For 40 minutes it was about as much hair-pulling frustration as you may have had waiting in the long shopping lines for Black Friday. The Wild had all sorts of issues getting the puck through Connor Hellebuyck, not to mention just getting second chance opportunities. When they did get clean looks, Hellebuyck was too good, or the Wild manufactured ways to lose the puck.
That said, the Wild put together a third period for the *ages to come back to win on home ice. Four straight goals, by Nino Niederreiter, Eric Fehr, Eric Staal, and Zach Parise brought Minnesota from a defeat to snap victory away from the Jets. Here's 3 things we learned.
Making Good Players Earn It
Patrik Laine might not be at the level of an Alex Ovechkin, a Sidney Crosby, or even Connor McDavid, but Laine has the kind of talent to eventually become such a star player.
So when he comes into the game absolutely on fire - scored five times in two games prior to the match-up with the Wild - the Wild better be paying a attention to him when he's on the ice.
That's not exactly what happened when Laine opened the scoring with what was essentially an open net to shoot into. A Tyler Myers shot from the right point off a face-off win in the offensive zone was kicked right out to Laine for the easy slam dunk. Laine moved from his right wing position all the way around the face-off dot to post up in the slot, just to Alex Stalock's right. And it was that precise positioning that allowed him to get a goal.
That's what drives you nuts about good skilled players. The idea is to make it a challenge for those players to score. That way, if they do score, you give them a stick tap, say they beat you fair and square, and move on. Though, that's not what happened. Sure his positioning was key, but it wasn't like his supreme talent scored the goal. It was a wide open net, with the goalie kicking the puck out right to him. He didn't have to fight through a check, dangle between two defensemen, or have to shoot through a goaltender. Nope, this was too easy. He didn't have to earn the goal.
That's what upsets me most. He didn't earn it. It was a perfect set of circumstances and he just had to make sure he didn't miss the gaping net. Laine gets to stay on this hot streak of his, now with six goals in three games, and the Wild let him off the hook way too easily.
Striking Fehr into the Hearts of Opponents
I'll admit, I was mostly bored with the acquisition of Eric Fehr this offseason. At the beginning of the season, it didn't look great either. The fourth line took a while to gel, and that line took far too many penalties for a fourth line to be deemed acceptable.
Fast forward to Friday afternoon, it was Eric Fehr and his line that helped push back against the Jets. Nino Niederreiter was demoted to the fourth line in an attempt to, "get him going." The move paid off. Nino got the Wild on the board early in the third period.
The penalty kill was solid. Do many times this season, the PK was able to win the first face-off and get a clear because Fehr's ability to take, and win, face-offs on what is otherwise Mikko Koivu's off side. Aside from Nikolaj Ehlers slipping one through Stalock, the PK didn't give up many great chances to the Jets. That can hardly be blamed on the PK, though. Stalock was able to see the puck the whole way, it just snuck through the five hole.
Then Nino connected with Fehr to score the game-tying goal.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Fehr was on the ice for more shot attempts and shots on goal than Charlie Coyle. Fehr was 50% in faceoffs at 5v5, but an all-important 4/5 in faceoffs on the penalty kill.
So while Fehr's underlying numbers aren't jumping off the page in terms of the shot share, he's shouldering a heavy defensive burden that's allowed Mikko Koivu's line to be in the offensive zone more.
Not Quite the Cardiac Cats
It didn't look good early on in the game. The Jets had the lead, Connor Hellebuyck looked downright unbeatable, and the Wild couldn't muster anything on six power play chances. Jason Zucker had a clear lane to the net set up by Mikael Granlund in the first period. Staal set up Granlund for his own chance from the slot a few minutes later. Jared Spurgeon hit Zach Parise, who was setting a screen, and blocked what would have been the tying goal at the time. It seemed like chance after chance, after chance kept slipping away.
The Wild have done this all season, though. They've given up the first goal, sometimes two goals, only to find a way to come back and win.
The whole building became engaged in the game when Niederreiter cut the Jets' lead in half. Fehr crashed the net hard and got the tying goal. Hell, there was a fracas at the Jets' bench. The physicality level increased, the noise level went up, and Eric Staal got a couple whacks at a loose pucj in the crease to put Minnesota on top for good. The win was cinched by Parise potting an empty-netter.
There's been few times this season where this team has panicked by getting down a goal or two. In fact, they've probably looked worse when getting out to big leads early than they gmhave when trying to come back on teams.
Minnesota had a relatively good day getting the puck on net with 11 and 12 shots in the first and second periods respectively. They applied even more pressure by hurtling 16 shots on goal in the third period and only allowed the Jets six.
What we saw from the Jets in the post-season last year was an ability to up the ante in the third period with a lead and close game out. They barely let the Wild have anything reseming a chance to come back. They effectively shortened the game in the same fashion that Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera did for the Yankees for so many years.
What we're finding out is that this year's iteration of the Jets is still very, very good, but that same closer mentality in the third period may not be there anymore. To allow four goals and snatch defeat from the Jaws of Victory, is very un-Jets-like. And with the win, the Wild create a 4 point separation in the standings between them and the Jets.