If you want to read something positive about this team, then maybe this is the wrong place for you. Friday’s 5-4 loss to a team that has been sitting at the bottom of the league for seemingly several years now, has only grown this intense frustration for a team that appears to be apathetic on the ice while also just skating around in sludge.
Maybe it’s the mid-season blues, or the February Fog being slightly delayed and stretched into the following month, but there is one thing that just rings true for the Wild right now: They’re not playing well. And that has been extremely evident through the last few weeks. We can somewhat chalk up the losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames as just simple better team won kind of losses, but now after squeaking by the Philadelphia Flyers with a comeback win, they drop the ball yet again. This team could easily be on a six-game losing streak right now if it wasn’t for the terrible defensive coverage the Flyers showed late into Thursday’s game that allowed Minnesota to score those timely goals. Six! A half-dozen worth of losses without earning anything.
This just simply isn’t good enough if they want to establish themselves as not just an early-season quirky Cup favorite, and as a true contender to make a deep playoff run. Hell, if they keep on putting in performances like this one, they might not even make it to the postseason.
Buffalo opened the scoring with a wide-open net and Minnesota’s own Casey Mittelstadt taking full advantage. Despite the Wild seemingly being all over the Sabres, it was still a little bit of a slip-up that could only be blamed on poor defensive coverage on the penalty kill. More on the special teams later.
But luckily, the Wild have enough offensive hands to put in some work and the red-hot Ryan Hartman got back to his scoring ways. After notching two goals in Philadelphia, he added a third in just under 24 hours.
RYAN HARTMAN SCORES EVERYTHING. 1-1. pic.twitter.com/HMDI5NUCKS— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 5, 2022
With a lull heading into the second period, the Wild appeared in control. There was nothing really bothering them and they were getting enough scoring chances to calm any concern that they would eventually overcome any draw to this team. In just the first 20 minutes, the Wild registered 14 scoring chances compared to the Sabres’ six. But that tie didn’t last for long, as Kyle Okposo earned a goal back and gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead six minutes into the second period.
It was all quiet for the rest of the middle frame. The only concerning thing was that the Wild had to be bailed out at times by goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen and the scoring chances, shot attempts, and general offense, was quickly drawing level as the Sabres piled on more pressure.
Eventually, Minnesota got it back and equalized early in the third period.
FIALA FROM LONG RANGE AND THE GAME IS TIED. pic.twitter.com/lbyK9mEI3w— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 5, 2022
And after the amazing long range effort from Kevin Fiala, Kirill Kaprizov did a similar enough version for himself on the man advantage, giving the Wild their first lead of the game.
WHO ELSE BUT KIRILL FOR THE LEAD. 3-2. pic.twitter.com/vt0wUXQtJq— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 5, 2022
But this is where things got a little clenched. While Minnesota still held a steep advantage in the game, the Sabres were pecking back into it, and eventually they capitalized after an extremely weird bounce off of the linesman’s skate (we were wrong in the tweet) and directly in the path of Jeff Skinner.
jeff skinner takes advantage of an extremely weird bounce off the boards. tie game. pic.twitter.com/2juonx2YB4— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 5, 2022
Incredibly bad luck and that proved to be the quasi final nail in the coffin. The Wild shutdown from this point out, having the final eight or so minutes wash away with a goal pitched in from either side.
Like, I guess we can talk about Kirill’s second goal of the game that came with 31 seconds remaining and cut the lead to just one goal. But, in the end, it just padded some stats and made us feel less bad.
KAPRIZOV SCORES WITH 31 SECONDS LEFT?????? 5-4. IT'S NOT OVER. pic.twitter.com/dwXr1lVEwf— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 5, 2022
At least some players were able to earn points and keep some streaks alive. Kaprizov scored two goals and earned an assist; Matt Boldy got a point and has 10 in his last 10 games now; Kevin Fiala continues his bender and got himself a goal and an assist; and Jared Spurgeon earned two helpers along the way.
One thing that has to be pointed out, is Kaapo Kahkonen’s seamless performance. There was just nothing absurdly wrong with any goals that were allowed and he certainly stopped enough shots to consider him a major factor if they ended up winning.
absolutely insane save from Kaapo pic.twitter.com/e5BKHziptz— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 5, 2022
IT'S KAAPO'S WORLD AND WE'RE JUST LIVING IN IT pic.twitter.com/GZ8ejm80IM— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) March 5, 2022
If “statement games” are something you believe in, well, after Cam Talbot has been playing like crap, Kahkonen coming out here and putting on a performance that deserves some celebration, might just earn him more of a starting role in the near future. He’s the better goaltender right now, there’s no question.
The Wild get another opportunity against a slightly better opponent in the Dallas Stars on Sunday. Let’s just hope that this streak is coming to an end.
How many times are we going to question the Wild’s special teams?
Giving up two powerplay goals to the Buffalo Sabres is enough to warrant some questions about the Wild’s penalty kill. It just wasn’t good enough and was extremely static on the ice. It was just uninteresting and inaccurate. On the other hand, the Wild scored a powerplay goal despite only being given two opportunities.
So, it’s a mixed bag but there are still questions.
Can the Wild beat a beatable team convincingly?