The Minnesota Wild moved into a tie for third place in the Central Division Thursday night with a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The Wild made a pair of first period goals stand up through 60 minutes and picked up their fourth regulation win of the season in front of an appreciative crowd of 17,668 fans at the Xcel Energy Center. Thursday’s game was also designated as Harding’s Hope Night by the Wild organization. A portion of the game proceeds are going to the charity founded by Wild goal tender Josh Harding to raise awareness and support those living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Fans received a poster of Harding with the Masterton Trophy that he won last season. The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy goes to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.” Harding was diagnosed with MS prior to the 2012-13 season and has continued playing at a NHL level and defied the disease to this day. Tonight however the game became a battle of attrition for goal tenders on both teams as both Harding and Carolina’s Cam Ward lfet the game due to injury. Josh Harding suffered a lower body injury toward the end of the second period and couldn’t answer the horn at the start of the third period. Niklas Backstrom came on in relief, finishing the game and making 7 saves on 7 shots faced. Harding was credited with the win, raising his record to 5-2-1 with a league best 1.00 goals against average and 3rd ranked save percentage of 95.3%. (among net minders with more than three games played) Another amazing Harding stat is his save percentage at even strength, it’s at a staggering 97.7%. The Wild did not allow a five on five goal for yet another game and have given up just 5 through 11 games this season the lowest total in the NHL. In fact opposing teams have lit the lamp just 21 times, an average of just 1.91 goals per game. When the Wild remedy their scoring woes they are going to really start piling up the wins and points!
The Hurricanes Cam Ward left the game less than 5 minutes into the first period. Ward went down to stop a shot by Mikael Granlund off of a 2 on 1 break by the Wild. The Carolina goalie was slow to get back on his skates and left the game at the next whistle. He reportedly sustained a lower body injury and the team’s initial estimate is that he will be out of action for 3 to 4 weeks. Anton Khudobin, Carolina’s regular backup in net has been out of action with a lower body injury of his own so that left Justin Peters, the Hurricanes third string goal tender. Peters took over in goal and surrendered two shots on the first two goals he faced. That pair turned out to be all the scoring the Wild needed to secure the win with an empty netter tacked on at the end of the third period.
The Wild’s first goal of the night was a power play marker by Nino Niederreiter at 8:21 of the opening period. With Carolina’s Alexander Semin in the box for interference Mikael Granlund controlled the puck behind the net and sent a quick pass to Niederreiter who took the puck backhand to forehand and finished with a shot up high past Peters giving Minnesota the early lead. Mathew Dumba picked up the second assist on the goal giving the young defenseman 2 points (1g, 1a) in 7 games. The goal was Niederreiter’s first power play goal of the season giving him a total of 2 goals to go with 3 assists. I’d expect those totals to rise steadily throughout the season. The assist was Granlund’s 5th, he’s still looking for his first goal through 11 games this season. The Wild made the score 2 nothing about 3 and a half minutes later when Jared Spurgeon joined the rush, carrying the puck into the offensive zone. He cut toward the net and cut loose with a shot that beat Peters, but clanged off the corner of the crossbar and upright to the goal tender’s right. The puck caromed directly to a charging Zach Parise who knocked it out of the air and directed it into the net for his 5th goal and team leading 8th point of the season. That wrapped up the scoring for the Wild until late in the third period. With just 1:38 left on the clock the Hurricanes’ Radek Dvorak caught Torrey Mitchell with a high stick giving Minnesota their their 5th power play of the game. Carolina pulled their goal tender to even up the skaters at 5 a side leaving an empty net. Dany Heatley took a gift pass from Matt Cooke and scored the first goal of his season with 26 seconds left on the clock. The empty net, power play goal (don’t see many of those) came in Heatley’s 11th game of the season. That’s the longest goal drought of his career, both to start a season and in total consecutive games without a goal. I can only hope that now the floodgates will open. Heater can now relax a bit, quit squeezing the stick so hard, and his preseason prediction of a 30 goal campaign can start becoming a reality.
The Hurricanes scored their only goal of the night at of the 6:01 mark of the second period on a power play generated by a Dany Heatley slashing penalty. Alexander Semin buried a one timer off a pass by Andrej Sekera with just 1 second remaining on the man advantage. The goal snapped a shutout streak of over 104 minutes for Josh Harding. Carolina went 1 for 5 on the power play while the Wild were 2 for 5 on the night. The pair of power play goals raise Minnesota’s success rate to 26.7%, fifth best in the league. Their 80% penalty kill rate for the game raises their kill rate to 75% which ranks them 27th out of 30 teams. Time and time again the Wild’s success on the power play is negated by the failure of the penalty kill. Minnesota has had problems all season taking ill-advised and even lazy penalties opening the door for opponents. Thursday night the Wild were also out shot for the game 28 to 27. Minnesota still leads the NHL allowing an average of just 21.8 shots per game. They have also been averaging more than 30 shots per game a welcome upward departure from years past.
The Wild definitely did not play their best hockey against the Hurricanes who hold the second spot in the new Metropolitan Division. Minnesota was out shot and out played for a good portion of the first period and the majority of the second. They gave up a dozen shots and several good scoring chances during a second period that saw them take a trio of penalties while generating just 6 shots of their own. The Wild’s defensive pairings were a bit different than in recent games due to the injury to Jonas Brodin. Jared Spurgeon skated 24:01to Ryan Suter‘s 27:06 on the #1 defense pairing, each picked an assist as well. A total of four Wild defensemen picked up assists on the night including Nate Prosser and Mathew Dumba. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has wanted to see the defense jump into the offense a bit more and Thursday night’s assist total shows that the strategy is working, to some extent. Minnesota again took too many penalties, this game 2 were stick infractions and 3 were obstruction type calls that come when players aren’t moving their feet or are caught out of position.
By late Friday morning we should have some sort of a statement regarding the health/injury status of goal tender Josh Harding. Look for the Wild to have an intense practice Friday before the team packs their bags and flies off to the Windy City for a Saturday night tilt against the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center, the Madhouse on Madison. Chicago is second in the Central Division with a 6-1-3 record good for 15 points. They trail the red hot Colorado Avalanche who have posted a 8-1-0 record and division leading 16 point total. I’ll be back Saturday morning with a preview of the Wild vs Blackhawks match up. The Wild earned 2 points against Carolina, well perhaps stole is a better word to use give the way they played for stretches Thursday night. The bottom line is they got the points and once you got ‘em it does not matter how. Until next time this is Scott Drain saying “Thanks for visiting GonePuckWild.com!” and victoriously shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!!”