The Minnesota Wild was back at it against the Buffalo Sabres last night after having their Tuesday evening game against the Carolina Hurricanes postponed due to COVID issues. After spending the last four games on the road, they were back at home and were looking to that home-ice advantage to put them back on the winning track. Things started the way they had when the Wild were on their winning streak, with them scoring the first goal of the night. However, things would take a turn in the second period following their second goal of the game. They lost Jared Spurgeon, who irritated his previous injury and will not be playing on Saturday either.
Spurgeon reaggravated injury that kept him out 8 games recently. “It’s not good,” said Evason, and won’t play Saturday. Winter Classic is 15 days away https://t.co/fU1zj1kgW8— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) December 17, 2021
As the game went on, things looked okay until the third period when the Sabres tied it, and the Wild couldn’t get on the board before regulation ended. They were forced into overtime, and the Wild showed how good they can be in three-on-three situations. However, that wouldn’t be enough, and they needed a shootout to decide things, and unfortunately, the Sabres came out on top.
Wild’s Brodin Back
The Wild kept some things the same, like their goaltending with Cam Talbot being in the net following their loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. However, with Jonas Brodin coming back from injury, the Wild had to adjust their defense. That meant that Jordie Benn was a healthy scratch along with Rem Pitlick, who has remained out since Mason Shaw made his debut and then Frederick Gaudreau came back from COVID protocol.
They got one of their defensive leaders back in Brodin, who had an extra day of rest before returning to the lineup last night. The Wild were in rather dire need of having him back after struggling the previous two games without him. He’s not a huge offensive presence like his defensive linemates, but the amount of defense he provides is irreplaceable. He had two blocks against the Sabres but also two takeaways. Brodin had some struggles in his first game back, but the defense as a whole struggled as the game went on.
There were some defensive breakdowns when the Sabres scored their goals. The first was a turnover from Talbot and the defense was not prepared in time. The second goal caught the Wild’s defense trying to catch up to the Sabres forward, who snatched the puck and knocked it past him. He can’t be blamed for the loss however, towards the end of the game, he was the reason they made it to the overtime and the shootout. The main reason the Wild struggled was their high number of turnovers, they had 16 in total. Something that has to be fixed moving forward.
Wild’s Production Comes Back
Their defense stepped up in point production against the Sabres that started with Jon Merrill, who scored his third goal of the season. He got the Wild on the board first with Dmitry Kulikov tallying an assist with Ryan Hartman, and the production didn’t stop there. On Kirill Kaprizov’s second-period goal, both defensemen, Spurgeon and Alex Goligoski, tallied assists. The assist was Goligoski’s 17th on the season, and for Kaprizov, it was his first point after being held off the scoresheet in the two games prior.
Things looked good at first on the offensive side, the Wild’s defense led the point totals for the night. They contributed one goal and three assists for four points while the forwards scored one goal and one assist for two points. The defense also contributed eight of the Wild’s 32 shots on the net while the forwards had the other 24, with Hartman leading the way once again with five shots. Thirty-two shots are higher than in previous games, but they can do better, especially when they had games with 40+ shots on net earlier in the season.
Wild Outshot Again but Talbot Strong
The lack of shots on the net has become a broken record, with the first period being the biggest problem. The Wild were outshot 21-6 in that period alone. In the second and third, the Wild were able to lead with shots, but it wasn’t enough. The Sabres, on the other hand, had 40 shots on the net with just two giveaways, they had the overall better game.
The Sabres proved they were better when they climbed back into the game and stole it away with the last shooter in the shootout. When games go to a shootout, the goaltenders take a lot of heat. However, in this game, Talbot is not to blame for what happened late in the third, overtime, or the shootout. He made some big saves in overtime that kept them in the game only to fall to a shot that barely snuck over his glove for the game-winner. Despite the loss, Talbot still saved 38 shots with a save percentage of .950, and that shows how well he played even though the rest of his team struggled.
Wild Have Big Future
The Wild have three games before their holiday break. They’ll play one at home against the Florida Panthers, head on the road to Texas to face the Dallas Stars, and then head back home to face the Detroit Red Wings. Following their break, they’ll go on the road again to face the Winnipeg Jets before having a four-day break that preludes the Winter Classic. The big game is just over two weeks and four games away, while Wild fans and players alike are getting ramped up for the exciting experience.
The Wild will need to tighten up their game and stop giving up the puck so many times. They also have to pump up their shots again. They’ve been passing the puck too much and passing on shooting opportunities. Hopefully, they’ll also have Spurgeon back soon to help them get all of these things sorted out and get some wins back on the board.
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.