March 31, 2023

After suffering a rough overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres on the road, the Minnesota Wild were right back at it for the second game of their back-to-back but this time at home against the St. Louis Blues. While their game against the Sabres was a high-scoring but close affair, their game against the Blues was also close but low scoring until the third period when the Blues pulled away.

Both games started in a similar fashion with the opposing team scoring first, but that’s where the games turned. In their game against the Sabres, the Wild were able to stay in the fight with goals, but in their game against the Blues, they were shut out and couldn’t find the back of the net even once. Regardless, each game ended in the same result, a loss, and that gave the Wild back-to-back losses after getting on a two-game win streak.

The Wild did play well in both games but couldn’t hold onto their short lead against the Sabres and fell in the extra session. Against the Blues, they had a number of chances but couldn’t convert and while there were a number of things that went wrong in both, there were a couple of things the Wild can focus on going forward.

Wild Play Shorthanded

The Wild had quite the up-and-down week in terms of illness and injuries throughout their lineup. In their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 4 they lost both Filip Gustavsson (illness) and Mats Zuccarello (injury) but there was a bright spot, they got Brandon Duhaime back after a lengthy absence due to injury.

Filip Gustavsson Minnesota Wild
Filip Gustavsson, Minnesota Wild (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Zuccarello’s absence in their game against the Sabres was definitely noticed but they found ways to score without him. Ahead of their game against the Blues, the Wild had Gustavsson back in the net after his illness but they were forced to scratch Jordan Greenway just before the start of the game also due to illness. The timing of the scratch left the Wild with no time to call up another forward so they were forced to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

Obviously, that situation is not ideal in a normal game but the second game of a back-to-back made it extremely difficult. The Wild had been traveling after playing a high-scoring, fast-paced game the night before and clearly showed fatigue as soon as the second game started. They weathered the fatigue the best they could until the second period when they lost both Ryan Hartman and Joel Eriksson Ek to two separate hits that shook them up.

That left the Wild with just nine forwards and seven defensemen. They did try Calen Addison at forward for a bit during the time they were without Hartman and Eriksson Ek and went back to normal when both players eventually returned, but the damage had been done. Throughout the third, the Wild had a number of big chances but were skating slow and sloppy due to their fatigue from being overplayed. Hopefully, they can get back to playing with a full roster for their next game this coming Tuesday, Jan. 10.

Wild’s Sloppy Penalties

The Wild fell back into their pattern of taking sloppy penalties, which they did in both games. Examples of those penalties were hooking, tripping, and holding, and they all came as a result of not moving their feet. In both games, they took at least three penalties and their penalty kill couldn’t keep up.

Dean Evason Minnesota Wild
Dean Evason, head coach of the Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

They let in three goals while shorthanded between their two games, two against the Sabres and one against the Blues. Luckily against the Sabres, they were able to answer back with two power-play goals of their own but in typical Wild fashion, their power-play was successful one game and then struggled the next. That’s what happened when they played the Blues and couldn’t score any goals while on the man advantage.

While there are some penalties that are completely unavoidable, most of them are preventable and the Wild need to remember that. As the season moves along, games become more important in terms of the playoffs and they can’t keep taking a minimum of three penalties a game and, as a result, give up shorthanded goals. It may be difficult but they have to be more disciplined if they want to win.

Wild’s Bright Spots

It may seem like all bad news in the Wild’s recent losses but there were some minor bright spots that they can focus on. The first is their faceoff percentage which is something they have struggled with off and on not just this season but the last few. However, in these last two games, their percentages were higher, and are currently among the top 15 team performances of the season thus far. Against the Sabres they won 52 percent of their faceoffs and against the Blues, it was 51 percent.

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Somehow they found a way to win faceoffs and they need to use that as something to focus on in their next games. If they can win a key faceoff on a power play it could be the difference between winning and losing especially in a tight game as they had against the Blues. Their faceoffs were one good thing with the other being their goaltender Gustavsson.

It’s unclear what exactly caused Gustavsson to become ill at the very end of their game against the Lightning but whatever it was, it hit him hard. If he was feeling ill during the game, it was very hard to tell, as he played lights out up until the very end. The same can be said for his most recent game following his return from said illness. While it wasn’t quite as impressive as the Lightning game, it was equally great for someone returning from an illnes.

Filip Gustavsson said he’s feeling much better. Couldn’t keep anything down Wednesday night/Thursday. Got some IVs, nausea pills to help. “I don’t know if I ate something bad or whatever it was. I tossed everything out of my fridge and started fresh.”

Hopefully, Gustavsson is on his way to being back to the top of his game and will continue to play this strongly, especially with Marc-André Fleury away from the team until Tuesday, Jan. 10 as he deals with a personal matter. It’s unknown which goaltender will be in the net on Tuesday but with how Gustavsson has played it may be wise for the Wild to keep him in net unless he requires more rest to fully recover.

Wild Face Rangers

The Wild will be on the road once again this Tuesday this time they’ll be heading to New York to take on both the New York Rangers and New York Islanders. It should be a close game between the two teams who have similar records but the Wild will have to be well-rested and ready. They’ll have to find a way to stop Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Chris Kreider, and Vincent Trocheck who are very strong goal-scorers for the Rangers.

It’s unknown at this time who’ll be in net for the Wild, it could be either Fleury or Gustavsson but the Wild’s offense will have to find a way to beat one of the best goaltenders in the league in Igor Shesterkin or possibly his backup Jaroslav Halak. They’ll have to focus on getting some rest, cleaning up their penalties, and winning faceoffs. If they can do that they’ll get back to winning games, with the first being against the Rangers.

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