After another disappointing loss, the Minnesota Wild looked like a rejuvenated team at the beginning of their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, Nov. 19. It was the second game of their Global Series back-to-back, but they certainly didn’t show it. It was an early morning game for Minnesota fans to take in with puck drop shortly after 7 am Central Time, but the Wild started with the lead for the second straight game with an early goal by Jon Merrill.
They held the Maple Leafs off for over half the period before they took a penalty that allowed them to tie things at one. Things stayed close for the next five minutes until the Maple Leafs found an opening and put themselves up 2-1 for their first lead of the game. The score remained the same through a very back-and-forth second period, and everything changed in the third.
The Maple Leafs scored what they thought would be the goal that sealed the deal to go ahead by two, but the Wild dug deep and found a way back. They tied the game on goals minutes apart and kept forcing chances the entire third period. However, both goaltenders stood tall and forced overtime for the second game in a row for the Wild. Unfortunately for the Wild, despite having point-blank chances, they couldn’t convert and fell in the final minute of the extra session.
Wild’s Electric Start & Better Effort Overall
The Wild came out flying and were getting chances from the first 30 seconds on throughout the game. They played with determination and had more life in their game than they’d had all season. Throughout the game, the Wild appeared to be better than the Maple Leafs in almost every category.
Of course, it’s hard to stop a team with the scoring power of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander, and the list goes on, but the Wild held them off for most of the game. They allowed two goals in the first period but shut it down until the third with some solid chances of their own.
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They were winning puck battles, races to the puck, and getting shots on goal; they were doing nearly everything better. They looked like the Wild team fans have been waiting to see since the season’s first game, and it was great to see. Even after they ended up down, they didn’t give up and kept skating hard.
They did have a short spurt after the Maple Leafs’ third goal, where they seemed lost, but they quickly found their play again and didn’t fall apart, unlike their prior games. Even going into the third period, when most teams show fatigue, especially in a back-to-back, the Wild kept coming but couldn’t get the clinching goal.
Wild Attempt Comeback
The Wild used to be known as the comeback kids because in nearly every game they were down in early, they found a way to come back and tie it. They didn’t always win but made a game of it until the end. This season, they’ve shown little hints at that but have been unable to finish, and the same can be said for their game against the Maple Leafs.
A lot of the credit has to go to goaltender Marc-André Fleury, who made big save after big save until the last one. However, not all the blame can be placed on Fleury for that final goal. It’s hard enough to stop Nylander, who’s had a point in every game this season, but they allowed him to skate in and get right in Fleury’s face. The Wild’s three players on the ice looked like cones as he approached each of them.
Again, the Wild looked like the better team throughout the entire game until the very end. They had their slip-ups but found ways to keep going. It was an entertaining game from start to finish for both teams and, unfortunately, it had to end after all the hard work the Wild put in.
Wild Have to Address Power Play & Penalty Problem
Besides the obvious missed chances right in front of the net, the Wild had three power-play chances and couldn’t convert. They’ve only scored 10 times on 64 power play chances for a percentage of 15.6. It has to be repeated: the Wild have all the talent they could ask for on their top power-play unit, but they’ve been quiet all season.
Had the Wild been able to capitalize on at least one of those man-advantage chances, this could’ve been a different game. The special teams can make or break the game for a team, and as of late, it’s been breaking games for the Wild. They finally got their penalty kill in order, and even after the one goal allowed against the Maple Leafs, it could’ve been remedied with a power play goal.
Regarding penalty problems, the Wild have done what they needed to do by taking fewer penalties overall; however, they haven’t stopped taking offensive zone penalties. It’s great they’ve taken fewer penalties, but taking penalties while in the offensive zone is never good and can’t continue to happen.
Wild Have Building Block
After this performance, despite its disappointing end, the Wild have something to build off of. The way they played was close to the best of the season, even with their quiet power play, and that’s something they can focus on. It should also be pointed out that their defense tallied two of the three Wild goals, and they were both point shots, something they should’ve been trying all game.
Their power play did have chances but couldn’t convert, something that has become somewhat of a saying for the Wild. They’ve become known as the team who can’t finish on opportunities right before them. Even though they did have some motivation with Ryan Hartman and Frédérick Gaudreau back in the lineup, their play did help, but it wasn’t enough.
The Wild may have lost, but they have something to work with and should be proud of how they played the whole game, with the few minor mistakes that can be fixed. They adjusted their penalty kill, and it worked; they need to continue to change the power play, and they will find something. Regarding converting on chances, they must keep shooting, and things will go in. This game should give them hope that they can win; they must keep the effort going.