A Golden Night against the Golden Knights.
The Minnesota Wild had lost 2 consecutive games to 2 of the best teams in the NHL and in the Western Conference. Now they had to face another very good Western Conference in expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights. In years past, “expansion team” usually meant a relatively easy game and a definite opportunity to get 2 points. Those days are over. These Knights have been lights out at home at 9-2 but not nearly as good on the road, although, still very good at 6-5-1 before the game on Thursday night.
It’s usually not good to face a team coming off two bad losses, especially if that team has had a couple days off and some time to practice and adjust their game and you know with a very good opponent facing them, this Minnesota Wild team was going to do everything in their power to make those adjustments as quickly as possible so they’re ready for the next game. Points are at a premium when you’ve struggled in the first quarter of the season.
The Wild make some roster changes before the game by putting D Kyle Quincey on waivers and claiming former D Nate Prosser off waivers from the St. Louis Blues. They had previously called up D Ryan Murphy from their AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild, since D Jared Spurgeon was out due to a groin strain. That meant the Wild were going to go with the youth of D Mike Reilly & D Gustav Olofsson on the bottom defensive pair.
Neither player has played very well so far this season but they’ve both shown that they are ready to be NHL players. They’ve done well enough in the minors to earn identical 1-way contracts in the offseason. Defense is the toughest position in the game to learn. Development of young defenseman takes time. Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said he’s learned, “it takes approximately 300 games to become a solid NHL defenseman.” Before Thursday night’s game, Mike Reilly had played 63 games in the NHL & Gustav Olofsson had played 30 games in the NHL. They’ve both played plenty in the minors, Reilly has 103 games in the AHL while Olofsson has played 120 games in the AHL.
Reilly is the more offensive defenseman while Gustav is better defensively which means they should actually make for a pretty decent combination with the exception being they don’t have a ton of experience and learning against the best players in the world can be a bit daunting. The Wild know they have to put them in games so they can experience playing at this level to develop into NHL defensemen. There’s no, “…I’m sorry. You don’t have enough experience” in hockey. It’s more of you don’t have the right experience. They’ve played a lot of hockey but, it just gets harder as you move up.
Let’s be honest, though. The problems the Wild were having were defensively but it wasn’t just the defensemen that were the problem. It was the forwards. After waiving Kyle Quincey, GM Chuck Fletcher said, “…until the forwards start playing the right way, we will not win.” He was mostly talking about getting the puck deep when the play calls for that.
If the opponent’s defense is standing up at the blueline, trying to stickhandle through 3 players is very rarely going to work and is definitely not a play they should be trying on a consistent basis. It’s a turnover waiting to happen. Throw the puck behind the defense and get the forecheck going. Get to Work!
The first forechecker (F1) is in on the puck while F2 reads the play so they can meet the puck when it gets to the next player. F3 stays high paying attention to the breakout options to prevent odd-man rushes. Consistently doing this with speed and physicality will affect the game* because those defensemen will want to move the puck quicker and that will cause mistakes. Mistakes cause turnovers and turnovers cause scoring chances. It’s not rocket science (is it Puck-et Science?)
*There’s a great quote from Brian Burke about checking in the National Hockey League:
“…hitting is designed to separate a player from the puck, primarily, and secondarily, to discourage enthusiastic participation by that player in the later part of the game.”
This game started with both teams playing defensively, not wanting to take too many chances and feeling out how the game was going to go. The Golden Knights played that way because they were on the road and the Wild because they were coming off two bad defensive games. Both teams still had their chances but the game would be scoreless until late in the 2nd period when Mike Reilly made a great play to get the puck over to Mikael Granlund for a one-timer:
Mike Reilly threw an apple at Mikael Granlund from across the rink then a 1T & a Wild 1-0 lead!
This is a great goal set up by a great pass from #4 D Mike Reilly. It shows his vision but it also shows him taking advantage of a player out of position. #64 F Mikael Granlund shows great work ethic to battle for position and to get open while playing without the puck.
Reilly dumped the puck around the left boards behind the net to #16 Jason Zucker, who then tried to hit #9 Mikko Koivu in front of the net but he blindly threw the pass to where he thought Koivu was so the puck comes back to the point and Vegas F Brandon Leipsic (#13) lunged to try to tip the puck. This took Leipsic out of position to defend Reilly. You can see this in the screenshot below.
Looking at this screenshot, you also see Granlund behind the net but he’s coming out in front of the net and getting open so he’s an option on the play. Mike Reilly isn’t even on the screen yet and still doesn’t have the puck but he knows he’ll be to able to take advantage of Leipsic being out of position by going around him to the outside and to the left half-wall.
#4 Reilly has a few options here. He has speed so he can keep moving towards the goal line to see if anything opens up. He could shoot because Zucker has created a screen but he does have a player in front of him and his angle will get worse as he gets lower in the zone. He also has Granlund as an option and there’s a clear passing lane because Vegas D #5 Deryk Engelland let Granlund have some space for some reason. It’s 5-on-5 and that’s his man. You see Granlund starting to give Reilly a target and he puts the puck right on his tape so he can just catch and shoot all in one motion and the shot hit the right post up high and went in the net for the 1st goal of the game.
Vegas tied it up on a play where I thought Wild F #3 Charlie Coyle should’ve shot the puck. The play starts at 4:20 in the condensed version of the game at the top of this article. He tried to pass it to Matt Cullen but Vegas D #3 Brayden McNabb was able to poke check the pass away and start the odd-man rush. He would be the odd-man open and get the one-time slapper to go past Devan Dubnyk to the upper right corner and tie the game at 1-1. Cullen fell down, which made a pretty big difference on the play.
A little less than 2 minutes later, Vegas would take the lead on a nice play by F #71 William Karlsson (at 5:10 of the attached video.) Karlsson received a pass from F #81 Jonathan Marchessault and he had the time and space to move toward the defense and drop a pass back to Marchessault, who made one move and then shot it bardown for a 2-1 Vegas Golden Knights lead.
The key to this play is Wild D #20 Ryan Suter giving too much space to Marchessault. That happened because he stayed with Karlsson even though Matt Dumba was right there to defend Karlsson. This is where communication could’ve helped stop this goal and given Ryan Suter more time to get his stick (or himself) in front of the shot or to force Marchessault to take the play further outside and maybe look for a different option other than a shot. I also think Dubnyk could’ve come out further from the crease to cut the angle down.
The Wild respond 48 seconds later and tie the game at 2-2 when Jonas Brodin scored his 2nd goal of the season with a shot from the left point that deflected off Vegas D Brayden McNabb’s stick as he was trying to keep Nino Niederreiter from getting in front of the net to do the same thing.
Tying the game up so quickly gave the Wild some life and allowed them to play their game again. Dubnyk was playing well so they could just play and not have to push or take some risks to tie the game. They did get back to their game and took the lead when their forecheck forced a turnover and the puck got back to Matt Dumba at the right point. He made a move around #92 Tomas Nosek and then took a quick half-swing slapper that got past #41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and hit #5 Deryk Engelland in the right wrist and deflected right to #12 F Eric Staal for an easy shot into the empty net. Eric Staal caused the turnover by reading the play and getting to Bellemare and forcing him to make a quick play.
You can see this on the condensed version of the game (6:53 in) as opposed to the highlights version that, more often than not, doesn’t show the entire play and everything that went into how a goal happened. The highlight of the game-winning 3rd goal from Staal edits the play down to the point where Dumba gets the puck. The first replay shows Staal coming in on the forecheck but not enough to know what happened to force the turnover.
Devan Dubnyk had to make a great save with the paddle of his goalie to stick to keep the Wild ahead with just over a minute left in the game:
Eric Staal would score an actual empty-net goal with 6 seconds left in regulation to seal the win for the Minnesota Wild. It was a pretty big win over another Western Conference team and it will hopefully give the Wild some confidence as their next opponent is the St. Louis Blues.
THANKS for reading some Clutter. We’d love to see your thoughts on this game, the Wild or anything else hockey-related so….