“But the cat came back, the very next day the old cat came back, thought he was a goner, but the cat came back, ’cause he wouldn’t stay away” are the lyrics to the classic children’s song The Cat Came Back by Fiddlin’ John Carson was going through my head as I heard news that former Wild bench boss Todd Richards was now the interim Head Coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. I was kind of surprised that Richards was able to get another job when he was appointed to be an assistant coach with Columbus, but now that Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson decided to do what I suggested over two months ago and drop the axe on Scott Arniel, Richards gets a rare opportunity to redeem himself. For Richards, Howson certainly let Arniel and the Blue Jackets dig a helluva hole for him to try to fill as Columbus sits at the bottom of the league standings with 27 points. Yet Richards was there on the Columbus bench wasn’t he? Forgive me for not being too hopeful he can turn it around for the Blue Jackets. Howson obviously believed he needed to shake things up for his club; but for some reason I think he pulled the trigger to make such a move when the coaching pool was plentiful with prime candidates to make a bold, permanent change. In my opinion, Howson’s job is about to feel the axe fall next.
Did Scott Howson wait too long to axe Arniel?
The Wild made a bold move of its own on Monday, when it sent promising young defenseman Marco Scandella down to Houston. Scandella really was the heir apparent to Brent Burns in the role of the dynamic offensive defensemen, but after a not bad start to the season his game has regressed and he’s been suspect at both ends of the ice. Short of making a major trade, this is about as much of shake up as the Wild have attempted this season. So will it actually make a difference and bring this team out of its current rut?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Wild had reasonable jump in their skates to start the game, but found themselves struggling with the Sharks’ ability to possess the puck. The Sharks’ line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton were able to keep Minnesota occupied in its own zone but they were unable to create any close-in scoring chances on Josh Harding. Minnesota’s first scoring chance came off the stick of Darroll Powe who took the puck down low and then attempted a wrap around that was stopped by Antti Niemi. A few moments later, the Wild’s speedy 2nd line of Matt Cullen, Casey Wellman and Cal Clutterbuck entered the Sharks’ zone and with a fortunate bounce of a San Jose skate the puck ended up back on the stick of Cullen who swept a shot on goal but Niemi was just able to close the leg pads to keep the game tied at 0-0. Marek Zidlicky‘s bumbling play continued as he failed to track down a pass and this gave Jamie McGinn a chance to fire a shot on goal that was stopped by Josh Harding. Minnesota’s 2nd line would cause some trouble with their speed as Casey Wellman turned on the jets and raced into the San Jose zone and he found Clutterbuck trailing the play and he rifled a snap shot by Niemi to give the Wild a 1-0 lead. Just moments after the Clutterbuck goal, Minnesota nearly added to its lead as David McIntyre almost was able to wrap a shot around Niemi only to see his shot punched away by the Sharks’ Justin Braun. Josh Harding gave Wild fans’ hearts a reason to skip a beat when he tried to play a puck in his own zone as he had Logan Couture just a few feet away but luckily he managed to get it by him. However, his clearing attempt wouldn’t leave the Wild zone and for the next minute Minnesota was pinned its own end until Harding finally bailed them out with a glove save on a wicked point shot by Jason Demers. San Jose would get caught with ‘too many men’ and the Wild would have the first power play of the game. On the man advantage, the Wild moved the puck pretty well and created a nice variety of chances on Niemi. The best one off the rush as Clutterbuck hammered a shot on goal that was followed up by Nick Schultz who had joined the play. Minnesota would come up empty on the man advantage and the Sharks went on the attack and Joe Thornton must’ve thought he had the perfect set up for Marleau but Harding made an incredible save getting across his crease. Minnesota would try to provide some pressure of its own as its old 3rd line of Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson and Darroll Powe worked hard down low for a weak wrap around opportunity from Brodziak. Jared Spurgeon would get tagged for a rare closing hand on the puck penalty for holding onto the biscuit as it got up near his gloves giving San Jose its first power play of the night, but on the opening draw of the Sharks’ man advantage Joe Thornton drew the ire of Kyle Brodziak who gave a wicked two-hand chop to the back of Thornton’s legs that sent him to the ice for an obvious penalty. The Sharks now had a long 5-on-3 power play and the result was rather predictable. The Sharks would earn the equalizer on a laser from the point by Dan Boyle that beat Harding that redirected off the stick of Clayton Stoner. San Jose still had over a minute of power play time to work with due to Brodziak’s foolish penatly. Luckily for the Wild, San Jose’s power play would implode on the sheer effort of puck pressure provided by Powe and Clutterbuck. The Wild were clearly a bit angry as Brodziak was chirping with Sharks’ players out of the box and Brad Staubitz was looking for a fight and he tried to goad former Wisconsin Badger Brad Winchester for a fight but Winchester would decline the offer. The final few minutes of the period would evaporate but it was clear there could be some fireworks at some point in this game. At this point, I think the Wild have a good chance to win this game as long as they stay disciplined. Niemi looks very shaky and seems to be having troubles controlling the puck and that should mean the message at the 1st intermission is keep shooting the puck because it should result in goals on their own or at the very least some second-chance opportunities.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild was showing some more spark at the start of the 2nd as Casey Wellman just failed to connect on a give and go with Cullen. The Sharks would send out their grind line and they’d give Minnesota some problems as the Wild’s top line found themselves scrambling in their own end; the Wild would get lucky as Harding would get caught up by Justin Falk who fell down in the Minnesota crease but fortunately San Jose wasn’t able to take advantage of the situation. The Wild were activating their defense more frequently to help press the attack but the Sharks were quick to retreat and Minnesota was unable to get shots to reach Niemi. Clayton Stoner would show some strength as he sent Joe Pavelski hard into the boards as the physical part of the game continued to intensify. The hit looked pretty dangerous but luckily Pavelski was able to turn his shoulders to absorb the collision into the boards. San Jose’s top line continued to win the battle of puck possession and Thornton set up Boyle for a big blast from the point that was redirected by ‘Jumbo Joe’ but snagged out of the air by Harding. Minnesota would have a great scoring chance of their own as some great hustle down low by Nick Johnson gave him enough space to pass the puck out towards the top of the crease to Dany Heatley who turned and swung a shot that was stopped by Niemi. A few minutes later, the Wild’s top line would draw a penalty with some hustle in the Sharks’ zone giving Minnesota its 2nd power play of the game. On the power play, Minnesota moved the puck well but as Brodziak tried to drive the net he was hit from behind by Brent Burns and he went face first into the cage portion of Niemi’s goalie mask. It caused Brodziak to have a nasty laceration and he’d head to the Wild locker room for some extra repairs. Minnesota would keep battling, and they’d set up two big slap shots for Wellman and Cullen. The Wild would persist and their hard work would be rewarded as a Greg Zanon shot grazed the post and then fed back out to Zanon who fired again but this time it would catch the skate of Warren Peters and deflect in to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead. Minnesota would continue to attack and Matt Cullen made a pretty power move around Douglas Murray and his shot would ring off the left post and the puck would sit in the crease where the crowd seemed to think a goal was scored and all of the players froze until Casey Wellman realized the puck hadn’t gone in and he charged the crease and tapped it home. Wellman’s smart play would bring a ton of bodies into the crease and it was a pretty spirited scuffle in the crease. The review clearly showed that the puck was just sitting on the leg pad of Niemi but it was not covered up but the officials had blown the whistle and thus it was a no-goal call. The scuffle did result in coincidental roughing minors to McGinn and Clutterbuck. With the ice a bit more open at 4-on-4 the Sharks took full advantage of the extra ice as they swarmed near the Wild crease as Harding stonewalled a number of point-blank range scoring chances. The physicality of the game continued to be a problem, and Andrew Dejardins would hit Stoner from behind for a clear boarding infraction. Zidlicky would help the Sharks’ penalty kill as he failed to hold the zone after a nice initial faceoff win by Mikko Koivu. The aforementioned Wild defenseman continued to help thwart Minnesota’s man advantage. Minnesota had nothing going on the power play as the Wild went into the 3rd leading 2-1. The Wild were battling well, and Niemi still appeared to be shaky but Cullen’s missed opportunity may come back to haunt them (knock on wood).
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would not be able to do much with the last 10 seconds of power play time that carried over from the 2nd period, and San Jose went back on the attack and it was Ryane Clowe trying to jam home a shot but Harding was strong on the post. The Sharks’ 2nd line would cause Minnesota some issues a minute or so later as Logan Couture would dangle a puck around a few diving Wild defenders before backhanding a shot on goal that was stopped by Harding and Clowe would be hooked by McIntyre as he was looking for a rebound opportunity giving San Jose another power play. Minnesota’s penalty killers were hustling very well, and Cal Clutterbuck was a red blur flying all over the ice and preventing San Jose from being able to set up in the Wild’s zone. San Jose would finally get it settled and it was Clowe again peppering Harding with shots but the Wild goaltender was up to the task even with a big bodied screen of Michal Handzus near his crease. Minnesota was really on its heels as the 2nd line of Clowe, Couture and Dejardins seemed to live in the Wild zone. After a nice blast of a slapper by Couture, Dejardins directed the rebound wide of the Minnesota net as Harding sprawled. With the ice clearly tilted, the Wild would finally counter punch and Nick Johnson would take a chance to fire a shot on goal, and his wrist shot snuck by Niemi to give Minnesota a huge 3-1 lead. Not a good goal given up by Niemi, but Minnesota will gladly take it. San Jose renewed their offensive after the Johnson goal, and began to control the Wild zone as they have for much of the period and their persistence would pay off. A fairly mundane wrist shot form the point by Marc-Edouard Vlasic would deflect off a few skates and elude Harding to cut the Minnesota lead to one, 3-2. Benn Ferriero would be credited with the goal, but Harding didn’t see it until it was behind him. Mikko Koivu was showing more fire than you’re normally accustomed to as he chirped at Thornton as he skated back to the Wild bench. Minnesota was still playing pretty conservatively throughout the middle portion of the period, content to cross the red line and dump it in. The Wild’s 2nd line seemed to sense the Sharks were asleep and Cullen turned on the afterburner to fly by Vlasic who attempted to play the angle but as Niemi stopped the first chance, but Wellman crashed the net and chipped a shot off the knee of Cullen and into the back of the net to make it 4-2. After a lengthy review, it was ruled a good goal and Minnesota again had that crucial two-goal cushion. Minnesota would try to defend its lead over the closing minutes and it was as though the Wild were inviting the Sharks to get back into this game. The Sharks started to win more puck battles and it was San Jose’s 2nd line that found the back of the net as Logan Couture just kept firing shots and Harding stopped a bunch before Couture finally buried it to make it 4-3. San Jose would bury the equalizer as they got caught in the Sharks’ zone after a fine play by Boyle and San Jose would go on a 3-on-2 and Thornton set up Marleau for an easy goal to stun the sellout crowd at 4-4. It was just poor defense and Minnesota was not looking good after Marleau’s goal as Joe Thornton found some space where he wound up and hammered a slap shot that was steered wide by Harding. With the crowd silenced and anxious, Minnesota managed to make it the last minute and a half without sustaining anymore damage and the game would go to overtime. I think its obvious that the Wild did not have much momentum going into overtime; just a lapse of focus and the Wild find themselves in this situation; this is why they’ve won just one of their last 12 games.
Overtime Thoughts: The game nearly ended early in over time as the Sharks had complete control from the start of overtime and Marleau nearly squeezed a shot in but the puck was pushed out by Harding who managed to cover it up for a huge whistle as Minnesota dodged an early bullet. Minnesota’s defense was horrible as Schultz and Zidlicky were both mesmerized by the the Sharks. Moments after that, Greg Zanon would fall down giving Marleau a break away and Harding made another huge save. Minnesota wasn’t even close to even skating in the Sharks’ zone let alone generate a shot on San Jose’s goal. The Wild got just a single shot; a wrist shot by Justin Falk that Antti Niemi swatted away. With just about a minute left in overtime, San Jose Head Coach Todd McClellan would call a timeout to discuss the matter with his club as the Wild were just hoping to catch their breath. Minnesota would have one last chance in overtime as Mikko Koivu unleashed a heavy wrister which was kicked aside by Niemi and the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Summary: The Wild opted to shoot first, and their first trigger man was Matt Cullen. Cullen, would move a little to the left, without much speed and he’d fire a wrist shot against the grain that seemed to be stopped by Niemi but the puck just had enough momentum to trickle over the line to give the Wild a 1-0 lead. The Sharks’ first shooter was Michal Handzus and he moved in and fired a wrister that was gloved by Harding. Minnesota’s next shooter was Mikko Koivu who made it look very easy with a sick forehand to backhand roof goal which has become a classic of his shootout resume, 2-0 Wild. This put all the pressure on Ryane Clowe to keep his team alive, and he’d get up to speed and race in where he tried to deke from his forehand to backhand but Clowe was unable to lift it over a sprawling Harding as the Wild prevailed 5-4.
Harding kept Minnesota in the game, stopping 34 shots to give the Wild a huge 2 points in the standings. Let’s face it, the Wild probably deserved to lose tonight’s game; especially in overtime where they did just about all they could to give San Jose the win. In my opinion, Harding deserved one of the stars of the game because he was downright heroic at times. However, when the Wild needed a huge save, Harding was there to slam the door in the Sharks’ collective faces. Defensively I was not impressed. I thought Justin Falk, Greg Zanon and Marek Zidlicky were somewhere between horrible and pathetic. The poor defensive coverage, the gaffes with the puck were hard to watch. How bad is Mike Lundin is that he’s sitting in the press box in favor of any of these 3 clowns?
Offensively the Wild got offensive contributions from 3 of its 4 lines and that ultimately gave Minnesota just enough cushion to get into overtime and the shootout so they could win this game. The best line of the night by far was the Cullen, Wellman, and Clutterbuck line which had the speed to put the Sharks’ on their heels. The top line of Koivu and Heatley benefited from the hard working presence of Nick Johnson to win battles along the boards and then move the puck into the scoring areas of the ice. Devin Setoguchi being sat allegedly for missing a team meeting is pretty disappointing. Not for the fact the team chose to have him scratched (which I completely support, regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game) but the fact he’d choose not to go when your a team that has won just 1 of its last 12 going into this evening’s game. Sorry, but that’s unacceptable, and you should be willing to go to as many meetings as it takes to turn this losing streak around.
On a side note, Casey Wellman had a terrific game tonight. He chipped in two assists but by all rights he deserved the Cullen goal. Wellman has some great talent and speed, but as long as he keeps remembering to shoot the puck I think there is a place on this team for him. Hopefully tonight’s game was a sign of things to come. I also liked the extra speed David McIntyre brought to the lineup and the 3rd line played more like itself because of that tonight.
This was not a great game defensively for the Wild, but turned out to be the kind that fans often love to relish. It had the story of it being Cullen’s 1,000th NHL game, it had Wild showing some resiliency but it also had some colossal breakdowns. The win likely keeps Minnesota in the playoff picture for now, but they must make some corrections if it hopes to really turn things around for the long run.
~ The lineup tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen, Casey Wellman, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Johnson, Darroll Powe, Colton Gillies, Warren Peters, Brad Staubitz, Kyle Brodziak, David McIntyre, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Mike Lundin and Devin Setoguchi were the healthy scratches. Pierre-Marc Bouchard is on the shelf for the foreseeable future with a concussion.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Matt Cullen, 2nd Star Cal Clutterbuck, 3rd Star Casey Wellman
~ Attendance was 18,896 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros showed remarkable resilience in a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over in-state rival San Antonio Rampage Sunday night. It was a big night for two former Calgary Hitmen as Kris Foucault scored and Joel Broda had two markers of his own including the game winner. Jon DiSalvatore had the other goal for the Aeros. Matt Hackett made 33 saves in the
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate Matt Cullen on playing in his 1,000 NHL game this evening, becoming just the 7th Minnesotan to do so!
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Tyler Graovac (Ottawa, OHL) ~ The 67’s are sensing destiny may be with them as they start to prime themselves for a strong 2nd half they hope will vault them to an OHL title. Graovac had an assist and was a +2 in Ottawa’s 4-0 win over Mississauga St. Michael’s Sunday afternoon.
C – Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ The Sea Dogs hope to repeat as Memorial Cup Champions, and with World Junior Championship attendees Nathan Beaulieu, Jonathan Huberdeau returning and fellow Wild prospect Charlie Coyle soon to make his QMJHL debut Saint John is poised to make a strong run of it. Phillips continues to have a strong season, scoring his 22nd goal of the season along with going 11-for-22 (50%) on his draws in the Sea Dogs’ 6-3 win over Halifax.