Final Score: Minnesota Wild 4, Anaheim Ducks 2
What'd you think about the game, Charles Barkley?
Buckle up, boys and girls. This tilt was tough to watch and just as tough to write about.
First Period Recap: The beginning of the Ducks 55th game of the season saw them run up their time of possession early, hardly letting the Wild touch the puck on the Anaheim end of the ice. About three minutes in, Mathieu Perreault got the first good scoring chance of the game, as he was found in the low slot for a one-timer, but the puck was deflected back in the corner by a Wild stick.
I was watching the game on the Fox Sports North broadcast, and at this time, they talked a little bit about the game at Dodger Stadium, about how incredible it was that an outdoor hockey game was actually played in Southern California (stop me if you've heard that one before). They concluded by dropping another line that I've heard with way too many times: "An outdoor game is coming to Minnesota, we don't know when, but it IS coming." Both their graphic and commentators also said the Ducks won that game 2-0.
Try again guys.
The Men in Black began to essentially imposed their will on Minnesota. Corey Perry had a chance that, if converted, could have rivaled his goal against the Islanders, as he received a pass while streaking down the middle of the ice, somehow cut in between two Wild defenders coming to cut him off, and put a weak backhander on net between his legs that Darcy Kuemper was ready for.
The Wild finally got their first decent possession in the Anaheim zone about seven minutes in the game, but Jonas Brodin ended it by taking a shot from the blue line that never really had a chance to get through. Not long after that, Mikael Granlund took a shot from the high slot that Jakob Silfverberg deflected away, causing Jonas Hiller to lose sight of the puck. Retrieving the puck from the corner, Jason Pominville tossed the puck back towards the middle, and it went off Hiller as he finally recovered back to the post and in to the net. Wild 1, Ducks 0
Adding onto their newfound momentum, Minnesota's ninth ranked power play unit saw their first action of the night as Luca Sbisa took two for hooking Matt Cooke. The Wild held the puck in the Ducks' zone for almost the entirety of the man advantage, with the exception of the three times Anaheim was able to clear the puck. Despite the heavy possession, the power play was successfully killed off without any casualties.
After returning to full strength, the Ducks returned to playing like they did in the opening minutes of the game. That energy didn't last long though, as Sbisa apparently didn't learn his lesson the first time and got caught hooking again less than two minutes after leaving the box. Like their first go-round, the Wild power play unit fluidly circled the puck around the zone, patiently waiting for opportunities. The most dangerous one came from Keith Ballard, as he tipped a pass on top of the crease that Hiller slid across and corralled just in time. As good as the Wild power play had been possessing the puck, it was a blessing that the PK unit had a 100% kill rate after four minutes of penalty time.
Right as Sbisa was let loose from the box, Ryan Suter set up Kyle Brodziak for the breakaway as he was found sneaking behind Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm, but lost the puck at the last second, allowing it to roll under Hiller harmlessly. By this point, the Wild had all the energy that the Ducks played with in the beginning of the game, and the home team was playing on their heels.
The Ducks, though, were determined not to go into the locker room with their tails between their legs. Ryan Getzlaf took the puck behind the Wild net as the game clock dipped under two minutes, and tossed it to the top of the left faceoff circle to Dustin Penner, who one-timed it over Kuemper's glove. Ducks 1, Wild 1
In that typical frustrating first period fashion, the Ducks almost immediately went back to playing a man down, as Penner followed up his goal with a slash to Jonas Brodin. Anaheim handled part of the Minnesota power play, but it carried over to the second.
The first concluded with both teams even on goals and shots, at one and 11 respectively.
Second Period Recap: Right off the opening faceoff, the Wild power play methodically brought the puck in to the Anaheim zone, and while skating along the boards, Zach Parise threw a nice saucer pass to the middle over Bryan Allen's stick to Mikael Granlund, leading to an easy tip-in just 13 seconds in to the period. Wild 2, Ducks 1
During this next stretch of the game, no team really had a distinct advantage until the Ducks roared into the Minnesota zone and executed a BEAUTIFUL tic-tac-toe play that culminated in Cam Fowler looking at a WIDE OPEN net, but the puck bounced over his stick and kept the Wild's one-goal advantage alive. On the Wild's next charge, Matt Cooke rang the pipe after beating Hiller's two-pad stack attempt.
Playing to his strengths, Sbisa made his first good contribution of the night as he rocked Pominville on the boards. Not long after that play, The zebras blew the whistle on Mike Rupp after holding Matt Beleskey, leading to the Ducks' first power play opportunity of the night. Another facepalm moment occurred immediately after the ensuing faceoff, as the man advantage began with a giveaway at the blue line, giving the Wild a couple dangerous two-on-one chances. If it wasn't for the good fortune of the white jerseys missing the net and Cooke hitting the post again (after taking a shot five feet in front of Hiller with the closest black jersey being in the stands), this game easily would have been 3-1 at this point. The Wild penalty kill very easily did their job, and convincingly outchanced Anaheim's power play.
As the Ducks tried to get any semblance of momentum back to no avail, Allen sent the Wild back to the power play by tripping Pominville. The Ducks fourth kill attempt was their best of the night, which gets that classification only because of one anticlimactic shorthanded scoring chance. The visitors returned to their routine of possessing the puck in the Anaheim zone with the occasional chance that got the FSN commentators' voices rising, and almost stretched their lead to two as Ryan Suter launched a shot off the post, but Hiller fell back on it before it became a more dangerous second chance.
Like they did all night, the Ducks decided to wake up a little bit after releasing a player from the penalty box, and began to hold onto the puck more. The Wild, on the other hand, refused to give up any ground or shots, and continued to punch back after every Ducks possession. In the last minute of the second, Cam Fowler blocked a hard shot from the top of the zone, which clearly left him in a lot of pain. He attempted to skate to the bench when the Wild brought the puck back into the zone, forcing him to stay in the game until the rest of the period.
At the end of that god-awful period, the Wild held onto a 2-1 lead, and a 22-15 advantage in shots. I really wish I could've seen that Lovejoy interview with Lisa Hillary.
Best intermission interview ever! Reporter: "what positives can you take away from that period?" Ben Lovejoy: "nothing, it was terrible."— Andrew Verville (@MrStarfade) January 29, 2014
Third Period Recap: Four-on-four hockey opened up the third, as both Ben Lovejoy and Charlie Coyle received matching roughing penalties at the end of the second. Also caught this tweet, which was easily the best Ducks-related thing that I saw since the first period.
Both teams went back and forth trading scoring chances, with the Wild receiving the better ones, as Hiller let a couple rebounds bounce out to the front of the net. After the penalties were released with no additional goals tallied, the Ducks began to step up their efforts in comparison to the second period (really not saying much). The best chance in the early going came when a scrum formed in front of Kuemper, but he found the puck while on his side and held on for a whistle.
The back and forth continued for the next few minutes, until Marco Scandella put a shot on goal from the blue line, and Parise got his stick on the airborne puck to redirect it by Hiller at the last second. Wild 3, Ducks 1
With a two goal lead, the Wild started to smell blood, and the Ducks responded in the worst way possible: by regressing back to their second period game. Less than two minutes later, Erik Haula was cutting across the width of the net when he got his stick on a Pominville shot along the ice, and the puck was once again redirected through Hiller's five-hole. Wild 4, Ducks 1
This was about the time when the FSN broadcasters preferred to constantly address the Ducks as "the best team in hockey" in order to emphasize the caliber of the team the Wild were absolutely kicking the crap out of. It started to make me sick around the tenth time they said it.
With ten minutes to score three goals, the Ducks were getting desperate, and needed some sort of help. Answering the call was Mike Rupp, who was called for a double minor for tripping/roughing Sbisa along the boards. Desperately needing a goal, the Ducks' best looks saw the puck getting shot into Kuemper's logo. Fortunately, the wily vet Teemu Selanne knew that scoring goals doesn't work that way, and he found it much more effective to throw a backdoor pass to Perreault, who tapped the puck into a wide open net. Wild 4, Ducks 2
With new life and an extra guy still on the ice, Anaheim picked up right where they left off and continued to put pressure on the Wild. Selanne came within an inch of notching his second point on the power play as he one-timed a shot from the hash marks that beat Kuemper's blocker and found metal. Minnesota killed the remainder of the penalty, but sensing a 2013 playoff-esque comeback, the Honda Center crowd provided a new spark of energy for the home team.
The Ducks continued their power play pressure after Rupp's release from the box and refused to back off until Perreault got caught , sending the PK unit onto the ice yet again with their most crucial assignment of the night. Due to their strongest effort, the game returned to full strength without any trouble.
Knowing they were running out of time to make some magic happen, the Ducks played their best consistent hockey of the night. The most notable chance in that stretch came from Penner. From the side of the net, he threw a no-look pass to Getzlaf in front, but Kuemper got off the post quick enough to snare the captain's chance. With about a minute and a half left in the game, Hiller ran to the bench for the extra attacker, and the Minnesota goalkeeper shortly thereafter found himself under constant fire.
The last-chance charge by the Ducks was easily their strongest all night, but they didn't have enough time to salvage this one. Anaheim dropped only their second home game in regulation to Minnesota 4-2, with shots finishing even at 33 a side.
The Good: Calgary stole a point from Chicago tonight and kept them from gaining some ground on Anaheim, but if I had to pick something from this game, it would be the last half of the third period. The desperation effort was the best the Ducks played all night, but unfortunately the other 50 or so minutes reflected the exact opposite.
The Bad: As they get older, hockey players learn to create second chances by shooting at the goalie's pads to create rebounds. The Wild earned a couple of good scoring chances off that strategy. The Ducks, on the other hand, tried something different, that I'm assuming is known along the lines of "shoot-at-the-logo-on-the-goalie's-chest-and-hope-that-he-drops-the-puck" strategy, which is really unfortunate considering the handful of scoring chances that were ruined by putting the biscuit two feet off the ice towards the center of the goal. This is the big time boys, if you shoot there, no goalie is going to let you get a crack at a rebound.
The Ugly: The overall team play was just atrocious tonight. I don't really know how else to elaborate on it; from top to bottom this game was just nauseating to watch.
3rd Icehole: Luca "Captain Hook" Sbisa. Hit of the game in the second, but committing two penalties within four minutes against a top-10 power play isn't exactly the best way to make your triumphant return to the roster, my friend.
2nd Icehole: Bryan Allen. Poor play all around tonight. It makes my head spin whenever I'm reminded of the fact that this guy was a fourth overall draft pick one year. Free the Vatman?
1st Icehole(s): The entire defensive effort just wasn't there tonight. The blue line as a whole looked lethargic and constantly made poor plays. Even though it's easy to point fingers at the usual suspects like #2 and #3 here, even some of our more reliable guys were making some big mistakes. For instance, Beauchemin and Hampus were 110% responsible for allowing a breakaway chance that could've been a goal if it wasn't for a mishandled puck.
Next Game: Thursday, January 30th, 7:00 PM, vs. Philadelphia Flyers