Poor finish squanders a promising start in 3-2 overtime road loss to Vancouver

Niklas Backstrom

“We’ve known each other for so long, your heart’s been aching, but you’re too shy to say it, inside we both know what’s been going on, we know the game and we’re going to play it, and if you ask me how I’m feeling, don’t tell me you’re too blind to see, never going give you up, never going let you down, never going to run around and desert you, never going to make you cry, never going to going to say goodbye, never going to tell a lie and hurt you” are lyrics from the Rick Astley song Never Going to Give You Up.  For whatever reason that was the song that was going through my head as I watched Minnesota struggle its way through its game against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.  True to form, the Wild never gave up and managed to steal two points from the Oilers as Dany Heatley scored with just 1.2 seconds left in the 3rd to tie the game and eventually prevailing in the shootout.  The victory provided much needed relief for a fan base that was pretty combative and ornery after the team’s poor showing against the Pittsburgh ‘B’ team on Tuesday.  The Wild now face their most hated rival, the Vancouver Canucks who are still Canada’s best hope for a Stanley Cup in a rare Saturday afternoon tilt. 

The Canucks have plenty of offensive weapons, led by Daniel and Henrik Sedin but so far Vancouver has struggled a bit early on as Roberto Luongo endures another slow start.  Vancouver is going to start Cory Schnieder this afternoon as they hope to right the ship after a convincing 5-1 victory over Nashville on Thursday.  Minnesota must not have a slow start in Vancouver if it wants to pull off the upset.  The Wild have lost their last 7 games in Vancouver, can Minnesota turn it around today? 

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Mikko Koivu & Ryan Kesler

1st Period Thoughts:  The period started out with both teams looking a bit cautious in their play.  Minnesota was skating better than they did on Tuesday, and one player who seemed to have injected the team with a bit more speed was Nick Johnson who was playing on the 3rd line with Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak.  The Wild was being physical, taking every opportunity to hit as Colton Gillies, Brett Bulmer and Cal Clutterbuck were dishing out checks.  The physical play was drawing a reaction from Vancouver who retaliated and White Bear Lake-native Andrew Alberts got his arms up on a hit on Brett Bulmer that earned him a roughing minor and giving Minnesota its first power play.  On the man advantage the Wild just failed to connect as Mikko Koivu set up Dany Heatley but he fanned on the shot and it would be cleared by Alexander Edler.  The Wild’s power play also flirted with disaster as Sami Salo found Maxim Lappierre on a break away and he’d race in behind Marco Scandella his slap shot was denied by a fine save by Niklas Backstrom.  Minnesota would recover and it was Devin Setoguchi who worked a pretty give and go play with Dany Heatley and Setoguchi found some space and beat Cory Schneider on a pretty backhander just after the power play had expired to put the Wild up 1-0.  The goal seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the slightly sparse home crowd.  Minnesota would earn another power play shortly after Setoguchi’s goal, as Keith Ballard tried to slow up Colton Gillies who was attempting to forecheck.  This time the power play looked pretty disjointed.  The Canucks were challenging the entry into the offensive zone and the Wild struggled to get set up on the power play.  Just a few minutes after this failed power play, the Wild would earn another power play as Dale Weise cross checked Colton Gillies (who seemed to be getting lots of extra hits in the first period).  Minnesota’s power play again sputtered, as the Wild were perhaps a bit too predictable in their approach typified by Pierre-Marc Bouchard turning (even though he had plenty of open ice around him to operate) and passing it out to the point to Jared Spurgeon who was shadowed closely by Canucks.  The only real threatening shot came off the stick of Marco Scandella who uncorked a heavy slap shot that was snagged from the air by Schneider’s glove.  The penalties were helping Minnesota defensively as the Canucks were not able to give their top lines much in the way of ice time as Vancouver managed just 4 shots on goal in the period.  Minnesota had one quality scoring chance late in the period as Colton Gillies fired a low-lying wrist shot that was stopped by Schneider but his rebound would kick out just inside of the right faceoff circle where the puck was pounced upon by Brett Bulmer who stepped into a one-timer that was steered wide by Schneider.  One player who tried to get the Canucks fired up was Keith Ballard who sent Nick Johnson head over heels with a well-timed hip check and then leveling Colton Gillies with a big hit.  There were a few boo’s from the Canucks’ crowd as their team left the ice trailing 1-0.  A good first period for the Wild. 

2nd Period Thoughts:  It was an interesting period of ups and downs for the Wild in the 2nd period.  Dale Weise tried to spark the Canucks by dropping the gloves with Clayton Stoner, but the Wild defenseman did not hesitate to pummel the former New York Rangers farmhand as he was throwing right handed haymakers with great regularity that kept Weise at bey until he eventually tipped over from the onslaught.  A clear cut victory for Stoner.  However the Canucks were trying to crawl back into this game and penalties would start to lean in their favor.  A foolish roughing penalty on Brad Staubitz, as he got cross checked Weise in the throat in retalation to a hit he received earlier in the shift.  Vancouver’s top line really built up some momentum as they cycled the puck with impunity in the Wild zone, helped in part due to Mikko Koivu breaking a stick.  The broken stick gave the Canucks an almost 5-on-3 type of power play as the helpless Koivu could only attempt to put his body into shooting lanes to deny Vancouver’s point men a clear shot on goal.  It was a scrambling effort where Vancouver had a number of close calls; the best of which was a rebound chance for Alexandre Burrows which was pushed just wide of the mark.  Minnesota got the penalty kill and as the Wild felt relief they’d earn a power play of their own as Aaron Volpatti got tangled up with Clayton Stoner.  On the man advantage the Wild got some good chances early as Heatley was stonewalled on two chances from in close by Cory Schneider.  The Wild would come up empty on the power play, and Vancouver would re-new its assault and it was Brad Staubitz who would help their cause by taking a completely stupid tripping penalty from being lazy in a puck battle along the boards.  The Canucks would make the Wild pay for this lack of discipline as Daniel Sedin would fling a centering pass on goal that ricocheted off a few legs and skates in the crease before sliding over the goal line to tie the game at 1-1.  It looked as if momentum was going to completely turn against the Wild but on the ensuing shift some good work along the wall by Kyle Brodziak to push a puck up Nick Johnson would be rewarded as Johnson took the puck down low and put on the brakes to turn back and pass a puck to Brodziak waiting in the slot for a quick shot that found the back of the net to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead.  The goal was huge, as it completely eliminated any momentum from the Canucks goal and the Wild skated into the 3rd leading by one.  It wasn’t the best period, and made you wonder if Staubitz wasn’t so foolish if the Wild could’ve had a 2-0 lead instead. 

3rd Period Thoughts:  The Wild seemed content to try to defend its lead in the 3rd and to quote former NFL coach Jerry Glanville, the only thing a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.  Vancouver would get lucky early as a fairly innocuous shot from the point by Manny Malhotra which was redirected by Jannik Hansen that eluded Backstrom to tie the game 2-2.  The Wild were sitting back and playing prevent defense for most of the rest of the period as they were just chipping the puck off the glass with little to no concern if any Minnesota players were in the area.  Minnesota’s rope-a-dope posture was frustrating as they were just giving pucks away even at moments where the Wild were just piling up pointless turnovers.  The only Wild line that was showing any sort of offensive initiative was the 3rd line of Bulmer, Gillies and Brodziak as well as Nick Johnson.  The Canucks were more than happy to just wait for Minnesota to make a mistake.  At one point Vancouver’s top line of the Sedins and Kesler cycled the puck while Minnesota scrambled about their own zone totally unable to do anything to stop for over a minute until finally they were relieved by a shot going up and out of play.  The 2nd line and the 1st line were largely MIA throughout the period. 

Overtime Thoughts:  As passive the Wild were in the 3rd period they looked even more hesitant in overtime.  Minnesota was just circling around in their own zone as if they were tying to kill time and hope for a shootout.  It was incredibly frustrating to see no Wild player willing to attempt to lead a rush up the ice and with the Canucks’ top lines being thrown at Minnesota’s skaters you knew it was a formula where the State of Hockey was playing with fire.  Then you toss in a horrendously foolish slash by Dany Heatley which chopped Ryan Kesler’s stick in half for no reason at all and the Canucks got precisely what they wanted, a power play.  On the 4-on-3 man advantage the Wild would put out youngsters Marco Scandella and Justin Falk, which tells you about which players were at their best at this point in the game.  A long range shot by Salo was stopped by Backstrom and then he stopped Daniel Sedin with a great leg pad save and it looked like Minnesota just might be able to get its wish and go to a shootout but it wasn’t meant to be.  Just moments later, the puck would move back out to the point and Sami Salo unleashed a slapper that beat Backstrom and sent the water bottle flying as they prevail 3-2. 

Niklas Backstrom cannot be blamed for the loss, after making 29 saves in a losing effort.  He made a number of high quality saves that kept Minnesota in the game; especially through the last two periods where he really didn’t have a team that was mounting any sort of concerted offensive gameplan at all.  Defensively I was rather pleased with the play of Marco Scandella who was physical at the right times and won a number of one-on-one battles, and Justin Falk didn’t look rusty at all.  In fact I thought Justin Falk looked very poised and played as well if not better than Greg Zanon has over the last 5 games. 

Offensively, the story was very much the same where the 1st line was mostly a passenger in his game.  While Setoguchi and Heatley combined for a goal, they were not nearly consistent enough at being an offensive threat for the Wild.  Minnesota’s 3rd line of Bulmer / Gillies, Brodziak and Johnson was the only line that seemed to have the initiative to create offense.  A huge part of that was their hustle and willingness to go to the net for opportunities.  The Wild’s top line is often guilty of spending too much time along the wall and waiting for the ice to just open up and give them a wide-open shot.  Bouchard was completely absent down the stretch and at over $4 million per season that is an awfully expensive bench warmer.  I must admit I was a little surprised Cullen was sitting on the bench throughout much of the 3rd period and overtime where you’d expect a player with his speed would be more valuable. 

Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo summed it up pretty well, “we’re still not comfortable in those moments where the game is on the line, but I felt there was more positive things to build upon than negative things.”  Yet he offered you can’t afford to take penalties in overtime but did not seem angry about Heatley’s slash which effectively cost Minnesota a chance at two points.  He also gave credit to the 3rd line of Gillies / Bulmer, Brodziak and Johnson which was really Minnesota’s best line all game long saying “that line showed the way of what we have to do to win games.”  Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, and against good teams like Canucks they could also learn something about what to do when no obvious play presents itself.  Just throw it on goal and hope for the best which is really what Vancouver did to tie the game.  Neither of its regulation goals were because of a great shot or unbelievable execution of a plan.  Detroit does much the same thing when it isn’t able to create the fancy plays they’re better known for and the Wild could stand to learn from that example.  The Wild have a bit of a break now before their next game, as they wait until Thursday when the Anaheim Ducks come to town. 

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild’s roster this afternoon was: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Colton Gillies, Brett Bulmer, Brad Staubitz, Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe, Nick Johnson, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Schultz, Jared Spurgeon, Marek Zidlicky, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner and Marco Scandella.  Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Matt Kassian was the lone healthy scratch as Greg Zanon and Guillaume Latendresse were out with lower body injuries. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Sami Salo, 2nd Star Jannik Hansen, 3rd Star Kyle Brodziak

~ Attendance this afternoon at Rogers Arena was 18,860.

Houston Aeros Report:

Record: 3-1-1  (2nd AHL West Division) 

Top 5 Scorers:
1. #17 Casey Wellman – 5G 0A = 5pts
2. #26 David McIntyre – 3G 1A = 4pts
3. #22 Jeff Taffe – 1G 3A = 4pts
4. #41 Jed Ortmeyer – 2G 1A = 3pts
5. #37 Justin Fontaine – 1G 2A = 3pts

Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #25 Warren Peters – 20 PIM’s
2. #24 Jordan Hendry – 8 PIM’s
3. #19 Jarod Palmer – 7 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:
1. #31 Matthew Hackett (3-0-1)  1.96GAA  .934%SP
2. #34 Dennis Endras (0-1-0)  2.08GAA  .875%SP
3. #35 Darcy Kuemper (0-0)  0.00  0.00%SP

Most Recent Game:  Aeros 3, Charlotte 2

Houston got out to a slow start in Charlotte on Friday night as penalties made it difficult for them to press the attack via the forecheck and put the Checkers on their heels.  Charlotte would take advantage of the man advantage as Zack Boychuk found some space in the high slot after a feed by Jerome Samson where he ripped a shot by Matthew Hackett to give the Checkers’ a 1-0 lead.  Hackett did not help his own cause when he stepped in front of an attacking Checkers’ forward earning him an interference penalty.  Charlotte would strike for a 2nd time and again it was Boychuk lighting the lamp as he took a pass from Chris Terry and fired a wrister that just found a little room underneath the crossbar to give the Checkers a commanding 2-0 lead.  Houston was in need of a spark and that spark came from the fists of Drew Bagnall who was playing in his first game of the season for the Aeros and he went toe to toe with Charlotte’s Justin Soryal.  The more experienced Bagnall took control of the fight and pummeled Soryal in a one-sided bout.  The fight had the desired effect and just past the 10 minute mark, the Aeros would get on the scoreboard as Casey Wellman drove to the net sliding a shot past Justin Peters just before he was checked into the Checkers’ goalie.  Peters was in some serious pain after the collision and had to be taken from the ice on a stretcher.  Wellman was no worse off after the big collision.  The Checkers had to replace Peters with Mike Murphy, and he got off to a rough start as right off the ensuing face off David McIntyre raced in and beat him 5-hole to tie the game 2-2 just 8 seconds after Wellman’s tally.  Both clubs exchanged scoring chances in the closing minutes of the game and it looked as though it was going to head to overtime when Houston attempted one last rush and it was Chad Rau setting up Jeff Taffe who lifted a backhander over the shoulder of Murphy to score the game winner with just 4 seconds left!  Hackett made 33 saves in the victory.  Houston and Charlotte faceoff again later tonight in what should be a very spirited rematch. 

Wild Prospect Report:

F – Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ It looks like Mario Lucia is off to as good of a start as his father is with the Golden Gophers.  Lucia is currently the 2nd leading scorer for Penticton with 8 goals (4 PP goals) and 20 points in just 11 games.  The former Wayzata star seems to be refining his game quite nicely before he reports to play for Notre Dame next fall.  Update:  Lucia racked up 2 more assists on Saturday night as he helped the Penticton Vees earn a 6-2 victory over the Vernon Vipers, earning 3rd Star honors in the process. 

C – Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ Haula continues to pile up the points early this season after notching two more assists in the Gophers 6-0 victory over the Vermont Catamounts.  The Pori, Finland-native has 5 goals and 11 points in just 5 games this season.

LW – Jason Zucker (Denver, WCHA) ~ It has been a slightly less explosive start for the promising left winger.  Zucker helped the Pioneers earn a 4-2 victory over Minnesota state by providing two helpers bringing his season total to three assists and one goal.  Last year Zucker tantalized with his ability to score clutch goals, and this is his ‘prove it’ year to show the Wild he can do it again.  Update:  Zucker had a huge night on Saturday, scoring 2 goals and adding an assist in a 10-2 drubbing to sweep the Minnesota State Mavericks. 

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!

Kesler nets hat trick as the Canucks dominate the Wild 5-0

Wild vs. Canucks

Perhaps its my own personal hatred of the Vancouver Canucks that the Bloodhound Gang, “Shut Up” where a few verses that lead into the refrain goes kind of like this, “I hate you but you hate yourself too, I hate to be honest but I’d hate to be you, and I don’t give a damn if you don’t like me, ’cause I don’t like you ’cause you’re not like me, and I don’t give a damn if you don’t like me, ’cause I dont’ like you ’cause your not like me, and I don’t give a damn if you don’t like me, ’cause I don’t like you ’cause your not like me.”  That may be the feelings shared by the Wild and its fans about Rick Rypien after his earlier incident where he grabbed a fan.  I agree, the attempted lawsuit the fan filed was ridiculous, but so was Rypien for even going after a fan in the first place.  There have always been a few extra sparks between these two clubs and now the Canucks fans are up in arms over the league’s 4-game suspension of Raffi Torres for a hit on Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle.  So a few of them are now calling for blood against the Wild because that makes so much sense?  Anger can certainly make a person irrational, but this seems ridiculous.  Besides, why would they want to do anything like that to the Wild who are a non-playoff team?  Yes, its not a representation of all Canucks fans, but still, why wish injury to the team your playing not because of any slight of their own doing but because your mad at the league is defies logic. 

(cue the M*A*S*H theme song, Suicide is Painless)  The Wild are resembling a small clinic, with a whole host of injuries to veteran players like Guillaume Latendresse, Marek Zidlicky, Cal Clutterbuck, John Madden, Martin Havlat and Cal Clutterbuck all out of action for tonight’s tilt.  That means many of the Wild’s young players will see more NHL action which is a nice treat after a solid season with the Houston Aeros.  Maybe when the Vancouver Canucks are given the President’s Trophy tonight that will help tame the flames of temper in their fans.  Either way, I would love to see the Wild spoil their party.  Will the Wild add a dose of cold water to the heated fans in Vancouver or will the Canucks give their fans the bloodletting that they are calling for? 

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1st Period Thoughts:  When news was reported that the Wild were going to be playing the game a man short with Chuck Kobasew out of the lineup due to personal reasons.  Yet the Wild were really battling well to start the game.  They were forechecking and finishing their checks nicely, Colton Gillies and Carson McMillan were making their presence felt right away.  Minnesota was taking lots of shots as well, taking every chance to just fire the puck on goal and forcing Roberto Luongo to make saves.  Yet nothing was getting past Luongo and despite Minnesota’s effort it was only a matter of time before this came back to bite the Wild.  A failed Minnesota rush gets blown up and the Wild looked a little tired as they couldn’t quite get to the puck before Jannik Hansen who threads a cross-ice pass to Mason Raymond who wired a shot by Niklas Backstrom to put Vancouver up 1-0.  Minnesota tried to claw its way back into the game as they went back on the forecheck.  The Wild’s defense was pinching a bit and trying to support the play in the offensive zone, but all the Wild could manage was a few long range shots that were easily absorbed by Luongo.  Minnesota had its chances though, 2 power plays and the Wild worked the puck well down low setting up a few scoring chances but at the most crucial times they either were not putting the shots on goal or when they got the set up Luongo was able to make the big save.  The best example of this was a great cross-ice feed by Mikko Koivu on a back door feed to Brent Burns who fired a one-timer that Luongo got across on and then also made the stop on Gillies’ rebound chance.  Missed opportunities again came back to haunt the Wild as Vancouver answered with one more goal late in the period as lame cross-checking penalty on Kyle Brodziak was turned into a goal thanks to some great passing and some ragged looking penalty killing as Ryan Kesler tapped home a Daniel Sedin pass to make it 2-0.  Backstrom was caught way out of position as he was expecting Daniel Sedin to pull the trigger instead.  Vancouver had all of the momentum and Minnesota seemed like a team that just had almost nothing in the tank.  The home crowd was loving it, but it had the feeling of a potential rout. 

2nd Period Thougths:  The fans certainly were in a jubilant mood as they tossed a fairly good-sized salmon onto the ice.  You could sense the Wild were starting to show their nerves a bit more as they just didn’t have the same jump they had at the start of the game.  Vancouver was pouring it on right from the start as Minnesota was playing rope-a-dope just hoping to survive.  Brodziak would go to the penalty box early in the 2nd, but Minnesota’s power play scrambled and Niklas Backstrom bailed out the Wild to keep them into the game.  The Wild would get another power play thanks to a goaltender interference penalty as Kevin Bieksa ran right through Niklas Backstrom.  Of course Roger’s Sports Net’s John Garrett whined about the call because that is all he ever does.  Minnesota again was able to create some great opportunities as Brent Burns was looking hungry as he was unleashing slapper after slapper but he wasn’t putting them on goal enough.  On one of the caroms, the puck moved back out near the top of the crease where Mikko Koivu pulled the puck back and looked as though he had a whole net to himself but Luongo would reach back with his glove as he was laying on his side to make a huge save.  The whole save just told you the Wild were not going to win this game no matter how great the opportunities may be.  The Canucks would add to their lead as Ryan Kesler walks around Justin Falk and he rips a wrister right over the shoulder of Backstrom to lift Vancouver to a 3-0 advantage.  It would continue to get worse as Mason Raymond added another goal on a quick little shot that beat Backstrom who seemed to want to be anywhere but in Vancouver.  With Vancouver now leading 4-0, the Wild tried again to work for a goal, and its best chance came off the stick of Carson McMillan who tried to jam a shot through the pads of Luongo.  I like how some of Minnesota’s youngsters were still working hard, but at times the Wild looked like a team in pre-season where you have your own guys almost running into each other as players didn’t know where to be on the ice.  (sigh)

3rd Period Thoughts:  In the 3rd period, it took barely 2 minutes before the Canucks chased Niklas Backstrom from the goal as Ryan Kesler scores a pretty weak goal to get his hat trick as a pretty solid rain of hats serenaded Kesler’s 40th tally of the season.  Backstrom clearly wasn’t himself, and so Wild Head Coach Todd Richards sent out Jose Theodore in relief.  Vancouver was looking to add to its lead and Theodore found himself under siege early.  Minnesota tried to get a pride goal but they just didn’t have the horses to create nearly enough scoring chances to do so and Luongo didn’t have alot of work in the final stanza.  Mason Raymond nearly tallied a hat trick of his own if it wasn’t for a great save by Theodore.  Brad Staubitz tried foolishly to goad the Canucks into physical altercation after he nearly slammed Keith Ballard through the Vancouver goalpost.  He would earn cross-checking minor and a game misconduct for his actions.  Vancouver had the extra step, and were working themselves into shooting lanes and never allowing the Wild to have an uncontested chance.  The home crowd gave one last loud “Louuuu” chant in the closing seconds as the Canucks skated away to a 5-0 victory.

Niklas Backstrom was not very sharp, allowing 5 goals on 23 shots.  He wasn’t seeing the puck very well all game long and seemed disinterested in general.  Defensively the inexperience was shown but overall Wild goaltenders didn’t see an inordinate amount of shots coming there way.  The difference was Vancouver cashed in on its opportunities.  The penalty kill the Wild got beat on was due to an overcommitment by Backstrom who took himself out of position giving Kesler an easy first goal. 

Offensively the Wild had some great chances.  Burns’ power play chance and Koivu’s scoring chance near the goal mouth both should’ve ended up in the back of the net if not for a heculean effort by Roberto Luongo.  I am not going to say the only reason the Wild lost this game was because they ran into a hot goalie; but he never gave Minnesota a chance to win this game.  I liked the hustle of some of the team’s young players but the few vets were not giving quite enough.  The vets had their moments but their lack of jump let the team down on more than one occasion. 

Todd Richards was pretty matter of fact after the game which is what you’d expect when you play a team of Vancouver’s calibre.  When asked about the limitations of the lineup Richards said, “We gotta find a way.  You’re not going to win any games if you don’t score any goals.”  I agree, there is no sense crying about injuries now.  All you can do is go back to work and do your best.  Richards gave Carson McMillan kudos for his play and I have to admit I really loved his effort.  He skated hard, he checked well and showed excellent strength along the wall.  I watched him out muscle Henrik Sedin for a puck along the wall and that is no easy task and he had little trouble pushing him out of the way which is a great testament of his strength.  He had some little scoring chances in the 2nd and 3rd periods; even one where he was lying on his stomach and still swinging for the puck.  Those are the little bright spots you have to look at when you lose a game like this.  Hopefully the play better tomorrow against the Oilers.  Just two more left… 

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight is as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Brad Staubitz, Eric Nystrom, Kyle Brodziak, Jed Ortmeyer, Colton Gillies, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Carson McMillan, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon, Justin Falk, Maxim Noreau and Brent Burns.  Jose Theodore shared the duties between the pipes with Niklas Backstrom.  Martin Havlat, John Madden, Marek Zidlicky, Cam Barker, Cam Barker, Guillaume Latendresse and Cal Clutterbuck were the ‘healthy’ scratches.  Chuck Kobasew was gone for ‘personal reasons.’  Nick Schultz (post-concussion syndrome), James Sheppard (knee) and Josh Harding (knee) are on injured reserve. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Ryan Kesler, 2nd Star Roberto Luongo, 3rd Star Mason Raymond

~ Attendance tonight was 18,860 at Rogers Arena.

NCAA Men’s Hockey Report:

Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 4,  Notre Dame 3 ~ The Duluth Bulldogs took full advantage of a UMD-friendly 19,139 crowd but you wouldn’t know it early as Notre Dame struck just 49 seconds into the game on a goal by Brian Costello.  UMD would get that goal back on the power play as Rosemount’s J.T. Brown found the back of the net behind Mike Johnson.  The Fighting Irish would re-take the lead about six minutes later when Freshman phenom T.J. Tynan beat Kenny Reiter on a nice wrist shot.  The Bulldogs would strike back just about 2 minutes later when Kyle Schmidt scored his 10th of the season, tying the game at 2-2.  UMD would then take the lead with just 6 minutes left in the 1st when Mike Connolly took a nice pass by Wild prospect camp tryout Justin Fontaine and Connolly ripped a shot by Johnson on the power play.  Former Duluth Marshall Hilltopper Jack Connolly would score the Bulldogs 3rd power play goal of the game about 5 minutes into the 2nd and the Bulldogs held onto a nice 4-2 lead going into the 3rd.  Notre Dame looked pretty deflated but they would get their spirits up early in the 3rd when senior Calle Ridderwall scored shorthanded to cut the UMD lead to one, 4-3.  UMD then held off a furious attack by the Fighting Irish to earn as spot in the Finals.  Kenny Reiter had 31 saves including 14 in the 3rd period.   Wild prospect defenseman Sean Lorenz had 2 assists and was a +3 in a losing effort for Notre Dame.  

North Dakota Fighting Sioux 0,  Michigan Wolverines 2 ~ With a very large contingent of North Dakota fans making the Xcel Energy Center sound a lot like Ralph Englestadt Arena, but despite the ‘home ice advantage’ it wasn’t enough as Michigan was content to play a shut down style.  The Wolverines scored with about 6:30 left in the 1st when Ben Winnett scores just his 4th goal of the season when his blast from the point beat Aaron Dell.  The Fighting Sioux poured it on with some great pressure near Michigan’s crease but 5’7″ Shawn Hunwick managed to find the buck despite all of the traffic and make the save time after time.  You could feel the anxiety and nervousness in the building as North Dakota fans gasped on every shot on goal but Hunwick kept stopping each and every one of them.  Scooter Vaughn provided the nail in the coffin on the empty netter, as the Wolverines move into the finals with a 2-0 win.  Hunwick, clearly the hero of the game had 40 saves in the victory. 

Wild WHL-based prospect playoff matchups (teams that have Wild prospects are in bold):

Kelowna Rockets (43-28-0-1, 2nd West)   Vs.  Portland Winterhawks (50-19-0-3, 1st West)  ~ This looks like it could very well be the epic battle of the WHL Playoffs thus far as #1 Western Conference finisher Portland Winterhawks looks to control perennial playoff powerhouse Kelowna.  The Winterhawks are one of the most star studded teams in all of Canadian Major Junior.  Led offensively in the post-season by New York Islanders’ 1st rounder Nino Niederreiter (4 goals, 10 points) and a host of other players that combine to give Portland one of the most balanced attacks in the WHL.  2011 Draft hopeful Sven Bartschi (2 goals, 7 points), Columbus Blue Jackets 1st rounder Ryan Johansen (2 goals, 7 points) and agitating Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Brad Ross (4 goals, 5 points) give most teams a lot of match up headaches.  That means Wild prospect defenseman Colton Jobke, along with fellow blueliners headlined by Colorado Avalanche prospect Tyson Barrie will have their hands full in their own zone.  Offensively the Rockets will be hoping 2011 draft hopeful the California-born and trained Shane McColgan can continue to stay hot (3 goals, 10 points) while some of its other key offensive contributors in Detroit Red Wings prospect Mitchell Callahan (4 goals, 7 points) and L.A. Kings prospect Geordie Wudrick (2 goals, 3 points) and the Wild’s Brett Bulmer (1 goal, 1 assist) can get it rolling.  Between the pipes, Kelowna will have to hope Adam Brown (4-0, 3.25GAA  .901%) can raise his game to another level as he will likely be feeling the pressure in waves from the Winterhawks.  Portland will be leaning on Mac Carruth, who was absolutely stellar in the Winterhawks’ sweep of Everett.  OUR PICK:  Kelowna is no stranger to this time of year and I think that is the environment perfect for an upset.  Wudrick and Bulmer need to get involved, I predict a 4-2 series win for Kelowna.  (Kelowna leads series 1-0)   

Red Deer Rebels (48-16-4-4)  Vs.  Medicine Hat Tigers (46-18-4-4) ~  This series is a classic case of the immovable object versus the unstoppable force.  The Rebels have had an awesome breakout season, due large in part to the emergence of highly touted 2011 draft hopeful Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (4 goals, 9 points) and Wild prospect goaltender Darcy Kuemper (4-0, 1.50GAA  .948%) who has been shutting the door on opponents all season long and looks to be just as solid in the post-season thus far.  In contrast to this defensive stalwart, the Medicine Hat Tigers are an offensive machine that plays a 1980’s Oilers’ style of hockey where its simply about outscoring teams than dedicating themselves to team defense.  L.A. Kings prospect Linden Vey (5 goals, 12 points) has been on fire for the Tigers, and Anaheim Ducks’ 1st rounder Emerson Etem (5 goals, 9 points) could very well get the job of shadowing Nugent-Hopkins’ every move.  Kuemper gives Red Deer a far better level of insurance between the pipes than Medicine Hat’s Deven Dubyk (4-1, 4.41GAA  .872%) and he’ll have to be better if the Tigers are going to pull off the upset.  OUR PICK:  I think Kuemper and the Rebels will prevail in a 4-1 series 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 take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

Wild vs. Nucks

Kyle Brodziak tries to score on Cory Schneider

The High School Boys Hockey Tournament is over, the championship trophies and medals have been handed out.  The Minnesota Golden Gophers Men’s team is done with their season after being swept by Alaska-Anchorage.  A few other Minnesota-based teams, in Bemidji State and University of Minnesota-Duluth are still alive but its a sign that hockey season is nearing an end.  With the NHL playoffs about a month away will the Minnesota Wild find their season over too?  With the way the Western Conference standings look right now, the Wild sit in 11th so its quite likely they will be scheduling a tee time mid-way through April.  I’d like to be more optimistic but not having scored a goal in their last two games has that sort of an effect on a fan.  Could they reverse their direction, perhaps, but now the team sits 4 points out of 8th place and while that may not sound like a lot it looks like the Grand Canyon right now.  Minnesota will likely need some help from the rest of the league in order to get back into the Top 8. 

The Wild travel to Vancouver to take on the best team in the NHL playing some of its best hockey right now and while there is a good possiblity the team could still be without team captain Mikko Koivu and hitting machine Cal Clutterbuck and gritty defenseman Clayton Stoner the team you could say the team is reeling a bit.  Vancouver is extremely tough when the team is completely healthy but can a depleted Wild squad pull of a major upset on the Canucks’ home ice?  Needless to say it won’t be easy.  No one would be surprised if the Wild went 3 games without scoring a goal, but can they overcome the odds and earn a victory over their hated-rival? 

Click on “Read More” to see the rest of the article…

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight is as follows:

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were:

~ Attendance tonight at Rogers Arena was.

~ The Houston Aeros were in a battle of their own against the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL affiliate the Manitoba Moose.  The Moose would strike first, with a power play goal by Mario Bliznak to give Manitoba a 1-0 lead.  The Aeros had a chance to strike back but came up with nothing on 3 consecutive power plays.  After not scoring in the 2nd period it looked as though one goal was simply too much to overcome.  Just 20 seconds into the 3rd period, Patrick O’Sullivan took a pass from Casey Wellman and ripped a shot by Tyler Weiman to tie hte game.  Houston would take the lead just a few minutes later on a misplayed puck by Weiman behind his net that turned into an easy goal for Jon DiSalvatore.  Manitoba would tie the game back up just a minute and a half later, as Shawn Weller rifled a wrist shot that beat Matthew Hackett.  Houston would answer back with two goals in quick succession by Jean-Michel Daoust and Robbie Earl to put the Aeros up 4-2.  Manitoba would cut the lead back to one on a goal by Sergei Shirokov, but the Aeros would put the game away with two empty net goals from Cody Almond and DiSalvatore to seal a 6-3 victory.  Hackett had 25 saves in the win. 

~ The State of Hockey News wishes to congratulate St. Thomas Academy as the winner of class 1A boys hockey title after beating Hermantown 5-4 in overtime, as well as congratulating class 2A champion Eden Prairie on a 3-2 overtime victory over Duluth East.  Thief River Falls took home 3rd place in class 1A, after defeating Hibbing / Chisholm 3-0 while Eagan took 3rd in class 2A after beating Edina 5-3.  In addition the State of Hockey News would like to congratulate Eden Prairie’s Kyle Rau on being 2010-11’s Mr. Hockey award winner.  Mr. Hockey always is an honor that gets some major notice from NHL scouts and it will be interesting if his strong tournament performance will move him up in the 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul. 

~ On a very sad note, the State of Hockey News would like to send its most sincere condolences to the family of former Buffalo Sabres’ great Rick Martin, was killed in a single car crash near Buffalo, NY on Sunday.  He was a member of their infamous ‘French Connection’ line with Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert was killed in a single car crash near Buffalo, NY.  He was 59 years old. 

Wild Prospect Report

LW – Jason Zucker ~ Denver Pioneers (WCHA)

2010-11 Stats:  36GP  21G  19A = 40pts  53 PIM’s

It has been a banner year for the Las Vegas-native, as he ended up earning Rookie of the Year honors in the WCHA.  Zucker’s outstanding speed and finishing ability is a huge reason the Pioneers find themselves near the top of the WCHA and a likely NCAA bearth.  The freshman phenom had a goal and an assist this weekend; including the game winning tally in the Pioneers’ sweep of Minnesota State.  Now that the Pioneers have advanced to the WCHA Frozen Five, it will be interesting to see if Zucker can keep things rolling for Denver. 

F – Mikael Granlund ~ HIFK Helsinki (Sm-Liiga)

2010-11 Stats:  39GP  8G  28A = 36pts  14 PIM’s

The gifted playmaker continues to shine as his HIFK powers its way into the playoffs.  The 5’8″ 169lbs forward can turn on a dime, and uses his quickness to avoid checks and to create time and space to set up his linemates.  He may seem smallish, but he is built well and when he can’t dodge hits he weathers them fairly well with his low center of gravity and wirey frame.  Still producing at a point-per-game pace, the Wild will no doubt give the Oulu, Finland-native a long look at training camp this summer. 

About Derek Felska

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

Wild’s luck dries up in 4-1 loss to Canucks

Kyle Brodziak tries to score on Schneider

Inches or centimeters (in the case of our Canadian opponents tonight) were the difference for the Minnesota Wild.

Tonight was just one of those nights.  It’s as if all the good luck that they’ve experience recently simply dried up.  Of course we as fans, knew it wasn’t going to last forever.  However, with that said, I can’t say that I’m completely upset by tonight’s loss.  Sure, there’s disappointment, but not out and out disgust like after losses early in the season.  For the first time in what seems like forever, Minnesota outshot their opponent by more than double.  The fact that they held the league’s best team to a mere fourteen shots on goal is nothing to sniff at.  Although it is a concern that the Canucks managed to score four goals on fourteen shots.

In those twenty-nine shots that the Wild managed to get on net, what they failed to do was to get at the rebound.  Often it’s hard enough just getting the initial shot, that getting the loose pucks in front of the net isn’t any easier.  Nor were they getting as many of the clear shots that we’ve had recently.  When you don’t get the clear shots, the rebounds, and the lucky bounces, it’s much harder to win games.  Thankfully, the Wild got one “lucky” shot in the lone goal by Cal Clutterbuck who took a chance on a bad angle shot with just a tiny corner open behind Cory Schneider’s shoulder.  However beyond that, fans saw rebound after rebound that the Wild skaters simply couldn’t get to.

While it may come across as me complaining about them not getting to the loose pucks, I ask that you don’t take it as such.  Tonight was one of those nights where you could see the team trying.  They skated.  They cycled the puck.  They also had times where they maintained the offensive zone when you didn’t think it was possible.  However, the hard work tonight simply wasn’t rewarded.  Every fan of every team has had moments where no matter how much more a team gives, they simply cannot win.  Perhaps what makes this harder to swallow, is that we saw many games at the beginning of the season where the Wild didn’t play well and looked like they didn’t care.  For some fans, I have a feeling they’ll have a harder time getting over this loss just because of the games they simply squandered at the beginning of the season.  Imagine what just five more wins in the first half of the season would have done for the Wild’s place in the standings. 

So now, we head into Chicago tomorrow.  It will most likely be a game that will show us how this team deals with adversity.  If they can play like tonight and can get to the loose pucks, they stand a good chance.  As we all know, they need to find some way to score the first goal of the game.  That alone would boost the self-confidence of the team.  And sometimes just a boost in morale is all it takes.

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight is as follows: Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, John Madden, Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Brunette, Brad Staubitz, Antti Miettinen, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Eric Nystrom, Martin Havlat, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon, Brent Burns, Cam Barker, Jaren Spurgeon, and Nick Schultz.  Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey: 1st Star, Cory Schneider; 2nd Star, Manny Malhotra; 3rd Star, Cal Clutterbuck

~ Attendance tonight was at Xcel Energy Center. 18,106

Khudobin delivers shutout as Wild earns 4-0 home victory over red hot Vancouver

Niklas Backstrom stops Alexandre Burrows

I’ve always loved superheroes.  When I was a kid I used to have sheets that featured Superman, the Green Latern, Batman, Aquaman, Hawkman and Wonder Woman.  I used to watch these super hero shows on TV back in those days and like many kids I wish I could become one myself.  Seriously, who wouldn’t want to have super powers?  Admittedly my favorite superhero is Spider-Man, and I liked the reluctant hero side of Peter Parker, and the classic axiom that went with Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Legendary comic book (yes I know the current term is graphic novel) author Stan Lee has teamed up with the NHL for what has been called the Guardian Project where he has created super heroes for all of the league’s teams.  The Wild’s superhero looks like a very ripped werewolf who allegedly possesses great strength, tunneling capability, force of nature like energy projection but also superior intelligence akin to the Beast, another one of Lee’s creations.   Either way, I like the look of Lee’s superhero compared to the team’s current mascot the mulleted Nordy.  Although watching the Wild superhero rip apart Nordy might be kind of cool to watch.  These new heroes will battle it out during the All Star Weekend in Raleigh on Sunday, January 30th where the winner will be determined by a fan vote via Facebook.  Sure, this is a shameless attempt by the league to connect to younger fans but I like the creativity and the willingness to do something new and different.  Recently, in a fan vote the Wild hero defeated the one made for the Dallas Stars, making it the lone victory over the Stars this season. 

Wild Superhero created for the Guardian Project by Stan Lee 

The Canucks superhero has not been released, but perhaps it seems unnecessary with how well Vancouver has been playing as of late.  Vancouver has been rock solid in all facets of the game and their dominance has given them a giant 14-point lead over 2nd place Colorado for the Northwest Division crown so far.  Minnesota may wish its superhero was playing tonight because it could use a little more tenacity as it has been mired in a 3-game losing streak.  So will the Wild put forth a heroic effort or will they stand in awe at the mighty Vancouver Canucks? 

Click on “Read More” for the rest of the article…

1st Period Thoughts:  Minnesota was really moving well to start the period, flying all over the Canucks’ offensive zone.  The Wild’s defense was taking every opportunity to shoot the puck and Minnesota had four different shots redirected on goal that forced the Canucks’ Corey Schneider to make some big saves.  Minnesota was carrying the play, and their defenseman were pinching and supporting the attack as the Wild pressed for the ever important first goal.  A cheap shot by White Bear Lake, Minnesota’s Andrew Alberts nearly turned into something pretty gruesome as the Wild’s Chuck Kobasew narrowly missed having his chin connect with the goal post as he was clotheslined by the former Flyer.  The Wild were terrific on the man advantage, making quick passes that really had Vancouver scrambling in its own end.  Yet, as great as the puck movement and set ups were, the team still didn’t finish when the opportunities presented themselves.  A great example was a set up by Andrew Brunette to Antti Miettinen who was all alone in the slot and with Schneider hugging the left post the goal was virtually empty and Miettinen drove his shot wide of the mark.  You have to bury those chances and those are the types of missed opportunities that usually come back to haunt you.  After the failed power play it was the Canucks turn to really put pressure on the Wild.  Of course this involved Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin who cycled the puck with near impunity in the Minnesota zone as it was the Wild’s turn to scramble.  However, despite all of their puck possession, the Wild defense and backchecking forwards kept the Canucks to the perimeter.  Anton Khudobin was, to be polite, very shaky and fighting the puck, his rebound control was terrible and only stellar support by his defense kept him from giving up a few goals in the first period.  Vancouver nearly scored on a shot that was popped up into the air and fell behind him and only a desperate diving save by Brent Burns who swatted the puck out of danger at the last moment kept the Canucks off the scoreboard.  Minnesota would go back on the attack towards the latter half of the period and it was the 2nd line of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Martin Havlat and Kyle Brodziak outworked and outhustled the Canucks and forced Schneider to make some great saves.  Brad Staubitz had a nice scrap with Vancouver’s Aaron Volpatti after he ran Jared Spurgeon, and Staubitz took over with a few well placed left hand hooks to put Volpatti on his back and give the crowd something to cheer about.  Spurgeon was a little banged up, but he’d keep playing.  I really liked the hustle I was seeing out of Eric Nystrom, who is a player who has not delivered offensively as I hoped but it is hard to argue with his effort or physicality.  He had a great period throwing his frame around as well as winning battles for the puck along the boards.  While Minnesota had its moments where it was put on the ropes, it was resilient and put lots of pressure on Vancouver offensively and the crowd gave the team a standing ovation as it appreciated the effort and energy.  

2nd Period Thoughts:  Minnesota had another solid start to the period.  Hustling and winning the races to the puck and their effort would draw an early penalty on Dan Hamhuis who hauled down Miettinen.  Minnesota’s power play again moved the puck well, but the Wild would crash the crease and after a ton of hacking and whacking it was Andrew Brunette who dove in Superman style and tapped the puck in to give the State of Hockey a 1-0 lead.  Vancouver Head Coach Alain Vigneault was unhappy with the officials who he felt should’ve blown a whistle as it was a good 10 seconds of chipping at a sprawling Corey Schneider before it was shoveled home.  However, the replay clearly showed how NHL official Dean Morton had a view of the loose puck the whole time before Brunette poked it in.  The Canucks predictably tried to pour it on to even the score, as the Sedins’ again went to work cycling the puck and Khudobin was again pretty suspect with the puck giving up a rebound that drew an interference penalty on Miettinen.  Minnesota did a great job on the penalty kill of disrupting passing lanes and battling for the loose pucks as some hard work by the team’s penalty killers, most notably John Madden and Eric Nystrom to frustrate the Canucks.  Defensively the team’s blueliners kept doing whatever they could to help out Khudobin as he got an assist on a save on Jannik Hansen who found himself alone near the top of the crease as a diving Greg Zanon bumped into his goalie but between the puck hitting them both it kept Vancouver off the scoreboard.  Minnesota was scrappy as well as Chuck Kobasew dropped the gloves with Baudette, Minnesota’s Keith Ballard.  Kobasew did a great job of keeping Ballard in a position where he didn’t have much of a chance to get punches on him while he threw a few jabs of his own as this little bout kept the crowd into the game.  The Wild would get a little lucky as Alexander Edler fanned on a pass and Havlat quickly jumped on the loose puck to race in on a break away where he beat Schneider with a sneaky forehand 5-hole to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead.  Minnesota was hustling at both ends of the ice, forwards backchecking and kept Vancouver at bey with a two-goal leading going into the 3rd period. 

3rd Period Thoughts:  Predictably it was Vancouver that was pressuring early to start the 3rd period.  Minnesota started to get into penalty trouble John Madden would be tagged with a holding penalty for a marginal play on Vancouver’s Mason Raymond who drew the call by turning his head back towards the pass.  Minnesota’s penalty killers were challenging well, being physical near its crease as Clayton Stoner was really bouncing Canucks who were attempting to camp out near the crease and knocking them on their backsides.  The Wild would get a bit lucky and a little pass by Nick Schultz turned into a break away for Matt Cullen who rifled a wrister by Schneider to give Minnesota a 3-goal lead on the shorthanded tally.  The Canucks was even more focused and if you can call flopping around his crease like a fish settled in that is what you had in Khudobin who went post to post to stop Mikael Samuelsson.  Khudobin also continued to be the beneficiary of good defensive support as Nick Schultz allowed the stocky Russian goalie make the first stop and then take away the rebound out of danger.  The Wild were counter punching well, looking to take advantage of the pinching Canucks defense to go on the odd man rush.  Minnesota would get a huge goal nearly at the halfway point when another Edler error with the puck became a turnover to Kobasew who fed a pass to a waiting John Madden at the top of the crease for the easy tap in goal to give the Wild a big 4-0 lead.  The Canucks were doing their best to take away the shutout bid, but Khudobin was at his best making key stops on Daniel Sedin from close range and you could sense a level of frustration growing within Vancouver as Raffi Torres tried to charge the crease but he’d be flagged with an interference penalty.  Late in the game, you could see that the Wild coaching staff was rewarded the effort of its role players as Brad Staubitz, Eric Nystrom and John Madden some time on the man advantage as the crowd gave the team a well-deserved standing ovation over the last 30 seconds of the game as Minnesota earned a 4-0 victory. 

Khudobin was good enough, playing especially well down the stretch as he made 32 saves in the shutout.  It wasn’t pretty, it was classic Khudobin, unorthodox and frantic but it was effective enough to give Minnesota a huge victory over the hottest team in the NHL.  Khudobin had great support from his defense who helped made two saves of their own to help preserve the shutout, and the Russian would be smart to buy Brent Burns and Greg Zanon a beer or two.  Burns’ dive and swat to bat a puck from crossing the goal line was absolutely huge.  The Wild were tremendous on the penalty kill, preventing the Canucks from mesmerizing them with the crisp cross-ice passes they normally expose teams with as they had great active sticks all night disrupting those attempts to thread the needle. 

Offensively, Minnesota battled through some snakebitten play through the 1st period to be opportunistic in the 2nd and 3rd periods of play to pull away from Vancouver.  The Wild were aggressive at the right times and the two breakaway goals really took the wind out of the sails of the Canucks who were starting to get going offensively themselves.  The goal was big for Matt Cullen who has not scored a goal in 11 games, and hopefully this can heat him up a bit and his shorthanded tally was a big dagger to Vancouver who looked poised to cut the Wild lead in half.  Eric Nystrom certainly is due, his effort has been outstanding and it was nice to see him get some time on the power play late as a reward for his hard work.  Havlat was more involved in this game and when he’s assertive offensively he’s also more active defensively. 

This was a giant win for the Wild to put an end to the team’s freefall in the standings.  This game was all about hustle and heart and the team needs to find a way to bring this kind of energy each game.  Vancouver is a very solid team and while defensively they had some gaffes, the Wild executed when they needed to.  The Wild now go on the road where they will face Edmonton Tuesday night and Calgary on Wednesday.  Minnesota needs to keep stringing wins together to continue to close the distance on the playoff window.  Hopefully they can build on this effort tonight. 

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster this afternoon was: Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, John Madden, Kyle Brodziak, Chuck Kobasew, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Martin Havlat, Cal Clutterbuck, Brad Staubitz, Eric Nystrom, Jared Spurgeon, Cam Barker, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz and Brent Burns.  Niklas Backstrom backed up Anton Khudobin.  Marco Scandella and Jose Theodore were the lone ‘healthy’ scratches.  Marek Zidlicky is still attempting to recover from a shoulder injury while Guillaume Latendresse is still rehabbing from lower body surgery. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were: 1st Star Anton Khudobin, 2nd Star Matt Cullen, 3rd Star Martin Havlat

~ Attendance this afternoon at Xcel Energy Center was 18,458.

Wild Prospect Report:

LW – Jason Zucker ~ Denver Pioneers (WCHA)

22GP ~ 16G  8A = 24pts  28 PIM’s

There was a little concern towards the end of this year’s World Junior Championships that Jason Zucker’s progress may be stalled after taking a vicious hit from Slovakia’s Martin Marincin.  Zucker would return for the medal round of the tournament but you could tell he still wasn’t at 100%.  He would return for the Pioneers who had an additional weekend off beyond New Year’s gave the Las Vegas, Nevada-native a chance to clear out the cobwebs and the result was a wonderful weekend for the Wild prospect.  Zucker had 2 goals and an assist in two games against Minnesota State including a game-tying goal in the 2nd game that gave the Pioneers the chance to earn a 4-3 overtime victory.  He’s currently playing as a 2nd line winger on a line with center Drew Shore and right winger Luke Salazar

D – Sean Lorenz ~ Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)

26GP ~ 4G 5A = 9pts  28 PIM’s

Safe and steady is a pretty basic way to describe Sean Lorenz’s game, but that would ignore the leadership qualities he brings to the Fighting Irish.  Already having his best offensive season as a college player, Lorenz is never going to be a big point producer but his poise under pressure and excellent positioning set him apart from his peers.  The junior defenseman is playing on Notre Dame’s top pairing whoever Head Coach Jeff Jackson wants, where he seems to change from game to game but the one constant is that Lorenz is on the top unit shows you he has the coach’s trust.  The Fighting Irish have struggled this season as they’ve been using more freshman than they have in years.  This weekend, Lorenz had a single assist in a series split against the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks.

Houston Aeros Report:

2010-11 Record:  24-18-1-2  51pts  4th West Division

Top 5 Scorers:
1. #17 Robbie Earl ~ 11G 17A = 28pts
2. #26 Maxim Noreau ~ 7G 19A = 26pts
3. #14 Jon DiSalvatore ~ 8G 16A = 24pts
4. #12 Cody Almond ~ 11G 12A = 23pts
5. #62 Jean-Michel Daoust ~ 7G 12A = 19pts

Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #42 Matt Kassian ~ 100 PIM’s
2. #12 Cody Almond ~ 82 PIM’s
3. #29 Drew Bagnall ~ 71 PIM’s

Top Goaltenders:
1. #41 Josh Tordjman ~ (2-0)  1.54GAA  .938%SP
2. #31 Matthew Hackett ~ (10-10-1)  2.55GAA  .910%SP
3. #30 Anton Khudobin ~ (12-9-1)  2.58GAA  .911%SP

Most Recent Game:  Houston 2, Grand Rapids 1

The Houston Aeros have resurrected their season with some strong play as of late and are currently riding a 4-game winning streak.  Like the Wild, the Aeros are in an immensely competitive West Division where just a few wins can have a team quickly climb the ladder just as a few losses can put you in the division basement.  The Aeros are not led by just one player, but have solid scoring depth that means goals can be chipped in from any of its 4 lines.  It could be argued that this is the most talented team the Aeros have had since 2005-06, and one of those scoring leaders back then, Patrick O’Sullivan has returned and gives the Aeros another scoring threat.  O’Sullivan wasted little time in getting back into the swing of things after scoring the first goal for Houston in a 2-1 win over Grand Rapids.  In that win the Aeros did not play all that well, but thanks to the outstanding goaltending they’ve had from ECHL call up Josh Tordjman the Aeros stole a game last night.  Another catalyst to the Aeros as of late has been the fast and physical play of Jed Ortmeyer who has also helped out offensively adding 5 assists in just 7 games with Houston.  The return of Chad Rau has also had a major effect as he is a skilled playmaker and has a lot of chemistry with leading scorer Robbie Earl who has been the Aeros best player most nights.  First year Head Coach Mike Yeo has done a great job of keeping his team battling hard despite all of the call ups.  The Aeros play Grand Rapids this afternoon in a rematch from last night, Houston must play better if it wants to get the weekend sweep.  (UPDATE: the Houston Aeros squandered a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 in the shootout.  In the shootout the Aeros got up 2-0 but couldn’t seal the deal as Matthew Hackett gave up 3 straight goals for Houston to fall in the extra session.  Hackett had 33 saves in the shootout loss.  Earl and O’Sullivan had the goals for the Aeros.  The loss is particularly painful because a win would’ve put the Aeros in 3rd place in the West Division.)

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!

Special teams once again shine in 6-2 home rout of Vancouver

You can certainly tell when you feel sickness coming on, from the constant level of congestion, the inability to breath normally without sniffling, or the nasty green phlegm you cough up.  Its disgusting and miserable.  From coughing with a nasty hacking sound that makes you sound as though you’re coughing up a lung to a near constant state of fatigue.  These are what are of course known as flu-like symptoms.  I received exposure to this contagion from my students, who are often bacteria and virus-filled magnets.  I know that sounds very mean, but it’s true.  They exhibit all the symptoms I just explained to you, and then they wipe their hands on the desks, tables, chairs and books and pretty soon your body just can’t take it.  I think teachers have terrific immune systems and a high tolerance but its tough staying healthy when you’re on the front lines that are normally reserved for doctors and nurses.  The Minnesota Wild certainly know how this feels as the flu has begun to ravage the team.  Making matters a little more excruciating, a horrendous effort on Saturday necessitated Wild Head Coach Todd Richards to run his team through an intense practice to let his team know that sort of play is unacceptable.  Will hard work be the cure, while the players do their best to keep their strength while battling the flu?  We may even have a Colton Gillies sighting as he was called up from Houston, which is a sign of how his hard work is being recognized.

It is almost fitting that a new disease makes its way into Xcel Energy Center, in the much-hated arch rival Vancouver Canucks coming to town.  The Canucks are a lot like a bad rash.  Tough to shake, irritable and highly contagious.  Vancouver, a team who many experts picked to be the class of the NHL this season; even with the Hockey News going so far to call them their favorite to win the Stanley Cup has stumbled out of the gate.  Teams have not just rolled over at the strength of this prediction, what a surprise?!?!  Its hockey, of course it isn’t.  It makes me think about how in the cult classic film Slap Shot where Charlestown Chiefs broadcaster Jim Carr seems pretty disinterested at hearing Dave “Killer” Carlson‘s battle with the cold.  Its hockey, toughen up!  So will the Wild toughen up and show some heart or will the play sick and look ready to die?

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I have to admit I let out a huge sigh of disgust when I watched the Canucks jump out to a 1-0 lead just 58 seconds into the game on a nice little spinning pass play from last year’s MVP Henrik Sedin to his brother Daniel Sedin who tapped it by a sprawling Niklas Backstrom.  The goal seemed to awaken the Wild who started to move their feet, but Minnesota would find itself in a little more trouble as Cal Clutterbuck was tagged for interference.  Minnesota’s penalty killers were superb, preventing the Canucks from working the cycle like the Sedin twins wanted to do and then providing decent puck pressure at the points to prevent them from just unloading slappers from the point.  The Wild would earn the big kill, where it could try to carry the play by working the forecheck.  Minnesota’s effort would pay off with a lazy slashing call on Christian Ehrhoff and the Wild would make them pay for the mistake in judgement.  On the power play the Wild moved the puck around the perimeter and the Canucks were a little late in moving over to face Marek Zidlicky and the Czech blueliner moved towards the left faceoff dot where he wound up and blistered a slap shot that found a very small window over the right shoulder of Roberto Luongo.  A little over a minute later the Wild would take the lead, on a point shot by Justin Falk that missed wide and the puck would carom off the boards behind the goal and move right out to a waiting Guillaume Latendresse who smacked a quick shot that snuck past Luongo who had gotten to the right post a little late, 2-1 Minnesota.  Minnesota was carrying the play, taking the body with a fair amount of frequency and you could sense the confidence the lead had given the team as John Madden made a pretty move to poke a puck by Aaron Rome who was caught flatfooted near his bench and Madden would skate into the Canucks’ zone where he blasted a slap shot that would ring off the crossbar and out.  Perhaps feeling his team needed a boost, Vancouver’s resident tough guy Rick Rypien dropped the gloves with Minnesota’s Brad Staubitz.  Rypien would fire a few quick jabs and Staubitz responded with a few big lefthanded hooks as both fighters would trade punches until the Canuck forward lost his balance before falling to the ice.  A partial victory for Staubitz, and for all the Canuck fans who used to tell me that Derek Boogaard had something to fear from Rypien?  Yea right, Staubitz isn’t even half the fighter Boogaard is and Rypien struggled against a lesser fighter.  More on Rypien later.  The Canucks tried to answer back and small wrist shot by Mikael Samuelsson was gloved and held onto by Backstrom.  A few minutes later Samuelsson would show a lack of discipline when he cross-checked Greg Zanon to the ice well behind the play earning him a trip to the sin bin.  Minnesota would take advantage of this lapse of judgement.  With just 18 seconds left to play in the late-period power play, the Wild would add to its lead in transition as Martin Havlat fed a nice diagonal pass to Guillaume Latendresse who moved towards the goal before dishing a pass out to the top of the crease where a charging Cal Clutterbuck slammed home a shot 5-hole to give the Wild a 3-1 lead going into the 2nd.

Minnesota would have another strong start, moving its feet well to start the 2nd period.  The Canucks looked to still be in a haze from the first period.  The Canucks tried to ramp up the physicality with some of its lower lines as Tanner Glass and Ryan Kesler tried to throw their weight around.  Minnesota would counter punch well and take advantage of the Canucks aggressiveness as John Madden would take a long pass from Brent Burns who made a pretty move to step around Ryan Parent before ripping a wicked wrister that beat Luongo to give the Wild a 4-1 lead.  It was a crucial momentum squelching goal that really took the wind out of the Canucks’ sails as they slowly were climbing back into the game.  The Wild continued their assault and Marek Zidlicky would carry the puck down low where he’d take the puck behind the Canucks goal drawing the attention of the Vancouver defense where he then made a nifty between the legs pass back to a waiting Andrew Brunette who was camped out near the right post where he shoveled a shot by a surprised Luongo to extend Minnesota’s lead to 5-1.  About a minute later, Brad Staubitz would put a shoulder into Vancouver’s Alexander Edler knocking him to the ice that Rick Rypien did not like and the two would come together once again.  The officials would move in and immediately try to separate the two fighters as they stood near the Wild bench.  Rypien was not satsified and he took one last punch that struck Staubitz in the back of the head.  This would draw in a few other players that tied up one another and Rypien would say a bunch of choice words towards Staubitz who dismissed his challenge.  Staubitz would earn a roughing penalty as would Rypien earned a double minor as well as a game misconduct which put Minnesota on the power play.  However, what happened next was bizarre.  Rypien made his way towards the Canucks lockerroom and just as he was about to enter the tunnel to do so he went after a Wild fan who was clapping at his poor choices.  The Canucks tough guy would quickly be pulled away from the fan and the fans were suddenly in an argument with the arena and Vancouver coaching staff who wanted them gone.  More on that a little later.  Minnesota would not waste much time in striking back in revenge for its assaulted fans, as just 8 seconds into the power play the Wild would light the lamp as a quick cross-ice pass from Mikko Koivu turned into a 6-1 lead as Matt Cullen pulled the trigger on the one-timer.

With Minnesota carrying a commanding 5-goal lead, the Wild continued to apply limited pressure on the Canucks and preventing them from simply being able to rally back and turn it into a game.  The Wild would give up some power plays late and unfortunately would give up one last goal on the power play to keep Minnesota’s bid to keep the Canucks power play scoreless failed.  Some very aggressive passing led to a one-timer by Daniel Sedin off a feed from his brother to make it a 6-2 Canucks loss.

Niklas Backstrom was very solid tonight, making 25 saves in the victory.  He was seeing the puck very well and kept Minnesota in the game after Vancouver jumped out to a quick 1st period lead, and then prevented the Canucks from building momentum by making some terrific saves while they were on the power play.  Defensively the Wild were pretty good throughout most of the game, preventing the Sedins from cycling them into submission.  The Wild ended up killing 5 of 6 Canucks’ power plays and Minnesota managed to again find a little offense from its blueline as Zidlicky led the team with a 3-point night and Schultz, Falk, and Burns all ended up chipping in an assist each.

Offensively the Wild managed to do some damage both at even strength but also on the power play where they were a perfect 3-for-3.  The power play has been a tremendous source of strength and continues to showcase great execution and nice variety.  Minnesota also showed the ability to strike in transition as Havlat, Latendresse and Clutterbuck connected on a very pretty tic-tac-toe play.  Lots of credit also needs to be given to Matt Cullen who has been a tremendous catalyst as his speed and creativity with the puck continues to give the Wild a nice secondary threat outside of the top line.  Even John Madden seemed to show some offensive pinache as he dangled around a few players and was showing some initiative to take his chances to score goals.

Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t chime in on the Rick Rypien incident as it has quickly become known.  There is zero excuse for a player to physically accost a fan.  Its one thing to squirt a water bottle at them, but to go after a guy who is standing their clapping his hands?  Pathetic on Rypien’s part.  The replay clearly showed that the Wild fan did absolutely nothing wrong.  He didn’t reach over towards Rypien, he didn’t throw anything at him and even if he was saying something about Rypien it shouldn’t matter.  This isn’t the 1970’s when you’d climb into the crowd ala Slap Shot or Mike Milbury and attempt to beat a fan down with a pennyloafer.  I would imagine that Rypien will recieve a considerable suspension for this, and unfortunately this will likely overshadow what was a fairly decent game.  Without question it will earn some “play time” on ESPN and may even warrant itself worthy of a topic on Outside the Lines.  Either way its bad media for the league and Rypien should be punished harshly.  Arena security moved in and removed the fans, but fortunately they would recognize their mistake was not with the fan but rather the Vancouver player and the fans were relocated to other seats along the glass.

It was a quality win, where the Wild put together a 57-minute effort against an opponent who looked a little sluggish, but at this point you have to take victories anyway you can collect them.  I am sure Vancouver Head Coach Alain Vigneault will have his troops ready to play when the team face each other again on Saturday night.  Minnesota better be ready to play its “A” game in the always hostile crowd at Rogers Arena.

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight was as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen, Guillaume Latendresse, Eric Nystrom, Chuck Kobasew, Cal Clutterbuck, Brad Staubitz, John Madden, Marek Zidlicky, Brent Burns, Greg Zanon, Justin Falk, Nick Schultz and Cam BarkerJose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom behind the pipes.  Clayton Stoner and Colton Gillies were the healthy scratches while Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still attempting a comeback from the concussion he recieved a season ago.

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

~ The attendance at tonight’s game is 16,806, the lowest total for a regular season Wild game in franchise history.

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!