The hockey buzzards are circling. Fans and writers are shifting their eyes nervously as they consider how outplayed the Minnesota Wild have been in their first two games. The coaching staff seems to be at a loss for an explanation which is not what you want to hear at this point in the year, just two games into the 2018-19 season. It would be like hearing your doctor noticing some mark on your body and saying, “whoa, I have no idea what that is.”
So with a fanbase hoping, desperately, for this team to show that the first two games were an aberration their old nemesis comes to St. Paul in the Chicago Blackhawks. As much as experts were dismissive of the Wild before the start of season, most of them were even more harsh towards Chicago. However, at this point the Blackhawks have found a way to win their first two games. Can the Wild earn its first win of the season against is rival?
1st Period Thoughts: Normally when the Minnesota Wild play the Chicago Blackhawks, you can feel the energy of the home fans as we play our natural rival. However, most of the 1st period could be personified by the near silent home crowd as they watched their club again struggle to stay with Chicago through the first few minutes. The one player that did show up for Minnesota was Joel Eriksson Ek who was flying around the ice trying to make things happen. Jason Zucker was moving fairly well too, and he’d use his speed on a partial breakaway only to be denied by Cam Ward. Chicago wasn’t even really swarming and Minnesota spent nearly a minute chasing around its own zone. Devan Dubnyk was facing a fair amount of shots early as the Jonathan Toews, Dominik Kahun, Alex DeBrincat line was giving Minnesota fits in its own end. DeBrincat would find the back of the net first as a turnover near the blueline by Jonathan Toews made for an easy set up. 1-0 Chicago to an apathetic response to the home crowd. Minnesota didn’t have any answer as Chicago would add to its lead 3 minutes as Toews made a pass from down low to Kahun who fired a shot top corner for his 1st NHL goal. 2-0 Chicago. Minnesota looked slow, but making matters worse were inaccurate passing all over the ice that thwarted potential Wild rushes before they even had a chance to start. The Wild crowd seemed to be contemplating leaving as the period wore on. Minnesota would try to rally back as they crashed the net a few times but Ward was able to keep the puck out of the net. The Wild were still showing signs of being unlucky as well as Eric Staal fanned on a near open net late in the period and while it gave fans a reason to wake up a bit, the fact they couldn’t bury the biscuit only fueled the growing pessimism surrounding this year’s squad. Minnesota was out shot Chicago 16-11 but all that matters is the fact Chicago leads 2-0. The Wild did have a power play, for about 9 seconds before Mikko Koivu got tagged for hooking to negate the man advantage. In a way it sort of captures the spirit of this game so far, potentially hopeful for about 9 seconds and then its back to a whole lot of nothing.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild started the 2nd period much the way they ended the 1st period. Trying to work pucks in close but unable to cash in as Charlie Coyle was denied on a chance from the slot by Ward. Moments after that it was Mikael Granlund stealing a puck in the Blackhawks’ end and having time and space to let go a great shot only to dive and miss the net completely. Chicago appeared to ease up a bit and the Wild were showing a bit more desperation as they were forcing turnovers and activating their defense a lot. However through the first half of the period it wasn’t generating a ton of shots with only about 4 shots to their credit. Minnesota would persist and they’d finally cash in as Jason Zucker worked a puck back to Staal who buried it just inside the post. Chicago still held onto a 2-1 lead but the goal would wake up the sleepy sellout crowd and Minnesota appeared to feed off the energy. Chicago’s defense was having problems turning the puck over and Minnesota continued to apply pressure and with just 2.8 seconds left in the period it was Staal setting up Zucker who rifled it home tying the game at 2-2. It was a much better overall effort from the Wild, but we are playing against Chicago. The same Chicago squad most experts have picked to finish last in the division so its tough to get too excited at this point. A big 3rd period coming up for the Wild, which almost seems ridiculous to say at this point in the season.
3rd Period Thoughts: A lazy penalty by Eric Fehr would put Minnesota in a bad spot to start the 3rd as Chicago was able to capitalize on the power play on DeBrincat’s 2nd goal of the night. 3-2 Chicago. Minnesota didn’t seem to have a lot of energy after Chicago’s early goal and the Blackhawks were content to force the Wild to the perimeter and the Wild were willing to settle for shots from the blueline. That meant Cam Ward wasn’t tested all that much. Minnesota would wait until there was less than 5 minutes left in the game before they started to pour it on. Unfortunately a penalty on Mikael Granlund late in the 3rd would put Minnesota a man down in the final two minutes. Minnesota would struggle to get the puck out of the zone to be able to pull Dubnyk for an extra attacker. Zach Parise worked the puck down low and he would send a puck back out front towards the Chicago crease and a crashing Ryan Suter tapped it by Ward tying the game with under 30 seconds left in regulation.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota started overtime, down a man for the first 40 seconds of OT. The Wild did a decent job of forcing Chicago to settle for shots from the perimeter for the remainder of the 4-on-3 power play. Dubnyk would make a save to put overtime back to 3-on-3. The Wild poured it on in overtime as Zucker used his speed to create a great opportunity but Ward would hold on to keep it tied at 3. Moments later a foiled bid by Chicago was transitioned out of the zone by Suter up to Zucker who skated in all alone to beat Ward with a backhander, 5-hole to give Minnesota its first win of the season, 4-3.
Devan Dubnyk was again fairly solid, making 27 saves in the victory. He had a few clutch stops early on when the Wild offense was still hibernating. Defensively the Wild did a better job of blocking shots and limiting Chicago’s chances. I thought Jared Spurgeon and Matthew Dumba played well this evening.
Offensively the team kept it simple and crashed the net and their persistence was rewarded as they pumped 40+ shots on goal this evening. Of course it didn’t hurt playing against a pretty suspect Chicago defense. Minnesota’s persistence and desperation certainly was on display as the Wild was not being picky with shots and throwing just about anything they could on goal.
The win most likely brought about a big sigh of relief for a lot of fans, but let’s keep the win in perspective. Most pundits picked Chicago to finish last in the division and the Wild nearly lost this game. Minnesota should beat Chicago. You could even sense the relief in the players in their post-game interviews, so its obvious the pressure was mounting on this group. It will be interesting to see if they can follow this up with another win on Saturday against Carolina.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, J.T. Brown, Eric Fehr, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matthew Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Nick Seeler and Greg Pateryn. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Matt Hendricks and Nate Prosser were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jason Zucker, 2nd Star Alex DeBrincat, 3rd Star Ryan Suter
~ Attendance was 18,652 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ J.T. Brown wore #23 this evening, joining Gustav Olofsson, Pavel Patera, Jason Marshall, Scott Ferguson, Jason Morgan, Cody Almond, Petr Kalus, Eric Nystrom and Sean Bergenheim in having worn the number for the Minnesota Wild.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 8, Manitoba 1
Iowa haven’t had a lot of success over the years but perhaps things are changing as the Wild were about to have a game for the ages on Sunday afternoon. Iowa would take advantage of a turnover in the Moose’s zone and Gerry Fitzgerald beat Eric Comrie short side. 1-0 Iowa. Iowa’s speed was causing Manitoba trouble throughout most of the period and they’d score on the man advantage as Ryan Murphy stepped into a one-timer that Comrie had no chance on. 2-0 Wild. The Moose would cut the lead back to one as Kristian Reichel finds the twine behind Andrew Hammond on a shot from the slot. This was as close as it got for Manitoba. Iowa would pour it on in the 2nd period as Hammond found Louie Belpedio with a long outlet pass and the former Miami Redhawks’ captain found Colton Beck with a pass for a pretty finish. 3-1 Iowa. Iowa would light the lamp a few minutes later as Eric Martinsson‘s shot from the point was redirected by Kyle Rau that eluded Comrie. 4-1 Iowa. The Wild wasn’t done there as Beck would score his 2nd of the night on a pretty play out front making it 5-1 Iowa going into the 3rd period. Hoping for a rally, the Moose would swap out Comrie for Ken Appleby but it wouldn’t get any better for Manitoba. In the 3rd period, Iowa would continued to apply pressure that put Moose in the box and they’d add three more goals as Mike Liambas, Gerald Mayhew and Mason Shaw would each light the lamp to give the Wild an 8-1 rout. It was the most goals scored in a home game in team history. Hammond had 26 saves in the victory.
New Iowa Wild Head Coach Tim Army talked to play by play broadcaster Joe O’Donnell about practices and you might recognize the person who asked him a question in this #AskArmy segment.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Nick Boka (Michigan, Big 10) ~ the senior defenseman played on the Wolverines’ 2nd pairing and registered his first point of the season, an assist in Michigan’s 5-2 loss to Vermont.
C – Damien Giroux (Saginaw, OHL) ~ the small-ish center had the game winning goal in the Spirit’s 4-3 win over Erie on Saturday. Giroux has 2 goals, 4 points, and is a +4 in 7 games.
RW – Shawn Boudrias (Gatineau, QMJHL) ~ the big power forward’s strong start continued on Saturday as he chipped in two helpers in the Olympiques’ 7-4 win over Cape Breton. On Wednesday night Boudrias chipped in an assist in Gatineau’s 3-2 shootout loss to Moncton which included a penalty shot in overtime that he failed to convert on. Boudrias has 5 goals, 12 points, 2 PIM’s and is a +9 in 8 games.
C – Alexander Khovanov (Moncton, QMHL) ~ After going 12 of 19 on his draws, he also added an assist in Moncton’s 3-1 win over Blainville-Boisbriand on Saturday. He followed up Saturday’s performance with a better effort on Sunday where he had a goal and two helpers in the Wildcat’s 8-1 rout of Acadie-Bathurst. He did not fare quite as well on Wednesday with 2 PIM’s and missed his shootout attempt in the Wildcats’ 3-2 win over Gatineau. The feisty Russian forward has 3 goals, 7 points and 14 PIM’s in 7 games this season.
LW – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ The talented Russian is heating up with a 2 goal performance in CSKA’s 5-1 win over HC Dynamo last night. Kaprizov has 8 goals, 12 points, 2 PIM’s and is a +8 in 16 games this season.