The reeling Minnesota Wild, losers of four of their last five games, were finally tossed a lifeline yesterday, as Zach Parise engaged in a full practice with the Wild. With Minnesota struggling since Parise sprained ligament in his knee three weeks ago, the Wild had to be happy to get their alternate captain and best player back out on the ice in time for a tough game against the Winnipeg Jets.
HWP 048: Nate Prosser = Cranberry Sauce
This week on the Hockey Wilderness Podcast, Alec, Barry, Joe, and Tony sit down after Saturday’s victory over the Nashville Predators to discuss all of the happenings in the realm of Wild fandom,
Can't we all just get along?
Much has been made of fighting in the NHL. Fans have been out for revenge against players who have taken runs at or injured Wild players. Does fighting actually have a place in hockey anymore? Is the damage you can do in a fight worth it? Does having an enforcer make your team any better or worse? Today we take a deeper look at fighting, and try to make some sense of a senseless act.
After being called out by Coach Mike Yeo for being mentally unprepared to play Vancouvler on the eve of Thanksgiving, the Wild responded by coming out in the first period as listless as they were at any point against the Canucks. Kurtis Gabriel attempted to spark the Wild with a fight with Anthony Peluso two minutes into the game, but it was to no avail. Sloppiness was apparent in every facet of the Wild's game. They couldn't get the puck on ice, they kept getting swarmed by the Jets whenever they attempted to exit the zone, and they turned in a completely abysmal power play where the first unit couldn't even get set up.
The second period started out better for the Wild. After being stifled in the first period, the Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Nino Niederreiter line managed to get some good zone time, but despite their pressure they couldn't score. Charlie Coyle also had a great series of play early in the period where he went end-to-end to create a scoring chance, then grabbed a loose puck and made a nifty pass to create a two-on-one.
The momentum caused by the Wild's good play was negated, however, when Zucker charged in and elbowed Mark Scheifele. On the ensuing Power Play, Matthieu Perreault made the Wild pay when he creeped towards the net and scored through a Bryan Little screen. The Wild would go into the third period down 1-0.
The third period started out almost entirely in the favor of the Jets. Not only did the Jets get another tally on a weird Dustin Byfuglien shot that bounced off of Devan Dubnyk's pads from behind the net, the Jets were dominating a Minnesota team that again looked listless, out-shooting the home team 6-1 in the first 9 minutes of the period.
The Wild were finally able to create some ruckus in front of Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck, a 22-year-old making his NHL debut. Finally tested with some chaos, the rookie faltered, allowing a gritty goal from Ryan Carter. However, it was too little, too late as Nikolaj Ehlers cashed in on a breakaway to make it 3-1. The Wild were done, unable to generate pressure even in a 6-on-5.
The Wild had two major problems in this game. The first was that their defense absolutely couldn't move the puck out of their zone. This was a problem throughout all of the pairings, but it was especially glaring when Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba were on the ice together. Going into the season, I was excited for the combination of the offensive-minded Dumba being paired with defensive stalwart Brodin, but this isn't working out. When Marco Scandella comes back, the Wild are going to need to re-configure these pairings in hopes of finding chemistry.
The second was the Wild were playing with a short bench all game, forcing the Wild to double-shift players on the fourth line. This didn't lead to anyone playing an absurd amount of minutes, but it did consistently scramble the lines with none of the new combinations producing a shred of offense. This kind of line-shuffling is often caused by an injury, but this wasn't the case in Minnesota.
The Wild played with a short bench because of Yeo's decision to play Gabriel for little more reason than to start a scrap with the physical Jets. It's not a problem to play a player because he can fight or play especially physical, but it is an issue when you have to hide that player because you can't trust him to contribute elsewhere. If you have last change and still can't trust a player with more time than he spends in the penalty box, you're probably doing it wrong.
That said, there are a few positive aspects that I can take away from this game. Parise looked good in bursts. It's unknown whether his otherwise quiet night was due to rust or lingering effects of his MCL sprain, but it was nice to notice him in a positive manner a couple of times this game. Mikael Granlund and Coyle also had some nice moments throughout this game, and it's always nice to see underrated Ryan Carter get on the scoresheet.
The Wild will be back tomorrow at 8:00 PM Central, playing a home game vs. the Dallas Stars. The sluggish Wild are going to need to figure out some way to get up for Dallas, one of the best offensive teams in the league. As always, Hockey Wilderness will be on top of coverage before and after the game.