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Recap: Minnesota handles Arizona in 2-1 win

Second-period offensive surge carries Wild over a struggling Coyotes team.

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Minnesota Wild Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Minnesota Wild lost three straight games and found themselves twisting in the wind over their identity. With a win over the New York Islanders and the Arizona Coyotes on the schedule tonight, this seemed primed to be either a get-right game or the loss that would send Minnesota spiraling once more in a season in which they are sorely missing the scoring punch they enjoyed last season.

Given the limitations of this rebuilding Coyotes roster, the former was much more likely, and the boys in green delivered a win that has them back on track after the holiday break.

The first period passed scoreless for both teams. Both teams traded chances back and forth, but the checking was tight enough to see the score tied at the end of 20 minutes. Mats Zuccarello found a grade-A chance on this cross-ice feed by Sam Steel, but Arizona goaltender Connor Ingram made the play post-to-post with no other threats on the zone. Joel Eriksson Ek came also tantalizingly close on one chance, beating Ingram on a beautiful backhand-forehand move but failing to hit the net on the shot.

The second period opened much faster, with chances narrowly flitting past Marc-Andre Fleury’s goal-crease and errant breakout passes by the Wild defense. Eventually Minnesota chased too hard, and Jake Middleton took a hooking penalty during in-zone defense. Fortunately, the Coyotes were unable to convert on the powerplay, clearing the puck from the Wild’s defensive zone multiple times on errant passes back to the point.

Minutes later, Jordan Greenway drew an interference penalty from Clayton Keller while driving to the net. This quickly became a pivotal offensive opportunity as Calen Addison drew another penalty just a few seconds into the power play. With Minnesota possessing the puck, Fleury went to the bench for a six-on-four during the delayed penalty call. While it cost the Wild a few seconds of five-on-three time, the extra seconds from this possession would become crucial when tacked onto the second penalty. During this six-on-four, the Wild’s power play strategy was clear: make one or two passes and then get the puck to the net.

Minnesota’s power play continued this trend during the extended five-on-three, finally breaking the scoreless tie.

Massive credit to defenseman and power play quarterback Calen Addison for setting up this play — sneaking down nearly as low as the hash marks to present himself as a true threat to shoot. He faked the shot, drawing out a Coyotes penalty killer and slickly passing off to Kirill Kaprizov. With the shot-blocking help gone due to Addison’s fake, Ingram had to come way out of his net to honor Kaprizov’s angle and time. This opened the door for a tap-in by Zuccarello, and when the puck is on Kaprizov’s stick it tends to find an open Zuccarello.

Remember the extra few seconds that were tacked onto the second penalty due to the delayed penalty just a minute ago? Well, that turned out to be just enough time for the second power play unit to convert.

Hartman makes a beautiful move to draw Ingram out of his crease here, who again gets caught too far out on the left side of his crease. Even more credit may be due to Foligno on this play, who I believe was the intended receiver when Hartman fed the puck out front. Not only does Foligno’s drive to the net get the attention of every low defender on the Arizona penalty kill, but he’s also the one who made the play from the corner to get the puck on Hartman’s stick in the first place. With the Coyotes scrambling, Gaudreau’s patient third-man-high style of play was rewarded with an open net and Minnesota’s second tap-in goal.

The first period was a great road period by Arizona, and they came out firing in the second period with the Wild chasing pucks for several shifts on end. After Keller’s penalty the script was totally flipped — after Minnesota took a 2-0 lead they controlled the puck for the remainder of the period.

For the first couple shifts of the third period the Wild controlled play again, generating very little danger but controlling the puck and enjoying their two-goal lead. Arizona found a cross-ice feed to Nick Schmaltz on a three-on-two rush, missing the net but appearing to shift some momentum. Arizona began to break out more cleanly and gain offensive zone time with a few quality shots. They converted their pressure on a goal by Lawson Crouse.

It’s not the worst rebound for Fleury to cough up, yielding what I would term a “low-percentage shot.” Crouse is standing on the faceoff dot, but the puck is well-below the faceoff dot when he releases the puck, giving a sharp angle at the net. The best play here is made by former Wild center-ice prospect Jack McBain, who gathers a prayer of a pass with Addison draped all over him, and still gets a solid backhand shot on net from in tight. The danger that McBain’s shot presented ended up pulling Fleury out of position, giving Crouse an open net.

Four minutes later, Kirill Kaprizov put the puck past Ingram on a laser beam of a wrister high-glove side. It would have been a perfect goal for career Gino number 100 for the Siberian sniper — pure skating, stickhandling, and most of all shooting talent. Unfortunately, the play was narrowly offsides as Kaprizov tried to make a last-second move at the blue line. Had a player of a lower caliber tried that move I’m sure hockey coaches everywhere would be shaking their heads, but in this case I think my dad will have to make an exception to his typical shake-your-head-at-the-TV policy on those plays. Career goal number 100 would have to wait for Minnesota’s superstar.

Late in the game and haven been given back a goal, Arizona looked like a club starved for a win who were starting to believe that this could be their night. With six minutes left, Eriksson Ek made a crucial clearance as Fleury was nearly caught out of position. With five-and-a-half left, a flurry in front of Minnesota’s goal crease dribbled wide. Even when Matt Dumba cleanly beat the Coyotes forecheck for a two-on-one rush, he couldn’t beat fate itself (the linesman).

Now, the Coyotes were all over the Wild. Minnesota was fighting just to get a line change, let alone a clean breakout. The pressure was sufficient that Arizona head coach André Tourigny didn’t pull his goaltender until just over one minute left.

It wasn’t a pretty end to the game, but Minnesota’s checking forwards and deep defense corps was able to fend off the late-game push from Arizona.

Credit is due to both goaltenders, who played admirably for a full 60 minutes. Ingram only allowed goals while shorthanded. At the other end of the ice, Fleury allowed only one goal on a night in which Arizona’s scoring chances were worth 2.08 xG. The deciding time of the game was certainly the flurry of scoring chances by Minnesota over the final ten minutes of the second period.

The game finished 2-1 Wild, and Kirill Kaprizov came within less than an inch of his 100th goal. I’m sure he’d tell you he was willing to give it up for the win.

Burning Questions

Will the Wild play a 60 minute game?

While the Wild played well for the first forty minutes and then defended their two-goal lead, it begs the question whether that’s enough against one of the NHL’s bottom-feeders. Eriksson Ek’s miss on an open net was akin to a concentration drop in football — does that disqualify the first period?

It definitely seemed that the Wild controlled play for extended periods, but I’d have to say they did not put in a full 60. For me, they gave up too much in the third period without giving themselves much chance to run away with the game. I’d rather see a team pressuring for a put-away goal, especially with nearly 15 minutes remaining in a one-goal game after Crouse’s goal.

Can they score on the power play? Or at the very least look like they might?

Oh yeah they can, and thank God for that. Addison, Kaprizov, and Zuccarello were buzzing on the top unit, which is easy to say with two extra players but that’s how power plays often work. Even the second unit was able to get onto the board with a pretty good-looking play which matches their hard-nosed identity.

On just this one extended power-play, MoneyPuck.com credited the Wild with 1.1 expected goals, an analytical measure of scoring chances which implies an insane amount of pressure over just a couple of minutes. For any complaints about the lack of a 60-minute effort, the hot streak the Wild got onto during the back half of the second period made up for it in the end.