Riding a strong four game winning streak, the Wild continued their New York swing with a Sunday night matchup against the 15-15-6 New York Islanders.
After some relatively contained play, the Wild’s altered second line started off the scoring. Brandon Duhaime, the line’s new member, went to the net and scored a greasy goal to put the Wild in the driver’s seat.
Within a couple minutes, the Wild found themselves on a powerplay. After working the puck down low, Joel Eriksson Ek slipped a puck by Sorokin to grow the lead to two.
As the Wild continued to control the game, the Islanders defaulted to their agitating style of play. A particular skirmish between Anders Lee and Matt Dumba resulted in a questionable Islanders powerplay and hilarious screenshot.
The Wild killed the powerplay, but seconds after the penalty expired Brock Nelson beat Kahkonen to cut the lead to one.
After a great start for Minnesota, New York’s physical play had turned the momentum their way. Despite the swing in momentum, the Wild maintained their lead until the clock struck zero. If the Wild were going to retain the lead, they were going to need to limit the chances they were giving up to a New York team with much less firepower than some of their other opponents.
The Wild returned to the ice for the second hoping to hold strong against an Islanders team that would be looking to play a gritty and physical game. After a good start for New York, a great shift by Matt Boldy that resulted in a deflection goal grew the Wild lead to two.
However, New York refused to go away without a fight. Less than two minutes later, an untimely Duhaime neutral zone turnover ended up on the stick of a streaking Johnston. He then beat a surprised Kahkonen and cut the Wild lead to one.
Despite the goal, the Wild continued the turnovers and forced Kahkonen to make several great saves on high danger chances. A Goligoski cross-checking minor really began to put the pressure on Minnesota. With their lead at stake, the Wild kill came up huge. Kevin Fiala made a great play in front of the net to draw a tripping penalty and negate the remaining New York man advantage.
Just like the first, the Wild ended the period getting outplayed. Fortunately, Kahkonen continued his strong play and maintained the Wild lead. To close out the win, there was going to be a massive reduction in turnovers and positioning,
Both teams emerged from their respective locker rooms with much more intensity than they had in the first two periods. After some sustained pressure, Ryan Hartman found himself in the box for a hooking minor. After some great killing, especially by Fiala and Brodin, the Wild returned to even strength with their one goal lead intact.
Both teams continued to exchange chances, with a majority coming from New York. After some great stops from Kahkonen, Minnesota was able to grow their lead to two after a point shot from Matt Dumba was redirected by Kaprizov.
As the game entered its final five minutes of regulation, the Wild found themselves shorthanded once again. After a spectacular effort, Oliver Wahlstrom launched himself towards the net to secure a back door tap in. The Wild’s lead was cut in half to one.
With around two minutes left in regulation, New York pulled their goaltender and began their final push. After two minutes great saves, blocked shots, and defensive zone awareness, Minnesota completed their sweep of New York.
While the game was not pretty, the crucial performers showed up when it mattered the most. Kaprizov was quiet all night but somehow managed two points, a testament to his ability to perform on his down nights. Kahkonen had an awesome game and clearly made a case for more games in the future. Matt Boldy continued to prove that he is here to stay, picking up a two point night with his father in attendance.
At the end of the day, two points were earned. The team was clearly missing their injured/COVID stricken pieces, but they found a way (as this team always seems to do) to overcome. As the winning streak improves to five, Minnesota will hope to translate their success to their incredibly fast-paced conclusion to the season.
Should Dean Evason be “riding the hot hand” in net at this point?
With Cam Talbot close to 100%, if not already there, Kahkonen knows his minutes are much more coveted. Tonight was a perfect demonstration of what he needs to do if he wants more minutes than he got when Talbot returned last year. Simplicity and control are the pillars of his game when he is at his best and tonight was a great display for both.
Going forward, I think Kahkonen will need to see significant minutes. He has earned them through his play as of late, but the Wild also don’t have much of a choice. With a very condensed schedule, fresh legs will be needed in net.
Can Zuccarello and Fiala make it 11?
Unfortunately for Mats, his streak ended at 10.
Fortunately for Kevin, the streak is still alive after he picked up an assist on Matt Boldy’s goal.
Can the Wild get their first shutout of the season?
Unfortunately not. Kindly put, Minnesota had a sloppy game defensively. They turned the puck over much more than they normally do, with a few of them directly causing goals. Defensive positioning was also suspect at times but made a recovery later in the game. Kahkonen had a good game, but some of the situations he was put in made it almost impossible to earn a shutout.
Good news: it gives us something to hope for over a long stretch of games in the armpit of the NHL season.