Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 2-1 loss against the Los Angeles Kings:
The Minnesota Wild poured more shots on Kings netminder Jonathan Quick than the Whisky A Go Go decants on a Saturday night. Minnesota outshot the Kings, 41-16, including 17-4 in the final period. However, the Los Angeles goaltender was like Jim Morrison on a bender, time after time, shooting Minnesota down without a chaser. Only Matt Cooke’s third period backhand beat the Kings’ backstop.
The way that Quick played on Sunday afternoon had to give the Wild shooters a headache. Even when they beat him, they were unlucky, like Jason Zucker cleanly hitting the pipe in the third. The goaltender stole the game for the defending Stanley Cup champs and has been locked in like cash in a bank vault. Coming into the contest, Quick had a .944 save percentage and 2.09 goals-against average. I’m not a math wiz, but I think both stats will improve after today’s game.
There are no moral victories in the NHL, but the Wild went into two tough Pacific Division buildings and outplayed both opponents. Minnesota could’ve taken both games on its West Coast swing, but couldn’t find a way to beat a pair of hot goaltenders.
Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom looked good in his return to net. It was his first (regular season) game since Jan. 30 after undergoing core muscle surgery. The 36-year-old moved well throughout the contest and looks like he’s well on his way to a return to form.
After three games of penalty kill perfection, the Wild finally gave up a goal while down a man. Of course, it came on a wonky bounce. Mike Richards was skating down the left wing and threw the puck into the slot. Ryan Suter was in position defensively, but the disk bounced off his skate and back into the slot right onto the tape of Tyler Toffoli. Neither Suter nor Backstrom had time to recover and Toffoli popped the puck into the net.
Minnesota only had to kill one more penalty for the remainder of the game, but did so efficiently. It didn’t give LA a chance to set up in the zone, something it has done consistently in the early going this season.
There are a lot of unwritten rules in hockey. The one that I’ve never been a fan of, and have expressed my distaste for in this space before, is a clean hit followed by a teammate feeling the need to drop the gloves.
In the second period, Christian Folin stepped up and delivered a textbook shoulder check on Kings star Anze Kopitar. The hit was in front of LA’s bench and Kopitar went into the boards hard, but was okay. As the puck went into Minnesota’s end, Folin retreated into the zone and Richards chased him down and challenged him to a fight. Folin obliged and dropped the gloves with Richards. The big Swede handled himself well in his first NHL fight and ended up taking down the Kings forward after some minor jostling. Obviously, Kopitar is one of LA’s premier players and they want to protect him. He’s not going to risk dropping the mitts himself, but he was only shaken-up on the play. There’s a time when you should stick up for teammates, but not after a clean hit.
Tonight’s scrap was unlike the Wild’s last game, where the Ducks’ Ryan Kesler took an unnecessary blind-side run at Mikael Granlund at the end of the contest, and Zach Parise went after the Anaheim forward. That was warranted, because it was late, high and Granlund wasn’t making a play on the puck. There was a definite intent from Kesler to do damage in a dangerous area along the boards. Folin, on the other hand, finished a hard check, but there was not extra push into the boards or intent to hurt Kopitar. Star players should be protected, but hockey is a tough sport and so are the players. Fighting after a clean hit is an annoyance that doesn’t make the game any better or safer.
Hockey is a dangerous sport. The old joke is that the players carry clubs in their hands and knives on their feet. But there is nothing scarier than when a player gets tripped up and his skate blade gets up in the air.
That was the case today during the second period as Jason Zucker and Kyle Clifford got tied up and went to the ice together. Zucker and Clifford were battling for the puck and the Wild forward tripped up the King. As he fell to the ice, Clifford’s skate came up and nearly decapitated the Minnesota winger. Thankfully, Zucker was okay and able to return to the game, but it was a chin-hair away from the guillotine treatment.
You can plan all you want, but sometimes during live events things go off script, even in Hollywood. During the first intermission the Kings’ game operations had a contestant who improvised, and it was amazing for State of Hockey fans in the STAPLES Center.
The between-period contest was the schoolyard game of Red Light, Green Light. Participants had to run the length of the ice on the slippery surface on green and attempt to stop on red for a chance to win a new Toyota Camry. Of course, planned hilarity ensued as the contestants had trouble stopping on red and slipped uncontrollably on the ice. One-by-one they were eliminated for moving on red until there were only two contestants left. One of the players was especially apt at moving on the ice and was first across the goal line for the win. This is when amazing happened. The Kings’ in-arena host asked the winner where he’d go if he won the new car. Full of gusto, the winner shouted, “I’d go on a road trip: TO MY HOME STATE OF MINNESOTA!” Fantastic troll job by the State of Hockey native.