I am not sure if you're like I am when I play video game hockey, but if somehow I manage to lose the game the competitive drive in me demands that I hit "rematch" and play the game over again to avenge my loss and restore my wounded pride. Yes, its just a video game but I refuse to let the game get the best of me. I am sure the Chicago Blackhawks wished they could hit "rematch" immediately after the Wild's 5-3 victory over the Blackhawks in the United Center on Saturday night. The Blackhawks felt their sloppy play allowed the Wild to earn a win and just like myself they will want to avenge that loss to restore their pride and solidify their place ahead of the Wild in the Central Division standings as both clubs are tied with 15 points. The Wild had a lot of good feelings going for them as they won their 3rd straight, but now they want to finish what they started by playing better at home. As sloppy as Chicago says it played, the Wild were also a bit sloppy in the defensive zone and they could tighten up defensively as well.
Minnesota should expect to weather a Chicago storm early. If they can do that I think the Wild have a good chance to complete the series sweep. The goals that eluded the Wild so much in the first 10 games of the season ended up in the back of the net on Saturday and Minnesota will want to build on that. Can the Wild send Chicago a message that they are a team to be reckoned with or will the Blackhawks tell Minnesota 'not so fast"?
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1st Period Thoughts: Just as expected, the Blackhawks started the game with a tremendous amount of jump and purpose. Chicago immediately started to pin the Wild in its own end with a solid forecheck but Minnesota looked a little lethargic out of the gate but they were still able to get sticks into shooting and passing lanes and keep most of the shots from reaching Niklas Backstrom. Backstrom, demonstrated he was very much focused in his own right as he nabbed a big slapper from the point taken by Patrick Kane out of the air with his glove. The Blackhawks' speed was very evident as the Wild found very little in the way of time and space, as Chicago won a lot of the early little races to the puck. However like a patient boxer, the Wild started to steadily take some chances of its own after playing rope-a-dope the first few minutes. It all started with a nice open ice hit by Clayton Stoner who leveled Wild killer Bryan Bickell just inside the Wild blueline. A nice little pass play would yield an odd man chance for Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville in a 2-on-1 and the two passed back and forth and Granlund waited for the defenseman to commit before feeding Pominville who just pushed a shot wide. Minnesota would steadily start to dictate the pace of the game little bit by little bit as they started to work their puck possession game down low in the Chicago end. Zach Parise would earn the first penatly of the game as he tripped up Brent Seabrook and the Wild would have its next big test. The Wild would catch Chicago by surprise as they'd nearly tally a shorthanded by Torrey Mitchell who got a pass from a forechecking Matt Cooke who was outnumbered 3-to-1 as he fed it out towards the right faceoff dot for a chance that seemed to stun the Blackhawks. Chicago would regroup but Minnesota's penalty was strong, keeping the Blackhawks to the perimeter and when they did work the puck on goal they were quick to sweep it out of danger and the Wild got a huge kill. Chicago continued to outwork and outhustle the Wild and their persistance would be rewarded when Marian Hossa worked a puck down behind the Wild goal to Patrick Sharp. Sharp wasted no time moving out front where he fired a shot between the left post and Niklas Backstrom who was a tad bit late getting across his crease and it was 1-0 Chicago going into the 1st intermission. I have little doubt the goal was a huge relief for Sharp who was stonewalled 7 times in Saturday's game on a number of high quality chances probably felt a little cursed. Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser both had a good period and the one line that seemed to be able to make things happen offensively was the 2nd line of Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period was a tale of two halves. In the 1st half of the period the Wild adhered to their puck possession game a bit more and the team was able to create scoring chances and keep the Blackhawks attack at bey. Minnesota kept pressing for the equalizer and they'd finally get it off a nice little play by Mikael Granlund to step around a Blackhawks defenseman at center ice where he dished it to Jason Pominville shortly after crossing the blueline and the former Buffalo Sabre stepped into a slapper that beat Corey Crawford cleanly to tie at at 1-1. I am sure Crawford wanted that one back as he was unscreened and should've had a good angle to keep that one out of the net. As great as the goal was here is where the wheels fell off. The Wild would get lazy and stop making the tape to tape passes instead of just opting to chip the puck off the boards / glass whether they had to or not and Chicago was able to control the game. The Wild would give up two goals on somewhat similar circumstances as they would get caught chasing the Blackhawks all over their own zone. Failed clearing attempts, mishandles of the puck proved costly as Sheldon Brookbank and former Wild 1st round pick Nick Leddy both blasted shots by a sprawling Niklas Backstrom who was flopping all over his crease. The Wild had a few fleeting scoring chances of their own, as Nino Niederreiter gave us a glimpse of his heavy slap shot but Crawford was able to come up with some saves to keep Minnesota down by two.
3rd Period Thoughts: This is where it really got ugly and a Wild rookie was exposed big time. Mathew Dumba was a gaffe machine and Chicago was ready to really pressure the Wild whenever he was on the ice and that led directly to two more goals which would seal a 5-1 victory for the Blackhawks. Dumba struggled to handle the puck, especially with Chicago players in close proximity and then what made matters worse is that some of his decisions were of the high-risk, low reward variety. Especially up near the blue line his passes lacked zip and were often off-target making it tough for his fellow point men to handle the puck. Dumba was also overhwhelmed in the defensive zone as Chicago scored their final goal off a Dumba turnover and then took advantage of his hesitation to chase the play as Brandon Saad buried an easy tap in goal. If Dumba hustles, Saad may not get that chance at all. You can't blame Niklas Backstrom for the goals, but he wasn't quite as sharp as he was earlier in the game as well when he was seeing the puck very well through traffic. The Blackhawks were getting near the blue paint much of the period and this led to a little feistiness but the Wild didn't have much push back and were trounced by Chicago.
Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley clearly were passengers in this game. Koivu is absolutely worthless playing the point on the power play. His shot is not going to be much of a threat on the few times he decides to actually take a chance himself but his puck distribution is highly predictable and led to a fairly static power play which is easy to defend. The Wild got far better performance from its 2nd power play unit, made up mostly of youngsters because they move the puck quicker and less predictably than the vets do as they stay to the perimeter and then hope that Zach Parise can just jam a puck in or a point shot will somehow fool the goalie when he has no one screening in front of him.
Heatley is an unmitigated disaster in just about every realm of the game these days. His lack of speed, quickness and you could argue heart and desire is obvious and he's a detriment to every line he's been put on. However, it doesn't appear like he'll be benched even after Charlie Coyle returns from injury. Heatley has done nothing to earn Top 9 minutes and the team seems to be at a loss as to what to do with him except to continue to play him and hope he works out his issues.
I know the Star Tribune's Michael Russo disagrees with me, but I'd send Dumba back to junior. While Russo believes being tutored by Rick Wilson and Daryl Sydor will be a benefit to him, we've heard that before. Its one thing if you're playing, which is really where the true learning is done or if you're sitting on game nights making popcorn at the James Sheppard Memorial Popcorn Maker (with the slogan, "I learned to do this when I was 3!"). Dumba to me is not ready and while Jonas Brodin was fantastic when given the chance people need to remember he had been playing against men for two seasons in Sweden before he got his chance with the Wild. Also, I'd say the two have very different styles and Brodin's hockey IQ is far sharper than Dumba's. If the Wild play Dumba again, the first year of his Entry Level Contract kicks in. I don't think the Wild really care about that, but it might be nice to help stagger those contracts. While defensive depth is a legit concern, I think the Wild have other options which can be as good as Dumba is right now. With points and a good start so crucial to success the team needs stability more than it needs to tutor a youngster right now.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Justin Fontaine, Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak, Dany Heatley, Stephane Veilleux, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Mike Rupp (knee), Charlie Coyle (knee), Keith Ballard (concussion), and Jonas Brodin (fractured cheekbone) are out of the lineup with injuries.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Minnesota Radio were: 1st Star Brandon Saad, 2nd Star Patrick Kane, 3rd Star Corey Crawford
~ Attendance was 18,685 at Xcel Energy Center.
Golden Gophers Hockey Report:
The Golden Gopher men's team participated in the Big 10 / Hockey East Challenge in an excellent two-game series with Boston College. Boston College has dominated Hockey East the last 5 seasons and so far Minnesota looks to be the top team in the new Big 10 Conference. In Friday's game the Golden Gophers got out to a 2-0 lead but Boston College would rally back with 3 goals to take the lead with two of them coming from former Edina Hornet Michael Sit. Freshman Taylor Cammarata would score in the 2nd to tie the game at 3-3. Yet that's as close as it would get as Thatcher Demko and Adam Wilcox shut the door to end the game in a stalemate. Both clubs would have a shootout just for fun at the conclusion of a 5-minute overtime which Boston College won 2-0. The two clubs would come together again on Sunday and the Golden Gophers again started fast by piling up 4 goals on Thatcher Demko in the 1st period from Nate Condon, Seth Ambroz, Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei. Boston College would answer with a power play goal in the 2nd from Evan Richardson but they still trailed by three going into the 3rd. Minnesota would add to its lead in the 3rd period as Michael Brodzinski and Jake Bischoff lit the lamp to make it 6-1. An ugly and scary moment came midway through the period as Boston College's Michael Matheson shoved the Gophers' Nate Condon careening into the goal after he took a shot off the rush. Condon was very sore as his torso made contact with the goal before sliding into the boards as well. Matheson would be given a major penalty. Minnesota would prevail 6-1 on the strength of 31 saves by Adam Wilcox. Solid performance for the #1 ranked and still unbeaten Gophers.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Game: Iowa 2, Grand Rapids 3
The Iowa Wild did not get off to a great start against Grand Rapids, who were playing their 3rd game in 3 nights as the Griffins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the 1st period. Nathan Paetsch would light the lamp on a blast from the point. Former Michigan Wolverines star Luke Glendening would motor his way around Jonathan Blum and then fired a shot by Darcy Kuemper to give Grand Rapids a 2-0 lead going into the 1st intermission. Iowa would respond early in the 2nd period as Jason Zucker and Warren Peters scored a little over 2 minutes apart early in the 2nd period to tie the game at 2-2. Unfortunately that is as close as it would get as Landon Ferraro would score shorthanded with less than a minute left in regulation which would be the game winner giving the defending AHL Champion a 3-2 victory. Kuemper had 23 saves in the loss. Iowa's next game is Friday against Texas.
Wild Prospect Report:
G – Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) – The goaltender continues to see lots of shots, but just as important continues to help his team earn wins as he had 34 saves in the Huskies' 5-4 win against Val 'd Or on Sunday. Belanger has a 7-2 record, with a 3.58GAA and an .873% save percentage.