The Minnesota Wild lost their fourth in their last five games in a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena.
The Wild didn’t play a terrible game overall, but it certainly doesn’t look like the dame team that played so well in January. Let’s look at some of the biggest takeaways from this loss.
Wild Start Strong Defensively
For all the chances the Maple Leafs had in this game, which totaled 25 shots on net, none of which came in the first 10 minutes of the first period.
The Wild did an excellent job at slowing down Toronto’s most dynamic offensive players before they could generate much speed. When they started cycling the puck down low behind Kaapo Kähkönen, their defense was strong on the puck and the body, eliminating virtually everything before clearing the zone.
When Toronto did look like they finally were in a shooting position, the Wild were giving it everything they had to either block the shot or scramble back to force a pass. Even killing their only penalty of the first period, the Wild made the Maple Leafs’ power-play look out of sorts. Which, in honesty, isn’t the case at all, as Toronto entered this game with the league’s best power-play percentage, clicking at over 30% on the season.
It was a masterful job defensively, something not many teams around the league have been able to do against Toronto this season. Kähkönen did all he could with what he was given, only allowing two goals, but it wasn’t enough.
Wild Lacked Usual Physicality
Something many teams around the league have picked up on over the past few seasons is realizing it’s possible to throw the Maple Leafs off their game by being extremely physical for a full 60 minutes. It might not work every time, but it does work.
Unlike the last time these two teams met, the Wild didn’t seem ready to compete physically in this game. Sure, there were hits dished out by both teams, but overall, the Wild only registered 21 hits in the game. Fun fact, that’s actually six more hits than the last time these two teams met on Dec. 4. However, anyone who watched both games could tell you that this game quickly lacked the same physicality and emotion as was shown in early December.
The Wild were missing power-forward Jordan Greenway, who is consistently a physical presence on the ice. Regardless, missing one player shouldn’t change what has made them so successful this season; being an extremely tough team to line up against on any night.
Marcus Foligno did his part with six hits in the game. Besides that, no one on the Wild stood out in terms of trying to rally the team up with physical play. They have the players to do it, but the team failed to show it properly in this game.
Wild Gave Matthews Gifts
Looking back on the game as a whole, the Wild should be pretty happy with the way they played defensively. However, they did give one player on the Maple Leafs too many good looks, and unfortunately for them, that player was Auston Matthews.
Just 27 seconds after the Wild took the lead with the game’s first goal, Matthews was allowed to enter their zone while Jonas Brodin and Dmitry Kulikov backed up far too much, giving him too much time and space to use his signature curl and drag snapshot to tie the game.
On his second goal, Matthews was able to strip Brandon Duhaime easily and then counterattack with his running mate Mitch Marner. A nice give-and-go between the two of them allowed one of the league’s best goal scorers to have an easy tap-in to the empty net for the eventual game-winning goal.
The Wild simply gave Matthews a few too many chances, and he took full advantage of it. Aside from those two plays, the Wild were excellent defensively, allowing just 25 shots against in the game and only five in the first period. However, a few mistakes against the Maple Leafs’ star center were made, and he made them pay.
Overall, the Wild should be feeling optimistic about some good things they could do in this game. They were able to play a solid game defensively; however, they struggled to look engaged physically, something that has been a strength of theirs this season.
With this being their fourth loss in their last five games, tensions might be starting to rise with the Wild. Their next game is on Saturday against the Calgary Flames, a team that can be as physical as anyone. They will have to bring their best to the Scotiabank Saddledome if they want to right the ship and get back into the win column.
Sports writer covering the Minnesota Wild. Graduated with a degree in sport media, also working with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.