The Minnesota Wild were looking to continue their winning ways on their quick trip through Canada when they faced the hard-hitting Ottawa Senators on Thursday, Oct. 27. Things started out rough when the Senators got on the board first, but the Wild found a way back not once but twice to take a lead into the first intermission. They extended that lead to two goals in the second period where they started to show glimpses of the talented team everyone saw last season.
The Senators tried to sneak back into the game with a goal early in the third period on a disastrous 5-on-3 that went against the Wild. Thankfully, they were not only able to protect the lead but also extend it one last time while shorthanded, securing their first back-to-back wins of the season and defeating the Senators 4-2.
Wild’s Fleury One Step Closer
The Wild couldn’t have secured this win without the phenomenal work of their goaltender Marc-André Fleury. He faced 29 shots on goal and stopped 27 of them for a save percentage of .931 and a goals-against average that was under three for the second consecutive time. Out of the two goals he let in, one was a power play goal and the other was at even strength.
Fleury still has some work to do after his horrendous start to the season but he’s been showing improvement in every game he’s played so far. That ability to consistently improve is what will give the Wild hope for the season and why he will be in the Hall of Fame one day. Hopefully, this second win will give him the confidence he needs to continue his strong play.
Wild’s Gaudreau & Hartman Shine
Frédérick Gaudreau has been steadily stepping up his play over the last few games and against the Senators, he hit the jackpot. He’s been playing on the first line with Mats Zuccarello and Kirill Kaprizov since their win over the Montréal Canadiens and it has really upped his play. He was doing fine on a line with Matt Boldy but, once he moved up, he was able to find the back of the net for the first time this season. He was also great on the penalty kill even if it wasn’t 100 percent successful this time around.
The same can be said for Ryan Hartman. While he had a stellar year last season on the top line, this season things have seemed a little stale until he switched linemates. Once he was on a line with Joel Eriksson Ek and Brandon Duhaime, he found a different level to his game that also included tallying his first goal of the season. His game has indeed improved, maybe not to the production level of being on the top line, but he’s also able to use his physicality more on this line than he was before and that fits well with his gritty style of play.
Sometimes it takes switching the lines up to get the productivity you’re looking for and head coach Dean Evason seems to have found some new combinations that have been successful. While it’s hard not to see Hartman on the first line like last season, it’s great to see him finding chemistry on another line and knowing he can be swapped around if need be.
Wild Have Some Bumps
It’s great the Wild got their third win of the season and second straight, especially in the midst of a road trip, but there are some things that need work. The first item is making sure they clear the puck completely out of their defensive zone and not making light passes that don’t have enough to get past the blue line. That situation is how the Senators’ first goal was scored, the Wild weren’t able to clear the puck and instead turned it over, leaving Fleury vulnerable to Alex DeBrincat’s quick shot.
The next problematic item is the recent news of Jordan Greenway going back to the injured reserve after playing one period against the Vancouver Canucks. With Greenway out that meant there was an open roster spot and it was taken by Mason Shaw who’s shown some real talent so far this season. He didn’t have a lot of productivity against the Senators but it looks like he’ll have some time to find the back of the net before Greenway comes back.
The third and final issue the Wild need to take a look at is their physicality and throwing hits at the right time. They were pushed around most of the night by the Senators, who were not afraid to hit the whole game. While fighting is making its way out of the NHL, it wasn’t absent in the Wild’s win. In fact, it started within the first minute of the game.
For many Wild fans, there was a scary flashback with Matt Dumba when he ended up taking on Brady Tkachuk in a fight. For those that remember the last time Dumba fought a Tkachuk, he ended up tearing his pectoral muscle and hasn’t been the same since. Thankfully this time around he appeared to leave it unharmed and resumed play after his penalty was over.
The Wild need to step up when being pushed around and while they don’t need to fight, a strong and clean hit is sometimes just enough to turn the momentum in your favor, something Greenway is very good at. Shaw will have to try to implement that style into his game since Greenway will be out for a few games minimum and the Wild need that physicality now more than ever.
Wild’s Power Play & Next Opponent
Before moving on to the Wild’s next opponent, their power play has to be mentioned. It was great once again despite not having any success in their previous game. As of Oct. 27, Zuccarello sat alone at the top of the NHL stat sheet for most power play points this season with eight, one ahead of Connor McDavid. Zuccarello has been a machine on the power play and hopefully, that continues on Saturday when they face the Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings will be another tough test for the Wild as they have a number of players who are working on proving their skills. Players like Dylan Larkin, Dominik Kubalik, Olli Maatta, and even veteran David Perron are all at the top of the list when it comes to goals and points this season. While the Wild’s defense is busy keeping them off the scoreboard, the offense will be busy trying to make it past either Ville Husso or Alex Nedeljkovic in the Red Wings net.
The Wild will also be facing their first back-to-back of the season as they take on the Red Wings Saturday and then the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday. It’ll be tough as they’re reaching the end of a five-game road trip, so they’ll be fighting fatigue as well. Hopefully, the Wild can pull through and add another win.
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Mariah Stark (Holland) is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.