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Recap: Wild drop fourth straight in uneven 5-1 loss to Flames

Home ice is no advantage for the struggling Wild

Calgary Flames v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

After being embarrased by the Calgary Flames last Saturday, the Minnesota Wild hoped returning home and coming out strong would help them end a rough stretch of the season and get back on the right track after a pretty disastrous road trip through Canada. But despite statistically having a better showing, a fast goal by Matthew Tkachuk and a fast second-period answer by Elias Lindholm prevented any chance of the Wild getting anything going, as Minnesota stumbled yet again in a 5-1 loss to the Pacific division leaders. Five Flames had a goal and an assist, while Marcus Foligno scored the lone goal for the Wild. Jacob Markstrom had a stellar night in net for Calgary with 32 saves on 33 shots. Cam Talbot, however, had yet another rough outing allowing four goals on 26 shots.

The Wild were hoping to really put their mark on the game early, but did not get the start that they wanted. Just 23 seconds in, Alex Goligoski went to the penalty box for interference to a smattering of boos from the mostly quiet crowd. Less than a minute later, Tkachuk did what he does on the power play, taking a cross-ice deflection and burying it past Talbot for the early lead.

Minnesota had a chance to answer with a power play goal of their own when Sean Monahan was carted to the box for cross-checking Kirill Kaprizov from behind. But unlike the Flames who generated consistent zone time and buried their chance, the Wild looked discombobulated in just about every way - zone entries, exits, forechecking and passing were all sloppy. Joel Eriksson Ek got the only shot on the Wild’s man advantage with 12 seconds left, but it was a long distance attempt that was easily caught by Markstrom.

Halfway throught the first, a strong shift by the Wild’s fourth line started tilting the ice back in their direction, with Nico Sturm generating a nice chance for Foligno, but Moose was a bit too tied up to take advantage.

From there, both teams started throwing their weight around more and more. But despite the Wild starting to get more confident on the puck, a single mistake took the wind out of their sails, when a failed clearing attempt turned into a point shot from Erik Gudbranson that deflected off of Mikael Backlund and ended up on the stick of Andrew Mangiapane, who hammered it home for a 2-0 Calgary lead.

Ryan Hartman tried to fire up his team on the ensuing shift by picking a fight with Nikita Zadorov, giving up six inches and 38 pounds. The result was predictable.

The Wild would go back on the power play once more in the first, but just as the whistle was about to blow on Milan Lucic’s interference call, Kaprizov battled with Christopher Tanev for the puck heading towards the boards. Kaprizov dropped his shoulder and lowered the boom, which was nice to see after he’s spent the better part of two games getting physically manhandled. Unfortunately, that was the highlight of the ensuring power play, as other than one chance from Matt Boldy, the Wild weren’t able to get anything going.

Coming out for the second, the Wild managed to get a couple good chances, including a point-blank shot by Mats Zuccarello, but the Wild’s momentum quickly evaporated as Calgary continued to own a healthy offensive zone time and dominate possession.

The Wild started to turn it around as the period neared the halfway mark. A couple strong shifts by Minnesota led to a Lucic turnover, and the Wild were headed the other way. Kaprizov took the puck in the zone, sauced a nice backhand pass to a diving Foligno, who found the open net to get the Wild on the board.

Just 21 seconds later, though, Calgary one again silenced the crowd and put the Wild back on their heels. Once again, a lost faceoff (something of a trend lately) led to a defensive breakdown, which led to a one-time shot by Elias Lindholm as the Flames immediately regained their two goal lead.

Frustrations once again started to mount as the period went on, and a Calgary crease scrap led to yet another Wild power play. Minnesota finally set up some offense with the man advantage, but another extended scrum after a Markstrom freeze led to an inexplicable unsportsmanlike call against Eriksson Ek, who absorbed a shot to the face yet found himself skating alone to the box. Once the original Calgary penalty elapsed, the Flames enjoyed a short power play, but it was the Wild who had the better of the action with two shorthanded chances. The momentum continued as the teams went back to five-on-five, and the Wild continued getting shot after shot, with Kaprizov especially peppering Markstrom, but the Flames goalie somehow got the better of the chances.

A late call against Boldy for tripping put the Flames back on the power play, but the second period ended 3-1 with 57 seconds of man advantage remaining for Calgary.

Any hope of the Wild coming out and turning things around was quickly squashed as Tyler Toffoli took a Johnny Gaudreau pass and sent a short angle shot past Talbot just 33 seconds into the third, increasing the lead to 4-1.

Kaprizov kept up his one-man Wild offense machine as he took a fantastic hail mary pass from Calen Addison went in alone for a chance, and while Rasmus Andersson was able to just get his stick on Kaprizov’s shot, he at least made the Flames’ defenseman (or at least the equipment staff) pay for the attempt by destroying his stick.

From then on, it was the Jacob Markstrom show. On the penalty kill, on five-on-five, high shots, low shots, Markstrom stopped everything. Evason pulled Talbot down three with over five minutes to play, but despite a couple minutes of 6-on-5 action, the Wild couldn’t solve the Flames’ netminder, and Mikael Backlund eventually buried an open netter to give the Flames their 5-1 margin of victory.

The effort level was certainly better than it was back in Calgary, as the Wild bested the Flames in shots on goal (33-27), Corsi For Percentage (54-46%) and Expected Goals Percentage (66-34%). And while there were some questionable calls (and non-calls) by the zebras, yet another loss comes to some familiar factors: poor face-off percentage (though it did improve as the game went on into garbage time), badly timed defensive breakdowns, awful special teams, not finishing offensive chances, and above all, Talbot just not having it right now.

Now, this is against the Calgary Flames, who are clearly an elite team in the NHL - and one the Wild might face in the playoffs should they hold on to make it - with a netminder in Markstrom that is a clear Vezina candidate. But if the Wild can’t pick up four points on their upcoming road back-to-back against the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres on Thursday and Friday, then it might be time to hit the panic button.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild out-chance the Flames?

Yes, but it didn’t matter. For what it’s worth, the Wild did out chance the Flames 29-22, and owned the high-danger chance differential 12-4.

But the Wild couldn’t finish their chances, and Markstrom was superb.

Will the top-line players be back and productive?

Kaprizov had a couple really strong shifts when he was all over the ice peppering Markstrom, and when he wasn’t having to turtle into the boards (or throwing his own body around), he was definitely looking better than he did the last time the two teams met, earning an assist for his troubles.

Zuccarello and Hartman were still both pretty invisible with a total of 3 shots between the two of them. Hartman’s most noticible moment of the night was getting thrown around by Zadarov, while Zuccarello did manage one nice shot on net, but other than that didn’t really make a name for himself.