Minnesota overcomes horrible 1st period to prevail 4-2 in Columbus

RJ Umberger & Nick Schultz

Hall of Fame weekend normally doesn’t hold a lot of interest for me.  The inductees are often just formalities as their career accomplishments and statistics.  Occasionally, a player with limited accomplishments sometimes bypasses more obvious choices.  This year’s class; which includes Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Ed Belfour, and Mark Howe.  Its the decision to include Mark Howe that draws my ire a bit.  While Howe had a fairly solid NHL career, and a stellar career in the WHA does he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame more than South St. Paul’s Phil Housley?  Housely went from playing in high school to being a star in the NHL.  Housley put up 1,232 points in 1,495 games.  While Housely’s detractors will mention the fact he split time at forward and defense his statistics are impressive at either position.  The difference?  Housley didn’t have a legendary hockey figure for a father, and let’s not forget he’s not Canadian either.  Whether the Hockey Hall of Fame wishes to admit it or not, but the group tends to see Canadian-born players with rose-tinted glasses, its how players like Dick Duff could get in before more worthy candidates.  Either way, I think Housely should’ve been in this time around. 

Minnesota is in the last game of its 5-game road trip.  It has had a mix of success and pathetic failure through its last 4 games.  It may look on paper as though Minnesota is entering the easiest game of this road trip as it faces league-basement dweller Columbus but history has shown the Blue Jackets always raise their game when the Wild come to town.  The Wild will have to be ready to play if it wants to earn a win against what will likely be a very desperate and eager Columbus team.  Will Minnesota play like its capable of playing or will it be another game where you’re questioning if this team has what it takes? 

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Rick Nash

1st Period Thoughts:  The Blue Jackets were exhibiting that hunger early, as Sami Pahlsson rips a shot early that had Niklas Backstrom reaching to make a leg-pad save.  Minnesota would try to answer some of that energy early on by putting out its 4th line of Warren Peters, Colton Gillies and Brad Staubitz.  Staubitz would give the Blue Jackets their first power play as he leveled rookie John Moore with a late check that sent him careening into the boards.  Columbus enforcer Jared Boll wanted to fight Staubitz but the officials would step in and other than a few nasty words.  The Blue Jackets would come ridiculously close to leading the game as Ryan Johansen and Rick Nash couldn’t get the puck into the back of the net as they slid shot after shot through the crease to no result.  Columbus had to really feel snakebitten as they had Backstrom flopping around his crease with tons of space up high to work with and yet nothing ont he scoreboards to show for it.  Perhaps out of frustration more than anything, James Wisniewski would drive a slapper on goal that was frozen by Backstrom and the Blue Jackets would crash the net and a scuffle would take place near the Wild crease.  Matt Calvert and Boll for Columbus and Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck for 10-minute game misconducts for the chirping they were participating in.  Minnesota would quickly earn a power play soon after the ugliness near the crease as Pahlsson was hit with a hooking penalty.  The Wild had a good chance early as Marek Zidlicky stepped into a slapper that just missed wide.  A few moments later, Zidlicky would help out the home team as he attempted an ill-advised pass that went right into the skates of Kyle Brodziak that he couldn’t play and the puck was picked up by a forechecking Antoine Vermette and he raced towards Backstrom and fired a shot on goal that was stopped but Vermette swept home the rebound to lift the Blue Jackets to a 1-0 lead.  The shorthanded goal actually drew a few cheers from the near non-existent home crowd.  The Blue Jackets continued to show jump and energy while the Wild appeared slo and sluggish as Derek Dorsett rocked Zidlicky with a clean hit.  Warren Peters immediately went after Dorsett and the more experienced pugilist Dorsett quickly took control of the fight.  Peters traded punches for a while but Dorsett took over and Peters simply leaned back and looked to the official to stop the melee.  A clear win for Dorsett, but to add insult to possible injury the Wild also gave Columbus a power play because of a cross checking call on Clayton Stoner.  The Blue Jackets were moving well but a bit more relaxed from its first man advantage where it looked hungry and eager.  Columbus would score late in the man advantage on a diagonal pass from Nikita Nikitin that snuck by Dany Heatley right to Mark Letestu for an easy tap in goal, 2-0 Blue Jackets.  You could see the annoyed and disappointed glare from Mike Yeo‘s face as he called out the next group to hit the ice.  At this point in the period, the domination was evident beyond the scores as Minnesota was being outshot 16-3.  The Blue Jackets were skating well as Minnesota was trying to climb out of the hole it had dug for itself.  Minnesota was hustling more, but even when it had chances to shoot it wasn’t able to put anything on goal.  After a few inconclusive minutes where neither team was able to accomplish much of anything, the Wild would earn a power play when Rick Nash was called for hooking.  On the power play the Wild didn’t managed to accomplish much of anything other than a few long range blasts from the point.  The 1st period couldn’t have ended much worse than it did.  Out shot 18-5, and being dominated by the worst team in the NHL.  An abysmal start and I wonder if Yeo rips into him or simply says, “you get what you deserve boys.” 

2nd Period Thoughts:  Minnesota’s hustle was better to start the 2nd as they had nearly a minute of power play time at its disposal, and a point shot by Jared Spurgeon was redirected by Heatley that was stabbed to the corner by the knob of Steve Mason’s stick.  The Wild would send out its energy line of Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe and Nick Johnson and the line was able to create some pressure on the forecheck, as Johnson hammered a snap shot that was steered aside by Mason.  The Blue Jackets were counter punching, and their top line nearly cashed in as an intercepted pass turned into an odd man rush led by Letestu and the former Penguiin attempted a cross-ice saucer pass that just flailed to click with Ryan Johansen.  Minnesota found itself on its heels over the next few minutes, just happy to chip the puck out of the zone as the Wild’s captain floated back to the defensive zone as if he was on a vacation.  The Wild would get a bit of a break a few minutes later as Columbus was given a ‘too many men’ penalty.  Minnesota’s power play was spending a lot of time on the wall early, but they’d finally get things settled down as Mikko Koivu worked the point and he’d dish it to Nate Prosser who fanned on a shot that turned out to be a nice pass to Setoguchi who was waiting near the goal crease and he tried to spin around and shoot but was denied by Mason.  Soon after this great chance, the Wild worked the puck to the point and Jared Spurgeon ripped a slapper that got to Mason who made the initial save as he stopped Brodziak from close range and Matt Cullen swept in and lifted a backhander over Mason to cut the Columbus lead in half 2-1.  Minnesota would add another goal just 20 seconds later as Warren Peters hammers a slap shot that was stopped by Mason and with another flurry near his crease it was Nick Johnson who would gather up the loose biscuit and backhand a shot over the Columbus goalie to tie the game at 2-2.  The game had pulled a complete 180, where they seemed to be circling the drain, but now the Wild seemed to be poised to pull ahead.  Both clubs were sensing the urgency and the game would open up.  Columbus; perhaps a bit ornery their lead disappeared so quickly started to pour it on and tried to be physical on the forecheck as well.  The Blue Jackets’ Fedor Tyutin would haul down Cal Clutterbuck who was hustling for a loose puck giving Minnesota another penalty late in the period.  On the power play, the Wild were perhaps a bit too relaxed early as they nearly gave up another shorthanded goal as a good hustle play by Letestu nearly became an easy goal for Derek McKenzie that he pushed wide of the mark.  Minnesota would regroup and they nearly cashed in the closing seconds as Nick Schultz would feint at a shot and then pass it down to Devin Setoguchi who snapped a heavy shot on goal that was knocked down by Mason and Marc Methot would hold up Matt Cullen before he could pounce on another rebound and Mason would cover up the puck for a whistle.  Late in the 2nd, Mikko Koivu would pick up a loose puck and race down the ice in a 3-on-1 with Spurgeon and Heatley and instead of taking a shot with two players available to pounce on a rebound he passed it to Heatley who flung a wrist shot that would deflect off the stick of a Blue Jacket defender and up into the netting.  As bad as the 1st period, the 2nd period was a nice recovery.  Minnesota outshot the Blue Jackets 12-10.  Better hustle and a simplified approach allowed the Wild to get back into this game.  Let’s see if they can finish it strong. 

3rd Period Thoughts:  Both clubs showing some hustle and grit early as they hoped to build some momentum with its 3rd and 4th lines.  The Blue Jackets were taking every opportunity to finish their checks and this would create a little space as R.J. Umberger drove to the crease where Backstrom kicked away a shot but as he did so it was Nick Schultz was water skiing as he did so he’d earn a trip to the penalty box.  The Blue Jackets power play was able to create the first big shot from the perimeter but Minnesota’s defense was supporting Backstrom very well and able to sweep away rebounds.  A few moments later, Jeff Carter would lift his stick right into the face off Falk that struck him right underneath the eye, and Wild Athletic Trainer Don Fuller would check up on the big defenseman but he was ok.  Carter would earn a trip to the sin bin and Minnesota would go on the power play.  Minnesota’s power play was ok, moving the puck out to the point where they tried to set up a redirect by Heatley that fluttered high and wide of the Blue Jackets’ goal.  The play was going back and forth after the power play and Minnesota was gaining confidence with each rush as a broken up rush by Jared Boll would be countered with a nice rush by Pierre-Marc Bouchard that skated down the right side with speed and then dropped a pass back Clutterbuck who bombed a one-timer by Mason to lift the Wild to a 3-2 lead.  The Blue Jackets were trying to press for the equalizer but puck luck would again go the Wild’s way as Columbus somehow failed to cash in on a scoring chance near the crease that seemed to be another gimme but Nash’s shot struck the pipe and went out instead.  Moments later another quality chance for Columbus from close range, with the benefit of traffic near the crease but Backstrom made a great save.  Columbus was continue to create dangerous chances as a soft Wisniewski shot turned into a rebound opportunity for Nash as he spun a backhand that skittered through the crease.  With the Blue Jackets pressing the attack, Minnesota’s defenseman were content to chip the puck off the glass / boards and just hope to clear the zone and force Columbus to reset itself.  Nash was playing like a man possessed, as he was denied on a great initial chance and as he gathered up his rebound and swept around the back of the Wild goal his backhand wrap around would be a bit short and go off the side of the goal.  Minnesota was leaning heavily on its energy line, and its ability to win battles on the wall.  With just over 3 minutes left in regulation, the Wild were in full rope-a-dope mode, just hoping to tie up the Blue Jackets and prevent them from having any real quality scoring chance.  Columbus was still able to create some excellent opportunities as a battle lost along the boards squirted out towards the point where Tyutin uncorked a blast that was snagged out of the air by Backstrom.  With about a 1:33 left, Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel decided to talk things over with his club.  The timeout brought about a much-needed respite for a Wild defense that had been playing a man short for over half of the game.  Minnesota would put out Devin Setoguchi, Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, and the Memorial Cup winning pairing of Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon while the Blue Jackets sat their goalie for a sixth attacker.  The Wild would win the all important draw, and Jared Spurgeon picked up the puck and motored up the ice for what looked like a great chance at a quick empty netter but instead of shooting he just backhanded the puck deep into the Columbus zone.  Columbus would charge back up the ice and the Blue Jackets would force a shot near the slot that would hit a cluster of bodies and float wide and it was Spurgeon hustling along the boards to get the puck out of the zone and it was Setoguchi who picked up the loose biscuit and he’d backhand the empty netter to seal a 4-2 victory. 

Niklas Backstrom was again very solid, making 43 saves in the victory.  Especially late as Columbus was pouring it on he made himself big enough in the crease to get his body, stick and other limbs on the puck to keep it out of the goal.  He also got great support from his defense; with the exception of Zidlicky who was again awful.  Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Prosser and Jared Spurgeon were all extremely solid down the stretch.  They made smart plays with the puck showing good strength along the wall and poise under pressure.  I think Zidlicky’s loss was maybe even a blessing for the Wild, because his early gaffe nearly cost the Wild the game.  Yeo characterized Zidlicky’s injury as having his “bell rung” but wouldn’t go as far to say it was a concussion. 

Offensively, the Wild again managed to win a game where its top line was not all that much of a factor.  While Setoguchi scored the empty netter, it was the 2nd and 3rd lines bringing home the bacon once again.  Matt Cullen continues to light the lamp, which has been a god send considering the fact Heatley and Koivu have combined for a whopping 6 gooals this season.  One thing that baffles me, is the fact the team called up but then chose to sit down Casey Wellman.  Wellman is basically a top 6 or bust type of forward; worthless as a grinder but a speedy and skilled player with some reasonable hands, not to mention a player who has had gained some confidence while thriving down in Houston.  Why call him up; when you have an opening on the Top 6 just to make him a healthy scratch?  I understand Columbus has a tougher player like Jared Boll dressing, but consider who you’re playing.  The Blue Jackets are desperate, why dress a player (Brad Staubitz) for Boll to dance with?  Why not force the desperate team to play hockey instead of revving themselves up with a few ill-timed penalties and Staubitz early 1st period infraction was just that.  Stupidity. 

It was not a great effort; the 1st period was horrendous and they’re extremely lucky to have come away with a win, let alone in regulation.  Sure, its the sign of good teams that they win games they may not deserve to win but you don’t want to roll the dice as often as the Wild did on this road trip and expect to come out ahead in the win / loss column.  However its tough to be too mad when you find yourself at the top of the Northwest Division and in 2nd place in the Western Conference while Vancouver sits out of the playoff picture.  As far as I can tell, hell did not freeze over, yet.  Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had this to say to the media, “Its what we expected, it wasn’t going to be perfect for us, its been a long trip, but I’m really impressed with the character of our guys, who found a way to elevate their game and got a character win tonight.”  I was a bit surprised he was as forgiving for the team’s awful first period as he was, who seemed to chalk it up to the travel and fatigue of a 5-game road trip.  He added, “we may always win, but we’ll go down swinging.”  Either way, its a team that keeps finding a way to win and there is something to be said for that. 

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Mikko Koivu, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak, Brad Staubitz, Warren Peters, Nick Johnson, Cal Clutterbuck, Colton Gillies, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon.  Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Guillaume Latendresse, Marco Scandella and Casey Wellman were the healthy scratches. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Cal Clutterbuck, 3rd Star Antoine Vermette

~ Attendance was 10,833 at Nationwide Arena, OUCH! (and I think that number was generous).

Where are they now?!?!

Since I feel I’ve covered the progress of the Wild’s prospects fairly well the last month or so; I thought why not take a few opportunities to find out what happened to the former members of the Wild.  Some of these players only had a brief stay in the State of Hockey while others were key components of the organization in a segment I’m calling, Where are they now?!?! 

F – Sebastien Bordeleau (EHC Biel, Swiss League) ~ While he only played 14 games with the Wild, Sebastien Bordealeau does hold the distinction that he is the only 1-goal Wild player in franchise history to have his lone tally come through a penalty shot.  After being waived by the Wild, he would leave in the NHL completely after the 2001-02 season and take his game to Switzerland where he’s had a fair amount of success.  Currently, Bordeleau has 5 goals and 16 points in 21 games. 

C – Stacy Roest (Rapperswil, Swiss League) ~ Roest was selected as part of the expansion draft prior to the start of the 2000 season.  After playing two seasons with the Wild, the speedy centerman found himself toiling in the minors for Detroit (which was the same team he was claimed from in the Expansion draft), so at the start of the 2003-04 season he opted to play in Switzerland and has been there ever since.  Like Bordeleau, he has had a fair amount of success in the Swiss league; and currently has 3 goals and 12 points in 23 games. 

D – Lubomir Sekeras (Dukla Trencin, Slovak Extraleague) ~ The Minnesota Wild drafted Sekeras, a seasoned professional from the ranks of Europe to augment what it got during the Expansion draft.  A little known fact is that Sekeras was the team’s 2nd leading scorer during its inaugural season still with the club after it had chosen to trade top scorer Scott Pellerin to the Carolina Hurricanes.  Sekeras’ tenure with the Wild ended after the 2002-03 season, but he played just 4 more games in the NHL for Dallas.  After failing to stick with the Stars he bounced around various Euorpean leagues in Sweden, Germany, Czech Republic, and his native Slovakia.  “Sufferin” Sekeras is still plying his trade with Dukla Trencin and has 1 goal and 4 points in 34 games. 

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!

Heatley, Setoguchi and hustle give Wild home opening 4-2 victory over Columbus

Wild vs. Blue Jackets

In Minnesota, hockey never really stops.  Summer youth programs and adult leagues continue throughout the summer.  The pace of life at local arenas does slow down a bit but that is steadily changing even if it doesn’t quite feel like summer has completely vanished as of yet.  The Xcel Energy Center is no different since the team opened training camp midway through September.  College hockey, soon to be followed by high school hockey will begin and pretty soon hockey parents / fans will feel their life become rather busy again.  The Wild have certainly raised the level of expectation with their combination of off-season moves and their decision to fire Todd Richards (who will be back at the “X” tonight as an assistant coach for the Blue Jackets) and replace him with 38-year old Mike Yeo.  I think there is an interesting mix of both nervous energy and excitement as the Wild start their 2011-12 season.  In many ways, much the same can be said of the Wild’s opponent, its expansion cousin Columbus.  Columbus has only made the playoffs once in franchise history, and has never won a playoff game after being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in its lone appearance in .  Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson is clearly feeling the heat and he tried to boost the confidence of Columbus’ waning fan base by making some significant moves of their own in trading for Jeff Carter and adding defenseman James Wisniewski.  Wisniewski will be sitting for another 7 games after a dangerous hit he put on Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck in a pre-season game, but either way Columbus has recognized the time for action is now instead of a slower and more steady building approach through the draft.  The Blue Jackets stumbled out of the gate after losing 3-2 to division rival Nashville yesterday.  Columbus, whether they wish to admit it or not have always had a bit of chip on their shoulder and when they play the Wild they seem to have a little chippiness to it.  No doubt the dual suspensions to Wisniewski and Brad Staubitz eliminate a few of the usual suspects for that animosity to flare up into fisticuffs but I would still expect it to be a bit ugly out there tonight. 

The Wild had a nice start to their pre-season, but lost their last 4 games to go 3-4.  While pre-season games mean nothing, its tough to say the team built up a lot of momentum going into its first regular season game.  With so many new faces and so much inexperience it is almost inevitable for the Wild to have some growing pains but now the games count and if Minnesota suffers through another slow start could have an anxious (Wild) fan base have that feeling of “here we go again.”  Wild fans will be looking for a team with more intensity, and will be watching closely for chemistry on its top two lines which many hope will make Minnesota a more dangerous opponent.  So will the Wild match expectations this evening? 

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1st Period Thoughts:  My first impression was you could see a definite difference in team speed that had been lacking the last few seasons.  The Wild were just flying around the ice from the drop of the puck.  I know Columbus played the night before, but Minnesota seemed to have gears that the Blue Jackets did not.  The top line of Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi was looking hungry as Koivu had a great early move down low where he used his agility to lose the defender and then take the puck right to the crease.  It was clear they were trying to set up Dany Heatley for a blast, and he didn’t disappoint.  He doesn’t have great wheels, but he knows where the open areas on the ice are and I think they will light the lamp sooner rather than later.  I have to admit, I was surprised to see that the Wild put out Dany Heatley on the penalty kill, but it didn’t turn out too bad as a faceoff win in the Minnesota zone turned into a 2-on-1 for Heatley and Koivu and after ‘Heater’ tee’d up a slapper it should have been the perfect set up for Koivu who fanned on what should have been a gimme.  The Wild’s increased team speed was also evident in its ability to transition as Guillaume Latendresse made a beautiful outlet pass up to Pierre-Marc Bouchard who delivered a perfect saucer pass to a rushing Matt Cullen who got behind the defense and he beat Steve Mason on a nice little wrist shot.  Columbus looked tired, except Rick Nash who was causing the Wild some problems in their own zone as he drew two penalties.  Yet at that point you could see the influence of former Wild coach Todd Richards as the Blue Jackets muddled their way through two very forgettable power plays that were punctuated that aforementioned shorthanded 2-on-1 that Koivu fanned on.  I thought the Wild got excellent play from defenseman Jared Spurgeon who looked poised and fast as he glided around the ice, and it was his hustle that resulted in the Wild padding its lead.  Minnesota’s power play started out a bit slow as the team looked a little wary of making a mistake, but Spurgeon bailed them out as he led a late power play rush where he dished the puck to Marco Scandella who gave us shades of Brent Burns as he skated in and beat Mason with a pretty wrist shot to give the Wild a 2-0 lead.  Brett Bulmer looked a little lost out there; like a deer in headlights but we’ll see if he can calm down as the game goes on.  On the flip side I like how Colton Gillies played and he looked pretty comfortable out there.  Niklas Backstrom wasn’t tested all that much but Columbus was trying to get some traffic near his crease but for the most part he was seeing the puck pretty well.  Yet, I’d advise Backstrom to stay in his crease on the penalty kill because he nearly gave Columbus a freebie on one of his sojourns during their 2nd power play.  Overall it was a great 1st period for the Wild.  Hopefully they can keep up this intensity. 

2nd Period Thoughts:  Predictably, the Blue Jackets had a bit more fire this period after being absolutely dominated in the 1st.  The Wild were scrambling a bit in their own zone, and Columbus came dangerously close to cashing in as R.J. Umberger‘s backhander slides just off the right post and out on an open net as Backstrom was sprawled out near the top of his crease.  Nick Schultz was showing some good jump in his skates as he started the rush a few times.  Minnesota’s speed was again evident in 4-on-4 play as they were pressing the attack with an interesting forward combination as Darroll Powe skated with Dany Heatley.  Columbus was determined and created a few chances as Derrick Brassard nearly cashed in on a wrap around only to be denied by a timely leg pad save by Backstrom.  Backstrom had a few good stops early to keep Columbus at bey and prevented them from gaining much momentum.  Minnesota would again pounce on the man advantage, just 10 seconds after Marc Methot‘s holding penalty as Pierre-Marc Bouchard made a pretty pass from the top of the right faceoff circle to Heatley who deftly redirected the pass top shelf by Mason to give the Wild a 3-1 lead.  The sellout crowd gave a huge ovation to Heatley’s tally which is the kind of play the Wild have simply been unable to create since the departure of Marian Gaborik.  The crowd also felt bold enough to serenade Steve Mason with a “Mason, Mason” chant which is the first time I’ve heard something like that since the playoffs.  The Blue Jackets would try to rally back but the Wild’s defense was responsible, and Marco Scandella showed another aspect of his game as he used his 6’3″ frame to body R.J. Umberger off the puck and then control it and work the biscuit out of the zone.  The Wild would strike late in the period as Dany Heatley carried the puck into zone where he turned and slid a cross-ice pass back to a waiting Devin Setoguchi who unloaded a slap shot that Mason just couldn’t get enough of and Minnesota was up 4-1.  The big one-timer gave me flashbacks of Brian Rolston.  The Wild also had some great shifts from its 4th line of Nick Johnson, Darroll Powe and Colton Gillies as they caused the Blue Jackets fits with a suffocating forecheck.  Brett Bulmer had a much better period, as he was asserting himself physically even earning a nice cheer as he delivered a nice hit to Columbus’ captain Rick Nash.  Columbus would score with less than 5 minutes left in the period as they stormed the crease and Backstrom tried to snow angel but couldn’t cover up the puck and it was shoveled in by Derek Dorsett.  There was a review but it was pretty clear that Dorsett was in the crease because Dany Heatley had pushed him there and it was the former Medicine Hat Tiger who was able to get his stick on it to put it in the back of the Wild’s goal.  The Blue Jackets played a bit better, but Minnesota still was more or less in total control which is something that was missing far too many times last season.  A nice change for sure.  Pierre-Marc Bouchard would get his stick into the grill of Matt Calvert causing him to be left a bloody mess earning a double minor despite angry pleas by Columbus’ bench boss Scott Arniel.  Either way, the Wild have a lot to be happy about with two periods behind them. 

3rd Period Thoughts:  The 3rd period was pretty sloppy.  The result was lots of end-to-end action which the fans liked, but its something I have little doubt head coach Mike Yeo will be lecturing his team about in their post-game talk.  Kyle Brodziak had a nice-redirect chance that was stopped by Curtis Sanford who replaced Steve Mason in the 3rd period.  At the other end of the ice, Niklas Backstrom made a number of high quality saves as Columbus tried to claw its way back into the game.  Minnesota was trying to be a little cute in the neutral zone and hope for a cheap turnover and they nearly got their wish as Cal Clutterbuck stole a puck and raced in and he fired a shot high over the goal as he attempted to pick a corner.  Columbus would score with less than 5 minutes left as Maxim Mayorov found a little space and he rifled a shot by Backstrom to cut the lead to 4-2.  The Blue Jackets pulled Sanford at around the 2-minute mark for a desperate attempt to tie the game but it wasn’t meant to be as Minnesota circled the wagons and earned the victory. 

Niklas Backstrom was excellent, making 29 saves; including many close-in chances in the 3rd period.  He was a big source of strength all night, but he did make life perhaps a little too interesting during his little excursions from the crease.  Defensively the Wild were pretty good, but at times were perhaps a little soft near the crease.  However, one thing that was very noticeable was just how deliberate Wild blueliners were with the puck instead of just chipping it out of the zone without any thought as to who may have been open.  It was that elimination of pointless turnovers that helped prevent a considerable portion of extra chances for the Blue Jackets.  The team also was perfect on the penalty kill, including a 4-minute double minor the Wild’s penalty kill yielded precious few chances for Columbus to pounce on. 

Offensively the Wild were pretty solid through the first two periods of the game.  The 1st line of Koivu, Setoguchi and Koivu was creating chances early and often each member of the line was taking its opportunities to fire the puck on goal.  The 2nd line of Cullen, Bouchard and Latendresse was pesky and cycled the puck very effectively all game long.  Minnesota’s power play certainly has some weapons and its two goals came up huge in the team’s win this evening. 

I must admit, I took sadistic glee in seeing a Todd Richards’ coached team struggle tonight.  The Blue Jackets clearly did not have a lot of jump in their skates tonight, but their overall execution was sloppy and disjointed.  In otherwords, a lot like a Todd Richards coached team.  While I realize Scott Arniel is the one calling the shots, I couldn’t help but relish the thought of Todd Richards feeling the pain of another loss at Xcel Energy Center.  Its ok Todd, that’s a gift of a loss for all the ones you put us through over your two years here!  I know that may sound bitter, but I don’t care, I was glad to see him get canned. 

The obvious intangible of the evening that really made the difference was the team’s speed and intensity throughout most of the game.  When the Wild were really skating hard the Blue Jackets really had no time and space and the scoring chances and odd-man rushes were plentiful.  This will be the way Wild win games this season and if they can maintain this level of hustle throughout most of the season I think you have to like the team’s chances in most match ups.  All in all it was a terrific debut for Head Coach Mike Yeo and I think the team has given fans reason to be excited and hopeful about their chances this season.   

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Darroll Powe, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Brett Bulmer, Nick Johnson, Guillaume Latendresse, Colton Gillies, Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon, Greg Zanon and Marco Scandella.  Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Justin Falk and the suspended Brad Staubitz were the healthy scratches this evening. 

~ The 3 Stars of the game as selected by Minnesota Fans were:  1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Dany Heatley, 3rd Star Matt Cullen

~ Darroll Powe wore #14, Brett Bulmer wore #19, and Nick Johnson wore #25.  

~ Tonight’s attendance was 19,040, which was the 2nd largest opening night crowd in franchise history. 

Minnesota Lynx

~ I know this is not hockey related, but the State of Hockey News would like to congratulate the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx on their Championship.  At a time when so many Minnesota sports teams being a total laughingstock (cough Vikings, Twins, Gophers football team cough), any team that can achieve ultimate success deserves recognition and celebration.  Well done Lynx!

Wild Prospect Updates:

C – Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ Phillips had a big night for the Sea Dogs as he potted a goal and an assist in a 8-2 victory over the Rimouski Oceanic.  He also was strong in the faceoff circle winning 15 out of 27 draws (55.5%) as well as being a +2.  Here is a great little player video made by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on the Wild prospect.  Enjoy! 

C – Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ The Pori, Finland native is off to a torrid start for the Gophers, lighting the lamp twice an adding an assist in a 6-0 rout of the visiting Sacred Heart Pioneers.  Haula had a goal and an assist on Friday night making it 3 goals and 5 points for the weekend.  Not too shabby! 

D – Sean Lorenz (Notre Dame, CCHA) ~ The Littleton, Colorado-native had an excellent opening weekend to his junior year as he tallied a goal and an assist in the Fighting Irish’s 5-3 win over the UMD Bulldogs.  Lorenz is not typically known for his offensive acumen but he tallied a goal and two assists in the two game series.   

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!