It was hellish road conditions outside Xcel Energy Center with the area under a Winter Storm and Blizzard warning. The Wild, however, feel awfully cozy in comfy inside where they scored two goals in the 3rd period to pull away from the Ottawa Senators for a 3-1 win in front of 18,907 (not really) brave souls.
You can imagine with the area already dealing with an elongated afternoon rush with nearly 6-8 inches of snow blanketing metro area roadways, that it was a late-arriving crowd. Those fans that were still stuck on the roads missed Zach Parise’s second goal of the season just 45 seconds into the game. The Parise - Eric Staal - Daniel Winnik line was dominant all game long with tons of zone time in the offensive end. Staal looked like he was going to wrap the puck in on Mike Condon, but instead passed the puck across the crease to Parise on the far post for the goal.
Something was odd in the first and second periods, though, for this Wild team. For as strong as they played against Tampa Bay on Saturday, they looked like they were playing down to the level of the 15 win Sens. Minnesota left so many chances on the table because of missed nets, bad passes, on not applying consistent pressure on the Ottawa back-up goalie.
Minnesota let the Senators hang around for too long and it finally bit them in the rear in the second period. A turnover at the Ottawa line by Ryan Suter turned into a lobbed lead pass for Matt Duchene to gather and score through the five-hole on Wild back-up Alex Stalock. Stalock got the start for Minnesota and followed up a solid start by Deven Dubnyk on Saturday with a 37 save victory of his own. The only goal against was that Duchene breakaway tally.
The Wild came out for the third period a much different team in terms of execution. Things were more sharp and they were following up shifts by the Parise - Staal - Winnik line with continual pressure by the Mikael Granlund - Mikko Koivu - Jason Zucker line. Zucker, riding a three-game goal scoring streak, finally broke through at 4:59 of the third. Zucker had taken a shot off the back of the helmet early on in the game and returned almost immediately after slowly returning to the bench. He’s also been sprung for a number of great chances, including a great give-and-go play with Jared Spurgeon where Zucker missed with a backhander. He was also given a chance near the end of the second period but was just thwarted by a slight hold of Erik Karlsson. Zucker did finally score on a great passing play from Granlund across the crease to an open area for Zucker to skate into and score.
Minnesota got its second power play of the game when Frederik Claesson took Eric Staal heavily into the boards near the Ottawa bench. After the officials separated the two teams, it would be Granlund making him pay.
The Wild do that little neutral zone drop pass while on the power play to help with controlled zone entries. The defenseman will carry the puck up to the red line with the forwards pushing back the penalty killers near the blue line. Then Ryan Suter will actually drop the puck back to Granlund, who has a head of steam heading up ice. Granlund is the best player on the team when it comes to controlled entries
This time Granlund broke the line with Matt Dumba and just lost control of the puck in Dumba’s direction. Dumba, gathered the puck, and because the two had blown by the Ottawa defense, Dumba dished to Granlund for a slam dunk goal.
Speaking of controlled entries and players being good at them, Chris Stewart is the opposite. Perhaps the most egregious offender when it comes to dump and chase, the oft healthy scratch winger struggled with simple handling of the puck and making plays. He even had a point-blank chance on Condon, but passed instead. A fan favorite (for some reason) just doesn’t do much well on the ice right now, and it sure as hell wasn’t him sticking up for Staal after Claesson handed out that nasty hit. Nope, it was Nate Prosser handling that department.
Joel Eriksson Ek was given the Third Star of the game and while not having any points to show for his effort, he has been doing so many things right. He took seven shots on goal and led all skaters in that department. But it’s so much more than that. He plays solidly in both ends of the rink, and has been using his body better to make plays in the offensive zone. He hasn’t scored a goal since the season opener in Detroit, but it’s hard not to like his game a the moment, if not hope he can get off the schneid soon.
Minnesota comes away with an all important two points as that helps the Wild keep pace with the Colorado Avalanche, who’ve won 10 games in a row that included a 7-2 drubbing of Minnesota. At this point, Colorado holds the tie breaker with Minnesota, so the Avalanche holds on to the second Western Conference Wild Card.
The Wild will now head back out on the road, this time to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins on Thursday. For all the fans that braved the roads they were at least rewarded with a Wild win. However, I can bet tonnes of money that they are dreading getting back on the roads again.
(BTW, if we could re-do the Wild naming, Blizzard was my nickname of choice)