It’s a common problem that the Minnesota Wild find when playing the St. Louis Blues: After St. Louis gets out to a lead, they park the bus and the Wild are unable to penetrate the collapsing defensive structure.
The game began with dominant possession play from the Wild. On the opening shift, Ryan Reaves got a chance in close off of a rebound. The Blues found themselves stuck on their heels defending Wild rushes and fighting to get the puck out of the zone. Aside from that Reaves rebound chance, however, the Wild were tied up out front of the net and only connected on long shots from the point. Before they were able to break through, Mason Shaw took a four-minute penalty for high-sticking, knocking down all momentum the Wild had generated to that point.
St. Louis was able to capitalize on the first of the two penalties in the double minor. The penalty killing unit looked out of sorts from the start in their defensive-zone coverage, chasing pucks at the point and allowing pass completions around the perimeter at will. The Blues lined up the one-timer that they wanted, Wild goaltender Filip Gustavsson gave up a big rebound, and Jake Middleton was stuck defending two-on-one in front of the net. The Wild’s in-zone coverage didn’t provide protection at the perimeter, and now it provided no protection in the slot. Inexplicable, and that’s how you get a tap-in at the entire net.
The timing of the goal was as bad as could be — one minute and 54 seconds into the first penalty, the Wild’s penalty killers and goaltender had to use up a full penalty’s worth of gas with nothing to show for it, and then go right back out and kill another two-minute penalty. In spite of this poor timing, Minnesota’s penalty kill sorted itself out enough to escape the double-minor down by only one.
The remainder of the period went by slowly for both teams — more of how the game had started, the Wild controlled play but found difficulty translating perimeter possession to anything dangerous. The Blues were content to collapse in front of goalie Thomas Greiss and while the Wild did a lot of hard work on the boards to keep the puck. The Blues also found a few good shots from the point. After a flurry of activity at each end of the ice, the period ended 1-0 St. Louis.
The second period was — and I don’t say this lightly — a slog. The game of hockey is a blessing, and each NHL game we see is a treat. Every day, we see the game of hockey move forward from October to June — except in the second period of Wild vs. Blues on Jan. 8, 2023. St. Louis was able to generate a few minor opportunities from defensive mistakes in the Minnesota defensive zone; apart from that, action was largely kept to the outside.
This included the Wild’s first power play of the game, which came on a scary hit to Ryan Hartman’s head which sent him to the locker room and, frankly, could have been called a five-minute major. Playing the game with only eleven forwards, and soon after losing Joel Eriksson Ek to an awkward hit via incidental contact, this became a very scary situation both for the health of the players and for the team’s chances to pull off a comeback on the second half of a back-to-back.
Fortunately, Hartman was able to return later in the period.
As the period winded down, the Kaprizov-Steel-Boldy line began to generate zone time and opportunities. Both Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy appeared to be given a little extra respect from the Blues, and with that respect came space. They were allowed to hold the puck for several seconds uncontested, especially below the goal line. At the end of the period, they combined for over a full minute of zone time courtesy of several excellent plays between themselves and Calen Addison, but were unable to convert these chances into goals.
Both goaltenders held strong against the low-danger chances, and the period closed scoreless.
The third frame opened with a Jonas Brodin penalty 90 seconds into the action. After an effective kill, the Kaprizov line immediately found two odd-man rushes and some zone time, and again found themselves turned away by Greiss. At this point, it felt like the only ways the Wild could break him would be with their two best forwards, or with the greasiest goal in franchise history.
More and more, Minnesota’s defensemen pinched lower in the zone to force uncontrolled exits by the Blues. The Wild piled on the pressure, double-shifting Kaprizov and Boldy for favorable matchups and notching 11 third-period shots by the ten-minute mark.
The home team drew even in shots, drew even in chances, and tilted the ice enough to draw a penalty with eight minutes left. The first unit came out and delivered solid individual puck battles, but went unrewarded due to a few errant passes. As the penalty expired, a two-on-one rush materialized for the Blues, and Wild-killer Brandon Saad passed to an open Brayden Schenn on the back door.
Without room behind him to fully lay out, Brodin attempted to kneel and was a hair too slow to stop the pass with the shaft of his stick. Both Brodin and Gustavsson had to fully respect the shot from Saad on his off wing, leaving no time for the goaltender to get back. Schenn made no mistake, finishing the play with what appeared to be a put-away goal.
With three minutes remaining, the Blues illegally cleared the puck over the glass. Head coach Dean Evason opted to immediately pull Gustavsson to get a 6-on-4 advantage. While there were several chaotic plays in front of Greiss, it was still not enough to break through. The shutout remained intact, the Blues added an empty-netter, and the game ended 3-0 St. Louis.
To credit the Wild, they generated pressure and shots after falling behind early in the game. On the other hand, you have to credit St. Louis for taking that lead and betting on their goaltending and defense to carry them over the finish line. Greiss played an outstanding game and earned every bit of his shutout.
Entering the game, the Wild likely had a bad taste in their mouth from the six goals allowed Saturday night. Sunday, they had the opposite problem — solid defensive play and goaltending was let down by a failure to score a single point. It’s a tough loss to swallow, especially given how often the team has died the same slow death to their rivals in St. Louis over a stretch of several years that just keeps getting longer.
Does Ryan Hartman hate the Blues?
If he didn’t already, the headache he likely sustained in the second period should be plenty of reason for him now.
As for the intent of this question posed in the recap (his two-goal performance when the Wild last played St. Louis), it does not appear that the Blues’s kryptonite comes in bite-sized, Hartman-shaped packages, as he was held off the scoresheet along with the rest of the team.
What’s Kirill Kaprizov gonna do?
While he wasn’t able to put anything concrete into place, Kaprizov had an outstanding game above even his typical lofty standard. Notching six shots-on-goal and a whopping .97 expected goals per MoneyPuck.com (a measure of scoring chance quality — one xG from an average shooter is worth about one goal over time), it’s a bit of a surprise that he couldn’t find the scoresheet.
More than his analytics, Kaprizov was on the ice for the lion’s share of Minnesota’s early-game offensive pressure, providing a blueprint to the rest of the team on how to navigate St. Louis’s suffocating defensive zone coverage. This led to the onslaught of chances the Wild had coming out of the locker room to start the third period. I’d wager that Kaprizov and Boldy were part of leading that second-intermission chalk talk; at the very least, they inspired it.
Welcome back Brandon Duhaime!
Glad to have you back Brandon. Good game — I loved your work on “get decked in front of the net” and “shoot the puck in close while falling over.” It changed my life!