Beaten at Their Own Game
Pens give Minnesota a taste of its own medicine in handing
Wild first home loss
Pens give Minnesota a taste of its own medicine in handing Wild first home loss
When the Wild took the ice to face the Pittsburgh Penguins they met the enemy and, in many ways, it was a lot like them. The Penguins used a familiar formula to hand Minnesota its first home loss by a 4-1 margin on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center in front of 18,788 attendees.
Goals by Nick Spaling, Brandon Sutter and Chris Kunitz gave the Penguins a 3-0 lead after two periods and mostly held off the Wild in the final period to earn a fifth straight win. Goaltender Thomas Greiss backstopped the win with 33 saves.
“They play the way we usually play where we’re on our toes,” Wild right wing Jason Pominville said. “They were getting pucks behind us and they made it tough on our D to break out.
“That’s the way we play when we’re going well and that’s what we did in the third.”
“We had a tough time really building any momentum and things kind of start to unravel a little bit because of our execution,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We couldn’t get into any kind of rhythm whatsoever and it started to lead to a little bit of frustration and we really started to get away from our game.”
Pittsburgh arrived in St. Paul riding a ridiculous wave of power-play success. Through ten games, the Penguins had converted on 18 of 43 chances with the man advantage for an astonishing 41.9 percent clip.
The Pens wasted little time boosting that rate, scoring just 12 seconds into their first opportunity late in the second period.
With Wild defenseman Marco Scandella off for delay of game, Kunitz redirected Evgeni Malkin’s slap pass from the left point behind Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper at the 15:33 mark to give Pittsburgh its three goal cushion after 40 minutes.
Minnesota did limit the Pens to 1-for-3 with the man advantage and even scored shorthanded on Nino Niederreiter’s breakaway tally midway through the third. But that was all the Wild could muster on this night … or was it?
Wild captain Mikko Koivu appeared to have pulled his team within a one in the third during a goal mouth scramble when Pittsburgh center Marcel Goc reached behind the line to bat Koivu’s shot out of midair and out of the goal with 3:06 to play.
Replays clearly showed the puck to have been over the line. The officials ruled, however, that Mikael Granlund had interfered with Greiss thus making the play not reviewable despite the fact there was a lengthy delay to review the play.
“I’m not going to comment on that; it is what it is,” Yeo said when asked about the play.
(The full sequence of the play can be seen in photographer Jordan Doffing’s photo gallery)
After scoring its first two power-play goals of the season on Saturday to snap an 0-for-28 drought, Minnesota failed to build on that momentum, going scoreless in four opportunities.
More importantly, though, the Wild turned the puck over at an alarming rate (11 giveaways) and the Penguins were more than happy to take advantage.
Wild defenseman Matt Dumba’s failed first-period clearing attempt ended up on the stick of Thomas Vanek who promptly turned the puck over to Pittsburgh’s Steve Downie. The journeyman forward drove the slot before dishing the puck to a streaking Nick Spaling for his second goal of the season at 19:06.
“We were turning pucks over early and when we have success we’re playing in their end, getting pucks behind their D and making them try to keep up with us,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. “It was kind of vice-versa tonight.”
Pittsburgh extended its lead to 2-0 at 2:08 of the second on center Brandon Sutter’s third of the season. Sutter skated up the left wing boards into the Minnesota zone before firing a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot which beat Kuemper beneath his blocker.
Pens right wing Patric Hornqvist nearly duplicated Sutter’s feat in virtually identical fashion just 57 seconds later but Kuemper gloved the shot for one of his 18 saves on the night.
“I think we took for granted just being at home,” Suter said. “We’ve had a lot of success here and we just came out flat and we thought that we just had to show up to get the win and that’s obviously not what happened.
“They play a lot like us and they were better than us tonight.”
Notes: Wild LW Matt Cooke, who collected 150 points (67-83=150) in 352 games during five seasons with Pittsburgh (2008-13), missed an opportunity to face his former team on Tuesday. Cooke was scratched for a third straight game with a lower body injury. … Penguins D Olli Maatta remained in Pittsburgh where he underwent successful surgery to remove a tumor on his thyroid on Tuesday. Maatta, who is expected miss up to four weeks, was replaced in the lineup by D Robert Bortuzzo who made his season debut for the Pens. … Tuesday’s game concludes the Wild’s three-game homestand and marks the first of five straight contests against Eastern Conference opponents for Minnesota which travels to Ottawa to face the Senators on Thursday night. The Penguins fly to Winnipeg to take on the Jets on Thursday in the second game of a season-long five-game road trip.