WILD BOTH ENCOURAGED AND DISAPPOINTED BY RECENT STRING OF OT GAMESFeb 20, 2019
By Tom Witosky
Iowa Wild forward Mason Shaw chuckled when asked whether the club’s playing in overtime games this season is becoming a bit too familiar.
“The extra hockey is definitely becoming very regular with us,” Shaw said following the Wild’s league-leading 20th overtime game – a 2-1 overtime loss to the Texas Stars. “Usually, you get kind of nervous when that happens because extra time doesn’t happen that often, but it has a lot for us.”
At the same time, Shaw said the way the team played Tuesday night is further evidence of how well the team is playing and how it expects to play with back-to-back home games against the San Jose Barracuda Thursday and Friday. The Wild defeated San Jose by a score of 4-2 in California to break a three-game losing streak on Feb. 5.
“We will do better than we did tonight,” Shaw said. “We aren’t down by any means. We’ve lost a few in a row, but we could have won each one of them. I expect a big effort against San Jose, especially in the first 10 minutes.”
Texas opened the scoring in the first period when Justin Dowling went high short side on goalie Kaapo Kahkonen for the Stars’ only power-play tally on five chances. In the second period, Wild forward Kyle Rau, in his first game since reassignment from Minnesota, beat starting goalie Phillipe Desrosiers on a power-play feed from forward Matt Read, who battled through two defenders at the Stars’ blueline.
Streaking down the left side, Rau slipped the puck beneath the Texas goalie to the tie the game at 1-1 and collect his 15th score of the season and 10th power play goal, a team record in a single season.
The third period was an up and down game during which each team threw themselves at each other in hopes of winning the game in regulation. Iowa recorded 19 shots on goal and Texas 15, but none found the back of the net. In overtime, each team had chances, including breakaways and odd-man rushes, before Texas forward Brad McClure ended it with a rebound shot past an outstretched Kahkonen.
Afterward, Head Coach Tim Army said the result was disappointing, but also encouraging.
“It’s the crapshoot of 3-on-3 hockey,” Army said of the result. “We’re disappointed, but encouraged because we are playing really good hockey. They are competing and if we keep playing this way, those things are going to go our way.”
With Tuesday’s overtime result, the Wild’s extra time record evened to 10-10 – six overtime and four shootout wins and the same number of losses in overtime and shootouts, giving the club 30 of its 64 points so far this season. That’s a major improvement over last season, when the Wild went to overtime 21 times but won only five of those games, likely costing the club a playoff spot.
In its last three games, the Wild played well enough to win, but just wasn’t able to get the final shot into the net past regulation. At the same time, the Wild extended its point streak to six games – the second longest of the season and remained within striking distance of first place Grand Rapids with 23 games remaining for both teams.
“We’ve had a couple of streaks where we didn’t win in overtime, then we did. It is just a matter of whether the puck bounces your way or not. It’s the process that’s important,” Army said.
The club certainly played well enough to earn the win, with three shots hitting off the goal posts, the return of Rau, strong goaltending from Kahkonen – who turned away 37 shots, including several breakaways– and the emergence of Shaw as an effective center between Rau and Read.
Those factors, plus the steady performance of the Wild’s seven defensemen, have continued to put Iowa in contention each game despite injuries and typical AHL roster shake-ups from call-ups and trades, Army said.
“We have had a chance to win every game in the third period this season. You can’t ask for much more than that. You just have to keep pushing. We aren’t changing anything,” Army said.
Of Shaw’s emergence as a center, Army said the Wainwright, Alta., rookie has shown throughout the season the kind of skill and hockey sense necessary for the position.
“He is a very competitive player and he is really, really smart,” Army said. “There are some things he needs to work on, but this is just his first year as a pro. He is going to be a really good player because he will keep getting better,” he said.
Shaw showed his skill at center in critical moments in the third period, winning several key face-offs, something he’s been working on with center Cal O’Reilly.
“We work on it every day in practice,” Shaw said. “Cal is a great guy to pick his brain about winning face-offs. He is a great help.”
Of Kahkonen’s work, Army said the rookie goalie gave the team the support it needed to win the game. He said the first goal probably disappointed Kahkonen, but not the rest of the game.
“After that first goal, he was outstanding,” Army said. “He stopped several breakaways in regulation and in overtime. He made some really big stops. He had a terrific game.”
With two more home games before hitting the road for two weeks, fans should expect the Wild to remain as aggressive as it’s been throughout the season.
“We aren’t taking the foot off the gas,” Army said. “We aren’t trying to protect leads. We are going to be aggressive all the time whether it is in regulation or overtime. That’s how we are going to play each game.”