Wild’s Eriksson Ek Shines Despite Loss to Jets

The Minnesota Wild took a trip north of the border to take on the Winnipeg Jets in their second match-up in a little over a week. This time around, the Wild got on the board first in the opening frame. However, the Jets answered back with two straight goals in the second to take the lead, and it continued from there.

Minnesota Wild Celebrate
Minnesota Wild Celebrate (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Jets added two more goals to open the third for a 4-1 lead. The Wild made their first effort at a comeback with their first goal of the third period to make it 4-2, but it didn’t last as the Jets stormed back with a goal. Minnesota made their second attempt at a comeback with one more goal, but it was their last as the Jets added one more for the 6-3 win.

The Wild came out strong from the start, but the Jets had the goal-scoring edge. They were without Matt Dumba for the second straight game, but Marcus Foligno returned from his suspension. Minnesota’s defense struggled for most of the evening, as did some of their leading scorers, but it wasn’t all bad. Their shots on goal were high, and they kept their giveaways to single digits. Their biggest problem was on defense, and one specific player had it out for the Wild.

Wild Can’t Stop Scheifele

Two of the Jets’ goals were scored when Mark Scheifele was left open. He figured out the holes in the defense very early on. They started man-to-man, but Scheifele snuck away and made himself open for his teammate to send him a pass, and he blew a shot by Wild goaltender Cam Talbot.

Scheifele’s goals were near carbon copies of each other, but they weren’t his only goals. He also snuck in a power-play goal for a natural hat trick. The Wild’s defense let multiple players sneak in behind them, and Talbot was unable to get into position in time.

Cam Talbot Minnesota Wild
Cam Talbot, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With Dumba out, Minnesota was forced to switch up their defensive pairings, and they couldn’t find a way to click. Alex Goligoski struggled the most with two of the Wild’s eight giveaways on the night. He was paired with Jon Merrill, but the two could not figure each other out. The same went for Jordie Benn and Dmitry Kulikov, while the top pairing of Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin worked well together. While the defense was having problems, Talbot faced some tough situations.

Talbot’s Off Night

Since returning from injury a few weeks ago, Talbot was playing lights out. He was the hero of many of the team’s wins. The Jets, however, had his number last night when they scored on him five times – the sixth was an empty-net goal. He didn’t make any horrible mistakes but was not his normal self, and it showed in his frustrated head movement after the Jets’ second goal. He made 25 saves on 30 shots for a .833 save percentage, one of his lowest of the season.

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As stated above, two of the goals were clearly not his fault, and, unfortunately, his off night happened at the same time his defense was not at 100 percent. Their goal scorers had some success but failed to help out the defense.

Wild’s Top Lines Produce

It wasn’t all bad news. Joel Eriksson Ek extended his point streak to two games after he scored the Wild’s first of the game. He was one of the few players to have a strong game with four shots on goal and a takeaway. He was the only member of the third line to tally a point – the assists on his goal went to defensemen Spurgeon and Brodin.

Joel Eriksson-Ek Minnesota Wild
Joel Eriksson-Ek, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While one member of the third line scored, all members of the first line – Kirill Kaprizov, Ryan Hartman, and Mats Zuccarello – hit the scoresheet. Kaprizov and Zuccarello had two points: Kaprizov recorded two assists, while Zuccarello scored a goal and an assist. Hartman tallied the other assist on Zuccarello’s goal. Their line accounted for five of the team’s nine points, and they were the most successful.

Wild Face Panthers

The Wild’s next opponent will not be any easier as they head home to take on the Florida Panthers, who have dominated the league all season. Their top scorer, Jonathan Huberdeau, is on a five-game point streak and sits tied for first place in the league with Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers as of Feb. 16. In the Wild’s first meeting with the Panthers, they lost a close one, 5-4, and Huberdeau tallied an assist.

The Wild will have to find a way to play as they did against both the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes. They’ll also need to figure out a way to capitalize on the big opportunities. Several times, Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck gave up the puck to a Wild player, but they couldn’t get it past him even with an open net. Going forward, they need to maximize their chances.

That leaves the defense, who will remain without Dumba until further notice. They may need to rework their defensive partners before they face the Panthers to make sure they find a better fit. Finally, if they keep to their rotation schedule, it’ll be Kaapo Kahkonen’s turn in the net, and he did well in his last game against the Red Wings. The higher the pressure, the better he seems to play. They’ll have the home-ice advantage that will, hopefully, help them get back on the winning track against a tough Panthers team.

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