About a year ago, then Minnesota Wild General Manager Paul Fenton raised some eyebrows around the league just moments after making a trade with his former employer the Nashville Predators as he shipped fan favorite Mikael Granlund for Kevin Fiala and called him a ‘gamebreaker.’ The comment put a lot of pressure on Fiala to deliver and he struggled in the last 1/4th of the season. This season, we’re seeing the ‘gamebreaking’ potential of Fiala who is showcasing more speed and a lethal shot as well as much-improved strength on the puck as he lit the lamp twice in Minnesota’s 3-2 overtime win over Chicago on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks have made the steady climb to sit atop the Pacific Division. Head Coach Travis Green has got the group to buy into a blue collar mentality that makes them tough to play against each night and with a collection of young talent they’ve been able to string together victories. Can the Wild avenge an ugly 4-1 loss to the Canucks last month?
1st Period Thoughts: Jared Spurgeon would race into the Canucks zone where he dished a pass to Zach Parise who got off a quick shot that was steered aside by Jacob Markstrom. Minnesota was working pucks deep and trying to put the Canucks on their heels with a two-man forecheck. The Wild nearly cashed in as Kevin Fiala set up Luke Kunin for a chance from the slot that he elevated up and over the goal. The Canucks would answer back with a great chance of their own as Brock Boeser found a little space and his snap shot was denied by Alex Stalock. Jason Zucker would rock Chris Tanev with a big hit that drew the ire of Jake Virtanen and the two wingers would drop the gloves. Zucker, despite the fact he apparently trains with some mixed martial arts, he mostly got shelled by Virtanen who won the scrap with a barrage of jabs. Clear win for Virtanen. A few minutes later, the Wild would receive the first power play of the game as Jay Beagle was tagged with a tripping call. On the man advantage, the Wild moved the puck well along the perimeter and then into the slot to Parise who tried to fire a shot on goal that was denied by the leg pad of Markstrom. Later in the power play, Matt Dumba would send a pass into the slot which was redirected well by Kunin but Markstrom was able to make the save, and make it look easy. Yet as the power play expired, the Wild would strike as Brad Hunt scored from the point as his shot glanced off two Vancouver defenders and by Markstrom. 1-0 Wild. Minnesota continued to attack and this time with the big 3rd line as Marcus Foligno won a battle for the puck and moved it to Jordan Greenway who swung a pass back to Spurgeon for a slap shot that Markstrom stopped but the puck trickled by him and Foligno pushed the shot just wide of the goal mouth. A few minutes later the 3rd line was again out on the ice, and they started to assert themselves physically on the forecheck as Greenway were finishing their checks. On the very next shift, a mistake by Markstrom playing a puck from behind his net was intercepted by Mikko Koivu who fed a pass out front for Ryan Hartman to elevate over the shoulder of the Canucks’ goalie. 2-0 Wild. Koivu would then take a slashing penalty and he chopped the stick out of Loui Eriksson‘s hand giving the Canucks’ its first power play of the game. On the power play, the Wild pressured the puck carrier to disrupt passing lanes as best they could. But give Vancouver’s power play credit as they moved the puck quickly tape-to-tape and they set up some dangerous shots out of its umbrella set up. Stalock would ultimately bail them out with a snow angel save and Minnesota certainly dodged its share of bullets while being shorthanded as they got the all important kill. Vancouver kept applying pressure and they had another dangerous chance as Bo Horvat had a chance from in close that Stalock denied. Loui Eriksson would trip up Mats Zuccarello to give the Wild another chance on the power play. Minnesota’s power play would strike as Fiala dangled his way into the offensive zone and then he’d unleash a shot, top shelf to make it 3-0 Wild. Beauty of a finish.
GOAL. Kevin Fiala remains on fire. He scores his third in two games on the power play.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) February 7, 2020
Foligno would get a holding penalty as they said he held up Troy Stecher in a race for the puck with less than a minute left in the period. The Canucks were not able to get much of anything going with about 40 seconds of power play time and Minnesota would go into the 1st intermission holding onto a 3-0 lead.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Canucks had about a 1:20 in power play time to start the period. Joel Eriksson Ek would help kill a good chunk of time by winning the draw and skating the puck deep into the Vancouver zone. The Wild did a good job of getting bodies into shooting lanes and none of Vancouver’s shots reached Stalock as they killed off another power play. The Canucks’ 4th line came close to cashing in as Beagle set up Antoine Roussel from in close that was denied by Stalock and then carried out of danger by Jonas Brodin. The Wild would try to go back on the attack as as Kunin set up Ryan Donato for a quick shot and Markstrom had to come up with a big save. Frustrating was starting to build for Vancouver who gave Donato a rough time after the play. The physical play started to ramp up as Vancouver started to tilt the play into the Wild’s end of the ice. A Canucks’ penalty gave the Wild a little relief and a chance to extend its lead. On the man advantage, the Wild had a great chance as Donato got behind the Vancouver defense for a breakaway but his backhand shot was blocked aside by Markstrom. Tempers continued to boil over as Zack Macewen dropped the gloves with Foligno. Foligno weathered a few jabs from the youngster before starting to fire big haymakers that were landing to great effect. The Wild tough guy began to pour on the haymakers and quickly Macewen was overwhelmed as he fell to the ice. Foligno was a little cut, but he earned the win and beckoned to the appreciative home crowd after the scrap.
Note to self; don't mess with Marcus Foligno. pic.twitter.com/vgdWZra8xi— Ryan Quigley (@TheRyanQuigley) February 7, 2020
The Canucks seemed to be more awake after the fight and J.T. Miller raced around Greg Pateryn and he’d wire a shot over the shoulder of Stalock. 3-1 Wild. Vancouver was really flying around the ice and the Wild seemed to struggle against the Canucks’ superior team speed. The Canucks were controlling the offensive zone as though they were on a power play but it was still even strength. Stalock had to come up with some big saves as the Wild desperately were lifting pucks up and out of the zone and trying to get some fresh legs on the ice. The pace of play was fast as both clubs were trading rushes with one another. Greenway would drop a pass back to Brodin who moved in and fired a shot and he’d follow up his chance that Markstrom didn’t appreciate as he tried to put the Wild defenseman into a head lock that drew a scrum after the whistle. The Wild were finishing their checks and they had to breathe a small sigh of relief as they still had a 3-1 advantage going into the 3rd.
3rd Period Thoughts: In the 3rd period, the Wild went into lockdown mode. They worked pucks deep, challenged the Canucks through the neutral zone and backchecked effectively to limit shots. The Canucks couldn’t seem to find much in the way of time and space and Minnesota just kept the clock rolling and the 3rd period evaporated. Marcus Foligno was particularly noticeable, still dishing out big hits as well as demonstrating great strength on the puck which Vancouver had no real answer for. A fairly marginal hooking call on Adam Gaudette gave the Wild a power play. Minnesota made the Canucks pay as the point shot was partially deflected on goal that Markstrom stopped but he couldn’t deny Zack Parise on the rebound bid. 4-1 Wild as Gaudette berated the official and he was kicked out of the game with a game misconduct while Travis Green went after the officials from the Vancouver bench. As Brodin was in the sin bin for hooking, the Canucks would pull Markstrom for an extra attacker to give Vancouver a 6-on-4 advantage. Minnesota’s penalty killers were still aggressive on the Canucks’ puck carriers giving them almost no space to breathe. Vancouver would score with the man advantage as a point shot by Tyler Myers reached Stalock but he couldn’t control the rebound and Roussel backhanded it by the Wild goalie to cut the Wild lead in half at 4-2. Green kept Markstrom pulled even though it was 6-on-5 but that was as close as it would get as Minnesota held on for a 4-2 victory.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Mats Zuccarello, Jason Zucker, Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Ryan Donato, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Hartman, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Greg Pateryn and Brad Hunt. Devan Dubnyk backed up Alex Stalock. Matt Bartkowski and Victor Rask were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Alex Stalock, 2nd Star Kevin Fiala, 3rd Star Marcus Foligno
~ Attendance was 17,191 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 4, San Antonio 0
The Iowa Wild took control right from the opening faceoff on Wednesday as they outworked and outhustled the San Antonio Rampage. Iowa would break the stalemate about halfway through the period when Turner Ottenbreit, a defenseman on a professional tryout with the Wild took a pass from Sam Anas and went top shelf with a shot from the point that Ville Husso had no chance on as he had plenty of traffic near his crease. 1-0 Wild going into the 1st intermission. Iowa would add 3 more goals in the 2nd period, two more from defenseman as Matt Bartkowski and Louie Belpedio scored just 2 minutes apart as the Wild took a commanding 3-0 lead. Later in the period, in just his 3rd game back from his 3rd major ACL injury to his knee, Mason Shaw would stuff home a Mike Liambas feed to make it 4-0 Wild going into the 2nd intermission. Iowa would go into lockdown mode in the 3rd, and despite the Rampage’s best period of the game, the Wild would skate away with a 4-0 victory. Kaapo Kahkonen had 19 saves in his 4th shutout of the season.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW – Adam Beckman (Spokane, WHL) ~ the sharpshooting winger continues to terrorize goaltenders in the Western Hockey League as he had two goals and an assist on 6 shots in Spokane’s 7-6 overtime victory over arch-rival Portland on Tuesday. Beckman has 38 goals, 81 points, 12 PIM’s and is a +31 in 49 games.
D – Jacob Golden (Erie, OHL) ~ the Toronto-native had a goal in Erie’s 4-2 win over Guelph on Wednesday. Golden has 3 goals, 18 points, 6 PIM’s and is a -3 in 33 games.