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Taking a look in on the Wild | January

The Tweet by Minneapolis Star Tribune Wild beat writer Michael Russo says it all.  As good as things are, it doesn't appear to be statistically sustainable.  Or is it?  Minnesota is the ultimate example of the score by committee approach as it has managed to generate offense from all 4 of its lines and with 18 different players with at least a goal prior to the start of November it has been a different hero each night.  So there is a lot of redundancy to the Wild's attack and the team clearly has bought in to what the new coaching staff has been selling and the reward is where they sit in the Central Division standings.

The Wild also had some welcome days to rest and recover from what has been a physically demanding last few games.  With some bumps and bruises that have kept Zach PariseMarco Scandella and Erik Haula out of the lineup, the Wild have been forced to adjust but so far have shown resiliency which was an issue during the previous coaching regime.  Another struggle the previous regime seemed to have was its struggles to get back into form after a few days off.  Can this staff keep Minnesota focused and executing at a high level against what should be a motivated Sabres squad hoping to avenge a loss to the Wild from a week ago? For those of you interested in online hockey betting, this certainly is an interesting question.

1st Period Thoughts:  Someone grab the small bottle of 5 Hour Energy, a bottle of Jolt soda or some Tabasco Sauce and have each member of the Minnesota Wild drink all of it.  Because after a catatonic period where the Sabres outhustled, outplayed and outchanced the Wild it makes you wonder if they were asleep.  It was lethargic from the Wild right from the drop of the puck.  Buffalo was winning all of the little races to the puck and they were not hesitating to work pucks to the point men who then would rifle shots on goal and then look for rebound.  Devan Dubnyk found himself under siege early and a just a few minutes in a shot from the point by Rasmus Ristolainen would hammer a slap shot that was stopped by Dubnyk but he was unable to stop Ryan O'Reilly's rebound bid.  1-0 Sabres.  Minnesota didn't seem to be awaken almost at all after Buffalo's early tally and they continued to mostly sleepwalk through the rest of the period.  Lazy area passes with lots of standing and reaching instead of skating meant the Wild were going to continue to have chase the Sabres around its offensive zone.  The lines that looked so good a few days ago now looked disjointed, mostly uninspired and ineffective.  It seemed that on any given shift, you'd have one Wild forward that would hustle and the rest would just sort of watch and hope he was able to get the puck somehow.  Even as Dubnyk denied Nick Baptiste, the team continued to sort of go through the motions.  One player who I felt was exceptionally bad was Mathew Dumba.  The normally offensive-minded defenseman completely spaced and didn't hold the zone and then as the Sabres counter attacked he half-heartedly defended and the result was Buffalo nearly added to its lead.  Few Wild players seemed interested in creating much offensively and the result was we did very little to test Robin Lehner.  I know Bruce Boudreau complained about the lack of players available to practice due to salary cap constraints, but that doesn't excuse this team being outworked and outhustled after having two days to rest up prior to tonight's game.  Minnesota would be wise to copy Buffalo's approach and keep it simple and work for a goal and put some pressure on the younger and less experienced Sabres.

2nd Period Thoughts:  The 2nd period the Wild would awaken a bit, but poor execution nearly turned it into a disaster.  Minnesota started to move its feet more and this meant they did not spend the period chasing around its own end of the ice.  Even though the hustle was there, the decision-making left a lot to be desired.  A few cases in point.  3 on 1 for the Nino NiederreiterCharlie CoyleEric Staal line (which was by far the best line of the game so far for Minnesota) but with Nino with the puck and a clear look at the net tries to pass the puck to Coyle who seemed surprised and they didn't even get a shot off.  A few minutes later it was the Wild catching the Sabres on a poor line change and without too much trouble had a 4-on-2.  Instead of pressing the attack they slowed down and no one seemed to know what to do and by the time the puck worked its way to Dumba he had no clear shooting lane and another odd-man rush would go without a shot being taken.  You could feel the frustration in the crowd and Minnesota tried to clean up its act and the next time the Niederreiter-Coyle-Staal line got a 3-on-2, Nino pulled the trigger and Lehner had a tough time fighting off the shot.  A power play would finally give the Wild the chance it needed to bury the biscuit as Jason Pominville made a nice play to work the puck deep in the offensive zone, sending a pass to Staal who let go a low-lying shot that yielded a big rebound that was swept by Mikael Granlund who moved in dangled around a sprawling Lehner to backhand it into the open net.  1-1 game and Minnesota looked to have finally awaken.  Minnesota out shot the Sabres 15-7 in the 2nd.  Another player with a good period was Tyler Graovac who was moving well and making good plays at both ends of the ice.  I like how he was taking the puck to the net and throwing his 6'5" frame around.

3rd Period Thoughts:  The 3rd period would see the Wild ease up and the Sabres waited patiently to ramp up the intensity and Minnesota deserved the fate it received.  Minnesota seemed to want to work for some pretty finish and more often than not this resulted in no shot at all.  The Sabres would wait for Minnesota to make a mistake and it would come about halfway through the period when the team caught the Wild pinching with its worst defenseman, Nate Prosser and it was Brian Gionta racing into the Wild zone and swinging a centering pass that partially deflected by Jared Spurgeon and onto the stick of a crashing Johan Larsson who tapped it by Dubnyk.  2-1 Sabres and you'd expect the home team to be fired up after that small defensive breakdown right?  Nope, it was more of a lethargic effort while Buffalo seemed eager to add to its lead with simple, in-your face hockey.  Buffalo nearly added another when Ennis set up Marcus Foligno for a tap in chance after he outhustled Jonas Brodin for a loose puck.  Only a Dubnyk save kept the Wild within one.  Minnesota continued to look uninspired and it wasn't until the final two minutes, leading up to the Wild pulling Dubnyk for an extra attacker that the team started to show some urgency.  Yet it was too little too late, as the Sabres continued to force the puck to the wall and just outworked us and Minnesota didn't even get a shot on goal with the extra attacker and the Wild fell 2-1.

Devan Dubnyk played well enough for the Wild to have a chance in this game, making 22 saves in the loss.  He didn't have to face many chances tonight, but I thought he was left out to dry a bit by his defenseman whose effort seemed to be a bit lax this evening.  Even Christian Folin who was coming off some of his best hockey was soft on the puck at the worst time when O'Reilly got the opening goal of the game.  Same was true on the game winning tally as Spurgeon opted for an interception instead of taking the body against Gionta, not to mention a lazy effort to get back in the play by Prosser who should feel awful after his ill-advised pinch.  Zero excuse for lazy, leaning and reaching play the Wild's defense had tonight after having the last two days off.

Offensively the Wild had one line that was going in the Staal-Coyle-Niederreiter line but even that group wasn't generating enough shots and quality chances as they were guilty of trying to make the perfect play instead of a simple one.  The rest of the lines had a few flashes but were mostly forgettable or lacked cohesion.  The 4th line of Graovac, Schroeder, Bertschy didn't add much of anything and the Sabres often would try to press the attack when they were on the ice.  A few bright spots were the play of Staal and the pesky play of Pominville who I feel has been pretty understated while being bounced around to just about every line the Wild have.

This was a game where the Sabres nearly left the Wild off the hook for its poor effort, but Minnesota just couldn't capitalize on the chances they were given.  From the failed odd-man rushes to simple let downs defensively are what ultimately cost the Wild at a good chance at another 2 points in the standings.  Yes this team is beat up, but it still does not excuse being outworked as much as they were tonight by the Sabres who simply seemed to want this one more than the Wild did.  Now they have another few days off before they go and play what will likely be a very motivated Colorado squad.  The question is, will the Wild be motivated or will they look like they did this evening?

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Joel Eriksson Ek, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville, Chris Stewart, Tyler Graovac, Jordan Schroeder, Christoph Bertschy, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Christian Folin, Nate Prosser and Mathew Dumba.  Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk.  Erik Haula and Marco Scandella are the scratches.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Ryan O'Reilly, 2nd Star Mikael Granlund, 3rd Star Johan Larsson

~ Attendance was 18,864 at Xcel Energy Center.

Iowa Wild Report:

Iowa 3, Milwaukee 2

Iowa would get out to a fast start as Alex Tuch set up Colton Beck for a quick strike just a little past 3 minutes into the game.  The Admirals tried to answer back but Steve Michalek was rock solid, weathering the storm and keeping Iowa holding onto a 1-goal lead.  Iowa would add to its lead less than a minute into the 2nd as Jordan Schroeder was just able to tuck in a shot near the right post to make it 2-0 Wild.  The Admirals would answer back with two goals from Matt White and a power play tally by Adam Payerl from in close to tie the game at 2-2.  A few minutes later it was the Wild who struck after a frantic few seconds near the Admirals crease that had Juuse Saros flopping around but unable to cover the puck up before Sam Anas was able to jam the puck over the goal line, 3-2 Wild.  Iowa would then lock it down in the 3rd and the Wild would finish the home-at-home with a 2-game sweep.  Michalek was superb making 36 saves in the victory.

Wild Prospect Report:

LW - Kirill Kaprizov (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL) ~ the talented winger is certainly enjoying the fact he's playing for a much stronger team, as he chipped in a primary assist in Salavat's 6-0 win over Sibir Novosibirsk.  Kaprizov has 10 goals, 20 points, 62 PIM's and is a +9 in 24 games.