Looking to bounce back after an offensively-limited series opener on Monday night as well as trying to finally find the net on the power play, the Minnesota Wild were able to achieve both goals in their 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. Nick Bonino scored a one-timer off Joel Eriksson Ek’s chest to end the Wild’s 0-for-18 stint with the extra attacker, Ryan Hartman added a shorty and Joel Eriksson Ek scored the game-winner for the Wild. In net, Kaapo Kähkönen stopped 22 of 24 shots in his season debut.
Much of the talk heading into the final contest of the Wild’s four-game road trip involved Minnesota’s inability to score on the power play, as the Wild came into tonight’s series-ender with the Ducks on a miserable 0-for-16 streak with the man advantage. They wouldn’t have to wait long to try to silence their critics, as less than a minute into the contest a holding call on the Ducks’ Kevin Shattenkirk gave Minnesota an immediate opportunity to right the ship. But despite four shots and a Jonas Brodin hit post, Minnesota failed to convert and remained 0-fer with the extra attacker.
Eventually, the Wild did find success on a power play - just not their own. With Matt Dumba in the box after air-mailing the puck over the Wild bench, Ryan Hartman turned over Shattenkirk and found the puck on his stick and was off to the races on a shorthanded breakaway. Miller padded away the first shot, but Hartman slapped his own rebound into the yawning net behind the Ducks’ netminder, giving the Wild a 1-0 lead.
The Wild would get a second, though truncated, power-play chance when Ryan Getzlaf nullified the rest of their time with Dumba in the box by tangling skates with Kaapo Kahkonen, but Minnesota yet again couldn’t take advantage, stretching their inauspicious streak to 0-for-18.
In his first start of the season, Kaapo Kähkönen didn’t see much action in the first period as the Ducks looked awful early on, lacking in both jump and any semblance of puck control. But when the Ducks came out in the second and strung a couple high-danger chances together, Kahkonen was forced to get up to speed quickly, and made a couple of nice saves.
With Shattenkirk continuing to play like he was singlehandedly trying to give Minnesota every opportunity to break the streak by heading to the box for a second time, the Wild had their third power play chance. And finally, FINALLY, the Wild were able to convert. Nick Bonino won an offensive zone faceoff, and off a chest-deflected puck by Eriksson Ek, Bonino one-timed the puck past Miller, ending the long power-play drought and giving the Wild their first two-goal lead of the season.
But the oft-described “dangerous” two-goal lead wasn’t meant to last for long, as the Ducks got things going mid-way through the second. First, a fumbled puck by Kahkonen gave Nicolas Deslauriers a gift in the slot which he happily snuck through the pads of the Wild netminder, bringing the Ducks back within one.
Then about four minutes later, the Ducks tied the game when a misplayed puck by Marcus Johansson led to an Anaheim two-on-one, as Cam Fowler took a pass from Carter Rowney and wristed one home. This one wasn’t Kähkönen’s fault as he was completely hung out to dry, but after having a decent first period, the Finnish keeper looked incredibly shaky in the second, especially with the glove hand. In any case, by the end of the period, the Ducks had clawed their way back to 2-2.
One player who looked downright awful for the Wild was Victor Rask, who’s first-line center experiment needs to come to an end. In fact, the primary reason Kirill Kaprizov hasn’t yet been mentioned in this recap is that his centerman wasn’t doing him any favors, as Kaprizov was limited to zero shots and only one rang post through two periods of play. Fortunately, Joel Eriksson Ek was able to show why he might the right man for the first line job, as he took a nice behind-the-net pass from Jordan Greenway and sniped one past Miller, giving the Wild back the lead just a couple minutes into the third - and helping Kaprizov earn a secondary assist for his fifth point of the year so far.
This is the top-six, “next Mikko Koivu” Wild fans have been waiting for, so it’s all the more frustrating to see that, despite a hot January so far, that JEEK is yet to make it past Rask on the depth chart. But with more efforts like tonight’s two-point game against the Ducks, head coach Dean Evason has to make the move sooner or later.
Midway through the third, Shattenkirk continued to be a benefit for the Wild, heading back to the box for a third time after getting flat-out embarrased by Kaprizov, whose nifty, deke-filled scoring chance came up just a bit short.
But with a chance to score goals on two straight PP opportunities, the Wild got absolutely nothing going, and were blanked with the extra attacker yet again. Though while the Ducks were able to use the kill to spur some extra jump in the waining minutes (especially with Miller on the bench for an extra skater), the Wild were able to run out the clock on their 3-2 victory over the Ducks, heading back to Minnesota with six big points in four road games.
Despite the win and strong efforts from the bottom six forwards, the early season struggles of Kevin Fiala and Zach Parise continued for yet another game, as two of the Wild’s leading scorers from last season are yet to find the scoresheet. They’ll both get another chance to break their pointless streaks on Friday as the Minnesota Wild will take on the San Jose Sharks in the Wild’s home opener at the Xcel Energy Center. Puck drops at 7 p.m.
1. Can Head Coach Dean Evason fix the powerplay?
If the assumed question is, “did the Wild finally break the scoreless streak on the power play?”, then the answer is yes, yes they did, thanks to Nick Bonino and a lucky bounce off of JEEK. But is the powerplay fixed? No, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Sure, Brodin was a hit post away from making the PP more respectable at 2-for-4, but a single power-play goal isn’t going to turn the special teams around. And considering how lifeless the Wild PP looked in their fourth attempt of the night coming off Bonino’s hopefully dam-breaking goal, the Wild still have a lot of work to do in order to avoid another lengthy goalless streak.
At least the penalty kill was effective, not only in shutting down the Ducks, but also by generating a goal of their own.
2. Where does Ian Cole fit in on the blueline?
Cole had a pretty good game for his Wild debut, seeing over 17 minutes on the third pairing with Carson Soucy as the pair each finished with plus-1s. He didn’t get on the scoresheet, but had a couple nice hits (three total on the night) and a pair of blocked shots. If the Wild brought in Cole to see his booming shot, that wasn’t on full display, but if Minnesota intended on having the veteran defenseman help shore up a somewhat leaky third pairing and provide some reliable leadership to Soucy in his second full season, then in the first game at least, it’s mission accomplished.
3. Can Kähkönen make the case for more starts?
Likely, no. While the young Finnish goaltender made the exact amount of saves he had to in order to allow the Wild to eke out a 3-2 victory, Kähkönen looked like he was in his own head a bit at times in the second period onward, scrambling for the puck in the crease, making questionable puckhandling decisions and fumbling what should have been easily catchable shots. One such mistake led to an immediate goal and another nearly leaked out of his mitt and into the net, but instead slid harmlessly through the crease.
If he’s going to push Talbot for more time (or make it a difficult decision to go back to Stalock once he returns from injury), the Wild will need to see more solid, reliable play from Kähkönen. Tonight, over the final two periods, they didn’t get that from Kähkönen.