If you told most people prior to the start of August, that the Minnesota Vikings were going to lose Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson how many people would’ve guessed they’d still be 5-0? Injuries can sometimes force a team to circle the wagons and band together against the adversity. I am sure that is what the Los Angeles Kings are hoping for as they lost their workhorse perennial Vezina candidate Jonathan Quick due to a shoulder injury. I know I am hoping my Yahoo! Fantasy Hockey team can manage to improvise, adapt and overcome to steal a motto from the Marine Corps. Yet that is easier said than done.
Minnesota is coming off a solid home win against a rival in the Winnipeg Jets. The Wild cannot afford to relax against a banged up Kings’ squad, and needs to get 2 points against what could be a competitor for a wildcard spot in the west. Los Angeles wants to prove that it’s season is not in free fall, so can the Wild rise to the occasion and earn another big home victory?
1st Period Thoughts: Sometimes first impressions don’t always matter a whole lot. The 1st period was a good case in point for this. After two lazy icing calls on the Wild, the Kings score first as Tanner Pearson caught Darcy Kuemper by surprise early to make it 1-0. Kuemper seemed to be having some significant difficulty finding the puck giving up rebounds and having no less than 3 shots ring off the pipe during the first 20 minutes. He appeared to be guessing and not that well, we shall see if that factors in later in the game. Good thing for Kuemper was his team responded after the soft goal he gave up, as Erik Haula raced into the Kings’ zone and then beat Jeff Zatkoff with a wrist shot off the rush that tied the game about 40 seconds later. The 3rd line of Haula, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville were the Wild’s best this period. The rest of the lines seemed to be a bit out of sync and they were unable to enter the Kings’ zone without just dumping it and hoping they could win a race to the loose biscuit. The Kings were able to bottle up Minnesota in its own end and Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar were circling and cycling the puck like sharks and with Kuemper being a little porous it makes one worried about what to expect next. Defensively the Wild were relatively solid, especially on the penalty kill where Minnesota managed to kill off back-to-back penalties. I thought Jared Spurgeon was a big difference maker in this regard and the Wild stayed patient and under control as it moved its feet to deny shooting lanes. In the closing minute it was Haula forcing a turnover in the neutral zone and he quickly sent a pass up the ice to Jason Pominville who raced in and hammered a shot by Zatkoff with just 12 seconds left the 1st. It was a huge late-period goal that gave the Wild lots of momentum going into the 2nd period. Haula was a catalyst all period long and probably deserved another goal as he had a breakaway that was denied by a fine save by Zatkoff, who also looked a bit shaky in the 1st.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Los Angeles Kings have to wonder what they’ve done to deserve such poor luck. Sure, as we mentioned they lost Jonathan Quick after just 20 minutes into the season but they certainly were snakebit on the power play tonight. The Kings benefited from a ‘too many men’ call on the Wild and then a hooking call on Zach Parise gave them a long 5-on-3 power play. Minnesota managed to stay calm and with some great effort by Mikko Koivu the Wild escaped unscathed and you could say the momentum really began to tilt in the Wild’s favor. The Wild earned a power play of their own and they wasted little time as a Ryan Suter shot from the point resulted in a rebound that was pounced upon by a crashing Coyle and Parise and just like that it was 3-1 Minnesota. Coyle would get credit for the goal, but Minnesota kept applying pressure and finding the back of the net. Mikael Granlund would carry the puck deep into the Kings’ end and instead of trying to pass he sent the puck towards the crease which was kicked out by Zatkoff right to the stick of Koivu who tapped it home, 4-1 Wild. The fun would not stop there as less than a minute later it was Jonas Brodin stepping into a slap shot that was redirected by Teemu Pulkkinen downward and the puck skipped by Zatkoff who couldn’t stop a beach ball at this point. 5-1 Wild. Minnesota was a step to loose pucks and the Kings were starting to show signs of frustration. Kuemper didn’t have a lot of work but he seemed to be able to see the puck through traffic more effectively than he did in the 1st period. Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi is probably shopping pretty hard for a goalie right now. It was great to see all 4 lines be rewarded with a goal tonight, but it will be interesting to see if the Wild stay focused or get sloppy in the 3rd.
3rd Period Thoughts: Predictably the Kings would swap out Zatkoff for Petr Budaj between the pipes while the Wild just hoped to avoid playing sloppy hockey. Well so much for that as the Wild looked lethargic and unfocused in the 3rd and spent most of the period chasing around the Kings as they kept swarming in the Minnesota end. At times it looked as though the Wild were on the penalty kill, but the passes were off target which led to all kinds of easy turnovers. The pressure was eventually going to lead to goals as Kopitar jammed home a rebound off a Tom Gilbert shot. 5-2 Wild. Would the goal wake up the team to start moving its feet and put Los Angeles on their heels? Nope. Minnesota seemed to be a step or two too slow and the Wild continued to be pinned in its own end of the ice. Tanner Pearson would rifle a shot by Kuemper, his 2nd goal of the game to make it 5-3 and you could sense anxiety in the arena. Fortunately an ill-timed decision to pull their goalie a bit early came back to haunt the Kings as Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon gained possession and he flipped a puck 200-ft into the yawning net. 6-3 Wild, and the goal was big as it killed whatever momentum the Kings had managed to build throughout the period. Minnesota would get its legs going again and Jason Zucker flirted with a goal as he was denied on a breakaway bid by a nice stop by Budaj. An ugly finish to what was reasonable effort by the Wild.
Kuemper struggled early, but he regrouped and was at least average down the stretch. He had 26 saves in the win, and he got some good fortune in 3 stops made by the post in the 1st period when the game was still in the balance. Defensively the Wild did a reasonable job of keeping the Kings to the perimeter and was rock solid on the penalty kill going 4-for-4 including a long 5-on-3. I thought Spurgeon and Marco Scandella were very good this evening.
Offensively the Wild were very well-rounded tonight. The Wild got goals from all 4 lines and its top two lines were very prominent. I thought Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Chris Stewart line was assertive and pesky in the offensively zone. Staal continues to exhibit good chemistry with Parise and Coyle, where the Wild are enjoying having its top two lines clicking pretty well. The only player that still has been mostly missing so far is Nino Niederreiter but you have to figure he’ll be involved eventually with how well Erik Haula and Jason Pominville have been playing this year.
The Los Angeles Kings probably deserved a better fate, but its not always about how many chances but rather what you do with them. The Wild made their opportunities count and so far Minnesota has been doing better at taking care of the little detail parts of the game (i.e. special teams) that are reaping dividends so far. Minnesota is now going to face a young and confident squad in the Maple Leafs led by wunderkind Auston Matthews, so they better rest up because they can’t afford to coast in the 3rd too often and expect to win like they did this evening.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Chris Stewart, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville, Zac Dalpe, Jason Zucker, Teemu Pulkkinen, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Christian Folin and Mathew Dumba. Devan Dubnyk backed up Darcy Kuemper. Nate Prosser was the healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Erik Haula, 2nd Star Jason Pominville, 3rd Star Anze Kopitar
~ Attendance was 18,644 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW – Kirill Kaprizov (Salavat Ufa, KHL) ~ the talented Russian winger had a solid game on Saturday as he had a goal and an assist in Salavat Ufa’s 5-2 win over Barys Astana. Kaprizov is off to a great start to the 2016-17 season and has 6 goals, 12 points, 33 PIM’s and is a +6 in 18 games.
RW – Louie Nanne (Rensselaer, ECAC) ~ the former Edina Hornets’ star is playing on the Engineers’ top line, but its been slow going for RPI so far as he chipped in an assist in 5-2 loss to North Dakota on Saturday.
C – Luke Kunin (Wisconsin, Big 10) ~ it was a real rough weekend for the Wild’s top pick from the 2016 draft. He was a -5 with 4 shots on goal in two games against Boston College.