The old saying it doesn’t matter how you start, but how you finish. Maybe that needs to be amended, start well and finish well?!? That must be what the Minnesota Wild are thinking after they snapped Toronto’s 5-game winning streak with a 4-3 shootout thriller on Saturday night. The win extends Minnesota’s win streak to 6 games and they managed to get all 10 possible points out of their 5-game homestand to keep themselves atop the Central Division standings.
It started out great, the Wild had a lot of jump and were all over Toronto right from the drop of the puck. Minnesota was winning the races to loose pucks and most of the battles along the boards. This led to the Wild peppering Jack Campbell with shots early and often. Campbell looked calm and sharp between the pipes, not too rattled by Minnesota’s pressure. I thought the line of Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno was really moving well and their heavy forecheck was causing all kinds of havoc in the Toronto zone. Their hard work would finally be rewarded late in the period when Jordan Greenway was able to pounce on a rebound created by a hard shot by Matthew Dumba. The goal gave the team some tangible evidence their hard work would be rewarded.
Minnesota continued to work hard, keeping their feet moving which drew a few penalties on the Maple Leafs. The Wild would cash in on the power play as Mats Zuccarello‘s shot would carom off the skate of Minnetonka-native Justin Holl and by Campbell to give Minnesota a 2-0 advantage. The big line would go back to work and after some forechecking pressure they’d force a turnover and Foligno would pounce on a loose puck that seemed to catch Campbell napping a bit in his crease. 3-0 Wild. Unfortunately, this is when the Wild decided to go into coast mode. The hustle stopped and the Maple Leafs, annoyed that they were getting handled by the Wild started to take advantage of the extra time and space and pretty soon it was Minnesota parading to the penalty box.
Jason Spezza, the wily veteran would light the lamp twice on the power play to get Toronto back to believing they had a chance to win this game. The Wild continued to be in a mental haze of sorts and they’d take one more penalty late as Alex Goligoski would get called for holding. Toronto would take advantage and it was Auston Matthews drilling a shot by Cam Talbot to tie the game 3-3 just prior to the end of the 2nd period.
This was gut check time. How bad did the Wild want to end their homestand perfect or was 4-out-5 good enough? It was a test of character, Wild teams of the past may have been satisfied to go 4-out-5 and just let the Maple Leafs take control.
Minnesota seemed to play with more fire and more hustle of the kind that they had to start the game as they put Toronto on its heels with a determined forecheck. One player who was really pressing the attack was Kevin Fiala who was flying around the ice and seemed to want to go end-to-end anytime he could get the puck. Its hard to be upset with him because you can tell he’s working so hard out there. You know he desperately wants to score and at some point the flood gates are going to open and the team will have another scorer on its hands. Minnesota kept attacking but Campbell was able to come up with the saves and the game would go to overtime.
In overtime, Minnesota carried most of the play and the Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov seemed to want to give his team the game-winning goal. He put on a clinic of puckhandling and had a few great opportunities including a heavy wrister that was just missed wide of the mark. A slashing penalty on Jonas Brodin appeard to flirt with doom with about a minute left in overtime. Fortunately the Wild penalty killers stepped up, especially Dmitry Kulikov and he’d help bring the game to a shootout.
In the shootout Mats Zuccarello beat Campbell with a pretty backhand to forehand deke and then Kirill Kaprizov got the game-winner he was gunning for on a great shot by putting the puck up underneath the crossbar. Cam Talbot would deny William Nylander and the Wild would earn a 4-3 victory.
I thought the Wild were smart in giving Kaapo Kahkonen the two starts against the Coyotes and Devils respectively. They knew Toronto was going to be tough and this gave Talbot time to rest and study up on the Maple Leafs. It helped build Kahkonen’s confidence and gave him some needed playing time. The Wild are about to go on a very tough 4-game road trip. Talbot is going to get a lot of work on the road trip, but Kahkonen will probably get in at least one of those games on the back-to-back next weekend.
This team is fun to watch because it seems to believe that at any time someone can step up to make a big play, whether its a hit, a clutch save, a pass or finding a way to score. You can tell they are playing for each other and not just for themselves. I think that’s a reflection of the new leadership group on the ice and Head Coach Dean Evason‘s approach to let the players have the role of being the main motivator. It puts ownership on them to step up as opposed to waiting to be told what the answer should be.
What did you think of this week’s slate of Wild games? Tell us what you think on Twitter at @CreaseAndAssist!
Injuries and Covid-19 Catch up to the Iowa Wild
All seasons have their ups and downs, and in sports that can often be determined by the relative health of your team. If your team is fortunate enough to avoid injuries you usually have more success whereas if you suffer injuries you can often find yourself overwhelmed especially if you lose some of the better talent on your team. Now that’s all ‘captain obvious’ stuff, but in our present world there is always the looming shadow of Covid-19 and both of those things have put Iowa in a bit of a rut with two straight losses.
On the injury side, was the loss of leading scorer Marco Rossi due to an injury he sustained when he was sort of slammed down to the ice in an after the whistle scrum against the Henderson Silver Knights last weekend. In a 2-game back-to-back series, Rossi was also hurt in the first game when he inadvertently was struck by a teammates stick while skating behind the opposing goal. Both times, Iowa Head Athletic Trainer Masayasu Taikaiwa went out to the ice to attend to Rossi. It should be noted that in both cases, Rossi did leave the ice under his own power. Little has been disclosed about the injury other than that its an ‘upper body’ issue. If I had to guess I’d say it was either a concussion or a neck injury.
I know some Wild fans were quick to go after Henderson’s Ben Jones for slamming Rossi to the ice, but if you watch the replay it was Rossi that initiated the contact after the whistle and Jones simply grabbed him and tossed him. It wasn’t like he was head hunting or pulled off some kind of sucker punch when Rossi had no reason to expect it. While the injury was unfortunate, its part of the risk when you decide to tangle with an older, perhaps stronger player. If I was Ben Jones and a player like Rossi skated up to me like that I probably would’ve done the same thing, because your first thought in a situation like that is get the hell away from me. I know that might make me a pariah with some Wild homers, but its the truth.
Covid-19 also made its mark on the Wild roster by taking talented Connor Dewar out of Iowa’s lineup. Dewar is one of Iowa’s most versatile player and he plays a big role offensively, as well on the power play and penalty kill. It hasn’t been stated that he has Covid-19, just that he wasn’t able to play due to Covid protocols. The Iowa Wild certainly missed having Dewar and Rossi available against the always good Chicago Wolves this weekend. Especially in the offensive zone, Iowa lacked cohesion and looked more than a bit discombobulated especially on the power play where the struggled to generate shots on goal.
Iowa would look better in Saturday night’s game against Chicago than they did on Thursday night against the 1st place Wolves. Yet they still had great difficulty finding time and space on the ice without the speedy playmakers that Rossi and Dewar represent. If there was a bright side was the play of Hunter Jones who looked good since being called up from the ECHL’s Iowa Heartlanders.
Iowa Wild (record): (9-7-1) 19pts 3rd in the AHL Central
22.2% Power Play (5th in the AHL)
84.5% Penalty Kill (7th in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #18 Mason Shaw ~ 6G 8A = 14pts
2. #42 Kyle Rau ~ 5G 9A = 14pts
3. #27 Joe Hicketts ~ 5G 9A = 14pts
4. #13 Nick Swaney ~ 7G 5A = 12pts
5. #19 Joey Cramarossa ~ 2G 7A = 9pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #55 Cody McLeod ~ 65 PIM’s
2. #19 Joey Cramarossa ~ 29 PIM’s
3. #18 Mason Shaw ~ 26 PIM’s
1. #35 Andrew Hammond (5-1-1) 2.11GAA .913%SP 3SO
2. #30 Dereck Baribeau (4-5-0) 2.92GAA .904%SP
3. #92 Hunter Jones (0-1-0) 2.04GAA .938%SP
Where Are They Now? C – Cody Almond (Lausanne, NLA)
The Wild drafted Almond in the 5th round, 140th in 2007 and played 25 games with Minnesota over the course of 3 seasons from 2009 to 2012. He had 2 goals and 26 PIM’s in those 25 NHL games. The former Kelowna Rocket was never a fast player, but he didn’t mind going into the corners and was an effective in the tough areas of the ice and could chip in a bit offensively. Most of the time he was playing for the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate in Houston where he played in a 159 games until 2012. From there he went to play in the Swiss National League with Geneve-Servette where he even served as alternate captain in 2013-14. Almond would come back to play for Iowa Wild for just 5 games back in 2014 but those would be his last games in North America. He returned to the Swiss National League where he has spent the last 7 seasons. Currently, the 32-year old has 2 goals, 6 points, 26 PIM’s and is a +3 in 11 games with Lausanne.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Daemon Hunt (Moose Jaw, WHL) ~ The Warriors’ captain had an assist on 2 shots in Moose Jaw’s 4-3 victory over the Wheat Kings. On Friday, the Calgary-native had two goals on 6 shots in the Warriors’ 4-0 win over Red Deer. Hunt has 9 goals, 16 points, 17 PIM’s and is +3 in 20 games.
RW – Pavel Novak (Kelowna, WHL) ~ The skilled Czech-born winger had a goal on 7 shots and went 1-for-4 on his draws in the Rockets’ 5-3 loss to Vancouver. On Saturday, he added another assist in Kelowna’s 4-3 win against Kamloops on Saturday. Novak has 10 goals , 24 points, 8 PIM’s and is +10 in 19 games.
D – Ryan O’Rourke (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) ~ The -native had two assists on two shots in the Greyhounds’ 7-2 win against Guelph. O’Rourke has 3 goals, 15 points, 31 PIM’s and is a -1 in 20 games.
D – Jack Peart (St. Cloud State, NCHC) ~ The 2021’s Mr. Hockey Award recipient had three assists for the Huskies in their 8-1 rout of North Dakota. He would register another assist on Saturday in St. Cloud State’s 5-3 loss to North Dakota. Peart has 2 goals, 11 points, 18 PIM’s and is a +4 in 12 games.
G – Jesper Wallstedt (Lulea, SHL) ~ The promising goaltender had 28 saves in Lulea’s 3-2 shootout win over Frolunda. Wallstedt has a 9-6 record, a 1.88 goals against average and a .918% save percentage with 2 shutouts this season.
D – Simon Johansson (Ilves, Sm-Liiga) ~ Originally drafted in the 5th round, 148th Overall in 2015, the ‘other’ Johansson has bounced around between Sweden and now is playing in Finland’s top league and seems to be catching his stride. He had 3 assists in Ilves’ 6-3 win over Tappara on Friday. Johansson has 1 goal, 10 points, 8 PIM’s and is a +8 in 25 games.
RW – Josh Pillar (Kamloops, WHL) ~ The pesky winger had an assist on 2 shots in Kamloops’ 4-3 loss to Kelowna. Pillar has 9 goals, 28 points, 17 PIM’s and is a +12 in 21 games.
LW – Caeden Bankier (Kamloops, WHL) ~ The rangy power forward has been in a bit of a dry spell as of late but he had a goal on 2 shots and went 11-for-18 on his draws in Kamloops’ 4-3 loss to the Rockets on Saturday. Bankier has 9 goals, 20 points, 4 PIM’s and is +8 in 21 games.