Wild’s Penalty Kill Key in Win Over Islanders

The Minnesota Wild were looking to redeem themselves when they took on the New York Islanders, on Thursday, Jan. 12 after suffering a difficult loss to the New York Rangers earlier in the week. The Islanders got the jump on the Wild late in the first and put them back on their heels. They seemed to resurge in the second but despite outshooting the Islanders in that period, they weren’t able to score until the third.

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Midway through the third period the Wild found their moment when they scored a very impressive goal while shorthanded and tied the game at one. That goal caused a switch in momentum and they capitalized a few minutes later to take their first lead of the game. Then a few minutes after that, they added one more goal to seal the win 3-1. Despite an early lack of effort on the Wild’s part, they were able to dig deep in the final period and secure the victory.

Wild’s Penalty Kill Perseveres

In the last two games, the Wild fell into an unhealthy pattern of taking penalties within the first few minutes. Luckily for them, their penalty kill stopped every power play it faced in those games. They’ve killed off six straight penalties and against the Islanders, they even scored a goal. While Connor Dewar has made himself known as the Wild’s shorthanded goal expert this season with three goals so far, this one went to Frédérick Gaudreau.

Frederick Gaudreau Minnesota Wild
Frederick Gaudreau, Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It was Gaudreau’s second shorthanded goal of the season and happened thanks to a brilliant forechecking effort by Joel Eriksson Ek. He was able to force the puck past the opposing defenseman in the Wild’s defensive zone and carry it into the offensive zone where he placed a perfect pass to Gaudreau who then sent it past Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin.

Eriksson Ek has been an important part of the Wild’s penalty kill all season but in the last few games, he’s really stepped up. His performance along with Jared Spurgeon’s and Jonas Brodin’s have been key to their recent success on the penalty kill.

Wild’s Shot Totals Conflicting

Starting with their game against the St. Louis Blues on New Year’s Eve, the Wild have steadily improved their shot totals from the high 20’s to the high 30’s. They outshot the Islanders 36-20 with the majority of their shots coming in the second period. However, watching their power play, it’s hard to believe they had that many shots on goal because they passed the puck more than they shot.

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The Wild wasted each of their five power-play chances by not taking enough shots. Their top power-play unit that included Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello was the guiltiest of this mistake and they have to be better moving forward. Their power play units combined had just seven total shots and they’ll have to improve on that if they want to continue winning games.

Wild’s Gustavsson Continues Dominance

Both Marc-André Fleury and Filip Gustavsson have been playing outstanding especially in the last week. They’ve stood on their heads to stop pucks and that included Gustavsson’s performance against the Islanders. He even stopped all five shots from one of their leading goal-scorers and Minnesota native Brock Nelson.

Filip Gustavsson Minnesota Wild
Filip Gustavsson, Minnesota Wild (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

While Gustavsson played strong the whole night, the one play that could be considered a mistake on his part was the lone goal the Islanders scored. It was a shot from the point that bounced and changed direction before he could adjust correctly to block it. From a regular point of view, it looked like he missed the shot when he should’ve had it, but after slowing it down it’s clear it was redirected and that was the reason he couldn’t stop it. Despite the goal, his play is what kept his team in the game and gave them the opportunity to come back and win in the third.

Wild Head Home

After gaining the split in New York, the Wild will head back home for a quick visit to take on the Arizona Coyotes, Saturday, Jan. 14. The Coyotes are a struggling team but they’ve got some strong scorers the Wild will have to be aware of and put a stop to if they hope to win. Those players are Clayton Keller, Shayne Gostisbehere, Lawson Crouse, Matias Maccelli, and Jakob Chychrun.

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That leaves the Wild’s offense to find a way past either Karel Vejmelka or Connor Ingram, but Vejmelka has been their starter most of the season and will likely be in the net against the Wild. If they want to keep on the winning side of things they’ll have to take more shots on the power play and start their games off with more effort. If they can do those things, they’ll have a better chance of winning – including against the Coyotes.