"They tell you they love you, like a spider loves a fly, promise you you're safe but never look you in the eye, manipulated, regulated, crippled and controlled, Remember this, you're not alone, not alone, not alone. Come on, can you hear it? The call of the Wild, stand up now and fight back, wipe off their plastic smiles. Why listen to the losers, who treat you like a child, tune into the call of the Wild, call of the Wild!" Those are the lyrics to the German rock group Die Toten Hosen song, Call of the Wild. The Wild need to try to rally back after 2 straight losses on Tuesday and Friday of last week. However they're going to have to do so against one of the hottest teams in the NHL in the St. Louis Blues who have been doing little more than kicking ass and taking names through the first 5 games. Minnesota's newly formed attack has one good line and a lot of flotsam and jetsam after that. Expect to see a lot of changes internally tonight and if that doesn't work we might be hearing about some bigger personnel moves. At least that's my guess based on how I think the expectations are for this team from its ownership. I don't think missing the playoffs is an option for this squad without some major consequences to go with it; so the time for half measures is over with. This team wants to win now; and if it wants to really have any consideration as a contender its going to have to find a way to win against a team that is already considered to be one in St. Louis.
Another penchant of the Blues' game is in their strong physical play. They like to intimidate where they can and players like defenseman Barrett Jackman and Roman Polak along with heavyweight thug Ryan Reaves give the Blues plenty of options to try to rough up the Wild. If Reaves dresses, expect Matt Kassian to get his first game of the season and I have little doubt there will be a showdown between the two. So will the Wild split this two game road trip with a victory and a loss or will Minnesota be singing the blues on the flight home to the Twin Cities?
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1st Period Thoughts: The period started with the Wild playing a little rope-a-dope as they struggled to deal with the Blues' speed and skill as Vladimir Tarasenko gave us all a glimpse of why he's off to such a hot start as he flung a heavy wrist shot just wide of Niklas Backstrom. Minnesota was looking a little disorganized chasing the Blues around their zone as David Perron made a few Wild defenders, most notably Mikko Koivu look ridiculous as he dangled right by the Minnesota captain. One thing that was obvious early was the fact the Wild were taking its opportunities to shoot the puck, no matter what line was out there. Minnesota had its first glorious scoring chance as Marco Scandella ripped a slapper from the point that struck the crossbar and out and the puck would sit in the crease right by Matt Cullen who tried in vain to poke it by Brian Elliott but he just couldn't quite reach it before the Blues' goalie covered it up. A few moments later the Wild had another great scoring chance as Pierre-Marc Bouchard set up Devin Setoguchi for a one-timer that screamed just wide of Elliott. Bodies were also flying as Scandella was delivering and on the recieving end of some big hits. Jonas Brodin came dangerously close to registering his first NHL goal as he unleashed a slap shot that deflected off a few skates to reach Elliott who was just able to knock it down before sweeping it aside. The Blues started to assert its dominance along the wall deep in the Wild zone and David Backes passed from beneath the goal line out to Wade Redden who blazed a one-timer right by Backstrom to put St. Louis up 1-0. A few minutes later the Blues' forecheck would get Minnesota chasing around its own end and Perron's ability to elude defenders drew a slashing call on Zach Parise. The Blues' lethal power play would work the umbrella, but Minnesota's penaly killers did a nice job of keeping their sticks active to keep force the Blues to settle for shots from the perimeter and were quick to sweep away loose pucks and the Wild would escape unscathed. The Wild would start to look for the equalizer as the top line would work its magic. Parise would try to chip it deep to Mikko Koivu but Alex Pietrangelo would pick up the puck but Parise was there to steal it away where he swung a pass back to the point where Justin Falk made a nice wrist shot / pass to the slot where it was redirected nicely by Koivu where Elliott was just able to steer it away at the last moment. Minnesota's pressure would yield a St. Louis penalty as Ryan Reaves was called for boarding. The Wild's power play struggled a bit as St. Louis' penalty kill was aggressive and denying time and space in way the team hadn't seen this season. Even when they did manage to hold the zone they were a little too fancy and the result was a power play without a shot on goal. The Wild ended the period outshooting the Blues 8-7 and it was clear the lines were told to shoot the puck but they were getting nothing in the way of 2nd chance opportunities. The Wild will have to be willing to pay a physical price to earn those kinds of chances. Not a horrible first period, but missed opporutnities were holding them back (again).
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild started the period with some pressure early and Minnesota would draw a penalty on Alex Pietrangelo as he held the stick of Zach Parise. Minnesota would start with its 2nd power play unit and they would struggle to get setup in the offensive zone. After sort of struggling their way through the first minute and a half of the man advantage the Wild's 1st unit got onto the ice and impact was immediate as Zach Parise dropped a pass back to Tom Gilbert who fired a shot on goal that was stopped by Elliott and the puck would be tapped by Dany Heatley who got a piece of it as the puck slid over to Zach Parise who somehow snuck a shot through the wickets to make it 1-1. Minnesota continued to pour it on offensively as Parise set up Dany Heatley but before he could pull the trigger it was poke checked away by Elliott. Minnesota had another terrific chance as Kyle Brodziak threaded a pass up to Matt Cullen who skated in on a partial breakaway as he he was harassed by Kevin Shattenkirk and all he could manage was lift a backhand that he pulled wide of the target. A few minutes later the Wild would take advantage of another Blues penalty, this time an interference call on Kris Russell. Dany Heatley would poke a puck along the dasher to Koivu who drew the defense towards him before making a no-look backhanded pass to Parise who patiently got Elliott to drop to the ice before firing a shot around the sprawling goalie to make it 2-1 Wild and slience the normally boisterous St. Louis crowd. The Wild continued to show confidence, and after matching roughing penalties to Backes and Scandella Minnesota found another opportunity to go on the attack. Zach Parise would race into the Blues zone, drawing the defense towards him where he slid drop pass back to Mikko Koivu who skated in towards the slot before rifling a wicked wrist shot that appeared to beat Elliott and go in but there was no goal call. About 25 seconds later the arena blew the horn stopping the play and after a very brief review it was clear the puck actually made it to the twine behidn the crossbar to give the Wild a 3-1 lead. With the crowd in disbelief over the Wild's attack the Blues went on the attack. The Blues would go back on the attack and it was David Perron putting on a show deep in the Minnesota zone as he dangled around and through Wild defenders to slide a pass over to Patrick Berglund who lifted a puck over Backstrom to cut the Minnesota lead to one, 3-2. Minnesota would stem the Blues' tide and hold its one-goal lead going into the 2nd intermission.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period did not start well as the Wild would commit a "too many men" penalty. Minnesota's penalty kill again was solid, keeping St. Louis to the perimeter and earning a big kill. However its respite would be short as Bouchard who had just got finished serving the "too many men" penalty would clear a puck into the crowd to give the Blues another power play on a delay of game call. Minnesota had to dig deep again, and with some nice saves by Backstrom the Wild would again escape without any damage but it was a dangerous game they were playing. When Marco Scandella was tagged with an interference penalty for holding up T.J. Oshie you had to think they were going to continue to call penalties until the Blues tied the game. Minnesota's penalty killers, especially Torrey Mitchell and Darroll Powe did a great job at getting in the way of passes and preventing the Blues from having free reign in the Wild zone and the Wild got another kill. However in the moments just after the kill the Blues kept working the offensive zone and Alex Pietrangelo tee'd up a slapper that was redirected perfectly by Chris Stewart who was camped out in front of Backstrom to tie the game. WIth the crowd still roaring from Stewart's goal, the Blues would strike again after a bad change; set up partly by a lazy move to the bench by Cal Clutterbuck gave defensive-defenseman Barrett Jackman a free look and he hammered a shot that seemed to fool Backstrom who had Clayton Stoner standing in front of him to make it 4-3 Blues. The Wild would answer back as Ryan Suter carried the puck deep into the Blues zone where he swung a shot on goal that Minnesota's top line would crash the net and the puck popped up into the air and Dany Heatley knocked it down and into the net for what looked like the game-tying goal. The play would be reviewed, and it appeared as though Heatley waited until the puck fell beneath the level of the crossbar before tapping it in, and the officials agreed and to the chagrin of the home crowd it was now 4-4. Both clubs seemed to want to play for extra time as they were cautious from making any major mistakes. It is unfortunate the Wild's mental errors allowed the Blues back into the game, but it was good to see the team rally back. Getting to overtime is a decent accomplishment for this team.
Overtime Thoughts: The Wild started out overtime with Cullen and Setoguchi up front and Setoguchi showed some late-game jump and he flew around Pietrangelo where he wired a shot wide of the mark. Minnesota would send out its top grouping of Parise and Koivu and while they didn't register a shot on goal they played tenaciously defensively but tonight wasn't the Wild's night. A minute later Roman Polak would pinch down low in the Wild zone and chip a puck to Andy McDonald who patiently carried it behind the Wild's net and then dished it to Vladimir Sobotka who chipped a shot over Backstrom who again was caught not moving his feet to give the Blues a 5-4 overtime victory.
I was not impressed with Backstrom who was fighting the puck for much of the night and at times was guilty of not staying on his skates which is the sign of a goaltender who is guessing. There wasn't anything he could really do on the goals by Stewart and Jackman but the Wild needed him to come up with a save and he didn't. Considering Backstrom's struggles against the Blues, it is interesting Mike Yeo chose to give him the start. Defensively I thought Brodin had another solid game.
Offensively it was a familiar story. With the 1st line doing all of the heavy lifting while the other lines for the most part were passengers. All of the goals were scored by members of the top line, and while they didn't register quite as many shots as we've seen thus far Parise (3), Koivu (3) and Heatley (1) the team still had notable players on its 2nd and 3rd lines fail to put even a shot on goal as Bouchard and Broziak had nothing in the shot column. Parise continues to be the catalyst for just about anything offensively for the Wild. 10 out of this season's 13 goals have come from the top line says it all. Overall, 16 shots isn't going to get it done and was more reminiscent of the team that we saw last season. The 1st line is the only one that has any finish. Matt Cullen had some chances and worked hard all game long he wasn't able to find the back of the net. Mike Yeo still has work to do on finding some secondary scoring.
This loss stings because the Wild had a 3-2 lead going into the 3rd. The Wild played with fire by putting the Blues on the power play 5 times but to their credit the penalty kill stonewalled them all. Yet this was a game the Wild should've had and needed to have. Minnesota will feel a little good it was as competitive as it was with such a good team, but when you have a good team at your mercy you have to find a way to finish them off. Still, a point is another point closer towards a possible run to the playoffs but it should've been two.
~ Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, Torrey Mitchell, Darroll Powe, Zenon Konopka, Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert, Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, Justin Falk and Clayton Stoner. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Healthy scratches were Nate Prosser and Matt Kassian.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star David Perron, 2nd Star Alex Pietrangelo, 3rd Star Zach Parise
~ Attendance was 18,265 at Scottrade Center.
Stan Musial with NHL Hall of Famer Al MacInnis
~ At the start of tonight's game the St. Louis Blues wore #6 jerseys to honor St. Louis Cardinals' great Stan "the Man" Musial who passed away last week. The Major League Baseball Hall of Famer was a fixture in the St. Louis community and he will be missed but never forgotten. 1920-2013.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW – Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, CCHA) ~ The Wayzata-native had a terrific Saturday night for the Fighting Irish in their 5-2 victory over Ferris State. The 6'3" winger had 1 goal and two helpers in addition to an assist he had on Friday night making it a 4-pt weekend. Lucia has 8 goals and 8 assists in 17 games this season. Not too bad for a freshman.
RW – Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ The Pori, Finland-native also had a good Saturday night, chipping in an assist and an empty net goal to give #1 ranked Minnesota a 4-1 victory and a series split over in-state rival Minnesota State. Haula continues to lead the Golden Gophers in scoring with 11 goals and 31 points in 23 games.
F – Adam Gilmour (Muskegon, USHL) ~ The Boston College recruit had a great weekend for the Lumberjacks, tallying 2 goals and 4 points in his 3 games this weekend. The 6'3" forward has 14 goals and 33 points in 42 games this season.