oh my god they're perfect pic.twitter.com/Q17jd8q7UW— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 18, 2022
To begin the season, the WIld looked aimless and struggled with inconsistent performances up and down the roster. With Jared Spurgeon scoring the team's third goal of the game, and a "let's go Wild!" chant echoing through the Xcel Energy Center, the feeling that the Wild were outclassing their opponent was palpable.
But it was a slow start —do we say this often enough?— taking nearly eight minutes for the wild to register their first shot on net. But it wasn't because the Wild couldn't get the puck from the Senators; they dominated play, and their forecheck was tenacious. The Senators were blocking anything and everything, totalling 16 blocks throughout the game, making it difficult for the WIld to capitalize on their opportunities. You can only stop the Kirill Kaprizov, Sam Steel and Mats Zuccarello connection for so long.
KIRILL opens up the scoring. 1-0 MIN. pic.twitter.com/VKPkuBgg1t— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 18, 2022
Kaprizov, Zuccarello and Steel have been playing well, arguably the league's hottest line, and they simply click. Even with Ryan Hartman returning to the lineup after an extended absence, if that line continues to perform the way it has with the Steel as its pivot, he'll have to make due on another line. After all, Zuccarello extended his point streak to 10 games.
With forecheck and puck possession through the roof for the Wild, the Senators were limited in their offensive chances. Facing his old team, Filip Gustavsson had an easy night and built on his recent stretch of fantastic play. Facing only 28 shots, he stopped 26 and showed the Senators the goalie they hoped he had the potential to become.
For stretches of the game, neither team had many chances. For almost 10 minutes in the middle of the game, the Wild held the Senators went without a shot. That paled in comparison to the 19-minute stretch that Minnesota went without a shot near the end of the game.
Have we mentioned how good Kirill is enough?
Kirill Kaprizov is the fourth #NHL player to reach 200 points in 167 games or less since the start of the 2000-01 season. The others? Sidney Crosby (142), Alex Ovechkin (165) and Evgeni Malkin (166). Fastest #mnwild player to reach 200. https://t.co/Y9LiRFvyiS— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithNHL) December 18, 2022
Nursing the three-goal lead into the third period, the Wild went into a defensive shell. While this did allow the Senators to pull within one with the goalie pulled, an empty net tally from Frederick Gaudreau iced the win for the Wild.
As the great DJ Khaled often says, "another one."
How will Ryan Hartman fare in his return to action?
Was he noticeable? Not terribly.
But being unnoticeable, playing only 12 minutes of ice time, mainly on a line with Matt Boldy and Gaudreau, is perfectly fine. He registered six shots on the net and was a part of one of the Wild's better units.
The key is that his line looked good, the fourth line looked good, GREEF looked good, hell, the whole lineup looked good. If the return of Hartman gives the Wild four great lines, this recent streak of good play should only continue.
Can Filip Gustavsson get revenge?
Hell yeah, he did.
It wasn't a shutout, he only has one in his NHL career, and it came recently, but a .929 save percentage and only giving up one goal at even strength is a recipe for success on most nights. His play on the penalty kill was a highlight, and he was all-around great.