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Recap: Wild lose 4-3 in strange bout against Leafs

The vibes were off.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Minnesota Wild Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Minnesota Wild hosted an injured-but-still-good Toronto Maple Leafs for some Friday afternoon action. And while the team played overall fairly well, the Wild still suffered a 4-3 defeat due to some really weird bounces and defensive lapses in play.

Despite two-point performances from Mats Zuccarello, Alex Goligoski, and Kirill Kaprizov, a goal from Matt Boldy, and general decent underlying numbers, the Wild could not overcome the mistakes that eventually cost them this game. After the defeat, the Wild sit with a 9-9-2 record and are in the mushy middle of the Western Conference.

But how did we get there?

The Leafs did not need much to get their offense moving and grooving in St. Paul. After the Wild were pushing heavy, getting the game’s first few scoring chances, Mitch Marner quickly struck back with a goal and opened the scoring with a long-range shot just 3:42 into the game that might have taken a deflection, but you never know.

Both teams kept trading scoring chances, as the Wild were going the quantity over quality route, and eventually that worked for them.

After a successful penalty kill, the Wild were handed a power play opportunity as Justin Holl went to the box, and with it, Kirill Kaprizov scored the equalizing goal.

A couple brilliant move by Calen Addison to keep the puck in the zone kept the Wild’s top unit moving and eventually the puck passed through Joel Eriksson Ek, Mats Zuccarello, and then to Kirill to tie the game.

Unfortunately, the celebration of the Wild actually scoring on the man advantage only lasted for 42 seconds, as Zach Aston-Reese got his third goal of the season by squeaking the puck past Fleury on a goal that the Minnesota goaltender will certainly want back.

Kaprizov worked extra hard on the backcheck and to take possession away from the Toronto skater, but was careless with the puck as Pierre Engvall came barreling down below the goal line; and Aston-Reese got a fortunate angle that Fleury did not appear ready for. We won’t solely blame the goal on the netminder, but there is part of us that feels uneasy about the starter allowing that type of goal in his return from injury.

To start the second period, the Wild pushed hard right off the drop of the puck. Trying to suffocate any offense the Leafs’ top-six forwards gave and the skilled players of the Wild eventually got rewarded for the number of shots they unleashed on Murray.

The simple awareness that Boldy possesses is absolutely unreal. A great play started by Jordan Greenway (who earned an assist on this goal and was his first point of the season), that Alex Goligoski added to by unleashing a perfect cross-ice pass to Boldy who just snapped it into the back of the net.

Toronto kept on pushing though. Last time the Wild scored it took just seconds for them to re-gain the lead, but after just over seven minutes of the Leafs getting the advantage in shot attempts in the middle of the second period — piling up scoring chances that Minnesota could not answer — the visitors just needed a big brainfart by multiple players wearing kelly green to earn the 3-2 lead.

Woof. From Matt Dumba not being able to clear the puck cleanly, to Fleury being extremely aggressive in his challenge against John Tavares, multiple slip-ups happened for Minnesota and Jarnkrok was able to score the easiest goal of his life to close out the game’s goals in the second period.

It was the Leafs that managed to climb back after the Wild started the season very well. Maybe it was Toronto being the road team, and it being an afternoon game, that made it step back on its heels as Minnesota pressured early; but the firepower of the Leafs’ top guys and some lucky bounces negated the bad start by the visitors. Now, it was up to our Wild to have a similar period to the first and be the better team — and not allow really stupid and dumb and stupid goals.

The third period was marred by inconsistency. The Wild were able to get a powerplay opportunity in the first half of the final frame, but that proved to be fruitless. And while Minnesota kept on trying and trying, they eventually tilted the ice to their favor.

Through 10 or so minutes of the third period, the Wild re-gained their advantage in shot attempts, and for a period had a plus-10 advantage in the underlying metric. Unfortunately, Murray stood on his head and the team in front of him managed to take advantage of a Goligoski turnover and give themselves a two-goal lead to close out the game.

But even with the significant hill to climb, the Wild kept pushing into the Leafs’ zone and wanted so desperately to get the two goals that would make this game at least interesting.

Head coach Dean Evason returned to his familiar strategy of pulling his goaltender earlier than expected — when, basically, he felt like the team could actually score a goal — and with that skater advantage, Mats Zuccarello gave us some hope with a perfect finish.

After that, the belief that Minnesota can return to its typical strategy of being so good 6-on-5 and completing insane multi-goal comebacks, was in the air. You could smell it over the leftover turkey and stuffing — the Wild could actually have done this if just something broke in their favor.

Unfortunately for us and for them, Matt Murray decided to pull out some extra finesse and complete his eventual victory with a game-deciding stop on a Kaprizov shot.

That is how the game ended and we all knew the result just seconds after Murray was able to make that save. A 4-3 loss for the Wild.

But they can still hold their heads high, as we expected this homestand to go a heck of a lot worse than it has. Wins over the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins seemed impossible with the way the Wild were playing just a couple weeks ago, and now, they most recently withstood the onslaught of one of the NHL’s most talented teams up front.

Next, they get to get some confidence back (maybe) as they take on the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild keep their foot on the gas?

There might have been periods of lackluster play and inability to really let the offense shine, but overall the Wild kept on pushing Toronto into its own zone. On the entire game, the Wild had a 63-47 advantage in shot attempts and that total was split up among the three periods fairly evenly, with them getting 22 in the first, 15 in the second, and finishing with 26 in the third. Not the most consistent, but they never fell asleep.

What will Ryan Reaves bring to the team?

Well, uh, hm... Ryan Reaves had 12:03 TOI, had one shot on goal, had four shot attempts, took a really dumb offensive-zone penalty, and laid out four hits. That is the entirety of his stat line for this afternoon’s bout against the Leafs. At least one of his hits looked cool.

Honestly, let’s not make the Reaves acquisition that big of a deal until he looks absolutely dreadful. He seems like a nice enough dude to enjoy playing for your team, even if he doesn’t contribute a heck of a lot. Hell, the Wild did manage to have more shot attempts than the Leafs when he was on the ice. Just minor victories.

How does Marc-Andre Fleury look in his return from injury?

Another one we really don’t want to talk about. While we don’t necessarily like blaming goaltenders on some goals, a lot of chances by the Leafs managed to turn into goals from long range.

With the Nylander goal, the Jarnkrok goal where he was too aggressive, and letting Aston-Reese score short-side on what should be a tough angle; Fleury’s return from injury was not that pretty to look at.

The result would probably have still been the same if Filip Gustavsson started, but the weird bounces and goals isn’t comforting when the Wild’s starter is making his triumphant return. Overall, not that great.