At times Thursday night, the Wild were definitely playing hockey against the Montreal Canadiens. But most of the night, including a span of five minutes in the first period, the game Minnesota was playing was as unrecognizable as the ads at the Bell Centre are to English speakers. The result — an uneven, uninspiring effort as the Wild dropped their sixth game in seven, losing 4-0 in Montreal.
Here’s how it went down:
Through 15 minutes of the first period, the Wild looked ready to answer anything the Habs brought to them. Alex Stalock looked up to the challenge early, swallowing every shot and giving up very little in the way of rebounds. Minnesota easily fended off their first penalty kill, earned when Zach Parise inadvertently caught Brendan Gallagher with a high stick. Montreal wasn’t able to get much going, and the best scoring chance for either team was from Jordan Greenway, who missed just high and wide on a shorthanded wrister.
Five-on-five, the Wild minimized Montreal’s chances, but had difficulty gaining the zone, often abandoning entries for dump and chase. When they did control the offensive zone, Minnesota was frequently held to the half wall, failing to find their targets on centering passes. Ryan Donato and Greenway looked strong on the puck and generated what little offense the Wild could muster, but often missed the net on their shots.
The Wild earned their first power play at the 9:17 mark thanks to a holding penalty to Artturi Lehkonen. A Kevin Fiala shot caught Parise in the facemask, who was slow to get up, but finished the shift by setting up Kevin Fiala, who stickhandled his way into a great opportunity that was deftly saved by Carey Price. Despite a couple decent chances, the Wild continued their recent trend of failing to convert power play opportunities.
For a brief time after the power play, the Wild seemed to be tilting the ice in their favor, but all that momentum was given away in a split second, thanks to a complete defensive breakdown that led to the first goal of the game. Fiala’s one-armed pass attempt was easily intercepted by Nick Cousins, who found Victor Mete wide open coming down the slot as he beat Stalock to the low corner.
Nick Seeler ended a strong, physical shift by pitchforking the puck over the glass, leading to Montreal’s third power play of the period. Just 1:16 later, Luke Kunin caught Jonathan Drouin with a high-stick that FSN North commentator Wes Walz called “accidentical” — the perfect way to describe Kunin’s infraction — accidental, and identical to Parise’s earlier penalty. This time, however, the Wild were unable to kill the chance, as the 5-on-3 ended almost as soon as it started when Joel Armia roofed a backdoor pass from Drouin.
Just before the end of the period, again with a wide open net on the backdoor, Nick Suzuki buried a shot deflected off of Jason Zucker’s skate for his first career NHL goal. Stalock, who otherwise had a strong first period, was victimized for a third time on a goal that he had absolutely no chance of saving.
At the end of one, Montreal led 3-0.
The second period continued the Wild march to the penalty box. Just 1:22 in to the frame, Jason Zucker hooked a Hab in order to prevent another easy goal, but the penalty was quickly equalized by Greenway, drawing a holding call on Shea Weber as he drove the net shorthanded. Kunin had a great chance blocked away by Price, but the Wild could manage nothing further on the 4-on-4 or the short power play. Soon after, Gerald Mayhew was whistled for holding Max Domi, and Joel Eriksson Ek showed his mettle on three consecutive Shea Weber bombs from the point, blocking each shot and looking a little more in pain each time. Eriksson Ek earned some thankful headpats from his teammates when he finally limped off the ice, and the Wild killed another penalty, though his toughness may cost him and the Wild. Eriksson Ek did not return to the game, and The Athletic’s Michael Russo reported on Twitter after the game that he left the arena in a walking boot.
Stalock fought off a series of high-danger chances when the Wild couldn’t clear the zone, but the next time down the ice, Greenway drew yet another penalty. This time interference on Tomas Tatar to earn the Wild their third power play. Eric Staal was the star of this session with the extra man, setting up a couple decent chances and generating one of his own. But again, the Wild were frustratingly unable to convert.
To add injury to insult, with about 6:50 left in the second, Jason Zucker took a Spurgeon wrister to the inside of the knee, causing him to crumple in a heap and crawl off the ice. Zucker didn’t leave the bench (mostly because the tunnel is on the opposite side across from he players), but he did look like he was in a ton of pain. Fans breathed a little easier when Zucker returned to the ice later in the period.
Jason Zucker takes a point shot off the inside of his knee. Excruciating place to get hit by a puck. He could barely put weight on his right leg. pic.twitter.com/OnCnPykL12— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) October 18, 2019
Outside of a point-blank chance by Kunin and a laser beam from Spurgeon that just sailed wide, the Wild were unable to generate much more offense. Stalock made a sprawling save with about 2:40 left, and the second period ended just as it started — Habs 3, Wild 0.
Montreal came out flying in the third, and Stalock started off the third with another pair of quick saves in the first minute. Zucker rebounded from his second-period scare with a strong defensive play in order to prevent a Montreal goal soon after, as the Wild had a hard time maintaining offensive zone time and scrambled in the defensive zone just to keep the game within reach. In fact, Stalock’s presence in the crease and his ability to absorb shots and prevent rebounds was the only thing that stopped from the Canadiens from running away with this one.
The Wild had a chance just past the halfway point of the third period when the Habs’ Fleury was called for high-sticking, but as has been the Wild M.O., not only did they fail to get anything going with the man advantage, Minnesota blew any chance they had a gaining momentum when Matt Dumba was stripped of the puck deep in the defensive zone, allowing Brendan Gallagher to easily walk in and beat Stalock short side for the Habs’ fourth goal.
One more futile and uninspiring power play attempt, and the Wild began run-out-the-clock mode. Fans who stick out until the end of a 4-0 rout were at least treated with a Luke Kunin/Nate Thompson fight in the waning minutes, when Kunin stood up for Ryan Hartman after a whack up high from Thompson.
Greenway had a strong game. Stalock deserved better. But this is your Wild in 2019.
Final: Canadiens 4, Wild 0
* Nick Seeler played his first game in 2019, missing the first six as a healthy scratch. The team was without Mats Zuccarello and Victor Rask, both out due to injury.
* Montreal broke a nine-game losing streak to the Wild.
Answers to our Burning Questions:
1. Can the Wild score more than twice?
That’s a resounding no. Once would have been nice.
2. Goalie controversy?
Despite what the score might suggest, Stalock actually looked pretty strong for most of the night. The Wild backup netminder had no chance at the first three goals, and was completely hung out to dry by the defense on the fourth. I’m not saying Stalock earned the starting role, considering Dubnyk’s play lately, but I think fans would like to see Alex between the pipes more often than in years past.
3. Will the power play produce?
That’s it... no more questions for tonight. *Slams down microphone, leaves podium*