As the 2016-17 season opens, the Minnesota Wild are all about the excitement of new coach Bruce Boudreau. For the most part though, this is the same team save for the additions of Erik Staal, Chris Stewart and the most recent addition of Teemu Pulkkinen off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings.
The biggest change on the ice is the first line. The only holdover from last year’s 1st line is Zach Parise. Newly acquired center Erik Staal and former linemate Charlie Coyle now join him on the top line for the Wild. They started Game 1 and in the first 30 seconds, Erik Staal made a physical play to force a turnover in the neutral zone. The puck ended up getting wrapped around to Charlie Coyle who made a nice move to get a pass to an open Marco Scandella at the middle of the blue line for a quick little slapshot producing the first “almost” of the night when he hit the crossbar with a loud PING. So close…but still just “almost.”
That would end up being the theme of the night for the Minnesota Wild, almost. They also had 3 breakaways (Zucker, Staal & Parise) and were stopped every time. Staal’s breakaway maybe should’ve given him a penalty shot, to which the official told coach Bruce Boudreau, “He had a chance.” as the reason a penalty shot wasn’t called. That “chance” wasn’t complete because of the penalty thus it should’ve been called a penalty shot.
The Goals Against
The St. Louis Blues scored the first goal and, unfortunately, the “almost” theme could be used here as well. Jason Zucker almost got the puck out of the zone but it was kept in at the blue line, creating a chance to catch the Wild scrambling to get back into a good defensive formation.
Alex Steen puts the Blues up 1-0 in the 1st period
Zac Dalpe made a good physical play to get the puck loose from Alex Steen at the right half boards but Rob Fabbri picked up that loose puck and, with speed going into the corner, he made Wild defenseman Mike Reilly go too far towards him allowing him to make a move back to front of the net. Reilly got enough of him to force the puck loose but, Dalpe failed to stay with Alex Steen and he would get to the puck for a quick shot to the upper right corner for his 1st goal of the season and a Blues 1-0 lead.
I’m not sure Devan Dubnyk should be faulted very much for this goal. Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin does a good job of taking away the pass behind the net to Paul Stastny but Stastny makes a good play to go around the net to be a threat on the backdoor. When he did that, Brodin has no choice but to cut in front of his goaltender, taking Dubnyk’s view of the puck away for a split second and not allowing him to come out towards the shooter to cut down the angle leaving more net to shoot at for Alex Steen.
Nail Yakupov gave the Blues the lead back when his slapper from just inside the blue line to Devan Dubnyk’s left went in off Duubs’ glove. Dubnyk said postgame that he didn’t see the puck come off Yakupov’s stick. Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon had the blade of his stick there to deflect the shot but that either blocked Dubnyk’s view of the puck and/or deflected off Spurgeon’s stick. Dubnyk needs to stop shots from that far out a large majority of the time.
On the Blues 3rd goal, a 3-on-2 results when the third Wild forward in on the forecheck gets too low trying to get to a loose puck and the loose puck is won by the Blues. That started the odd man rush. They may have been fine but the newest Wild player, Teemu Pulkkinen backchecked down the middle but started coasting and then reached to try to break up the cross-ice pass to Magnus Paajarvi. If he keeps skating and takes that pass away, it changes the whole play.
You should never feel comfortable with your backcheck. Don’t just get within reach of the play or the player, get to the play and/or player so you can disrupt it and help your team.
The Blues executed that 3-on-2 to perfection. Patrick Berglund drove to the net forcing Matt Dumba to try to cover him and Magnus Paajarvi. He can’t leave Berglund in front of the net all alone yet he can’t cover both of them so he’s stuck between a puck and a hard place. See what I did there?
The Goals For
Even though the Wild did not play well in the 1st period, Ryan Suter erased all of that by tying the game all by himself.
Ryan Suter ties the game at one with an unassisted goal.
Ryan Suter was tasked with defending Vladimir Tarasenko all night. On this play, Kevin Shattenkirk is behind his own net and passes to Tarasenko in the neutral zone. Tarasenko comes back into his own zone expecting to be able to pass it back to Shattenkirk but Ryan Suter disrupts the play by being on Tarasenko as soon as he gets the puck. Forcing a turnover, Ryan Suter gets a mini-breakaway and makes a great play by shooting a quick backhand shot knowing Shattenkirk is right behind him so he there wasn’t time or space to move to his forehand for the shot. The quick backhand shot was saved by Blues goalie Jake Allen but the rebound came right back to Suter for his 1st goal of the season and a tie hockey game.
Awareness is a great skill. Suter’s awareness of where Shattenkirk was on the play and a quick shot helped him score. On the other side of the play, though, Tarasenko turns to go out of his own zone heading up the ice after losing the puck, instead of stopping or turning back towards his own net. That left Ryan Suter all alone against his goaltender. He gets a minus one and some film study time for his work there.
Charlie Coyle gets the Wild within one on a great play and pass from buddy, Jason Zucker.
Charlie Coyle one-times home a sweet pass from Jason Zucker
Boudreau switches up the lines in the 3rd to try to get something going for his team. He put Zac Dalpe out centering Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle and it paid off in getting the Wild within one with just over 7 minutes left in the game. Zucker won a battle in the neutral zone to try to get the puck deep and get in on the forecheck. His dump attempt hits Colton Parayko but Zucker keeps battling to get the puck loose then battles through a Nail Yakupov hit to keep the puck going into the left corner of the Blues zone. He takes a look as soon as he’s free from Yakupov and sees Charlie Coyle breaking to the net and hits him on the tape for Charlie Coyle’s 1st goal of the season.
You usually see it on every goal, the defending player is almost always late reacting to the offensive play. That’s because the offensive player is just trying to get open and knows where the puck is while the defending player is trying to cover the player or an area and they may not know exactly where the puck is at all times. That’s a big reason why defense is so hard. You can’t just watch the puck. If you do, you’ll watch the puck go into your net. On the other hand, you can’t just watch the player, either. You have to know where the puck is while also keeping a stick on the offensive player’s stick. Don’t just be within reach of the player because you won’t have enough time to react to get to their stick.
The Wild played their best hockey in the 3rd period and had chances to tie the game but couldn’t get it done. So, they lost their first game of the season. They need to learn from it and move on to the next game quickly.
“…we couldn’t get up to speed.”
Ryan Suter Postgame
The first loss of the season in the first game is not what the fans or the team was looking for last night. The main reason is they just seemed a step behind for most of the game. Like Ryan Suter said, they “couldn’t get up to speed” against the Blues. They looked like a team that was learning a new system and reacting to what they were seeing instead of reading the play, anticipating and reacting to their reads.
Mikael Granlund was relatively invisible out there. We didn’t really hear his name called other than when he got drilled into the stanchion by Colton Parayko.
Their power play had 5 chances and got very little out of those 10 minutes on the man advantage but…
Believe it or not, there are some positive things to take away from this game. It’s never a good thing to lose or fail but you can learn from it and get better because of it.
The Wild penalty kill did not allow a goal even if they allowed some great chances. The team got better as the game went on and played their best hockey in the 3rd period and gave themselves a chance to tie the game late. That’s all you want is a chance to get points every night. They know they will need to play better and they will play better.
They shut down Vladimir Tarasenko. Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon appeared to be the defensive pair tasked with the job of shutting down one of the premier forwards in the National Hockey League and they did it. Suter made him look silly on his goal and took him out of the play a few times.
They had a physicality to their game, too. Erik Haula getting a roughing penalty protecting his goalie in front of the net. Marco Scandella reacting to a big hit on Mikael Granlund.
They have the first game out of the way and know a little bit more of how Bruce Boudreau and the entire coaching staff goes about their business.
I expect a completely different team come tomorrow night when the Minnesota Wild hold their Home Opener at the Xcel Energy Center at 6pm on Fox Sports North.