A delicious turkey? Check. Mashed potatoes? Check. The ubiquitous green bean caserole? Check. Thanksgiving is a holiday where families reunite and get together for a marvelous feast and then enjoy the delicious left overs for the remainder of the week. Speaking of leftovers, there is this NHL season that is in full swing. What leftovers can we expect to see from the first quarter of the Minnesota Wild season.
1. Josh Harding takes over the #1 goaltender spot. Sorry Niklas Backstrom, but I think Harding has the full confidence of the team and whether its fair or not he seems to have been given the goal support necessary to win games.
2. Ryan Suter continues to log 30+ minutes most nights. I am not sure if this is something to be proud of or if its an indictment on the rest of the Wild's blueline, but Minnesota leans heavily on its assistant captain and so far he's shown great stamina yet it might be in the team's long term interests to try to reduce his workload.
3. Jason Pominville establishes chemistry with (insert Wild player here) in Mikael Granlund's absence. It is very important the Wild keep Pominville scoring and a dominant force as he helps balance the team's attack. Pominville has slowed down a bit since Mikael Granlund has been lost to what appears to be another concussion so its imperative he establish some kind of connection with another player until Granlund's return so the Wild do not slide too far in the standings.
The Wild are playing in some of their most 'visible' games of the year right now as fans, enjoying the holidays have the time to relax and watch the hockey the way that may have eluded them until now. It is important the Wild show its fans that even with some of its injuries that it can still win tough games like they're going to have this late afternoon with Colorado. The Avalanche have been the 'surprise' team of 2013-14 so far. Minnesota has feasted on the Avalanche the last few years, and I have little doubt that Head Coach Patrick Roy, the man whose last goal was scored on by the Wild, will want to reverse that trend. Can the Wild step up to the challenge and put Colorado in its place? Or will the Wild look like a team still nursing a Thanksgiving Day food induced coma?
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1st Period Thoughts: The first period had as about as fast and frantic pace as we've seen at Xcel Energy Center in years. Both clubs were just flying, trading rushes up the ice which was very entertaining to the sellout crowd but probably a little unnerving for the coaching staffs. I have to admit, I was loving the speed and flow of the game, a stark contrast from the slow and plodding style of the Wild's last game against Phoenix. The Avalanche would strike first as a Ryan Suter turnover was swept up by Nathan MacKinnon who dished it over to Gabriel Landeskog who worked it back to Jan Hejda who stepped into a slap shot that just went over the arm of Josh Harding and in. 1-0 Colorado. The fast and furious pace continued throughout the period as the Wild tried to counter with a goal of its own. Minnesota was entering the offensive zone with terrific speed and they'd try to create plays off the rush but just couldn't connect and when they finally did Jean-Sebastien Giguere was able to shut the door. The Wild started to tilt the play into the Colorado zone and their relentless puck pressure was starting to wear on the Avalanche. Jason Zucker and Erik Haula both seem to have oodles of speed and were using it to put Colorado on its heels, and that's saying something as the Avalanche are a very fast club by their own right. The newly formulated 2nd line of Haula, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville combined to create a great scoring chance. After a nice battle by Erik Haula to enter the zone with speed he'd swing a pass back to Niederreiter who protected the puck and he'd swing a pass to Jason Pominville who fired a shot on goal that Gigure fought off but he'd sweep up the puck where he was hooked by Erik Johnson which helped foil Pominville's wrap around attempt. Minnesota would have a big opportunity late as Cody McLeod would deliver a dirty hit from behind to Jonas Brodin who was stopping near the Colorado bench. McLeod did not have to hit Brodin, but coudln't resist and a small little scuffle occurred after the cheap shot. The officials were not amused and McLeod was tagged with a 5-minute boarding major and a game misconduct. Unfortunately the Wild were predictable and ineffective on the power play and after nearly a 2 1/2 minutes of struggling to hold the zone and poor passes the period would come to an end.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had nearly 2 1/2 minutes of power play time left to start the period but they did not really make any significant improvements. The puck movement was predicable and when they did take their shots the Avalanche were able to get sticks and bodies into the lanes and keep them from reaching Giguere. Adding insult to injury the Avalanche would counter attack after killing off the penalty and they'd extend their lead as a long range shot by Landeskog was redirected by MacKinnon up and over the shoulder of Harding and it was 2-0 Colorado. It was at this point the Wild seemed to go for broke. The Avalanche would sit back a bit in their own zone and the Wild would pour it on. Arguably the best line was the 2nd unit of Heatley, Niederreiter and Haula were really causing some havoc in the Colorado end. Heatley, was even showing a little jump in his step and was making a little toe drag move to try to gain a little space to fire a puck on goal. The line was shifty and strong when it had to be along the boards and it was Erik Haula tracking down a puck where he was knocked down to the ice but from his knees he'd swing a pass over to Niederreiter who carried the puck out from beneath the goal line and he threaded a pass back to the crease that was tapped home by Heatley to cut the Avalanche lead in half 2-1. With the crowd roaring the Wild continued to attack. The Wild's top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville were able to control the puck but unfortunately their possession wasn't leading to a lot of shots on goal. You could sense the momentum had shifted but would they have enough? Jonas Brodin returned and played pretty well.
3rd Period Thoughts: In the 3rd period the Wild threw everything they had at Colorado. The Wild were taking shots from all over as well as making a better effort to get to the crease in search of the equalizer. Jean-Sebastien Giguere was stopping everything low to the ice and so Minnesota's shooters started to try to lift their shots and this started to yield more rebounds and the action got more dicey near the crease. However everytime the Wild looked as though they were in position bury the game-tying goal they just couldn't get it done. Whether it was a wrap around attempt for Zach Parise, or a wide open net for Jared Spurgeon it was always pushed just wide or high. Colorado's John Mitchell would get a slashing penalty when he hacked Ryan Suter's stick out of his hand. On the power play the Wild took a more simplified approach and tried to just jam the puck by Giguere but the Avalanche would get physical near the blue paint and keep Minnesota from capitalizing on the man advantage. In the closing minutes the Wild were dominating the Colorado zone, hoping for a fortunate bounce off a skate or stick but it just wasn't meant to be. The Wild pulled Josh Harding with about a minute left and an intercepted pass made for an easy breakout by Gabriel Landeskog and he buried the empty netter to seal a 3-1 victory.
Josh Harding was ok, making 18 saves in the loss. He had a few clutch saves but the long range shots were simply too much offense for the Wild to overcome. Defensively, the Wild were ok in their own zone, but they did not do a good job at supporting the attack and keeping Coloroado bottled up in their own end. It was far too easy for the Avalanche to break out and start on the rush the other way and the passive defensive play was a big part of that. You could forgive some of that if Minnesota's defenseman were pinching more and simply getting caught but often it was a matter of retreating too early and making it easy for Colorado to alleviate pressure.
Offensively the Wild were far too picky through the first two periods in regards to taking shots. Minnesota would cycle the puck well but no one seemed to want to shoot the puck and result was decent possession time that wasn't amounting to much of anything. A classic example of this was in the 2nd period where the Wild were cycling the puck well and moving it around the perimeter on the 2nd half of the 5-minute major to Cody McLeod but Minnesota was content to just work the puck around the Avalanche zone but since no one was really taking the opportunity to shoot the Wild ostensibly killed the power play for Colorado. Colorado was never really forced to defend and Giguere wasn't forced to make any real tough saves. Minnesota should have been able to make the Avalanche pay on the 5-minute major but at a crucial point where the Wild were trailing by a goal, for whatever reason the sense of urgency just wasn't there. I thought Erik Haula was decent in his NHL debut. He exhibited plenty of wheels, good creativity and a willingness to dig out pucks along the boards.
I think the Wild played with energy but they didn't necessarily play with the will to win. Or at least the willingness to pay the physical price to win. In fact, assistant captain Zach Parise, who should've been a fantastic source of inspiration since he missed just 1 game after being told by doctors he'd be out 2-3 weeks lambasted his team in his post game quotes to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Michael Russo. "We played a soft hockey game, we cheat, we turn the puck over, we turn away from everything, we make it easy for them." Ouch! But its true. How many times do you see the Wild skaters let go of the puck to step away from an incoming body check or try to just dangle instead of putting a shoulder down and giving that opposing player a dose of their own medicine? The truth is, we rarely do and opponents have noticed this and realize that in order to take the Wild out of its puck possession game you simply go at them harder and they'll more often than not just give up the puck. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo, when confronted by Russo about Parise's comments didn't not repudiate them. If anything, he somewhat added on to what Parise had said when he stated, "We get out to a slow start and get behind and that's a big reason why we're not winning games right now, we get on the power play and right now we look slow and deliberate with the puck, we get zone time and can be there a minute but not get a shot on goal." Hard to disagree with any of what Parise and Yeo said. However, the $64 question is, what are they going to do to make sure that doesn't happen tomorrow night in Colorado?
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Erik Haula, Jason Zucker, Dany Heatley, Jason Pominville, Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Mike Rupp (gone due to a death in his family) Justin Fontaine, Nate Prosser and Mathew Dumba were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Wild.com were: 1st Nathan MacKinnon, 2nd Star Gabriel Landeskog, 3rd Star Erik Haula
~ Attendance was 19,081 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Erik Haula wore #56 for the Wild, the last player to wear that number was defenseman Erik Reitz.
Wild Prospect Report:
G – Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) ~ The athletic goaltender made 24 saves in the game but was a crucial 0-for-2 in the shootout as the Huskies fell 4-3 to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Belanger has a 12-7 record with a 3.37 goals against average and an .872% save percentage in 20 games played this season.
LW – Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, H-East) ~ The lanky left winger played on the top line for the Fighting Irish along side Sam Herr and Austin Wuthrich and Notre Dame rolled to a 5-2 victory over the visiting Alabama-Huntsville Chargers. The game was the first in the annual Shillelagh Tournament. The goal was Lucia's 6th of the season and tomorrow the Fighting Irish play Northeastern which won in a shootout against Western Michigan.
D – John Draeger (Michigan State, Big 10) ~ The Spartans earned a rare victory with a 4-1 win over Princeton on Friday. The former Shattuck-St. Mary's star played on the 2nd pairing and tallied an assist in the victory.
D – Nolan DeJong (Michigan, Big 10) ~ The Wolverines also opened Big 10 action this evening with a 4-3 overtime victory over rival Ohio State. The freshman defenseman added an assist and was a +1 in the game with a single shot on goal while playing on the Wolverines' 3rd defensive pairing.
LW – Anthony Hamburg (RIT, Atlantic) ~ The Phoenix-native is heating up after switching from center to left wing. Hamburg tallied his first goal of the season in the Tigers' 5-2 win over Sacred Heart. The former Omaha Lancer scored on his only shot on goal and was a +1 in the game.