Flames, MacDonald burn the Wild in 4-1 home loss

Zach Parise

Just give up already, you know its over, its pointless, resistance is futile are all things Wild fans might be thinking as their team plays the Calgary Flames.  If you expect the Flames to just throw in the towel then you do not know this team which has fully embraced the role of spoiler as they rallied to beat 2nd place Anaheim and then held on to beat a desperate Detroit team on Wdnesday.  The Flames are playing for next year, hoping to prove it to team management that they have a future role on the club.  So you have a team that is not resigned to its fate but one that feels it needs to prove thay can compete with anyone.  The Wild still control their own destiny, but its mission is simple, keep winning and they will qualify for the post-season for the first time since 2008.  At this point, every game is a playoff game.  

Tom Gilbert

It recent seasons, it was the Wild who found themselves in this position where many felt the team sabotaged its own position in the draft by winning 'pointless' games down the stretch.  So will this be something Calgary regrets; especially a team that is in for a long-term rebuild?  Perhaps.  If the Wild can't win today, this will likely be a game they regret, quite possibly for a very long time.  So will the Wild take another step towards the post season or will Calgary continue to do its best to spoil the home team's chances?  

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Matt Cullen

1st Period Thoughts:  Niklas Backstrom would give the Wild fans a bit of anxiety by wandering from his crease early, and was nearly caught on the Calgary Flames forecheck.  The Flames were hustling well at the start which was expected and Minnesota was scrambling a bit in their own end as Calgary was dictating the pace of play.  The Wild's first ok scoring chance of the game came on a nice little pass by Cal Clutterbuck to Torrey Mitchell who got a step on the Flames' defense as he swatted a backhander on goal that was steered aside by Joey MacDonald.  The Wild's top line finally caused some havoc by working the puck down low as Mikko Koivu set up Ryan Suter for a shot from the slot that was stopped by MacDonald and Minnesota kept pressuring as it was Suter pinching down low and directing the puck out to the point where Jonas Brodin stepped into a slap shot that was fought off by the Calgary goalie.  Yet the failed pressure did draw a tripping penalty on Mike Cammalleri.  Minnesota's power play was a bit pass happy as they moved the puck quickly but no one seemed to want to pull the trigger.  Towards the end of the power play the Wild had a great sequence where a long pass off the boards caromed out to just above the left faceoff circle where Suter stepped into a slapper that was stopped by MacDonald and the puck would bounce around where Jason Pominville fired another shot that MacDonald denied and then another by Suter but Minnesota couldn't find the twine.  A few minutes later the top line again caused some pressure as Suter again took his chance to fire the puck on goal and the line would stay in the Calgary zone but not enough pucks were being funneled towards MacDonald.  Former Park Center Pirate Tim Jackman would hook Matt Cullen, giving the Wild its 2nd power play of the game.  On the power play the Wild would try to set up Jared Spurgeon on a backdoor play but Pominville's pass towards the top of the crease just failed to connect.  Overall the Wild's power play was guilty of overhandling the puck which led to a series of turnovers which really prevented the man advantage of establishing any sort of cohesion.  The Wild would kill off their own power play as Mikael Granlund interferes with Matt Stajan.  It would prove to be a costly lapse of discipline as the Flames would take the lead on the ensuing power play.  It started simple enough as a faceoff win led to a laser of a shot by Mark Cundari who ripped a wrist shot up and over the shoulder of Niklas Backstrom to make it 1-0 Calgary on his 1st NHL goal of his career.  Sadly predictable.  The Wild appeared to be having trouble handling the puck as it was bouncing a lot and it looked as though the Wild would go into the intermission trailing by one. Yet it was another solid shift by the top line as Charlie Coyle won a battle along the boards near the dasher and slides a pass out front to Parise and he'd patiently get MacDonald to sprawl before firing a shot into the gaping net to tie it up at 1-1.  Outstanding work by Coyle along the boards, who continues to demonstrate both poise and uncommon strength in that part of the game.  The closing seconds would expire and the Wild had to feel a bit relieved to be tied after carrying most of the play in the period.  Ryan Suter was particularly active, being credited with 5 shots in the period.  The Wild will be well served to keep it simple; direct pucks toward the goal and crash the crease.  The 2nd line of Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Jason Zucker / Pierre-Marc Bouchard needs to attack the Calgary zone with speed with speed not slow it down and play a cycling game as its not what they are best at.  

2nd Period Thoughts:  The 2nd period had eerily similar outline to the previous period.  The Wild came out firing as Kyle Brodziak and the 3rd line of Jason Pominville and Pierre-Marc Bouchard swarmed in the Calgary zone with some good pressure that forced MacDonald to make some big stops early.  Tom Gilbert would then ring a shot off the right post.  Minnesota continued to apply pressure as they were directing shots on goal and then crashing towards the crease but just couldn't seem to get a stick on the puck at the right time.  On the power play the Wild would again try to work the simple play, as Mikko Koivu dropped his hips and made a good power move out front where he backhanded it on goal while Parise jammed away at the puck but MacDonald was just able to keep the puck on the goal line and the whistle would blow.  Minnesota's power play were moving the puck efficiently but they would continue to be unrewarded for their efforts.  The missed opportunities would be punished as Calgary would re-take the lead as Lee Stempniak sped around Gilbert who raced in and got off a backhand shot that was stopped by Backstrom but he'd poke at it one more time and the puck would flutter up into the air where it fell back down near the top of the crease where Mikael Backlund was able to tap it home to make it 2-1 Flames.  The goal was poetic injustice as the Wild created a number of similar opportunities to the one Stempniak's effort created but unlike Backlund was unable to poke that puck into the back of the net.  A few minutes later the top line would have another golden opportunity as Mikko Koivu carried the puck deep into the Calgary zone before dropping a pass back off into the slot to Zach Parise who got off a shot from the slot that was stopped by the shoulder of MacDonald.  In the closing minutes of the period the top line again tried to spearhead a last big push for the equalizer as Zach Parise fed Ryan Suter who joined the rush an his shot would be directed away by MacDonald.  There would be no 'huge' late period equalizer this time and the Wild had to feel a little anxious as they trailed by one going into the 3rd period.  I like the simplified approach the Wild had in the offensive zone but the other lines need to step up their game.  Right now its as though they're waiting for the Wild's top line to come up with another big goal.  Its put up or shut up time.  

3rd Period Thoughts:  The Wild had good pressure to start the 3rd period, as the top line again battled well along the boards to set up a close range chance for Mikko Koivu but MacDonald was again up to the task.  The 4th line of Torrey Mitchell, Cal Clutterbuck and Mikael Granlund would have an excellent chance.  Initially it was started by some great hustle by Mitchell who won a race for the puck down low in Calgary's zone and this created a chance for Granlund who took the puck right to the crease but MacDonald made the stop before Mitchell and Clutterbuck could bang home a rebound.  The Flames were looking to counterpunch and Mike Cammalleri would dangle into the slot as he dished it to Sven Baertschi who was stopped by Backstrom and luckily the puck would elude Backlund before he could tap it home.  The top line continued to lead the way as Charlie Coyle won a battle for the puck that was swept up by Koivu who pulled the trigger on a shot that was kicked out by MacDonald where Suter pounced but the sprawling Flames' goalie made the save.  A few minutes later Koivu and the top line again as Parise set up the captain who got off a good shot only to be stonewalled by MacDonald who gave up a rebound that was swept away by T.J. Brodie.  The Flames were looking to counter attack and a saucer pass by Brodie tried to set up a charging Mike Cammalleri who was hauled down by Gilbert.  Again the Wild would be punished on the man advantage as the Flames moved the puck from its defenseman and partially fanned pass by Mark Cundari turned into a perfect back door feed to Mike Cammalleri as he hammered it by Backstrom to make it 3-1 Calgary.  The Flames were content to muck it up and force Minnesota to waste valuable time as they dumped it deep.  You could sense the Wild did not have much push back as the Flames controlled the play.  Charlie Coyle's trip of Sven Baertschi more or less sealed the Wild's fate.  The Wild would pull Backstrom for an extra attacker but it didn't really help as it only put the home team at even strength and Jiri Hudler's empty netter sealed a 4-1 victory.  

Niklas Backstrom was ok, making 21 saves in the loss but his defenseman did not do him in any favors as they left pucks near his crease which really what hurt the Wild on the Flames' 2nd goal.  It certainly wasn't one of Backstrom's light's out comeback performances after a nasty effort the game before.  The Wild were terrible on the penalty kill giving up 3 goals on all 3 of the Flames' power plays in just 2:58 of power play time.  Tom Gilbert and Brett Clark again struggled defensively with the Flames' speed and effort.  

Offensively the Wild's pressure is a bit misleading in my opinion.  If you really look at the 35 shots the Wild got on goal you can really just sum it up as the 1st line and then everyone else which was what we saw at the beginning of the season.  

Mikko Koivu ~ 6 Shots

Zach Parise ~ 9 Shots

Ryan Suter ~ 6 Shots

That's 21 shots from 3 guys and just 14 from the rest of the team.  Just one from Zucker, Bouchard and Cullen as well as none from Pominville and Coyle is not going to get it done.  This team should've overwhelmed the Flames with its superior level of talent but the team wanted to watch the 1st line carry the club to victory and it wasn't enough.  I'll give the 1st line credit for being assertive and active but the rest of the lines were missing in action.  The 2nd line of Cullen, Setoguchi and Zucker seemed to be battling the puck all night long and were a non-factor in terms of putting the Flames in conflict in their own zone and Minnesota needs that line to at least cause a little trouble for opposing teams.  They were at their best when they used their speed to offer the Wild a change of pace that opponents had to account for but recently they seem to want to play like the 1st line and slow it down and cycle and I think it really lets their opponents off the hook.  You're fast, USE IT!  

The Wild got what they deserved in this game.  The team looked overconfident and it wanted to coast to a victory. The Wild have been guilty of being 'too comfortable' when they've played at home having lost in its last 5 games at home.  There is no way this team should have been caught off-guard by the effort of the Flames.  Missed opportunities killed the Wild in this game and now they are dangerously close to miss a chance of qualifying for the post-season.  Hopefully when the Wild's players let fans have the jersey's off their back they took the bad luck that went with them.  

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster this afternoon is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Cal Clutterbuck, Torrey Mitchell, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Brett Clark, Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter.  Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Nate Prosser and Justin Falk were the healthy scratches.  

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Joey MacDonald, 2nd Star Zach Parise, 3rd Star Ryan Suter

~ Attendance was 19,039 at Xcel Energy Center.  

Houston Aeros Report:

Houston 5, San Antonio 2

The Houston Aeros are in the last weekend of the AHL regular season and the team is showing all of the signs that they are ready for a long playoff run with an impresssive win on Saturday night.  After spotting the San Antonio Rampage 2 goals, the Aeros responded wtih 5-unanswered tallies of their own as they rolled to a 5-2 victory.  The Aeros had decent pressure on the Rampage early in the game but they couldn't manage to get pucks by Dov Grumet-Morris and so San Antonio scored twice in the space of about a minute to take a 2-0 lead into the 1st intermission.  The goals were by Jared Gomes who has been on fire since joining the Rampage late in the season as well as a bomb from the point by Colby Robak that beat Aeros goaltender Mike Condon.  From this point on it was all Aeros, as Brett Bulmer found the twine just 2 minutes into the 2nd and the comeback was on.  A few minutes later it was Dan DaSilva, who has scored 5 goals in the last 7 games beating Grumet-Morris on a sharp angle shot to tie the game.  A turnover in the neutral zone turned into an odd man rush for David McIntyre who fed a pass over to Steven Kampfer who rifled it by Grumet-Morris to give the Aeros the lead.  Justin Fontaine would add two more goals in the 3rd to cushion the lead as the Aeros prevailed 5-2.  Mike Condon was tremendous between the pipes for Houston, making 39 saves in the victory.  The Aeros will enter the AHL playoffs as the 6th seed in the Western Conference.  

Wild Prospect Report:

LW – Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ Suring the regular season, perhaps no other team in 'Q' gave the Baie-Comeau Drakkar fits than Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, but so far (knock on wood) Baie-Comeau  is holding its own earning a pair of 2-1 victories including Saturday night.  Raphael Bussieres contributed a goal and a hit in the cause.  Bussieres has 4 goals and 14 points in 10 playoff games.  Baie-Comeau leads the series 2-0.  

C – Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ Just prior to the start of their series with Barrie for the OHL's Eastern Conference crown it was revealed that Graovac would miss at least the first two games with an undisclsed injury he sustained in Game 4 of his previous series against Sudbury.  Graovac is the Bulls' leading playoff scorer with 5 goals and 17 points, so his absence is pretty significant.  The Bulls split their first two games against Barrie, with a 3-2 OT win Friday and a 5-0 loss on Saturday night.  Belleville plays Barrie on Monday.  

Jack Jablonski & Jenna Privette

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

Wild a little nonchalant in 3-1 road loss to Calgary

Zach Parise

Selective amnesia, its one of those things I come across on a daily basis as an educator, when a student tries to think of a creative way to tell me an assignment hasn't been completed.  "I didn't know it was due" or other forms of selective amnesia.  The stereotypical "my dog ate my homework" is more myth than anything bound in reality.  So what do you call it when you have an NHL player attempt to float a pretty weak excuse?  The player in question is Edmonton's Taylor Hall in his post-game interview after his dirty low hit on the Wild's Cal Clutterbuck.  "The first thing I did was look back to the officials to see if it was a penalty, which it obviously was (guilty right there)  I really didn't feel like it was knee-to-knee at all, I thought I got him with the hip or torso area, it was a weird play.  I don't think it was a dirty play, I don't think I led with my knee."  Really?  Well the National Hockey League certainly was not buying Hall's excuse as they handed the Oilers' star a 2-game suspension.  I will admit, I was surprised that the league gave him 2-games.  With Hall being a star player the league rarely doles out suspensions to high profile players and since he's a 'first time offender' I felt the league would use that to give him to little to no discipline.  I think the suspension was certainly warranted and probably should've been longer if this was a normal-length season.  I thought NHL Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan's explanation was fantastic.  Good to see the NHL step up and take a stand, and if you're Taylor Hall you better keep your head on a swivel because I have a feeling there will be more punishment handed down by the Wild.  

Mikko Koivu

Despite the dirty hit Minnesota earned a huge road win over Edmonton so now it will try to re-focus to take on a struggling Calgary Flames squad.  This should be the easier of the two Alberta teams which makes tonight's match up for the Wild a perfect trap game.  The Flames' high scoring attack will hope to overpower the Wild, but Minnesota while being the 2nd worst team in the league in scoring will hope to take advantage of Calgary's porous defense.  Will the Wild manage to earn the Alberta sweep?

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Jiri Hudler & Niklas Backstrom

1st Period Thoughts:  Calgary would control the play in the first minute as Alex Tanguay worked a puck out to the point where Jay Bouwmeester fired a shot from the point that was gloved by Niklas Backstrom.  Minnesota seemed calm as it would break out of its zone as a long pass by Zach Parise created a 2-on-1 for Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu and Heatley fed a saucer pass that went over the stick of Wild captain and Calgary went on the counter attack.  Bouwmeester would find Tanguay with a stretch pass that had him behind the Wild defense for a break away and he got Backstrom to drop and he lifted a backhand for an easy goal, 1-0 Flames.  Minnesota's 4th line tried to answer back and pass out to the point by Mike Rupp reached Jared Spurgeon who side-stepped the defense to set up Torrey Mitchell for a quick shot that was knocked down by Joey MacDonald, but the Wild couldn't cash in on the rebound.  The Flames would try to add tot heir lead as Jiri Hudler nearly connected on a nice little play off the rush as his saucer pass was just out of reach of a crashing Sven Baertschi.   The Wild's 2nd / 3rd line of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Charlie Coyle and Kyle Brodziak worked the puck down low in the Calgary zone as Bouchard took a few opportunities to shoot it on goal forcing MacDonald to make a few saves.  A few minutes later this line would tie the game off a beauty of a rush where Brodziak threaded a long cross-ice pass to Bouchard who then delivered the perfect saucer pass to Coyle for a tap in goal.  The Flames went back on the attack and Mike Cammalleri dropped a pass back to Curtis Glencross for a wide open shot from the slot but he'd fire it wide.  The Wild's Jason Zucker would get the puck and he'd turn on the after burners to race by the Flames defense and he'd fire a shot high and wide of the Calgary goal.  Just about 30 seconds after Zucker's failed chance he was flattened by a big open ice hit by Glencross which drew the ire of Clayton Stoner who challenged the gritty Calgary forward who would not oblige the request to drop the mits.  Minnesota would get a power play off a faceoff violation when Blake Comeau shuffled the puck back with his glove.  The Wild's power play moved the puck well and set up well in the zone but tried to be a little too cute with the puck and were not taking its chances to put shots on goal.  Minnesota more or less helped Calgary get the kill and its unfortunate because I think they missed a real chance to go ahead and put more doubt on a team that is struggling mightily with its confidence.  The Flames would have a great shift from its line of Comeau, Jiri Hudler and Baertschi as a mishandle of the puck by Spurgeon led to a great scoring chance for Baertschi by Backstrom was there to knock the shot down with his glove and then cover it for a whistle.  It was a huge save that allowed Minnesota to go into the 1st intermission tied at 1-1.  Minnesota was guilty of trying to be a little too fancy with the biscuit and Dany Heatley needs to start playing like he wants to be a star on this team.  Too much floating and indecision.  His passiveness in trying to set up Koivu cost Minnesota a goal.  I thought the Wild's 4th line and line of Bouchard, Coyle and Brodziak were the team's best lines.  Not a bad 1st period and it was the first time in 8 games that Minnesota managed to score a goal in the opening stanza.  Minnesota was outshooting Calgary 13-7, let's hope that continues.  

2nd Period Thoughts:  Minnesota's top line would create a little havoc early as Zach Parise put on an exhibition of pure hustle as he willed a few chances, including a no-look backhand shot that was kicked out by MacDonald.  The Wild would give Calgary an early power play as he knocked down Glencross in the neutral zone as he tried to track down a dump in earning him 2 minutes in the penalty box for interference.  Minnesota's penalty killers were very strong as they challenged the Flames puck carriers very well, killing nearly a full minute before Calgary was finally able to get set up in the zone.  The Wild would have the best chance of the Flames power play as Matt Cullen intercepted a pass and went on a 2-on-1 with Kyle Brodziak and Cullen made a nice move to elude the defenseman and it was Brodziak being stopped on the point-blank chance by a diving save by MacDonald.  The game would settle down after the successful penalty kill and both teams would settle into a more defensive posture wary of giving the kind of odd-man chances they had done in the 1st period.  Akim Aliu, the Nigerian-born former Chicago Blackhawks' draftee would make his presence felt in a big way after delivering a huge hit on Clayton Stoner as he took a pretty long run (from at least the blueline) to deliver that hit that got the slumbering crowd awake who gave an appreciative cheer.  Minnesota would look a bit confused in its own end and this ultimately ended up with a sad turnover by Tom Gilbert to Lee Stempniak who fired a shot on goal that was gloved by Backstrom.  The ice would start to tilt into the Wild's end as some lazy play and area passes allowed Calgary to carry the play.  It almost looked like a Flames power play as they were winning all of the races to the puck while Wild players stood around and reached for the puck rather than skating to it.  Luckily for them Backstrom was still sharp and he made some big saves.  Mike Rupp would earn a 10-minute game misconduct along with Aliu after a heated discussion at center ice.  Rupp's absence prompted the Wild started to juggle its lines and it had the desired result of getting more hustle out of the team.   Lines were Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise while we also saw a line of Dany Heatley, Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Brodziak.  Either way the team was moving its feet better and they started to get some scoring chances again.  Backstrom would make one last save to keep the game knotted at 0-0 going into the 3rd.  The Wild really took its foot off the gas in that period and they're fortunate not to be trailing.  The Wild need to show a bit more urgency and fire out there, Heatley especially who was again playing rather uninspired out there.  

3rd Period Thoughts:  With 80's music being played during every stoppage the two clubs played cautious hockey.  Dumping the puck, retreating quickly and just waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.  As the time steadily evaporated you could sense the anxiety of the crowd building as they were waiting for the Flames to do something to end the stalemate.  They would finally get their chance after a blocked shot by Jonas Brodin was worked out to Chris Butler who stepped into a slap shot that created a rebound that was briefly touched bJarome Iginlan and just pushed over the goal line by Matt Stajan to give Calgary a 2-1 lead.  Clayton Stoner would deliver a huge hit of his own as he crunched Blake Comeau with a check that threw him into the curved glass near the bench.  The Flames would have another great chance as Iginla rang a shot off the right post.  Minnesota's top line of Bouchard, Koivu and Parise would cycle the puck down low and work it back out to the point where Jared Spurgeon tried to fire a shot only to have it blocked.  The Flames tried to work for an insurance goal and the Wild would inadvertently help their cause as Zucker was called for goaltender interference as he tried to race for a puck and accidentally clipped MacDonald who sold it pretty well.  Minnesota's penalty killers did a great job at challenging the Flames entry into the zone and a nice little poke check by Brodziak would clearn the zone and as the Wild center tracked it down deep into the Flames' zone he was hit from behind by Dennis Wideman negating the rest of the Calgary man advantage.  After a little 4-on-4 time where the Wild got set up in the offensive zone the Wild would try to exploit a shortened power play but despite a little bit better puck movement they couldn't set up Ryan Suter as they wanted to and when they finally did his stick shattered in the attempt and another opportunity was missed.  The Wild would have to wait a few more minutes before they'd have another prime opportunity as the 2nd line of Cullen, Bouchard and Setoguchi dumped the puck in and won some battles along the boards before Setoguchi set up Cullen for a chance near the crease that was absorbed by MacDonald.  With 1:24 left to play, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo would call a timeout to talk things over as well as pulling Backstrom for an extra attacker.  Initially the Wild were unable hold the zone and Minnesota would only be able to chip a puck on goal that was again stopped by MacDonald.  After that, there was a bizarre sequence where the Flames cleared the puck off the glass where it looked like another icing call, but it was waived off and as Suter tracked down the puck for the touch he'd let the puck goal and it would be gathered up by Glencross and the Wild were stunned and tried to scramble back but not before Stajan buried an empty netter to seal a 3-1 win.  

Niklas Backstrom was terrific, making 24 saves in the loss.  He certainly played well enough to give the Wild a victory and he came up with some big saves on defensive breakdowns.  Defensively I thought the Wild got caught pinching a little too much and they were a little too nonchalant with the puck.  Overhandling it and when they were pressed they resorted to chipping the puck off the glass and were simply attempting area passes that led to easy turnovers.  

Offensively the Wild were trying to be way too fancy with the puck; especially on the power play.  This team is 30th in the NHL in total offense, and I don't know why they would think they can ever be fancy and expect to score.  If anything, the goals the Wild have scored have been for the most part (as is the case with most teams) ugly.  The Wild can't help opponents by refusing to shoot until they get the ideal set up; they need to work as many shots as they can and hope for something cheap or something ugly.  An ugly or a flukey goal count the same as fancy ones do.  You could see the Wild coaching staff were searching for answers by juggling the lines more than we've seen all season.  Yet I thought the team should've given more shifts to Cullen, Setoguchi and Zucker as they were the only line I thought that consistently had jump in their skates.  One player that needs to be called out is Dany Heatley.  His effort through the first half of the game was pathetic.  Aimlessly floating around the ice, and half heartedly chasing the puck made him a huge liability.  He showed a little more desire after Yeo juggled the lines but he's becoming a problem the team is having to dance around.  The team is paying him way too much for him to be a 'dilemma' and perhaps its time to start offering him up to other teams.  Pittsburgh's scout and former Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell, the man who drafted Heatley back in 2000 was in attendance tonight so hopefully he thought he saw something he could use in his former player.  I was glad to see Coyle get his first goal, but I was not happy seeing him try to force a pass late in the 1st period instead of taking his chances by taking a shot from the slot.  The best thing for him to do is to shoot the puck if he wants to stay with this team.  The Wild have way too many unselfish players right now.  

I think there is no reason the Wild should've been only able to muster a blah effort like they had tonight.  They had a night off, so they should've been rested enough to play with fire for 60 minutes.  I thought they might have played hard for a little over a period.  Wild head coach Mike Yeo was clearly annoyed (as he should have been) when he told the media after the game, "We had a sense that things were going to come easy for us and we stopped shooting the puck and in this whole game we took the wrong approach.  We didn't execute the right way and we didn't play our game and the result was what we deserved."  Can't argue with you there.  

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster for tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Jason Zucker, Matt Cullen, Torrey Mitchell, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser.  Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Justin Falk and Mikael Granlund were the healthy scratches.  

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Matt Stajan, 2nd Star Joey MacDonald, 3rd Star Charlie Coyle

~ Attendance was 19,289 at ScotiaBank Saddledome. 

~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate the Golden Gophers Women's hockey team who won 3-0 today over St. Cloud State to earn their 42nd consecutive victory and complete this year's regular season a perfect 34-0!  An additional congratulations goes to Gophers' goaltender Noora Raty who collected her 39th career shutout which ties her for an NCAA record.  

~ The Wild's AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros earned a 2-1 win over the Oklahoma City Barons tonight as they got goals from newcomer Dan DaSilva and Steven Kampfer.  Chad Rau had two assists.  Matt Hackett made 35 saves in the victory.  

Wild Prospect Report:

C – Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ The muti-talented Finn had another strong night for the Golden Gophers, in their 5-3 win over in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth on Friday.  Haula had 2 goals and was an impressive +4 in a game that had lots of end to end action.  The Pori, Finland-native leads the Gophers in scoring with 15 goals (2nd on the team to Nick Bjugstad's 16 goals) and 39 points in 28 games.  

D – Matt Dumba (Red Deer, WHL) ~ Its not likely he's going to reach last year's lofty totals but Matt Dumba is still finding ways to contribute offensively for the Red Deer Rebels.  My sources still tell me he looks a little tuned out but even for a player who may simply be biding his time and waiting for his shot at the professional ranks still has 13 goals, 36 points and is +6 with 63 PIM's in 53 games.  On Friday, Dumba had an assist and was a +1 in the Rebels' 2-0 win over Lethbridge, but against Prince Albert tonight the Calgary-native had two assists in a 4-2 win over the Raiders.     

D – John Draeger (Michigan State, CCHA) ~ It has been rough year for the Spartans but a promising year for freshman and Wild prospect John Draeger.  Draeger who surprised many by being on the team's top defensive pairing to start the season, now has been relegated to the 2nd unit.  The former Shattuck-St. Mary's product contributed an assist in the Spartans' 1-0 road win over a decent University of Alaska squad last night.  Draeger has 1 goal, 7 points and 16 PIM's in 33 games this season.  

RW – Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ The rugged forward asserted the physical side of his game registering a hit and getting involved in a fight to go along with being a +2 in the Drakkar's 7-2 win over Rimouski this afternoon.  Bussieres has 24 goals, 58 points and 37 PIM's in 52 games.  

C – Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ The lanky center keeps finding the back of the net as he potted two more goals in Belleville's 5-2 win over Peterborough tonight.  Those two tallies brings Graovac's total up to 34 goals on the season.  The Brampton, Ontario-native has 61 points in 49 games to go along with 18 PIM's and is a +20 too.  

Jack Jablonski & Jenna Privette

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

Backstrom, Havlat douse the Flames in 2-1 home victory

Sports can’t seem to get enough drama these days, and few teams embody this penchant for staging its own sort of soap opera as the Minnesota Vikings.  From the never ending saga that is Brett Favre who can turn every interview into one with mixed messages and intrigue that gets all the pundits at the NFL Network or ESPN to prognosticate what he is really trying to say, to the hard edged tension filled web that Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress seems to have following around him after each game whether its dealing with his aforementioned quarterback or his latest decision to dump wide reciever Randy Moss.  Moss, never one to avoid controversy has managed to bring the microscope of criticism a little closer after making comments about his ability to coach the team.  The tight-lipped coach who seems to like the guy at work who never seems all that happy and makes you wonder if he’s just going to go postal one of these days.  There is probably good reason for his anxiety as he has taken a team that came within one game of the Super Bowl last season to being 2-5, with your star quarterback looking like a mini-M*A*S*H ward and playoff hopes appearing to be fleeting at best there is no doubt Vikings ownership is not too happy about how the 2010-11 season has unfolded thus far.  Then you have ESPN insiders like Chris Mortensen discussing rumors of discontent in the Vikings locker room where they question his ability to coach an NFL team and you have one fierce pressure cooker at Winter Park.  I don’t envy Childress at all right now.  He is still a very well paid person, coaching a professional football team but the stress has to be getting pretty extreme and its only a matter of time before something has to give.  Whether its a Mike Ditka-like meltdown on the sideline or Childress simply crouching down into a fetal position and crying uncontrollably we will see what happens as they face the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday.

However this is not the only coach in professional sports to be on the proverbial hot seat.  Toss into this a general manager that just happens to be your brother and you’ve described the situation in Calgary rather well.  For Flames GM Darryl Sutter and his brother Brent Sutter they are really starting to feel the heat from the fanbase and media in Southern Alberta.  The Flames came within one controversial call of winning its 2nd Stanley Cup back in 2003-04 and since the lockout Calgary has been a high priced disappointment.  After casting off fan favorite Dion Phaneuf to Toronto late last season for a slew of support players the Flames hoped to regroup by having more depth.  The fans were not convinced, and Darryl Sutter did not help his cause by adding ineffective forwards Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay in free agent deals that had many NHL fans and experts scratching their heads wondering why you would give these guys another chance after they were so disappointing the first time around.  So far it has been mixed results as Jokinen has been very ordinary while Tanguay may be salvaging his career.  Yet the up and down performances of the team so far this season has not made the Sutter brothers the toast of the town; but rather still the subjects to roast.  Much the same could be said in Minnesota although the tensions revolving around Wild Head Coach Todd Richards have toned down a bit after the team started playing more responsible defensively and it certainly hasn’t hurt to have played most of their games at home, a place where the team normally performs rather well.  A bad losing streak could easily turn the heat back up on Richards, so its important for Minnesota to make the most of its last game at home before it goes on a 4-game road trip.  So which coach will be feeling the heat tonight besides Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff?

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The Wild would challenge offensively right away on a nice play made along the boards by Marek Zidlicky to chip the puck to Matt Cullen who raced into the Flames zone where he decided to take his chances as he wound up and blasted a shot that was stopped by Miikka Kiprusoff and then Cullen lifted his rebound chance up and over the net.  The Flames tried to answer back quickly as Alex Tanguay set up Jarome Iginla who attempted a backhander that was blocked aside by Backstrom.  Both teams were trading chances early and the Wild’s top line of Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette and Cal Clutterbuck sustained some pressure with good hustle and strong play along the boards.  Brunette would gather up the puck down low behind the net as he was shadowed by Jay Bouwmeester but he was able to bring the puck out in front of the goal where he fired a shot that would skitter through the crease and was just out of reach of Clutterbuck.  Calgary would try to emulate the Wild and former Medicine Hat Tiger Stefan Meyer who set up Cory Sarich for a shot from the point and his slapper was steered aside by Backstrom.  Minnesota was also playing well defensively and when it appeared Rene Bourque might find some space to operate the puck was swept off his stick by a nice diving play by Greg Zanon which was incredible as he had fallen in the neutral zone which is what gave Bourque his open space in the first place so it was outstanding effort that allowed him to make the play.  The Wild were moving well and the scoring chances were being created because of their hustle as Casey Wellman had a nice opportunity that was denied on a leg pad save by Kiprusoff.  A few minutes later tempers would flare and Brad Staubitz would take a late check that leveled former Minnesota State product Tim Jackman and the two would drop the gloves.  Right from the start Staubitz was throwing big right hands and Jackman would answer back with some haymakers that were only landing with air as Staubitz managed to stay out of reach and eventually the Wild pugilist would move in and bring the Calgary tough guy to his knees with a few well placed punches.  Staubitz would earn the charging penalty (and rightfully so) and Minnesota would be on the penalty kill for the first time.  The Flames set up a big point shot for Giordano that missed just wide.  After that opportunity the Wild did a good job of keeping Calgary to the perimeter but after a few quick passes they were able to set up Rene Bourque for a one-timer and he blistered a slap shot that beat a well-screened Backstrom to put the Flames up 1-0.  The Wild tried to answer back with its 2nd line of Cullen, Martin Havlat and Kyle Brodziak and it was Brodziak winding up and unloading a slap shot that was kicked aside by Kiprusoff.  The Wild’s aggressive play nearly haunted them as the Flames came back in a 2-on-1 between Iginla and Jokinen but a bad pass by Iginla ruined the opportunity.  A minute or two later the Wild had its best scoring chance of the period up to this point when Martin Havlat found Matt Cullen with a nice pass and he found himself all alone behind the Flames defense but as he moved in he tried to deke but Kiprusoff wasn’t buying and he shut him down completely.  The Wild were undaunted and the puck would be dumped in deep by Justin Falk where Andrew Brunette used his sizeable back end to hold off a defender where he turned a passed the puck from behind the Flames goal to a waiting Clutterbuck who hammered a one timer that beat Kiprusoff to tie the game at 1-1.  The Flames tried to re-take the lead right away and a long shot by Niklas Hagman moved its way through a forest of legs to be absorbed by Backstrom.  Calgary continued to apply pressure and Tim Jackman found himself alone near the front of the net where he was just unable to cradle it to get a shot off, and moments after that missed opportunity Corey Sarich would take a blind sided run at Matt Kassian that sent him to the ice and the young enforcer in training immediately stood up and challenged Sarich who wanted nothing to do with it.  Sadly enough, it was Kassian who would get a high sticking penalty for his stick hitting Cory Sarich in the head as he got lit up placing the Wild on the penalty kill for the second time in the game.  Minnesota’s penalty killers were using great active sticks and they were able to steal the puck and even put a little offensive pressure while being a man down.  As the penalty was winding down the Flames moved the puck down low and Matt Stajan nearly set up Iginla for a goal as he passed it out into the slot and Iginla was able to get a quick shot off and it was held onto by Backstrom.  The Wild would avoid another late surge by Calgary to get the go-head goal and would skate into the 1st intermission tied at one goal apiece.

Calgary youngster Mikael Backlund would win the opening draw to start the 2nd period and the Wild would be on its heels early as David Moss nearly was the beneficiary of a wide point shot that caromed out near the top of the Wild crease who was unable to pull the trigger against a sprawling Backstrom.  Minnesota tried to answer back with some offensive pressure from its 2nd line as Martin Havlat was looking a little more determined than normal and he tried to set up Brent Burns who was pinching in down low but his centering pass would be deflected out of the Wild zone.  Calgary would try to counter punch against the aggressiveness of the Wild and Alex Tanguay would lead a 3-on-2 as he dropped a pass back to Iginla who fired a wrister that was knocked down by Backstrom and Matt Stajan pushed the rebound opportunity wide of the goal.  The Wild tried to send out its 4th line of Casey Wellman, Brad Staubitz and Matt Kassian who threw their big bodies around but were unable to create any offense off their forechecking pressure.  Minnesota was getting closer to lighting the lamp on its scoring chances as some great hustle by Kyle Brodziak turned into a set up of Havlat who fired a quick snap shot on goal that was stopped by Kiprusoff and Cullen just wasn’t able to get his stick on the rebound as the Flames goaltender was out of position.  A few moments later the Wild’s top line created some sustained pressure as Cal Clutterbuck’s hustle was helping Minnesota stay in the offensive zone and he would help draw a penalty as he turned a slid a shot on goal that Kiprusoff stopped but Andrew Brunette was held up before he could cash in giving Minnesota its 1st power play of the game.  The Wild’s power play sort of emulated the team’s play up to this point, scrappy but not all that organized at times and Minnesota would only have one real quality chance as Mikko Koivu’s bid from the slot was steered wide by Kiprusoff.  The Wild would come up empty on the man advantage, and the Flames would go on the attack as Alex Tanguay would take a shot that found the right post and Calgary would continue to swarm around the Minnesota zone before Zanon was able to carry the puck out of the offensive zone.  The pace of the game would slow down a bit, but the hard work was continuing as both teams were cautious to give up a quality scoring chance.  The Wild would have a terrific one on a nice play by Casey Wellman used his speed to drive wide where he slid the puck into the slot where Andrew Brunette was there to fire a shot that struck Kiprusoff in the shoulder.  A few minutes later the Wild’s hustle in the Flames end would result in a ill-advised goaltender interference penalty as Brad Staubitz lost where he was on the ice as he ran into Kiprusoff for the obvious call.  With the Flames on their 3rd power play of the game, the Wild’s penalty killers was pressuring well but too many times Minnesota struggled to clear the zone when the opportunity presented themselves.  The Flames quick puck movement was causing the Wild penalty killer some issues but Minnesota was making up for some of its scrambling with good active sticks and they would get the big kill.  A few minutes later the Wild would draw a slashing penalty on Mark Giordano and Minnesota would go on the power play for the 2nd time.  The Wild power play would struggle to get set up into the Calgary zone, allowing the Flames to nearly kill half of the power play before they finally would they enter the zone with any sort of numbers as Wellman fired an opportunity high.  The Xcel Energy Center crowd was voicing its frustration with a few boo’s by the futile nature of Minnesota’s man-advantage that appeared very disorganized.  The Wild would have one last scoring chance in the period as Martin Havlat dished the puck to a charging Eric Nystrom who slid a weak backhander that just was out of the reach of Kyle Brodziak who was waiting near the opposite post and the game would remain knotted at 1-1 going into the 3rd.

The 3rd period would start off with a good pace as both teams hoped to tilt the game in their favor.  The Wild had a real nice scoring chance early as Matt Cullen redirected a Martin Havlat shot that missed just wide of the Flames’ net.  The Wild would throw out its physical 4th line as they tried punishing the Flames with some big hits as Matt Kassian was running just about every skater he could.  The Flames was using its energy line to create some havoc as David Moss made a nice play to pickpocket the puck from Nystrom and then move in for a quick shot that was stonewalled by Backstrom.  Minnesota would answer right back as the 2nd line would light the lamp, as Matt Cullen found Martin Havlat with a cross-ice pass and he fired a wrister which snuck underneath the arm and trickled through to give the Wild its first lead of the game 2-1.  The Flames would try to counter the Wild and came very close with some quality chances for Jarome Iginla, including one off a Mark Giordano point shot that Iginla deflected and Backstrom would snow angel to cover it up for a whistle.  Moments after this big save the Wild’s Kyle Brodziak would take a hooking penalty.  Minnesota’s penatly killers was more passive, giving the Flames free reign along the perimeter.  Calgary was moving the puck quickly and out to the points were they set up a Giordano blast that was redirected wide by Rene Bourque, and moments later the Flames set up Iginla in the slot as he stepped into a quick shot that was stopped by Backstrom and Cullen was able to get the big clear of the puck.  Minnesota’s hustle would kill off the power play and the Wild went on the attack and was perhaps a little too fancy as Matt Cullen attempted a pretty little pass between the legs that was stopped by Steve Staios and it never made it over to Havlat who was zooming in from the opposite side.  The Flames were really chirping at the officials for obstruction calls they felt the Wild were committing.  Calgary was trying to enter the Wild zone with speed and Brent Burns did a nice job to deny a small pass from Matt Stajan to Jarome Iginla and then win a small battle along the boards to make sure it didn’t matter before flinging the puck off the boards and on goal to avoid the icing infraction.  Minnesota was content to flip the puck into the Calgary zone and force the Flames to bring the puck up the full length of the ice.  Even when the Flames did enter the Wild zone they were forced to settle for long range chances that were easy for Backstrom to just block aside.  Cal Clutterbuck would get the fans back into the game when the bowled over Cory Sarich with a big, clean open-ice hit.  Minnesota continued to hustle and attempt to deny time and space from the Flames who were pressing for the equalizer.  You could sense the anxiety in the crowd with each Calgary shot towards the goal but Minnesota was getting into the shooting lanes and blocking opportnities before they would reach Backstrom.  Former Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester flung a wrister on goal that gave Backstrom a little trouble as David Moss moved near the crease hoping to poke through a loose puck.  The Flames continued to attack and Ian White wound up and fired a slapper that was stopped by Backstrom who got a piece of it and the puck would trickle through the crease before it was spirited away by Burns.  Moments later as the Flames regrouped Brent Burns would push Alex Tanguay into Backstrom for a controversial goaltender interference call.  With the Flames pulling Kiprusoff for an extra attacker to make it 5-on-5 the Wild were content to just play defense as Calgary just ran out of gas and Minnesota prevailed 2-1.

Niklas Backstrom had 33 saves in the victory as he continues to play some of his best hockey.  He continues to provide rock solid play between the pipes and he was just seeing the puck so well almost all night long.  Defensively the Wild gave Backstrom good support clearing away rebounds as well as blocking a ton of shots as well to help their goaltender down the stretch.  The real key to the Wild’s success was the great hustle it had all night long; especially on the penalty kill and Minnesota has a lot to feel proud about.  Greg Zanon and Nick Schultz were outstanding and one area of consistency for the Wild blueline was when they’d mishandle the puck they wouldn’t panic and instead of trying to make an amazing play they made a safe play and moved it to an area where it wouldn’t hurt the team. The only defenseman who I thought played too passively was Cam Barker who appeared indecisive throughout most of the game.

Offensively the Wild seemed to get what it needed out its mixed and mashed up lines, whether it was simply good forechecking or physical play.  Minnesota got good production, shot-wise from its top 2 lines for perhaps the first time all season.  Martin Havlat played with far more focus and determination to his game the result is the Wild have another true scoring threat which is really what it needs when you consider all of the injuries it has sustained.  Matt Cullen’s speed and creativity continues to pay dividends for Minnesota, and I have to say Cal Clutterbuck’s addition to the 1st line was tremendous.  Clutterbuck not only added speed to a line that sorely needed it, but also more grit that opened up space for Koivu and Brunette to operate, and his goal tonight also demonstrates the fact he does have some finishing ability as well.  One area offensively that was not good was the power play which looked dysfunctional and disorganized all night long.  They never really were able to get established in the zone nor were they able to create much offensive pressure at all.  In fact, the Flames often were able to create more scoring chances than the Wild.

Minnesota do not have long to relish the victory as they board a late-night flight to head east to play the Columbus Blue Jackets tomorrow night.  The Wild were just awful in their first game against the Blue Jackets, which was the season opener and Columbus has been playing better as of late.  Columbus has normally enjoyed a fair amount of success against the Wild at home and Minnesota better be ready to put forth another hard working effort because they certainly will be looking to notch another win against their expansion cousin.

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight is as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Martin Havlat, Casey Wellman, Kyle Brodziak, John Madden, Eric Nystrom, Matt Kassian, Cody Almond, Brad Staubitz, Justin Falk, Nick Schultz, Cam Barker, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon and Brent Burns.  Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Clayton Stoner was the lone healthy scratch while Guillaume Latendresse and Chuck Kobasew were out with groin injuries while Antti Miettinen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are still trying to recover from concussion symptoms.

~ Matt Kassian wore #28 in his NHL debut with the Wild joining players like Jeremy Stevenson and Jason Wiemer to have donned the #28 for the State of Hockey.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were: 1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Cal Clutterbuck, 3rd Star Martin Havlat

~ Tonight’s attendance was 17,124, which means the Wild have still just one sellout in the 2010-11 season which was the season opener.

~ The Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Houston Aeros earned a 3-2 shootout victory over the Toronto Marlies.  The Aeros got off to a 2-0 lead on goals from Joel Broda and Maxim Noreau.  The Marlies would answer back, including the game-tying goal with just over five minutes left in regulation.  In the shootout the Aeros would 3 out of 4 as Jarod Palmer, Jon DiSalvatore and Colton Gillies beat the Marlies’ Jussi Rynas while Anton Khudobin stopped 3 of 4 to earn the victory.

~ Earning the the “You said What?” award for the night was Fox Sports Net North‘s and former Golden Gopher player and Head Coach Doug Woog when he responded to a text question asking how early do college teams scout players nowdays, saying college scouts are watching players as young as 9 years old!  Yikes!  I better tell my cousins playing in Sartell they better do something to impress the scouts.  He also stated he thought scouting players that young was ridiculous but that is the nature of the beast since college teams feel they have to identify and make relationships with these players before junior teams from Canada do.

Wild Prospect Report:

D – Colton Jobke ~ Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

2010-11 Stats:  15GP 1G 3A = 4pts  30 PIM’s  -3

The Wild took a flyer on the Delta, British Columbia-native after his strong and physical performance at the team’s prospect camp this summer.  His ability to skate and play a steady game really impressed the team’s brass and so they offered the undrafted blueliner a contract.  Jobke is not physically imposing at just 6’0″, 170lbs, but his hard-edged game is something the Wild’s defensive pool does not really have.  The Kelowna Rockets are off to a rough season; especially by their lofty standards where they normally are among the WHL’s better programs mainly due to underperforming forwards Geordie Wudrick and another Wild prospect, Brett Bulmer.  A stay at home defenseman with reasonable mobility, he will never be a big scorer but makes a good first pass out of the zone.  So far he is off to a reasonable start for the Rockets and if Kelowna’s forwards ever play to their potential it will be interesting to see how that affects Jobke’s +/- rating.

WCHA Men’s Hockey Report:

Minnesota State (2-2-4) at Nebraska-Omaha (5-1-0) – The Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks are making a huge statement with rock solid play that is catching many traditional WCHA opponents by surprise and tonight was no different as they rolled to a 5-1 victory.  Johnnie Searfoss had a huge night tallying 2 goals and an assist as Dean Blais‘ squad continues to show both speed and firepower.  Nebraska-Omaha’s John Faulkner had 26 saves in the win.

Wisconsin (5-2-1) at Minnesota (5-3-0) – It was a very onesided game 1 as the Badgers embarassed the Gophers in a 6-0 rout.  Michael Mersch tallied twice, and Minnesota was unable to put much offensive pressure on the Badgers all game long and Erik Gudmanson made just 16 saves in the shutout.

Colorado College (3-4-1) at Denver (3-3-2) – This has been a fun developing story for Wild fans as prospect Jason Zucker continues his incredible freshman season, scoring his 6th goal of the season (on an empty netter as well as an assist) for the Pioneers as they cruise to a 4-1 victory over its in-state rival.  After a scoreless 1st period the Pioneers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the 2nd on the strength of two power play goals from senior Anthony Miani and John Lee.  Denver’s Sam Brittain had 33 saves in the victory.

Bemidji State (0-3-1) at St. Cloud State (3-4-1) – It was a crazy night at the National Sports Center in St. Cloud as the Huskies overwhelmed Bemidji State 6-3 in game 1.  The Beavers jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Wild prospect camp tryout Matt Read‘s goal, but then it was the Ben Hanowski show as he scored 3 goals as he earned a hat trick on the empty netter to seal the victory.  Mike Lee had 23 saves in the victory for the Huskies to keep the Bemidji State winless thus far.

University of Minnesota-Duluth (6-0-2) at North Dakota (4-3-1) – In perhaps one of the biggest WCHA showdowns of early this season the Fighting Sioux were able to contain the high powered UMD offense to earn a 4-2 victory in game 1.  Offensive workhorses for the Bulldogs, in Travis Oleksuk and Wild prospect camp tryout Justin Fontaine had the goals but it wasn’t enough.  Matt Frattin scored his 8th goal of this season and that would be the game winner.  Aaron Dell had just 14 saves in the victory for North Dakota.

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

Iginla’s hat trick burns Wild in crucial 4-2 home loss to Flames

It seems like it was already a long time ago, but just one week ago Team USA battled Canada at the close of the 2010 Olympic games in one of the best hockey games in the last 10 years.  Canada gave its nation the ultimate gift by winning gold on its home soil and the United States surprised many by earning the silver and pushing the host country to its limits.  Tonight is another type of award is going to be given, that for the best movies of this past year at the annual Academy Awards Show as actors, directors and films vie to win the coveted ‘Oscar.’  Some believe big blockbusters like James Cameron‘s Avatar have the best chance at winning the biggest prize, ‘Best Film’ while others think less heralded and far less expensive movies like Crazyheart will earn a big upset.  The categories cover virtually every aspect of filmmaking and this got me thinking about events in the Wild’s season and giving out my own awards.  We’ll call them the “Herbie” Awards in honor of St. Paul-native and Minnesota coaching legend Herb Brooks. My emcee would be Andrew Brunette.

“Best Move by Owner, Coach or GM” (Nominees are: Craig Leipold for firing Doug Risebrough, Chuck Fletcher’s trade of Benoit Pouliot, and Todd Richards’ decision to make Mikko Koivu the permanent Captain.)

~ The Award goes to Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher for dealing away Benoit Pouliot to the Canadiens for Guillaume Latendresse.  Not only did this allow Minnesota to move a player who couldn’t seem to find his groove here, but it also allowed us to acquire Latendresse who has provided a significant injection of offense as well as helping spark Martin Havlat and giving the team a viable 2nd scoring line.  As sort of a side story, the move has worked out rather nicely for Pouliot as well who has been reasonably productive for Montreal. This may seem as an upset since the firing of Doug Risebrough was well recieved by Wild fans.

“Best Supporting Player (role player)”  (Nominees are: Greg Zanon, Cal Clutterbuck, and Anton Khudobin)

~ The Award goes to Greg Zanon who has been the team’s best free agent pickup from last summer.  He has been an absolute warrior on the blueline and is often the team’s most reliable defender in addition to being the team’s best shot blocker.  He puts everything he has into his job and especially when he’s blocking shots his body takes a tremendous amount of punishment yet he has not missed a game for the Wild which is a further testament to his dedication.  Anton Khudobin was the equivalent of your “Sundance Film Festival winner” a great dark horse who came up huge to earn two victories for the Wild including one in his first NHL start against a tough Flyers team but he hasn’t played enough to outweigh the season-long consistency of Zanon.

“Best Player (team MVP)”  (Nominees are: Mikko Koivu, Guillaume Latendresse, and Niklas Backstrom)

~ The Award goes to Mikko Koivu who continues to really be the one-man workhorse for the team.  He leads the way in points, is the player the team looks to in order to win key faceoffs, and he provides good defense as well as being the main catalyst for the top line.  While a player like Niklas Backstrom is very important, if Koivu doesn’t register points the team does not win many games.

So with the “Herbie” awards distributed, will the Wild deliver an award winning performance this afternoon and take a big step forward in the standings or will it be another frustrating game similar to the one they had Friday night against the lowly Edmonton Oilers?

Just 19 seconds into the game, the Flames found the back of the net as Steve Staios wound up and blasted a slap shot that was redirected perfectly by Rene Bourque to give Calgary a very quick 1-0 lead.  The Wild tried to answer back with their 1st and 2nd scoring lines but while they were able to work the puck into the Flames zone, Calgary’s defense was doing a better job of getting sticks on passes and they were able to disrupt Minnesota’s attempts to cycle with relative ease.  Minnesota had a great chance when Martin Havlat took advantage of the Flames Mark Giordano stepping up and he tapped a pass to Andrew Ebbett who skated in a 2-on-1 towards Vesa Toskala, and he dished it to Guillaume Latendresse who slid a weak backhander just wide of the mark.  The Flames would counter attack after this failed Wild rush and some nice passing by Rene Bourque to set up Giordano who redeemed his poor play with a blistering one-timer that beat Backstrom to put Calgary up 2-0.  Minnesota would try to answer back as Andrew Brunette fed a pass to Antti Miettinen who would wind up and rip a shot that was gloved by Toskala.  The Flames would have another ‘close’ chance as Niklas Hagman took a big hit before sliding a pass to Ales Kotalik who hammered a shot that was juggled up into the air by Backstrom who seemed to really be fighting for the puck but luckily for him his defenseman were able to sweep the puck away.  Minnesota would try to utilize some grit with a strong shift from its 3rd line of Owen Nolan, Chuck Kobasew and Kyle Brodziak but despite all their hard work and effort they were unable to register a shot on goal.  The Wild would follow that up with a great shift by its 2nd line where Guillaume Latendresse attempted a wrap that didn’t quite curl enough, and the Flames would counter attack and Rene Bourque hammered a blast that didn’t miss by much.  His big shot would carom off the glass and Martin Havlat would skate up the ice and then make a terrific saucer feed to a crashing Latendresse who tried to roof a shot that ended up going over the net and again Calgary went on the counter attack.  After an initial chance by Bourque that was stopped by Backstrom and then Jarome Iginla wiffed on a shot the puck was quickly pushed ahead to Chuck Kobasew who almost seemed to have a step on a Flames defender but he instead tried to spin and fire a shot that weakly made it towards the crease for an easy stop by Toskala.  Moments later Antti Miettinen was nailed with an interference call for a check he delivered to Jamal Mayers, but Minnesota was very sharp on the penalty kill as they challenged Flames’ puck carriers well and the Wild were able to kill off the power play without much consequence.  At the very end of the Flames power play, Ales Kotalik was called for hooking giving Minnesota a great opportunity to cut into the Calgary lead.  The Wild’s power play was very disjointed and all too often they seemed to be caught in indecision, and at times this would yield great shorthanded chances for the Flames as Chris Higgins and David Moss had outstanding scoring opportunities that forced Backstrom to make some clutch saves.  Minnesota’s power play just was an attempt to set up a shot from the wall or an attempt to set up Andrew Brunette who was camping out near the top of the Calgary crease.  After the Wild failed to score on the power play they were renew their assault on the Calgary zone as the 2nd scoring line was able to create some pressure as Guillaume Latendresse took a quick pass by Martin Havlat and he carried the puck to the front of the crease for a backhander that Toskala stopped but Havlat would try to backhand the rebound that was again pushed aside by the Flames goaltender.  The Flames would go on the attack themselves as their top line duo of Rene Bourque and Jarome Iginla were causing some havoc in the Wild zone and after a shot was chipped wide of the mark it left Niklas Backstrom way out of position and the biscuit was dished to Bourque who ripped a shot that Backstrom was just able to get in front of to make the save.  A late-period slashing penalty by Mikko Koivu would give the Flames a power play but they were content to just play it safe and take their 2-0 lead with still over a minute of time on the man advantage to start the 2nd period.

The Flames would start the 2nd period with a nearly a minute and twenty seconds of power play time but Minnesota’s penalty kill did a good job of keeping Calgary to the perimeter, and the Wild would earn a crucial kill.  The Wild tried to answer back and Brent Burns was really being active offensively as he took plenty of chances to jump into the play as he’d race in and rip a heavy wrist shot that Toskala bobbled before jumping on top of it to freeze it for a whistle.  Minnesota continued to apply pressure as Guillaume Latendresse rifled a shot that Toskala fumbled with and Chuck Kobasew tried to fire home the rebound but the Flames goaltender would hold on.  In a bit of a controversial sequence, Latendresse hauled down Calgary’s Robyn Regehr with his stick and then moments later it was Regehr being tagged with a hooking penalty of his own.  On the power play the Wild had an outstanding chance where Minnesota peppered Toskala with shots as Marek Zidlicky snuck in to pick up a rebound but he was unable to lift a puck over the sprawling Flames goaltender.  Minnesota would continue to move the puck well where Antti Miettinen was set up for a one-timer that he blazed on goal that struck the crossbar and the Wild continued to swarm near the Calgary goal and Cam Barker wound up and blasted a shot that struck Staios in the ribs that sent him to the ice in pain.  The Wild had 6 shots on the power play but again no goals to show for their terrific pressure.  Moments later, Calgary tried to take advantage of this frustration by the Wild as Curtis Glencross raced in and uncorked a slapper that was gloved by Backstrom.  The Wild seemed to be a bit deflated after their failed power play and the Flames begain to assert themselves on the forecheck as Minnesota was just going through the motions.  With the game in sort of a lull, the 2nd line would finally give the sellout crowd a reason to get out of its seat as Martin Havlat entered the Calgary zone, turned and then fed a perfect backdoor pass to Latendresse who was wide open and he beat Toskala with a small deke and a nice little backhander to cut the Flames lead in half, 2-1.  The Flames tried to respond to the Wild goal with a hardworking shift down low in the Wild zone along the boards by Daymond Langkow, Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins and it was Kotalik for a point-blank shot that was stopped by a fine save by Backstrom.  The Wild tried answer back as the top line attempted to tie the game as Mikko Koivu worked the puck behind the Flames goal to set up Antti Miettinen hammered a slap shot was stopped by Toskala that seemed to leave Miettinen a little worse for the wear.  The Flames would counter attack as Jarome Iginla would press the play and he’d feed a cross-ice pass to a crashing Steve Staios who was denied by a diving Niklas Backstrom.  Soon after this close chance the Wild’s Brent Burns would take a delay of game penalty for shooting a puck over the glass and it would prove to be costly.  Minnesota’s penalty kill did a terrific job of killing off the first half of the Flames’ power play which was taking every opportunity to fire the puck on goal.  This simplified approach would eventually pay off as Rene Bourque won a battle for the puck to get a rebound which he slid back out towards the point to Jarome Iginla who just unloaded a slapper that blew by Backstrom to extend the Flames’ lead to 3-1.  Minnesota would try to answer back soon after as the 2nd scoring line of Latendresse and Havlat created some outstanding pressure in and around the Flames crease but Toskala and the Calgary defense was able to keep the puck out of the harm’s way but the Wild’s pressure did draw a holding penalty on Robyn Regehr.  On the man advantage, it started off slowly as Minnesota tried to set up down low and Andrew Brunette would try to feed a pass out to Koivu but it was intercepted by Jay Bouwmeester who cleared the zone.  Backstrom would try to help out by playing the puck and pushed it out to Brent Burns who turned and fed a long ‘home run’ pass to Latendresse who was behind the Flames’ defense and he moved in and he blistered a slapper Brian Rolston-style by Toskala, sending Mark Giordano’s stick flying in the process as he tried to disrupt the shot to give Minnesota a power play goal cutting the Calgary lead to one, 3-2.  Moments later, the Flames would benefit from an apparent high stick and the puck ended up on the stick of Craig Conroy who skated in and he would backhand a shot that was nabbed out of the air by an outstanding glove save by Backstrom.  The Wild were not happy about the non-call on the obvious high stick but fortunately Backstrom was able to make the save so Minnesota only trailed by one going into the 3rd period.

The Wild were attacking well early as Marek Zidlicky as helping support the play early working down low but his attempt to feed the puck out towards the crease was intercepted by the Flames defense.  Minnesota continued to apply pressure and Barker would fire a shot from the point that was redirected by Ebbett up into the netting above the goal area.  The Wild strategy to start the 3rd period seemed simple, take shots from the point with traffic in front and look for redirects and rebounds as Greg Zanon flung a shot from the point that attempted to use Brunette as a screen.  Minnesota was still applying pressure as Owen Nolan chipped a pass to himself and he’d skate in towards the crease where he was looking to wrap a shot around Toskala and he’d lose the puck and the Flames’ defense was just able to sweep away the puck before Zidlicky could pounce on it.  The Wild would keep skating well and draw another Flames penalty when Rene Bourque was called for hooking.  On the power play the Wild had a good initial chance on a heavy wrist shot from the point by Marek Zidlicky that was absorbed by Toskala.  Minnesota would show some good puck control as they held the zone for a chance that was thwarted by some diving Flames players to take away shooting lanes.  With the crowd growing anxious, the Wild tried to mount a rush but a poor decision by Mikko Koivu salted away the final few seconds of the power play and Minnesota missed on a great opportunity to tie the game.  The Wild would continue to pressure and it was James Sheppard making some good things happen as he helps win a battle along the boards and firing a wrist shot that missed just wide and then just seconds later tried to redirect a point shot that was steered aside by Toskala.  With Minnesota pinching it was only a matter of time before the Flames had a prime scoring opportunity because of this and Regehr would find Iginla behind the Wild defense and he’d skate in all alone on the break away and he was stonewalled by Niklas Backstrom.  The Wild tried to go on the attack as Mikko Koivu would skate around Ian White and he’d take the puck to the net and just wasn’t able to wrap it by Toskala and he tried to avoid him but he’d partially collide with him and earn a goaltender interference penalty from new NHL Referee Chris Ciamaga.  Minnesota’s penalty killers would skate hard attempting to kill a fairly passive Flames power play without incident but the Wild would end up recieving an additional penalty as Owen Nolan would go to the box for interference.  Nolan was insensed by the penalty and he’d deliver a nother hit to Niklas Hagman but the end result was a 5-on-3 for the Flames.  Calgary did not waste any time finding the back of the net as Jarome Iginla one-timed a slapper by Backstrom to give the Flames a crucial 4-2 lead to a serenade of boo’s from the Xcel Energy Center crowd.  The goal was scored with just 2 seconds left on Koivu’s penalty which meant the Flames still had well over a minute of power play time.  Just as the penalty ended, the Wild tried to set up Owen Nolan who was exiting the penalty box and he’d race after the loose puck but could not get there before Vesa Toskala swept it away.  Minnesota would try to go back on the attack to cut into the Flames lead while Calgary was content to simply play keep away.  The Wild’s defense was pincing in, as Brent Burns would pinch in.  The Wild would pull Backstrom with nearly 2:15 left on the clock and the Flames would be a bit lacadasical with an empty net as Iginla flung a shot that went wide of the open goal.  Minnesota would try to counter attack but a bad pass would yield a weak shot and it was Iginla who earned a hat trick to put the nail in the coffin as his bouncing shot found the twine, 5-2 Flames.  It was a disappointing finish to a game where the Wild again suffered from a slow start as the team lost another critical chance at 2 points in the standings.

Niklas Backstrom had just 18 saves in the loss, and the two quick goals he allowed in the first period really never allowed the Wild to have much of a chance in this game.  He did come close to redeeming himself with some good saves in the 2nd and 3rd periods but it wasn’t enough.  Backstrom was really fighting the puck in the 1st period, and the Wild’s defense was giving Jarome Iginla way too much space to operate.

Offensiely the Wild were not able to create much significant offensive pressure apart from plays by Brent Burns and Guillaume Latendresse.  While the Wild did manage to find the back of the net once on the power play, it was too inconsistent.  Effort was also inconsistent with some lines bringing good energy each shift and others just going through the motions and let’s face it the Flames were playing with a lot more focus and urgency than they did last week Wednesday.  The Wild’s playoff hopes are officially on life support and there is no way to say that their next game, Tuesday against the Florida Panthers is anything but a must win.  It may sound annoying to use that cliche but it is the bed that Minnesota has made for itself.  Certainly, no “Herbie’s” were given for this afternoon’s effort.

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster this afternoon was: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Antti Miettinen, Kyle Brodziak, Andrew Ebbett, James Sheppard, Robbie Earl, Cal Clutterbuck, Chuck Kobasew, Guillaume Latendresse, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Shane Hnidy, Marek Zidlicky, Cam Barker and Brent Burns.  Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.  John Scott was the lone healthy scratch.  Clayton Stoner is out as he recovers from groin surgery and Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were: 1st Star Jarome Iginla, 2nd Star Guillaume Latendresse, 3rd Star Rene Bourque

~ With 18,217 in attendance at this afternoon’s game it marks the 400th consecutive sellout in team history which is the 3rd longest consecutive sellout streak in NHL history.

~ Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard recieved a 2-game suspension from the league for a knee he gave former Minnesota Wild draftee Ryan Jones in Friday’s game against Edmonton.

Wild Prospect Report:

D – Tyler Cuma ~ Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

2009-10 Stats: 49GP  4G 17A = 21pts  69 PIM’s  +9

Cuma has been playing much better as of late, as are his 67’s who are having a solid 2nd half of their season.  The Toronto-native has simplified his game and finally seems to be fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered last year.  The smooth skating blueliner is very solid positionally and makes a good first pass while being a capable puck mover as well.  Cuma is the second amongst 67’s defenseman in scoring.  3 of his 4 goals were scored on the power play.  It will be interesting to see if his solid play continues into the OHL playoffs.

Houston Aeros Report:

Houston 3, Texas 4

The Houston Aeros rallied back after spotting the Stars a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Ray Sawada and Travis Morin.  Tempers would flare up early in the second period as Sawada and Petr Kalus would exchange slashes with one another before they started throwing punches in a spirited fight.  Duncan Milroy got the Aeros on the board after tapping home a rebound created by a Ryan Gunderson shot from the point.  The Stars would push their lead back to two, when Warren Peters fired a shot from the slot after a bad turnover in the neutral zone that beat Anton Khudobin.  With the momentum back in Texas’ hands, the Aeros’ Cody Almond would drop the gloves against Colton Scevior and Almond would win decisively getting his team’s spirits back up just before the end of hte period.  Houston would answer back in the 3rd period with two goals to tie the game from Gunderson on a blistering slapper from the point that beat Matt Climie, and then Milroy would score his second goal of the game would finish off a nice effort by Nathan Smith.  Penalties would disrupt the Aeros ability to add the go-ahead goal and they would give up the coup de grace when Scevior found some open space and fire a wrist shot by Khudobin to give the Stars a 4-3 lead with just over 5 minutes left.  The Aeros would try to get the equalizer but Texas did a good job at mucking up the play along the boards and Houston would lose 4-3.  Khudobin had just 18 saves in the loss.

The Aeros currently sit in 5th in the AHL’s Western Conference. Houston does not play until Friday (March 14th) against the Peoria Rivermen.

AHL West standings

1.  Chicago Wolves – (40-18-1-5)  86pts

2.  Rockford Ice Hogs – (38-23-3-3)  82pts

3.  Texas Stars – (35-22-3-4)  77pts

4.  Milwaukee Admirals – (34-22-1-6)  75pts

5.  Houston Aeros – (29-28-6-2)  66pts

6.  Peoria Rivermen – (29-26-1-6)  65pts

7.  San Antonio Rampage – (28-27-3-6)  65pts



About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!