"I'm Henry the eighth I am, Henry the eighth I am, I am, I got married to the widow next door, She's been married seven times before, And every one was an Henry, She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam, I'm her eighth old man, I'm Henry, Henry the eighth I am. Second verse same as the first" are the lyrics to the ever-annoying song Henry VIII I am by Herman's Hermits. So why am I bringing up this song? A thought struck me as I watching the Wild Live post game show after the Wild's most recent 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. The Wild have scored just 1 goal in regulation over their last 6 games. Then after that segment of the show was over with the Wild's promotional commercial went on where the franchise is attempting to sell some very early opinions shared by NHL Network's E. J. Hradek, and NBC Sports Network commentator Keith Jones and Fox Sports Net Detroit's Larry Murphy saying how they like the Wild's offense and feel the team has 'firepower'. Really?!?! 29th in the NHL in scoring means you have firepower? Now I am not calling those broadcasters liars, as those quotes were cherrypicked by the Wild's advertising department but obviously the image they want to sell is this team now has some offensive weapons and they're putting up points. However the truth is as I stated earlier that the Wild are far from being confused for an offensive juggernaut. But this is nothing new to this franchise, and to quote the song above, "Second verse, same as the first" and the team's scoring woes are just as glaring as ever. Maybe you'd modify that line in the song to say "Second line, same as the first". Last season the Wild finished dead last in the league scoring just 2 goals per game; and this season the Wild have actually managed to score even less at 1.92 Goals For per game! So to say the Wild have firepower is like a little kid telling someone he carries explosives where he carries a box of Whipper Snappers where you'll make a little noise but accomplish little beyond that. Remember these?
This box of Whipper Snappers might be more 'explosive' than the Wild's offense
I loved these as a kid. You'd walk around and throw them on the ground and see if you could surprise someone. However, back to the analogy does the Wild's offense really seem to surprise anyone anymore? The Wild's top 3 scorers have been held off the scoresheet for the last 4 games. So dare I say it, and that a box of Whipper Snappers might actually be more 'explosive' than the Wild's offense? At least the box of Whipper Snappers make a little noise.
Luckily for the Wild they are going against the team with the 28th best offense in the NHL with a scant 2.09 goals for per game. You might be working your way up to a Black Cat level now, so it will be the Whipper Snappers versus the almost Black Cats. Which team will make more noise Thursday night?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Wild looked a little sluggish to start the game, as the Avalanche were moving well in the first few minutes as Matt Duchene set up P.A. Parenteau for a quick shot off the rush that he fired wide. Minnesota seemed to struggle with Colorado's speed and the newly reformulated lines struggled to execute even simple passes. It would take 3 minutes to pass before the Wild set up its first quality scoring chance as a nice play by Zach Parise who drove deep into the Avalanche zone before turning and delivering a nice backhand pass to Dany Heatley waiting in the slot but the former Wisconsin Badger fanned on the shot and Jean-Sebastien Giguere had an easy time directing it to the corner. Minnesota's lines looked out of sync and there were not a lof shots being taken. About another 4 minutes would pass before the Wild would put another shot on goal as Parise let loose a weak wrist shot that was covered up by Giguere. Wild forwards seemed to be getting bunched up so when they did shoot no one was in position for a rebound. If there was any bright side to the Wild's lack of chemistry was the fact defensively the Avalanche were not executing any better and not many pucks were reaching Niklas Backstrom. You could sense the anxiety in the crowd was starting to build as the game started to open up. A failed Wild rush turned into a 3-on-1 for the Avalanche and as Parenteau tried to give that last pass to Paul Stastny for a finish, his attempt would be partially blocked by Jared Spurgeon and Backstrom was able to come up with the save. Minnesota's top line would counter attack and it was Spurgeon flinging a pass towards the top of the crease that was deflected on goal by Heatley and then as the Wild battled for the rebound the officials blew the whistle when they lost track of the puck even though Giguere didn't have control of it. Colorado's top line tried to respond as they moved the puck deep in the zone, and with some quick passes got Backstrom to a little caught up in the movement and he'd get his back to the play but luckily for Minnesota they were not able to get a shot on goal. The Wild finally got a scoring chance from someone not on the 1st line as Mikael Granlund set up Devin Setoguchi for a quick shot that was gloved by Giguere. In the closing moments of the period the Wild set up one last scoring chance as Spurgeon passed a puck back to the high slot that was bombed on goal off a wicked one-timer by Heatley that Giguere kicked aside and the period would end with both teams with no goals to show for their effort. To paraphrase a Michael Russo tweet, "What a shock, no goals in the 1st period from the 28th and 29th offenses in the NHL." Minnesota was guilty of overplaying the puck and they need to take more opportunities to fire the biscuit, even though the Wild held an 11-5 shot advantage. Jonas Brodin continues to impress. Cal Clutterbuck would go missing in action mid-way through the period, not sure why (probably hurt).
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would have an early scoring chance as Zach Parise got free in the high slot and he drove a shot wide of the goal as Koivu and Heatley crashed the crease. The Wild's missed opportunties would allow the Avalanche to hang around and Colorado would take the lead on a nice tip in goal by Aaron Palushaj on a nice pass by David Jones that Backstrom had no chance on as he lifted it right underneath the crossbar, 1-0. The game would take a break as a huge piece of plexiglass came loose in the Wild end and perhaps this was something the team can use to wake itself up as its lack of initiative was catching up to them. With the glass fixed the Wild went back to its ineffective dump and chase game where the club would dump it in and not really chase it with much vigor and it would turn into an easy turnover for Colorado. The Avalanche kept working hard and Colorado would have a few great chances as Jones blasted a slap shot that was stopped by Backstrom and the rebound went to Stastny who tried to bury it but was stopped by the sprawling Wild goalie. Minnesota tried to answer back as Pierre-Marc Bouchard skated into the zone and he wound up and uncorked a slapper that struck the knob of Giguere's stick. The Wild would continue to attack as Heatley carried it in and he dished it off to Koivu who hammered a slap shot that missed wide but had Giguere out of position and the puck was swept up by Parise who tucked it in near the right post to tie the game at 1-1. A few moments later as the Avalanche tried to answer back former Wild 4th round pick Patrick Bordeleau got his elbows up near the head of Jared Spurgeon giving Minnesota its 1st power play of the game. Minnesota would do nothing with the power play thanks to indecisive passing and poor decision making where they gave the Avalanche penalty killers easy opportunities to pressure the puck carrier and force the puck out of the zone. A few minutes later, Zenon Konopka earned a foolish penalty for trying to goad former Wild defenseman Greg Zanon where the Wild tough guy may have been responding for a hit Zanon gave Parise earlier in the period. Yet it was Colorado's power play and they would take advantage of it. After the penalty killers did a good job at preventing the Avalanche getting set up in the zone, Colorado would get to work as Jamie McGinn fired a shot that was stopped by Backstrom who gave up a big rebound as he slid across his crease but Milan Hejduk was there to fire it by the Wild goalie giving his team a 2-1 lead. It was fitting for Hejduk, who was celebrating its 37th birthday as well as notching his 800th career point. Minnesota tried to answer back with a mild rush from its top line but the damage had been done with the Wild trailing by one going into the 3rd period. The Wild only had themselves to blame, outshot 15-8. There are ways to send messages to opponents, but handing them a power play in a tied game is not a good strategy for success. With the way this team doesn't score goals, a 2-1 lead seems pretty big lately. I don't know why this team felt it could take its foot off the gas against any team, even the Avalanche.
3rd Period Thoughts: It was frustrating to watch the Wild at the start of the 3rd period as they continued to be plagued by poor execution. Offsides calls, poor passes, bad icing was not a good ways to start. Minnesota would still get the equalizer after Mikael Granlund passed a puck off the wall behind the goal out front to Mike Rupp who jammed it through Giguere and in, tying the game at two. Giguere protested the goal vehmently, wanting to know why the whistle wasn't blown but the officials were not sympathetic and the goal would stand. The goal seemed to light a fire underneath the Wild who started to carry the play. Minnesota would try work te cycle but Colorado was breaking up the play by a little clutching and grabbing akin to the 'dead puck era' but the officials didn't seem to mind. With a little over 13 minutes left to play, Avalanche bench boss Joe Sacco called a timeout to chew out his team as he wanted them to dig deep to battle back in this game. The Wild's 3rd line of Cullen, Bouchard and Rupp had a great shift cycling the puck down low and creating a few shots for Giguere to content with. Minnesota seemed to have more legs down the stretch, and because of that they were starting to sustain some offensive pressure in the Avalanche zone. A great backhand pass by Koivu found Parise wide open on the back door but he whiffed on the shot, but Minnesota kept hustling and hitting. Setoguchi would level John Mitchell with a huge hit in front of the Wild bench in a hockey version of a decleater. The Wild kept attacking and Heatley would drive down the slot drawing 3 defenders towards him and the puck would slide over to Koivu who picked up the loose biscuit and he'd beat Giguere with a wicked backhand to give Minnesota its first lead 3-2. Colorado would only take a minute to answer back as they went on the attack with the small and weaker group of Granlund and Spurgeon and after swarming around the net, and with Backstrom guessing a bit it was Matt Duchene sort of passing the puck off the diving Spurgeon and into the goal to tie the game to a chorus of boo's after a pathetic effort. The Avalanche seemed to be energized by the scoring chance and Duchene would threaten again as he got a step on Ryan Suter and motored by the Wild defenseman for a shot that was directed aside by Backstrom. A few minutes later Niklas Backstrom was knocked down by McGinn for no call behind the play and the Wild went on the attack as Dany Heatley again tried to drive to the crease and Giguere was able to cover for a whistle and it was Koivu getting into a vicious war of words with Parenteau where we saw a rare fit of anger from the Wild captain. With just a little over a minute left in regulation, Parise would get tagged with a high stick to Tyson Barrie giving Colorado a crucial man advantage late in the game. At this point, the Wild really had to be hoping just to get to overtime. Minnesota's penalty killers were again aggressive early on, challenging the entries into the offensive zone and causing the Avalanche power play some problems. A big shot for Barrie got to Backstrom who made the initial save and then he came up with a big stop on John Mitchell. The Avalanche had one last suge in the closing seconds and Backstrom again came up big to give Minnesota at least a point as the game would go to overtime. It shoud not have been necessary if the 2nd line wouldn'tve lost their focus after Koivu's go ahead goal.
Overtime Thoughts: The Avalanche had nearly 40 seconds more of power play time, where it was a 4-on-3 man advantage for Colorado. Colorado would have its chances as Hejduk got a great opportunity to fire the puck from the high slot that just missed wide. Yet their best chance came of a beauty of a pass by Duchene to Parenteau who was denied on the doorstep by the leg pad of Backstrom. Minnesota would get the big kill but it would be another 45 seconds before the Wild would get some quality scoring chances of their own as the team set up Brodin for a few blasts from the point but Giguere was up to the task and the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Overview: Minnesota would elect to shoot first, with Zach Parise to be the Wild's first shooter. Parise would move in very slowly as he tried to get Giguere to bite but he did not and as he went forehand to backhand he made an easy stop. Colorado's first shooter was Milan Hejduk would patiently move from right to left getting Backstrom to drop and he beat him with a simple backhand shot over the Wild goalie, 1-0 Avalanche. Mikko Koivu would move wide left and then back to his right but he'd try to sneak in a shot 5-hole but Giggy shut the door, still 1-0 Colorado. The Avalanche's next shooter was Matt Duchene and he would move in and fire a quick snap shot stick side to give Colorado a 4-3 shootout victory.
Niklas Backstrom did come up with some big stops but his rebound control was lacking in a few crucial moments that allowed Colorado's anemic offense to do just enough to keep their hopes alive in this game. Defensively I thought the let down after Koivu's goal in the 3rd was unforgiveable. The feet stopped and Minnesota watched Colorado press for the equalizer and that was a major let down by the whole line not just the blueliners Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon. I thought Jonas Brodin played very well, as did Ryan Suter but the rest of the team's defense was fairly ineffective.
Its a familiar story, Zach Parise led the team with 9 shots on goal. While the rest of the team combined for 20 shots on goal. The only line that really seemed to have any kind of fire to it offensively was the top line and Minnesota's 'all in' strategy of bunching its top scorers onto one line meant the rest of the team did next to nothing. Mikael Granlund again looked overwhelmed by the speed and physical play of the game. I am still not sure why he didn't get sent down to Houston, when Charlie Coyle seemed far more ready to withstand the rigors of NHL hockey; perhaps it has something to do with the fact the club has lots of #64 sweaters to move at its team stores and you're not going to do that when he's down in Houston. Either way, its a questionable decision in my opinion. Mike Rupp demonstrated some versatility, that gave a little dose of grit and energy to the 3rd line.
The Konopka penalty nearly killed the Wild before it had the game in hand. However Minnesota had plenty of chances to win this game but it didn't finish and it deserved to lose in the shootout. The truth is, the Avalanche are an awful team and you just gave up 2 points to them on your home ice. That's not good no matter how you slice it and whether you're going to believe the propaganda about the fact the team finally managed to score more than a single goal in the game but this was a victory this team had to have and it didn't get it done. No one should be happy after this game. Rupp hit the nail right on the head in the post-game interview on Fox Sports Net as he said, "the 1st line was great, the rest of us were average, this was a game we needed to have and we didn't get it done." Funny, I feel like I've been saying that all season thus far. Remember what I said about Whipper Snappers, the Wild made a little noise tonight with some goals but it didn't amount to squat.
~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Mikael Granlund, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Mike Rupp, Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert, Jonas Brodin, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser was the lone healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by 'the fans' were: 1st Star Matt Duchene, 2nd Star Mikko Koivu, 3rd Star Mike Rupp
~ Attendance was 18,822 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate Andrew Brunette on his retirement as well as the announcement of his hiring as a hockey operations advisor for the Minnesota Wild.
Wild Prospect Report:
(From left to right) Tyler Graovac, Matt Dumba & Raphael Bussieres
C – Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ The lanky 6'4" center seems to be heating up again offensively, netting a hat trick last night to give Belleville a 4-1 win over Kingston. He was also a +2, and now has 30 goals and 53 points in 44 games.
D – Matt Dumba (Red Deer, WHL) ~ The reports from Red Deer fans say he still seems a bit disconnected but the points have been a bit more regular lately as he contributed 3 assists and was a +2 in Red Deer's 4-1 win over Prince George last night. Dumba has 12 goals, 32 points and 61 PIM's in 49 games this season.
RW – Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ The rugged winger continues to be an all around contributor for the Drakkar, tallying an assist, going 2-for-2 on faceoffs and being credited with 2 hits in Baie-Comeau's 4-1 win over Chicoutimi. The Longueuil, Quebec-native has 24 goals, 56 points and 30 PIM's in 49 games this season.