The Minnesota Wild beat the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 in a shootout Saturday night at the Pepsi Center. The Minnesota victory marks the first time Colorado has lost a game when scoring first this season (17-0), or leading after two periods (18-0) or in overtime and shootouts (5-0). You can put a 1 in place of all those zeros. The Wild played well but were unable to put the puck past Semyon Varlamov until the 16:07 mark of the third period. The Wild picked up the second point tonight while the Avalanche gained a single point, the result of that is the two teams are now tied for third in the Central Division. Colorado has played four fewer games than Minnesota but that differential will close in the next few weeks as the Wild will have more days off while the Av’s are in action. Minnesota now has 43 points on a record of 19-11-5 while Colorado has the same point total on a record of 21-9-1. The last game, November 30th, between these rivals also went to a shootout the first of the season for the Av’s. Tonight though Minnesota sealed the deal and ended a horrid road trip on a positive note. In his post game comments Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “I’m really pleased with our guys.” “We looked tired, and you can tell we didn’t have the same pressure but, the way our guys stepped up in the 3rd period, the way they kept themselves in the game, the way they battled to give ourselves the chance to score that goal. It was a big character win. They had to dig extremely deep to find another level in the 3rd and that’s what they did.”
This game looked eerily similar to the last meeting between the Wild and Avalanche, a tight checking low scoring affair with excellent goal tending. Prior to the game Wild Super-Defenseman Ryan Suter said, “We have to get our swagger back on the road.” “We’ve got to take it to ‘em, we can’t sit back on our heels, if were going to be successful we’ve got to play 60 minutes like that.” Minnesota did come out somewhat flat, with it becoming apparent early on that this game against the Av’s was once again going to be a low scoring affair and a single mistake would be the difference between a win and a loss. Another similarity to the November 30th game was that the referee’s put their whistles in their pockets. A total of 3 penalties were called all game, one per period. Colorado had a pair of power plays but the Wild penalty killers were up to the challenge tonight, unlike their last game in San Jose when they surrendered 3 goals on 7 Shark power plays. The Wild would have their lone man advantage in the 3rd period and despite good puck movement and a willingness to shoot (3 SOG) they couldn’t solve Varlamov.
Whether it’s a hot goalie, over thinking the play, looking for the perfect pass, squeezing the stick too hard, or a lack of confidence in their shooting ability the Wild just can’t seem to score on the road this year. In 17 games away from the Xcel Energy Center this season the Wild are averaging just 1.65 goals a game while their opponents are scoring an average of 2.65 goals a game. That kind of scoring average is not going to win you many games no matter how good your net minder is. Minnesota has compiled a 6-8-3 record on the road and if it weren’t for the superb goal tending of Josh Harding that record would be even worse. Harding’s win Saturday ups his season record to 17-5-3 overall, a goals against average of 1.49 and a save % of .939. He has also recorded 3 shutouts tying him for the league lead. He also leads the league in goals against average, is tied for second in wins, and tied for second in save %. No other goalie in the league ranks in the top 2 in any combination of those categories. Just think where he’d be in wins if he received a little more goal support from his teammates. Saturday Harding was lights out again making 26 saves on 27 shots which equates to a .963 save %. He also stopped all 4 Avalanche shots during their two power plays. At the other end of the ice Semyon Varlamov took the loss, dropping his season record to 14-8-1 with a goals against average of 2.48 and a save .914 %. The Av’s net minder had the same stats Saturday as Harding. The lone exception was two Wild goals in the shootout versus one for Colorado. In three games this season the two teams have combined for a total of 10 goals, 6 for Colorado and 4 for Minnesota. The Wild and Av’s have two games remaining in their season series, January 11th in St. Paul and on the 30th of that same month in Denver. If the first 3 meeting were this intense and low scoring I see no reason to think the others will be any different.
After a scoreless first period the Avalanche opened the scoring as Cory Sarich let loose with a shot from the point that was redirected by Maxime Talbot past Josh Harding at the 10:48 mark of the second period. That goal was the 9th consecutive time the Wild have allowed the first goal in a road game. That would be the extent of scoring through the first 40 minutes of the game. You could hear the collective groan of fans all over the State of Hockey as they saw that goal and Colorado’s record this season when scoring first. Minnesota was also getting out shot 16 to 8 at that point in the game. The Av’s would also have the lone power play of the period as well but Minnesota’s penalty killers were up to the challenge, killing off the second and last man advantage Colorado would have. The Wild limited the Av’s to a total of just 4 shots on goal for their 2 power plays. That goal seemed to wake up Minnesota and spurred them on to finish the period closing the gap in shots to 4 and two period totals of 20 shots for Colorado and 16 for Minnesota.
The Wild must have been saving their energy for the final period because they came out skating hard and shooting. The Wild out shot the Avalanche 10-9 in the second frame and 10-5 in the third period. I think Colorado has been reading their own press releases as the went into cruise control going into a defensive shell expecting to win the game 1-0. After all they were 18-0 when leading after two periods. The Avalanche didn’t expect to see the push back by Minnesota in the third period. The Wild earned their first power play in 6 periods spanning the game November 30 through 2 and a half periods Saturday. The Wild put their new look #1 power play unit on the ice consisting of Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon on the points with Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville down low. Despite good puck movement, time in the offensive zone and 3 shots on goal Minnesota failed to score. With time waning and the possibility of another road loss looming on the horizon the Wild kept pressing against an Avalanche defense that was getting sloppy. Then with just 3:53 left on the clock Suter launched a slapshot from the point that Nino Niederreiter redirected into the net past a surprised Colorado net minder Varlamov. That was enough for the Av’s defense to tighten up but, by then the period ended with both teams securing a valuable point in the standings.
During the 4 on 4 overtime both teams played very tight defense, seeming as though they were more concerned with not losing rather than taking chances and trying to win the game. During the 5 minute overtime the teams combined for a total of 3 shots on goal, two for Colorado and just 1 for Minnesota. That brings us to the shootout or skills competition as some coaches call it. Personally I’d prefer the NHL go to a longer overtime period of 4 on 4 then move to a second OT period of 3 on 3 hockey and continue that way until someone scores. I’d also like to see the “loser point” go by the wayside as well. If you win you get two points, if you lose you get nothing, zip, zilch, nada, but I digress. In the shootout the
Avalanche sent out Matt Duchene, PA Parenteau and Ryan O’Reilly. The Wild countered with Parise, Koivu and Pominville. Duchene scored the only shootout goal for Colorado, beating Harding high on the stick side. Zach Parise skated in slowly on Varlamov and beat the Av’s goalie with a wrister that rang off the post and into the net tying the shootout at 1 each. Parenteau was stopped on a backhand try by the quick glove of Harding bringing up Captain Koivu. Koivu made it look easy as he went to his patented forehand, backhand, roof move beating Varlamov easily. The third and final skater for the Av’s, O’Reilly, tried to beat Harding glove side but the Wild net minder flashed the leather and winning the shootout and giving the Wild the second point that sees them tied for 3rd in the Central. The Wild are now 1-1-1 in three games against the Av’s and the budding rivalry continues to grow. This is going to be fun as these teams develop a real dislike of each other. The Central Division is going to be a tight race this season and with 5 games against all teams in the division you can be sure that familiarity will breed contempt.
The Wild have the day off on Sunday after a late night return to the Twin Cities. It’s back to work on Monday though as the Wild get prepared to take on the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday evening at the Xcel Energy Center. Now there’s a team we love to hate. I’ll be back Tuesday morning with a preview of the Wild vs Canucks round 1. For now enjoy this victory by your Minnesota Wild. I know I am! Until next time this is Scott Drain shouting loud and proud, “Let’s Go Wild, LET’S GO WILD.”