Comedian Rodney Dangerfield was famous for his tagline of "No respect!" I wonder if that's how the Minnesota Wild feel after their 3-2 shootout win over Chicago. Never mind that Chicago is one of two undefeated teams in the NHL to that point (the other being San Jose), never mind that Chicago was the better rested of the two clubs as the Wild were playing the 2nd game of a back-to-back. But what was the big story this morning NHL's Home Ice Radio? The Edmonton Oilers winning beating the Phoenix Coyotes in overtime. It must be because the Coyotes are one of the league's top teams right? Oh wait, they're in 4th place in the Pacific and 11th in the Western Conference. Despite the fact the Wild / Blackhawks clash was NBC's big 'Rivalry Wednesday' tilt it was put on the back burner. Well its just NHL Home Ice Radio, big deal eh? Well NHL.com isn't much better. As of around 9:30AM Thursday morning, the Wild's victory was the 5th story listed behind stories and highlights of the Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks. The Wild, who currently sit atop the Northwest Division were trumped by the team in 2nd and 3rd place in the same division. Who did Vancouver beat? A struggling Colorado squad. So again, what gives NHL? Perhaps its fitting the NHL title for the Wild / Blackhawks story is "Back to Reality" which could be double entendre for back to being overlooked by the league.
The Wild begin their second road trip of the season, with a trip to Orange County to face the Anaheim Ducks. Minnesota has always had a bit of animosity for the two teams since the Ducks have eliminated them twice in the post-season. With points being such a precious commodity and some clubs starting to separate from the pack I think we can expect a spirited game. It may not be a rivalry, but these two clubs seem to bring out the anger in the other. Will the Wild be able to register its first road win this evening?
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1st Period Thoughts: Both clubs took a cautious approach to the start of the game. The Ducks would work the puck down low in the Wild zone and it was Devante Smith-Pelly dishing a pass out front to Emerson Etem who got off a quick shot that missed wide. The Ducks were moving their feet well and starting to assert themselves with their speed, giving the Wild some problems. Anaheim's speed continued to create turnovers and scoring chances for the Ducks as they swarmed near the Wild crease as Minnesota's defense was scrambling all over its own end. The Wild were not helping their cause by making area passes that more often than not became easy turnovers to allow Anaheim to sustain their offensive pressure. Teemu Selanne nearly connected on a wrap around chance and then just seconds after that Kyle Palmieri moved in with speed and got Niklas Backstrom to drop but he was unable to find enough free space to get off of a shot or a pass. The Ducks' pressure would yield a Wild penalty as Pierre-Marc Bouchard was called for high sticking. Anaheim's power play looked just as dominant as the Ducks had been in this game up to this point moving the puck efficiently and effectively setting up shooting opportunities for Cam Fowler as well as sniper Corey Perry. Minnesota through both luck (Ducks' misses) and some sacrifice, clutch shot blocks by Cal Clutterbuck and Ryan Suter managed to escape unscathed. As the penalty ended Bouchard left the box and went on the rush with Darroll Powe. Powe would fire a sharp angle shot that hit the side of the net and Matt Cullen would chase it down and feed the puck out towards the slot that would be picked up by Marco Scandella, who took his chance to fling a wrist shot on goal and it snuck through the pads of Viktor Fasth into the back of the net to make it 1-0 Wild. The stunned reaction of the crowd probably was matched by the stunned feeling of those at home as Minnesota really had little to nothing going its way; as they were being outhustled and outworked. The only member of the Wild that didn't seem to be floating around the ice was Niklas Backstrom who was seeing pucks well and controlling rebounds as he did against the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. At the other end of the ice; after giving up that soft goal to Scandella, Fasth looked a little suspect a few minutes later as he had a little trouble with a shot from the point taken by Tom Gilbert. The Ducks would counter attack with Daniel Winnik who made a nice little move in the Wild zone to get by a defender where he let go a wrist shot that Backstrom stopped and then the Wild goalie denied Winnik's rebound attempt. The period would end with a collective sigh of relief as the Wild were amazingly lucky to be up 1-0 after being outshot 13-6 and by all means totally dominated in that period. The Wild were playing rope-a-dope and somehow they left the Ducks with a cut while the Wild managed to weather the storm. Minnesota may want to check the bus to see if the team was still on there because it looked like only Backstrom made it to the game thus far. Sloppy area passing led to a lethargic offensive attack and a plethora of scoring chances for the the Ducks. This is not a formula the Wild should want to repeat if it expect to win this one. The one other bright spot besides the play of Backstrom was the fact Fasth seemed to be fighting the puck and the Wild would be wise to really start peppering him with shots because I think we can get a few more soft ones by him.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota started out the 2nd period with more focus and a little more jump in their skates and the Wild carried the play early on. Matt Cullen won a battle for the puck near the dasher where he carried the puck to the crease where the net was knocked off his moorings before he could pull the trigger. Moments after that the Wild continued to apply pressure as Jonas Brodin stepped into a slap shot that was gloved by Fasth. The Ducks would try to counter the Wild's pressure and it was Teemu Selanne stealing a puck in the neutral zone and he'd race in and blast a slapper that was knocked out of the air by Backstrom. A few minutes later, Mikko Koivu lifted the stick and took the biscuit from his brother Saku Koivu as he moved down the slot for what looked like a prime scoring chance. The Wild finally got its top line to create some sustained offensive pressure as Mikko Koivu pulled the trigger on a snap shot that gave Fasth a little trouble and then the puck was worked back to the point where Brodin hammered another slap shot that missed just wide of the mark. The Ducks were patient and another turnover by Zach Parise in the neutral zone would be stolen by Bobby Ryan who fed a pass up to the speedy Kyle Palmieri and he motored in and fired a shot by a sprawling Backstrom to make it 1-1. Moments later, Corey Perry would be hit hard by Clayton Stoner that left the Ducks scorer a little worse for the wear, and he'd head to the locker room. The Ducks continued to swarm, and another failed clearing attempt, this time by Brodin and Ryan set up Palmieri for a quick shot from the slot that would miss high but hit the glass and come back towards the goal and was gloved by the Wild goalie. Both clubs would then trade scoring chances as the Wild's carelessness with the puck in their own end continued to be a problem. Minnesota was trying to counter attack and one player who was looking hungry was Devin Setoguchi who raced into the Anaheim zone and he'd blast a shot wide of Fasth. The Wild would get luck again as a faceoff wn led to a point shot by Luca Sbisa that reached Backstrom and then he made a remarkable glove save as he laid on his side on Nick Bonino who had an uncontested chance on the rebound. The Ducks' youth line of Bonino, Smith-Pelly and Etem continued to cause problems for the Wild with their speed as Minnesota's zone looked like a shooting gallery as shots were being taken from all over. Minnesota answered back with its top line of Parise, Koivu and Dany Heatley and had their best shift of the game to this point as they cycled the puck effectively down low but were unable to really create much more than a few attempts near the posts that never really were of any consequence. The period would end with both clubs tied at 1-1 but with Anaheim again carrying the momentum. The area passes were really killing the Wild's puck possession game and making it far too easy for the Ducks to create odd-man chances in transition. However, despite the fact the Wild were not playing all that well it's still anyone's game. Will the Wild raise their game and take one from the Ducks? We shall see soon enough. Clayton Stoner was playing well; moving his feet well and being an equal opportunity hitter all over the Wild zone.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Ducks' youthful line of Etem, Bonino and Smith-Pelly again gave Minnesota fits in its own zone and Backstrom was again forced to sprawl for a puck only to be bailed out by the goal coming off its moorings as Bonino crashed the crease. Anaheim seemed to just be so much better in shape as the Wild looked tired to start the 3rd period. Minnesota tried to slow down Anaheim by being physical as Setoguchi, Stoner and Powe were delivering hits with reckless abandon. The Ducks' persistance would pay off as Selanne tracked a puck off the boards and he swung a pass to the slot to Palmieri who promptly buried the opportunity, his 2nd of the game to give Anaheim a 2-1 lead. Anaheim continued to dictate the pace of play as the Ducks' speed continued to draw all kinds of turnovers and Minnesota's failed clearing attempts made it look like a power play. The Wild's top line looked sluggish as they tried to chase around the faster Ducks' team and luckily for them Backstrom would make a big save to get a whistle so that line could get some rest. Minnesota's best line in the 3rd was its 4th line of Zenon Konopka, Darroll Powe and Torrey Mitchell as they worked the puck in the Ducks' zone but were not able to get much on the shots they directed towards Fasth. Konopka wanted to spark the Wild and battled pretty intensely against Bryan Allen and even tried to goad the bigger blueliner into a fight but Allen wouldn't oblige. The Ducks' knew what worked, and that was working the puck deep because the Wild really had no answer for it. As Ryan Getzlaf dished a pass to Matt Beleskey who charged the net as Backstrom dove for the puck but couldn't cover it and by the time Beleskey's shot was partially tipped by the sprawling Wild goalie and it hit up and off the crossbar to keep Minnesota within one. Matt Cullen would take a big hit by Palmieri that sent him careening head-first into the boards and he'd slowly make his way back to the Wild bench and he'd head to the locker room early. Zenon Konopka wold draw a penalty on Cam Fowler as a rare bad pass from the Ducks' defensive zone gave him a golden chance but Fasth shut him down but as he chased down the rebound Fowler held him up giving Minnesota a crucial power play late in the period. The top unit wasn't able to do much with the start of the man advantage, generating just a weak shot on goal by Heatley. The 2nd unit wasn't much better setting up a slapper from the point by Brodin. Minnesota finally created some pressure as the power play ended as Parise nearly got the equalizer only to be denied by a diving save by Fasth. With the Wild's hopes diminishing by the second it would only get worse as Tom Gilbert would earn a tripping call for getting his stick into the skates of Bobby Ryan. Anaheim would take full advantage of the Wild's lack of focus as Selanne made a pretty backdoor pass to Bobby Ryan for an easy goal. You could see the look of frustration on Backstrom's face as he was left out to dry as Anaheim now held a two-goal lead. The Wild would pull Backstrom late in the game but they were never really able too threaten Fasth again and Minnesota would lose 3-1.
Niklas Backstrom gave a noble effort in a game where almost no one else on the team was really battling all that well this evening. Backstrom kept Minnesota in the game far longer than it deserved to be; making 28 saves in the loss. The only defenseman that I felt was really working hard tonight was Clayton Stoner. The rest were passengers or in Marco Scandella's case a liability. Scandella had a goal, but he was terrible. Tom Gilbert wasn't much better as the team repeatedly failed to clear the zone and this meant Anaheim had offensive pressure throughout most of this game. How many passes did we see from the Wild's defense; from deep in their zone that went to no one at all? That is a recipe for disaster. The score in my opinion was more lopsided than 3-1 indicates.
Offensively, the top line of Koivu, Heatley and Parise were missing in action all night. They couldn't seem to find any time and space against Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray who had little trouble making them a non-factor. However, that line, Parise-included didn't seem to have any legs at all. The Wild also need to consider doing something with the 2nd line; especially rookie Mikael Granlund. Granlund on more than one occasion in the game just let the puck go as opposing defenders skated towards him. That is a sign of fear and immaturity. The Wild need to consider making some kind of roster move, and since Granlund is still on his Entry Level deal he's on a two-way contract so he's easy enough to send down. The only forward line that I felt tried to raise their game was the 4th line of Konopka, Powe and Mitchell but the rest look confused. I think I saw at least 2-3 different occasions where Wild forwards were litterally bumping into each other on the ice. That's ok if its some Mites team; but embarassing for an NHL team.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo looked visibly annoyed, "You don't win games when we didn't have everybody, and we didn't have everybody. We even had a chance to steal this one with the way Backstrom played, but we didn't have everybody." Yeo's answers were short and but telling as he said "you need to move your feet and be willing to take a hit to make a play." Ouch. But maybe its just me because I wish Yeo would blast the team; because they deserved it. It was a pathetic effort. They better be ready to play on Monday against Phoenix because that's a team that always works hard.
~ The Wild's roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Mikael Granlund, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Marco Scandella. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser and Matt Kassian were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Kyle Palmieri, 2nd Star Teemu Selanne, 3rd Star Bobby Ryan
~ Attendance was 13,007 at Honda Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Matt Dumba (Red Deer, WHL) ~ It has been a quiet 2012-13 for the Wild's 1st round pick from 2012. The dynamic defenseman known for big hits and flashy scoring plays has appeared to be a bit disconnected this season by what I've heard from Rebels' fans. Even a dispassionate Matt Dumba has 11 goals, 25 points and 59 PIM's and a -1 in 49 games so far this season. Hopefully after his little stint practicing with the Wild gets him fired up to have a more energized 2nd half of the season.