I think I may have played the game of leap frog once in my life. I was probably 5 years old, and I don’t remember having much fun with it. The Minnesota Wild certainly seem to love it as they played the NHL version of ‘leap frog’ when they leapt past 4 teams at once in the Western Conference wildcard standings with their 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night. It was an unusual feat, but now its up to the Wild to keep finding ways to win games to avoid being leapt over themselves.
The Los Angeles Kings are sitting at the bottom of the Pacific Division standings and like the Sharks its about accessing the current roster and taking the opportunity to be the spoiler. There is still plenty of talent on this squad and some young faces hoping to make an impact. Can the Wild earn another victory in this rare matinee game?
1st Period Thoughts: The game had the feel of high stakes chess match, where both clubs were taking a very cautious and calculated approach against one another. Both the Wild and the Kings were blocking shots which is not something you see so early in a hockey game, especially in the regular season. Minnesota’s first quality scoring chance came from the 4th line as Ryan Hartman centered a pass that was redirected on goal by Ryan Donato that was held onto by Cal Petersen. The Wild was being aggressive on the forecheck, sending two forwards deep hoping to force a turnover. The Kings would counter that forecheck with its top line and a quick transition game as Dustin Brown fires a low shot that drew a big rebound from Alex Stalock for an easy tap in for Anze Kopitar. 1-0 Kings. The Wild would try to answer with the 4th line as Hartman got a chance to shoot from the slot that forced Petersen to make a fine save. Ryan Suter would be high sticked by former St. Cloud State star Blake Lizotte giving the Wild its first power play of the game. On the power play the Wild had a few quick chances as Kevin Fiala ripped a shot from above the right faceoff circle that Petersen was just able to get a leg pad on. That was as good as it got on the power play and Minnesota had to try to work for the equalizer again at even strength. Petersen looked sharp as he was seeing the puck well through traffic. The Wild would deploy its big body line of Jordan Greenway, Marcus Foligno and Joel Eriksson Ek and along with activating its defenseman the line was able to pin the Los Angeles Kings into its own end with a strong cycling effort. Despite the possession, it didn’t lead to many shots being taken on goal beyond a few chances from the point. Minnesota was working hard, but so were the Kings and time and space was in short supply. The Kings were making the Wild pay a physical price for almost every foot of ice in their own end and windows to pass or shoot the puck were fleeting at best. The Wild certainly have their work cut out for them trailing by one going into the 1st intermission.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild would strike early into the 2nd period, just 13 seconds in as Minnesota won a draw in the Kings’ zone and Mats Zuccarello ripped a shot on Petersen which drew a rebound and Marcus Foligno pounced on the rebound and fired a shot by Petersen. 1-1 game. Minnesota would keep that line out there and they had another great scoring chance as Foligno centered a pass to Zuccarello that he just couldn’t gather up to take a shot on goal from the slot. The Kings tried to counter with some cycling of the puck and working the puck back out to the points to Mikey Anderson and others that made for a few tense moments as Los Angeles defenseman were winding up for big slap shots on goal. The Kings would draw a slashing penalty as Greenway was sent to the sin bin giving Los Angeles its first power play of the game. On the power play the Kings managed to work their way in close where Stalock made the initial save and after some effort were able to work the puck out of the offensive zone. The Kings power play was killed off with great hustle and effort by Minnesota’s penalty killers. A few minutes later, the Wild would draw a power play of their own as Trevor Moore was called for high sticking. On the power play, the Kings kept applying lots of pressure to the Wild’s puck carriers and some poor execution would turn this man advantage into a unmitigated disaster for Minnesota. First it was a choice by Alex Galchenyuk to not shoot the puck despite having lots of time and space but instead decided to pass and it was intercepted by Adrian Kempe who raced down the ice in a 2-on-1 with Blake Lizotte who got tangled up a bit at mid-ice with Gerald Mayhew. But Lizotte would keep hustling and was there for Kempe’s pass for an easy tap in. 2-1 Kings on the shorthanded goal. It didn’t get much better with the rest of the Wild power play as a turnover near the blueline by Brad Hunt turned into a breakaway for Moore who was just exited the penalty box and he’d race in and lift a shot over Stalock to make it 3-1 Kings. Minnesota continued to compound it’s mistakes as on the very next shift as Eriksson Ek was called for tripping giving the Kings its 2nd power play. Fortunately, Stalock and the penalty killers were sharp and Minnesota escaped further damage. Minnesota would draw another penalty as Alex Iafallo was called for holding. The Wild would get set up in the Kings’ zone and they had a great chance as Fiala set up Zach Parise for a quick shot that was just steered aside by the outstretched leg of Petersen. That was as good as it got for the Wild power play and another important opportunity came up empty. Minnesota was exhibiting urgency and playing hard, but give Petersen credit for not giving up much of anything in regards to 2nd chance opportunities. The Kings continued to make Minnesota pay a physical price to make plays but it had to be frustrating to be down 3-1 to Los Angeles.
3rd Period Thoughts: So, Theresa here for the third period. One thing I’ve noticed, is that the Wild have really struggled to control the puck in this game. I’m not just talking about passing. I’m talking about just keeping the puck on the blade of the stick. As a kid, I played the violin for 13 years. I feel like the Wild need to treat the blades of their sticks with rosin, instead it feels like everyone’s sticks were treated with Teflon. It would take about one and a half minutes for Minnesota to go back on the penalty kill. This was one of those classic “lazy” penalties, as it was for too many men. It was also a classic Wild penalty kill for the inability to clear the puck. They got the first clear with 35 seconds remaining in Los Angeles’ power play. Now, the Wild would manage to kill the penalty, the pain wouldn’t end. Dustin Brown would make this a 4-1 game. At least this time, Minnesota would quickly respond to a Kings’ goal. Zucarello would make a nice feed to Spurgeon, who shot from the top of the right face off circle, and went top shelf on Peterson, making this a 4-2 game. With today’s game not going with how anyone really wanted it to go, we’re also seeing a lot of line juggling. This can be both good and bad, but you never know unless it works or fails miserably. Compared to what we’ve become accustomed to in recent games, I’m not sure who to assign blame to, whether it’s the skaters or Stalock. I mean, Stalock is looking far from calm and solid today but his skaters aren’t exactly helping either. Minnesota continued to shoot themselves in the foot, this time with Fiala getting called for slashing. This penalty kill was definitely better as far as clearing the zone goes, Greenway being particularly effective on the penalty kill. I really appreciated seeing the Wild attempt to create some offense after killing Fiala’s penalty, but it just feels like the consecutive road wins is going to end today. Of course, as I type that, some questionable puck handling by Greenway (looked like the Wild were going to lose the zone multiple times), ended up becoming a Kunin goal. Minnesota is definitely in striking distance now. The question will be whether or not Stalock gets pulled and how soon. Of course that chance was pretty much wrapped up and given away by Dumba with a weak stick block and ended up being another Brown goal. With just under 2 minutes remaining, Stalock has been pulled for the extra attacker. It looked like Spurgeon was going to get one but it went wide. That wide shot created possession for the Kings, allowed Brown to tally his third goal of the night with the empty netter. And if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, a missed clear by Hunt, became an unassisted goal for Gabriel Vilardi. There’s nothing harder to swallow than a 7-3 loss to the second worst team in the entire league, especially when you’re supposedly trying to make the playoffs.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Mats Zuccarello, Alex Galchenyuk, Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Ryan Donato, Ryan Hartman, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Brad Hunt and Greg Pateryn. Devan Dubnyk backed up Alex Stalock. Victor Rask was the healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Dustin Brown; 2nd Star, Anze Kopitar; 3rd Star, Blake Lizotte.
~ Attendance was 16,082 at Staples Center.
~ Crease and Assist: A Legally Compliant Minnesota Hockey Blog would like to recognize the passing of one of the NHL greats in Henri Richard. He was 84 years old and was the winner of 11 Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens. Our thoughts are with him and his family.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Marshall Warren (Boston College, H-East) ~ the mobile defenseman had a goal on 2 shots in Boston College’s 2-1 win over New Hampshire. Warren has 6 goals, 11 points, 22 PIM’s and is a +22 in 33 games.
LW – Adam Beckman (Spokane, WHL) ~ the talented winger earned 1st star honors as he had 3 goals and an assist on 9 shots in Spokane’s 5-1 win over Red Deer. Beckman has 46 goals, 103 points, 18 PIM’s and is a +42 in 61 games.
D – Calen Addison (Lethbridge, WHL) ~ the offensively gifted defenseman had a secondary assist on 2 shots in the Hurricanes’ 4-3 loss to Kamloops on Friday night. Addison has 10 goals, 51 points, 47 PIM’s and is a +6 in 49 games.
High School Hockey Report: It was ‘Semi-Final’ Friday yesterday and it certainly did not disappoint as the Class A and Class AA battled for a shot at the state title. Here are a few quick game summaries of the four games.
#2 St. Cloud Cathedral 2, #3 Hermantown 7 ~ The Hawks used physical play to take the Crusaders off of their game and knocked off the defending champs in a rout.
#1 Warroad 1, #4 Mahtomedi 5 ~ Adam Johnson scored twice as the Zephyrs shut down the powerful Warriors offense as they rolled to a victory and a chance at a state title.
#2 Blake 1, #3 Eden Prairie 4 ~ In what was a great goaltending duel between Eden Prairie’s Axel Rosenlund and Blake’s Aksel Reid. Ultimately it was Ben Steeves breaking the stalemate and Blake simply couldn’t match and they’d managed to pull away for a victory.
St. Thomas Academy 2, #4 Hill-Murray 3 OT ~ The Pioneers jumped out to a 2-0 lead on two power play goals from Dylan Godbout, but the Cadets would rally back with two of their own to send the game to overtime. With 41 seconds left in overtime, it was Charlie Strobel picking up a rebound and sweeping it into the goal to send Hill-Murray to a Saturday showdown against Eden Prairie.
Monticello 6, Mankato East / Loyola 1
#5 Delano 6, Hutchinson 5
Maple Grove 3, Lakeville South 0
#1 Andover 4, Moorhead 1