The Minnesota Wild have had a bumpy road the last couple of weeks between other teams’ COVID problems, their own injuries, and now losing a couple of players to COVID as well. They, however, played quite well for how many crucial players were out of the lineup. They held Alexander Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals linemates at bay until the second period when they found a way past Wild goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen.
They had a rough start to the game but found their magic again, this time in the third period instead of the first. The Wild became the “comeback kids” when they not only came back to tie the game but forced overtime and stole the win in the shootout. They had production from all around the lineup including from the Capitals themselves.
Wild’s Zuccarello, Fiala & Gaudreau Heroes
Marcus Foligno scored the 100th goal of his career and the first of the game for the Wild but it wasn’t a typical goal. He was the last Wild player to touch the puck before a delayed penalty was called against them.
The Capitals pulled their goalie for the extra attacker and had control when they threw it to the blue line, but the defenseman wasn’t prepared and it rolled all the way into the empty net. The momentum changed in the Wild’s favor and they were back in it.
Mats Zuccarello scored the next goal, extended his point streak to four games, tying the game, and eventually sent things to overtime. The extra time didn’t produce a winner so it went to a shootout.
He wasn’t the only player to continue a point streak, Kevin Fiala tallied an assist on Zuccarello’s goal to further his streak to four games. He also scored his first shootout goal of the season that ended his scoreless drought in the extra frame.
That left the game-winner that Frederick Gaudreau scored. It was the first time he scored a goal since Nov. 18, which ended a near two-month-long goalless streak. However, like Fiala, his shootout goal will not count towards his regular statistics so his pointless streak continues.
He’s gone without any points since Nov. 28, which for him is only six games because he had missed several due to COVID protocols. With all the missing teammates, Gaudreau found the perfect time to start contributing points again.
Wild Win While Shorthanded
The Wild’s list of injured players, plus the COVID protocols list, has seemed to grow with every game they’ve played. It started shortly before the Christmas holidays when both Jared Spurgeon and Joel Eriksson Ek went down with injuries that have kept them out of the lineup.
Jonas Brodin has been in and out sporadically with an injury followed by COVID and yet another injury. Most recently, Cam Talbot, Nick Bjugstad, and Kirill Kaprizov were added to the injured list while Jordan Greenway, Brandon Duhaime, and Alex Goligoski were added to the COVID list.
Fiala may have scored one of the game-deciding goals in the shootout but at the beginning of the game, he was riding the bench. Even with all the players out, more ice time was given to rookie Matt Boldy, until the third period when the Wild started to show promise, and they put him back in. His penalties were what got him into trouble but his sincerity, later on, showed he wanted to play.
Evason said he was fully prepared to not play Fiala again tonight, but Fiala had a private conversation with him during the third period, told him he understood and regardless of if he played again, he’d support his teammates. “That meant a lot.”— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) January 9, 2022
Despite all the Wild had going against them in this game, they found a way to win. They got behind early and with the situation they were in, many teams would have folded. The Wild got a goal off a lucky errant pass by the Capitals and were right back in it. Fiala went on to prove his worth by getting his goal in the shootout and Gaudreau followed suit to steal their second straight win.
Wild’s Kahkonen Stands Tall
The Wild couldn’t have done any of this without the stellar goaltending from Kahkonen. He had a great night against the Boston Bruins a couple of days ago and he did it again last night. He faced shots from some of the best in the league and shut down the majority of them. He made 29 saves against 31 shots and had a save percentage of .935.
Kahkonen has had a relatively good season so far with a record of 6-2-1 but he seems to do best when he’s under pressure. If it’s a dire situation he steps into, such as Talbot being injured, he rises to the occasion almost immediately. His game improves and he’s very precise in his moves.
That happened again when they faced the Capitals, as he did great in the game and was perfect in the shootout. He’ll have to keep up this kind of play as it sounds like there is no timetable for Talbot’s return and Kahkonen is the reliable goaltender as of now.
Wild’s Upcoming Schedule
Thankfully for the Wild, Eriksson Ek may be close to returning sometime next week but it’s not a sure thing. As for the others, it’s hard to say when any of them will be back. As troublesome as the COVID protocol postponements have been, this upcoming one will come as a welcome relief for the Wild. They may want to play to maintain their winning streak but as far as injuries and COVID, it’ll be a time for the players to heal and rest up.
They were scheduled to fly to Canada to face both the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers but as there are still capacity restrictions in place, those games are postponed. When the week is up, hopefully, they won’t have lost their momentum but instead gained some of their players back. They’ll be facing the Anaheim Ducks at home before a quick road trip and being back home once again.
Apart from Eriksson Ek, it’s rumored that Kaprizov may be back as well. For the Wild’s sake, it’d be great if he was, but with the recent production from Zuccarello, Fiala, and Gaudreau, plus having both Boldy and Marco Rossi in the lineup, and Kahkonen backstopping the net, they’re in good hands.
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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.