawing the defense towards him before feeding it across to Marcus Foligno who let go of a quick shot that beat David Rittch. 2-1 Wild. Greenway would get tagged for elbowing in the offensive zone and Calgary would go back on the power play. Minnesota’s penalty killers did a good job of having active sticks and disrupting passes and were able to neutralize the Flames’ power play. Shortly after the successful kill, the Wild worked a 2-on-1 between Donato and Matt Dumba. Perhaps hoping to do his teammate a favor, Donato gave Dumba the chance to shoot and he’d rip a shot and miss high over the goal. The Flames would swarm into the Wild zone, and for whatever reason Minnesota seemed to stop skating and Travis Hamonic skate down to the left faceoff dot and he’d rifle a shot by Stalock. 2-2 game. Minnesota’s line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Fiala would work a cycle game up near the Calgary blueline, which ultimately resulted in a shooting opportunity for Koivu that was deflected high up into the netting above the glass. Minnesota’s 3rd line continued to make good things happen as a strong defensive play by Dumba helped get the rush going and it was Eriksson Ek finding Foligno skating into the slot who then dropped it off for Dumba who fanned on the puck and it was Foligno poking it home. 3-2 Wild with just 44 seconds left in the period. Fiala would have a great chance late in the period as he tried to fire a shot that was blocked but he’d gather up the puck again and send a hard wrist shot on goal that was snagged out of the air by Rittich to keep his team within one. The goaltending was a bit shaky on both sides of the ice, but overall a pretty good effort by the Wild.
2nd Period Thoughts: The first few minutes of the 2nd period were brief sequences of each team having moments playing their preferred style. For the Flames it was attacking off the rush as Backlund pulled the trigger off the rush that missed wide and then the Wild worked the puck deep and attempted to create some scoring opportunities off of the forecheck. Minnesota would try to slow the pace of the game down and be a bit more under control than trying to match rush for rush with Calgary. A long pass by the Flames was nearly tracked down by Elias Lindholm only to be thwarted by an alert play by Stalock to leave his crease and sweep the puck away off the glass and out of the zone. Minnesota would go back on the attack and it was Foligno leveling Bennett with a big hit that created some time and space for Kunin who fired a shot on goal that Rittich stopped and then he was able to deny him on the rebound chance as well. Backlund would again find a little time and space and he’d let go of a slap shot that Stalock was just able to block aside with the leg pad. The Wild continued to apply pressure as Greenway nearly was able to let go of a backhand shot that was steered wide by Rittich. A few shifts later it was Greenway being given a slashing call as Brodie fell down after stepping on a loose stick that was one the ice. Minnesota’s penalty kill got out to a good start thanks to some puck pressure by Foligno and Eriksson Ek. The Wild didn’t allow Calgary to get much of anything going with the power play and they’d get another big kill. Minnesota would get caught in the offensive zone and the Flames would counter attack with a 2-on-1 and it was Backlund setting up Johnny Gaudreau for a chance but he was stonewalled by Stalock. The game continued to be bit of a run and gun affair as Minnesota’s defenseman were activating and taking any chance to hammer the puck on goal, but to Rittich’s credit he looked calm as he fought off some quality chances by the Wild. The Flames continued to attack off the rush as Backlund had a nice chance that was steered aside by Stalock and then he managed to make another stop on a bid by Tkachuk. Minnesota started to create more chances off the rush and this led to a little feisty play a shot by Ryan Hartman was knocked down by Rittich and as Greenway tried to pounce on the puck it drew a scrum near the Calgary crease. A few minutes later, the Flames would come dangerously close to tying the game as a puck bounced out near the Wild crease as Tkachuk tried to shovel a shot home but was stopped by Stalock. The period would end with the Wild still holding onto a 3-2 lead, but I thought it was a bit too loose defensively and Minnesota was playing with fire literally and figuratively.
3rd Period Thoughts: The line of Fiala, Koivu and Parise got things going early as Koivu spun and fired a shot on goal that Rittich just managed to keep out as Parise crashed the crease. The Flames would tie the game on a long shot from the point as Michael Stone let go of a snap shot that beat a well-screened Stalock. 3-3 game. Minnesota would answer right back less than a minute later as Jared Spurgeon sent a shot towards the goal that was redirected by Greenway and by Rittich. 4-3 Wild. Mark Giordano would let go of a shot from the point but Stalock saw it through traffic and was able to come up with gloves save. The Flames were battling hard for the equalizer, swarming all over the Minnesota end and taking any shot they could as it was obvious the goaltending was a bit questionable at both ends this evening. The Wild were kind of playing rope-a-dope with the Flames, doing their best to disrupt their flow and not allow Calgary to enter the offensive zone with speed. The Flames’ was sending pucks towards the middle of the ice and that meant Stalock had to be sharp as shots were often coming from the slot with a lot of pace. Andrew Mangiapane was denied by Stalock and the Wild struggled to clear their own zone. Parise would be called for cross-checking as he tried to step out of way on an attempted hit by Mangiapane. The penalty would prove costly as Tkachuk redirected a Giordano wrist shot just 16 seconds into the man advantage. 4-4 game. Minnesota’s 4th line would appear to have tied the game as Victor Rask fed a pass to Greenway who sent a quick shot that rang the right post and out and off the back of Rittich’s helmet. A little tapped pass freed Gaudreau for a breakaway who made a quick forehand to backhand move and he tried to slide a shot 5-hole but at the last moment Stalock was able to close it down just in time. The game would slow down the last minute as both clubs seemed to want to preserve at least a point from this game. Calgary would have a great chance in the last minute as Linholm found himself all alone in the slot but his shot was gloved by Stalock and the game would go to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota would start overtime with Fiala, Staal and Jonas Brodin. Sean Monahan would win the initial draw and try to work the puck deep where Brodin would win the battle along the boards. Minnesota would gain control of it and regroup and let players change up. Ryan Donato would dump the puck in and chase it down and as he tried to work his way from Giordano he’d be step on a stick and fall down giving the Wild a 4-on-3 power play. Minnesota would put Brad Hunt, Ryan Suter to go along with Parise and Staal. It was not a real great exhibition of puck movement as the Flames were quick to try to tie up Wild skaters and kill off precious seconds battling for the biscuit along the boards. Minnesota spent a lot of time just hanging out on the perimeter and Calgary was content to just let the Wild waste time. The power play would expire and the Wild and Flames appeared to be fine with letting the game just go to a shootout.
Shootout Summary: The Wild elected to shoot first and its first shooter was Kevin Fiala. Fiala would move to the right where he tried to go backhand to forehand but he’d mishandle it and he never got a shot off. Calgary’s first shooter was Sean Monahan and he’d move in with speed and try firing a wrist shot top shelf only to be stopped by the shoulder of Stalock. The Wild’s next shooter was Zach Parise moved in and went forehand to backhand that was dismissed by Rittich. The Flames’ next shooter was Matt Tkachuk who also went forehand to backhand but Stalock would deny him with the leg pad. The Wild’s next shooter was Mikko Koivu and the captain wanted to use his signature move only to be stopped by a poke check by Rittich. The Flames next shooter was Johnny Gaudreau who tried to slow it down and dangle but Stalock got enough to keep it out. Minnesota’s next shooter was Ryan Donato who went wide left and he’d get Rittich to drop and he’d fire it into the top corner giving the Wild a 1-0 shootout lead. The Flames next shooter was Derek Ryan who moved in and he’d beat him with a quick wrister. 1-1. The goaltenders continued to deny shooters the next 3 rounds until Stalock was beaten by Dillon Dube on a wicked little forehand to backhand move. 5-4 Calgary victory.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway, Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Ryan Donato, Victor Rask, Ryan Hartman, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Carson Soucy and Brad Hunt. Devan Dubnyk backed up Alex Stalock. Louie Belpedio was the lone scratch for the Wild.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Dillon Dube, 2nd Star Marcus Foligno, 3rd Star Mark Giordano
~ Attendance was 17,204 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Before the game, Devan Dubnyk was honored for having played in 500 NHL games played.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 5, Chicago 1
Iowa continued its winning ways with a big road win over rival Chicago Wolves in one of their most dominant performances at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. The game was scoreless until the last 5 minutes of the 1st period when Luke Johnson and Gerald Mayhew (on the power play) scored just about 25 seconds apart to give Iowa a 2-0 lead going into the 1st intermission. Iowa would extend its lead to 3-0 as Johnson had a power play marker of his own. In the 3rd period, the Wolves would cut Iowa’s lead to two as Tye McGinn scored. Iowa would not let Chicago rally back and another power play goal by Mayhew made it 4-1. Connor Dewar had an empty net goal to seal a 5-1 victory. Mat Robson had 32 saves in the victory. Sam Anas had 3 helpers for consecutive games.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW – Matt Boldy (Boston College, H-East) ~ the Wild’s top pick from 2019 is hoping 2020 will be kinder than the previous year was as he had an assist on 4 shots in the Eagles’ 8-3 win over Vermont. The Eagles moved him to left wing to start the new year. Boldy has a goal, 4 points, 4 PIM’s and is a +2 in 16 games.
D – Marshall Warren (Boston College, H-East) ~ the mobile defenseman had an assist in Boston College’s 8-3 victory over the Catamounts on Saturday. Warren has 3 goals, 6 points, 14 PIM’s and is a +11 in 16 games.
F – Nikita Nesterenko (Chilliwack, BCHL) ~ The Brooklyn, New York-native had a power play goal in the Chiefs’ 3-1 win over West Kelowna. 7 out of his 15 goals have come on the man advantage. Nesterenko has 15 goals, 34 points, 21 PIM’s in 38 games.
C – Damien Giroux (Saginaw, OHL) ~ the Hanmer. Ontario-native had a goal and two assists in Saginaw’s 8-4 win over Oshawa on Saturday night. Giroux has 24 goals, 40 points, 12 PIM’s and is a +8 in 36 games.
D – Fedor Gordeev (Guelph, OHL) ~ the tall defenseman had an assist on 3 shots in Guelph’s 7-5 loss to Owen Sound. Gordeev has 1 goal, 16 points, 23 PIM’s and is a +8 in 26 games.
C – Alexander Khovanov (Team Russia, World Juniors) ~ the skilled center continues to shine for Team Russia as he had a goal and an assist in Russia’s 5-4 semi-final win over Sweden. Khovanov has 3 goals, 8 points, 14 PIM’s and is a +2 in 6 games.
RW – Shawn Boudrias (Cape Breton, QMJHL) ~ the power forward’s solid season continues as he had a goal and an assist on 4 shots and with 3 registered hits in the Eagles 5-0 win over Moncton on Saturday. Boudrias has 21 goals, 45 points, 48 PIM’s and is a +21 in 36 games.
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Niagara, OHL) ~ the Minnesota Wild sent him back to junior to get more ice time than they felt he’d receive if he stayed in Iowa. So far Lodnia is taking full advantage of the time and opportunity as he had another monster game for the Ice Dogs on Saturday with 3 helpers and the overtime game-winning goal as Niagara won 7-6 over Kitchener. Lodnia has 19 goals, 46 points, 14 PIM’s and is a +14 in 24 games.
C – Andrei Svetlakov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ the versatile center had a big day as he had 3 helpers on 1 shot and went 6-for-9 on his draws in CSKA Moscow’s 7-1 rout of HC Sochi on Saturday. Svetlakov has 2 goals, 13 points, 20 PIM’s and is +10 in 32 games.
LW – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ the Wild’s most high-profile prospect had a big day of his own as he had two goals and a helper on 6 shots in CSKA’s 7-1 win over Sochi. Kaprizov has 19 goals, 36 points, 6 PIM’s and is +13 in 38 games.