It almost seems like every other week you could watch another 'awards' show. I have to admit most of them bore me to death and I rarely watch them. The Grammy's? Blech. The Emmy's? Nah, I'll pass. The ESPY's? Lame. The NHL Award's Show? Yawn. Yet there is one awards show I make sure I watch and that is the Academy Awards for Film, better known as the Oscar's. I'll be honest I am not sure completely why this one doesn't bore me; its basically the same as the rest. Usually they have a funny emcee; in this year's edition it was the voice of Ted and Family Guy, Seth McFarlane (who I thought did a great job by the way) and then all the glitz and glam that Hollywood has to offer. I guess I am always in search of a good movie and figure the Oscar's might help me put together a list. Yet for the first time ever I can say I had a somewhat 'personal' connection to the Oscar's as the short live-action film Curfew won. One of my former students and tennis players, Andrew Napier was an associate producer in the film. I have to admit, its was a huge surprise and I'm immensely proud of him. I am not going to say I got him started or that I inspired his movie career because even as a teenager he was driven like few others are and I cannot take any credit for that. Just to give you an idea, this student had produced an award-winning documentary before his junior year of high school. I guess it just shows anyone, that if you follow your dreams you can make it to the top; even in movies and being a kid from a small rural midwestern town who moves to Los Angeles to make his dream come true and now he plays major part of an Oscar-winning film. Almost sounds like a movie plot doesn't it? So what does this have to do with hockey? What if the NHL had more of Oscar night-like awards as opposed to the lame but predictable awards like the Vezina (best goaltender), Norris (best defenseman) etc. What if it was more like the popular movie website Rottentomatoes.com or the Raspberry Awards? Where it roasts the players, owners, coaches a bit rather than just patting each other on the back? So here is my 1st annual NHL Rotten Tomato awards! Envelopes please…
Best Diver (Actor) – Alexandre Burrows (Vancouver) – Canucks fans won't like it but Burrows is one of the most overly dramatic players in the league. His phantom trips and incessant whining does little to endear him to officials or opposing fans. Yet, he keeps right on diving, because obviously he's good at enough in order to draw a few cheap penalties here and there. Burrows also was nominated for Best Coward too in case you were curious.
Worst Coach (Director) – Guy Boucher (Tampa Bay) – The Lightning are too good to have just 19 points. They have lots of offensive firepower, speed and grit but can't seem to defend a lead to save their lives. Boucher got lots of kudos at first but the only thing Tampa Bay has been consistent with is that its incredibly inconsistent. Adam Oates, Todd McLellan, and Todd Richards all breathed a sigh of relief at not winning in this category.
Worst GM (Producer) – Jay Feaster (Calgary) – I have to admit this one was recently axed Columbus GM's Scott Howson's category to lose from the start, but leave it to Howson to even screw up at being the worst GM in hockey if not all of professional sports. Only his termination spared him from earning this Rotten Tomato award. Feaster takes this one for the simple fact he's in such incredible denial. Instead of taking the opportunities to deal Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla and starting a true rebuild he's tried to tidy up a few little pieces around them and then had the audacity to sell it as though the team has 'improved' itself. Sorry, Jay, only YOU believe that and its time you join Howson. Now Iginla looks to be way past his prime and ready for the pasture and that once 'hot' commodity may get you a tiny bit of sympathy at the trade deadline instead of the giant piece for a rebuild that it once would have.
Worst Owner (Executive Producer) – Charles Wong – While I sympathize with him on the arena issue and don't really blame him for taking steps to move the team to the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn in a few years what I don't understand is why don't you just sell the team if you're not interested in fielding a winner. I like the New York Islanders, I admire their scrappy play most nights but why not give this team a few decent free agents and help this cast of youngsters reach the next level? You admitted that buying an NHL team was a mistake, ok, we get that but why not change it? John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner and Mark Streit could use some help and the Islanders have plenty of cap space.
Last Saturday the Wild went to Calgary and for a good portion of the game sort of went through the motions. The Flames are not that good of a team and the Wild still had a chance to win despite its lethargic play, will Minnesota have a repeat performance tonight? You know what they say about sequels…
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1st Period Thoughts: Normally I would provide more of a play by play of the events of the period. It really wasn't worth talking about. The Wild appeared uninspired and as though they were a team that was just going through the motions. Through the entire 1st half of the period, the Wild didn't seem to have a lot of speed but worse yet they appeared to lack focus and instead of making crisp tape-to-tape passes as one would expect with a few days off and with some practices under their belt. Instead the Wild looked like a team fresh out of the lockout, with zero chemistry and unable to anticipate the play. The Flames were quick to take advantage as they peppered Niklas Backstrom with shots on goal and were moving into the offensive zone with ease. The Wild feeling pressure were blindly attempting area passes that became pointless turnovers. Wild players were getting bunched together and just pushing the puck up the ice and hoping someone could skate to it, which would be ok if we were talking about some Midget team but we're talking about NHL'ers. Even when the Wild got some fortunate breaks they couldn't execute. An overly aggressive play Mark Giordano gave Minnesota a 3-on-1 as Zach Parise tried to set up Mikko Koivu but his pass would go between the skates of the Wild captain and he was forced to wait and then take his shot from an atrocious angle that prevented either Parise or a waiting Charlie Coyle to pounce on a possible rebound. The Wild would get a power play thanks to a holding call on T.J. Brodie and the next two minutes was a microcosm of the 1st half of the game where the Wild looked disorganized and befuddled. The sub-par Calgary penalty kill looked like aces as they took control and had the best scoring chances of the 2-mintue man 'advantage' for the Wild, as Blake Comeau raced in on a near breakaway. All the Wild could manage was a long range shot from the point by Jonas Brodin that didn't even go on goal. To add insult to injury the Flames got a power play of their own and it took them just 7 seconds to light the lamp as a point shot by Mike Cammalleri struck Backstrom's blocker and went up into the air before it was swatted in by an alert play by Alex Tanguay, 1-0 Calgary. The goal finally woke up the Wild who started to skate with a bit more purpose and the ice began to tilt in their favor. Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu especially began to take their opportunities to put pucks on goal. Minnesota would get another power play as Roman Cervenka and Devin Setoguchi got sent to the box and the Wild finally would get a goal, or so it thought. After a big shot from the point by Ryan Suter the puck was directed on goal by Parise and the puck seemed to cross the line but at the last possible moment with almost 3/4ths of the puck being across the goal line it was swept up by Giordano and cleared. The replay clearly demonstrated the puck didn't cross the line so no surprise it was ruled a 'no goal'. The goal deflated the bench a bit and the Flames went back on the attack briefly but Backstrom would bail his team out with some nice saves down the stretch and the period would end with the home club down just by one going into the 1st intermission. It was a pathetic start, for what should've been a team energized and desperate. To me that comes down to heart and if Head Coach Mike Yeo talks about the club not coming prepared then you have to ask what is being done to prepare this team for this situation. It was an awful period for Jared Spurgeon who was turnover prone and I felt he was reckless with the puck. Dany Heatley looks completely disconnected. Not a good sign.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would get some good fortune early as Matt Stajan took an ill-advised interference penalty 12 seconds into the period. The Wild's power play was simplified, taking more chances to fire it on goal but the puck movement was highly predictable. After Mikko Koivu's wrist shot found the left post behind Joey MacDonald one player on the Wild power play started to get too fancy with the puck. That player, Jared Spurgeon began to attempt ill-advised passes and he'd effectively kill the power play by trying a stupid short pass to the slot to Koivu that went right into his skates forcing Parise to cross-check his man to prevent an odd-man rush and neutralizing the man advantage. Luckily for the Wild the Flames did a good job at killing off their own opportunities as Dennis Wideman got his stick into the grill of Justin Falk. Minnesota still was not taking advantage of their plethora of power play time. Part of their problem in my opinion was their use of Mikael Granlund on the power play. While I predicted his physical limitations might make him a power play specialist. Even with time and space Granlund didn't show me any magic playmaking ability nor was his shot all that dangerous. Why use a player like Granlund, whose wrist shot is weak by NHL standards when you can use a veteran with a similar skillset but with a better shot in Pierre-Marc Bouchard? I'd rather see Bouchard on the power play than the passive Granlund. I understand they're trying to see what he can do and build his confidence but this team needs points and they only make their job that much tougher by giving him those kinds of minutes. Mikko Koivu had to feel cursed as another power play came and went with him ringing a shot off the metal as his wrist shot found the crossbar. Charlie Coyle would then be tagged with a 5-minute major after a hit to Stajan. The Wild's penalty kill would step up big time. They were aggressive, challenging Calgary's entry into the zone and being tenacious on the puck carriers and the Flames were not able to get anything going offensively. Kyle Brodziak, Zach Parise, Torrey Mitchell and Mikko Koivu did a fantastic job and Minnesota completely shut the 5-minute power play down not even allowing a shot on goal. That, I have to admit was some impressive effort. Even on the power play the team was working hard but I think the inability to create rebounds and finish its chances continues to plague this organization. Still, the Wild just trail 1-0 so they're certainly within distance to win this game but it really speaks to the team's overall problems when one goal seemes like a big mountain to climb. Minnesota outshooting Calgary 11-5 but you don't win games by simply outshooting their opponents.
3rd Period Thoughts: The period did not start off all that great. Minnesota looked a little out of sync with missed passes and offsides infractions to start the period. The Wild would get another power play, this time on a tripping call to Chris Butler who tripped up Mike Rupp. Yet the Wild's power play was another practice in futility. The team again put Granlund out on the top unit and the Flames gave the rookie all of the time in the world to do what he wanted with it and even when he pulled the trigger he'd miss wide. The Wild were showing a little desperation, pinching with its defense but it was more reckless than calculated and Minnesota almost got burnt when Jared Spurgeon snuck in and a strange carom off the boards set up Matt Stajan for a shorthanded breakaway. Luckily for the Wild and Spurgeon it was Niklas Backstrom who came up with a huge save but the painful fact was the team had nothing to show for its efforts and the best scoring chance went to the Flames. Minnesota would get into some trouble of its own as it gave the Flames a 4-minute power play thanks to a double minor on Jonas Brodin who got his stick into the face of Curtis Glencross. Minnesota's penalty again stood up tall never allowing Calgary to create much of anything offensively and giving them fits as they foiled their attempts to enter the Wild zone. Koivu, Parise, Matt Cullen and Kyle Brodziak were tremendous. The Wild even had a little extra desperation to their game as Parise took his chances to fire the puck on goal forcing MacDonald to make some saves. The Wild would certainly feel a bit of a boost after the huge kill, its second big kill of the game. Minnesota was doing all it could to try to spark something and ultimately it was an idea to toss out rookies Granlund and Jason Zucker that would finally give the Wild the equalizer. After a big shot from the point by Ryan Suter the puck went to Devin Setoguchi who attempted to chip a quick shot on net only to have it blocked but the puck would go right to Zucker who banged it home. The crowd really came to life after Zucker's big goal, and so did the Wild. Minnesota would go right back on the attack and Dany Heatley came close with two chances late near the crease that just couldn't seem to connect. The Wild would get more fortune with just 42 seconds left as Mark Giordano apparently forgot the league's crackdown on covering the puck with your hand and twice covered it and attempted to pass it right in front of the officials. This gave Minnesota a crucial power play. The Wild tried to finish it in regulation but inexplicably they continued to try to set up goal-less Jared Spurgeon on the back door but MacDonald was up to the task stopping him twice at point-blank range and sending the game to OT and at least securing the Flames a point in the standings. Why the team wasn't using Tom Gilbert in this situation, who leads Wild defenseman in goals with 3 is beyond me.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota didn't waste much time in the extra session. After helping win the initial draw, Zach Parise swept up the puck and gave it to Ryan Suter who carried it into the zone and then he passed it to Mikko Koivu who gave a quick pass to Zach Parise camped out near the blue paint and Parise lifted a quick back hander up and over the shoulder of MacDonald and in to give the Wild a 2-1 victory.
If Parise scored the game winner, equal credit should be given to Niklas Backstrom who was again rock solid between the pipes for the Wild. He kept Minnesota in the game when it continued to come up empty on the power plays; and if he gave up a soft or even a weaker goal this team probably wouldn'tve been able to answer twice; not in regulation at least. Defensively I thought Jonas Brodin was again tremendously poised. His ability to elude forecheckers and then make a perfect tape to tape pass is so important on this team. One player who I am not impressed with is Jared Spurgeon. I understand he's trying to be the offensive defenseman he was in his junior days in Spokane but at times his reckless play really put Minnesota into some awkward situations defensively. While he tried to step up and play physical that is not a real good choice for him since just about every player in the league has a distinctive height and weight advantage over him. He is at his best when he keeps his game simple; i.e. Brodin-like. While we haven't seen Spurgeon try to go end to end ala Brent Burns, he had one sequence where he tried to be the forechecker on a rush and stayed down low while Mike Rupp was forced back to cover for him. I do not like that situation at all and we're lucky it didn't hurt us. Oddly enough Spurgeon led the team in shots, with 6 and hits 3 but this isn't a good trend for the Wild in my opinion. The other great bright spot defensively apart from Backstrom was the strong play of the team's penalty kill who rebounded nicely after that fluky goal. They really stepped up big time and deserve some kudos for their great effort.
Offensively we're pretty tough to watch. Not just because of our team's inability to finish, but we are incredibly predictable. How many times did we see the team try to reverse the play suddenly? Maybe once, and that was on a shorthanded bid by Cullen to Torrey Mitchell. Why aren't we trying to do more of that on the power play? Too often we take the obvious outlet and take the obvious shot; the one the opposing penalty kill wants us to take. Mikael Granlund demonstrated to me tonight that even with time and space; the two things he hasn't had much of since joining the NHL doesn't mean he morphs into the wunderkind we had heard about. He is slow to make decisions, his set ups are just as predictable as anyone else's on the team and his shot isn't dangerous enough to make him much of a threat. On the bright side for Granlund, because his shot isn't overly dangerous will likely mean teams will continue to give him that opportunity should he choose to take it and if he's smart he will but he's also going to have to start burying a few of those chances too. The Wild's power play was terribly ineffective. Yes, it had one very near goal and two posts but it still just registered 4 shots on goal with 7 opportunities. That isn't nearly enough; more pucks need to reach the opposing goaltender. Again, I'd point to the predictability of the movement making it easier for shot blockers to committ and block shots when you don't reverse the play and catch them cheating from time to time.
In many ways I felt this was a game the Wild deserved to lose. Teams rarely give you that many opportunities to score on the power play. And for the most part Minnesota was doing little to nothing the man advantage. Minnesota is going to have to be better if it expects to win Thursday night in Phoenix. The Coyotes won't give the Wild that many chances on the power play and this team needs to still find more offense at even strength and from its secondary lines. The power play deserved some raspberries tonight, but the Oscar would have to be a tie between the strong play of the penalty kill and Niklas Backstrom. Time to hope the Wild can make this a sequel on Thursday.
~ Wild roster is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak, Mike Rupp, Torrey Mitchell, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi, Mikael Granlund, Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen, Jason Zucker, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Tom Gilbert, Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser and Zenon Konopka were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Jason Zucker, 2nd Star Niklas Backstrom, 3rd Star Zach Parise
~ Attendance was 18,703 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Daniel Gunnarsson (Lulea, Eliteserien) ~ The athletic two-way defenseman continues to show steady improvement for Lulea. While his points may not 'wow' you he is finding ways to contribute offensively. In his most recent game Gunnarsson tallied an assist in a 4-3 shootout loss to Skelleftea. In 50 games, Gunnarsson has 6 goals, 15 points and is a +8.
G – Johan Gustafsson (Lulea, Eliteserien) ~ The Wild have to continue to be excited with how this youngster has peformed as the #1 man in Lulea this season. Gustafsson may have come up short in the shootout but his overall numbers are still impressive. His 1.76GAA and .929% save percentage would suggest he's ready for a shot in North America and that last year's strong season was not a fluke.