Minnesota WILD struggling to find their game

Marc Elliott

Wild forward Nino Neidereitter  stopped by Predators Pekka Rinne in NASH
Wild forward Nino Neidereitter stopped by Predators Pekka Rinne in NASH

MOUNT ROYAL… The Minnesota Wild are locked in a semi-intense battle with the Nashville Predators this Monday eve, and as has been the case so far early into this season there is some good, some bad and some ugly. Let’s do some quick review on the fly here though. The Wild arrived in the Music City with a 1-1-2 record for 3 points thus far. As the Sagarin ranking would view it, the team is 1-3. I’m not trying to be a pessimist here, but that’s how I look at it too. And so far, they are every bit a reflection of their record. Last Thursday in St. Paul they kind of floated through the 1st two periods against the Chicago Blackhawks, who came in and got off to a quick start, building a 2-0 lead by the middle of the 1st. Oddly, this was the 1st game this year where the Wild were outshooting their opponent after each period. 

The boys had to scramble though, and if not for the work of netminder Devan Dubnyk it could have been a bigger deficit. The Wild came back in the 2nd and tied it on goals by Eric Staal and Jason Zucker, but the Hawks tallied early in the 3rd to regain the lead. It wasn’t until there was 23 seconds left and the club was shorthanded besides and had pulled Duby for the extra man that Ryan Suter smacked one in to tie the game and help get it into the OT frame. Just shy of 3 ½ minutes in, Zucker took a beauty of a feed to the weakside from Zach Parise and exploded in on Hawks goalie Cam Ward for the 4-3 OT winner and the teams first win of the year. This was anything but an artistic effort, but you must take the two points. Of note the Wild took 5 penalties giving the Hawks a like number of power plays and they scored on one of them. Once again, the team began the game at a slow pace, scrambled to catch up and finally overcame a defensively challenged team to gain a win.  

On Saturday the Carolina Hurricanes came to town for a late afternoon matinee and yet again, the Wild were still in the middle of their pregame nap or just failed to show up at game time ready to throw down with the opponent. This tilt was another comedy of errors. The Wild gave up a single game regular season record 57 shots against. They also took 9 penalties, giving up only one PP goal which is just about unbelievable. The boys were outshot in all three periods and the shot clock read 36-9 after two frames. The Canes broke the ice, then it was a seesaw affair with the Wild taking a 3-2 and 4-3 lead before giving up the tying goal late on a bit of a fluky goal by multi-Cup winner and new Canes Captain Justin Williams. With just over two minutes left in the OT frame, the Canes got the winner on a Sebastian Aho score. The Wild didn’t match the pace of play of the Canes and this has been a recurring theme of the team with at least two Metro scribes hammering on this point after every game so far.  

The question must be asked I guess; are the Wild one of the slower clubs in the league this year? They are close to being the tallest team in the league (3rd), the heaviest (4th), and they are the oldest (1st). The Ducks won the 2007 Cup with a “heavy” team. So did the Kings in their Cup years. And in a monkey see-monkey do league, a lot of teams followed suit. Is this workable in a younger and faster league? No. That’s not the current trend. Right now, it’s speed, speed, speed and that’s not the actual Wild forte’. They have some fast players on the roster, but overall this edition of the Wild is nowhere near the fastest in the league. Oddly, the team has dealt some speed players in the recent past that would look good on the roster right now. But, like any sport or board game, there are moves and countermoves. Speed can be dealt with using an exceptional possession game. The Wild’s isn’t quite there yet. I’ve seen flashes of it late in games, but….

THE GAME HAS just concluded against Nashville and the Wild are on the short end of a 4-2 score. The last score from the Pred’s was an ENG. NASH scored first, the Wild tied on a Matt Dumba goal, the Preds got two more before Mikko Koivu got one back later in the 2nd to pull within one. The 3rd saw some short stretches of disorganized play from the Wild until about the final 6-7 minutes when the team played probably their best stretch of hockey so far. Their zone time was dominant, they outshot the Preds 11-6 in the period and 31-28 for the game. This adds to the theory about this team that they need to obtain at least 30 per game to have a chance to win. Well, they had their chances including a breakaway by Nino Neidereitter that he couldn’t convert during their late blitz and then when they had a late PP they challenged but came up short. In a stroke of luck, the Preds simultaneously shot the puck the length of the ice as their penalized player was released from the box and with a 15-foot lead on the nearest Wild defender played the carom off the end boards and slammed home the ENG for the 4-2 final. Former UMD star Alex Stalock was in goal tonight and had a very good game. This leaves the team 1-2-2 after 5 games. Tuesday eve they will complete their first back to back of the year against the Arizona Coyotes at the Xcel Center. The NASH to MSP flight isn’t too bad and the team will probably not have a morning skate. They should be ready to go. 

Despite the result the team played their best overall game of the year. A lot of “expert” analysts have the Preds in the driver seat to win the Cup this season. I don’t see that from them at this point, nor do I see them even winning the division. I think that is leaning to Winnipeg. As far as the Cup goes I believe the winner will come out of the East once again. 

THE DATA; (from 10/15) The Athletic, 17th, 52% chance at playoff, 2% for SC. The Sagarin; 26th on a 1-3 record, 20th schedule rank. NHL Standings; 25th, 1-2-2, 4 pts (postgame-updated). Central division, 7th, tied/STL for 6th, but STL has a better differential. Over & Out! PEACE