Wild’s Defense Struggles Against Fiala & Kings

The Minnesota Wild took on the Los Angeles Kings for their second game of the season Saturday night, and while it’s only been two games, they’ve already started bad habits that need to be changed immediately. They marched their way to the penalty box as soon as the game started and that led to the Kings finding the back of the net numerous times.

The Wild gave up three straight goals to open the first period, with one being on the penalty kill. They were able to get a little momentum towards the end of the period when they scored back-to-back goals but again were dashed when the Kings scored to go ahead 4-2. In the second period, things looked to be turning in the Wild’s favor with an early goal to get within one, but the chaos that followed would show differently.

Following the Wild’s goal, the Kings answered right back and the same pattern would happen a few minutes later. No matter what the Wild did, the Kings had an answer and it extended into the third period as well. The Wild had the best chance all game at the beginning of the third when they again scored back-to-back goals and were finally fighting every puck battle but the Kings shut it down with one final goal and some great defense to win it 7-6.

Wild’s Defense Problematic

The Wild struggled in every aspect of their defensive game and that resulted in seven goals for the Kings. Normally that would be considered an off game for the entire team but it was the second straight game that they’ve allowed seven goals, the first was a 7-3 loss against the New York Rangers just a few nights back, and something needs to change.

Dean Evason Minnesota Wild
Dean Evason, head coach of the Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Five of those goals were during even strength with the other two being scored on the penalty kill. The Wild once again spent too much time in the penalty box and it cost them. As far as goaltending goes, both of the Wild’s goaltenders saw ice time with Marc-André Fleury starting the game but he was later pulled in favor of Filip Gustavsson.

Some of the Kings’ goals were because of goaltending errors but most of it was poor defense in front of them. The Wild really have to get better at blocking shots and helping in front of their net, they blocked seven shots compared to the Kings who blocked 20. The Wild’s forwards need to get more involved as well, there was hardly any backchecking and the small amount that did happen was very slow and unproductive.

Kevin Fiala Returns

After last night’s performance, it wouldn’t be surprising for many Wild fans to think it was a mistake in letting Kevin Fiala go. He made his first appearance back in Minnesota after being traded over the summer and he made it count. Following a video board “thank you” for his time spent with the Wild, he got to work and scored a goal plus two assists for three points against his former team. It seems that playing against his former team was exactly what he needed to get his scoring going since those three points were his first of the season.

Related: What the Wild Lost and Gained in the Fiala Trade

Part of Fiala’s success came from his position on the top line with Anže Kopitar and Adrian Kempe. The three of them together have a chemistry similar to what Fiala found with Matt Boldy and Frederick Gaudreau last season. A change of scenery and teammates seems to be exactly what Fiala needed to keep his career moving forward.

Wild Need to Keep Moving

These last two losses are hard to swallow, but it’s important the Wild pay attention to their mistakes, make a plan to fix them, and move on. However, there were a few good things the Wild can take away from this game and focus on for their next matchup. The first item on the list is how much Boldy stepped up for the second straight game and his linemate Gaudreau got in on the action as well.

The two of them outworked most of their teammates and it showed. Gaudreau even made a beautiful goaltending save in the last minute of play to give his team a chance to tie it after they pulled Gustavsson. Before he was pulled, Gustavsson didn’t have the greatest debut in a Wild jersey, but he did tally an assist for the first time in his career. Continuing on firsts for the evening, Kirill Kaprizov and Jake Middleton also recorded their first goals of the season, thankfully for Kaprizov, his first goal has come quite a bit earlier than last season, and hopefully, that has sparked a scoring streak that will continue.

The final bright spot was the Wild’s power play, which was overshadowed by the loss. They scored on three of their six chances for a total of 50 percent success while on the man advantage, something that doesn’t happen very often, especially for the Wild. They have finally found the right player combination for the power play and they have to keep using it. Now they just have to find the same for their penalty kill and things will start to turn in the right direction.

Wild Face Avalanche

The Wild have already faced the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche during the preseason, but now it’s the regular season, and points matter. Their defense has to be better, there’s no way around it, they can’t allow seven goals against the Avalanche. They’ll have to figure out a way to get on the board first and defend their lead, something they haven’t done yet this season.

During their postgame interviews, it was easy to sense and hear the frustration that clearly shows they know they didn’t play well and they have to do better. The important thing to remember is it’s only the second game of the season and while it’s tough to suffer such a disappointing loss, they have time to turn things around and still make it a great season starting with their next game on Monday against the Avalanche.

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