The Minnesota Wild took on the Buffalo Sabres in the second game of their back-to-back road trip. They started the game down early again but found a way to tie it. They repeated the performance from the night prior as they went down a second time and tied it, but this time they stormed ahead and took the lead. Unfortunately, it didn’t last as the puck bounced off a referee that led to a Sabres goal to tie things at three and the Sabres added one more to take the lead back, 4-3.
It wasn’t over there; the Sabres added another goal with under two minutes left in the game to really put pressure on the Wild and they responded. They scored with under a minute left to get within one and had many strong chances in the final 30 seconds. They nearly tied it but missed out and lost, 5-4, to head back home with a record of 1-1.
Mats Zuccarello was a game-time decision and ended up joining both Matt Dumba and Jordan Greenway on the injury list. In Zuccarello’s absence, Marcus Foligno jumped into his wing position, Connor Dewar moved up to fill Foligno’s spot and Mason Shaw played in his third game of the season as he slid into Dewar’s spot.
Wild’s Top Line Thrives
It was Ryan Hartman’s night against the Flyers and he found a way to do it again against the Sabres. He scored the first Wild goal of the game to tie things up and give his team hope as the first period ended. He had another high-shooting game with four shots on goal.
His linemate Kirill Kaprizov had an even better night with a total of three points. He scored both of the Wild’s go-ahead goals and also tallied an assist on Hartman’s goal for his 19th multi-point game of the season. He took three shots on goal and scored on two of them for a shooting percentage of 66.7 — the highest among his teammates.
One more player deserved a mention in the scoring department. He wasn’t on the first line, but he’s been a scoring machine since late December. That player is Kevin Fiala who scored the Wild’s second goal of the game and also snagged an assist on Kaprizov’s second and final goal of the game for his 14th multi-point game of the season.
Wild’s Special Teams Ups and Downs
The Sabres found a way to exploit the Wild’s weakest area, their penalty kill; they beat it twice out of three possible times. On each penalty kill the defense lost sight of one of the Sabres’ forwards, and that forward was able to slide the puck right past the goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen. The Wild’s defense converged together on one side and that left room for the forward to get open.
In 11 out of the last 12 games, they’ve let in a goal while shorthanded and the forward being open has been the main reason. Surprisingly, their overall penalty kill percentage is still at 77 percent — they’re in the lower half of the NHL, but for how much they’ve struggled, it could be worse.
The Wild had success on the power play when Kaprizov scored while a man up. It was the first time they scored a power-play goal in six games. They had two chances on the man advantage and scored once for 50 percent. Hopefully, the Wild’s power-play units will take this and run with it for more goals while a man up.
Wild’s Kahkonen Deserved Win
Despite the disastrous penalty kill and loss, the blame can’t fall on Kahkonen. Overall, he had a great game and made some big saves. Similar to Cam Talbot’s game the previous night, Kahkonen’s stats weren’t the greatest but he played well. He made 33 saves out of 37 shots for a .892 save percentage and a 4.10 goals-against average.
Talbot was able to sneak out a win, but sadly Kahkonen couldn’t do the same. He did keep his team in it throughout the whole game and gave them a chance to win. Without him, the score would have been a lot worse than 5-4.
Wild Prove Their Comeback Skills
The Wild may have lost but they proved they’re a team that never gives up. They came back multiple times against the Flyers and pulled out the win. They tried to do the same against the Sabres that included multiple comeback attempts, but they couldn’t pull out the win this time.
The Wild showed no panic in either of their comebacks — they kept their composure, put their heads down, and scored goals. They may have tied the game if they’d been able to pull Kahkoknen earlier, but things didn’t go the way they hoped and ran out of time.
Wild Face Stars
The Wild’s next game will be back at home against the Dallas Stars for an afternoon matinee. The last time these two played the Stars took the win 7-4 in Dallas. Unfortunately for the Wild, the Stars will be coming off a strong overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night. As always, they’ll have to watch out for the Stars’ scorers of Joe Pavelski, Jason Robertson, and Roope Hintz.
Kaprizov had a great night against the Sabres and he’ll have to keep it going against the Stars. He’ll need to find a way past the goaltending of either Jake Oettinger or Braden Holtby, but more than likely it’ll be Oettinger in net. He’s had a stronger season and had the night off against the Jets.
Thankfully for the Wild, their goaltending has made a strong comeback and either Talbot or Kahkonen would be a good choice in net. Since Kahkonen was in net against the Sabres, it’ll most likely be Talbot against the Stars. The Wild will need to be at the top of their game to get past a strong Stars team that has a similar record and plays a similar style game.
Mariah 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.