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  • Devan Dubnyk, Wild hold off Maple Leafs in 3-2 victory


    After a tough road trip (1-2-1) through Canada, Minnesota wanted to end things on a high note. Against a young Toronto team, they’d have their chance. Toronto has been better than in recent years, led by their incredible young talent, but they’re still a below-.500 team. Could the veteran Wild prevail over Toronto’s kids?

    Toronto had a great start to the game, getting two quick shots on goal and adding a two-on-one opportunity. But the Wild would settle down a bit, with the Mikko Koivu line leading the way. They would get on the board first when Mikael Granlund deflected a Koivu centering pass to Jason Zucker in the slot. An easy goal for Zucker, and Minnesota took a 1-0 lead.

    Granlund would get another chance when he and Zucker had a two-on-one. Granlund made a cut in the slot to buy himself some space and time, but Frederik Andersen made the stop. The Wild struck on the next shift when Jared Spurgeon sprung a sprinting Chris Stewart for the breakaway. 2-0 Wild.

    While the game had been fairly even up to this point, Toronto started pressing and Minnesota started to lack urgency. This burned them when Nazem Kadri fired a shot with 3 minutes left in the first. The shot bounced off Devan Dubnyk’s pads, but Ben Smith found the puck with no one near him. Smith buried it, and cut the lead in half going into the end of the first period.

    A good shift by the Eric Staal line (still humming along with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle) led to a Staal tally, giving Minnesota a 3-1 lead. Koivu had a chance to extend the lead when he took a shot all alone from the slot. Koivu fired it right into Andersen’s pads. The missed chance would haunt shortly after when Tyler Bozak scored a goal off a pretty individual effort. Chris Stewart got another one-on-one look at Andersen, but Andersen made a brilliant save.

    That would be the last time the Wild threatened all game.

    The third period was all Maple Leafs. Minnesota applied no pressure, barely moved the puck out of their own zone, and exposed Dubnyk to 17 shots in the third. Luckily, Dubnyk was able to stop everything, including both a critical penalty kill and a 6-on-5 to end the game. With the Dubnyk wall holding, Minnesota would get the win to give them 5 points of a possible 10 on the road trip.

    Minnesota got the win, but they shouldn’t be satisfied with the way they played tonight. After the first period, Toronto decided to do basically whatever they wanted, and they did. So either the Wild couldn’t stop the Leafs from running all over them, or they let the Leafs dominate them. Neither scenario is comforting.

    This kind of brings me to my biggest problem with the Wild in general: What is this team good at?

    It’s not offense, they’re routinely punchless. And really, it’s not the defense, either. The Wild allow the 28th most shots at 5-on-5, and they aren’t significantly better on the penalty kill. They don’t allow any scoring chances, but when you’re conceding so many shots, can this continue? This is maybe the ultimate test case for “shot quality” on defense, and teams that relied on giving up lots of chances, but surrendering only low-quality chances haven’t been able to sustain that in the past.

    Luckily, Devan Dubnyk has been there to mask these issues. He’s been spectacular, but .950 goaltending isn’t something you get to rely on for an entire season. Relying on your goaltender standing on his head every night while you score barely enough isn’t a great formula. Sure, a team like the New York Rangers can do it, but it tends to end pretty badly. Even now, it has Minnesota just barely over .500.

    This team has skated by on Dubnyk and some good breaks their way, and tonight was no exception, with sloppiness plaguing their game. If the Wild are content to keep it this way, expect more frustrating efforts like this, even in victories. This isn’t working, and it’s up to Boudreau to figure out how to get this team playing like how they’re capable of.

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