Last night, the Minnesota Wild hosted the Western Conference-leading Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas was on the second half of a back-to-back, and the Wild took advantage, running them out of the Xcel Energy Center.
That was good, but they knew they were going to be in the same position tonight. Minnesota travelled to Dallas tonight to square off against the Stars. The key for the Wild was to not let Dallas run them out of their building in the same way.
That didn’t work out quite so well. Minnesota couldn’t sustain an effort to match the rested Stars, and Dallas dismantled the Wild’s defense in a 6-1 victory.
Minnesota started out the game going toe-to-toe with the Stars somewhat. Dallas started out the game getting pressure on the Wild, with no results. This was in part thanks to Nate Prosser, who cleanly broke up a Mattias Janmark breakaway. Alex Stalock would lock down the rest of those chances, and Minnesota would find their legs. The first ended scoreless, with shots being tied at 9.
The wheels started falling off in the second period. The Wild held up OK at 5-on-5, but once Jason Zucker’s stick found its way underneath Kari Lehtonen’s mask, Dallas went off to the races. The Wild’s penalty kill couldn’t control a face-off, which led to John Klingberg taking a shot that got re-directed by Mattias Janmark for the Stars’ first goal of the night.
Dallas jumped on the Wild almost immediately afterward. Jonas Brodin found Nino Niederreiter for a zone entry. Niederreiter tried to dump the puck, but didn’t get it past Stephen Johns. Johns took the puck and fired a slap shot for an unassisted goal. One bad penalty, and one ugly turnover later, the Stars were up 2-0.
The Stars left no doubt as to the outcome of the game just two minutes later. Ryan Suter took another penalty, giving the Stars’ power play another chance to cash in. The tired penalty killers got pinned in their own zone, allowing Dallas to create chaos. Jamie Benn took advantage of that chaos by knocking in a rebound off Tyler Seguin’s shot.
Dallas struck one more time when Alexander Radulov carried the puck into the Wild’s zone against Minnesota’s fourth line and third defensive pairing. The combination of Radulov, Benn, and Seguin proved to be more than a match for Minnesota’s depth players. Seguin scored after some slick passing on a 3-on-5. Stalock would finish the period, but Dubnyk came into the game to start the third period.
Wild-Stars games have been known in recent years for their volatility. Almost no lead has been truly safe, and goals can happen in rapid succession for either team. Zucker provided the tiniest sliver of hope when he started off the third period beating Kari Lehtonen after a nice breakout pass from Mikael Granlund.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Alexander Radulov scored the Stars’ 5th goal of the game, and the Wild lost their will to fight. Dan Hamhuis would score to make it 6-1, then played extremely safe to end the game without incident.
This is another example of Minnesota’s road woes continuing. They’re now 10-15-1 on the road, with a propensity for being blown out. Minnesota has given up 6 goals or more 5 times this season, all 5 on the road, and 4 of those against Central Division rivals. Minnesota’s not going to hang in the Wild Card race if they continue to give points away without as much as a fight.
Alex Stalock took a hard loss tonight, but it’s hard to say that his team was there for him tonight. Or that the circumstances favored him- he was a bit of a sacrificial lamb playing behind a tired Wild team on the road. Dubnyk also struggling in relief should show that the problem wasn’t with him.
Minnesota has to find answers to how they can succeed on the road, even if they are tired. Because this Wild Card race is going to be a slog, and if the Wild can’t summon the energy to give a full effort every night, they’ll be passed up by the teams that can.
They get a couple of days of rest before going to St. Louis Tuesday night. It’s not a “must-win” game, but you’d think Minnesota needs to have a strong showing against the Blues. Not only for the two points in the standings, but pride.
We’ll have all the coverage here at Hockey Wilderness. Stay tuned.