The Minnesota Wild and Buffalo Sabres faced off as the final game of the 17th annual Hockey Day Minnesota 2023 celebration and it was entertaining from start to finish. The Sabres currently sit tied for the top-scoring team in the NHL and they showed their scoring talents just two minutes into the first period. However, the Wild weren’t going to be outdone and responded just over a minute later to tie the game at one.
The second period followed the same pattern as the first with the Sabres getting the go-ahead goal and the Wild following suit a few minutes later, this time to tie things up at two. Despite a lot of chances both ways and some big saves by both goaltenders, there were no goals scored through the third period, and for the third straight Hockey Day, they went to overtime. However, the overtime couldn’t produce a winner so a shootout was required and the Wild went on to win on Hockey Day for the 13th consecutive year.
Wild’s Eriksson Ek & Spurgeon Shine
The Wild have a lot of talented players, and while they may not be big goal-scorers, Joel Eriksson Ek and Jared Spurgeon are crucial to their lineup. They contribute mainly on the defensive side of things, but their consistent grinding style of play came in handy offensively against the Sabres. They each had a goal and got their team back into the game not once but twice.
Eriksson Ek was held pointless in his last game against the Philadelphia Flyers, but prior to that, he’d been on a four-game point streak that included five points while on the power play. He added to that total when he scored on the power play to pull his team back into the game against the Sabres. However, he didn’t forget his defensive game as he registered two hits, a blocked shot and a takeaway.
Speaking of defense, Spurgeon led the way defensively with four blocked shots that included a spectacular goaltender-style save. When Marc-André Fleury made a sprawling save one way and was trying to push himself back across the crease to make another save, Spurgeon noticed the open opponent and spun around just in time to block the shot for Fleury.
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It wasn’t just Spurgeon’s defensive style that made a difference in the game, though. His goal tied things up in the second period and forced the extra sessions. It was his ninth goal of the season and he’s now just five goals short of his career-high of 14 from 2018-19. His extra offensive production has made a significant difference in the Wild’s play recently and hopefully, it will continue.
Wild Fix Penalty Problems
It feels like it’s taken forever but the Wild appear to be heading in the right direction when it comes to taking penalties. They only took one penalty throughout the entire game, a high-sticking infraction on Connor Dewar that thankfully didn’t cost them a goal. For the second straight game, the Wild went 100 percent on the penalty kill.
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On the flip side, the Wild forced the Sabres to take four penalties, something they’ve been good at avoiding most of the season. While the Wild are one of the most penalized teams in the NHL, the Sabres are one of the least. The Wild were able to throw them off their game by forcing them to take penalties and play shorthanded.
After the recent benching of Ryan Hartman due to irresponsible penalties, the entire Minnesota roster seemed to take note and stayed away from the penalty box as much as possible. It may have taken longer than it should’ve to fix this issue but if they can continue to stay out of the penalty box, they’ll be better off in the long run.
Wild’s Fleury & Hartman Bright Spots
For the third straight game, Fleury played outstanding and showed that he earned this start. He faced 31 shots and saved 29 of them for a .935 save percentage. He faced some difficult shooters in Tage Thompson and Jack Quinn in the shootout and while he wasn’t able to stop Thompson, he came up strong against Quinn to seal the win.
Fleury had a great game and so did Hartman, who may not have produced offensively but stepped up his overall play. Hartman seemed to have learned his lesson after his benching and played a much tighter and more controlled game that included two blocked shots, two shots on goal and one takeaway. He forced a couple of turnovers with his aggressive play and earned his spot on the roster. It would be very beneficial to both Hartman and the Wild if he can play this way throughout the rest of the season.
Wild’s Week Off
The Wild’s win over the Sabres was the last game they’ll be wearing their reverse retros for this season and was also their final game before the All-Star Break. With eight days off, they’ll have plenty of time to focus on their play and what they need to do to keep this win streak alive.
The Wild will have one player participating in the All-Star festivities this upcoming weekend Feb. 3 & 4th – Kirill Kaprizov. It’ll be his second appearance and it’ll no doubt be as fun as the first. Hopefully, after their break, the Wild will come back well-rested and ready to grind for the rest of the season and force some more wins.