At least Mikko Koivu is informally part of the front office, so he has seen the Minnesota Wild lay some real bad stinkers in the past, and Sunday’s game against the Nashville Predators was certainly one of those.
After the emotional ceremony that saw Koivu’s no. 9 head into the rafters of The X, Minnesota was able to start the performance on the ice as good as you would really like them to. The Wild came out swinging, getting some prime scoring opportunities from all four lines and some blueliners chipping in as well — everything seemed to be going great and I, personally, thought that we would be treated to a Predators beatdown to calm my nerves about the standings.
Well, how dumb am I?
The Predators ended up scoring on their very first shot of the game with a Filip Forsberg redirection.
ugh. Forsberg scores off a redirect from the point. 1-0 NSH. pic.twitter.com/52FBav0QNS— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 13, 2022
That 1-0 lead didn’t last too long, as the scoring duo of Kevin Fiala and Matt Boldy chipped away at the score and the rookie netted the equalizer via a very, very weird angle.
MATT BOLDY FROM A TIGHT ANGLE. 1-1. pic.twitter.com/YMjJLVtL5o— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 14, 2022
That was Boldy’s 12th goal of the season, keeping him within the top-seven of goal scorers on this team. He has only played 27 games.
Nashville ended up getting another lead early in the second period with Roman Josi scoring his 16th goal of the season, then Jordan Greenway just decided to pull some magic seemingly out of nowhere.
Greenway was a force in the first half of this game. He was getting involved in post-whistle skirmishes but also just dangling the hell out of Preds defenders — it was almost like the Jordan Greenway we were promised five or so years ago. He does this every now and again, but to see it against some stiff competition is always more special.
...And that was basically it for the rest of the game, seriously. Nashville scored two more goals followed by two empty-netters. The Wild were just constantly trying to catch up and their special teams were atrocious. Despite only allowing one goal on the three power play opportunities the Preds had against them, combined with their own stale man advantage; Minnesota just could not do anything if they were not at even-strength. And even then, it was just blegh.
As soon as Nashville had a 3-2 lead through Josi’s second goal of the game, they shut the Wild down completely and did not let them anywhere near goaltender David Rittich to get a shot off. Clogging up the neutral zone led to mad scrambles just trying to get within a dozen or so feet, and the Wild letting shots loose from safe areas for the Predators.
Nashville had all the chances they could get at 5-on-5 right in front of Kaapo Kahkonen, but despite getting their two goals from high-danger areas, it was on the outer rim of the faceoff circles that saw the majority of the action. Not the most ideal place you want, even if you have the best shooters in the world (which the Wild do not).
The Wild were just handed possession on a silver platter, but were unable to do anything with it. With letting them just try and attempt to get those shots off, the Predators were keeping enough bodies back, and not stretching out their formation, to allow easy entries — that’s why just letting Minnesota have two-thirds of the shot attempts at 5-on-5 (64.44 CF%) was kind of the right call for Nashville. The Predators did finish with 29 blocks after all.
To make matters worse, the Wild and Predators are now tied in points (Wild have played one less game, so they’re still ahead on points percentage) and are in a tight race for the top-three of the Central Division. With the Stars more or less falling out of the race — they current have 67 points compared to the Preds’ and Wild’s 72 — it’s become a two-team battle to try and either face the St. Louis Blues or the Calgary Flames in the first round (most likely). And honestly, I don’t know which team I would prefer for the Wild to have an advantage over right now. So if it means less stress on these games, then so be it.
Eventually, if the Wild do keep slipping it might mean falling out of the playoffs entirely, so that would be a problem. And they have a massive test coming up on Wednesday as they face the only team better at defense than them at 5-on-5, the Boston Bruins.
God help us all.
Will Joel Eriksson Ek have a Mikko-like performance to honor him?
I mean, the play-driving part is very Mikko, as the Wild only allowed five shot attempts while Eriksson Ek was on the ice at 5-on-5, but for individual offense, the Wild’s current two-way center had only two shot attempts (both on the power play) and one of them hit the net. Not a whole lot from Joel on Sunday.
Can the Wild escape without taking more than two penalties?
No! They took three, which is actually not that bad considering what has happened in the past. Nashville did convert on one of the chances so the Wild’s penalty kill suffered another hit.