Wild find more coal in their Christmas stocking as Avalanche extend Minnesota’s losing streak to 7 games with 4-2 home loss

Wild vs. Avalanche

Season’s greetings everyone.  I hope that you’re Christmas holiday, whether you observe it or not was an opportunity to spend some time with your family.  For young kids, its usually all about the gifts.  The anxious expectation of running to the family living room to see a tree stocked full of presents that taunt for you to open them.  I have to admit, I was the kind of kid that was pretty good at guessing what was inside each present before I even opened it.  Size, shape, and weight were all factors I considered as I cross-referenced that information with my own list in my mind of what I asked for Christmas.  I wasn’t right all of the time, there were always the gifts that fooled me or were no where near my list that had me asking, “when did I ever say I wanted that?”  No Christmas movie I’ve ever seen before or since summed up my feelings quite the way A Christmas Story did starring Peter Billingsley as Ralphie.  As a kid I sort of resembled Ralphie minus the glasses, but his character’s active imagination is something I completely connected with.  Admit it, you watch A Christmas Story a few times on TBS‘ 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon.  Sure you know just about every line of the film but it still makes us laugh and for those of us who do not rush to the tree looking for gifts like so many kids do we do re-connect with those emotions.  We may not all have been pining for a Red Rider BB gun, but we can probably name one gift that we obsessed over like Ralphie did.  We didn’t always get that one gift we dreamed about but it didn’t ruin our lives.  I know beggars can’t be choosers, and I must say I am extremely fortunate to be unable to ever remember a Christmas where I ended up truly disappointed.  I must thank my parents for that and I know that there are lots of people out there that can’t say they never had a disappointing Christmas; yet to sound a little sappy if the true social part of Christmas is simply to bring families together for the celebration of giving (even if its simply their presence) then can we ever be totally disappointed?  I am not afraid to admit that I’m 33 years old and I still look forward to this time of year; as a person who lives a fair distance from most of his family its time to catch up and spend valuable moments with family and friends I do not get to see nearly enough.  The Christmas holiday provides me with this rare window of opportunity to go back home in the State of Hockey and I take full advantage of it.  For NHL’ers its a rare season-wide respite where they get to celebrate the holidays with their family and since 1972, the NHL has not had games on Christmas or Christmas Eve out of respect for the players who spend so much the year away from their families. 

Ralphie (Parker)
The reason I chose the Avalanche / Wild picture was because this was a moment where you saw a dramatic change of direction for an NHL team.  At the time, with the Avalanche embarrassing the Wild on at Pepsi Center, their top sniper Chris Stewart decided to drop the gloves with Kyle Brodziak.  Brodziak was completely over matched in the fight, but he’d inadvertently help tank the Avalanche’s season when Stewart broke his hand in the scrap.  Stewart was lost for a few weeks and the Avalanche went into a tail slide.  Sort of like when Ralphie fought the local bully Scut Farkas.  Unlike Ralphie who enjoyed the praise of his peers the fight did not really help the Wild at all, but ultimately it sent Colorado to the bottom of the Western Conference.  Perhaps out of disappointment or perhaps a little desperation the Avalanche made a deal that sent Stewart and promising defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis for former 1st Overall pick Erik Johnson and Jay McClement.  If Stewart keeps his wits about himself and doesn’t make the selfish decision to fight perhaps he’s still playing for the Avalanche.  So what gifts will the Wild find in its stocking after the short Christmas hiatus.  Will it be a return to its November self or will it find coal or plaid socks instead?

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Wild score

1st Period Thoughts:  Minnesota looked a little sluggish to start the game, but they would get lucky as Shane O’Brien would help the Wild’s cause by taking a foolish interference penalty when he got in the way of a forechecking Cal Clutterbuck.  On the power play the Wild were pretty disorganized, winning the faceoffs but then being unable to complete more than a single pass before the aggressive Avalanche penalty kill was able to deflect the puck away and clear the zone forcing Minnesota to reset.  It took nearly a minute and a half before the Wild were finally able to even generate a scoring chance on the power play as Mikko Koivu raced in off the rush and made a perfect backhand saucer pass to Dany Heatley who fanned on the shot.  The power play was emblematic of the last few games where the man advantage was a practice in futility.  A few minutes later, the power play would have more time to practice as the Avalanche’s toothless enforcer Cody McLeod erased Jared Spurgeon with a vicious hit from behind along the boards behind the Wild goal.  McLeod immediately found himself being tangled up with Marco Scandella, while Spurgeon laid on the ice in considerable pain.  As Wild Head Athletic Trainer Don Fuller went out to check on Spurgeon it was obvious this could be a pretty significant injury.  Fuller and another member of the training staff took an arm as Spurgeon was on just one skate as he left the ice putting no weight on his left leg at all.  Spurgeon was immediately placed on a stretcher where you could see the nervous anxiety on his face, not good.  Meanwhile the officials did not hesitate at all to give McLeod a 5:00 boarding major plus a game misconduct.  McLeod’s ejection did little to help the Wild as they were now without one of their top defenseman; and it was clear they missed him quite a bit on the power play as Minnesota bungled its way through the first few minutes of the 5:00 power play.  Making matters worse, the Wild almost gave up a shorthanded goal as Kevin Porter stole a lazy pass from Marco Scandella near his blueline and raced in on a break away only to be bailed out by Niklas Backstrom.  The Wild were not able to really get set up in the Avalanche zone until the final minute of the man advantage.  Luckily for Minnesota, they’d strike as Dany Heatley delivered a nice cross-ice pass to Pierre-Marc Bouchard who one-timed a shot that just snuck underneath the arm of Semyon Varlamov to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.  Minnesota had nearly another minute of power play time to work with but was unable to create much of anything.  The Avalanche was very efficient in the offensive zone, with quick passes and good puck movement but Backstrom was seeing the puck well.  The Wild had a few more near-miss chances as Kyle Brodziak found himself int he slot and he backhanded a shot square off the crossbar and out.  Minnesota would have another power play late in the period as Jan Hejda was tagged for holding but the Wild’s power play was again pretty discombobulated.  The Wild were dumping the puck deep into Colorado’s zone but were unable to get to the puck fast enough in order to set up the power play and the result were weak giveaways.  Minnesota would end the period holding a 1-0 lead, and an 8-7 shot advantage.  It wasn’t a great period since the Wild had so much of it on the man-advantage but so far they were hustling just enough and their hard work was creating opportunities. 

2nd Period Thoughts:  The period had a much different feel to it.  As if the Wild slowed down a bit.  The Avalanche were winning the races to the loose pucks and the ice would tilt in favor of Colorado.  A lazy hooking penalty by Nick Schultz gave Colorado a power play and it was obvious to see why the Avalanche are so lethal on the man advantage.  Their puck movement is absolutely superb, quick and without hesitation as they move the puck both with accuracy and purpose.  In addition all 5 of the Avalanche’s skaters are moving all over the place making it very difficult for the Wild to position themselves in a way that will deny Colorado of its options to either shoot or pass the puck.  As Minnesota’s penalty killers started to become a bit more mesmerized and focused on the movement of the puck you could see the backside holes beginning to form and that is precisely where the Avalanche chose to strike; as Matt Duchene wound up and hammered a slap pass wide of the goal to a waiting Ryan O’Reilly who just redirected it just beyond the outstretched leg pad of Backstrom to tie the game.  The goal really took the crowd out of the game.  Minnesota would answer back just 2 minutes later as Dany Heatley chased a puck deep into the Avalanche zone, forcing a turnover that was swept up by a supporting Mikko Koivu who quickly found a crashing Cal Clutterbuck who snapped home a one-timer by Varlamov to give the Wild a 2-1 lead.  At this point, you had to feel perhaps this was a game where Minnesota was going to stop its slide as the goal was the result of hustle and its top scorers were finding their way onto the score sheet.  But it wasn’t meant to be.  A bit later in the period, some lethargic play by Mike Lundin who didn’t really move his feet as he turned and reached with his stick allowed Colorado to move the puck deep into the Wild zone.  Even as Marco Scandella fell to the ice battling for a puck behind the goal, Lundin moved for the puck but instead of taking it out of danger he attempted to make a fancy move a long the goal and the puck was knocked away from him by David Van Der Gulik and he pushed the puck out front where it was jammed in by an alert Gabriel Landeskog to tie the game at 2-2.  It was simply an incredibly lazy shift by Lundin to not pounce on the puck when he had the chance (even before Scandella fell down) and then not sweeping it out of danger compounded the original mistake.  The goal again sapped all the momentum created from Clutterbuck’s goal.  It was an ugly period, where Minnesota was out worked and out hustled and it did not shock anyone to see that the Wild were out shot 12-5.  Going into the 3rd tied was not a good omen for a team that seemed a bit disconnected at times. 

3rd Period Thoughts:  The 3rd period was more or less a train wreck.  Despite some good flashes of individual effort by Nick Johnson, Mikko Koivu and especially Cal Clutterbuck the period personified precisely why the team had dropped its previous 6 games.  Pathetic defensive play, most notably veterans Nick Schultz who I think has lost a step and seems to be far weaker than in previous seasons and the reliably awful Marek Zidlicky really were at their finest (meaning worst) form.  The Avalanche would take the lead after some awful play in its own end where failed clearing attempts were rampant and an inability to out work Colorado for the puck came back to haunt them as Ryan O’Reilly out battled Schultz for the puck and dished a pass to a crashing Jan Hejda who was left unaccounted for as he fired home an easy goal to give the visitors a 3-2 lead.  The goal scored just past the mid-way portion of the 3rd was a back breaker and you could sense the fans pondering whether they should head for their cars.  Minnesota had its chance to get the go ahead goal of its own when Matt Hunwick was sent to the box for hooking.  However, you could hardly tell it was a Minnesota power play as the Avalanche embarrassed the Wild’s power play by preventing it from even getting set up to register a shot on goal and on one occasion there were 5 Wild defenders retreating to their own end and still T.J. Galiardi would get off a shot that had to be steered aside by Backstrom.  Galiardi’s hustle would be repaid later in the 3rd, as he out legged Nick Schultz who was leaning and looking a full step too slow all night long as he fired a shot that eluded a well screened Niklas Backstrom who had Gabriel Landeskog in his face because veteran Marek Zidlicky lacked the intestinal fortitude to knock down an 18-year old kid screening his goalie.  After Galiardi’s goal, the Wild would take two costly penalties from Brodziak and Cullen respectively which more or less conspired to deprive the Wild of the time necessary for a comeback.  It was fitting that even after the Wild pulled Niklas Backstrom for an extra attacker they were unable to put a shot on goal as the Avalanche again out hustled Minnesota as they withered and died in pathetic fashion, 4-2. 

Normally I am not so terse, but considering the Wild had a break and was playing in front of a full crowd at home perhaps I expected more.  This was another absentee effort; and this time they did not have the excuse that they were without team captain Mikko Koivu.  Koivu was there and he didn’t play too bad.  Defensively, the Wild were a mess.  Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky and Mike Lundin were the Wild’s worst defenders but Marco Scandella had his gaffes as well.  Zidlicky and Schultz are particularly frustrating considering the fact they have the most experience by far of the Wild’s defense, but they were big time liabilities on the ice.  When you consider the fact that Zidlicky ($4 million per season) and Schultz ($3.5 million per season) make up well over half of the payroll of the entire blueline it is embarrassing that they can be so terrible night in and out.  They are not physical, they are slow, indecisive and contribute little at either end of the ice.  Zidlicky especially, was supposed to be the team’s offense from the blueline but still has not registered a single goal on the season as he has just 6 helpers in 23 games. 

The team missed the physicality that Clayton Stoner provides on the blueline, and I’d be happy to see both Schultz and Zidlicky sit for a few games.  Unfortunately, the Wild likely lost Jared Spurgeon for a while after the hit he took from Cody McLeod.  You would think that McLeod’s history and the fact Spurgeon was injured in the hit would make it a slam dunk for a suspension but its tough to tell these days.  The last two times Wild players got lit up in dangerous hits, NHL safety czar Brendan Shanahan did nothing at all.  I think its obvious he should get a few games.  One person who was pretty worked up was KFAN’s Bob Kurtz who suggested the league put repeat offenders like McLeod on suspension for 20 games or more to get the message across.  Perhaps he’s on to something.  Check out the hit for yourself. 

Offensively, where has Matt Cullen gone?  Cullen started the season as the surprise go-to leader for clutch goals, but he has disappeared and his game has not only been erratic but undisciplined at times.  The Wild got some contributions from its top lines but nothing from any of the other lines and this team simply does not get enough production from that top unit to make secondary contributions unnecessary.  Simply put this team needs to find itself, and in a hurry.  On Wednesday the team travels to Nashville.  The Predators always work hard, and if Minnesota puts out anything less than 100% they will be hearing Tim McGraw‘s “I like it I love it, I want some more of it” a lot!  I hate that song, and the Wild should not need to hear it a ton on Wednesday to learn that lesson.  Wake up Wild! 

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster this late afternoon was the following:  Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Warren Peters, Jarod Palmer, Brad Staubitz, Cal Clutterbuck, Colton Gillies, Darroll Powe, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Mike Lundin, Justin Falk, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon.  Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Greg Zanon and Clayton Stoner were the ‘healthy’ scratches. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Gabriel Landeskog, 2nd Star Cal Clutterbuck, 3rd Star Ryan O’Reilly

~ Attendance was 19,290 at Xcel Energy Center.

Under-20 World Junior Championships Update:

Dean Blais

Canada 8, Finland 1 ~ It was not a good day for top Wild prospect Mikael Granlund who finished an ugly -5 in an 8-1 thrashing at the hands of tournament host Canada.  While some may say that is to be expected, Granlund is considered by many to be the best player playing outside of the NHL right now and this is not the sort of World Junior Championships debut he probably had in mind.  Granlund did show of his skill and perhaps experience playing against men in his native-Finland as he went 7-for-12 (58.3%) on his draws. 

Sweden 9, Latvia 4 ~ It was a strange game for a fairly talented Swedish squad as they rolled to a 9-4 win but not in the way they expected to do so.  Wild prospect goaltender Johan Gustafsson had a very rough start, giving up 2 goals on the first two shots he faced.  Gustafsson gave up 4 goals and had just made 9 saves in the victory, for an atrocious .692% save percentage.  Minnesota had a better showing from Sweden’s team captain and Wild prospect forward Johan Larsson who had an assist and finished the game with an even rating.  Meanwhile, last summer’s top pick defenseman Jonas Brodin had 2 assists but was tossed from the game early in the 3rd period for checking from behind so he had 12 penalty minutes for his effort.

USA 11, Denmark 3 ~ The games played today already featured a number of one-sided blowouts, but Team USA decided to make a statement of its own that its going to be a force to be reckoned with after obliterating Denmark 11-3.  It was another fantastic game for Wild prospects as Charlie Coyle led Team USA with a hat trick (who was also voted the team’s best player by the media), and team captain Jason Zucker had a goal and 2 assists.  Minnesota was also well represented as Golden Gophers (both Florida prospects) Nick Bjugstad had a goal while Eden Prairie’s Kyle Rau had two goals of his own.  Former Duluth East stand out and current North Dakota blueliner Derek Forbort had two helpers.  Minnesota-born defenseman (son of former North Stars defenseman Mark Tinordi) Jerred Tinordi scored a goal as well. 

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 time 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!

Cullen’s goals lift Wild to 3-1 road win over Colorado but cannot follow it up with a 4-1 home loss to Detroit

Kyle Brodziak hits Matt Duchene

“Up on the Housetop reindeer pause, out jumps good ol’ Santa Claus, down through the chimney with lots of toys, all for the little ones Christmas joys, Ho ho ho!  Who wouldn’t go?  Ho Ho ho!  Who wouldn’t Go?” those are the lyrics to Up on the House Top which has been redone countless times but perhaps most recently by the online indie-pop group Pomplamoose and its performance of the song in Hyundai Commercials that can be seen in almost every break in the action during sporting events.  I am not sure about you but this is the part of the holidays that annoys me perhaps the most, the obligatory “Christmas music” that is thrown in with each and every commercial whether on TV or the radio.  Its nearly impossible to get away from it, yet Pomplamoose’s version of it was custom built to get carved into your mind so that it will never leave.  Maybe this Seattleweekly blog that I found will express more elaborately just how the song itself can slowly drive a person crazy.

http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/reverb/2010/12/pomplamooses_christmas_hyundai.php

Maybe you feel this way about the holidays, and then again maybe you don’t.  And no matter which way you lean on this issue its ok with me.  Afterall its the holidays and looking forward to some much-needed time off from work is more than enough to make me not too bothered one way or the other.  So apart from being annoyed the holidays also brings travel for millions of people all over the world.  Traveling home to visit family and friends, so the grind of getting there is just another part of the whole experience.  The Wild are feeling that grind as they travel to Colorado for a quick one-game road trip.  Although unlike myself who is going to make the trek right after I finish work, the Wild have had a few days to rest before making its way west. 

For holiday travelers, the bustle of bringing along clothes, gifts etc can be quite a production.  It just naturally makes a person feel a little rushed as you meet and greet relatives, friends and as long as the wait was for the holidays to arrive they are over and done with before you know it.  So will the Wild have a pre-Christmas game to remember or just to forget amidst all of the other events of the holidays?  Hopefully it will be far less annoying than the Pomplamoose commercials. 

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First off, let me apologize for the delay.  I have been traveling to see the relatives for the holidays and could not get access to a computer right away, so again I am sorry to have put any of my readers at an inconvenience.  I did see the game, and what I saw really impressed me.  The Wild as most people know do not play firewagon, up-and-down hockey.  While some fans may feel as though Wild management was not delivering on its premise to play an up-tempo brand of hockey I ask them to watch the 2009-10 season all over again and ask me if they like what they’ve seen more the last few games than what they had all of last season.  Is it precisely what they promised, no.  However, I think their current style better fits their personnel and certainly seems to be maximizing what they can get out of their talent than attempting to trade end-to-end rushes with opponents who can easily expose the Wild’s lack of skill and limited team speed.  Now we’re seeing this team play responsibly in its own end, plus show bursts of sustained offense.  They will not be confused for the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980′s but they never should’ve attempted to be like that vaunted group either.  One player who fits this sensible transition from aggressive and reckless to calculated and smart is defenseman Brent Burns.  Burns, from the 2008-09 to 2009-10 seasons was a riverboat gambler in a compuslive gambling addiction sort of way; where he took a lot of gambles and lost far more often than he ever won making him a liability to his team.  Fast forward to this season and Burns has re-stabilized his defensive game and is picking his spots and the result is a player who no longer hurts his team in the defensive zone but is also being rewarded offensively in the process.  Its been a huge turnaround and Burns has gone from enigmatic disappointment to the team’s most valuable defenseman overnight. 

Another player who is gaining his form is forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard; since coming back from a concussion where he lost the entire 2009-10 season and nearly a 1/3 of this season, his return to the Wild has been largely quite positive.  I must admit I was highly skeptical of his return, and have questioned just how short this ‘comeback’ would be; since it didn’t appear to take much to make him miss an entire season.  Bouchard has been a bit of a catalyst for the Wild’s 2nd line of Martin Havlat and Kyle Brodziak which has been a nice mix of grit, skill and creativity that has given Minnesota two lines that can apply legitimate pressure on the opposition.  In their most recent game against the Avalanche, Bouchard even started to show signs he was beginning to assert himself offensively beyond just distributing the puck.  Against Colorado, Bouchard may have only had 3 shots, but there was less hesitation in his game and he was pulling the trigger without taking much time to mull it over.  A classic example was in the 3rd period where Bouchard took a puck from the corner and with no other viable options to pass the puck immediately took the puck to the crease to try to jam it by Peter Budaj.  Normally, Bouchard would’ve gathered the puck and waited and waited for someone to get open and if no one managed to do so he’d just pass it back out to the point.  This time he showed some confidence and a level of fearlessness and that may be the truest sign of them all that he is no longer fearing the physical price that may be paid if he were to take the puck to the high traffic areas of the ice.  The diminutive winger is a far better player when he takes his opportunities to shoot the puck and he does possess an above average shot so its another potentially lethal shooter to add to a Wild offense that still is in need of scoring.  Havlat also had a strong game in Colorado and his overall play has improved considerably.  He is backchecking with tenacity, he is being more involved physically and most of all he is beginning to play like a star calibre player who is the go-to offensive threat the team has been missing since the departure of Marian Gaborik.  There is even a level of swagger to his game as he has gotten under the skin of the opposing defense like he did Calgary’s Robyn Regehr and the Avs’ Adam Foote on Thursday night.  A healthy and confident Havlat means team captain, Mikko Koivu has a cohort on another line to take off some of the focus that was being directed at him throughout most of last season.  The 2nd line has also had some great play by Kyle Brodziak who has displayed grit but also an element of scrappiness when challenged at points in the game where the Wild needs to defend itself.  His 1st period fight with Clay Wilson will never be mistaken for a Bob Probert-esque slugfest but it did send a message to Colorado that the Wild will fight back when disrespect is given.  Their late period fight could even be said to have inspired Colorado’s David Koci decide to take a few liberties with the Wild that ultimately resulted in an Avalanche penalty that gave Andrew Brunette his power play goal that ensured a Minnesota victory. 

The real story of the game was the play of Matt Cullen who was making things happen all over the ice.  Along with Cal Clutterbuck who registered a team-leading 7 shots on goal in the game, the two were creating havoc all over the Avalanche zone as it was personifiedby the Wild’s first goal.  Clutterbuck used his speed and stocky frame to protect the puck as he carried it to the crease on a shorthanded rush where he put a hard forehand shot on goal that was stopped by Craig Anderson and Cullen was right where he needed to be to slam home the rebound to give Minnesota that all important 1-0 lead.  After the Avalanche had managed to tie the game on a play where Niklas Backstrom was unable to corral a puck it was stuffed in by David Jones.  Minnesota answered back near the end of the period, set up by an off target shot by Marek Zidlicky which caromed off the back wall and out front where an opportunistic Cullen tapped it in on an empty net while Anderson was caught out of position.  The Wild did a nice job of using the lively Colorado boards to their advantage and the tally late in the first helped preserve the momentum of Cullen’s shorthanded goal earlier in the period.  In the 2nd period, Minnesota did not just rest on its laurels and spent time attacking Colorado’s zone and had one their best 2nd periods in recent memory.   The 3rd period was rather similar, with the Wild giving a solid effort, doing the little things needed to win by dropping to block shots, backchecking ferociously and continuing to hustle.  The feeling afterwards was one of excitement and relief.  Minnesota was playing some of its best hockey, playing smart, opportunistic hockey.  If only this team had the ability to make this last, but as any kid will tell you, they don’t always get their wish.  

Leave it to the Detroit Red Wings to drop off that lump of coal.

The confidence and swagger from Thursday night’s game was replaced by frantic and sloppy play and that normally spells doom against a team like the Red Wings who have refined puck possession into a science. The mistakes quickly turned into goals and the Wild found themselves in a 2-0 hole before the teams were 9 minutes into the 1st period.  The Red Wings were one step (or more) ahead of the Wild all night long.  The Red Wings outsmarted and outplayed the Wild who found themselves chasing or getting caught standing still as Detroit put on a clinic and in someways the result was quite predictable.  Minnesota was coming off a few days off to play a home game, which throughout the team’s history has been a formula for disaster.  The team usually returns to home ice unfocused, rusty and slow out of the gate; all factors which played into Minnesota giving up 2 goals early.  I am not sure if its because the team hits the snooze button one more time before they make their way to Xcel Energy Center or just being too relaxed but it was another paltry home effort after a long break.  The Red Wings are still one of the league’s best teams, and tonight it was simple, fundamental hockey on display.  The Red Wings goals were the result of simply taking a shot and putting it on goal and or crashing the crease where they were creating all kinds of trouble near Niklas Backstrom’s crease all game long.  Backstrom gives up a few soft goals and the Wild’s hopes were dashed before they were really ever able to start. 

The Wild did not help their cause by committing all kinds of pointless turnovers.  Time and time again the Wild, even with time and space available would simply try to attempt an area pass to another player and these easy giveaways are what the Red Wings thrive on.  They love puck possession and to give away the puck so easily to them simply plays into their hands.  Minnesota’s cast of rookies on its blueline of Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon were turnover machines.  They were throwing the puck away all game long and Detroit was pouncing on those ill-advised passes and turning it into offensive pressure that kept Minnesota bottled up in its zone.  The Wild tried to counter attack and in a few instances were even able to sustain some offensive pressure but then the finishing ability of the Red Wings compared to the Wild really began to separate itself.  Backstrom did have some great saves down the stretch as he attempted to keep the Wild into the game but poor performance on the first 4 power plays prevented Minnesota from getting into the game emotionally and only Brent Burns 3rd period power play tally saved the team from complete embarassment.  Burns’ goal was his 10th of the season, which leads the team and that speaks volumes when the Red Wings boast 3rd liners like Dan Cleary who has 16 goals already. 

With quite a few Red Wings fans in attendance, the Wild looked and sounded like the road team.  The Wild looked tired, easily frazzled and disorganized.  Even simple passes were botched and just skating the puck out of the zone seemed to be frought with danger.  In the largest crowd to see a Wild game for quite a while the team laid an egg and that is not good for an organization which is desparately trying to convince its fanbase that all is not lost.  The Wild do not have much time to forget about this one as it ventures to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets who are vying for their 2nd trip to the post-season in franchise history.      

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster on both nights were as follows: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen, Chuck Kobasew, Patrick O’Sullivan, Kyle Brodziak, Eric Nystrom, Cal Clutterbuck, John Madden, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon and Brent Burns.  Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Cam Barker and Brad Staubitz were the healthy scratches in both games.  Nick Schultz is still dealing with an upper body injury that some have speculated may be a concussion while Guillaume Latendresse is still recovering from surgery to his lower body. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game on Thursday were: 1st Star Matt Cullen, 2nd Star Niklas Backstrom, 3rd Star David Jones

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were for Sunday nights’ tilt were: 1st Star Henrik Zetterberg, 2nd Star Niklas Kronwall, 3rd Star Nicklas Lidstrom

~ Attendance on Thursday’s game at Pepsi Center was 16,323.  Attendance for Sunday night’s home game against Detriot was 19,277, the 5th largest crowd in Wild franchise history.

~ The Aeros got a bitter dose of reality Tuesday night when the Hamilton Bulldogs made their way to Houston’s Toyota Center.  The Aeros found themselves struggling mightily against the small and speedy Bulldogs squad, as Hamilton jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first on goals from recently sent down Dustin Boyd, former QMJHL scoring stud Olivier Fortier and the super shifty Eric Desharnais who buried a shorthanded chance late in the 1st period.  It did not get much better for the Aeros in the 2nd period, as Ryan Russell scored just less than 3 minutes in and Desharnais would score his 2nd shorhanded goal of the night.  However it cannot be said the Aeros just rolled over, as Houston piled on the offense, with some assistance of the power play but could not manage to solve Hamliton’s Curtis Sanford despite firing 23 shots at him in the 2nd period alone.  After Desharnais’ 2nd shorthanded goal of the game, Aeros bench boss Mike Yeo had seen enough and put in Matthew Hackett to replace Anton Khudobin who was struggling all night.  Hackett was perfect, stopping all 12 shots he faced but so was Sanford and Houston fell 5-0.  Khudobin gave up the 5 goals on just 17 shots.  The Aeros will have the next few days off before playing again on Sunday when in-state rival, the Texas Stars come to Houston for an afternoon game.  

~ In Houston’s game on Sunday they battled back to earn a 4-3 shootout victory over in-state rival Texas in its matinee tilt on Sunday.  After gaining a 1-0 lead just 30 seconds into the game on Warren Peters‘ goal, the Stars answered back with two quick goals of their own to have a 2-1 lead going into the 2nd period.  Houston would tie the game with just 1 minute left in the 2nd period on Jon DiSalvatore‘s power play goal.  DiSalvatore would add another power play goal mid-way through the 3rd period to take the lead.  The Stars would tie the game with just 19 seconds left in regulation and the game would go to overtime.  Neither team seemed all that interested in settling the game in the extra 5 minutes as the Stars registered the only shot of OT.  The game would go to a shootout and Houston would prevail after a 7-round barn burner before Cody Almond managed to seal the game by beating former Colorado College standout Richard Bachman.  Hackett had 22 saves in the victory.  

Wild Prospect Report:

D – Tyler Cuma ~ Houston Aeros (AHL)

2010-11 Stats:  9GP  0G 1A = 1pt  4 PIM’s Even

It has been a slow and inauspicious start for Tyler Cuma’s pro hockey career.  After being drafted by the Wild 23rd Overall in 2008 it has been rough going not as much about his play on the ice; its been the injuries he’s sustained since his selection.  Durability certainly is an issue as a lower body injury kept Cuma off the roster for all of October and most of November.  The injuries have conpsired to rob Cuma of valuable time to his development and at this point appears to be at least another season away before he’s NHL ready.  When you consider the team has already had reasonably successful auditions for young blueliners Jared Spurgeon, Nate Prosser and Justin Falk he may need to find a way to set himself a part if he wants to have a chance to earn a roster spot.  The Bowmanville, Ontario-native is a lanky, mobile defensive-defenseman that may remind some of Pittsburgh’s Paul Martin, Cuma is a kid who who will never dazzle you with great skills but plays a subtle but solid game in his own zone.  He will never be a guy that will jump off the stats sheet, and has played reasonably well in his few starts.  Inexplicably he was a healthy scratch in Tuesday’s game against Hamilton, which is a little surprising considering the Aeros were without Marco Scandella.  If the Wild are smart they will keep Cuma in Houston and really let him develop. 

Minnesota Boys Hockey Report:

Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights (North Suburban Conference) ~ 6-0

Most Recent Game: Benilde-St Margaret’s 4, Maple Grove 3

The Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights are off to a terrific start, and Head Coach Ken Pauly has to feel pretty good about his team’s chances this season.  The #4 (Class 2A) ranked Red Knights have a very balanced attack that makes it difficult for their opposition to match lines.  The top line of senior Pat Steinhauser (4G 9A = 13pts) , junior Christian Horn (3G 10A = 13pts) and sophomore sniper Grant Besse (9G 3A = 12pts) are one of the most potent trios in the state.  While the North Suburban Conference is not all that strong from top to bottom, Benilde’s schedule features the team playing against many of the state’s best from more respected conferences and they have already compiled wins against Hill-Murray, Minnetonka and Class 1A power Duluth Marshall this season.  In their most recent game, the Red Knights battled from a 3-1 deficit to score 3 times in the 3rd period to defeat a pretty solid Maple Grove Crimson squad 4-3.  Big-bodied (6’2″) junior goaltender Anders Jecha carries the duties between the pipes for the Red Knights and sports a perfect 4-0 record, a stingy 1.00 goals against average and an impressive .949 save percentage.  Benilde’s next challenge comes against a very strong Eden Prairie squad that is coming off consecutive losses to Edina and Eagan respectively. 

Virginia / Mt. Iron-Buhl Blue Devils (Iron Range Conference) ~ 6-3

Most Recent Game:  Virginia / Mt. Iron-Buhl 2, Hermantown 5

I have little doubt that as of right now the Virginia / Mt. Iron-Buhl Blue Devils are feeling a bit down on their luck as of late.  Having a late game breakdown against regional rival #3 (Class 1A) ranked Hermantown losing 5-2 on Tuesday.  Led by senior superstar Garrett Hendrickson (12 goals, 11 assists = 23 points in 9 games), the Blue Devils thought this would be the year they’d come out victorious against the Hawks but it wasn’t meant to be.  In an effort that Blue Devils’ Head Coach Keith Hendrickson (Garrett’s father) described as his team “not showing up to play” it has to be a huge disappointment to have such a paltry effort at home.  However all is not lost, Virginia / Mt. Iron-Buhl is the #6 ranked team in class 1A, and they have accumulated wins over some decent schools such as class 2A Hopkins, #10 (class 1A) ranked Little Falls and a much-improved Duluth Central squad.  The St. Cloud State recruit, Hendrickson and senior linemate Travis Eddy try to lead a potent Blue Devils Offense while senior defenseman Wes Judnick provides good offensive support from the blueline.  The senior dominated team is also true between the pipes, where Andy Milbridge carries the mail for the Blue Devils where he has a 4-2 record, 2.35 goals against average and a .912% save percentage.  Virginia / Mt.Iron-Buhl plays class 2A Lakeville North at Virginia next week Tuesday.  

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 time 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!

2nd period again haunts the Wild as the speedy Avalanche overwhelm the Wild in 7-4 rout

Ah, the joy of Thanksgiving leftovers.  A virtual endless combination of various meals that one has after the feast on Thursday.  Whether its an open-faced gravy and turkey sandwich or something like mashed potatoes and dinner rolls the variety and the home cooked taste is just irresistible.  Desserts are often another part of the meal that may last a few days after it is all said and done and really is there ever enough excuses to enjoy pumpkin pie?  There are other post-Thanksgiving traditions (besides shopping) there may be a family touch football game or it may be simple trip to the local movie theater or sporting event.  Whatever it is, the fun doesn’t have to stop at Thanksgiving.  The same holds true for the 26 NHL teams that battled one another on Black Friday.  For 22 of those teams, it meant playing in a back-to-back night including the Minnesota Wild who had to venture to Colorado after defeating the Nashville Predators 5-2 at home the afternoon the day before. 

Would the Wild be able to re-focus after earning a solid victory against the Predators or would they resemble a person snoozing after a big Thanksgiving meal? 

The game had a furious pace to start the game as the Avalanche were flying around the ice early.  Minnesota would have the first scoring chance of the game as Matt Cullen led a 3-on-2 but his sharp angle wrist shot was gloved rather easily by Peter Budaj.  The Avalanche would answer back with a scoring chance of its own as some cycling of the puck by Daniel Winnik and Milan Hejduk led to a set up of Paul Stastny who turned and fired a quick shot that surprised Niklas Backstrom to give Colorado a 1-0 lead just over a minute into the game.  Colorado was forechecking very well while the Wild seemed to be standing still and reaching just hoping to keep up as Ryan O’Reilly lifted a backhand just up and over the Minnesota goal.  Colorado’s Kevin Shattenkirk would feel the pain as he was leveled into the boards by a nice hit delivered by Robbie Earl who was racing in on the Wild forecheck.  The Avalanche forecheck was so oppressive to the Wild, all they were able to do was to chip the puck out of the zone and wait for Colorado to regroup and renew its assault in the Minnesota zone.  Minnesota would recieve a break in a bad way as a big slap shot by John-Michael Liles struck his teammate Winnik who fell to the ice in pain and the Wild went on the counterattack.  Mikko Koivu had two quick chances before relaying it back to the point where Nick Schultz dished it over to Brent Burns who wristed a long shot on goal that was stopped by Budaj as Brunette and Koivu tried to pounce before the Colorado puckstopper was able to draw a whistle.  Minnesota would win the ensuing draw and Patrick O’Sullivan ripped a backhand on goal that was steered wide by Budaj.  The Wild really started to pour it on at this point in the game shift after shift as the 2nd line of Martin Havlat, Kyle Brodziak and Cullen would cycle the puck creating a few long-range shots on goal, but that was followed up by a great shift by the top line where O’Sullivan made a nice little move to the net but his wrister would miss just high over the Colorado goal.  Minnesota was also showing much better support in its own zone as well as it was backchecking and matching the Avalanche’s speed as Antti Miettinen was flying all over the ice, but Colorado was always quick to take advantage of open portions of the ice as they took advantage of a line change to free O’Reilly for a slapper that was held onto by Backstrom.  The game would shift in speed and complexion as both teams seemed to want to establish some puck possession and this style of play also led to some great physicality as Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz started to deliver some great hits.  The Wild were counter punching and a steal in the neutral zone by Antti Miettinen set up a surprising 1-on-1 chance and oddly enough Avalanche defenseman Scott Hannan moved towards a trailing Cal Clutterbuck giving Miettinen an open lane but he would not take the shot instead opting to dish it back to Clutterbuck who fanned on a shot the fluttered towards Budaj before being redirected by Miettinen to tie the game 1-1.  I have to admit I was almost going to pull my hair out watching Miettinen pass up on what appeared to be such an obvious shooting opportunity but it worked out in the end.  The Wild were feeling momentum shift in its favor as Burns stepped up to support the play before rifling a quick wrister that was snagged out of the air by a fancy glove save by Budaj.  The Avalanche would earn its first power play when Brad Staubitz tripped up Ryan O’Reilly.  The Avalanche were looking to create offense with speed as Liles raced into the Wild zone firing a shot that was knocked down by Backstrom before being carried out of harm’s way by Nick Schultz.  The Wild’s penalty kill was challenging Colorado through the neutral zone and the Avalanche were settling for long range shots that Backstrom was having little difficulty stopping.  Colorado started to criss-cross a bit as Stastny set up Liles who fired a shot high over the Wild goal as he had a lot of open net to look at but Minnesota would earn the big kill.  As soon as the penalty was killed the Wild went right on the attack as Andrew Brunette set up a pinching Marek Zidlicky for a quick shot that was stopped by Budaj but as the Avalanche tried to clear the zone Zidlicky would hold the line and then skate in and set up a shot by Brunette that was deflected up into the netting.  The Avalanche tried to counter attack but they would take a late penalty that would prove to be very costly as Kevin Porter got his stick into the face of Brent Burns.  On the initial draw, Mikko Koivu drew the puck back to Matt Cullen who was playing the point and he skated towards the high slot and he unloaded a slapper that beat a well-screened Budaj to put the Wild up 2-1 with less than 30 seconds to go in the period.  

The Wild tried to apply pressure with its 2nd line of Havlat, Brodziak and Cullen to start the game but Havlat’s centering pass never reached Cullen as he was leveled by a big hit near the Avalanche crease.  Minnesota was playing aggressively as Zidlicky was pinching again this time passing a puck from beneath the Colorado goal line to Andrew Brunette who tried to set up O’Sullivan for a quick shot, and the Avalanche tried to counter ask Stastny fired a shot that was popped up into the air by Backstrom before being controlled by the skate of Cam Barker before it was escorted out of the zone.  The Avalanche were starting to ramp up its speed and a turnover in the neutral zone turned into a 2-on-1 as Greg Mauldin found some space behind the Wild defense and he beat Backstrom 5-hole to tie the game at 2-2 on a nice play in transition.  Minnesota did not help its cause as Marek Zidlicky took an interference penalty as he held up Paul Stastny off the ensuing faceoff giving the Avalanche its 2nd power play of the game.  The Wild did a nice job of denying time and space and harassing the Avalanche keeping them at bey for the first half of the man advantage.  The Avalanche would begin to move its feet in some plays down low that had the Wild scrambling but Backstrom was able to make the saves and the Wild were able to clear the zone as it circled the wagons near its goalie.  Minnesota tried to go on the attack but an ill-advised cross ice pass by Nick Schultz turned into a 2-on-1 for the Avalanche and in a desperate play Brent Burns slid on the ice to deny the pass and then corralled the puck enough to be able to sweep it out of harm’s way but Schultz would compound his mistake as he took down a Colorado forward for an interference penalty giving the Avs its 3rd power play of the game.  The Avalanche again tried to work neutral zone with speed as Matt Duchene raced into the Wild zone only to be shut down by the leg pad of Niklas Backstrom but Colorado persisted and a play down low by Chris Stewart to feed a pass back to Milan Hejduk led to a quick shot that was in the back of the Minnesota net to give his team a 3-2 lead.  Wild Head Coach Todd Richards gave Nick Schultz a death stare as he exited the penalty box.  The pain would get worse just a few moments later as the Avalanche would continue to swarm in the Wild zone and long shot by Cody McLeod was stopped by Backstrom but Mauldin would move in and lift a shot over a sprawling Backstrom to lift the Avs to a 4-2 lead.  Minnesota tried to press the attack but the Avs were quick to throw it back in the Wild space as their risks would come back to bite them as a terrible decision to attempt a long diagonal outlet pass by John Madden turned into an easy steal that was dished back to Shattenkirk who rifled a snap shot by Backstrom as Colorado now found itself up 5-2.  The Wild would finally create some sustained offensive pressure as the 2nd line worked hard along the boards to create a few chances for Martin Havlat, including one quick wrister which Budaj had lost track of but the puck stayed out of the net.  The Avalanche threw out its energy line and their hustle frustrated the Wild, so much so that Justin Falk in a rare show of anger tried to goad Greg Mauldin into a fight but the speedy forward wanted nothing to do with it.  Minnesota would cut into the Avalanche lead on a delayed penalty when Kyle Brodziak was tripped up in the neutral zone that was carried into the Colorado zone before being dropped back to Brodziak who had no other options so he fired a snap shot that trickled through Budaj to roll over the goal line to cut the lead to two, 5-3.  The Wild tried to build on its most recent tally, as a modified line of O’Sullivan, Clutterbuck and Madden set up O’Sullivan for a big shot that was popped up over the goal by Budaj.  The Avalanche would try to counter attack but Backstrom would come up with a huge leg pad save.  Tempers started to flare a bit too as Ryan O’Byrne and Eric Nystrom chatted a bit after a big hit O’Byrne delivered to Nystrom but they would not drop the gloves and right off the next face off ensued a bizarre tilt between Chris Stewart and Kyle Brodziak.  You could tell right from the start that Brodziak really wasn’t wanting to fight as both circled once another before Stewart engaged and started throwing right hands that were landing on the back of Brodziak.  Stewart clearly was more comfortable in this situation as he tore off the helmet of Brodziak as he kept trying to pummel the back of the head of the Wild forward, and perhaps out of a need to do something Brodziak tried to fire a few right hands of his own before he just opted for a take down with Stewart landing on top of him.  A clear win for Stewart.  As he skated to the Colorado locker room, Stewart mocked the Wild bench while Cal Clutterbuck and others chirped back ask for their own fights.  The fight clearly sparked the Wild bench and they came out with energy in the closing seconds of the period as Havlat created a number of great scoring opportunities; the best of which where Havlat managed to get a shot off from his back that Budaj was just able to get a piece of as Minnesota swarmed all over the Colorado zone. 

Minnesota was going on the attack right away as they were forechecking well to start the period where Martin Havlat tried to hold the zone and then fire a shot on goal.  The Avalanche would counter attack and John-Michael Liles would bear down on Niklas Backstrom where he’d get off a backhand before being checked into the goal by Cam Barker before Barker ran into Backstrom.  Wild Head Coach Todd Richards wanted a goaltender interference call which was ridiculous since it was clearly Barker who ran into Backstrom and his pleas were in vain.  Minnesota was trying to sustain pressure no matter who was on the ice as Brad Staubitz showed some great initiative leading a rush up the ice, but Colorado appeared to be content with just lifting the puck out of the zone and forcing the Wild to carry it up the full length of the ice.  Colorado would counter punch a little as Greg Mauldin used his speed effectively to eluded Nick Schultz before firing a puck towards the top of the crease where David Jones redirected it by Backstrom to give the Avalanche a 3-goal lead, 6-3.  The Wild’s aggressive style led perfectly to the Avalanche to counter attack and it was again Mauldin creating the play as he raced down the right side boards before flinging a wrister on goal that was stopped by Backstrom who gave up a big rebound before it was tapped home by Matt Duchene to make it 7-3 Avalanche.  Minnesota would swap out Niklas Backstrom for Jose Theodore between the pipes.  The Wild were starting to throw its body around probably out of frustration more than anything, as Cam Barker obliterated Clay Wilson with a huge hit, and moments later the Wild would get an amazingly weak boarding penalty on Staubitz for a very soft hit to Ryan O’Byrne who had Minnesota players chirping at him all night.  The Wild would kill off the lethargic Avalanche power play, and then go back on the attack as Cal Clutterbuck fired a high shot that was tipped up into the air by Budaj and back down in his crease where he quickly covered up as Cullen, Clutterbuck and Brodziak waited near the crease.  Minnesota stayed patient and the 2nd line would strike again as a nice assertive play by Martin Havlat worked his way around a defenseman and taking the puck near the crease before sliding a pass to Brodziak who finished nicely to cut the Avalanche lead back to three, 7-4.  The Wild continued to assault the Colorado crease as Brent Burns started to dangle and make some plays and he’d follow up a long wrist shot by Brad Staubitz and he’d charge to the crease which turned into a small flurry before John-Michael Liles was able to cover it up.  Liles would be tagged with a delay of game penalty much to his chagrin.  The power play would be short-lived as Mikko Koivu would earn a tripping call when David Jones stepped on his stick and Koivu berated the official as he made his way to the penalty box.  The Wild would earn a rare 4-on-3 power play as he had his stick slashed from him by Ryan O’Byrne.  Todd Richards would call a timeout to talk things over, and Minnesota had some terrific power play chances right at the start as Brunette was set up well near the crease for a few close in shots but Budaj would shut the door.  The Wild’s power play was very crisp making quick passes setting up Marek Zidlicky with a shot that found the cross bar and out and that was as close as they would get as they fell 7-4. 

Niklas Backstrom was not that great making 31 saves in the loss, and while that may sound decent he seemed to be fighting the puck for most of the night and his inability to control rebounds would allow this game to spiral out of reach.  He certainly had some reasonable stops but he also had some mildly soft goals too that Minnesota simply could not overcome.  In relief, Jose Theodore was perfect stopping the two shots he faced.  Defensively the Wild got caught pinching and some poor penalties; particularly a completely unnecessary interference penalty on Nick Schultz that really turned this game around in a bad way.  Minnesota did not support Backstrom all that well and did not sweep away the rebounds to prevent the Avalanche from having those 2nd chance opportunities.  The Wild struggled to adapt to the excellent speed of the Avalanche’s forwards who just appeared to have an extra few gears than Minnesota all game long.  The penalty was just ok but not great, and against such a potent team as the Avalanche it needed to be perfect. 

Offensively had an ok performance, but its pinching was exposed by the speed of Colorado.  To the Wild’s credit, Minnesota was able to battle back with a diverse attack led by the 2nd line of Brodziak, Cullen and particularly Havlat who is playing with a lot of confidence right now must be considered the Wild’s most dangerous offensive threat.  He is using his skill to draw the defense towards him as well as creating some space for him to take his shots as well.  One player who really has been quiet the last few weeks, and tonight he had one assist was the team’s captain Mikko Koivu who really has to be considered a let down at this point in the season.  His four goals this season are either matched or surpassed by such Wild luminaries as Kyle Brodziak (who scored twice tonight), Cal Clutterbuck, Antti Miettinen, and John Madden.  No offense to these guys but Koivu needs to be closer to 10 right now.  Sure Koivu’s collecting a cool $3.75 million per season, but next year when he’s making $7.29 million we’ll have to see if that creates a little more heat than what he’s been receiving from the Twin Cities media.  The Wild did manage to put 32 shots on goal, one of its better performances in that category and a big reason why they were able to score 4 goals tonight, Brodziak’s first goal was a perfect example of what can happen when you just take a shot when the chance presents itself.

Wild Head Coach Todd Richards was clearly not pleased, “(Backstrom) wasn’t sharp, but the players in front didn’t help him, I liked our first period but again the game gets away from us and we make a few bad decisions and we give up 26 shots in the 2nd period and that’s way too many opportunities.”  Hard to argue with that, but the team has yet to figure out what is the problem in the 2nd.  Richards asked the $64 question to reporters when he noted Brodziak’s 2nd period fight but asking why it was necessary for that to happen for the team to get its energy going again.  Richards says the team’s enigmatic play in the 2nd has caused him to question many of his basic coaching practices; even whether to praise a team after a good period whether that causes his team to relax.  Unfortunately I know precisely how Richards feels as I’ve had teams that have had similar consistent mental struggles and there is no simple answer.  If there was it would’ve been fixed a long time ago.  However there is one thing that needs to be said.  Richards did express to the Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Michael Russo that perhaps it was a mistake to keep Backstrom in as long as he did allowing the game to really get out of hand against a goaltender that was really struggling all game long.  Let’s not make this more than it was, it certainly was not a Patrick Roy situation between then Habs coach Mario Tremblay back in the mid 1990′s but I doubt Backstrom wanted to stay out as long as he did.  Richards probably should have made the switch when the Avalanche had taken the lead 3-2 early in the 2nd period but instead he waited and Minnesota was blitzed for a few more goals and the rout was on.  The team seems to have some well-earned confidence in Jose Theodore and perhaps a switch could have salvaged the Wild’s chances in this game but now we will never know.  Yet it certainly was a decision you can question. 

The Wild will fly to Calgary tomorrow to play against the Flames who are coming off a 4-1 loss at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.   

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, Eric Nystrom, Martin Havlat, John Madden, Patrick O’Sullivan, Matt Cullen, Brad Staubitz, Robbie Earl, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Schultz, Justin Falk, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, Cam Barker and Brent Burns.  Jose Theodore shared duties between the pipes with Niklas Backstrom who had the start.  Clayton Stoner was the lone healthy scratch.  Guillaume Latendresse still recovering from surgeries to his groin and a sports hernia while Chuck Kobasew has left the team to deal with personal issues.  Pierre-Marc Bouchard recently asked Wild assistant coach Dave Barr to practice him extra hard as he hopes to get his way back into the lineup. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Greg Mauldin, 2nd Star Kevin Shattenkirk, 3rd Star Milan Hejduk

~ Tonight’s attendance at Pepsi Center was 18,007. 

~ The Houston Aeros had a big night from youngster Jared Spurgeon who helped give the Wild’s affiliate a hard fought 2-1 shootout victory over its old IHL rival Milwaukee Admirals at Toyota Center in Houston.  The Aeros got out to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Spurgeon who blasted home a point shot on a nice feed by Casey Wellman.  The lead would hold until the 3rd period when the Admirals were able to light the lamp when Aaron Johnson intercepted a clearing attempt and fired a wrister that eluded Anton Khudobin.  The game tied at 1-1 would go into overtime with no decision so it moved onto a shootout.  The Aeros scored first when Casey Wellman found the back of net behind Mark Dekanich.  Khudobin was rock solid, stonewalling the Admirals’ first 3 shooters before Chris Mueller was finally able to solve him.  The firery Russian goalie would be perfect down the stretch denying defenseman Roman Josi and Jonathan Blum down the stretch and this would give young defenseman Spurgeon the chance to be a hero and he did not disappoint burying the chance to seal an Aeros victory.  Khudobin had 28 saves in the victory. 

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 time 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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