“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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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.
~ 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
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.