The Minnesota Wild managed to relinquish a two-goal lead in the final frame Sunday night against a struggling San Jose Sharks club. The Wild appeared to be firing on all cylinders in the first period, but as the game progressed, the club took their foot off the gas pedal, and the Sharks took advantage.
Scoring wasn’t the issue for the Wild. It’s that they continued to let the Sharks stay in the game. After the Wild took a 2-0 lead early in the third period, that should have been it, with no chance for the California club to crawl back in, but they did. The issue also wasn’t the performance of goaltender Filip Gustavsson. It was the Wild’s defensive play that saw the club drop a 2-0 lead in the third period and eventually lose in a shootout.
Wild’s Lack of Defensive Urgency
Minnesota developed a pattern of defensive laziness in the final two periods of the contest. With just over six minutes left to play, Steven Lorentz soaked up a rebound to bring the Sharks within one goal. What’s frustrating here is that there wasn’t any defensive urgency at all. Lorentz managed to get two hacks at the puck before getting it past Gustavsson.
Cale Addison had plenty of time to position himself to push Lorentz off the puck, but he couldn’t get there. Great defense indeed leads to great offense, and perhaps that’s the issue with the Wild right now. Because they’re not performing as well as they could be defensively, they are struggling to create in the offensive zone.
However, we have to give credit where credit’s due. The Sharks capitalized on the Wild’s lazy defensive play, and they were rewarded for it.
The play of the game came from former Wild centerman, Nico Sturm, with just four minutes left in the third period. The secret to Sturm’s success on Sunday was his blue-collar game. Receiving a pass on the backhand, he simply skated straight up the boards and got a shot off. There was nothing special about the play, but it was effective, and the Wild could learn something from their former teammate.
Sturm recently signed a three-year, $6 million contract with the Sharks. He’s scored six goals this season, appearing to fit in nicely with his new club. On the other hand, Tyson Jost, the forward Sturm was traded for, has basically been invisible, putting up just three assists in 11 games; he has also been a healthy scratch four times.
Wild Lessons Learned
The Wild need to consider how and why they were outplayed last night. The Sharks didn’t do anything special but play a simple, aggressive game. The Wild are capable of playing this way too, but they sometimes fall into the trap of playing cute hockey.
Head coach Dean Evason addressed the issue, saying: “I have no idea because we’re not that good, right? We’re not. We’re not that skilled to have that happen to us. We’re gritty. We’re supposed to take pride in that, and I think we do. And it’s not everybody. There’s people in our lineup that play the right way, and lines and defense pairs that play the right way, and they get rewarded for it” (from ‘Nico Sturm returns to Minnesota and gives his old team a lesson in north-south hockey,” The Athletic, Nov. 13, 2022).
It’s difficult to argue with that. Too often the Wild gave up the puck by trying to dangle through the opposition or make inexplicably silly passes. Hockey is a possession game. Teams and lines work too hard for the puck to give it up so easily. The Wild need to consider this as they go down to Nashville to face the Predators on Tuesday night.
C.G. played a lot of hockey in Wisconsin and Minnesota growing up. Now, he’s a hockey coach in Michigan. His fascination, love, and appreciation for hockey is why he’s here at The Hockey Writers, covering the Minnesota Wild. But he writes other things, too, including a novel entitled Project: Sleepless Dream. You can find him on Twitter @WritingTheWild.