Wild dropped a 4-3 decision here in Pittsburgh tonight and fell to 1-1-1 on a road trip that ends Thursday in Boston. The Wild will practice at Charlie Coyle’s albeit brief, old Boston University barn (prospect Jordan Greenway’s current barn) in the afternoon Wednesday, so I’ll tweet and blog any updates after.
Couple bad trends lately for the Wild: Slow starts and porous penalty kills. The Wild allowed two more power-play goals tonight, making it five in the past four games (really six because Dallas scored one a second after a power play). The Wild, the league’s best penalty kill last season, is now 29th through 17 games this season at 74.5 percent. It has allowed at least one power-play goal in nine games.
The Wild fell to 3-3-3 on the road this season. In its past three losses at Pittsburgh, the Wild has been outscored 16-7.
Couple subjects to get to on this blog, starting with the turning point in the game (a phantom penalty that led to Evgeni Malkin’s power-play goal after the Wild lost another challenge) and the Nino Niederreiter on Olli Maatta check.
This was a very winnable game tonight if the Wild played the right way. It was ridiculous how many pucks the Wild turned over at the start of the second period and during times in the first period. The Penguins’ blue line is average at best, and this game was winnable if the Wild would have gotten pucks deep and went to work on forechecks and cycles. Every time the Wild did that in the first period, the Wild generated pressure and scoring chances.
There were two turning points in the game in my mind.
The first came late in the first period when the Wild was on a power play. With the score tied at 1-1 after goals by David Perron and Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville fed Charlie Coyle backdoor, but Coyle shanked it.
Right after, Pominville took a rare penalty, and the Penguins took a 2-1 lead with 2:49 left in the period when a terrible penalty kill by the Wild resulted in Malkin teeing up Beau Bennett in the slot.
If Pominville and Coyle connected, it would have been 2-1 Wild. Instead, moments later, it became 2-1 Penguins.
But the next pivotal moment in the game came 7:02 into the second when Chris Porter was called for high-sticking Kris Letang. Young ref TJ Luxmore made the call, but replays showed it was Maatta that got Letang.
“Phantom high stick,” Porter called it. “I don’t know how it’s possible for me to high-stick the guy when my stick’s on the ice battling for a puck. That’s a tough call. It’s unfortunate it was decided like that. He wouldn’t listen. Right when he got it, I said, ‘I hope you’re not calling it on me.’ He said, ‘You high-sticked him.’ I said, ‘No chance,’ but that’s what he stuck with.”
On the PK, Sidney Crosby nearly scored, but the puck squeezed to a few inches from the goal line when Dubnyk reached back and smothered the puck. After the ensuing faceoff, Letang took a shot that similarly got through.
In a battle with Matt Dumba, former Preds net-crasher extraordinaire Patric Hornqvist fell into Dubnyk, then stuck his stick between Dubnyk’s legs like a pitchfork as if he was trying to dig for the puck. Dubnyk got untangled, turned around, looked at the ref, looked for the puck, then flipped over just as Malkin received the puck. If he had turned the other way, the puck may have hit Dubnyk, but Malkin buried it for a 3-1 lead off the bad call on Porter.
Mike Yeo challenged goalie interference. I figured it’d be unlikely the call would be overturned because whether or not the initial goalie interference should have been a penalty or whether the Letang shot would have been disallowed if it went in because of the contact, by the time this puck went in, Hornqvist was long gone.
Dubnyk was ticked. Carolina had a no-goal overturned two games ago against the Wild because the refs ruled Dumba pushed Jay McClement into Dubnyk. Remember, recently against Nashville, Dubnyk was also upset he didn’t get a whistle for a puck that he felt was in his equipment. The Preds scored the winner when he dropped it.
“It’s a joke,” Dubnyk said of this one. “I just don’t understand it. That’s two now I don’t understand. I mean even the explanations don’t make sense. He tells me that the first play would have been no goal because it’s goalie interference, yet the only reason the goal happens was because of the first play for starters, which makes no sense. Then he tells me that I was on my stomach not knowing where the puck was, which was true until Hornqvist just decided to start digging underneath me when the puck was nowhere to be found, which he’d been doing all night. Turned me on my side, eventually my back and the puck ends up in the net. I’ve seen calls where a guy gets his hand touched and they call it no-goal and I’ve had two now where the explanations don’t make sense. I don’t know. I don’t understand it, and it changes the game, so it’s frustrating how they can watch the play over and over and over again, …
“You watch Hornqvist. He just starts digging, and the puck’s not there. He did it all night. … I mean Hornqvist is an effective a player as it is. If they’re going to let him do what he wants, he’s going to be even more effective. That’s exactly what he wants. It’s disappointing because we’re comfortable in a 2-1 hockey game and that opens it up a little bit. It’s just confusing.”
Yeo said he was thinking the challenge wouldn’t get overturned, but he thought it was the right time to try. And it was a long review, so it may have been close.
“There’s initial contact there that I thought probably should have been goaltender interference. I thought it should have been a penalty,” Yeo said. “… I know that he cannot make the save because he can’t locate the puck because of the contact that was there, but I had a feeling that after the initial contact, once they got the puck back, I don’t think they were going to take all that into consideration.”
I’d agree. Just because the ref arguably missed a penalty doesn’t mean he can reverse course once the puck’s back in Penguins hands and nobody’s making contact with Dubnyk.
-- In the second period, Maatta left the game in agony with what looked like a serious leg injury after Nino Niederreiter pushed him high. He fell into the Wild bench just as Darcy Kuemper opened the door for Jason Zucker and Niederreiter to make a line change.
The Penguins didn’t give an update yet, but Maatta was taken to the hospital via ambulance, leaving the arena on a stretcher. Not good.
“It’s unfortunate the whole situation,” Niederreiter said. “I pushed him and went for a change and I think he toe-picked the same time and the door was open. You never want to see anything like that. Obviously I feel bad.”
On what his intent was with the push, Niederreiter said, “It happens 500 times a game. I mean look at the very end, same thing happened with I think [Thomas] Vanek. Those plays happen so many times. Super bad luck unfortunately. … If the door is closed, nothing happens.”
That’s probably true, and the league has considered forbidding opening the door during play because it’s such an injury risk. I understand there has been a ton of criticism of Niederreiter that it was a reckless, unnecessary hit, but as of now, all indications postgame were that Niederreiter wouldn’t face league wrath because it wasn’t an overly aggressive push and because he didn’t push him directly into the boards.
I do think it’s clear Niederreiter, who was boarded arguably three times tonight, was frustrated that shift because he was just hit into the boards behind the net on what could have been a call.
Regardless, hopefully Maatta, who has had a tough last year, recovers from this quickly.
On the game, Yeo isn’t happy with the starts, saying, “You keep having starts like that, it’s tough to be chasing the game. The importance of a real strong start, I’m not talking about even just getting down or getting up [on the scoreboard], it’s just about getting to your game and starting the game the right way. It’s been a few games where it’s taken us a little while to get her going.”
Asked why it’s happening, Yeo said he doesn’t really care to be honest. “What I care about is how we start the next game.”
On the penalty kill, Yeo said, “Regardless of the calls, we came in saying we know we can’t take six penalties in the game. We’ve been taking too many penalties. Part of that is because sometimes we’re chasing, whether it’s the puck or the game, so we have to do a better job of staying out of the box. We’re missing some players in our game, but we’re missing some penalty killers as well, and I think we’re feeling that. So we’ve got to find a way to step up. … We’re not aggressive as we normally are. Too many times there’s opportunities for us to pressure, and quite often that happens when pucks go into your net. Quite often you pull back and take a little more cautious approach.”
That’s it for me. Unbelievably early flight Wednesday. I have a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call and it’s 12:15 a.m. and I’m still in the press box. Talk to you from Boston.