Tonight the Wild were able to handle the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim once more. The two points see Minnesota sitting at third place in the division, two points behind Colorado and four points behind Vegas. Vegas also has a game in hand over our boys in green.
Jared Spurgeon tallied the game’s first two goals, both from the stick of his defense partner Ryan Suter. While Spurgeon is a renowned shooter among defensemen and a pair of goals isn’t out of character for him, what happens next will shock you: both of his goals were net-front deflections. That’s right, you heard it here first - short king Jared Spurgeon is also a net-front monster.
His first goal was a slick play that came alongside the 97-49-36 line via a beautiful passing play which touched four Minnesotan sticks before hitting the twine. Zuccarello created space on the half-wall with patient skating before passing off to Kaprizov at the point. Zuccarello then sneakily switched with Spurgeon while Kaprizov opened the left side lane for Suter. Suter streaked down low and found Spurgeon in the slot, who gave and American hero Ryan Miller had no chance.
The lead didn’t last long, as Derek Grant tied the game on a lucky break 24 seconds later. The shot came from in tight with traffic in the way of Talbot’s eyes, and unfortunately for the Wild they all count the same.
With the score tied, taxi squad player Joseph Cramarossa decided to make his mark on the game in a fight with Max Jones. Cramarossa represented himself well and headed to the box.
Shortly thereafter, Carson Soucy laid a heavy, clean hit on budding star Troy Terry, to which Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf took exception.
So much exception that he decided to get into a punch-in-the-face contest with 6’6” Carson Soucy. Getzlaf was awarded a 17-minute time-out for his trouble (5 for fighting, 2 for instigating, and a 10-minute misconduct), and the Wild went to the powerplay.
Late in the period, Minnesota found itself on the power play again, and Jared “The Giant” Spurgeon scored again. Just as you’d expect if you’d watched exactly one period of Minnesota Wild Hockey, he scored on a net-front deflection. How he wound up down low on the power play in which he plays at the flank, I have no idea. But we love to see it.
The lead was short-lived again. 30 seconds plus an intermission later, Max Comtois tied the game at 2-2 on a wide open net. At this point I felt awful for Talbot - a mickey-mouse first goal, a second goal on which he was left out to dry, and the game was tied again in spite of the Wild winning in terms of all facets of play. It’s easy to think that Minnesota sports are among the unluckiest of sports fandoms.
What we need is a hero. A born scorer who can skate like the wind blows and shoot like a bullet out of a gun. A European dynamo strong enough to get to the net and bury the garbage. Kirill Kaprizov, who’s that? No, I’m talking about the Schnitzel-loving Nico Sturm, scoring a goal-of-the-year candidate.
Joking aside, the Sturm-Bonino-Bjugstad line deserves a shoutout as it really carried the team in terms of effective play-driving. While none of these guys can create space, pass, or shoot with the Kaprizovs and Fialas, they gave up absolutely nothing on a night that the Wild were clinging to leads. While they fanned on shots or flubbed passes in the final third of the ice, it’s important to remember that this happened so much because the opponents couldn’t do anything to get the puck into our zone to pressure Cam Talbot. At 5v5, the “fourth line” had the best xG% on the team, and gave up only .24 expected goals.
The game finished close on the scoreboard in spite of a strong start for Minnesota, as the team seemed satisfied to protect its third one-goal lead of the night. After seeing the score tied so quickly after the first and second goals, can you blame them? After this point, MoneyPuck credited the Ducks’ skaters with 1.49 expected goals. It would be fair to criticize our team for giving up that much opportunity to tie the game again, and from watching the game it appeared that even before the third goal we were stuck in our own zone for the second half of the game. On the other hand, the Ducks didn’t generate any chances that were very dangerous on their own; rather, this offense came from a high volume of low-danger shots.
Can the Wild dominate the game from start to finish?
The Wild were able to dominate the game for the first 25 minutes. After this point, they sat on their lead and, in truth, nearly let it slip away a third time. They can’t all be Picassos, but the Wild definitely got a bit of luck in that they didn’t give up another goal as a result of the way they played in the second half of the game. Process matters, and it would have been nice to see the team stick with the process which saw them ahead on the scoresheet.
Can Mats Zuccarello get it going again?
Tonight was a satisfactory night for the Norwegian playmaker. He didn’t have any points, but the first goal was a play that he set up nicely by cycling with Kaprizov and switching with Spurgeon, which allowed him to get lost in the slot. On the other hand, his line was worth only .08 xG-for, which is not what we’d hope for from our top scoring line. He also had a 5v5 xG rate below 20%, which is dismal.
Can we escape the game healthy?
In a word, yes. Luck too, since the Ducks are often considered a heavy-hitting team and we got into not one, but two donnybrooks. With Dumba out due to injury and Parise in the Covid-19 protocol, we need to stay healthy. I think that this lineup can carry one taxi squad player and play well. If we need to insert a second, we’ll probably say goodbye to our effective fourth line, lose flexibility to move around slumping players, or see personnel problems arise in the PP or PK.