The Minnesota Wild took on the St. Louis Blues in the 2022 Winter Classic in Minneapolis at Target Field, normally the home of the Minnesota Twins. The first-ever Winter Classic held in the State of Hockey in true Minnesota fashion, was also the coldest in history. Despite the cold, there was a rather funny moment to get things started, as the players were announced, Wild’s Ryan Hartman took a spill as he skated out from the locker room.
The atmosphere was great and other than the Wild’s loss, plus of course the cold, it couldn’t have gone any better. Watching the game, the excitement and energy could be felt through the screen but it wouldn’t be enough.
This was the Wild’s first game in nearly two weeks of hockey and the freezing temperature wasn’t the only issue they had to face. They were without three of their most crucial players, that included their two top defensemen, captain Jared Spurgeon due to injury, and Jonas Brodin who remained in COVID Protocols. The defense wasn’t the only section hit hard; the forwards were without second-line center Joel Eriksson Ek also due to injury.
The Wild were forced to bring in players to help out on defense and those two players were Calen Addison and Jordie Benn. On the offensive side of things, they had Rem Pitlick, who was in the lineup their last game against the Dallas Stars when he was playing in place of Jordan Greenway, this time he was in for Eriksson Ek.
The Blues jumped out to an early lead, the Wild fought back once in the beginning but then it was all Blues until the third period. Minnesota figured out a way to fight back again in the third period but there wasn’t enough time to complete the comeback and they fell 6-4 for their fifth straight loss. The gap in games didn’t help the Wild and it’s something they’ll have to overcome more as this COVID situation continues with all the postponed games but the missing players didn’t help either.
Wild Missed Key Players
The Wild were quick to show how much they normally rely on players like Spurgeon and Brodin. Their defense faced an onslaught by the Blues forwards mainly from Jordan Kyrou that went from the start of the game throughout the second period. Without their number one and two defensemen in the lineup, the defense was all over the place and out of position. They seemed quite lost without them despite having both Addison and Benn added to the roster.
The defense had only nine blocks when they’re usually in the upper teens and lower twenties. While they struggled through most of the game, the offense had trouble as well. The next stat the Wild had issues with can be attributed to the play of both the defense and offense, giveaways. They had seven total, another high number compared to the rest of the season. They went on to lose one more player and nearly added another, thankfully that player, Kirill Kaprizov, was able to return after taking an elbow to the head. The player that was unable to come back to the game was starting goaltender Cam Talbot.
Cam Talbot sustained a lower body injury.— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) January 2, 2022
He survived the six goals the Blues scored on him through the first two periods but when the team got onto the ice in the third, Talbot was not with them, instead, it was Kaapo Kahkonen. Talbot was pulled due to a lower-body injury and it’s unknown how long he’ll be out for. He will probably receive a lot of heat for all the goals that were let in but it wasn’t all his fault, the defense struggled to give him the help he needed.
When Kahkonen started the third, he didn’t see a lot of action but stopped the four shots he did face to keep the Wild in it when they started to respond back with goals of their own. Kahkonen also spent only 12 minutes in the net, as Evason chose to keep the net empty for the extra attacker most of the third period.
Wild’s Special Teams Struggles Continue
The Wild, for what feels like the hundredth time this season, had trouble finding success on the power play. They had chances but could not connect on each of their four opportunities. Their penalty kill didn’t go unharmed in this loss either. The Wild were scored on when shorthanded once but were able to stop the other two. This is quite a bit of bad news for their special teams but there was a bright spot even if it was a small one.
That bright spot was the number of penalties they took. They had just three penalties for six total minutes in the penalty box. Their average this season has been around 10 minutes, so anytime they’re below that number, it’s a step in the right direction. They were also very disciplined and didn’t take any penalties out of frustration as they had been in their last few games.
Wild Find Goals in Third
The Wild looked like a whole new team when they got on the ice in the third period. They had motivation, energy, and carried themselves as they had before their losing streak. They started to mount a comeback and once they got within two goals, in typical Evason style, they pulled Kahkonen to try and get that final push. They played strong the last few minutes but couldn’t get anything past Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington.
They had more shots in the third period than the first and second combined. Something that has been a bother to them for the last couple of weeks when they were able to get a game in, was their shot totals. In this game, they got it back up into the thirties where it belongs but it took until the third period to get there. Their faceoff percentages improved as well, something that has been very up and down this season.
Wild Lose but Also Win
The Wild may have lost the game but they had a great experience nonetheless. They were able to showcase the State of Hockey in the best, albeit very cold way, and tried to pull off what would have been a very dramatic win. They never gave up and pushed through despite being down a considerable number of goals and several of those goals for both teams were scored off of the defending team, something that can be quite defeating.
Overall, the NHL outdid themselves again with how they presented the game. All the details were very Minnesotan, even the cold fit into everything well, although it also made it somewhat difficult. They had plenty of athletes from every sport and they also had former Wild players Niklas Backstrom and Mikko Koivu, the latter will have his jersey retired in a few short months, at the game to say “Let’s Play Hockey” with Minnesota hockey legend Lou Nanne.
The Wild will have another break before their next game, originally, they were supposed to play on Jan. 3 in Ottawa but that has been postponed due to the COVID situation. Now they won’t play until Jan. 6 against the Boston Bruins. They will need to come out against the Bruins as they did in the third period against the Blues. If they play like that, they’ll hopefully get back on the winning track finally and it would be very promising if they were able to have Brodin back as well.
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Mariah Stark (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.