The Wild are a veteran-laden team that is hoping to make a serious run towards a Stanley Cup, while the Toronto Maple Leafs are a youthful squad where they hope their stockpile of talented young players will lead to a bright future. Toronto fans have been waiting a long time for their team to be relevant again and it looks as though those days could be sooner rather than later. Minnesota fans are simply hoping the team hasn’t missed its window. Its Bruce Boudreau versus Mike Babcock, two of the league’s better minds behind the bench and it will be interesting to see which club wins this duel.
The Toronto Maple Leafs squandered a 4-goal lead last night to the Winnipeg Jets to lose 5-4 in overtime. With a young team like Toronto its hard to know what to expect. So will Toronto be a bit deflated and tired out or will they be an angry team hoping to take out their frustrations on the Wild?
1st Period Thoughts: It was an interesting period. Initially it was the Wild dominating time spent in the offensive zone, but it wasn’t yielding much in the way of shots on goal. The line of Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Chris Stewart were cycling the puck well and controlling the offensive zone like you’d normally expect on a power play. Yet despite the time of possession they managed just a single shot on goal. Minnesota did have some prime chances as Charlie Coyle caught the post on a shot and Jhonas Enroth denied Koivu who was all alone in the slot after a nice pass by Granlund. After that initial domination of the offensive zone, an interference penalty on Christian Folin seemed to tip the momentum in the Leafs’ favor. Mitch Marner and Morgan Reilly were really buzzing around the zone and Devan Dubnyk found himself under siege in his crease but luckily he was able to make the timely first save and then his defenseman like Jonas Brodin were able to sweep away the dangerous pucks. Dubnyk made some nice saves from in close as he stopped bids from Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk respectively. I thought Mike Reilly was more than a little suspect with the puck as he was attempting long passes from deep in his zone that resulted in easy turnovers. Minnesota would eventually draw a penalty of their own as Zach Hyman hooked Jason Pominville. On the man advantage the Wild moved the puck well and even had some nice sequences to set up chances near the goal but when they seemed get the puck through they couldn’t get a stick on it to send a shot on goal or if they did pull the trigger they shattered their stick in the process. The Wild seemed to gain some momentum from the power play and in the last few minutes the team started to win more of the races to the loose pucks and they were able to get a few more shots on Enroth. The Wild were outshot 11-5 which is ridiculous when you consider Minnesota scored 18 goals on Enroth just two seasons ago; so if there is any goaltender they should want to shoot at a lot its this one. Minnesota needs to worry less about creating the perfect shot but rather send as many shots as they can and get the first one and the rest will take care of itself.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild were far more assertive in taking shots in the 2nd period, but far too many were coming from the perimeter or missed wide altogether. Minnesota would generate a breakaway as Pominville got a step on the Leafs’ defense but Enroth was able to stop him cold. When you can’t bury your prime opportunities, the hockey gods have a way of making you pay for it as Roman Polak wired a shot from the point that beat Dubnyk. 1-0 Leafs. Minnesota would create another breakaway as Coyle won a battle along the wall and then made a nice set up pass to a streaking Eric Staal who moved in and beat Enroth with a wrist shot low stick side tying the game up at 1-1. The good feelings turned to anxiety pretty quick as the Maple Leafs appeared to score less than 30 seconds later as Morgan Reilly fired a shot by Dubnyk. Luckily for the Wild, the officials waived off the goal as Dubnyk was interfered with by James van Riemsdyk. The Wild seemed to take their foot off the gas a bit defensively and the Maple Leafs would capitalize on the opportunity. William Nylander would fire a shot on goal that Dubnyk stopped but no one on the Wild’s defense could seem to find the puck and it was Auston Matthews who fired it home. 2-1 Leafs. Matthews had been mostly invisible up to this point of the game. Minnesota would draw a penalty late in the period and the Wild had great puck movement where they set up Mathew Dumba for a slap shot that struck Nazem Kadri in the side of his torso that caused him a ton of discomfort. Dumba and the power play kept firing pucks, but were unable to get one by Enroth and Minnesota skated into the 2nd intermission trailing by one. The Wild need more from its 3rd line which had been mostly a non-factor to this point in the game. Christian Folin better stop taking bad penalties or he could land in the pressbox prior to Saturday’s game against New Jersey.
3rd Period Thoughts: Sometimes its not always about how many as it is the timing of goals. With the team trailing by one to start the 3rd, the Wild got a huge goal early in the period as Boudreau began to shuffle the lines. One of those adjustments was to put Nino Niederreiter on the 4th line with Zac Dalpe and Teemu Pulkkinen. The move paid immediate dividends as Nino won a battle for the puck along the wall and Dalpe took off with it and then used his body to shield the puck from Toronto’s Connor Brown and just kept driving the net before beating Enroth with a shot to the short side tying the game at 2-2. Mike Babcock would challenge the play saying that Pulkkinen was offsides but he was not and the goal stood. It was a huge goal, not just for tying the game but also cooling off the growing anxiety from trailing the Maple Leafs. It allowed the Wild to recompose itself, and Minnesota would eventually add the go-ahead marker a few minutes later as Ryan Suter held the zone and then worked the puck to Zach Parise who got off a shot that was swept up by Staal who sent it back on goal that just was out of the reach of Enroth’s leg pad and just like that it was 3-2. The Wild seemed to skate with a bit more purpose and the team was working hard to defend against a strong push by the Maple Leafs. However, it wasn’t without its close calls as Christian Folin took another bad penalty as he hauled down Josh Hyman with a slewfoot giving Toronto a late power play. The Maple Leafs moved the puck well and had a golden chance to tie the game as the puck reached Matthews’ stick but as he tried to jam a shot home he ended up knocking the puck up and over the goal. It was a fortunate miss and Minnesota would escape with another home victory.
Devan Dubnyk was pretty good, making 31 saves in the victory. I thought he was seeing the puck a lot better tonight than in some of his previous starts but at times his rebound control was a little suspect and Minnesota got a little lucky that Toronto wasn’t able to capitalize on a few juicy chances he was giving up. Defensively I do not think we’ll see Christian Folin playing on Saturday after taking 3 bad minor penalties, one of which resulted in a power play goal although Boudreau’s post-game presser was surprisingly complimentary. I thought Jonas Brodin had a good game defensively.
Offensively the Wild started out slow partly from their own over-selectiveness in the shots it was taking or not taking as the case may be. Eric Staal was assertive and seems to be playing with confidence right now which is important considering how much of a non-factor Zach Parise has been. Give huge kudos go Dalpe who just kept his feet moving and with no other options available took his chance to take the puck to the net and then had a nice finish to change the momentum of this game. The power play didn’t cash in, but it still was creating some quality chances and showing some variety compared to what we’ve seen in recent years.
While its always nice to win, the Wild now have to prove they can win on the road. New Jersey may have been a team that has been closer to the bottom of the league in recent years, but they are off to a good start this season. The Devils lost this evening to the Bruins, so they’ll be focused and likely fired up when Minnesota arrives in Newark. The Devils ambushed the Wild last year so expect them to look confident and motivated so Minnesota must be ready to bring its A-game.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Chris Stewart, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Zac Dalpe, Teemu Pulkkinen, Jason Zucker, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Christian Folin and Mike Reilly. Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk. Nate Prosser and Marco Scandella were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Eric Staal, 2nd Star Zac Dalpe, 3rd Star Devan Dubnyk
~ Attendance was 18,968 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 3, Grand Rapids 4
I think the saying is “When I thought I was out, they keep pulling me back in” which would be used to describe the frustration level of Iowa Wild fans as they watched another late-game collapse at home on Tuesday night against Grand Rapids. Iowa got off to a promising start as veteran Jeff Hoggan found the back of the net in his Wild debut. In the 2nd period, it was Anthony Mantha who tied it up 8 minutes in. Iowa would take back the lead as former South St. Paul Packer Zach Palmquist stepped into a slap shot that beat Jared Coreau. The Wild strike one more time with the help of the power play in the 2nd as Palmquist set up rookie Joel Eriksson Ek for a wicked one-timer that blazed by Coreau giving Iowa a 3-1 lead going into the 3rd. Unfortunately the Wild had no answer for Anthony Mantha who would score twice (to get a hat trick) in the 3rd to tie the game. With the game tied, it was Kyle Criscuolo who managed to tap a shot by a sprawling Alex Stalock to give the Griffins the win. Stalock had 15 saves in the loss.[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jXLbxr5A-o&w=560&h=315]
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Dmitri Sokolov (Sudbury, OHL) ~ The Russian-born sniper earned 1st star honors as he netted a hat trick (his 2nd one of the season) as he helped the Wolves roll by Sault Ste. Marie 6-2. Sokolov has 8 goals, 9 points, 2 PIM’s and is a +4 in 7 games.
D – Gustav Bouramman (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) ~ the small defenseman is hoping to lead the way for the Greyhounds after he had a strong 2nd half last season. The Stockholm-native had an assist and 3 shots on goal in Greyhounds 6-2 loss to Sudbury on Wednesday night. Bouramman has 4 assists, 4 PIM’s and is ‘even’ in 9 games.
G – Ales Stezka (Chicago, USHL) ~ the forgotten Wild goalie prospect is trying to put a tough 2015-16 season behind him with a new team and so far so good. Stezka stopped all 26 shots he faced as he helped the Steel earn a 3-0 win on Wednesday. The Liberec, Czech Republic-native has a 3-0 record and hasn’t allowed a goal all season.