Whenever I drive back home for a weekend, part of the highlight of my 3+ hour commute is the chance to listen to NHL Home Ice radio on XM. One of my favorite shows for serious, focused hockey talk is Hockey Unfiltered with Todd Lewis. Unlike many of the other personalities employed by NHL Home Ice like Mick Kern, Jim “Boomer” Gordon, and Scott Laughlin there is less schtick and just straight up hockey talk. Personally, I don’t want schtick and I don’t really care what celebrity women they thought were hot back when they were in high school in the 1980’s, let’s keep it to hockey. So as I was listening, Todd Lewis listed the Minnesota Wild as one of the teams he had written off as a possibility for the playoffs. With over a hundred miles ahead of me I called in to register my 2 cents. Before I ended up being on the aire, the studio person asked me if the Wild were going to get Zach Parise. I told him that is something a lot of Minnesota fans want to see but I’m not so sure since we have so many young forwards that are going to be auditioning soon. When I finally got on the aire, the question I asked was whether the team was just 1-2 players away from being a playoff team or does it require a complete demolition since we’re about to have our 4th season in a row without the playoffs? Lewis did not seem to think the team was that far away from the playoffs and felt the division we were in (which is the subject to change) gave the Wild a favorable chance. Not sure if I totally buy that even if we were staying in the division when you consider the fact Edmonton is so young and only getting better and much the same can be said for Colorado who coincidentally is tonight’s opponent.
Is Zach Parise in the Wild’s future?
Minnesota was completely dominated by the Red Wings Friday night, but that’s hardly unusual. The Wild looked like a team that did not want to be there. I know its playoff hopes are but a formality of mathematics, but it still needs to show up. It still needs to play like it cares, and more than a few guys are literally fighting for their NHL futures out there. The Wild return home to play against the Colorado Avalanche a team that is scrapping, hoping to surprise and sneak their way into the post season so Minnesota can at least try to play the role of a spoiler. If it wants to. We’ll find out tonight.
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1st Period Thoughts: I wish the Wild would just let its fans know it really is throwing in the towel. It certainly would save us all a lot of time and know to watch something else. The Wild had a few ok scoring chances early in the game as Matt Cullen set up Darroll Powe for a close-range opportunity that was denied by Semyon Varlamov. The good vibes of that early offensive pressure would quickly be dismissed when Peter Mueller slapped a puck on goal that was stopped by Matt Hackett but he’d give up a rebound right to Jamie McGinn who snapped it home, 1-0 Colorado. The goal effectively killed the home crowd. With near dead silence the Wild would give Colorado a power play when Darroll Powe hauled down an Avalanche defenseman for an easy call. The mistake would prove costly as Peter Mueller wound up and hammered a shot on goal that again caused a big rebound from Hackett and McGinn was there to pounce on the loose puck to make it 2-0. Over the next few minutes the Wild tried feebly to answer back but Colorado seemed to have a step or two on Minnesota at all times. The only line that was consistently putting pucks on goal was the 2nd line of Powe, Cullen and Devin Setoguchi. Colorado was also looking to bury Minnesota early as Matt Duchene dangled around a Wild defender before unleashing a heavy wrist shot that nearly fooled Hackett. Minnesota’s 4th line tried to give Wild fans something to cheer about as Stephane Veilleux won a battle along the boards deep in the Avalanche zone before taking the puck and tried to wrap it around Varlamov who held the post well for a stop. At a few different points throughout the period it appeared as though the Avalanche were toying with the Wild, as they attempt to set up McGinn for a hat trick. The Wild defense was disorganized and guilty of not moving their feet as the team looked unprepared to play. Mercifully the period would end and the Wild had to feel a little lucky they only trailed 2-0 at this point despite being out shot 17-11. I am not sure why this team chose to dress Erik Christensen, he floated around the ice as he normally does. (sigh) It can’t get worse can it???
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had an outstanding chance early in the 2nd period as Tom Gilbert feinted at shooting and instead gave a pass to Kyle Brodziak who tried to out wait Varlamov who aggressively moved towards Brodziak and prevented him from getting off a good shot. The Wild would get its first power play of the game when Cal Clutterbuck was high sticked by Mike Connolly, but there was also a missed call as Varlamov played the puck just beyond the trapezoid which should’ve been an additional penalty. On the power play the Wild were not able to create much other than a two blasts from the point that were dismissed by Varlamov. After coming up empty, Minnesota would have a better chance as Dany Heatley find a little time and space after a pretty little pass by Cullen and Heatley moved in and lifted a backhander that struck the crossbar and out. Minnesota continued persist offensively, as Jared Spurgeon sent a shot wide that caromed back out front and Nick Johnson and Kyle Brodziak tried to chip it by Varlamov but he was able to hold the Wild off the scoreboard. Colorado would counter attack with the McGinn, Mueller line and Minnesota scrambled around its own zone as the puck skittered in and around the crease before Jed Ortmeyer was able to work it out of the Wild zone. With Minnesota pressing so hard for a goal, the Avalanche had opportunities to go on the odd-man rush that involved two Avalanche blueliners in Jan Hejda and Ryan Wilson, and Hejda’s pass to Wilson was just tapped wide by Wilson. The Wild was also activating its defense as virtually all of Minnnesota’s defenseman took their turns to join the rush. Minnesota looked like a pee-wee team out there, as they had a herd of players chasing the puck all over the ice, and Colorado nearly cashed in on the poor defense as Mueller found himself set up for what look liked a sure goal only to be denied by a diving play by Heatley. One player who really was playing his heart out and could be found all over the ice was Matt Cullen. Cullen had speed, energy and quickness to create some room for himself where he ripped a wrist shot that was blocked away by a stretching Varlamov and the puck would stay deep in the Colorado zone and Minnesota moved the puck to Matt Kassian for a shot but he couldn’t pull the trigger and finally a diving Cullen snapped another shot on goal. The Wild’s hard work and persistence would finally yield another Colorado penalty as Hejda was tagged with an interference call with 44 seconds left. In the closing seconds of the period, the Wild were far too predictable in their puck movement, making it easy for the Avalanche to anticipate where the puck was going and Colorado was able to prevent Minnesota from generating any shots. Minnesota out shot Colorado 11-10, but too many of the Wild’s chances were one and done.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild started the period with 1:16 left on the power play and they created a quality scoring chance early as Cullen sped into the zone and dropped it off to Heatley who nearly tapped a shot by Varlamov. Minnesota was still hustling and causing havoc but again it still wasn’t able to get sticks on the rebounds that Varlamov was giving up and another power play came up empty. Minnesota would give the Avalanche another power play but the Wild’s penalty kill was aggressive and kept Colorado to the perimeter and gave them nothing to shoot at. After the successfully kill, the Wild went back on the attack and again leading the way was Matt Cullen who seemed to be on a mission. He was flying all over the ice. Cullen’s speed continued to be a catalyst for scoring chances for the Wild as Minnesota got its forecheck working and this would cause Matt Hunwick to clear a puck into the stands for a delay of game penalty. On the power play the Wild moved the puck fairly well before Devin Setoguchi pulled the trigger on a Cullen set up that was stopped by Varlamov and Heatley looked to be in perfect position to bury the rebound but the Avalanche goalie stoned Heatley with his leg pad. For the rest of the power play the Wild were waiting to set up the perfect shot and you could hear the anxiousness in the crowd and as Steven Kampfer‘s pass was intercepted the Wild were serenaded with a loud chorus of boo’s. Colorado tried to counter attack as Paul Stastny came dangerously close to cashing in as Hackett came up with a big save with his arm and got just enough to cause the puck to trickle wide of the goal mouth. Minnesota would try to pull Hackett with just under 2:30 left but they were never able to really control the puck enough to sustain any sort of offensive pressure and after a few futile attempts they’d run out of time, the owners of a 2-0 defeat.
Its pretty tough to blame Matt Hackett for the loss, who probably wished his rebound control was a little better early on as the Wild found themselves down 2-0 just prior to the 8:30 mark of the game. I thought Hackett was seeing the puck pretty well through traffic, and at times was victimized by lazy play in his own zone. He stopped 35 shots, and by what I’ve seen he’s ready for NHL duty. Defensively, after an atrocious first 10 minutes the Wild settled down and actually played fairly well defensively. I thought Jared Spurgeon had a good game, and I felt Tom Gilbert looked much more comfortable out there. I didn’t mind Steven Kampfer except during that first 10 minutes where he looked a bit lost on the ice.
Offensively the Wild actually were creating some quality scoring chances but Varlamov was outstanding. At times I felt we were taking a bit too long to shoot and that bought Varlamov that half second he could used to get across his crease. Heatley had 3 shots, Setoguchi had 4 shots but Minnesota’s best player by forward by far was Matt Cullen. Cullen had just 3 shots on his own but he was causing Colorado fits most of the nice and his motor was in overdrive. After a really apathetic 1st period, Erik Christensen showed a little chemistry on the top line with Setoguchi and Heatley, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that combination on Tuesday in Colorado. Yet, where was everyone else? The offense was jumping into the play and taking its chances but the game was won and lost near the crease. The Avalanche scored twice off the rebound, and how many rebound chances did the Wild have? 1-2 at the most? Minnesota must dig deep and be willing to pay the physical price to get sticks on the pucks in those tough areas of the ice. This is definitely an area where the Wild misses a bigger power forward type in Guillaume Latendresse or Nick Palmieri to stand in those areas to screen the goalie and bang home the garbage goals.
No goals in two games, we’ll see how much longer this goal drought lasts. If anything the Wild will have plenty of recent film on the Avalanche as the coaches will have a chance to devise a way to beat them on Tuesday. The expectations are gone for this team. Now we’re playing for pride and the players are playing for jobs. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo seems to be at wits end when he addressed the media, “There’s no excuse,” adding, “I got to do better at getting these guys ready to go.” I think if you had a sigh counter during the press conference there were more of them than the Wild had shots on goal tonight. Am I wrong in feeling a little sorry for him? Hopefully it turns around before someone turns Yeo’s sighs into a drinking game.
~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, Jed Ortmeyer, Warren Peters, Erik Christensen, Matt Kassian, Stephane Veilleux, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Tom Gilbert, Steven Kampfer, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon. Josh Harding backed up Matt Hackett. Nick Palmieri, Kurtis Foster, Niklas Backstrom, and Chad Rau.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Semyon Varlamov, 2nd Star Matt Hackett, 3rd Star Jamie McGinn
~ Attendance was 17,354 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Steven Kampfer wore #38, the last Wild player to wear that number for the Wild was Robbie Earl.
Houston Aeros Report:
Every season has its ebbs and flows, its good times and its struggles. The Aeros are no different. Houston entered a rare 1-game weekend with a Saturday night match up against in-state rival San Antonio Rampage. With Matt Hackett playing up with the Wild after Niklas Backstrom‘s groin injury, that meant Darcy Kuemper was going to have to carry the mail for the Aeros. Unfortunately for Kuemper he found himself more or less alone out there as the Rampage peppered him for 31 shots on goal. The stalemate was finally broken in the 2nd period as the Rampage’s Bill Thomas scored, and then San Antonio’s Eric Selleck added another to put the Aeros behind by two. Team captain Jon DiSalvatore tried to right the ship by scoring his 20th goal of the season but it was too little too late and Houston fell 2-1.
WCHA Men’s Hockey Final Standings:
1. Minnesota ~ 24-12-1
2. Minnesota-Duluth ~ 22-8-6
3. Denver ~ 21-11-4
4. North Dakota ~ 20-12-3
5. Colorado College ~ 18-14-2
6. Nebraska-Omaha ~ 14-16-6
7. Michigan Tech ~ 14-16-4
8. St. Cloud State ~ 14-18-4
9. Wisconsin ~ 17-16-3
10. Bemidji State ~ 16-16-2
11. Minnesota State ~ 12-22-2
12. Alaska-Anchorage ~ 9-23-2
The Minnesota Golden Gophers brought a lot of excitement back to Mariucci Arena after a dramatic come-from-behind 2-1 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers Saturday night which capped off their first WCHA regular season title since 2005. Apart from the Golden Gophers’ McNaughton Cup, the biggest surprise of the weekend was 8th place St. Cloud State earning a victory and a tie with 2nd place UMD. It will be interesting to see how that rough week against SCSU affects the Bulldogs in the Pairwise rankings. The WCHA playoffs start next week with the match ups as follows: (1) Minnesota vs. (12) Alaska-Anchorage; (2) Minnesota-Duluth vs. (11) Minnesota State; (3) Denver vs. (10) Bemidji State; (4) North Dakota vs. (9) Wisconsin; (5) Colorado College vs. (8) St. Cloud State; and (6) Nebraska-Omaha vs. (7) Michigan Tech.
Wild Prospect Report:
Golden Gophers’ Erik Haula
LW – Brett Bulmer (Kelowna, WHL) ~ Good players raise their game down the stretch to power their clubs to the post season and Brett Bulmer is doing precisely that for the Rockets. The 6’3″ power forward had 2 goals and an assist to go along with 14 penalty minutes in a 6-3 win over a very tough Kamloops Blazers squad Friday night. Bulmer followed that up with another 3-point performance on Saturday as the Rockets prevailed against the Blazers in a rematch. A six-point weekend is not too shabby, as Bulmer has 32 goals, 57 points and 87 penalty minutes.
C – Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ As Coyle continues to rapidly rise up the score sheet, it should be remembered that the Wild also have the leading scorer on the Sea Dogs in current 2nd line center Zack Phillips. Phillips has terrific hands and like Coyle has the vision and instincts to set up his teammates, but also bury the biscuit himself. Yet Phillips most impressive performance in the 8-1 rout of the P.E.I Rocket was his 12-for-18 (66.7%) on his draws.
C / RW – Charlie Coyle (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ The most recent signee of the Minnesota Wild responded with a 4 assist night in an 8-1 thrashing of P.E.I. Coyle is an adept playmaker in addition to being a decent finisher, and the 4 helpers gives the Weymouth, Massachusetts native 12 goals and 29 points in just 18 games.
LW – Jason Zucker (Denver, WCHA) ~ The Las Vegas-native had a great weekend for the Pioneers who successfully swept the Nebraska-Omaha as he chipped in a goal and two assists. Zucker set up Daniel Doremus‘ game winning goal in overtime to earn the sweep. The speedy Wild prospects has 20 goals, 47 points and 32 penalty minutes in 31 games.
LW – Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ Scoring big goals is often about timing as it is about quantity. The Pori, Finland-native scored one of the more dramatic goals of the season when buried a shorthanded chance to tie the game last night against Wisconsin that sparked the comeback that led to a Golden Gopher victory. Haula has 15 goals, 38 points and 26 penalty minutes in 37 games.