A week after finishing up a northeast road trip, the Minnesota Wild are now on a southeast trip. It began Tuesday night with a game against the Florida Panthers as the Wild put their nine-game point streak and three-game winning streak on the line against the team in second place in the Atlantic Division.
It was a matchup of brand new goalies Tuesday night. Kaapo Kahkonen was making the second start of his NHL career after an impressive debut one week ago against New Jersey. Opposite him in goal for the Panthers was Chris Driedger, who was also making his second start. Given his inexperience, it was going to be critical for Kahkonen to have a strong start to maintain his confidence after a strong debut. His teammates did not do him any favors, taking two penalties in the first 10 minutes. The Wild successfully killed off the first penalty and were nine seconds away from killing off the second penalty as well when Aleksander Barkov put one past Kahkonen.
GOAL. Barkov beats Kahkonen on the power play to give Florida the lead.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
The Panthers were in control of the game for most of the remainder of the period. They had no problem killing off the first power play for the Wild, and then they scored again to make it 2-0 just moments later — this goal coming from Jonathan Huberdeau.
GOAL. Panthers kill off the Wild power play and Jonathan Huberdeau scores just seconds later.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
The first period ended with Florida outshooting the Wild 13-5. The Wild struggled to get much offense going throughout the period — a disappointing performance in any situation, but even more so when facing an inexperienced goalie. On top of the team’s struggles during the first, Jared Spurgeon did not return to the game after suffering an upper-body injury while blocking a shot. He left after only being able to log 4:37 of ice time.
The second period appeared to pick up where the first period left off. As the halfway point of the period approached, the Panthers were outshooting the Wild 10-4. But then Jason Zucker helped turn the momentum when he got a breakaway opportunity.
GOAL. Jason Zucker, who has had a hard time finishing on scoring chances, scores on the breakaway! pic.twitter.com/QVrnZxHzlt— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
The unassisted goal was Zucker’s 10th on the season. It was his second goal in his past three games and his fifth goal in his past eight games.
Fortunately for the Wild, they were able to keep the momentum going. They successfully killed off a Marcus Foligno penalty taken about a minute after Zucker’s goal. And about 30 seconds after the penalty expired, Mats Zuccarello showed what can happen when you just throw pucks on the net.
GOAL. Mats Zuccarello gets in on the forecheck and scores to tie the game.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
Two goals scored three-and-a-half minutes apart, and suddenly the game was tied. The period would end with the score still tied 2-2. Strangely, the Wild were once again outplayed for most of the period and they were outshot 19-9, but they did outscore the Panthers 2-0.
The third period got off to a much better start for the Wild than the first two. Less than five minutes into the period, Carson Soucy squeezed one past Driedger.
GOAL. Carson Soucy gloves down Zach Parise's feed and backhands one past the goaltender to give Minnesota its first lead of the game.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
It was an impressive play to score his second goal of the season. He caught the Parise pass with his glove, dropped the puck to his stick and managed to get it past the Florida goalie. The remainder of the third period was much more even than the first two. The Panthers would once again outshoot the Wild, but it was a much closer 14-12. Scoring chances were also evenly split, and it did not feel like the Panthers were dominating like they had at points earlier in the game. Just like the second period, despite getting plenty of shots and opportunities, the Panthers were unable to find the back of the net. Luke Kunin added an empty-netter with 1:01 remaining to make it 4-2, sealing the victory.
It was an interesting performance for the Wild. On one hand, being outshot 46-26 is nothing to be impressed about. On the other, though, coming back after going down 2-0 to score the next four goals and win the game is certainly a great response.
A ton of credit needs to be given to Kaapo Kahkonen. Despite allowing two early goals, he hung in there and finished the night with 44 saves on 46 shots, which is the most saves by a rookie goaltender in a single game in franchise history. It is unclear how many more opportunities he will get this season, but if he is the future of the franchise in goal, he has given Wild fans plenty to be optimistic about.
He also was not that far away from scoring himself after Florida pulled their goalie.
Wild G Kahkonen takes a shot at the empty net and only missed by a couple feet pic.twitter.com/J3d1xoLdRM— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 4, 2019
The Wild continue their southeast road trip Thursday night in Tampa Bay at 6 p.m. CT.
Answers to the Burning Questions
1. Will we see another Zach Attack?
Parise just missed a shorthanded goal early in the first period that would have put the Wild up 1-0, and could have potentially shifted the entire momentum of the game.
Jordan Greenway and Zach Parise team up for a nice shorthanded scoring chance. pic.twitter.com/pdTrwfChlb— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
He came very close again in the third period.
Holy smokes. Zach Parise came just inches from doubling the Minnesota lead. pic.twitter.com/SItXngydrX— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 4, 2019
He did continue to produce scoring opportunities for himself, though, and if he keeps that up, goals will follow. He had to settle for just one assist in this game, coming on the game-winner from Soucy.
2. Can Fiala stay en fuego?
Fiala was actually held without a point in this one. It ends a five-game point streak for him. He still has 13 points in his last 15 games. It was an unremarkable game for Kevin, but when the Wild are getting production from guys like Zucker and Zuccarello, they do not need to rely on the same scorers every night.
3. Will the special teams be special?
Special teams were not anything horrible or great for the Wild. The penalty kill was 1-for-3 and the power play was 0-for-1. Killing all three penalties would have been nice, but giving up just one power play goal when taking three penalties is not awful, especially against a unit with the firepower Florida has.