Failed power plays haunt Wild in 4-3 road shootout loss to Columbus

Pierre-Marc Bouchard & Rostislav Klesla

In the days after Christmas is a time to cash in gift cards, spend some holiday cash or return items that either you did not want, already have or simply do not work for you.  That being said, now is the time where stores and shopping centers can be an absolute zoo activity as people hope for post-Christmas sales or return those items for something they actually want.  It may make you feel a tad bit guilty for giving back gifts like that, but at the end of the day its meant to be a gift and you should be able to get what you really want.  We all know the gift giver who simply gives you something they want as opposed to what you wish.  I have friends that are in retail, and I do not envy them as they face an endless wave of pushy customers.  Especially to those working in returns, they deserve some rest and relaxation after the holidays wind down.  With that being said the Wild seem to be in this returning sort of mood.  Where they return leads and power play chances for losses and failed opportunities.  Certainly not a good formula for your fanbase to digest but Minnesota is being a little too giving right now.  I personally would like to see the Wild return some of its losses for the type of gifts it was giving fans prior to the holiday break.  Is that really too much to ask? 

Tonight the Wild travel to almost never friendly confines of Nationwide Arena; where Nationwide is certainly not on the Wild’s side.  Blue Jackets fans hate the Wild with a passion and while they are hesitant to admit it, its more a matter of jealousy than anything else.  The Blue Jackets still have yet to win a single playoff game, and the attendance figures for this season reflect that.  In fact, you could almost say the Blue Jackets are nearing crisis mode.  So while they make a strong case to be given another gift tonight, I hope the return to their homes in the Columbus area empty and distraught.  The Wild need the wins and to quote Clark Gable from Gone with the Wind, when considering the plight of the Blue Jackets (ironically enough a team with a Civil War theme), “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.  So will the Wild be overly generous road guests or will they give Columbus fans something more to mope about? 

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Minnesota had good jump to start the game, starting with a solid shift by the top line where Brent Burns fed a puck up to Mikko Koivu in the slot who tried to fire a shot on goal that was blocked by Jan Hejda.  The Blue Jackets would try to answer back but Minnesota was aggressive through the neutral zone and Kyle Brodziak raced into the Columbus zone and he wound up and uncorked a slapper that was stopped by a leg pad save by Steve Mason.  The Wild continued to pour it on, and a steal in the neutral zone turned into a big slap shot by Nick Schultz that was stopped by Mason who gave up a big rebound into the slot that was pounced upon by Chuck Kobasew who banged it home to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.  Columbus has tried to answer back but Minnesota was anticipating well, and moving its feet and playing physically along the boards and keeping the Blue Jackets at bey.  Marco Scandella would battle Antoine Vermette, and throw his 6’3″ frame against the Jackets’ young forward and win the struggle for the biscuit and Minnesota was able to clear the zone.  Minnesota was taking the hits when necessary, but they were chipping the pucks away to their supporting forwards and defenseman.  Columbus kept swarming, and a point shot by Hejda where Chris Clark tried to jam it by Jose Theodore who held onto make the save.  A thwarted rush by Martin Havlat would turn into a great scoring chance for Rick Nash who dangled the puck a bit to get some space from Schultz before unleashing a heavy wrister from the slot that missed wide.  Jared Boll, was not happy after being tripped up a bit by Mikko Koivu and Boll took a run at Koivu getting his elbows up as he attempted an open ice hit.  That would demand an immediate response and that would come from Brad Staubitz who challenged Boll to drop the gloves and soon after throwing down it was Staubitz was firing right hands that were landing, but Boll would regain his composure and start throwing some good punches of his own including a few uppercuts.  Ultimately it was Boll getting tagged a few more times as Staubitz earned the win.  With both pugilists sitting for two minutes, the Wild would try to go on the attack and they nearly were able to add another goal as Antti Miettinen‘s bid would miss off the side of the goal.  The physical play was really starting to increase as both teams were throwing their bodies around with reckless abandon.  Minnesota would earn a power play as Marc Methot was given a minor for slashing.  The Blue Jackets penalty killers were challenging Minnesota through the neutral zone but the Wild were able to get set up where they created a chance from the slot for Koivu that was steered wide by Mason just before Miettinen could pounce on the rebound it was swept out of danger by Hejda.  The Wild was still playing physical on the power play as Cam Barker leveled Ethan Moreau with a huge hit that probably should’ve been flagged for interference.  Minnesota had one last quality scoring chance on the man advantage when Martin Havlat worked a pretty give and go to Andrew Brunette who skated in on Mason where he deked and tried beating him 5-hole but Mason would shut the window down at the last moment.  The Wild would come up empty on the power play, but Columbus was not done going after Barker as Clark and Moreau would exchange a few smelly gloves and words after a failed scoring chance.  The Blue Jackets continued to look for the equalizer and they nearly had it when Nash set up Vermette for a blistering one-timer that missed just wide of the mark.   The Wild would earn its 2nd power play of the game, when Sami Pahlsson hauled down Chuck Kobasew.  On the power play, Minnesota moved puck out to the points but Columbus was positioned well to deny the long range shots from the point.  Andrew Brunette would have a nice backhand opportunity off an initial blast from the point by Marek Zidlicky.  The Wild would retain about 29 seconds of power play time going into the 2nd period up 1-0. 

The Wild were not able to do much of anything with the final 29 seconds of the power play, as Columbus won the draw and was able to control the puck and prevent Minnesota from generating any sort of offensive pressure.  Columbus was trying to ramp up its physical play, and Mike Commodore was definitely head hunting for Wild players as he nearly sent Eric Nystrom‘s face into his bench and moments later he would hit Cal Clutterbuck from behind for an obvious charging call.  The boo’s would really cascade down from Nationwide Arena as the bad news came over the PA that Commodore was getting hit with a 5-minute major and deservedly so as Clutterbuck was already being engaged by Marc Methot.  With Minnesota earning a 5-minute power play, it was a giant opportunity to really break open the game.  However, it was obvious from the start Minnesota had looked at the generous time for the man advantage and relaxed its posture, as the Wild really were lacking in movement and creativity as they set up chances from the point that were easy for Steve Mason to steer aside.  The Wild’s lack of dynamic puck movement would also make it easy to force Minnesota to pass up shooting opportunities and it didn’t help when they did manage to get Columbus’ penalty killers to move a bit they weren’t taking one-timers forcing them to lose their windows to fire the puck.  The Wild would lose its advantage when Kyle Brodziak would try to step over Mason only to be knocked into the Blue Jackets goalie by Fedor Tyutin giving Brodziak a goaltender interference penalty.  With the ice a bit more open, the Wild did not do too much as they could sense the tide of the game was starting to shift in Columbus’ favor.  With the Wild back on the power play, the Wild would try to move the puck with more zip and crispness to their passes as they had a brief 4-on-3 and an even a short-lived 5-on-3 but again all Minnesota was able to create were a few blasts from the point that Mason was able to stop.  The best chance for this prolonged Minnesota power play was when Havlat carried the puck down low to Andrew Brunette who moved the puck out towards the crease where Mason over committed going way out of his crease to challenge the Wild veteran but he did not pay for his mistake and Brunette never even managed to register a shot on goal.  The failed opportunity would embolden the Blue Jackets who were really flying all over the ice and rather predictably Minnesota would pay the price on the scoreboard as Kristian Huselius took advantage of a tired Wild line and he set up Derrick Brassard for a quick shot from the slot that beat Theodore to tie the game at 1-1.  The Wild really was on its heels, as Columbus was being very aggressive on the forecheck and for a time Minnesota had sat back in rope-a-dope mode.  The Wild would start to break out of its defensive shell late in the period and in the last 30 seconds, Antti Miettinen would steal a puck in the neutral zone where he skated into the Columbus end, drawing their defense to him before threading a pass to Mikko Koivu in the slot who evaded a defender before ripping a wrist shot by Mason with just 1.9 seconds to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead.  Minnesota may have outshot the Blue Jackets’ 14 to 6 but the period still felt like a defeat despite holding onto the lead. 

In the 3rd period with Minnesota holding the lead, the Wild would pay dearly for some laziness early on.  One player who was really getting involved physically was Brad Staubitz who would end up dropping the gloves with big Tom Sestito.  Sestito who had 3 inches of height and nearly 30 pounds was a physical mismatch but Staubitz stood in as he threw a few punches before Sestito’s size and strength took over, a clear win for the Blue Jackets big man.  A botched play behind the net by Brent Burns who whiffed at the puck which had been dropped to him was swept towards Pierre-Marc Bouchard who also whiffed on a chance to clear the zone and the puck ended up on the stick of Tyutin who wound up and rifled a slap shot by Theodore to tie the game at 2-2.  The bleeding did not stop there as the Blue Jackets continued to battle as Minnesota was just trying to weather another storm of activity in their zone.  Minnesota tried to dish out some hits of its own as Nystrom and Clutterbuck delivered some punishment.  The Blue Jackets would take the lead for the first time on some great hustle by former Bemidji State star Andrew Murray who used his 6’3″ frame to protect the puck from Mikko Koivu who inexplicably just let him go and Murray skated behind the Wild goal and he threw a shot towards the goal and the puck snuck by the skate of Theodore who had failed to guard the post, 3-2 Columbus.  With the game slipping away from the Wild they would begin to try to go on the attack in search of the equalizer.  Minnesota would earn just that a few minutes later when Cal Clutterbuck raced into the zone where a shot taken wide of the goal would carom off the boards back towards the crease where it was tapped in by Clutterbuck tying the game at 3 apiece.  The Wild would continue to attack; even having young Marco Scandella join the play as Minnesota hoped to tally the go-ahead goal.  The Wild really was hoping to avoid overtime, and Minnesota was playing like a desperate team.  Rick Nash would find some space, and he’d fire a wrist shot on goal that was steered wide by Theodore.  Minnesota would counter attack with a long pass to Mikko Koivu who had managed to get behind the Blue Jackets defense but he just didn’t have enough gas in the tank to move in close so he unleashed a slap shot that was gloved by Mason and the game would go to overtime. 

In overtime, the Wild again would dominate the play setting up a variety of shooting opportunities but few were making it to Mason as Columbus was dropping to the ice to block them.  The Wild had a few great chances; but all too often a great effort would be foiled by a bouncing puck.  The first great opportunity came off a nice power move by Martin Havlat who skated around Tuytin for a backhander on goal that was trapped against the side of the goal by Mason.  The Wild had an even better chance a bit later on a nice wrist shot by Marco Scandella that was redirected by Koivu that Mason was just able to get a leg pad on and then he stopped Koivu’s rebound bid as well.  A few moments later a centering pass was put towards Havlat but he missed the bouncing puck and Minnesota’s bid to end the game in overtime would end in failure sending the game to a shootout.

In the shootout, the Blue Jackets would opt to shoot first and their first shooter was Rick Nash.  The Blue Jackets captain would take a wide right approach where he moved into the slot and he fired a wrister that beat Theodore stick side where the Wild did not even attempt to make a save, 1-0 Columbus.  Minnesota would send out its captain, Mikko Koivu as its first shooter where he’d also take a slightly wide right approach where he’d try to fire a wrister which was blocked to the corner by Mason.  The Blue Jackets’ next shooter was former Wild draft pick Kyle Wilson, where he moved in and beat Theodore with a wrist shot that went just over his glove, 2-0 Columbus.  The Wild would go to Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and he’d move left and then move into the slot where he gave a bit of a shoulder fake that got Mason to commit and he made a little toe drag before sliding home a goal with a forehand, 2-1 Columbus.  With an opportunity to seal the game, the Blue Jackets sent out Kristian Huselius who took a sort of a meandering approach before pulling the trigger on a snap shot that beat Theodore 5-hole to give the Blue Jackets a 4-3 shootout victory. 

It was certainly not a great night for Jose Theodore, who gave up 3 goals on 22 shots including all 3 attempts in the shootout.  He was shaky at the points in the game where Minnesota really needed a save and while it certainly was not all his fault for the loss he did not do what was needed to bail his team out.  Tyutin’s goal was particularly bad considering there was no screen or deflection and he was beat cleanly on a slap shot taken from on top of the right faceoff circle.  Defensively the Wild were inconsistent.  At times they were strong on the puck and making smart plays to get the puck out of the dangerous areas of the ice, but at others the team was careless in its own end and its inability to make those simple things happen would come back to haunt them big time. 

However the real reason the Wild lost this game was its failure to score on the man advantage, going 0-for-7 on the night.  Minnesota’s failure to score on the 5 minute major to Mike Commodore was a turning point in the game and deprived the Wild a chance to put this game away as it should have.  The team had its ideal start of getting a quick lead and when a team like Columbus is undisciplined you have to make them pay and when you don’t do that you often end up getting burned and that is precisely what happened.  I have little doubt the Wild locker room was pretty gloomy after tonight’s game but this is certainly two points the team not only should’ve had but it had to have. 

Minnesota cannot waste too much time pouting about tonight’s outcome because it has to prepare itself for another tough battle against the San Jose Sharks who lost to the Los Angeles Kings 4-0 meaning they will be a very focused and intense group on Wednesday.  The Sharks are going to be physical and the Wild cannot get caught just watching and not moving its feet.  I am not sure what Head Coach Todd Richards will say to the Wild tonight but after having a nice little burst before the small holiday break it now seems like a long time ago after dropping 2 straight.  All one can hope is that they manage to turn things around.       

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild lineup tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Kyle Brodziak, John Madden, Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Eric Nystrom, Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen, Chuck Kobasew, Brad Staubitz, Nick Schultz, Cam Barker, Marco Scandella, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky and Brent Burns.  Niklas Backstrom backed up Jose Theodore.  Jared Spurgeon, Patrick O’Sullivan and Clayton Stoner were the healthy scratches.  Guillaume Latendresse is still trying to recover from surgery he had nearly a month ago. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Steve Mason, 2nd Star Rick Nash, 3rd Star Kristian Huselius

~ Attendance tonight at Nationwide Arena was 14,454.

~ The Houston Aeros would answer an early power play goal by the San Antonio Rampage, to earn a 2-1 victory on goals from Carson McMillan and a shorthanded goal by Robbie Earl which ended up being the game winner.  All the goals were scored in the first and it was just a matter of defending their lead and Mike Yeo‘s squad did whatever they could to help out Anton Khudobin who had 39 saves in the victory.  The Aeros were outshot 40 to 17, so to say Khudobin earned the first star is almost an understatement.  The Aeros play in Milwaukee on Wednesday. 

Wild Prospect Report:

LW – Jason Zucker ~ Team USA (World Junior Championships U-20)

2010 Stats: 1GP 1G 0A = 1pt 

Jason Zucker has had a tremendous season with the University of Denver and so far it has carried over at the U-20 World Junior championships in Buffalo, New York.  The Las Vegas, Nevada-native has surprised many with his finishing ability and his knack for timely goals.  Zucker is continuing this trend with a crucial game-tying goal in Team USA’s opening game with Finland, where the defending World Junior Champion squad managed to earn a 3-2 overtime victory on a goal by former Blaine Bengal Nick Bjugstad.  He continues to be an important component of Team USA and key cog of the Wild’s prospect pool.

High School Boys Hockey Report:

Blaine Bengals (Northwest Suburban Conference) ~ 5-0-2 record

Most recent game: Blaine 3, Minnetonka 3

The Blaine Bengals look as though they have another strong team, and co-coaches Dave and Peter Aus are hoping to win another Northwest Suburban Conference title, as well as earn another trip to the State Tournament.  The Bengals had to rally back late to preserve a 3-3 tie against #8 (Class 2A) Minnetonka.  A fairly balanced Blaine attack is led by forwards, senior Johnny Brodzinski (6 goals, 17 points) and junior Dylan Lambert (6 goals, 14 points).  It is a season of transition and has some grumbling about what “could have been” if current Golden Gopher, Nick Bjugstad hadn’t accelerated his studies and graduated a year early.  Junior, Nick Malvin carries the mail between the pipes with a 3-0-2 record, a 2.12 goals against average, and a .924% save percentage.

White Bear Lake Bears
(Suburban East Conference) ~ 5-2-0 record

Most recent game: White Bear Lake 0, Hill-Murray 3

It is one of the more dominant teams in the Metro area season after season, the White Bear Lake Bears again find themselves amongst Minnesota’s elite high school programs.  Head Coach Tim Sager guides a team that hopes to make a run to the State Tournament in March.  Yet there is one major stumbling block along the way, its arch-rival Hill-Murray and the Bears failed its most recent test as the Pioneers routed the Bears 3-0 last week Thursday.  White Bear Lake will have to wait until the section playoffs to have another shot at the Pioneers.  The Bears are led by senior forwards Brandon Wahlin (11 goals, 20 points) and Mac Jensen (10 goals, 14 points) but it can be argued that White Bear Lake is more of a one line team.  If that lack of offensive punch may be considered a detriment it may not be so limiting when you have big bodied (6’1′ 247lbs) junior goaltender Jared Schletty between the pipes who sports a 3-1 record, a rock solid 1.55 goals against average and a stingy .926% save percentage.  The Bears next game is this Thursday against the Blaine Bengals. 

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

Umberger’s shorthanded tally dooms Wild in hard-fought 3-2 home loss to Columbus

Sibling rivalry.  Its something anyone who has brothers and / or sisters can relate to.  The natural rivalry that takes place for attention, dominance in the household, and just about anything that siblings sometimes squabble over.  It never has to be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but you argue, prod and goad your sibling into a fight just to show them you must be right and they must be wrong.  I know in my childhood I loved getting my little brother into trouble, and on more than few occasions did I take the opportunity to rough him up.  Does that make me a bully, since I’m the older brother?  Maybe, but it never got too crazy and I knew as well as any older brother does that when the punches are thrown that I am going to recieve a lot less sympathy from my parents when the dust settled.  Yet, what would happen if I was the same age and size as my brother?  That certainly is the case for the Minnesota Wild and its expansion brother / sister / cousin the Columbus Blue Jackets.  If you ask Blue Jackets fans, they’d say they’ve been the red-headed step child of the league that has been picked on from its first day in the league back at the start of the 2000-01 season.  For this franchise it is also its 10th NHL season, but they have not seen quite as much success in terms of wins and losses or at the gate as Minnesota has.  Yet last year both teams were fairly close to one another in the standings with the Wild finishing 13th and the Blue Jackets finishing 14th in the Western Conference.  So at this point, both teams’ fanbases are unhappy with the way everything turned out last season and are hoping this season will be different even if they may have doubts whether that will happen or not.  Perhaps this is the precise environment you want to have if you’re looking for a scrappy contest between expansion siblings.  Columbus defeated the Wild during pre-season but that isn’t saying too much since Minnesota went winless against NHL teams during its exhibition schedule.

For the Columbus Blue Jackets, it was an all too familiar pattern for the town that also calls the Ohio State University as its home as the team made very few significant moves in free agency, opting to give younger players a chance to work their way into holes in the lineup.  New Head Coach Scott Arniel will try to replicate the success he had with the American League’s Manitoba Moose with the Blue Jackets are eager to have their second shot at the post-season.  The Blue Jackets do have some great (still fairly young) talent in all around leader Rick Nash, goaltender Steve Mason and talented forwards Jakub Voracek, Derrick Brassard and Nikita Filatov.  However like the Wild the patience has worn thin.  Minnesota does not have the stable of youngsters the Blue Jackets do, but they have more depth than ever in franchise history but it would be nice to see some more of its players raise their game to make the internal battles for spots on the 2nd-thru-4th lines actually interesting for a change.  These teams typically have an extra gear or little more edge to their game when they face one another, but with teams that possess similar levels of talent as well as similar weaknesses the game will likely come down to whoever wants it more.  So that begs the question, who is going to want it more tonight?

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With the Wild donning its green alternate sweaters, the game would have a tremendous pace at the start with both teams exhibiting plenty of jump in their skates.  Minnesota would try to establish the forecheck early with its fourth line of Brad Staubitz, Kyle Brodziak and Guillaume Latendresse, the line was able to work the cycle for a short time before the Columbus defense led by Fedor Tyutin was able to break up the play.  The Blue Jackets would try to go on the attack but Minnesota was back checking well and being physical in its own zone and preventing shots from reaching Niklas Backstrom.  The Wild had its first threatening offensive play as Mikko Koivu picked up the puck down low behind the Columbus goal where he tried to swing back a pass to Andrew Brunette but the puck hopped over his stick before he could get off a shot.  Columbus was being physical, and its 2nd line would create some trouble for the Wild as R.J. Umberger won a battle along the boards before pushing it up to Sami Pahlsson who backhanded a shot that slid through the crease and luckily for Minnesota no one was there to cash in on the play.  Guillaume Latendresse did his best to create something offensively, as he tried to take the puck and move it towards the slot but it would be knocked off his stick by Kris Russell and the Blue Jackets were able to clear the zone.  A few minutes later the Wild’s 2nd line of Cal Clutterbuck, Martin Havlat and Matt Cullen nearly connected on a wicked little cycling play.  After a nice little chip along the boards Clutterbuck pushed it up to Havlat who quickly delivered a pass that found a charging Matt Cullen that he tapped just wide of the goal.  Minnesota’s missed opportunity would invite the Blue Jackets to attempt one of their own, and it was their energy line that created the pressure as Chris Clark tried to stuff in a wrap around that was shut down by Backstrom, but the puck would squirt out to the point where Kris Russell stepped into a slapper that reached Backstrom but Derek Dorsett was their to pounce on the rebound to lift it up and over the sprawling Wild goaltender to give Columbus a 1-0 lead.  Shortly after the Blue Jackets’ goal, the Wild would earn the first power play of the game when Sami Pahlsson was tagged with an interference penalty, but the league’s best power play looked sloppy and ineffective as Columbus was physical and mucking up the play along the boards and Minnesota would wither under the puck pressure.  The Wild only managed one weak shot taken from long range.  A few minutes later, the Wild took advantage of a misplay of the puck behind the Columbus net for a great scoring chance by Nick Schultz who pinched into the slot all alone but he fired a shot wide of the goal.  Columbus’ speed was making it difficult for the Wild to find space as you could hear a few boo’s serenade the team at the end of the period with the team trailing 1-0 as Minnesota was outshot 10 to 2 in the first stanza.

The Blue Jackets would carry the play early on in the 2nd period, as R.J. Umberger would find some space and he fired a shot that was blocked aside by Backstrom.  They continued to apply pressure and after a ill-advised pinch by Cam Barker turned into a 2-on-1 between Nikita Filatov and Derrick Brassard, but that was stopped by a sliding Barker as he stopped Filatov’s cross-ice pass.  Perhaps feeling the arena and the team needed some energy, Brad Staubitz would drop the gloves with Derek Dorsett.  It was a very slow little scrap with Dorsett managing to get a hold of Staubitz’ jersey and contort his body in such a way that made it almost impossible for Staubitz to really start throwing any punches.  Staubitz was clearly frustrated with Dorsett’s stalling tactics, and became even more annoyed as the former Medicine Hat Tiger threw a few left handed jabs that landed and all the Wild pugilist could manage was a few lame strikes to the back of the helmet.  The officials would move in and break up the pathetic fight.  Less than a minute after the two fighters went into the box, the Blue Jackets’ Kristian Huselius would take a lazy tripping penalty giving the Wild its 2nd power play of the game.  Minnesota would have much better puck movement on the man advantage, and Brent Burns would pinch and see an opportunity and he backhanded a shot that banked off Mathieu Garon and into the goal to tie the game at 1-1.  The Blue Jackets would try to answer back, and came very close as a little flurry near the net culminated in a Brassard shot that hit the post and went out, before being cleared by the Wild’s defense.  Moments after that the Blue Jackets entered the zone with speed and Rick Nash hammered a slapper that was held onto by Backstrom.  The Wild would give the Blue Jackets’ its first power play of the game when Cam Barker was given a holding penalty.  The Blue Jackets moved the puck well, but Minnesota’s penalty kill was solid positionally, keeping Columbus to the perimeter and the shots they were able to create were from long range that Backstrom was able to absorb.  Minnesota would help its cause by winning a draw in the defensive zone and that turned into a clear of the zone.  At times the Blue Jackets’ were being too fancy, passing up obvious chances and trying to work the perfect play.  Backstrom was sprawling all over his crease and Minnesota’s penalty killers stopped moving their feet and the Blue Jackets would re-take the lead as the power play ended as Brassard made a nice pass to a wide open Derek MacKenzie who rifled a shot by the Wild goaltender to give Columbus a 2-1 edge.  The Blue Jackets continued to apply pressure and they nearly added to their lead as a pass to an onrushing Antoine Vermette just failed to click.  Minnesota again would be helped by a Columbus penalty, and the Wild would work the puck up high down low to Andrew Brunette who tried to work a cross-ice pass that intercepted and poked out of the zone by Tyutin.  The Blue Jackets were collapsing near their crease and Minnesota struggled to find passing lanes.  That left the team trying to create some space with some physicality as Cal Clutterbuck chased a dump in where he leveled Rostislav Klesla and his clearing attempt was intercepted by Havlat who skated in and fired a wrister that nearly snuck underneath the arm of Garon but he closed that window fast and held on for the save.  Minnesota continued to work hard along the boards, and a nice play to dig the puck out by Matt Cullen would end up on the stick of Havlat who gunned a shot on goal that Garon stopped and Cal Clutterbuck was there to slam home the rebound to tie the game at 2-2.  Columbus would try to answer back, and after some good puck pressure they would draw a Wild high sticking penalty on Marek Zidlicky.  Minnesota’s penalty killers were doing a good job of keeping Columbus to the perimeter, challenging the puck carrier and they were able to keep the game tied at two to start the 3rd period.

The Wild still had just around 30 seconds of Columbus power play time to kill off and they did with relative ease.  Minnesota would put out its 2nd line right away, but the Blue Jackets’ fourth line was able to keep them bottled up in the Wild zone.  The Wild would follow that up with a great shift by the top line and after controlling the puck down low they were able to work it out to the point where Zidlicky bombed a shot that Garon stopped and Brunette tried to jam home the rebound but the Blue Jackets goalie was able to cover it up.  The Blue Jackets would try to create some offense of their own and R.J. Umberger was causing more problems as he stole a clearing attempt and he blistered as slap shot that was absorbed by Backstrom.  On the ensuing faceoff, the Brent Burns would take a hooking penalty that would give the Blue Jackets its 3rd power play of the game.  Minnesota’s penalty kill was very sharp and a lazy centering pass by the Blue Jackets nearly cost them as Mikko Koivu quickly pounced for a quick slapper that Garon was just able to deflect aside.  The Wild continued to move their feet to deny clear shooting lanes and they’d manage to kill off the penalty.  The Blue Jackets would try to outwork the Wild by sending out its 4th line of Derek Dorsett, Ethan Moreau and Sami Pahlsson and the Wild would struggle against their physicality along the wall.  Minnesota would earn a power play, when Fedor Tyutin stood up Eric Nystrom as he was hustling into the Columbus zone earning a clear interference call.  On the power play the Wild were looking to create pressure right away as Marek Zidlicky wound up and uncorked a slapper that just missed wide of the goal and the puck would carom off the boards out to Koivu who tapped a shot on goal that fluttered towards Garon.  Minnesota’s aggressiveness would leave them vulnerable, as R.J. Umberger would find some space and he’d take the puck to the crease where he managed to slide a shot that Backstrom tried to cover up.  The goal would go to replay, and the replays they showed on Fox Sports Net were not that convincing one way or another despite the Blue Jackets’ play-by-play person’s testimony.  The only real incriminating part came after the play was over as Backstrom was sliding his leg pad along the ice as if to drag the puck back across the goal line before the official arrived to see it.  The official was not in a good position to make a call yet for whatever reason the officials called it a goal making it necessarily .  After about a 2 minute review, NHL referee Kelly Sutherland pointed to center ice saying it was a ‘good goal’ to a huge chorus of boo’s from the home crowd.  Minnesota would do very little with the rest of the power play and now the Wild had to find away to light the lamp at least one more time.  With Columbus trying to play rope-a-dope by continually flipping the puck into the Wild zone they’d help Minnesota’s cause when Chris Clark took a hooking penalty.  Minnesota would move the puck quickly, but the passes were not quite tape-to-tape and this would prevent them from taking full advantage of their rapid puck movement.  The Wild were looking to move the puck in close as Columbus was collapsing down near their crease, and were perhaps a little to picky about taking their shots.  About halfway through the Wild would get a slashing call nullifying the man advantage.  With the play 4-on-4 the Wild would continue to apply pressure and it was a strong play by Havlat to dangle around two Columbus players before rifiling a wrist shot on goal that was steered aside by Garon.  The Blue Jackets would get a short power play and the Wild would show some urgency in killing it off, even getting lucky as Greg Zanon clearly high sticked Rick Nash to no call.  Minnesota would get the kill, but there would not be much time left, just 3:43 to get the equalizer.  Cal Clutterbuck started to assert himself, by dropping Jan Hejda and Derek McKenzie with big hits.  The Blue Jackets were really flying around the ice, giving Minnesota very little time and space to work with and after nearly a minute of battling along the boards for the puck, did they finally enter the Columbus zone where they settled for a quick slapper by Antti Miettinen that Garon stopped with ease.  With just over a minute left, Wild Head Coach Todd Richards would call a timeout, as well as pulling Backstrom for an extra attacker.  Minnesota would work the puck out to the point for a bit point shot while they were camped near the crease, but Garon was able to hold on.  The Wild continued to battle, working the puck down low along the boards to Andrew Brunette who looked for anyone out near the crease but settled to work it out to the point where Zidlicky unloaded a cannon of a slapper and a flurry would ensue near Garon but the whistle would blow as the net came off its moorings.  And with that call the Wild were finished as they fell 3-2 to Columbus.

Niklas Backstrom made 22 saves in the loss.  Defensively the Wild were ok, not allowing too many scoring chances but it was obvious they struggled mightily when the Blue Jackets were physical on their shifts.  On the penalty kill they were were at their best when they applied pressure to the puck carrier and playing the angles to deny shooting lanes, and at their worst when they were not moving their feet and trying to chase the Blue Jackets all over the ice.

Offensively, the Wild really struggle to do much of anything at even strength.  The team simply does not possess enough team speed to elude the opposing skaters.  Even players that are allegedly fast for the Wild, like Martin Havlat cannot seem to outleg just about any opposing defenseman and that really costs Minnesota potential scoring opportunities.  The Wild managed to score again on the power play, but the lion’s share of its quality scoring chances come on the man advantage because its one of the few times the team can find the time and space it needs as its too slow to create those same opportunities at even strength.  Guillaume Latendresse should be benched and forced to get into shape.  It will humble him, and perhaps actually get him up to speed so he can be effective.  The team needs his finishing ability whether he’s in Todd Richards’ dog house or not.  Do I think he deserves to be there, certainly; but let’s face it this team has very few guys that have a quality scoring touch so to get him back to being physically able to do his job should be the priority.  The team should also consider placing Chuck Kobasew on the top line a little when not on the man advantage so it gains a little more speed.  Having a him playing just 11:00 minutes doesn’t do the team any good, but then the top line might actually be able to forecheck for a change as Brunette just is too slow for that duty.

It was not a terrible game, but it wasn’t a pretty one either.  The Wild’s lapses in effort cost them, and a slow start really is unforgiveable.  Minnesota is perhaps one of the slowest teams in the league and it seems like ages ago when it was considered to be one of the fastest, and that was when it had a roster that was near the bottom in payroll in the league.  I know skating fast doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll score more goals, but it certainly can create opportunities that so far this team is incapable of.  Unfortunately for the Wild, this team has precious few players it could easily parlay for some speed for its lineup.  Yet speed is becoming a problem and the style of play the coach wishes for it to play only makes it that much more obvious.

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Martin Havlat, Antti Miettinen, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, Chuck Kobasew, Brad Staubitz, John Madden, Guillaume Latendresse, Cal Clutterbuck, Eric Nystrom, Brent Burns, Nick Schultz, Cam Barker, Justin Falk, Greg Zanon and Marek Zidlicky.  Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom between the pipes for the Wild.  Clayton Stoner was the lone healthy scratch for the Wild while Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still hopeful he’ll return to the Minnesota lineup in the near future.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey are:  1st Star R.J. Umberger, 2nd Star Matt Cullen, 3rd Star Martin Havlat

~ Attendance tonight was 17,336, the first time the team has failed to sellout a regular season game in franchise history and I doubt it will be the last time this happens.

WCHA Men’s Hockey Roundup:

~ It was a crazy first game for the first ever conference matchup between newcomer University of Nebraska-Omaha and the Minnesota Golden Gophers.  The former member of the CCHA was dominant to start the game, jumping out to a 4-0 lead midway through the 2nd period on goals from Rich Purslow, Alex Hudson, Matt White, and New Prague, Minnesota-native Matt Ambroz.  The Gophers would answer back in dramatic fashion by scoring 2 goals in rapid succession cut the Maverick’s lead to two by the end of the period, on tallies by freshman Nate Condon and White Bear Lake, Minnesota’s Jake Hansen.  In the 3rd period, the Gophers started out strong, with Mike Hoeffel lighting the lamp on the man advantage and senior Jay Barriball tied the game with his 5th goal of the season with just over 3 minutes left in the game.  However it wasn’t meant to be as the Mavericks’ Alex Hudson would find some space to score the game winner with just over a minute left to play as the University of Nebraska-Omaha take game one, in a 5-4 thriller.  In game two, it would have a rather similar feel to Friday’s game where the Mavericks jumped out to a 3-0 lead while the Gophers seemed a little nonchalant for FSN’s Rob McClanahan who was direct in his criticism of the lack of fire the team was exhibiting.  Matt White, Zahn Raubenheimer and Matt Ambroz would give UNO the early boost.  Minnesota would again try to answer back in the 3rd period and it was senior Kevin Wehrs finding the back of the net on a long-range wrist shot, and Wild prospect Erik Haula continues his hot start with the Gophers by netting his first collegiate goal to cut the lead to one.  The Gophers really poured it on, but it wasn’t enough and the Maverick’s Rich Purslow would salt it away with an empty netter to earn UNO a 4-2 victory and a series sweep.

~ In the other “introduction” game with new WCHA member Bemidji State battling perennial powerhouse North Dakota.  The Beavers would have a good start, as Jamie McQueen scored less than 2 minutes into the game.  The Fighting Sioux would answer back in a big way, scoring the next four goals with upper classman Matt Frattin and Jason Gregoire each scoring twice.  Verona, Wisconsin-native Jordan George would find the back of the net behind North Dakota’s Brad Eidsness, but the hats would fly as Frattin notched a hat trick on an empty netter to seal a 5-2 win in game one.  Game two would be a bit more back and forth before North Dakota would overwhelm Bemidji State.  North Dakota would jump out to a 1-0 lead on a nice tap in goal by Chay Genoway.  The Beavers would answer back 4 minutes later when Jordan George got the Bemidji State crowd on its feet.  In the 2nd period, the Beavers would take the lead when former Wild prospect camp tryout Matt Read fired home a wrist shot to give Bemidji State a 2-1 advantage but the euphoria would be short-lived as North Dakota would stormed back with four unanswered goals from Derek Rodwell, Evan Trupp, Matt Frattin, and Brett Hextall to roll to a 5-2 victory and a series sweep.

~ The last two seasons, the University of Miami (OH) Redhawks have qualified for the Frozen Four, and they looked like a dominant team once again in a 6-3 victory over St. Cloud State in game 1 of their two-game series.  The Huskies would jump out to a quick 1-0 lead on a nice goal by Hermantown, Minnesota’s Drew LeBlanc.  The speedy Redhawks would get St. Cloud into penalty trouble and that would prove to be costly as Miami scored twice on the man advantage on goals by Andy Miele and Curtis McKenzie to take a 2-1 lead going into the 2nd.  Penalties continued to haunt the Huskies in the 2nd as senior Carter Camper scored on the power play and a while later Bryon Paulazzo would add another giving the Redhawks a commanding 4-1 lead to start the 3rd period.  In the the 3rd, Miami started to march to the penalty box but it didn’t slow them down that much as Camper found the twine behind St. Cloud State’s Mike Lee on a short handed tally.  Miami’s Reilly Smith would add another, giving the Redhawks a huge 6-1 lead.  St. Cloud would score two goals late from Nick Jensen and Mitch MacMillan to make the game a little more respectable and set up what could be a nasty 2nd game.  Game 2 would start innocently enough, with both teams looking a bit tired but satisfied with just playing hockey through a scoreless first period.  At the start of the 2nd, the nastiness would be very apparent as the slashing calls would be abundant as both teams were feeling a little feisty.  The Redhawks would take the lead on a goal from Carter Camper.  The nastiness would continue into the 3rd, and it appeared as though the Huskies might lose the game 1-0, but Little Falls, Minnesota-native Jared Festler found some room and rifled a shot by Connor Knapp to tie the game at 1-1 with just under 7 minutes remaining.  Miami would control overtime, but Dan Dunn stood strong between the pipes for the Huskies and the game would end in a tie.

~ In a high profile non-conference game, defending NCAA Champion Boston College battled Denver University.  The small and speedy Boston College attack would cause some problems for the bigger (and not quite as fast) Pioneers, as the Golden Eagles would get off to a tremendous start and a 5-0 lead on goals by Joe Whitney, Cam Atkinson, and defenseman Tommy Cross and the BC brother’s duo of Jimmy Hayes and Kevin Hayes would each add a goal.  The game would get noticeably chippy from here on out, with the teams exchanging numerous slashing and tripping calls, as Luke Salazar would score twice as Boston College rolled to a 6-2 victory in game one.

~ It is starting to look like a long season for the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks as they fell to Michigan Tech 5-2 on Friday night.  Michigan Tech would jump out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Dennis Rix and Eric Kattelus.  The Mavericks would cut the lead in half with under 3 minutes left in the 1st on a goal by J.P. Burkemper.  Minnesota State would tie the game when former St. Paul Johnson star Michael Dorr tapped home a shot just a 1:42 into the 2nd.  Later in the period, Minnesota State would get into some penalty trouble and their lack of discipline would cost them as Michigan Tech would score twice on the power play as Steven Seigo and Brett Olson would find the twine to give the Huskies a 4-2 lead going into the 3rd.  Michigan Tech would add a shorthanded empty net goal by Alex MacLeod to add an exclamation point to a 5-2 victory in game one.  Game 2 was a strange back and forth affair that may have been the most entertaining hockey game in the WCHA.  Michigan Tech would jump out to a 2-0 lead, first on a goal from Mikael Lickteig and then on a shorthanded goal by Alex McLeod.  The Mavericks would answer right back with 3 goals over the course of 6 minutes.  The first two scored at even strength, by Tyler Elbrecht and Kurt Davis respectively and then about a minute after Davis’ goal, Joe Schiller would find the back of the net on a shorthanded goal to give Minnesota State-Mankato a 3-2 lead going into the 2nd.  Michigan Tech would tie the game early in the 2nd, on a goal by Jacob Johnstone.  With the game tied at 3-3, the teams continued to exchange scoring chances and it was only a matter of time before they reached the back of the net, and it was Cameron Cooper stealing a pass and wristing a shot by the Huskies’ Kevin Genoe.  The Huskies would tie the game up once more, on the man advantage as Alex McLeod found the back of the net with just 30 seconds left in the period to have it all knotted up at 4-4.  Michigan Tech’s Steven Seigo would give the Huskies a lead with just under 10 minutes left in the period.  The Mavericks would rally back to tie the game with under 5 minutes left to play as Chase Grant lifted a shot top shelf over the shoulder of Genoe.  Both teams would exchange scoring chances in the time remaining as well as overtime but nothing would be decided as it would end in a tie.

~ In what was easily the most back and forth game of the evening, between Colorado College and University of Alaska-Anchorage.  Its sad that only 890 people were there to see it.  Colorado College would start the scoring first as William Rapuzzi found the back of the net on a terrific feed by Hopkins, Minnesota-native Archie Skalbeck.  The Seawolves would answer right back as Mitch Brujisten would beat Josh Thorimbert to tie the game at 1-1.  The Tigers would re-take the lead just over 4 minutes later when Tim Hall rifled a shot by UAA’s Rob Gunderson.  Less than 30 seconds later the Seawolves would tie the game again as Curtis Leinweber found the top corner.  Colorado College would get the last laugh of the 1st period as Cloquet, Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson would give the Tigers a 3-2 lead going into the 2nd.  The Seawolves would tie the game early in the 2nd period on a goal by Jordan Kwas, but it wasn’t meant to be for Alaska-Anchorage as the Tigers would earn the game winner 6 minutes later on the power play as Andrew Hamburg (the brother of Wild prospect Anthony Hamburg) would score giving Colorado College a 4-3 game one win.

~ In easily the most one-sided game, the Wisconsin Badgers cruised to a 7-0 victory over the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers.  The Badgers outshot the Chargers 47-17, and it did not start well for Unversity of Alabama-Huntsville as Sebastien Geoffrion, the brother of Badgers great and Hobey Baker Award winner and Nashville Predators prospect Blake Geoffrion would earn a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for contact to the head.  With a long power play the Badgers would punish the Chargers for their lack of discipline as Justin Schultz and Jake Gardiner would give the sellout crowd at the Kohl Center in Madison something to cheer about as their team carried a 2-0 lead into the 2nd.  Wisconsin would add 3 more goals in the 2nd on goals from former Burnsville High School (MN) star Tyler Barnes, Sam Dolan and Schultz’ second goal of the game.  The game would get pretty chippy in the 3rd period with both teams piling up a number of roughing penalties, and the Badgers would score two more times from Podge Turnbull and Gavin Hartzog as they rolled to a 7-0 win in game one.

~ The series between the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and the Providence Friars would start with an element of chippiness.  In fact, both teams would trade unsportsmanlike penalties in the 1st period.  The Friars would light the lamp first as Kyle MacKinnon would beat UMD’s Kenny Reiter to put Providence up 1-0.  UMD would respond as Wild Prospect Camp tryout Justin Fontaine would show his hands as beat Alex Beaudry to tie the game 1-1 at the end of the 1st.  The Bulldogs would take the lead early in the 2nd, as Rosemount’s J.T. Brown found the back of the net.  Providence would keep pace as MacKinnon ripped another past Reiter on a power play.  This goal would seem to flip a switch in the Bulldogs and they really started to pour it on.  Mike Connolly would give the Bulldogs the lead as he blistered a slapper that beat Beaudry on the man advantage.  With less than 2 minutes left, UMD senior Travis Oleksuk earned a penalty shot and he beat Beaudry on a sneaky deke to give the Bulldogs a 4-2 lead going into the 3rd.  The 3rd period was very chippy, with numerous roughing calls, until Providence’s Derek Army (son of Providence Head Coach Tim Army) scored with just 30 seconds left.  The Bulldogs would answer again just 25 seconds later as Connolly scored his 2nd of the night to seal a 5-3 victory.  Game 2 would have Providence feeling good about itself through the first 10 minutes of the game and then it would rapidly get out of control.  Just 58 seconds in, the Friars’ Tim Schaller found the back of the net behind Aaron Crandall.  The UMD Bulldogs would storm back with 7 unanswered goals; three in the first, and two more in the 2nd and 3rd period respectively to cruise to a 7-1 victory and convincing series sweep.

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

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