Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 5-3 loss against the Chicago Blackhawks:
It was a scenario that the Minnesota Wild is all too familiar with — an unfriendly bounce resulting in a Patrick Kane game-winning goal. After last year’s Game-6-series-clinching-carom-off-the-stanchion goal, Lady Luck gave Kane’s stick a big old smooch again tonight. With the Hawks on a late third period power play (we’ll get to that) Kane had the puck at the side of the net, tried to make a centering pass, which ricocheted off Jonas Brodin’s skate and into the upper corner of the Wild’s net. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good and, against Minnesota, Kane is both.
Coming into the third period, the Wild had to rally after a second period lull dug the team into a 3-1 hole. Minnesota responded by scoring twice to tie the game. Nino Niederreiter scored on his first career penalty shot with a quick puck-handle and backhander into the top corner. It was the Swiss native’s 14th goal of the season, tying his total from last year, a career high. Marco Scandella, returning from a two game suspension, scored on a one-time blast to even the game. Despite a bad second period, the Wild played well enough to earn at least a point, but Kane’s lucky bounce denied an extra session.
Goaltender Niklas Backstrom wasn’t scheduled to start the contest, but was called into action because Darcy Kuemper was feeling ill before game time. The netminder stepped in on short notice, making 34 saves in the losing effort.
One of the small details of the game, especially against a good transition team like the Hawks, which can lead to big things: strong zone entries. A well-placed dump-in led to the lone goal of the first period.
Following a neutral-zone faceoff win, defenseman Ryan Suter made a cross-ice pass to a wide-open Thomas Vanek. The wing wrapped the puck around the wall with Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise in position to get in on the forecheck. With the puck wedged against the wall, Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson mishandled the puck right onto the tape of Granlund.
Granlund took the puck behind the net and four Hawks defenders were all caught puck watching. The center slipped a pass into the slot, where Vanek found a soft spot in the slot. If it was golf, Vanek’s one-timer was about as close to a gimmie putt as the Austrian will get. The 30-year-old has found his scoring touch of late; tonight’s tally was his third goal in his last seven games.
Tonight, the Blackhawks were without reigning Norris Trophy winner, defenseman Duncan Keith, who was out with an illness. It was the first time one of the team’s top-four blueliners missed a game. The Hawks arguably have the best top-two pairs in the National Hockey League, which has helped propel them to the best record in the Central Division. On a team that’s made its name with offense and puck possession, Keith is the team’s catalyst from the blue line and has twice been named the League’s top defenseman.
Conversely, the Wild has had its full compliment of top-four defensemen in only 10 games this season and in three of its last 21 games. Although the team skated without Jared Spurgeon, who has missed the last two games with an illness, the defenseman skated today and is possible for tomorrow’s home contest against the Boston Bruins. However, tonight Scandella returned to the lineup after serving a two-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of the New York Islanders’ Brock Nelson on Dec. 9.
The Montreal native has a big shot and unleashed another rocket again tonight for his sixth of the year. Give credit to Jason Zucker who stood in front of goaltender Antti Raanta for a screen. Or, maybe he just didn’t have time to get out of the way.
Patrick Kane will always garner a majority of the attention when discussing the Blackhawks offense, but the team has a pretty good second banana offensively, if you could actually call its captain, Jonathan Toews, a sidekick. If Kane is thought of as the Show Horse, Toews is considered the Draft Horse, working and battling for his offensive chances. That’s how he scored tonight, batting home a rebound, but make no mistake: Toews is one of the League’s elite offensive talents.
In the second period, the Wild made the mistake of giving the 26-year-old too much time with the puck behind the net and he made them pay. With the Hawks in the offensive zone, the puck was wrapped around the boards to Toews, who found Marian Hossa with a perfect pass and goal.
With Ryan Cater placed on Injured Reserve yesterday, Minnesota recalled forward Brett Sutter from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Iowa Wild. The 27-year-old made his Wild debut tonight in Chicago. He skated on the fourth line with Kyle Brodziak and Erik Haula. The forward wanted to bring energy and physicality to the lineup tonight and did so when he was on the ice.
In the second period with the Hawks pressuring on the power play, Kris Versteeg was sniffing around the crease, like a dog looking for table scraps, as Backstrom tried to cover the puck. Sutter came in and blasted Versteeg into the Wild’s net, a good example of how to clear the crease. Later in the period, Sutter was working on the forecheck and drew a penalty when Tim Erixson slashed him. The Viking, Alberta native knows what kind of game he needs to play when he gets the call and executed it tonight. He ended the game with four hits and two shots on goal.
The only mark against Sutter was a late penalty…
A penalty should be a penalty regardless of the time left in the game. Just because a game is tied or close late in the third, the refs should stay consistent. There’s always the argument, “let the players decide the outcome,” when things are tight at the end of the contest. That being said, both Sutter and Erik Haula’s penalties coming late in the third period were iffy at best and one-handed hooks are executed about 15 to 20 times a game (rough estimate) without a call.