It was better. The effort level, that is. The Wild surely showed some life, especially early in the first period. However, in a game that the Wild should have had a stranglehold on, Devan Dubnyk and the Wild allowed the Islanders to hang around. Luke Kunin and Zack Mitchell scored their first career goals as the Wild killed off all five Islander power plays and scored two short-handed goals to win.
Bear with me, there’s a lot of goals to breakdown.
Minnesota got off to a much better start than what they showed in their lifeless shutout loss to the Canucks two nights ago. Marcus Foligno was left all alone in front of Islander starter Tomas Greiss when Jared Spurgeon’s shot came in from the point. A long rebound landed on Foligno’s stick and he spun around to sweep the puck into an open net. The Wild were forcing the Islander’s sloppy play with the puck.
It helped that the Isles just weren’t very good and were coughing the puck up left and right. One such turnover, near the Islander blue line, was intercepted by Mikael Granlund. Granlund, in just his second game back from a groin injury suffered in the first game of the season, walked the puck into the right offensive circle. Jason Zucker knows what to do when Granlund has the puck, and that’s head for the net to be an option for the creative Finnish winger. Granlund backhand saucered a pass to the back door for Zucker to tap in past Greiss.
After Kyle Quincey took a penalty to give the Islanders their first power play of the evening, Eric Staal would score his fourth of the season in short-handed fashion. A clearing attempt by the Wild ended up getting stopped by the glove of Nick Leddy at the Wild line. Leddy didn’t handle it cleanly as Staal tipped the puck forward and streaked in alone for the goal.
Minnesota would kill of the penalty and had a 3-0 lead with a 13-1 shot advantage and only six and a half minutes into the game. Islanders started to push back. A deflected shot by Anthony Beauvillier pulled the game a bit closer at 10:49 of the first period.
Luke Kunin had comes close a few times this season to scoring his first goal. The best opportunity was when Mike Smith mis-played the puck in Calgary. However, that was not the only chances he got. Speaking of chances, it says an awful lot about this 19-year old kid that Bruce Boudreau has been giving him penalty kill minutes with Eric Staal. it would pay dividends this time around. On another short-handed break, Staal would lead the rush up ice with Kunin on the wing. Staal, having already scored, needed to have his shot respected by Leddy and Greiss. That’s when Staal shoveled the puck Kunin’s way. Kunin wasted no time when he swept the puck through the five-hole on Greiss for the 4-1 lead.
Unfortunately, the Wild couldn’t call it a perfect period. Nick Leddy would get on the board when he fired a shot from just inside the Wild blue line. The puck may have gone off Mike Reilly’s stick, but it was a goal that Dubnyk absolutely should have stopped. As much as the puck could have changed its trajectory, it was taken far enough out that he has to adjust and make the save. The Wild were up 4-2 when they should have been up 4-1 and in total command.
In the third period, Zack Mitchell would net his first of his career. Playing the yo-yo between Minnesota and Iowa isn’t easy for anyone, but Mitchell isn’t the highly touted prospect that Kunin is. Still, Bourdreau likes the way he plays. He said, “They (Kunin and Mitchell) take direction very well and the more it happens the more you have confidence in them.”
Just under two minutes later, Joel Eriksson Ek won a faceoff as Foligno pushed the puck back to the point. Jonas Brodin wasted no time to wind up and fire a slapper. The puck took a very Wild friendly bounce off the Islander defenseman for the sixth Wild goal of the game.
Some poor defensive coverage allowed Anders Lee to get one back. Matthew Barzal then added another just before the game ended that beat Dubnyk on the short side near the post as it bounced in off Dubnyk’s goalie gear. It was kind of another soft(ish) goal given up by Dubnyk. It made the score a lot closer that it needed to be. Top it off that had the Wild not faced Greiss, 4 goals against just isn’t going to cut it against most other teams with better goaltending. Greiss was a sieve. Not that the Wild need to apologize for scoring six on him, but there needs to be more focus on the defense, even in a rout.
Chris Stewart had a goal waved off in the first period. Foligno hit an Islander into Greiss. But as play continued with the puck loose, Stewart went behind the net to the other side and wrapped the puck in. Islander head coach Doug Weight immediately challenged the goal for goalie interference. The initial interference was legitimate with what Foligno had done, but with no call and play allowed to continue, Greiss never got back up to engage back into the play. Boudreau said, “It was six seconds later. Any goalie should be able to recover in six seconds. Could have had a faceoff in that time.” It certainly leads to even more confusion and ambiguity to the goaltender interference rule.
Minnesota got a much needed offensive explosion on home ice. The home opener was a blown chance, and the last game was a real stinker of a snoozefest. This was better. Not perfect, but better.