Wild’s Lack of Energy Leads to Loss to Penguins

With a playoff spot clinched, the Minnesota Wild were looking to ensure they stayed in the hunt for first place in the Central Division when they took on the Pittsburgh Penguins, Thursday, April 6. They were on the road and didn’t look great when the game started but held it together until the end of the first period when the Penguins went up 1-0.

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The Wild added a little more pressure in the second but couldn’t find the back of the net and the Penguins added one more to extend their lead to 2-0. The third is when the game got a jumpstart as the Wild went down 3-0 but kicked themselves into gear and started having more chances. They broke the shutout for Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry but that was the only goal they’d get as their opponent snuck one more in and the Wild lost 4-1.

Wild Struggle From the Start

From the opening minutes of the first period, it was clear the Wild weren’t playing with the same energy as the Penguins. They had their chances but they were limited and so were their shots on goal as the Penguins outshot them 19-5 in the first. While their offense struggled with getting shots on goal, their defense struggled to block them. The Wild blocked just 11 shots compared to the Penguins’ 23 and they were also outhit 30-23.

Dean Evason Minnesota Wild
Dean Evason, Head Coach of the Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On the flip side, the Penguins had 14 giveaways and the Wild didn’t capitalize on any of them as their only goal was scored on the power play when they already had possession. It’s extremely disappointing the Wild couldn’t exploit those turnovers for more goals but thankfully they only had three turnovers themselves.

As the last handful of games gets closer the Wild have to focus on that low number of giveaways and how to replicate it. They also have to figure out how to get more shots on goal in the first period rather than waiting until the second and third when time gets tight.

Wild Fall Into Penalty Trouble

For most of the season, the Wild were known for taking too many penalties and were the first or second most penalized team in the NHL. They’ve worked hard the last month or so to stop taking all those penalties and it was working in their favor until they met the Penguins. Four penalties may not seem like a lot but that’s eight minutes of a 60-minute game and four of those minutes were on penalties by Jonas Brodin.

Related: Wild’s Penalty Issues Have a Bright Spot

Brodin is the Wild’s best penalty-killing defenseman and it was no surprise the Penguins were successful at least once on the power play with him in the box. Luckily the Wild’s penalty kill stepped up to kill off the other three penalties they faced but that Penguins power-play goal gave them a 2-0 lead. While the Wild had chances after that and did score a goal, they couldn’t get the motivation to catch up. They can’t allow themselves to be sucked into penalties when the playoffs start or they will have a hard time winning games.

Wild Missing Rebounds & Players

Most of the Wild’s scoring problems were due to a lack of shots until it was too late, the other problem was not capitalizing on rebounds. There were a number of them that should’ve led to goals but came up short because the Wild’s forwards were not in prime position. They did convert a rebound into a goal that bounced several times right in front of the net before the Wild’s Marcus Johansson forced it in on a 5-on-3 power play.

Marcus Johansson Minnesota Wild
Marcus Johansson, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Everyone knows the Wild have been without both Kirill Kaprizov and Gustav Nyquist for the last month and while they started their game against the Penguins with a full lineup, they didn’t end it that way. Late in the game, they lost both Joel Eriksson Ek and Oskar Sundqvist and were down to 10 forwards. While Eriksson Ek blocked a shot with his lower leg, it wasn’t obvious what happened to Sundqvist other than being listed as out with a lower-body injury.

The Wild have to hope these injuries aren’t long-term as both of these players were making an impact in the lineup that could be very beneficial in the postseason. While it appears they will be getting Nyquist and Kaprizov back soon, they could use all the extra offense they can get.

Wild’s Next Opponent

The Wild will be facing one of their division rivals, the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, April 8 and while everyone may be hoping for a rekindled Marc-André Fleury and Jordan Binnington goalie fight, they’ll likely be disappointed. It’s going to be Filip Gustavsson’s turn in net and with the Wild in the postseason, they wouldn’t risk one of their goaltenders getting injured in an unnecessary fight.

However, the game will still likely be a battle to the end as the Blues will be coming off a hard-fought win over the New York Rangers. They’ll need to put a stop to Jordan Kyrou, Pavel Buchnevich, Brayden Schenn, and Justin Faulk from scoring but they’ll also have to capitalize on rebounds to get by either Binnington or possibly Thomas Greiss if he’s over his injury.

Even with the Blues being eliminated from the postseason, they will play the Wild hard and physically. They’ll have to focus on staying out of the penalty box and getting more shots on net earlier in the game plus being in a position to convert on rebounds. If they can do those things they can get themselves out of this small losing slump and back on the winning track.