The Minnesota Wild must be out of Turkey leftovers, because they roasted some Ducks this afternoon.
The game started with two sluggish shifts from the GREEF line and then Kirill Kaprizov’s line. Both seemed trapped inside their own blue line, until they finally broke through with a fanned-on four-on-two rush into the Ducks zone. This got the wheels back on the tracks, eventually leading to a heavy shift from Ryan Reaves and several quality shots. Then, they broke the dam that is Ducks goaltender John Gibson:
Displaying their famous two-way game, the GREEF line’s second shift generated some quality cycle time, ending up on Calen Addison’s stick for a seeing-eye goal. Assists for Marcus Foligno and Joel Eriksson Ek, and further credit to JEEK on the net-front screen.
The Ducks then got shelled for the next five minutes, kept hemmed in their zone or settling for perimeter shots in the Wild zone. Suddenly, they found a hole in the Wild’s own net-front, potting a deflection goal.
Ryan Strome snuck behind Jon Merrill by drifting below the goal line. With Addison doubling Pavol Regenda in the slot, there was just enough room for the backdoor feed from Frank Vatrano to meet Strome’s stick. What should have been another dump-in by Anaheim became a high danger chance in a flash, and the game was tied. Frustration was evident on the faces of all Wild players skating to the bench, having squandered a hot start on home ice.
Following this goal Anaheim was able to find a bit more pace, and the Wild seemed to gain their footing as well. Weathering a storm of the Adam Henrique-Trevor Zegras-Troy Terry line, GREEF escorted them off the ice and made way for Matt Boldy’s line to win the puck. Boldy’s line changed one at a time while maintaining possession and cycling around a tired flock of Ducks. The Mason Shaw-Connor Dewar-Ryan Reaves line was fresh and found itself on the puck against five sitting Ducks.
Shaw took a low rip at Gibson’s pads, setting up grade-D scorer Ryan Reaves with a grade-A chance. Gibson made the save, but the loose puck was too much for the exhausted goaltender after a minute of crouch-time. Dewar found the loose change after a real battle at the net, and was rewarded with Minnesota’s second goal.
Minutes later, the ducks nearly potted a second-effort goal of their own, but Filip Gustavsson held strong over the rebound. After a streaky first period for both teams, the Wild went to the locker room with a 2-1 lead. At the intermission, Wild assistant coach Bob Woods criticized his team’s turnovers and neutral zone play.
The Wild opened the second period with steady pressure, stacking zone time and shots on goal. With a lead against a team whose strength is their goaltender, it’s never a bad time to force him to make a lot of saves to wear him down. It’s a strategy that any goaltender might confide in you works against the best of them — even the best goaltender will make a mistake if given enough chances.
Ryan Reaves also made sure to be himself, working to get under the skin of his opponents as a puck fluttered in the rafters at the Xcel Energy Center.
After a quality first half of the period, Jon Merrill took a tripping penalty in the corner against Cam Fowler, which he’d probably like to have back. While Merrill protested the call, it was a pretty apparent trip on a player who was not presenting a great deal of danger to the Wild. The Ducks, who have a glut of offensive talents, went to the powerplay.
Having drawn the penalty, Cam Fowler got the opportunity to go to work as the point player in Anaheim’s top unit. Moving to his forehand, Fowler placed a hard wrister above Gustavsson’s glove. Fowler’s east-west motion made screens out of friend and foe alike, and it’s apparent that Gustavsson never saw the puck on its way in.
Minnesota had the opportunity to respond with their own power play minutes later. The top unit earned many quality chances but met an immovable force in John Gibson. It was a classic case of the goaltender being the best penalty killer. Tilting from the un-rewarded power play, the Wild gave up a third goal on a delayed penalty.
The trouble here started with the penalty, but it culminated with both Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek double covering old friend Dmitry Kulikov. While they could have committed to pinching the play off there, they both tried to retreat, seemingly concerned about the space they had left down low during a six-on-five. Kulikov had the space he needed to shoot hard on net through traffic. The shot was deflected, making the rebound impossible for Gustavsson to control, and Zegras cashed it in.
Despite out-playing their opponent for half of the period, the Wild relinquished the lead and went to the locker room reeling. In the intermission interview, Foligno lamented the team’s puck management.
The third period began sleepily for both teams, and livened up when Jon Merrill redeemed himself by drawing a holding penalty. Minnesota’s power play stepped back onto the ice and picked up right where they left off, slicing up Anaheim’s penalty kill with cross-ice passes.
Having switched sides and rotated players several times, Anaheim’s penalty killers found themselves in disarray as Boldy moved the puck once more from low-to-high and left-to-right in one deft pass to Calen Addison. Addison drove down low, breaking his typical tendency as the power play quarterback to shoot or pass from the point. Addison shot high. With nothing at the net besides Kulikov and Joel Eriksson Ek (mismatch), JEEK had a free stick to knock home the rebound before Gibson could drop to his butterfly.
Immediately following the goal, the GREEF line got a puck to Anaheim’s net and nearly potted what would have been a controversial goal. Instead the puck was cleared from the zone, and in the aftermath John Gibson responded to the dogpile by going after Jordan Greenway. Greenway responded in kind, and the two were given rouging minors, leading to four-on-four hockey. The crowd chanted Gibson’s name to him, hoping for a break in his concentration. Greenway exited the box with the game still tied.
Soon after, the Ducks found themselves again on the power play. After a long stretch of clean hockey early, Minnesota found itself killing another period against a team with dangerous talent when playing with the extra man.
The Wild were caught puck-watching against a quick change of sides. Middleton tried to block the shot but lost his balance, taking himself out of the play. with three strong players at the net, not a single one of them decided to lift the stick of Troy Terry or box him out, even as the Minnesota goaltender made several point-blank saves.
Pressing for a goal more and more as time wore on, the Wild were becoming destined for either a regulation loss or a tangle with the high flying Ducks in three-on-three OT. Finally, the seas parted as Anaheim head coach Dallas Eakins put his scoring line out with an offensive zone faceoff. Foligno took the puck deep, the Wild changed to the top scoring line, and got Kaprizov a favorable line matchup. This was the matchup that Wild head coach Dean Evason was chasing in the offensive zone, and interestingly it appeared that Eakins was trying to do the same going our way.
It was Minnesota which found its way into the offensive zone with this matchup. Kaprizov and Steel go the puck deep, and captain Jared Spurgeon made an aggressive pinch to hold the zone. Zuccarello went to the weak side to gain clean possession, and Spurgeon found him. Zuccarello set up Kaprizov beautifully in his sleep, and Gibson could only watch. They really are like peanut butter and jelly:
It was an incredible play: a combination of situational awareness and tactical aggression from all four players as well as Evason. It earned the Wild an overtime point, and a chance to win the game.
Overtime started with a solid shift from Kaprizov and JEEK, both of whom had chances to score. A bad reset by Kaprizov led to a Troy Terry breakaway, which Spurgeon miraculously broke up.
Next came a long, grueling shift from these three (already exhausted) clung to life. Admittedly, a few turnovers by Kaprizov were the main culprit. Gustavsson bailed them out just as Anaheim began to rotate fresh legs onto the ice — an exceptionally timely save.
After a couple shifts of neutral zone stalemates, the Wild went for broke with Kaprizov, Zucarello, and Addison on the ice. With two minutes left, Kaprizov took a penalty and these three suddenly found themselves killing a delayed penalty.
The penalty was controversial, with Vatrano holding Kaprizov’s stick as much as Kaprizov was hooking him; it went Anaheim’s way because Vatrano took possession of the puck. The Wild killed the remaining and found themselves with a two-on-one rush with twenty seconds left. Spurgeon developed the rush, took it the length of the ice, and shot it into Gibson. Interestingly, Sam Steel took the big faceoff with only nine seconds remaining. Nothing happens, shootout.
Zucarello lined up first as the home team’s first shooter. He skated in with purpose and took a good forehand shot, which was poked away wide. Gibson handled the attempt well.
Trevor Zegras took Anaheim’s first attempt, skating with unimaginable patience. Gustavsson was in a torture chamber, and Zegras probably has the best hands in the skills competition in the entire NHL. He moved to the backhand and lifted it so quickly it looked like the puck was stuck to his stick. 1-0 Ducks.
Kaprizov came next and tied the shootout on a quick skate and a quick forehand release.
It’s a beautiful technique that he’s quietly patenting, threatening to pitchfork a backhand shot upstairs — if he reads that that’s not open, he quickly pots it home low on his forehand side. Because of the combination of footwork and rotation, opposing goaltenders have to be millisecond-perfect to get to both spots.
Troy Terry’s attempt did not go, as Gustavsson forced him out to the backhand. Running out of room, Terry had no choice but to pull the trigger, and Gustavsson turned the shot aside.
Frederick Gaudreau came in with a lot of head fakes, and was turned away easily by Gibson.
Mason McTavish came in slowly like Zegras, but Gustavsson handled this one much better. he began by taking away space with a poke check, leaving only the far-side post open. It forced McTavish to move quickly to the forehand, but with no speed he couldn’t beat Gustavsson to the opposite post. 200 IQ save by Gustavsson. I really, really liked this one.
Matt Boldy came in fourth, and was so exceptional you have to wonder why he wasn’t sooner in the rotation. Moving to his forehand, he just watched Gibson like a hawk. He caught a light tilt of Gibson’s stick, and shot to the other side. Elite release, and now with their first lead of the shootout.
On Strome’s attempt, Gustavsson looked beat until Strome mis-handled the puck. Whatever really happened, I’m sure the netminder would tell you he took everything else away and forced that mis-handle. I don’t care how it happens — Wild win a heart-racer in the shootout.
In the end, it was a close and exciting game. While the Wild got the better of the first half of the game, they were arguably out-played through the second half of regulation and overtime. To even allow a struggling five-on-five team to take you to overtime certainly isn’t in the game plan, but the Wild still come away with two points.
Can Kaprizov extend his point streak?
Kirill seemed frustrated through much of regulation. After having his way with opponents through the last ten games and rocking a ten-game point streak, you can’t blame him, except to hope that he can break through. You can’t ask for much more from your best player than the game tying goal and a shootout life-saver.
Can the Wild extend their run of good play?
From the perspective of getting two more points, the answer is yes. In the midst of a season that finds Minnesota outside of a playoff spot, and from the perspective of fans, that’s all that matters for now.
On the other hand, there were some holes in Minnesota’s game. While they generated more shot attempts and shots-on-goal than the Ducks, they gave up far too many quality chances, especially against such a skilled team and especially when you try to hold a first-period lead against that kind of team. Per MoneyPuck.com, this manifested in the Ducks generating 21% more Expected Goals in all situations. A major culprit for this was the Anaheim power play, which saw the ice far too much for my liking. The Wild need to take fewer penalties and kill penalties more effectively if they want to do anything in the playoffs this year.
Can Minnesota’s goaltending hold up?
Yes it did. I was perfectly content with the play of Filip Gustavsson tonight. Drawing such an offensively talented team on the back-to-back, he made several high danger chances while allowing a couple of softer goals from distance — specifically, you’d like him to see Fowler’s power play goal from that far out.
Overall, you can’t be upset with goaltending when you survive three-on-three overtime and win in a shootout. Furthermore, his overall play amounted to four goals allowed on 4.52 xGoals per MoneyPuck.com, which implies that he was average or slightly above average tonight.
When John Gibson lines up across from your goaltender and you win, give some benefit of the doubt to your own team’s backstop.
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