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Penalties drain Wild, fuel Blackhawks in 4-1 loss

The performance of the penalty kill wasn’t a problem in either of the Wild’s last two losses.

It’s the amount of times the unit has been ushered into duty, however, that’s been a concern, with a parade to the box headlining the 4-1 setback to the Blackhawks Sunday at United Center.

“You can’t take six penalties and win,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s an impossibility. We’re trying to use guys, the third and fourth line basically, to kill penalties to save our other guys. But sometimes it’s still hard when you’re killing all those penalties, and you’re trying to get into the rhythm of a game.”

For the second straight game, the Wild put the opposition on the power play six times. And although the Blackhawks were as unsuccessful as the Oilers were in a 3-2 win over the Wild Saturday at Xcel Energy Center, both teams capitalized on other upsides – chiefly momentum and zone time.

The latter wasn’t wasted by the Blackhawks, as 14 of their 46 shots (roughly 30 percent) came with the man advantage.

Spotless play by the penalty killers is the silver lining, but putting the unit on the ice this much is risky – especially with the NHL’s No.1 power play in the Lightning at the conclusion of this road trip.

“We can't be doing that to ourselves, kind of shooting ourselves in the foot,” defenseman Matt Dumba said. “It takes away a lot of rhythm out of the game, so that sucks. We know we have to be more disciplined.”

Here’s what else to watch for after the Wild’s loss to the Blackhawks.

  • Defenseman Jared Spurgeon is back in the mix after returning to the lineup Sunday following a nine-game absence due to a groin strain.

Spurgeon played 23 minutes, 20 seconds, finished a minus-1 and blocked three shots.

“It was his first game,” Boudreau said. “You can see the excitement; his first couple shifts were great. He was probably a little bit rusty, but overall Jared Spurgeon’s a great player.”

With this his first game since the end of November, the pace of play was quick for Spurgeon so he tried to simplify his approach and avoid fancy plays. He was the one who made the ill-timed line change that helped spring Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane for a breakaway on the game-winning goal, but getting Spurgeon back is still a major lift for the blue line.

“It felt good to be back out there,” Spurgeon said. “Obviously you'd like to make a difference and [have] the team come out with a win. But I was happy to be back."

  • Dumba continued his offensive tear of late, scoring his third goal in his last two games.

All three of those goals have been the Wild’s lone production in those contests and while more help is certainly needed, having Dumba on a roll is encouraging.

“It just seems like they're going in right now for me,” said Dumba, who has six goals on the season. “I'm lucky to have that.”

  • The loss to the Blackhawks was the Wild’s second straight loss, a short slide but one that has the potential to snowball and sabotage the momentum the team built with a recent four-game run.

Being on the road, however, could help correct that, as the Wild rebounded from a loss at the outset of its California road trip earlier this month to win the remaining games.

“We were playing great at home obviously, but situations like this I think the road’s great,” goalie Alex Stalock said. “We’re away. It’s just the guys. We can meet or whatever it’s going to take, a skate, a meeting or just something fun to do. That whole streak, we went out to Pelican Hill and we had fun out there in Anaheim. We played great. So I think it’s just something like that, get together as guys and figure it out.”

Jared Spurgeon to return to Wild lineup vs. Blackhawks

The Wild didn’t spiral down the standings when it lost defensive pillar Jared Spurgeon to a groin strain late in November, going a respectable 6-3 while he was out.

But Spurgeon is no doubt poised to bolster the back end when he returns to the lineup Sunday against the Blackhawks.

 

 

“I think mentally for the players, it will be a big boost,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We’ll see. He hasn’t played for a while. I’m not expecting 30 minutes and be God out there, but he’s always been a leader and inspirational guy for our team. So I hope he comes and he’s that again today.”

Sidelined since Nov.27, Spurgeon had three goals and 15 points in 23 games. To make room for him on the roster after activating him from injured reserve, the team assigned defenseman Ryan Murphy to Iowa of the American Hockey League Saturday.

Spurgeon won’t be reunited with former partner Ryan Suter; instead, he’ll take Murphy’s spot next to Jonas Brodin, as Boudreau wanted to keep the Suter-Matt Dumba duo together.

“It’s made Dumba a much better player,” Boudreau said.

After a 26-save showing Saturday in a 3-2 loss to the Oilers, goalie Alex Stalock will be back between the pipes – backstopping the Wild as it begins a four-game road trip before the holiday break in a game against the Blackhawks that always seems to provide a measuring stick of sorts.

“Those guys know (for an) important game how to get up,” Boudreau said of the Blackhawks. “We’re still learning that I think.”

Projected lineup:

Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu- Mikael Granlund

Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle

Tyler Ennis-Daniel Winnik-Chris Stewart

Joel Eriksson Ek-Matt Cullen-Zack Mitchell

Ryan Suter- Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin-Jared Spurgeon

Mike Reilly-Nate Prosser

Alex Stalock

Key numbers:

9-3-1: The Wild’s record against the Blackhawks in the teams’ last 13 matchups.

2-1: How the Wild has performed in the second game of a back-to-back so far this season.

13: Penalty kills by the Wild the last 13 times it’s been shorthanded.

4: Straight wins for Chicago.

39: Points in 38 career games against the Wild for Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

About the Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks occupy the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference with 37 points – which is tied with the Wild. This has been an uneven season to date for Chicago; until its current four-game win streak, the team hadn’t won more than two games in a row. It also dropped five straight before going on this run. Still, this is a potent lineup, with winger Patrick Kane at 32 points and center Artem Anisimov pacing the pack in goals (13). Goalie Corey Crawford has also been solid, posting an impressive .934 save percentage with a 2.15 goals-against average amid a 15-7-2 record.

Final, 12/17 1 2 3 F
Minnesota 17-13-3 0 0 1 1
Chicago 17-11-5 1 1 2 4

NHL Scoreboard

  • St. Louis

    Winnipeg

     

    - F

    0

    4

  • Minnesota

    Chicago

     

    - F

    1

    4

  • Calgary

    Vancouver

     

    - F

    6

    1

  • Florida

    Vegas

     

    - F

    2

    5