The Minnesota Wild fell to the visiting, injury riddled Detroit Red Wings Saturday afternoon at the Excel Energy Center. This was the first of a home and home series that wraps up Sunday evening in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. The Wild let this one slip away. This was a prime opportunity for the Wild to catch the Red Wings with an injury depleted lineup and take two points in front of a crowd of 19,176 rabid hockey fans. Minnesota did several things right in this game. They scored first, with Mikko Koivu tallying his 9th of the season. They scored a power play goal, Koivu’s goal. They outshot their opponent in the 1st period and totaled 30 shots on goal for the game. They had more power play opportunities and fewer penalty kills. They scored on a penalty shot by Charlie Coyle. See the picture to the left, more on that goal later. They were more physical than their opponent. They had more takeaways and fewer turnovers. They were aggressive around the net with the puck. Unfortunately all the things the Minnesota Wild did right were negated by a pair of penalty kill failures and one defensive break down leading to a highlight reel wrister by Gustav Nyquist. Add up the right and the wrong for Minnesota and you end up with a 3-2 win for Detroit.
The loss drops the Wild’s home record to 23-8-5 and 36-24-11 overall. They remain on top of the Wild Card pile in the Western Conference with 83 points, 4 points ahead of Phoenix and 6 up on Dallas. Detroit however jumps over Columbus into the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference with a new total of 79 points to Columbus 78 point total. The Red Wings are trying to stay relevant in the Eastern Conference playoff race and avoid breaking their streak of 22 consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff appearances. The two teams meet again Sunday evening at 6:30 pm Central Time in the back end of this home and home series. I love this type of series and wish the NHL woud schedule more of these for every team in the league. It’s a great way to build rivalries and up the intensity of regular season games.
The game started of somewhat slowly with both teams being somewhat cautious and clogging up the neutral zone. Minnesota received their first power play opportunity just past the 5 minute mark of the opening period. The Wild broke through as defenseman Ryan Suter carried the puck down along the left wall then hit Mikko Koivu with a perfect pass that the Wild Captain one timed over Red Wings net minder Jimmy Howard‘s glove for the score 5:38 into the period. That was Koivu’s 9th of the season but first goal in thirteen games dating back to the end of 2013. The assists on the goal went to Suter, his 32nd this season and Matt Moulson his 3rd since joining the team. The Wild lead would only last 5 minutes as the Red Wings countered with a power play goal of their own by Kyle Quincy with Suter in the box on a slashing call. Video replay showed that the slash actually came from the stick of Darren Helm breaking Suter’s stick not the other way around but that’s not what the ref called. The first period ended withe the score knotted at 1 and the shots in favor of Minnesota 11-9.
The second period featured both teams trading some good scoring chances but the puck just wouldn’t go into the net for the Wild. At the 16:38 mark Clayton Stoner went off for high sticking giving Detroit their second power play of the game. David Legwand took a nice no look pass from Riley Sheahan and beat Darcy Kuemper glove side for the goal, the second power play marker of the game for Detroit. That gave the Red Wings a 2-1 lead that would last through the rest of the 2nd frame. Legwand stuck to playing hockey today after being hit with a $5000 dollar fine for butt ending Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin in the crotch during a game on Thursday dropping the Penguins star in a heap holding his groin.. I’ve seen some cheap shots in my day but this was one of the dirtiest moves I’ve seen in a while. Luckily or unluckily for the Wild, depending on how you look at it, Legwand chose to stick to legal moves today.
The third period opened with Charlie Coyle being impeded on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. Coyle made the most of the opportunity skating in on Detroit’s Howard deking right then left, getting Howard to commit to his right. That left a gaping open net for Coyle to slide the puck into knotting the score at 2 apiece. If Charlie Coyle is going to pull out moves like that Wild Coach Yeo might want to consider him as an option on shootouts. The Wild would only enjoy the tie game for little over five minutes as the Detroit struck at the 5:19 mark to take the lead for good 3-2. Gustav Nyquist ripped a wrister just inside the pipe through a screen that the Wild’s Kuemper never saw until it was too late. Nyquist has been hot for Detroit scoring his 5th goal in four games. The Red Wings almost added to the total less than 90 seconds later but the goal was immediately waved off by the ref due to goaltender interference. The Wild would continue to press and created some great chances but every time the puck slid wide, flew high, or ended up in the trapper of Jimmy Howard. Detroit gave Minnesota one last chance as Niklas Kronwall took a holding penalty against Mikko Koivu with 3:27 left on the clock. The Wild even pulled Kuemper giving them a 6 on 4 advantage but it was to no avail as Howard made a couple of stops down the stretch to seal the win for Detroit. The loss drops Kuempers record to 12-6-4 with a .922 save % and a 2.26 goals against average. The win improves Howard’s marks to 17-16-12 with a goals against average of 2.64 and a .913 save %.
The Wild get another shot at the Red Wings on Sunday. That’s the beauty of a home and home series, an immediate chance at redemption and a victory or the possibility of doubling down on defeat. Minnesota needs to lock down a bit more on the penalty kill and convert on another opportunity or two to take the two points on the morrow. We’ll see which road the Minnesota Wild take when the puck drops at “The Joe”. I’ll be back bright and early Sunday with a preview of Wild vs Red Wings Round 2. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting loud enough to be heard back in my home state of Michigan, “LET’S GO WILD, LET’S GO WILD!!”