The Minnesota Wild faced the San Jose Sharks in the first of two home games for the week, following their road win over the Seattle Kraken. Almost immediately, the Wild were stuck chasing the Sharks, trying to keep up with their speed. Unfortunately, for the Wild, it went on that way the whole game and they lost 4-1.
The Wild did not look like the well-composed, ready-to-go team they usually are and the Sharks exploited every weakness they could find. Despite the Wild being out of sorts and making quite a few mistakes, one or two good things came out of the loss.
Wild’s Eriksson Ek & Pitlick Show Strength
The Wild’s Joel Eriksson Ek has been a bit quieter so far this season, but last night he showed the scoring flair he had at the very beginning of the season when he scored a hat trick against the Winnipeg Jets. He scored the Wild’s only goal and had a total of four shots on net against the Sharks. He could’ve scored more goals, but he couldn’t get the puck past Sharks’ goaltender James Reimer.
While Eriksson Ek had a decent game and his line showed more potential than it has in the past few games, they couldn’t find consistent success. The Wild’s Rem Pitlick, hero of their last win, created a few scoring chances, but like Eriksson Ek, he couldn’t score any goals, and he was unable to register any shots on net. There was one main reason the Wild had so much trouble getting to the net and it had to do with the Sharks style of defense.
Wild Cut Off Everywhere
One of the biggest reasons for the Wild’s struggles was how good the Sharks were with their stick control at both ends of the ice. They were able to tip a lot of the Wild’s passes by having their sticks out. Everywhere the Wild tried to go, there was a Sharks’ stick. When the Wild would try to break out of their defensive zone, the Sharks were able to poke check the puck right off their stick, and prevent them from getting out of their zone.
The Sharks also have the number one penalty kill in the NHL, which caused the Wild even more aggravation. The power play has already been a struggle for the Wild this season and the Sharks made it even harder by having their sticks in all the Wild’s passing lanes. Something the Wild love to do on the power play is pass and the Sharks made that nearly impossible, but that wasn’t the end of it.
Wild’s Kaprizov covered
Kirill Kaprizov is still struggling to find his scoring stride for goals and last night was no different. He does the best in open ice and the Sharks made sure there was no room for him to maneuver, ever. There was also a minimum of one Sharks’ player on him all the time, sometimes there were two or three, which made it extremely difficult for him to move in any direction.
Usually, when a team has had Kaprizov covered in the past, that left his linemates open; however, the Sharks cut that option off as well. They even had everyone covered on the penalty kill, which explains why they’re number one in the league.
Wild Found Stride Too Late
The Wild did find some success late in the game, but as the saying goes, it was “too little, too late.” They got going, but there were under two minutes left by that time and a three-goal mountain to climb. Between the Sharks having their sticks everywhere and having constant coverage on Kaprizov, the Wild were trapped. Eriksson Ek and Pitlick’s performances were one of the two good things that came out of the loss. The other being, the Wild’s penalty kill like the Shark’s was 100 percent, they didn’t allow any shorthanded goals.
Going forward, the Wild will have to find a way to compete with teams like the Sharks, who are very good with their sticks and crowding certain players. When Kaprizov is covered, the Wild needs to make sure his wing Mats Zuccarello and whoever is playing center at the time are trying to get open. Kaprizov draws a lot of attention and chances are someone can get open.
Their next game is against the Dallas Stars, who are coming off a win against the Detroit Red Wings. The Wild need to come out fast and get on the board early and not give the Stars a chance at all. It’ll be interesting to see if Eriksson Ek and Pitlick can keep up their good play and hopefully get their teammates in on it as well.
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.