Following Wild games, Content Coordinator Evan Sporer will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at the Wild's 3-1 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Xcel Energy Center.
Playing for the first time in three days, and having not practiced over that stretch, it took the Wild the better part of two periods to find its footing.
The Penguins held a decisive edge in shots and possession in the first 35 minutes. Minnesota was forced to defend for long stretches in its own end, which, by the time the puck was won back, all the Wild could do was flip it to center ice.
And despite that, it was a scoreless first period before the Penguins took a 1-0 lead early in the second. Most of the middle 20 minutes was played with Pittsburgh ahead by a goal, and the Wild had a chance to tie things up with a single shot.
But then in the final 110 seconds, the Penguins made it 2-0, only for Jason Zucker to score 45 seconds later, followed by a Penguins power-play goal 31 seconds after Zucker's goal.
A two goal deficit heading into the third period of a home game isn't insurmountable, but given how things were heading into the final minutes of the second, and then how they transpired, it certainly felt like the Wild was facing a tough comeback bid.
The reason the game remained tied or that the Wild trailed by a goal for much of the first 40 minutes was Devan Dubnyk.
Dubnyk last played on Monday, as Darcy Kuemper got the net in the Wild's final game before the holiday break. But Dubnyk did not skip a beat, and kept the Wild competitive on the scoreboard when Minnesota was getting outshot early on.
There was a good save on Eric Fehr in the first period that came on a sequence after the Wild hit the post. The Penguins came the other way, and Olli Maatta hit Fehr with a slap pass, and Dubnyk came up high in his crease and made himself big, smothering the deflection.
In the second period, Dubnyk found himself on his side and stacked the pads to keep out a Patric Hornqvist shot.
Dubnyk, playing in his fourth game back after sustaining a groin injury December 5, looked sharper than the three goals against would indicate, and getting Dubnyk back in form is key for the Wild.
Another noticeable game for the duo of Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter, who have had strong performances in each of their past three games.
Niederreiter nearly scored on his first shift of the game when he crossed the blue line, took a drop-pass, and then skated across the zone, shooting the puck against the grain and nearly past the glove of Matthew Murray.
Coyle was visible in ways he normally is, using his speed to win footraces, and then his size to separate bodies from the puck to win possession.
Each player talked about how the holiday break could disrupt momentum — Coyle, who said the Wild needed to come back with the same attitude, and Niederreiter, who ironically (amid a slump) on how it could help clear his head.
Both forwards played up to the high standard they set in the games before the break.
Given the lack of chances the Wild was able to generate against Pittsburgh, there were missed opportunities that could have very well swung the balance of the game.
The first one came early on, when a slick passing sequence ended with Marco Scandella hitting the goal post on a backdoor pass.
Scandella nearly set up a goal later in the first period when he jumped into the play and sent a puck through the goalmouth, but Vanek was unable to corral possession from in tight.
Justin Fontaine missed the net from the low slot on a one-timer in the second period, and the Wild took three shots on its first three power plays, which gradually put together more cohesive sequences, but never created any really dangerous looks.
Those misses weren't chief among the Wild's problems on Saturday (Minnesota was outshot 27-12 through two periods), but given they all occurred when the Wild was tied or trailing by a goal, had they gone the other way, the script of the game would have been different.
There are moments when patience with the puck can be excruciating to watch, but when Thomas Vanek is the puck carrier, it's usually safe to say he has something up his sleeve.
That was the case again on Saturday when Vanek made a nice holdup play at the blue line, then saucered a pass over to Jason Zucker who was all alone trailing the play, and scored.
Vanek's vision is something to behold, and it's been on display for much of this season. He put the puck on a platter for Scandella earlier in the game, and nearly connected on a nifty, no-look, behind-the-back, through-his-own legs pass to Mikko Koivu on the power play in the third period.
And it's how Vanek anticipates, and reads the play that affords him the ability to be deliberate in what he does. Sometimes a player can overthink a play, and be too slow, or too deliberate. In Vanek's case, it's a bit of the, 'no, no, yes.' As he pulls up with possession at the blue line, you might begin to wonder why he'd slow down a chance in transition, until Zucker speeds into the frame.
Unseen by most (but not his linemate) Vanek had his next step choreographed, and he laid a perfect pass to an in-stride Zucker, who scored his ninth goal of the season.
The goal also illuminated a bit of what Vanek thought might benefit him playing with Zucker when the two were put on a line six games ago. Zucker's straightline speed and shooting ability makes him a natural fit with Vanek, a creative passer, to create a target.