After a tough loss against Ottawa, the Minnesota Wild continued their Canadian trip to the Toronto Maple Leafs, in search of a win. While both teams are struggling as of late, Toronto losing their last three and five of their last seven, both teams are sitting in third in their respective divisions. After a thrilling game earlier in the year that saw the Wild come out on top, the game between two hungry opponents was set to be a good one.
Minnesota had no trouble finding chances out of the gate. Toronto seemed to be surrendering the center of the ice, resulting in several high quality shots. Minnesota also had some great looks on the rush in the first few shifts. The Wild controlled the quantity of chances early, but Toronto had the best one stemming from a pizza thrown by Kaprizov.
12 minutes into the period, Kulikov caught a Leaf up high. Fortunately, there was no blood present so the Wild would be tasked with killing only two minutes of the best powerplay in the NHL. After a great kill that resulted in almost no chances, the game remained even. After a few missed calls, Toronto finally got caught as Fiala was interfered with. The Wild would have a chance to respond. With a great chance by Boldy and Eriksson Ek just missing, the Wild also swung and missed on their chance with the man advantage. While the period ended 0-0, the Wild controlled play in every aspect of the game besides the faceoff circle. Losing 18/23 draws, albeit to the best faceoff team in the league, is not a recipe for winning.
In the first few shifts of the second, the Wild found themselves with another chance on the man advantage drawn by Brandon Duhaime. Once again, they generated great chances but were kept off the board. Almost nine minutes into the second, the Wild broke the tie. A great feed from Matt Boldy found Freddy Gaudreau in the slot. A quick release beat Mrazek and the Wild jumped to a 1-0 lead.
Less than a minute later, the lead vanished. Auston Matthews fired a tremendous shot on a 1-1 to beat Kahkonen. Matthews’ 35th of the year was also his sixth in eight games against Minnesota so far in his career.
Minutes later, Kevin Fiala threw an elbow away from the play and sent Minnesota down a man. Before the penalty could expire, Toronto cancelled the final 30 seconds through a very questionable call. After neither team could capitalize, the window of scoring seemed to close.
For the rest of the period, both teams returned to their relatively reserved styles of the first. As the period expired, both teams were equal in score and nearly equal in shots.
The Wild immediately started the third with a powerplay after Goligoski drew a call out of Bunting. For the 4th time of the night, the Wild powerplay came up empty handed.
After both teams had been hunkered down since the beginning of the period, Matthews stole the puck from Duhaime, passed to Marner, and blew by Kulikov to find a back door pass for his 36th of the year and second of the night. The Wild’s initial 1-0 lead had turned to a 1-2 deficit. After the goal, the Wild’s response was very underwhelming. Toronto controlled the next few minutes of play, but could not find the goal to put them up two. Just as it seemed it might come, the Wild found some great chances in the Toronto zone. Most notably, a Gaudreau shot in the slot that somehow did not find the back of the net. Chances were coming, but every faceoff seemed to be going Toronto’s way, eliminating any chance for sustained pressure.
When the Wild pulled the goalie with two minutes left and Evason took his timeout, another lost faceoff forced the Wild to forfeit the zone. They were never able to set back up, eventually leading to a rush on the empty net that made it 3-1.
Despite the loss, the Wild played a decent game. Every high quality chance either seemed to miss the net or bounce over a stick. Toronto was a team that was desperate for a win and they played like it. Their defense was shaky early, but completely closed the gaps after the first 10 minutes of the game. Mrazek also had a solid night and limited the second and third chances. Perhaps the issue that has the largest implications for the long run of the season was the faceoff circle. Toronto might be the best team in the league in the circle, but losing over 70% of draws to anyone is unacceptable. Bill Guerin’s words about not needing another center seem to be less and less true if the Wild want to be genuine contenders.
So far, Minnesota’s trip to Canada has been a tough one. Saturday’s game in Calgary will be a chance to either end the run or move the hand closer to the panic button. However, the team’s play tonight was far from a level where concern is warranted.
Can the Wild have a perfect night on the penalty kill?
Defensively, the Wild were up to the task. With some of the most skilled players in the world in their lineup, shutting down Toronto’s powerplay is not an easy task. The Wild kill found a way to shut the unit down.
Can Kahkonen keep up his stellar play?
Kahkonen had a solid night. Auston Matthews’ goal was from a location where a save is normally made: that is, if Matthews isn’t shooting the puck. The other goal he allowed (also to Matthews) was a back door tap in. It would be hard to fault him for tonight’s performance.
Can Moose get back on the scoreboard?
In my opinion, Moose had a really rough night. Continuing his scoreless streak, he also seemed to be slower than normal and throwing pucks more than usual. The Wild will need him to return to his play from earlier in the season if they want a chance to make a run in the playoffs.