Entering Monday’s game, all we asked was that somebody would give new Wild GM and former Predators Assistant GM, Paul Fenton, a time machine. That way, he could have traveled back and undone all those brilliant trades he was involved in. Filip Forsberg? Gone. P.K. Subban? See ya. Ryan Johansen? Not today, buddy. Why was that time machine so much to ask, and why were those guys all on the ice punishing Minnesota?
Time travel gaffes aside, the Wild did look better Monday than they did in their last game against Carolina. But if you only watched the first ten minutes of the game in Nashville, then you probably would have imagined an almost identical outcome to what we saw Saturday at the X.
It was still a loss in the end—and this one didn’t even earn them a loser point—but there were a few more positives to take out of this. For starters, the ice wasn’t completely tilted in the opposition’s favor throughout, as the Wild did actually control portions of the game. Nashville controlled larger portions, but still… baby steps in the right direction. Additionally, the Wild players just seemed to be skating with a little more moxie, once they got the usual horrendous start out of their system.
For a stretch in the third, it felt like a vintage Wild road win was rolling our way, as the boys in white seemed to be hanging around, hanging around, pressuring, getting close… but ultimately not scoring. It was too little too late against a Predators team that will likely finish among the top of the league, and no matter where it finishes will almost certainly hang multiple banners to tell people about it.
Hey, here’s a thing… Isn’t it cute how Nashville fans still boo Ryan Suter every time he touches the puck? Good for them, really, as they have all collectively decided that none of them would have left Nashville for $98 million. It’s just an incredible show of loyalty when you think about them all turning down that kind of money.
“Well, here we go again,” thought Wild fans everywhere. In a fledgling season that has seen Minnesota play on its heels in the opening stanza of every game, it was anything but surprising to see more of the same in Nashville on Monday night. The Predators posted the first seven shots of the game and had already found their way onto the scoreboard by the time Minnesota even hit Pekka Rinne with a piece of vulcanized rubber for the first time.
With Jonas Brodin in the penalty box six minutes into the contest, and his two-minute minor winding down, P.K. Subban was denied on a blast from the point by the right pad of Alex Stalock, who was making his first appearance of the season. The Predators quickly regrouped and got the puck back on Subban’s stick, who took another crack at it and again was foiled by the right pad of Stalock. The second time, though, rather than skipping away into the corner and forcing Nashville to retrieve it, the puck popped out to Craig Smith, who was standing on the doorstep uncovered. Smith backhanded it over the sprawling Minnesota goaltender to give his team an early lead.
The Wild pushed back a little more quickly than it has recently, though, which ultimately helped make this contest feel a lot more even than Saturday’s domination at the hands of the Hurricanes, who peppered Devan Dubnyk with 57 shots. In fact, Minnesota would actually get the next goal Monday, when Mikko Koivu—with the Wild on the power play—won a battle on the right halfwall and threw it to the middle. The intended recipient, Charlie Coyle, was partially tied up and whiffed on the pass, allowing the puck to wobble out to Matt Dumba. Dumba—who was Minnesota’s best player throughout—had been sneaking in from the point. With the puck lying on a platter in the slot, he unleashed an ungodly Dumbomb that no goalie in the league could have stopped, leveling the game at 1-1 at the 13:29 mark.
The Wild actually had a couple chances to take the lead in that opening frame as well, with Jason Zucker narrowly getting stuffed on a flying wraparound attempt, and Eric Staal fumbling a Zucker pass on a 2-on-1 in the closing minutes. Nashville, meanwhile rang two blasts off the posts behind Stalock, but the teams went to the dressing rooms knotted at a goal apiece.
The second frame opened with Mikko Koivu in the penalty box, after he was whistled for a slash in the closing seconds of the first. Stalock did well to help his team kill off the penalty, though he did get yet another assist from his right goalpost during the Nashville power play. Minnesota then was awarded a power play of its own, indicating things might really be turning in the Wild’s favor, but that manpower advantage ended… badly. With Nashville’s penalty expiring, Ryan Johansen led an even-numbers rush through the neutral zone and pushed Minnesota’s defenders all the way back into Stalock. Johansen fed Mattias Ekholm, who slowed to give himself some space, and eventually wired a wicked wrister over the pad of Stalock, putting the Predators back in front at 3:51 of the second.
With 7:58 left, Staal crossed over Nashville’s blueline and tried to do a little drop pass to Jordan Greenway, who was skating just a few feet to his right. Somehow, the pass didn’t connect. Kyle Turris jumped on it and headmanned it up to Forsberg, who made no mistake on the breakaway. It turns out Forsberg is still really good, and Staal’s turnover was really... REALLY... bad.
The Wild quickly responded three minutes later, as Zach Parise—in vintage Zach Parise fashion—created havoc behind Nashville’s net on the forecheck. As he pried the puck out in front of Nashville’s goal, the defenders in the baby poop yellow jerseys seemed to get lost and forget that Koivu and Mikael Granlund were all alone at the top of the crease. Granlund differed to his elder, who calmly slammed it under his countryman’s outstretched glove.
The Wild threatened to take the lead in the closing seconds of the second period, but the horn sounded with Nashville maintaining a 3-2 lead.
The first nine minutes of the third period were relatively uneventful, as both teams seemed to be struggling to find any kind of traction. The Wild eventually experienced a tilting of the ice in their favor, though, as they began to really push for the equalizer. Halfway through the period, the Wild had a big flurry in Nashville’s end that lasted close to a minute, but the Predators had two or three key shot blocks, then countered with a set play to ring the puck up ice. It eventually reached Turris at the far blueline, who went in alone on Stalock for the potential dagger. The always aggressive Stalock came way out of his net to challenge, stuffing Turris to keep Minnesota’s chances alive.
After that, it was all Wild for the remainder, including a clear breakaway for Nino Niederreiter with 2:40 left off of a fantastic feed by Dumba. Niederreiter couldn’t fully corral a rolling puck, and ended up putting it into Rinne’s pad. Seconds later, the Wild were given a power play, and Bruce Boudreau opted to immediately pull his netminder with 2:17 left, a gutsy call considering Nashville was able to freely ice the puck. The 6-on-4 advantage sort of worked, because Minnesota immediately got some great looks and had plenty of zonetime. But it just couldn’t beat Rinne, who made a couple of huge saves in those last couple minutes.
As the penalty expired with 11 seconds left, Miikka Salomaki came out of the box, chased down a freebie icing, and tapped it into the empty net to seal it. That was all she wrote. 4-2 Predators.
It certainly wasn’t the outcome Minnesota wanted, but again, it was a better effort than we’ve seen in any previous game this season other than the Wild’s only win over Chicago. The Green ‘n’ Wheats will have to bounce back quickly, as they return home to take on the Arizona Coyotes Tuesday night.