Just over the halfway mark in the season, the Minnesota Wild have a lot to prove. On pace to have the best season in franchise history and with expectations (both internally and externally) that are even higher, Minnesota entered Ottawa ready to prove they could pick on an opponent in the bottom half of the league. In their initial meeting of the year, the Wild beat Ottawa in an overtime thriller. Would this game have the same fireworks?
Barely two minutes into the game, Kevin Fiala lost Thomas Chabot in the high slot where he beat Cam Talbot on the short side.
Seconds later, a Kaprizov turnover almost ended up in the back of the net. Fortunately, a stick broke up a 2-1 right in front of Talbot. The Wild looked very discombobulated in the defensive zone and Ottawa seemed ready to pounce. Nick Bjugstad almost found a fluke goal to tie it, but the iron had other plans.
As the momentum slowly started to turn after a nice shift by the top line, Kulikov drew a tripping penalty on a zone entry to open up the penalty box for the evening.
The Wild would be given their first shot on the man advantage. After some great looks in the offensive zone, Fiala took a bad angle on a streaking Senator and led to a 2-1 that was stopped by Talbot.
The strange plays continued on the powerplay as the second unit emerged. A puck flipped to the point caught Calen Addison in the mouth and led to a Nick Paul breakaway going the other way.
Just as the first penalty was due to expire, Brady Tkachuk elbowed Jordan Greenway and put the Senators down a man again.
However, the powerplay could not find the same strength it had at the beginning of the first powerplay and made several questionable decisions that resulted in losses of possession. So far, with the exception of the beginning of the first powerplay, every play by the Wild top-six seemed to end with a turnover. The bad fortune continued as Gaudreau held Tkachuk and sent the Senators to the powerplay. After a Spurgeon clear took (one of many) weird bounces off the glass, a strange play left Tkachuk open on the far side of the ice. With Talbot still recovering from a save, Tkachuk put the puck past Spurgeon into a relatively empty net.
Down 2-0, the Wild’s flat period dug them a tough hole. They struggled mightily with their puck possession, defensive awareness, and some dicey goaltending.
After a shaky first few shifts that continued the same trends of the first, the Wild found themselves on their third man advantage of the night. Similar to their first chance in the first period, the Wild generated some great chances but were unable to capitalize. Just as it seemed the Wild offense was hopeless, one of the few bright spots of the night came up big. One of the only lines that could generate anything, the fourth line put together a great shift. As they were changing, Kevin Fiala jumped on the ice and reaped the benefit of a tired Senators team. With a dragged shot, he put the Wild on the board.
Fiala seemed to spark the entire lineup, with the following shifts being very Wild-dominated. As the second line returned to the ice, they played keep-away from some exhausted Senators for almost a minute. Barely missing some goals, Ottawa was able to get a rush going the other way. After Boldy took a poor angle, it quickly became a 2-1 again and Kulikov took a hooking penalty to ensure no goal was scored. After killing the penalty with some great shorthanded chances, it seemed like momentum had returned to the Wild’s favor.
Shortly after the kill, the Wild shut down a Tkachuk chance and found themselves on a 4-2. This resulted in a Spurgeon missile to tie the game at 2.
Just as everything seemed to be going Minnesota’s way, a strange play resulted in Ottawa regaining their lead.
Despite being down one going into the third, the Wild had a much better period. Fiala’s goal completely changed how the Wild were playing, especially Fiala’s own B-F-F line. While it they were still giving up more chances than they normally do, the effort had increased while turnovers decreased.
As the final frame opened, the Wild quickly evened the game. A Chabot turnover resulted in a great shot from Jon Merrill that made it a 3-3 game.
Shortly after, Brodin was taken wide by Formenton and was forced to take a penalty. Without arguably their best killer, the Wild would need to come up big without him to keep it even. Just as this Wild teams seems to do in the big moments, they came up big and killed it off. The kill seemed to rally the Wild and all lines began to start creating chances. A cheapshot (no call) on Kaprizov lit the fire even more.
Just when everything seemed to be going up, it came crashing back down as a redirected shot from Chabot beat Talbot from way downtown. Minnesota would have to claw back again if they wanted to get points. A Greenway penalty with just over three minutes left made this seem even less likely than before.
After the penalty was killed, the Wild wasted no time in getting Talbot out. With over a minute left and an offensive zone draw, the Wild had the chance they needed. Kaprizov and Boldy both got amazing chances but were unable to finish.
After a good second half of the game, the team has to be kicking themselves for starting the game so slow. Talbot gave up a couple of soft goals, but also saved some that should have gone in. Considering that, it is tough to blame him for the loss. Overall, the team has to be more ready to play, especially against a team in the bottom half of the league missing several key players. However, the second half of the game was promising. In an 82 game season, there are going to be nights where the pucks bounce over your sticks and this seemed to be one of them. Considering this is the first game of the roadtrip, the Wild will need to figure it out or risk a rough two games.
With the loss, the Wild are now 2-2 since eclipsing the halfway point in the season.
How will the Wild’s #depth show itself tonight?
A joke that seems to keep telling itself, the Wild’s depth had an overall good night. Most notably, I thought the fourth line did great with the limited ice time they received. At the beginning of the game, they seemed to be the only line that was ready to go. On the back end, Addison held his own despite being on the ice for several goals.
Can we boldly predict a Boldy goal?
Unfortunately not. Boldy was kept off the scoresheet, but had a great night. His decision making and puck possession are top notch already. He had one glaring defensive mistake that led to a penalty on the other end, but other than that, his game was very solid.
By the end of the season, I bet Michael Russo’s prediction that he is a Calder finalist comes true. His play seems to improve every night.
How about those special teams?
Not great, but not overly concerning either. The powerplay went 0-3 and had flashes of greatness, but also concerning stretches with unnecessary turnovers. The kill went 3-4 and the goal that they gave up I would personally blame on a slow recovery from Spurgeon and Talbot. In the third, they killed off both penalties (one without Brodin), which was a necessity for remaining in the game.