DES MOINES, Iowa - It was their longest stretch of days off between games this season, and the result was a team that didn’t have much jump from the get go. The lead was changed a few times, but an inability to get the offensive side of things going - along with some rookie mistakes - proved costly as the Wild dropped their first of two games with the Texas Stars (Dallas), 6-3.
Steve Michalek (9-5-1; 3.04 GAA/.908 SV%) had recently been sent down to get some playing time in Rapid City, but was re-called as Niklas Svedberg is day-to-day with an “illness.” It was a rough outing for Michalek, who gave up five goals on 31 shots as that 10th win of his season continues to be elusive.
AHL-journeyman Mike McKenna (11-8-1; 2.81 GAA/.900 SV%) made the start between the pipes for the Stars. Iowa’s offense didn’t test him too much, but he did allow two goals on 25 shots that the Wild were able to manage.
The Wild were coming in off of five days worth of rest, and you could say that it showed in the early goings of the first. Lalonde’s squad spent most of the first ten minutes in the defensive zone and special teams got some work early on, flexing their defensive chops and starting the game three-for-three on the penalty kill.
Iowa’s offense took some time to get going, as the neutral zone defense of the Stars was giving the guys some problems. Colton Beck was credited with the first shot of the day from the home-side just over eight minutes in.
Texas was getting the majority of the chances, but then both sides started to settle in. The Stars struck first as Denis Gurianov did a lot of work to get the puck through the neutral zone, deke Brennan Menell to get his body turned on his way into Iowa’s end, and then breezed passed Carson Soucy to close in on Michalek.
With Gurianov doing all the work, Greg Rallo was able to skate in for the backdoor opportunity to put away a great feed. The Russian made the moves, but the Gurnee, Ill. native got the glory and the lead for the visitors (Gurianov; 12:03).
However, Iowa had a response, as they’ve seemed to grown accustomed to in this latter half of the season.
A puck thrown in deep by Colton Beck was dug out by Kurtis Gabriel behind McKenna’s net and he was able to get it to Cal O’Reilly who was also playing below the goal line. The Wild captain fed it to Beck at the half boards, who then got it to Ryan Murphy at the point.
Murphy let a wrist shot go that didn’t appear to have much mustard on it, but it was through some traffic, redirected and got past McKenna to tie things up (Beck, O’Reilly; 16:45).
At the end of the first, both squads skated off even in goals, while Texas held the edge in shots-on-goal, 6-10.
The second frame started off just as anemic offensively as the first with the Wild registering their first SOG seven minutes in. Normally a team that dominates in the middle period, today just wasn’t Iowa’s day.
Iowa appeared to be unable to navigate the Stars’ neutral zone defense, while the Stars knifed through Iowa’s with ease. The Wild spent the majority of the period in their own end.
Zach Palmquist opened up the scoring, breaking the stalemate after getting a pass from Alex Grant in the high slot and putting the puck through some traffic (Grant, Kloos; 8:41). Once again, it was the superb stick handling of Lalonde’s Mayhew-Kloos-Anas line that kept possession alive and got Palmquist the opportunity.
Even with the goal, it was only a matter of time before the Stars responded - and respond they did with three unanswered goals in the final 5:30 of the period.
First up was Brian Flynn, who parked himself near Michalek’s crease during a power play following a slash from Gabriel. Justin Dowling released a shot along the ice that was tipped up and over Michalek by Flynn’s blade (Dowling, Regner; PP - 14:30). It was Iowa’s first goal let up on the penalty kill since Feb. 3rd.
The other two goals weren’t necessarily clean, but they kept in tune with the pace of the afternoon.
In an odd-man rush, Gavin Bayreuther was able to beat out Justin Kloos to crash the Iowa net. He didn’t need to use his stick, as Matt Mangene threw the puck towards the net and off of Bayreuther, who barreled into Michalek (Mangene, Gurianov; 15:46).
The final goal of the period was even more freakish and resulted in Denis Gurianov’s third point of the day. Sitting near the boards along the goaline, the Russian winger sent a puck Michalek’s way that went off of his glove, then the crossbar and then back down onto the ice before sneaking over the goal line to give the Stars a 4-2 lead (Scarlett; 18:50).
With the offensive game lacking, it was an uphill battle going into the third. Iowa had previously been 1-14-0 when trailing after two periods.
It didn’t get any better, though Iowa did have some bite to start the third. Unfortunately, power play opportunities were squandered, a short-handed goal conceded, and a 4-2 lead turned out to be more than the Wild were able to bear.
The shorty was pretty impressive, with Sheldon Dries taking advantage of Luke Kunin swiping at a puck that made it’s way out of the zone. Dries and Kunin battled, but eventually Dries was able to get a shot on Michalek, which was deflected, but he was able to tip it in by himself (unassisted; 11:36).
Lalonde opted to go with an empty net with about four minutes to play, and Iowa did get one back to trim the lead to two with a Cal O’Reilly goal (Grant, Anas; 18:09). Still, the Stars were able to convert on the empty net opportunity, with the dagger coming from Tommy Thompson (unassisted; EN - 18:47).
Not much to be said about this one. The team started slow, Texas was playing aggressively, and Iowa was unable to get any traction on offense on this lazy Sunday afternoon.
The good news is that Iowa and Texas will square off again tomorrow. Puck drop is at 7:00 CST.