While the blizzard-like conditions raged on in their home state, the Minnesota Wild took on the San Jose Sharks in their second game of a back-to-back on the road. They started out from behind once again but this time they faced a team with a bit more speed. The Sharks opened the scoring in the first minute of the game but the Wild didn’t back down, as they responded a short time later to tie things up. However, they fell behind again just over halfway through the period and couldn’t find a way back before the first ended.
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The Wild were clearly struggling with fatigue when they entered the second period, as the Sharks continued their scoring. They added two more goals to extend their lead to a daunting 4-1 before the Wild were able to answer back in the final seconds of the second period to make it 4-2.
The Wild outshot the Sharks, 10-4, in the third period but were unable to force anything past goaltender James Reimer. Even after they pulled their own goaltender to have an extra attacker, the Wild were unable to produce. A penalty in the final minutes didn’t help their cause and the Sharks secured an empty-net goal to take the game, 5-2.
Wild’s Defense Makes Mistakes
The Sharks have some strong goal scorers and the Wild made the mistake of leaving them alone in front of the net. While the Wild’s defensemen are the main ones guilty of leaving opposing players open in front of the net, their forwards are also guilty of this. Everyone on the ice has to be aware of where their teammates are and if they see a hole in coverage they have to either communicate that to their linemates or cover it themselves.
Both of the Sharks’ goals in the first period were because of this lack of coverage as well as their final goal in the second period. Three of the Sharks’ five goals scored against the Wild were the result of a player being left open. The Wild have to clamp down on this issue before they lose another game in the same way, but they have time over the break to work on it.
Wild Fall Back Into Penalty Trouble
After the Wild had a pretty successful game against the Anaheim Ducks in regard to penalties, they slipped back into their bad habits against the Sharks. They took one early in the first period and luckily got out of it unscathed but as the game went on, they got into more penalty trouble. There was a Matt Dumba fight and later on a major that included a game misconduct on Mason Shaw that seriously hindered the Wild and led to a goal against their penalty kill.
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The Wild started the game with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, so when Shaw was ejected from the game it brought them to 10 forwards and seven defensemen. The fatigue the Wild were already facing due to their back-to-back was made even worse with the loss of Shaw and they struggled the rest of the game. In the third period, they were more disciplined; they went almost the entire period without a penalty but did take one in the final minutes of regulation.
Hopefully, after their break, the Wild can reset and get their discipline back to what it was against the Ducks in their most recent win. The Wild’s penalties came as both a result of frustration and fatigue from being on the back half of a back-to-back as well as playing with 11 forwards that became 10 after Shaw was kicked. Even when they’re tired they have to keep their anger out of the game or it’ll cost them. It also wouldn’t hurt if head coach Dean Evason went back to 12 forwards and six defensemen to cut down on players running out of energy.
Wild’s Boldy’s Consistent Gameplay
While Matt Boldy didn’t score any goals against the Sharks, he did assist on the goal that nearly got them back into the game. He was one of the Wild’s few players who seemed to have energy the entire time. He was pushing himself 100 percent and he had three shots on goal plus one hit and two blocked shots. He was trying to do everything he could to get a spark going for his team while some of his other teammates struggled with fatigue.
The majority of Boldy’s play was successful with the exception of one giveaway and he took a penalty at the very end of the game when the Wild had pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker. They were already trying to climb out of a two-goal hole and that penalty basically sealed the win for the Sharks. It’s always possible a team could come back, but the Wild lacked the energy to make it work and with Boldy in the box that took away one of the players who could’ve affected the outcome of the game.
Related: Wild’s Dewar & Boldy Get Things Going in Win Over Ducks
Luckily for the Wild, Boldy appears to have found his scoring stride again and the Wild will be relying on him to keep it up. Not only did he find his scoring touch, but while the rest of his teammates struggled with energy, Boldy and his line did not. He has the ability to make his linemates play better, both his line and the power-play unit he was on were one of the few bright spots in a game that was an overall struggle for the team. Hopefully, he can continue this strong play when they return from their holiday break.
Wild’s Next Opponent
The Wild have four days off and will have some time to enjoy the holidays before returning on Dec. 27 to take on one of their most physical rivals, the Winnipeg Jets. The games between these two teams tend to get heated and there’s usually always some kind of big hit, so the Wild will need to be prepared. However, they now have Ryan Reaves so things may stay a bit calmer.
The Wild made the mistake of allowing the Sharks’ leading scorer Erik Karlsson to record four points against them and they can’t do the same with the Jets. They’ll have to play strong defense against Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Adam Lowry. The Wild will also be facing one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this season in Connor Hellebuyck who has a record of 16-8 as of Dec. 22. There’s a slight chance they could see David Rittich but it’s more likely they’ll be dealing with Hellebuyck since he’s the stronger goaltender.
The Wild can’t play the Jets the same way they played the Sharks or they will for sure lose. They have to play a more composed and energetic game, plus it would be a big bonus if they could stay out of the penalty box. If they can do those things, they’ll be able to get back on the winning track and return from the break on the right foot.