The Minnesota Wild started a three game road trip against the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night. The Ducks came in playing with a depleted defense corps, missing Francois Beauchemin, Sheldon Souray, Luca Sbisa, and Mark Fistric.
This meant that Alex Grant would be playing his second career NHL game. He scored a goal in his debut, and saw the trend continue less than three minutes into the second period. The goal came on a shot that beat goaltender Josh Harding blocker side. Harding did not play the angle well on Grant, as he should probably have made the stop. Nonetheless, the NHL’s leader in Goals Against Average turned in another impressive performance for the Wild, making numerous saves that he had no business making, including making a spectacular glove save on Teemu Selanne; a stop that meant Selanne’s pointless streak would continue to a painful 16 games.
Just prior to the game Wild captain Mikko Koivu said they needed to play a structured game to be successful against the Ducks. This was not seen, particularly from the defensive pairing of Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner, who spent a lot of time chasing the puck. Perhaps Ducks winger Corey Perry is afraid of change, as he extended his goal-scoring streak to seven games when he used his backhand to bat a puck out of midair that had caromed off the end boards following a Hampus Lindholm one-timer. At the time of the goal, Ballard and Stoner were on the ice for Wild, and were the scrambling victims of the Ducks’ top line of Getzlaf, Perry, and the seemingly rejuvenated Dustin Penner.
This top line is as good as any at controlling play low in the offensive zone and creating a plethora of scoring chances. Keeping them pinned in their own end is the best, albeit somewhat ambitious, way to defend against them. The entire second period went by for the Wild without any sustained pressure in the Anaheim zone, and the Perry tally put the Wild in a hole they could not climb out of.
The Wild managed to create more chances in the third. Jason Pominville scored on their only powerplay of the night. They should have had at least another chance with the man advantage as Mikko’s older brother Saku tripped Pominville late in the third. However, Anaheim held on to win, while goaltender Jonas Hiller turned in a solid night, stopping 23 of the 24 shots he faced, notably robbing Charlie Coyle on a breakaway in the third. The Ducks’ victory saw them improve to 12-0-2 at the Honda Center, and they remain the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation at home.
While it was a pretty pedestrian performance by the Wild, some players turned in pretty strong games. The second defensive pairing of Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon played well, as did Coyle and speedy winger Jason Zucker. The third period saw a marked improvement in Zucker’s game over the first two periods, as he was flying around the ice, backchecking effectively and creating offensive opportunites.
Anaheim has Thursday off, while Minnesota makes the short trip to San Jose to face the Sharks. The Ducks sit alone atop the Pacific division standings, while the Wild hold the third spot in the Central division. Minnesota has a tough stretch of games ahead of them, and must be ready to put in a far better effort in the Shark Tank, especially because it will be the Wild’s second game in two nights, while the Sharks had Wednesday off.