You knew the Avalanche were going to be a different team after the Wild punked them down a bit on Saturday with a 44-20 shooting barrage and a 3-0 Wild victory. But one wouldn't have expected the normally loosey-goosey Avs, who like to play fast and never defend, to take a page out of Jacques Lemaire's playbook and trap the Wild to sleep. It was a low-event affair, but in the extra frame, it was John Mitchell netting the game winner.
Wild use defense to create offense against Avs
Solid play in the defensive zone led to the game-winning goal and an overall speed bagging of the Avalanche in the opening game of their home-and-home series.
The Wild came out of the locker room for all three periods with good zone time caused by a good offensive zone cycle. What it had problems with was getting to the net. Semyon Varlamov could see everything the Wild threw at him. With no traffic out front, and most shots coming from the perimeter, Minnesota made it easy on the Colorado goaltender. Minnesota defensively speaking wasn't that bad either. Overall the Wild held the Avs to just 20 shots on goal and did well to insulate Darcy Keumper from most Grade A chances. When there were some breakdowns, the young netminder was usually there with some really good saves.
All it took to break the scoreless tie, was one mistake in the 2nd period. Tyson Barrie gained the zone, dropped it to Blake Comeau, who passed across the ice to Carl Soderberg. Soderberg then sent a shot/pass to the wide side for an alley-oop tap-in for Barrie, who drove the net. A couple Wild defensemen got lost trying to get the right coverages set, and the Avs struck quickly.
Again, the Wild did get a lot of time in the offensive zone. It cycled the puck well. The Mikko Koivu line were a forechecking force, but they just couldn't get the puck towards the net with any real meaningful scoring chance. Even the Wild power play went 0-for-2 with just three shots on goal. The best chance came off a Koivu redirection of a Thomas Vanek shot through the high-slot. Mikael Granlund just refuses to shoot. The Avs penalty kill was almost daring Granlund to shoot. Many times, especially in the second period, Granlund had a clear lane to the net and plenty of room to drive, and he just didn't take the ice that was given to him.
Minnesota finally broke the Varlamov shutout when Parise crashed the net on a puck in the crease and shot three times before finding twine.
Then in overtime, the Wild had some good chances to win the game, but a shift with Koivu, Parise, and Ryan Suter that went on too long, and none of them choosing to make a change, got caught chasing and out of position when John Mitchell's game-winner went in the net.
We've said it before, Koivu and Suter shouldn't see the ice together in OT, especially when speed is so deadly 3-on-3. Then, they each refuse to make a line change and extend their shifts in which a goal is scored against. Just because you can do it, they should stop and think of whether or not they should do it when talking about playing long shifts.
Much has been said about the feel of this game not feeling like a typical Wild vs Avs game. The game on Saturday was exciting, the arena was loud, and there was a lot of speed. Monday's game was the antithesis of Saturday's game. It was a defensive battle through and through. Part of me feels like if the Avalanche have found a way to defend it's a lot like when Happy Gilmore said, "Uh-oh, somebody learned how to putt." What matter now to them is that they win, and not style points. It will be interesting to see if Colorado can continue that systematic overhaul.
As for the Wild, they will head to Glendale, Arizona to take on the Arizona Coyotes on Friday. The Vikings play the Cardinals on Thursday, the Wild play the Coyotes Friday, and the Timberwolves play the Suns on Saturday, so if you're heading to the Phoenix area, you can hit the Minnesota Sport Trifecta. Let's hope the Wild can have more luck finding the way to the front of the net. Then they need to know the way to San Jose for a second of a back-to-back against the Sharks on Saturday.
Hockey Wilderness will have all the games covered and all the news happenings plus plenty of opinion leading up to the weekend games, so keep checking back frequently.