Coming off a 6-4 win against the Colorado Avalanche and having scored three-plus goals in six of their last eight, you knew something had to give when the Minnesota Wild welcomed the New York Islanders and their top-ranked defense to town. Unfortunately, the Wild were the ones that blinked, giving up three straight third-period goals to fall to the Islanders 3-1.
The new-look Islanders changed up all four lines after their 5-2 loss to Chicago on Friday and came out flying against Minnesota, owning almost all of the offensive zone time for the first four minutes. Devan Dubnyk, for his part, was able to keep the puck out of the net, but also seemed to have some trouble feeling the puck. At one point, Dubnyk tried to pinch a puck under his arm and could only watch helplessly as it squirted free behind him, but luckily Marcus Foligno was there to sweep the puck away before the Isles could capitalize.
Oh my. Islanders nearly got the first goal of the game. pic.twitter.com/JvvxtrahkZ— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 29, 2019
At the 13:52 mark, a dump-in caught the curved glass near the bench, making a huge crack and caused a lengthy delay while the maintanence team swapped in another pane. The delay seemed to allow the Wild to catch their breath and find their feet, because after getting back to action, Minnesota began dominating the offensive chances.
Johnny Boychuk prevented a great chance near the midpoint of the first period, tying up Eric Staal and preventing the centerman from putting home a mid-air rebound from a Zach Parise shot.
Scott Mayfield of the Islanders and Ryan Hartman of the Wild took turns trying out wrestling moves on each other, earning both players minors for holding, setting up two minutes of 4-on-4 hockey.
Hartman and Mayfield both go to the box for wrestlin'. pic.twitter.com/lRfJsmEJQ3— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 29, 2019
Despite the on-ice numbers, the Wild treated the time like a power play and dominated the play, though they were unable to find the back of the net. Dubnyk also found his stride midway through the period, making some big saves to keep the game scoreless.
Semyon Varlamov had his own struggles with covering rebounds, and Minnesota was able to strike first when a Ryan Donato poked a puck between the pads of the Islanders netminder on a wild scrum in the crease.
Minutes later, Anders Lee went to the box on an interference call, giving the Wild the first power play of the game. Matt Dumba had a couple massive blasts, while Mats Zuccarello and Zach Parise had some great looks, but while the Wild spent nearly all two minutes peppering Varlamov, they were unable to add to their lead.
The Islanders eventually came out flying in the second stanza, once again owning most of the offensive zone time and limiting Minnesota’s chances for most of the period. Dubnyk was up to the challenge, making a couple big saves to maintain the Wild lead. Later, Kevin Fiala made a slick dangle to generate a scoring chance on the rush, but was unable to put it home, missing the net wide.
Beautiful move by Kevin Fiala on the zone entry. pic.twitter.com/KPgwDIKRPC— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 30, 2019
Jared Spurgeon had a strong shift with under eight minutes to play in the second, as he tied up an Islanders forward in the crease while the puck sat dangerously close to the goal line. A couple minutes later, Foligno had a bid to increase the Wild lead on a tip of a Brad Hunt shot, but the tip rang the pipe and deflected away harmlessly.
The Islanders were gifted their second power play of the game due to a careless change by Minnesota, earning a bench minor for too many men on the ice. The advantage was short-lived as Mathew Barzal of the Islanders evened things up with a minor for holding the stick. After 35 seconds of 4-on-4, the Wild made good use of their short power play, getting a few great looks, including a Brad Hunt blast tipped by Fiala that hit the post, with the rebound by Staal finding the blocker of Varlamov. The Wild would carry 37 seconds of a man-advantage and a one-goal lead into the third.
Holy smokes. Varlamov came up big on this one. pic.twitter.com/MOeElHWiV4— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 30, 2019
Back at 5-on-5, Lee made a nice move to get past Carson Soucy and nearly got a shot to trickle through Dubnyk, but the Minnesota netminder held on. A minute later, Donato hit Fiala with a long pass for a breakaway, but Fiala once again missed the net.
Kevin Fiala gets a great look, but his shot goes wide. pic.twitter.com/4JG6a7b4qX— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 30, 2019
Dubnyk’s difficulty squeezing the puck finally cost the Wild with 15:36 to play in the third as a shot deflected by Ryan Pulock that Dubnyk seemed to have trickled through his pads and fluttered just over the line, tying the game for the Islanders.
GOAL. Puck trickles past Dubnyk and in.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 30, 2019
Just 1:32 later, a sprawling Leo Komerov sent a centering feed to Matt Martin, who tipped the puck past Dubnyk, giving New York their first lead of the game.
GOAL. Matt Martin gives the Isles the lead.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 30, 2019
The Wild attempted to answer with another greasy goal, but a Joel Eriksson Ek jab that trickled past Varlamov was swept aside by Pulock.
The Wild went back on the power play at the 9:15 mark when Scott Mayfield of the Islanders reacted to Staal bumping into Varlamov by tackling Staal to the ground, earning two minutes for roughing. The Islanders were able to keep the Wild at bay during the kill, and back at five-on-five Luke Kunin had a great opportunity swallowed by Varlamov.
The Islanders iced the game with 2:31 to play after Casey Cizikas won a faceoff in the Minnesota zone. Kuhnhackl spun and shot, beating Dubnyk on the glove side, making it 3-1.
And now the Isles have a two-goal lead with 2:31 to go.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 30, 2019
The Wild pulled Dubnyk, but the Islanders continued to rest on their strength of blocking shots, preventing the Wild from getting much on Varlamov and allowing the Islanders to hold on to the 3-1 victory.
Answers to our Burning Questions
1. Can the Wild offense out-perform the Islanders defense?
Outside of a grimy goal by Donato, New York’s defense had a very strong showing. The Isles blocked 19 shots (10 in the third period alone), had a ton of big hits and prevented the Wild from holding onto any momentum. The stifling defense eventually tired out Minnesota, and the Islanders were able to capitalize and pull away in the final period.
2. Can the Wild keep Lee and Nelson of the scoresheet?
For the most part, the Wild were able to minimize the impact of the Minnesota-born Islanders. Brock Nelson earned a primary assist on Kuhnhackl’s insurance tally late in the third, but the only other notation on the scoring register was Anders Lee’s interference penalty in the first period. But even though the big names where mostly shut down, the Wild weren’t able to capitalize.
3. Can the Wild enjoy their home-ice advantage?
Yes, if you consider the delay caused by the broken pane of glass that helped Minnesota rest and refocus a result of playing on home ice. Other than that, the Wild didn’t give the home fans much reason to get loud, as the Islanders owned most of the play (especially early in the periods), and most of the big hits were putting guys in green jerseys on the ice.