At the school where I teach at, we are encouraged to share with our students what we are presently reading. I will admit my reading tastes vary a lot, from historical non-fiction, to science fiction and fantasy novels but perhaps what I read about the most is hockey. I have been a subscriber to the Hockey News for the last 17 years. In their most recent issue, they hit me with an article that hit me ‘right in the feels’ as they had with Sal Barry‘s NHL ’94 History. I love video games and a few years back I had a video game poll and by a slight margin NHL ’94 prevailed. Yet with all due respect to Barry, the person who should be lauded the most for providing a definitive NHL ’94 history is Chris Alaimo of Classic Gaming Quarterly. So what does this have to do with tonight’s Wild / Avalanche game?
Tonight’s game could feel like you’re watching someone play NHL ’94. Lots of hard hits, feisty play and goals. The Avalanche are young, fast and super skilled and the Wild got owned when the two clubs met during their season opener. Minnesota looked slow and old, and will no doubt want to rectify that tonight. Can the Wild even the season series against Colorado?
1st Period Thoughts: It was not the fast paced up and down the ice affair that it was in the season opener. But with Colorado playing the 2nd game of a back to back perhaps that’s understandable. The opening period was more of a chess match as both teams were wary of giving up much in the way of prime scoring chances. Devan Dubnyk would dismiss a few early opportunities but Colorado would still be the club to break the stalemate. After a faceoff win by Colorado’s Vladislav Kamenev in the Wild zone, Mark Barberio would step into a slap shot that found its way through a maze of legs and sticks to beat Dubnyk 5-hole. 1-0 Avalanche. Minnesota seemed to flirt with disaster a couple times with some penalties, but the Wild did a terrific job on the penalty kill at getting sticks and bodies into passing lanes. The Wild would get a few power plays of their own and they didn’t do much of anything with it. On the first man advantage, the Wild tried to set up Matthew Dumba repeatedly but Colorado was quick to get bodies into the lane to prevent those shots from ever reaching Semyon Varlamov. It’d be nice if the Wild would set up a one-timer on the opposite side and let Dumba crash the net for a rebound. I think Zucker or Staal would be a nice option for something like this. On the next man advantage the Wild tried to work a few pucks in close, but still most of the shot attempts never got close to Varlamov and Minnesota would come up empty. The Wild managed just 4 shots on goal; their best chance coming off the stick of Zach Parise on a door-step opportunity that was just a few inches too low to make it over Varlamov’s leg pad. There was certainly a fair amount of chirping after the whistle, but so far nothing major from a cheap shot perspective.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had a much better 2nd period, working harder to create chances in close on Varlamov. They’d score early as Mikael Granlund swept up a rebound off a Nino Niederreiter shot and he’d lift a forehand right underneath the crossbar to tie the game at 1-1. The Wild carried most of the play throughout the period, winning many of the small races to loose pucks and putting a fatigued Colorado team on its heels. The feistiness was still present as Matt Calvert would chirp with Matthew Dumba but no gloves were dropped. Minnesota would almost cash in on the next shift after Granlund’s goal as Marcus Foligno crashed the net but Varlamov was able to shut the door on the point-blank-range opportunity. The only thing that threatened to ruin it all was penalties. A strange sequence where J.T. Brown was high sticked right in front of the official that wasn’t called and then just seconds later Eric Fehr sent a puck up into the stands only resulted in the Wild being put on the kill for delay of game. Fortunately the Wild’s penalty kill and Devan Dubnyk were rock solid as he bailed out the club with a terrific save on Mikko Rantanen. The Wild did a better job at moving the puck but they still had some missed chances that might haunt them. In particular, a chance off a good zone entry by Charlie Coyle in which he and Matt Read set up Joel Eriksson Ek for a chance in the slot only to watch the youngster fritter the puck away instead of getting a shot off. Still, its anyone’s game and Minnesota should put on the gas for the 3rd period against a Colorado club that is probably fairly tired at this point.
3rd Period Thoughts: In the 3rd period the Wild seemed to be in control. The Wild had more jump in their skates and seemed to be a bit more hungry than Colorado. Minnesota was spending more and more time in the offensive zone and they were taking every opportunity to put shots on goal. The persistence would pay off as Nikita Zadorov’s ill-advised high stick on Jason Zucker. On the man advantage the Wild worked the puck around the perimeter before feeding a pass just beneath the left faceoff dot where Eric Staal sort of flubbed a one-timer but it was enough to find the back of the net. 2-1 Wild. The Wild continued to apply pressure even after the goal which was good to see for a club that so often is known for hunkering down defensively to try to protect a one-goal lead. One player who was bringing it was Matt Dumba who got the sellout crowd going with a big open ice hit on Alex Kerfoot. Dumba would get tagged for a weak tripping call to give the Avalanche a power play with a little over 2 minutes left in regulation. Colorado wanted maximum offensive pressure and they’d pull Varlamov for an extra attacker right away at the start of the Avalanche power play it would prove to be a crucial mistake. Just seconds into the power play Jonas Brodin would sweep up a puck and throw a long range backhand shot nearly the full length of the ice that found the back of the net. 3-1 Wild and this would prove to be an important tally. Colorado kept Varlamov pulled and they’d control the offensive zone, moving the puck around as they set up Nathan MacKinnon who got off a quick shot that was held onto by Dubnyk. A fracas would ensue after the big save and some more chirping between the clubs. Colorado would score with about 41 seconds left as Gabriel Landeskog crashed the net and finally managed to chip a puck over a sprawling Devan Dubnyk to cut the Wild lead to one, 3-2. The Avalanche pushed hard for the equalizer but Minnesota managed to get enough sticks on shots and they’d prevail 3-2.
Devan Dubnyk was again outstanding, making 30 saves in the win. He was seeing pucks well through traffic and really gave Colorado little to shoot at all game. Defensively the Wild played with a little fire in around its crease that had been lacking in previous years. Ryan Suter, Nick Seeler Greg Pateryn, Matthew Dumba and even Jonas Brodin were winning the physical battles this evening. The penalty kill was perfect against one of the top power play units in the league.
Offensively the Wild was best served when they kept it simple. It was good seeing the Wild taking pucks to the net, but still some players could stand to pull the trigger more. Staal’s one timer from the slot area is something I hope we see more on the man advantage as Minnesota’s power play was becoming a one-trick pony as they kept trying to set up Dumba over and over. He has a great shot, but it simply was too predictable.
This was a big win for the Wild against a Colorado team that had their number last season. The Wild moved much better and while I would admit I think Colorado was a bit tired coming into this game, Minnesota was moving its feet and arguably had its best effort of the season. Now the Wild go on a long road trip, but they have some great momentum going for them with their 5th victory in a row.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Joel Eriksson Ek, Charlie Coyle, Matt Read, Marcus Foligno, Eric Fehr, J.T. Brown, Ryan Suter, Matthew Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Nate Prosser was the lone healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Eric Staal, 2nd Star Mikael Granlund, 3rd Star Devan Dubnyk
~ Attendance was 19,093 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 6, Colorado 5 OT
This would be a crazy back and forth game but one that I’m certain delighted the costume clad fans at Des Moines’ Wells-Fargo Arena. Iowa would get out to a fast start as Justin Kloos scored off a nice feed by Kyle Rau. Colorado would quickly turn the tables, peppering Andrew Hammond with shots and they’d tie the game a few minutes later as Andrew Agozzino scored to make it 1-1. Almost 30 seconds later Iowa would answer back as Luke Kunin found the twine behind Spencer Martin giving the Wild a 2-1 advantage. Iowa would add to its lead just 15 seconds later as Gerry Fitzgerald finished off a pretty give and go with Mason Shaw. 3-1 Iowa. Yet Colorado would answer back less than 20 seconds later as the Eagles’ David Warsofsky rifled a shot from the point that beat ‘the Hamburglar.’ A few minutes later Ryan Graves blasted another shot from the perimeter that beat a well-screened Hammond to make the game 3-3 going into the first intermission. In the 2nd period, the play was more defensive in nature and Iowa would take the lead on a shorthanded goal by Gerald Mayhew off a nice pass by Colton Beck. 4-3 Iowa going into the 3rd. In the 3rd, the game would get crazy again as Colorado struck twice in a matter of 27 seconds mid-way through the period to take a 5-4 lead. Iowa would tie the game back up a minute later on Kunin’s 2nd goal of the night. Colorado would take a costly faceoff violation penalty in the closing seconds which would give Iowa a power play to start off overtime. In overtime, the Wild used an all forward group consisting of Kloos, Rau, Sam Anas and Cal O’Reilly. O’Reilly would make a perfect set up pass for Kloos to blast home a one-timer that gave Iowa a dramatic 6-5 victory. Hammond had 50 saves in the win, while Rau finished with two helpers on the night. Kunin led Iowa with 6 shots on goal.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW – Sam Hentges (St. Cloud State, NCHC) ~ The freshman is getting top-line ice time and making the most of it as he netted a hat trick in the Huskies’ 7-0 demolition of Boston College on Thursday night. Hentges has 4 goals, 6 points, 10 PIM’s in 5 games this season.
C – Alexander Khovanov (Moncton, QMJHL) ~ The skilled Russian continues to be a leader offensively for the Wildcats as he lit the lamp in their 4-3 shootout victory over Acadie-Bathurst. Khonvanov has 8 goals, 16 points, 20 PIM’s and is an ‘even’ rating through 14 games.
RW – Shawn Boudrias (Gatineau, QMJHL) ~ the power forward continues his strong start as he chipped in a goal and an assist Gatineau’s 5-4 overtime loss to Blainville-Boisbriand. The Terrebonne, Quebec-native has 9 goals, 19 points 4 PIM’s and is a +4 in 15 games.
LW – Brandon Duhaime (Providence, H-East) ~ the Florida-native found the back of the net twice on 6 shots in the Friars 5-0 pasting of Hockey East rival Boston University on Friday. Duhaime has 2 goals, 6 PIM’s and is a +3 in 6 games.
RW – Nick Swaney (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ the Lakeville South-native had a goal and an assist in Bulldogs 3-2 win over Notre Dame on Friday. Swaney has a goal, 5 points in 7 games this season.