Four power play goals lift Wild to 4-2 victory in home opener

In 1996, Danny DeVito produced a film starring Cameron Diaz and Keanu Reeves with supporting cast members like Courtney Love and Dan Akroyd in a romantic comedy called Feeling Minnesota.  The plot goes something like this, Freddie (Diaz), a former stripper is marrying Sam in order to repay a debt to a nightclub owner named Red.  Yet Freddie ends up falling in love with Jjacks (Reeves) and they run off together.  Sam finds them and is jealous and looks to shoot Jjacks but accidentally ends up shooting Freddie, who is wounded but lives.  Somewhere in between your typical lame jokes and gratiuitous kissing Freddie and Jjacks rekindle their relationship after a falling out and they live happily ever after.  Kind of screwed up don’t you think?  Well, that ‘feeling’ could also describe the Minnesota Wild at this point.  Like Freddie’s (the team) character in the film, the Wild are a formerly dysfunctional team hoping to repay the debt of gratitude owed to its fans by placing a good product on the ice, despite being married to a system put in place by Wild Head Coach Todd Richards (Sam) that may not suit the current lineup to its fullest.  Freddie (the team) is not that happy and still wishes it was with Jacques (Lemaire aka Jjacks) instead as it feels a greater level of comfort in that system.  The team tries to improve its condition with some coaching changes as well as a few tweaks to its roster but the jury is still out on whether that will work.  So will Richards’ be able to show team management and its fans that his system can win or will he be like Sam, shooting the object of his affection and failing miserably?  Will the fans clamor for a new coach that embraces defensive hockey like Jacques (Jjacks) like Michel Therrien perhaps?

Tonight will go a long way in helping answer some of these questions as it pits two teams with very different trajectories against one another.  The young, dynamic and rejuvenated Edmonton Oilers who have taken advantage of their years of misery in the standings, at the draft to acquire quality young talent like Magnus Paajarvi, 1st Overall pick from 2010 Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle who is already a co-leader in points for this youthful squad.  Meanwhile, the Wild seem to be sliding in the opposite direction.  With a few quality players like Mikko Koivu and Matt Cullen flanked by a cast of underachievers, 3rd line calibre role players and NHL journeyman in search of better results its hard to feel overly optimistic about the course of the season after you’ve already dropped two games to another young and inexperienced team after falling twice at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.  So if you had to choose; which one would you go with?  A team on the rise or a team on the decline?  Wild coaches, management and fans hope they’re wrong, but they’re none too hopeful and it will be interesting to see how they are recieved when they hit the Xcel Energy Center ice for its first home regular season game of 2010-11.  Will the fans be “Feeling Minnesota” or will they just feel sick to their stomach?

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The first period would have some terrific intensity as Minnesota tried to set the tone early with a strong forecheck.  Perhaps they were a little too exuberant as Minnesota would take four minor penalties thanks to some tight officiating by NHL referees Marc Joanette and Ghislain Hebert.  Minnesota’s penalty killers, notably forwards John Madden and Cal Clutterbuck did a fine job of disrupting shooting lanes and not allowing the Oiler’s big shooting point men Kurtis Foster or former Bloomington Jefferson star Tom Gilbert to unload the one-timer with a clear lane to launch the biscuit.  Between the pipes, Niklas Backstrom was able to find the puck through the bodies and make the key stops to avoid placing the Wild in an early hole.  The Wild would have a tremendous shift from its 4th line of Cal Clutterbuck, Brad Staubitz and Kyle Brodziak as they kept the Oilers’ bottled in their zone with hard work along the boards and taking their opportunities to fire the puck at Nikolai Khabibulin.  Finally, the officials would call a penalty on the Oilers, this time a very marginal hooking call on Dustin Penner and Minnesota would take advantage of the opportunity.  After struggling to get established, Cam Barker would outlet a long pass to Andrew Brunette who moved into the Oilers’ zone where he fed a nice diagonal pass to Antti Miettinen who managed to sneak past Jim Vandermeer and the quick Finn tapped a shot by the Edmonton netminder to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.  Minnesota continued to attempt to apply offensive pressure as much as it could when it wasn’t serving time in the penalty box.  Two more penalties would threaten the Wild’s lead, but again Minnesota’s penalty kill would stand fast killing two penalties in quick sucession to keep their 1-goal advantage going into the 2nd period.

In the 2nd period, Minnesota would again recieve a great shift from Latendresse, Brodziak and Staubitz where they’d frustrate the Oilers by playing physical and sustaining the forecheck, but their exuberance would be penalized when Guillaume Latendresse was tagged with a tripping call.  The penalty would hurt as the Wild’s penalty killers were unable to keep the Oilers off the scoreboard any longer after Dustin Penner blistered a one-timer by Niklas Backstrom after a nice pass by Ales Hemsky.  The goal got the boo’s going a bit at Xcel Energy Center.  Minnesota would try to rally back, but the team would abandon the forecheck and the Oilers were able to take the play to the Wild.  The Oilers would add to the anxiety building in the arena, as Tom Gilbert took a Shawn Horcoff faceoff win that caromed off the boards and he would step into a slap shot that beat a surprised Backstrom to give Edmonton a 2-1 lead.  At this point the Wild looked a bit more desperate, and Minnesota’s defenseman started to pinch to help press the attack and the pressure would yield a few Wild power plays.  On the man advantage, the Wild moved the puck well and its obvious that Matt Cullen is a huge improvement over previous attempts by the Wild to develop a power play quarterback.  Minnesota would threaten with a few in close chances but Khabibulin was able to shut down the first Wild man-advantage of the period.  The Wild would re-group and Minnesota’s top line of Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, and Antti Miettinen would assert itself and was able to create some pressure, where Magnus Paajarvi struggled to slow down the Wild captain giving the State of Hockey another power play.  It would be a costly mistake for the Oilers, and after some terrific puck movement the puck would end up on the stick of Matt Cullen who nearly lost it in his skates and he would side step a defender before threading a pretty cross-ice pass to Mikko Koivu for an easy tap in goal to tie the game at 2-2.  Minnesota would earn another power play, as Cal Clutterbuck drew an open ice hit from Jim Vandermeer just before the puck arrived for an easy interference call.  The Wild would move the puck much the same way they did on the previous man advantage from the boards for a cross-ice pass to Cullen who tried to put a shot on goal but the puck would hit a few legs and make its way to Khabibulin who made the initial stop, and Mikko Koivu was there to shovel it home for a 3-2 lead.  The Oilers were not happy and they did their best to spoil the celebration as Colin Fraser and Antti Miettinen would exchange some words as well as a facewash or two earning them both a trip to the sin bin.  Minnesota would manage to hold off an Oilers’ counter attack led by Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner who seemed to be the only Edmonton players able of creating much in the way of offense in the Wild zone.  The Wild would shadow both players effectively, and take their one-goal lead into the 3rd.

In the 3rd period, Minnesota finally exhibited that killer instinct by having a strong 3rd period where they forechecked well and kept the Oilers at bey.  The Oilers would not help their cause as former Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster would take two lazy penalties that robbed Edmonton of momentum and gave Minnesota a chance to extend its lead.  Mikko Koivu would win a faceoff and draw it back to Matt Cullen who was working the point and he’d wind up and unload a slap shot that would deflect off the skate of Edmonton’s Tom Gilbert and by Khabibulin to give Minnesota a 4-2 lead.  The Oilers gave only a token effort to try to get back into the game, and Minnesota seemed to be going out of its way to give Mikko Koivu a chance at a hat trick.  Although there was a little luck in play too, as Ales Hemsky set up Sam Gagner perfectly for what should have been an easy tap in goal but his shot would strike the post.  It was a solid effort where Minnesota demonstrated how effective its forecheck can be when the team as a whole commits to executing it.  The Oilers would pull Khabibulin with nearly 2 minutes left in the game, and Minnesota’s defense clogged up the neutral zone and kept its sticks active to deny passing lanes and ended up having 3 attempts at adding an empty net goal, the closest one coming off the stick of Brent Burns who banked a shot off the boards only to see his shot strike the pipe and go out.  The crowd would stand on its feet over the last 30 seconds as the team earned its first victory of the season.

Niklas Backstrom made 24 saves in the victory.  For the most part he was very solid for the Wild, the only real ugly goal was the Tom Gilbert shot which more or less caught him not paying attention.  Down the stretch the Oilers had a few good chances up close and he preserved the Wild’s lead and clearly played well enough for his team to win.  Defensively the Wild played far more responsibly, with the lone exception of one terribly foolish outlet pass attempted by Marek Zidlicky.  The penalty kill was pretty solid for the Wild, giving up very few prime scoring chances and collapsing down near the crease at the right times. Greg Zanon needs to ease up on the penalties, as the team’s best shot blocker losing him for 2 minutes is almost like giving the opposition a 2-man advantage.

Offensively, the team wasn’t able to create much 5-on-5, and most of its pressure came on the man advantage.  As much as I’d love to see the team tally 4 power play goals per night, that simply is not going to happen all too often.  The team must find more ways to create scoring chances at even strength.  Guillaume Latendresse split time between the 2nd and 4th lines, and was one of the few players outside of the top line that was able to establish offensive pressure, using his big frame to shield the puck.  Two players who were nearly non-existant were Chuck Kobasew and Martin Havlat.  These two players have some offensive ability and they cannot just be cherry pickers waiting for the opportunity to fall on their laps, they need to look to create offense and be assertive.  The Wild’s top line was again the workhorse and a 3-point night was a great home start for the Minnesota captain, Mikko Koivu.

Todd Richards’ system certainly looked good tonight and when the Wild forechecked it was stifling, but I think this also proves that it must be a 60-minute effort.  It can’t be every 3rd or 4th shift as it was against Carolina.  So are the fans ‘Feeling Minnesota’?  Probably, but the effort and the results must continue in order to keep that feeling going.

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight is as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Martin Havlat, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Chuck Kobasew, Eric Nystrom, Brad Staubitz, Kyle Brodziak, Guillaume Latendresse, Justin Falk, Greg Zanon, Cam Barker, Marek Zidlicky, Brent Burns and Nick Schultz.  Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom between the pipes.  Clayton Stoner was a healthy scratch, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still trying to work his way back into the lineup.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were:  1st Star Mikko Koivu, 2nd Star Matt Cullen, 3rd Star Marek Zidlicky

~ The announced attendance was 18,449, which is a figure I would question since there were more than a few empty seats.  A subtle sign of the angst surrounding the Wild.

Wild Prospect Report:

LW – Brett Bulmer (Kelowna Rockets, WHL)

2010-09 Stats:  7GP  4G 1A = 5pts  16 PIM’s -6

Brett Bulmer started off fast, netting a hat trick in his first game back in the WHL he has struggled to find the back of the net since.  The tall and lanky Prince George, British Columbia-naive is a decent puckhandler but has struggled defensively as the Kelowna Rockets are off to a terrible start, currently sitting in last place in the British Columbia Division.  The 6’3″, 175lbs winger showed some dazzle at the Wild’s prospect camp this summer, and surprised many with his willingness to throw his body around against many established NHL’ers in pre-season action.  The Wild are gambling on Bulmer’s continuing development to turn the promising winger into a key component in the team’s long-term future.

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!

Wild effort arrives too little too late in frustrating 2-1 shootout road loss to lowly Edmonton

Mortal Kombat, the popular video game first appeared 1992, it was a fighting game which set itself apart from other fighting games for its level of gore and deadly finishing moves where the character would mutilate its helpless opponent and earn bonus points for doing so.  While hockey can be a violent game it pales in comparison to the violence in this video game, but there is a key element that the Minnesota Wild should take heed to.  Right now, the Edmonton Oilers are the equivalent of that helpless opponent with the fans of the State of Hockey telling their team to “Finish Him.”  The Oilers are horrible with the worst record in the NHL and seem to be a team in need of a giant house cleaning and Edmonton attempted to do just that during the trade deadline dealing away Steve Staios, Denis Grebeshkov, and Lubomir Visnovsky in the process.  Strange coaching decisions by Head Coach Pat Quinn to give token ice time to leading scorers Sam Gagner and Gilbert Brule have many Oilers fans wondering if the most important change might be one behind the bench, but Edmonton General Manager Steve Tambellini does not seem to be any hurry to revise that situation.  The Wild need to show that killer instinct and finish off an opponent that is already dead in the water. Minnesota doesn’t have to rip out Edmonton’s spine or their heart, but a good fast start to take an early lead would be greatly appreciated.

This is your classic trap game where the expectations are that this should be “easy” but these are the sorts of games that really will challenge the Wild’s focus after earning a big victory over the Flames on Wednesday night.  Prior to the game, James Sheppard gave some sage advice (no nothing to do with his knowing all he needed to know about hockey since he was 3 years old) saying that the Wild need to look beyond the stats and just focus on taking care of business and playing as best as they can.  To use another video game reference, to lose to the Oilers at this point would be about as disappointing as losing to Glass Joe on the old Nintendo game Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.  The best advice is to not to get caught up being fancy or showing off and instead just focus on knocking them out early and moving forward with the rest of their season.  So will the Wild obliterate Glass Joe (the Oilers) or will Edmonton catch Minnesota looking forward to its next game and deliver a devastating and embarrassing upset?

Minnesota would be moving their feet well as they would move the puck deep in the Oilers’ zone but despite their hustle they were unable to create any shots on goal.  The Oilers went on the counter attack and they would have an outstanding opportunity as Marc-Antoine Pouliot carried the puck beneath the goal line that was garnering an unusual amount of attention from Niklas Backstrom who moved way out of his crease and he’d slide a shot between him and the goal post and the puck would slowly slide toward the goal line and Backstrom would reach and grab the puck just before it completely crossed.  There would be a review but that confirmed that Backstrom got to the puck just in time and it was ruled correctly ‘no goal.’  The 4th line of Derek Boogaard, Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck had a great first shift, especially Boogaard who was battling well along the boards.  Both teams were working the puck deep but were unable to create many shots on goal.  A few minutes later, it was a similarly structured line as Zach Stortini would outmuscle the Wild for pucks and he’d try to stuff a shot by Backstrom but Mike Comrie would take the loose puck and then beat the Wild goalie on the wrap around to give Glass Joe…uh I mean Edmonton a 1-0 lead.  On the very next shift Derek Boogaard would try to create some energy by throwing his big frame around but he got a bit carried away and would end up drawing a kneeing penalty on a hit to former Wild draft choice Ryan Jones.  Early in the Edmonton power play, former Bloomgington Jefferson star Tom Gilbert would wind up and uncork a slapper from the point that Greg Zanon blocked that left him a little worse for the wear, but he’d return later in the Oilers’ man advantage.  Minnesota’s penalty killers were challenging well, but at the end of the power play the Oilers would dish a pass to Zach Stortini along the half wall and he slid a pass out to the point to Ryan Whitney who fired a shot that was gloved by Backstrom.  Moments after the killed Oilers’ penalty, the Wild’s Guillaume Latendresse would draw a penalty of his own as he was held up by Theo Peckham after he misplayed a puck in his own zone.  Minnesota would try to utilize the slap pass and redirect and Andrew Brunette‘s deflection missed just wide.  The Oilers tried to go on the attack themselves shorthanded but as the Wild thwarted the Oilers’ rush, they would counter attack as Owen Nolan was in a 2-on-1 with Latendresse.  Latendresse fed the perfect saucer pass to Nolan who tried to lift a shot only to see it nabbed out of the air by Jeff Deslauriers.  The Wild continued to attack and a sharp angle pass by Chuck Kobasew was redirected just wide of the mark, and Minnesota would come up empty on the man advantage.  A few minutes later the Wild would go back on the man advantage, as Ryan Jones was battling for the puck on the boards and he’d fall down as he took a desperate stab for the biscuit he ended up hitting Marek Zidlicky right across the face.  On the power play the Wild had a great chance thanks to some nice support by Niklas Backstrom who quickly passed the puck up to Andrew Brunette who tapped a pass to Latendresse who was all alone and he’d try to thread a pass back to Brunette instead of taking a shot himself on a play where he probably should’ve just taken the shot himself.  Minnesota would continue to move the puck well but were unable to solve Deslauriers and they would again have nothing to show for themselves on the power play.  The Oilers really began to ratchet up their intensity, as they were winning battles for the pucks along the boards and their hard work earned a small cheer from the Rexall Place crowd.  Minnesota would end the period with a solid hard working shift from the top line where Andrew Brunette worked the puck behind the Edmonton goal for a few quick shots on goal that Deslauriers was up to the task to stop.  However the Wild had to feel disappointed trailing 1-0 going into the 2nd period.

The Wild seemed to have more purpose to their game to start the 2nd and they would develop a great scoring chance early as Andrew Ebbett found himself all alone near the crease but he was unable to lift a shot over a sprawling Deslauriers.  Owen Nolan would show some fiestiness as he’d get into it with Zach Stortini and both players would end up in the penalty box making the ice a bit more open 4-on-4 for two minutes.  The Wild tried to take advantage of the extra space but all they were able to create were a few long range chances that were no problem from the Oilers’ goaltender to stop.  Minnesota was swarming a bit and the pace of the game would intensify and a bad turnover by James Sheppard in the neutral zone turned into an Edmonton scoring chance off the rush for Andrew Cogliano who ripped a shot that was gloved by Backstrom.  The officials were allowing the players to play a bit, and Cam Barker would be hooked up as he tried to join the rush as he would crash into the Oilers’ goal to no call.  The Oilers would start to move their feet and take the body aggressively and put Minnesota on its heels a bit as they were taking their chances to shoot whenever they presented themselves.  The hustle by Edmonton was starting to cause some errors by the Wild in their own zone as Shane Hnidy slid a blind pass to no one that caused Minnesota to chase.  Moments later Andrew Ebbett would chip a pass towards the right wall to Guillaume Latendresse who made a nice toe drag move around Tom Gilbert and then swooped behind the net for a pretty wrap around goal to tie the game at 1-1.  The Oilers would go right back on the attack as Minnesota would scramble as they struggled to clear the zone and Niklas Backstrom a few times was surprised and luckily he got just enough defensive support to partially block shots that could’ve easily ended up in the back of his net.  Edmonton was looking like the team desperately trying to get into the playoffs while the Wild seemed to lacadasical and complacent.  Minnesota would try to counter attack against the Oilers’ aggressive approach and it began to yield some offensive pressure for the Wild as Martin Havlat carried the puck deep before dishing a pass to a pinching Nick Schultz who tried jamming a shot by Deslauriers but he would hold the post well and make the stop.  The game would degenerate a bit as both teams were attempting long ‘home run’ style passes and not completing too many of them either.  Minnesota would manage to create some more pressure on a nice stick by Martin Havlat to deflect a puck up into the air and he chased it into the Oilers’ zone and Minnesota would win a battle for the puck along the boards and the Wild would turn it into some offensive pressure as they set up shots from the point.  Tempers would flare on the end of this play as Ryan Whitney took offense to Cal Clutterbuck who gave a big hit to Aaron Johnson and there would be a little meeting of the minds near the boards but no penalties would be called.  Towards the end of the period, and on the rush the Oilers had a dazzling chance as Gilbert Brule dragged a shot against the grain that Backstrom did not see as it nearly eluded him.  Edmonton continued to apply good forechecking pressure in the closing seconds of the period as both team were knotted at one goal apiece.

The Oilers started out the 3rd where the left off from the 2nd period as they pressured early, settling for sharp angle shots as they simply hoped to get a lucky carom.  James Sheppard showed some good speed as he raced around the outside before rifling a slap shot that was knocked down by Deslauriers but before he could get to the rebound he was rubbed out of hte play by Theo Peckham.  Minnesota would show an ability  to counter the Oilers’ aggressive attack with quick outlet passing that did not allow Edmonton to establish the forecheck.  It was on a play like this that yielded a 3-on-2 rush for the Wild where Martin Havlat dropped a pass back to Ebbett who dangled around a Oilers’ defender and he just pushed a backhander just wide of the goal.  The Oilers would answer right back on a counter attack of its own as Marc-Antoine Pouliot made a nice move to get some space and he ripped a shot that was knocked down by Backstrom who then had to make a save as Pouliot attempted a rebound chance.  Edmonton was also working for deflections as Gilbert and Whitney were no longer opting for slap shots and instead flinging wrist shots as roving Oilers’ forwards just tried to change the direction wherever they could from about 10-20 feet from the Wild crease.  Minnesota was also showing good skill as Miettinen would saucer a pass to Latendresse who dragged a puck who fired the a shot on goal that was juggled a bit by Deslauriers but he was able to steer it to the corner.  At critical moments the Oilers were mishandling the puck and the Wild were fortunate because these bounces were occuring in areas on the ice that would’ve led to great scoring opportunities and you could hear the anxiety in the crowd as well as the groans of frustration as well.  The Oilers were battling well and Dustin Penner was making his presence felt as he used his big frame and strength around the net as he tried to wrap a puck by Backstrom but he shut the door and as the Wild goaltender left his crease to play the puck it was Penner who lifted his stick.  The Wild would really turn the pressure on with a shift with its 2nd line as Guillaume Latendresse put on a clinic in puck possession as he had the puck on a string as he navigated around Oilers defenders to create a plethora of scoring chances that almost resembled a Minnesota power play before Zach Stortini was finally able to chip the puck out of the zone.  It was an incredible shift with lots of great plays by Havlat, Zidlicky, Ebbett and Latendresse who cycled the puck efficiently and effectively but unfortunately it didn’t yield a goal.  Moments later the Wild would take a penalty as Owen Nolan literally crashed the crease as he bowled over Deslauriers for an easy goaltender interference call.  This would make for a huge Edmonton Oilers’ power play that needed to be killed off with just 5:57 left to go in regulation.  Minnesota’s penalty kill was aggressive early on as Mikko Koivu separated the player from the puck and Zanon cleared it down to the Oilers’ end.  The Oilers’ were not taking too many unecessary risks and Minnesota would kill the penalty with relative ease, but as the penalty expired the Oilers did have one nice chance as Shawn Horcoff ripped a shot that was just off the mark.  Minnesota tried to create a chance of their own as Martin Havlat fed a saucer pass to a crashing Ebbett who chipped a shot that was directed aside by Deslauriers.  The Oilers were now taking a page out of the Wild book as they counter attacked after a failed Minnesota rush and Patrick O’Sullivan tapped a puck around a Wild defender to Cogliano which created a 2-on-1 and as he tried to feed to Brule for the payoff he was robbed by a terrific save by Backstrom who got across his crease.  The game would slow down a bit after this chance as both teams seemed willing to settle for overtime.

In overtime the Wild had some outstanding chances early as Mikko Koivu found a pinching Brent Burns who made a terrific spin-a-rama move before firing a backhander that Deslauriers was just able to get a piece of, and Minnesota continued to pressure as Burns gathered up the loose puck and then fed a pass out to the high slot where Mikko Koivu hammered a shot that was steered aside by the Oilers’ goalie.  Minnesota was playing like a team that wanted the extra point, as the Wild’s defenseman were stepping up all over making brilliant highly skilled plays to dangle the puck around Oilers’ defenders for a long-range shot by Cam Barker that Deslauriers held onto for a whistle.  Minnesota was starting to get a bit too sloppy with its passes which was not helped by the poor ice conditions as the puck was bouncing around all over the place.  The Oilers tried to play the role of the spoiler as Patrick O’Sullivan did a little toe drag before firing a wrist shot that was gloved by Backstrom.  With about a minute to go, Theo Peckham would haul down Martin Havlat giving the Wild a crucial power play.  Wild Head Coach Todd Richards would call a timeout to talk things over with this team.  Mikko Koivu would lose the ensuing draw so the Wild would have to regroup and they would have a few fantastic chances as Minnesota fed the puck to the top of the crease where Andrew Brunette tried a few point blank chances but he was unable to lift a shot over the sprawling goaltender.  The Wild would try one more time, but again Brunette was stonewalled at the top of the crease and the game would go to a shootout.

In the shootout, the Oilers opted to shoot first. The Oilers’ first shooter was former Wild draft pick Patrick O’Sullivan.  O’Sullivan would race up the ice and attempt a backhand to forehand deke but he’d push his shot wide.  Minnesota’s first shooter was Mikko Koivu and the captain looked poised as he pulled off his vintage forehand to backhand deke, roof for a goal to give the Wild the early advantage.  The Oilers’ next shooter was former Golden Gopher Ryan Potulny and he’d start out with great speed then slow way up drawing Backstrom to drop to his stomach and then he very calmly moved to the left and lifted a forehand into the gaping net to even the shootout at 1-1.  The Wild’s next shooter was Owen Nolan and the veteran would attempt a quick backhand to forehand deke but his attempt was denied by Deslauriers.  Edmonton’s next shooter was Shawn Horcoff, and he would take a wide right approach and then rifle a wrister that found the crossbar and out.  Minnesota’s next shooter was Antti Miettinen who would give a little shoulder shake before firing a wrist shot against the grain that just was steered aside by Deslauriers.  The Oilers’ next shooter was Gilbert Brule who would take a wide left approach before unleashing a wrister high glove side that beat Backstrom.  This put all the pressure on Minnesota’s Marek Zidlicky to even the score and he would not disappoint as he’d race in and rip a wrister of his own high glove side to even the shootout at 2-2.  Edmonton’s next shooter was Sam Gagner, and Gagner would move in with great speed he’d attempt a backhand to forehand deke but he’d run out of space and miss wide.  This gave the Wild an opportunity to win the game with Martin Havlat as the shooter and he would move in with the puck to his backhand and attempt to hesitate to get Deslauriers to move but he wouldn’t and he try to wrap around a forehand that was denied by the Oilers’ goalie.  The Oilers’ next shooter was Mike Comrie and he’d race in and make a quick forehand to backhand deke before sliding a shot that beat Backstrom 5-hole.  Once again, the Wild found itself in need of a goal to keep the shootout going, and the shooter would be Guillaume Latendresse.  Latendresse would move wide right, nearly losing the puck as he pushed the puck out of the scraped area and he’d re-gather it and then fire a shot high glove side that Deslauriers just deflected up and over the net to give his team a 2-1 victory.

Niklas Backstrom made 22 saves in the shootout loss and he certainly is not to blame for the outcome of this game.  He more than gave the Wild a chance to win this game, and defensively the Wild did well to sweep away pucks near his crease and Backstrom made more than a few saves to bail his team out.  Penalty killing for the Wild was superb, as they challenged the puck carrier well and making good safe plays in their own zone.  The Wild defense really were helping support the offense well; especially in overtime where Brent Burns was really showing some outstanding puck skills.

Offensively the Wild were more or less asleep in the first period and that really set the tone early in this game, where they should’ve been to take advantage of a young an inexperienced Oilers’ defense.  Minnesota just did not do what it needed to do to win battles for the puck along the boards the way it had against the Flames and that is disturbing considering how important this game was to them.

Bottom line this was a game the team needed to have, and whether they overlooked this opponent or felt they’d simply roll over is hard to say yet its obvious they were not ready to play hard enough to win this game it had to have.  Todd Richards summed it up pretty good, “We didn’t play very well and really, the effort really wasn’t there.  We talked about it (the effort) but it just didn’t happen.  It’s disappointing.”  adding “we needed more, we needed more guys going” and there were some notorious absences late in the game including Chuck Kobasew.  Without a doubt what Richards’ saying is true, because this is about as sad as Little Joe (the Wild) losing to pathetic Glass Joe by a technical knockout.  That just can’t happen, and if it does it really forces you to ask how bad do you really want it (the playoffs).

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster for tonight’s game was: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Antti Miettinen, Chuck Kobasew, Kyle Brodziak, Derek Boogaard, Andrew Ebbett, James Sheppard, Cal Clutterbuck, Guillaume Latendresse, Brent Burns, Cam Barker, Shane Hnidy, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky and Greg Zanon.  Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Robbie Earl and John Scott were the healthy scratches, while Clayton Stoner is still recovering from groin surgery and Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still out of the lineup with post-concussion symptoms.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jeff Deslauriers, 2nd Star Niklas Backstrom, 3rd Star Theo Peckham

Houston Aeros Report:

Current Record: (28-27-6-2)  64 points, 6th place (out of 7 teams) in AHL’s West Division

Houston 3, San Antonio 4 (shootout)

It was your classic late-game let down for the Houston Aeros Wednesday night at San Antonio’s AT&T Center.  After dominating much of the play in the first period, the Aeros would take the lead on a nice wrap around goal by Colton Gillies (just his 6th goal of the season) to give Houston a 1-0 lead going into the 2nd period.  The Rampage would rally back in the 2nd period, taking full advantage of a lazy holding penalty by Jean-Michel Daoust as they stormed the Aeros crease after an initial shot by David Spina and it was former Oshawa General Brett McLean tapping home the loose biscuit by a sprawling Anton Khudobin to tie the game at 1-1.  The Aeros seemed to sit back a bit, content to wait for a mistake by the speedy Rampage squad as well as ratcheting up the physical play along the boards.  The Aeros would re-take the lead in the 3rd on a power play tally off a seeing-eye point shot by Jamie Fraser that eluded Josh Tordjman and then extended their lead to two on a pretty move by Maxim Noreau to drag a puck by a Rampage defender and then fling a wrister that found the back of the net to give Houston a comfortable 3-1 lead.  Or so they thought.  The Aeros would sit back, while the Rampage rather calmly increased their intensity forcing Houston to chase in its own zone and it was Sean Sullivan ripping a point shot that would carom off the boards right to a waiting Kyle Turris who shoveled it home to cut the lead to one, 3-2 just under 5 minutes left in regulation.  The Rampage continued to swarm in the Houston zone as they tried to keep the shots to the perimeter.  San Antonio would pull Tordjman for the extra attacker and the gamble paid off as former Medicine Hat Tiger Stefan Meyer would tap home a rebound off a nice wrister from the point by Mikkel Boedeker by a sprawling Khudobin to tie the game with just 13 seconds remaining.  After a fairly uneventful overtime where neither team was able to find much time and space the game would go to a shootout.  The Rampage would shoot first and Boedker moving in and beating Khudobin with a wicked wrist shot to give San Antonio a quick 1-0 shootout lead.  The Aeros then went to Jon DiSalvatore and the veteran AHL’er moved up the ice where he attempted a weak deke that Tordjman did not fall for and he easily blocked it out of danger.  San Antonio’s next shooter was Kyle Turris, who would skate in, getting Khudobin to drop to his pads and then beat him with a wicked wrister that he roofed that sent the water bottle flying, 2-0 Rampage.  Houston’s next shooter was Jean-Michel Daoust who really moved in fast and then tried to dangle a shot around Tordjman who stayed squared and directed the puck to the corner with relative ease.  San Antonio could seal a victory with its next shooter, MacGregor Sharp and the former UMD Bulldog would race up the ice and try to beat Khudobin with backhander 5-hole that was shutdown by the athletic Russian goalie.  The Aeros’ next shooter was former Colorado College Chad Rau who skated in and then attempted to change speeds at the last moment but just couldn’t wrap it around Tordjman who again stood strong in his crease.  The Rampage’s next shooter was David Spina who used his speed to try to unsettle Khudobin but he was not fooled and able to make a nice blocker save.  This put all the pressure on 43-year old Tony Hrkac, the former University North Dakota stud and an AHL legend would move in and attempted to hesitate and then beat Tordjman with a heavy wrist shot that missed high and Rampage would come away with a huge 4-3 come-from-behind victory.  Khudobin had 29 saves in the loss.  What makes the loss especially painful was the fact the Rampage was virtually in the same spot as the Aeros in the standings as they now trail San Antonio by one point.  The Aeros currently stand in 6th place in the West and out of the playoff picture and like the Wild need to make every game count and with a 3-1 lead going into the final 5 minutes of regulation this is a game that could come back to haunt them.

High School Boys Hockey Report:

Section 3A ~ Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato (16-9-1) 2 Vs. New Ulm (15-9-1)  5

Depending on who you ask, some say Section 3 is the weakest in Minnesota, but for these two teams whether that is true or not is irrelevant as a trip to the State Tournament is on the line.  The Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato Dragons are led by senior Nate Adams (25 goals, 22 assists in 22 games) and he will be the focus in perhaps the biggest game in their hockey program’s history.  The two teams have faced each other twice in conference play, with New Ulm winning the first contest by a huge margin, 9-2 but they tied 6-6 in their more recent game on February 15th.  No doubt that could make for an exciting finish in this game against two evenly matched teams.  Prediction: New Ulm manages to win in a close one, 4-3.  (New Ulm will earn the trip to state with a 5-2 victory over the Dragons and likely make their conference battles that much more intense next season)

Section 4A ~ #5 Mahtomedi (22-5) 2 Vs. #2 St. Thomas Academy (22-5) 1

In a matchup similar to Wednesday’s Minnetonka / Eden Prairie tilt that will eliminate a favorite to win the state title, this time it is the Mahtomedi Zephyrs and St. Thomas Academy Cadets faceoff for the 3rd time this season.  In the previous two meetings, the Zephyrs won the first game 6-3 while St. Thomas returned the favor with a 6-3 win of their own in their most recent game between each other on January 20th.  Both teams possess powerful offensive attacks featuring some of the best scorers in the state.  The Zephyrs are led by seniors Brandon Zurn (32 goals, 39 assists in 27 games) and Charlie Adams (33 goals, 31 assists in 26 games) while the Cadets are led by junior phenom Justin Crandall (21 goals, 40 assists in 25 games) and a prospective 2010 NHL draftee in senior Christian Isackson (25 goals, 31 assists in 25 games and rated 112th amongst North American skaters by Central Scouting).  This has all the makings of a true barn burner at Aldrich arena and without question these fans are going to be in for a treat.  Prediction: St. Thomas Academy’s experience is the x-factor as they prevail, 5-2.  (It was disappointment for the Vanelli brothers as the Cadets got bogged down in a defensive battle with the Zephyrs who manage to pull off the upset 2-1.)

Section 5A ~ #13 Duluth Denfeld (13-11-2) 2 Vs. #3 Hermantown (24-3) 3

One may look at Duluth Denfeld’s record and think the #13 ranking is a big mistake but a closer look at the schedule shows you clearly why this is the case.  To put it simply, the Hunters have played against virtually all of the elite teams of Class A and either won or been close in them all on top of the fact they compete in a very tough conference featuring many schools from class AA.  While the strength of schedule was not as strong for Bruce Plante‘s Hermantown squad, they clearly have a strong contender this season led by senior forward Adam Krause (199th rated North American skater according to Central Scouting).  The Hawks, the defending champion of class A showed just how good they were when they took the defending champion of class AA, Eden Prairie to a 4-3 decision in a thriller on Hockey Day Minnesota.  Hermantown prevailed in the lone game the two teams have played against one another, a 5-4 victory on February 9th.  Prediction: Hermantown wins another close game in attempt to defend their state title, 6-3.  (The Hermantown Hawks prevail although it was likely closer than Bruce Plante would have liked but all that matters is that his team will be going to Xcel Energy Center next week after a 3-2 win.)

Section 6A ~ #10 Sartell-St. Stephen (18-7-2) 1 Vs. #7 Alexandria (20-6-1) 4

This could be a spirited battled against two fairly well matched teams, with Alexandria holding a slight edge in their season series, with a tie and a Cardinals victory (4-1) on February 4th.  The Sabres do not have a lot of experience and are a hockey program on the rise in central Minnesota.  Will Sartell-St. Stephen will have a bit of a home-ice advantage since the game is St. Cloud but will it be enough?  Prediction: Alexandria will prevail in a close game 3-2.  (The Sabres are going to have wait a little longer for a trip to state as the Cardinals replicate their February 4th performance in a 4-1 victory.)

Section 1AA ~ Lakeville North (11-15-2) 5 Vs. Lakeville South (18-10) 0

This game seems like a potential slaughter waiting to happen.  The Lakeville North Panthers have already lost twice to Lakeville South in Lake Conference play by scores of 4-0 and 5-1 in their most recent battle on February 13th.  Top seeded Lakeville South is definitely a team with a very bright future led in scoring by a sophomore (Justin Kloos, 28 goals, 27 assists in 13 games) and freshman (Kyle Osterberg, 17 goals, 37 assists in 20 games) respectively.  While Lakeville North is an offensively starved team with no player with more than 30 points.  It should be obvious who is going to win this game right?  Well think again as the Panthers beat their cross-town rival Lakeville South Cougars by a surprisingly decisive score 5-0.

Section 4AA ~ White Bear Lake (17-9-1)  1 Vs. #3 Hill-Murray (24-2-1)  5

In what seems to be an annual occurance in the Section 4AA championship, these two arch rivals again battle for the right to go to the State Tournament.  Hill-Murray will feel confident going into this game having beaten the Bears twice (by scores of 5-0 and 4-3) already this season, but the teams’ last meeting was on December 30th so its been a while.  White Bear Lake will have its hands full trying to stop the three well rounded lines of the Pioneers.  Prediction: Hill-Murray should take care of business and earn another trip to state, 6-1.  (Hill-Murray cruised to a 5-1 victory, can’t get much better prediction than that)

Section 5AA ~ Maple Grove (15-9-3)  Vs. #6 Blaine (20-4-3)

The high powered Blaine attack, where they have 4 players with at least 20 goals, including the highly touted junior Nick Bjugstad (32 goals, 33 assists in 26 games and rated 12th amongst North American skaters by Central Scouting) to their credit will likely be too much for Maple Grove to handle as they battle it out at the State Fair Coliseum.  The teams tied (4-4) in their first meeting but Blaine dominated in a 7-2 route on February 18th.  Crimson junior goaltender Ryan Coyne (14-9-3 record, 2.32 goals against average and .906% save percentage) can expect to be under siege tonight.    Prediction: Expect the Bengals to win big and move on to state, 7-2.  (Blaine wins 3-1, perhaps not as high scoring as I thought but the Bengals are still going to the state tournament)

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!