The Minnesota Wild took on the St. Louis Blues Saturday night in St. Paul. The team had a chance to respond to a disappointing 2-1 loss in St. Louis three days ago. The Blues were playing in their second of a back-to-back, coming off an overtime win against Columbus. Could the Wild take advantage of a team that had to play extra time and travel the night before? Could they take advantage of playing backup goaltender Jake Allen instead of Jordan Binnington?
In a surprising turn of events, the Wild got off to a fast start. Just about two minutes in, Marcus Foligno recorded his second of the season. An excellent redirection from Jared Spurgeon, and it was 1-0.
It was important for the Wild to strike first. While their record when scoring first is not great (4-3-0), they have lost all six games when letting up the opponent score first. So could the Wild hold on to that momentum from an early strike? No. Not at all, really. Just as quickly as the Wild had taken the lead, the Blues had tied it up. Mackenzie MacEachern picked up his first of the year to make it 1-1. The next 10 minutes were fairly uneventful. The Wild earned the game’s first power play, and responded with zero shots in the two-minute advantage. Shortly after the penalty expired, Carl Gunnarsson tallied his first of the season to put the Blues ahead 2-1. That is where the score remained at the end of the first period. Despite the score, the Wild did not play as terribly as one might think. They outshot the Blues and avoided giving away too much prolonged zone time.
The second period started even faster than the first, with Kevin Fiala scoring a minute into the period. Fiala just took a loose puck, turned, and fired it at the net. Sometimes good things happen if you just put the puck on net, and this was one of those times. Allen never saw it coming, and it went right through.
It was Fiala’s first of the season, and hopefully it will be the first of many to come. Once Eric Staal got going, he had four goals in as many games, so hopefully Fiala can do something similar. The Wild must have sensed the blood in the water, because they did their best to follow the Fiala goal with as much pressure on Allen as possible. Allen was not looking good, and the Wild knew it. About two minutes after Fiala scored, the Blues took a slashing penalty. The Wild were able to maintain the offensive pressure during the power play, and it resulted in Mats Zuccarello scoring his second in a Wild sweater.
It was a great play, starting with Brad Hunt making a big save on the blue line to keep the Blues from clearing. He faked a shot, passed over to Eric Staal, who found Zuccarello with a wide open net. Less than five minutes into the second, a 2-1 Blues lead had turned into a 3-2 Wild advantage.
The Wild did a decent job of keeping up the pressure, but were not able to add to their lead. Ten minutes later, Mikko Koivu deflected a puck off a Blues defender and into the net. It looked like the Wild were up 4-2, but the Blues challenged for goaltender interference.
Really? This is goaltender interference? Does Zach Parise contact Allen? Yes, Parise made contact with Allen. But did he actually interfere with Allen’s ability to play the puck? Personally, I would have to say no. It is unclear to me how significant the contact with Allen is. From the overhead view, it was hard to tell if Parise’s elbow was hitting Allen in the head or if it was above the head. Given how unclear I think it was, I have a hard time seeing how the call could have been overturned, but this is just my opinion.
The Wild would need to respond well. It is easy to get disappointed after a no-goal call, especially when you think it was the wrong call. But after they were denied the opportunity to go up two goals, a bad response on the ice could allow the Blues to tie the game. The Blues did everything they could to take advantage of that second chance the no-goal call gave them, outshooting the Wild 7-1 to finish the period. Fortunately for Minnesota, none of those shots found the back of the net, and the period ended with the Wild still leading 3-2.
Both teams exchanged shots and opportunities to open the third period, but the Blues would score the first goal of the period. After no penalty was called despite Luke Kunin being tackled to the ice, Tyler Bozak was able to push a puck through for his first of the year. Excessive (but deserved? warranted?) complaining from the Wild bench got the team a bench minor and put the Blues on the power play. They successfully killed off that penalty as well as a tripping minor Matt Dumba took almost immediately afterwards. The remainder of the third period was not too eventful. The Wild struggled to produce any offensive chances, but were able to keep the Blues out of the net. The third period ended 3-3 and the Wild were going to overtime for the first time this season.
It took 2:27 for Ryan O’Reilly to score the overtime winner. The vast majority of that two-and-a-half minutes was spent in the Blues’ offensive zone. The Wild barely had an offensive presence at all during the extra period.
Answers to the Burning Questions
1) Can the Wild put together three strong periods, or at least avoid the five-minute span of “WTF?”
Entering the third period, the Wild were looking fairly good. The first period ended with the Blues up 2-1, but it did not feel like the Wild were outplayed. They left the second period with a 3-2 lead, and it seemed like the Wild were playing well until the Koivu goal was disallowed. After that though, they played like a team clearly bothered by the no-goal call. They had just eight shot afterwards (including none in overtime). So they played two periods that should be, at worst, considered not bad. From about five-and-half minutes in the second to the end of overtime — a period of about 28 minutes — they were clearly outplayed. It was not the truly awful periods we have seen this season where in just a few moments they go from up a goal to down a goal, but it was still not good.
2) Can the veteran leaders step up?
Parise was the only Wild wearing a letter to show up in the stat sheet tonight, as he picked up an assist on Fiala’s goal. Both Koivu and Ryan Suter had fairly quite games, aside from Suter’s penatly that did not lead to a power play goal. Of course, Koivu probably should have had that goal, and this would be an entirely different game if that call had gone the other way.
3) Can the Wild improve their face-off draws?
The Wild came into this game 28th in the league in face-off win percentage. They were only winning 47.3% of draws thus far. Tonight, they were great on face-offs, winning 61% of draws. Koivu and Stall were huge in this area, winning 64% and 71%, respectively. And winning face-offs was a big part of the Wild game tonight. Their offensive draw wins led to scoring opportunities, and their wins on the penalty kill were a big reason they were able to kill off all three power play opportunities the Blues had.
The Wild begin a West Coast road trip next week, as they head to Anaheim to take on the Ducks Tuesday night. Despite the result, the Wild did do some things right tonight, and building off of that could lead to improved results going forward.