The Minnesota Wild flew down to BB&T Center to take on the Florida Panthers Saturday night, hoping to bounce back after a 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday (Jan. 19). Matt Dumba was a healthy scratch for the second straight game, with speculation swirling that he might be getting traded in the near future. Marcus Foligno was also out with a non-COVID illness.
Though the Wild were down two key players, this was a game they needed to win to create space between them and Colorado Avalanche, who are now on a five-game winning streak and just one point behind Minnesota for the third spot in the Central Division. However, the contest didn’t go the Wild’s way, eventually falling 5-3 with no even-strength goals to show for it.
Anton Lundell kicked off the scoring by taking advantage of a turnover in Minnesota’s end and squeaking one through Filip Gustavsson with just 12 seconds remaining in the first frame. The Panthers’ momentum entering the second frame paid off as Eetu Luostarinen potted the club’s second goal less than two minutes into the period. While Matt Boldy did register his 14th goal of the season midway through the second, it felt like the Wild were chasing the Panthers the entire night.
Wild’s Even-Strength Scoring Not There
Of the three goals scored by the Wild Saturday night, none of them were even-strength goals. They had to lean heavily on their special teams, which converted on both power plays last night. If Minnesota hopes to make a serious push for the postseason, they will need to find the scoring magic that they had at the beginning of the season.
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At the beginning of the season, there were some who wondered what team would be able to stop the dynamic duo of Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. They seemed to be scoring most of the Wild’s goals early in the season, which raised questions about the middle-six’s ability to contribute on the offensive side of things. However, it seems like the entire team has entered a scoring slump. They simply can’t rely exclusively on their special teams to produce offense, especially against disciplined teams that don’t take many penalties.
Turnovers in Their Own End
The Wild seem to struggle with carrying the puck out of their own end. Saturday night’s contest is a perfect example of allowing a failed zone exit to turn into a goal for the opposing team. With the first goal of the game, Lundell and the Panthers didn’t necessarily do anything remarkable. They simply took advantage of a lazy zone exit and capitalized with a goal in the final seconds of the period. This created momentum for Florida going into the second period, where they scored less than two minutes in.
If the Wild knew that there were only a few seconds remaining on the clock, it raises the question of why they didn’t chip the puck off the glass into the neutral zone. Despite struggling to score even-strength goals, it’s crucial that they mitigate turnovers and play rock-solid defense. Dumba was reportedly scratched against the Hurricanes on Thursday for his defensive play. In order for the top six to feel comfortable taking chances in the offensive zone, they have to be able to trust that their defensive corps is reliable with the puck.
Wild’s Questionable Coaching Decisions
Some of the coaching decisions on Saturday night didn’t appear to make much sense. With less than four minutes to go in regulation and the Wild down two goals, Ryan Reaves was still on the ice. The fourth-line enforcer has not registered a goal with the Wild since being traded from the New York Rangers and has a total of six goals since the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
In other words, Reaves should not be one of the players on the ice in a must-score situation. Though the Wild did pull Gustavsson and score on the man advantage, it just seemed like there was valuable time lost in the final moments of the game. It seems that in the waning minutes of a close game that the Wild would want to shorten the bench to increase the odds of creating scoring opportunities.
The Wild are set to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. Minnesota managed to overcome the Lightning in a 5-1 win earlier this month, playing sound hockey both offensively and defensively. As the race in the Central Division tightens, every game matters. With the Avalanche and Nashville Predators on their heels for the third spot in the division, the Wild have to focus on sound defense and generate even-strength scoring chances to keep them at bay.
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.