If you’re a Minnesota Wild fan, there was likely at least a handful of games during the 2020-21 season that left you with a firm shake of the head and a thought bouncing through your head along the lines of ‘Wow, our special teams really struggled tonight’.
*Most Wild fans across the globe groan*
While there is reason for renewed hope toward this season’s special teams behind new units and a superstar in Kirill Kaprizov coming back another year older, Saturday’s preseason finale in Chicago was enough to bring back the nightmares and shudders that plagued last season.
Minnesota allowed a shorthanded goal and gave Chicago a pair of goals on the man advantage in a 5-1 loss, one that reared its ugly head after the first period.
The Wild dominated much of the first period and opened the scoring on a whistle of a shot from Ryan Hartman. Minnesota had a few more solid chances in the first, but Chicago headed to the intermission with a 2-1 lead despite trailing 17-9 on the shot clock.
Chicago outshot the Wild 28-9 the rest of the way, outscoring the visitors 3-0 over the final two periods.
The Blackhawks were gifted the lead on Saturday.
After the Wild took the early lead, the Blackhawks notched the game at one when Kevin Fiala screened Kaapo Kahkonen in tight to allow Henrik Borgstrom to beat the Wild goalie in tight.
Matt Dumba and Jordie Benn are probably going to have a not-so-pleasant conversation with Evason about the second goal.
After Dumba dumped the puck into the offensive zone, Seth Jones threw a long pass to Patrick Kane, who carried the puck into the corner. Dumba went to the corner to support his partner in Benn (Who may have conceded his spot on the blue line to Jon Merrill), but Alex Debrincat was hovering at the top of the circles all alone and scored to give Chicago the lead.
I wouldn’t leave the guy who finished third in goals (32) among the entire NHL last season by himself in front of the net. It could be that the play was miscommunication between new defense partners, but it was an ugly one at a bad time.
The special teams nightmare started in the second period, as Philipp Kurashev protected the puck behind the Wild net before sending a perfect pass to Ryan Carpenter for a one-timer on the far side of the ice.
All five—literally every single one—of the Wild players on the ice had their eyes on Kurashev, and no one thought to even consider the other Blackhawk due to puck watching.
A pair of power play goals added to the Wild’s misery on Saturday.
It was ugly. And a lot of that ugly is related to our burning questions from Friday’s preview story. Let’s take a look:
How will Pitlick look?
It wasn’t a great first impression. Rem Pitlick was directly involved in the first Blackhawks goal, failing to get a piece of Seth Jones’ point shot that found Dylan Strome below the goal line and eventually Borgstrom (as well as the back of the net).
He was also on the ice for the second Chicago goal, but as we’ve discussed I don’t think that one is on the forwards. I thought he actually did a good job of tying up his man off the faceoff and beginning the forecheck.
In 11:17 of action, Pitlick finished with one shot, one takeaway and zero hits. It was his first game, and he played the least of any player on the Wild bench. Whether that’s based on being new to the system or the early blunders, it’s probably too early to tell.
I’m sure he will want more of himself, and the team needs more, too.
Are we going to be wishing for Rossi and Beckman?
The offense was dry in this one. Throughout the first five preseason games, the youngsters provided a nice boost of offensive creativity and juice to the lineup.
As we just discussed, is Pitlick a better player than Rossi or Beckman? The first indication wasn’t great. However, the young guys will be better served playing on the top lines in Iowa, so I get the decision.
When the Wild aren’t getting offense out of the top two lines this season, we could face some long nights.
Keeping Beckman and Rossi in the AHL is the smart move for the team in the long run, but the offensive abilities of these two could have fans clamoring for a return early in the season.
Will we see a lack of offense?
It was a mixed bag on Saturday.
The first period was very strong, but those final two were ugly. It just didn’t seem like the Wild could control the puck in the offensive zone, and they seemed a bit lost in the neutral zone, too.
One goal on 26 shots won’t get the job done on most nights in the NHL, and it certainly didn’t on Saturday. Combine a power play that went 0-for-2 and leaked a shorthanded goal with a 42.6% faceoff percentage and you have a tough 5-1 loss.
It was a low note to end the preseason on, but if there is a positive to be found, you just read it. The preseason is over, and meaningful hockey is back.
Minnesota visits Anaheim at 9 p.m. Friday to open the regular season. Here’s to hoping tonight was a rude awakening to the Wild and a reminder that the games are real now.