Defensive breakdowns, and Clayton Stoner help tank the Wild in 4-2 loss in San Jose

Pierre-Marc Bouchard

To trade or not to trade, that is the question teams are pondering as they consider whether they should make some sort of roster move before the deadline's official arrival on Wednesday.  The phones are no doubt busy at just about all of the NHL's 30 clubs including the Minnesota Wild.  While there is plenty of talk and 'interest' here and there its tough to say its all worthwhile interest.  Savvy GM's are going to look for the best deal possible and if they can pawn off their toxic contracts and 'projects' on others the trade deadline is a great time because desperation is usually high and that means teams often are perhaps a bit blinded to the pitfalls or shortcomings a player may bring with them.  A savvy GM like Penguins GM Ray Shero managed to 'sell' a 1st round pick and two prospects that were pretty far down in their prospect pool in Ben Hanowski and Kenny Agostino to the Calgary Flames for Jarome Iginla.  Yet not all deadline moves are so nice or come with so much promise.  Former Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough pulled off a deadline bummer when he traded a 6th round pick to the New York Islanders' for Chris Simon.  It was meant to be a trade to help boost the clubs' toughness and improve their chances in the post-season instead it angered a fanbase who felt the addition of a troubled enforcer wasn't the sort of help the team needed.  The deal made Islanders GM Garth Snow look like Let's Make A Deal's Monty Hall as he got the Wild to gamble on what was behind door #2.  And just like that the Wild was stuck with a jalopy.  So as the deadline deals unfold, what trades will actually help and which may even be so bad that the Wild might feel they got lucky with a guy like Chris Simon?   

Monty Hall

Some NHL GM's make deals that would make Monty Hall jealous.  

By the time the Wild hit the ice in San Jose the deadline will have come and gone and teams will have more or less have their final roster for the run for the playoffs.  Did Buffalo GM Darcy Regier force the Wild to part with too much to see what was behind Door #1?  With just 7 points separating 3rd place Minnesota from 9th place Edmonton the deals of course are a sign of the trajectory the team feels its in.  Teams that do little or nothing often do so as they feel they like the chemistry of their team and don't wish to shake it up or they lack the assets to do so.  The Wild have plenty of assets to deal, so if the Wild don't do anything (as some expect them to do) its because they really like what they have.  Minnesota is in a good place right now, but the great momentum they've built from a 7-game winning streak has for the most part cooled off and the team may feel a move is necessary just to give them another boost.  Will the Wild be able to stop the Sharks' current feeding frenzy or will they just chum the waters even more? 

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Niklas Backstrom

1st Period Thoughts:  The Wild looked fast and aggressive as the newly modified 3rd line of Kyle Brodziak, Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi as Setoguchi raced into the San Jose zone as he dangled around a defender and the fired a wrist shot from the high slot that was stopped by Antti Niemi.  The Sharks responded with a scoring chance of their own as Brent Burns carried the puck down low before passing it back to Joe Thornton who drew the defense towards him before finding Martin Havlat with a pass and he beat Niklas Backstrom easily to make it 1-0.  The bleeding would continue after a hooking penalty on Brodziak.  The Wild's penalty kill started out strong as they kept San Jose to the perimeter, and Backstrom was able to come up with some key stops.  With a minute killed off, Charlie Coyle would come out and win a draw and pull the puck back to Clayton Stoner who had plenty of time and he'd fire the puck into the stands.  It was a ridiculously pathetic play by Stoner who had no reason to rush to clear the zone and this was a cut and dry delay of game penalty and the Wild found themselves 2-men down as San Jose had a 5-on-3 power play.  The Sharks wasted little time taking advantage of it as Dan Boyle picked up the puck and raced up the ice against the Wild's 3-man penalty kill and instead of crossing the blueline and dishing it off he made a pretty little move to dangle and fly right by Ryan Suter to move in all alone on Backstrom and he beat the Wild goalie with a neat little forehand to backhand deke and it was 2-0 San Jose.  The Wild would manage to kill off the rest of the Sharks power play but the damage was done.  Minnesota looked more than a little bit disorientated as Patrick Marleau was set up perfectly for a big one-timer and he blasted a shot off the right post.  Moments after that Stoner would make two more crucial errors as Dany Heatley made a nice play to find him wide open with the pass and then Stoner would attempt to pass the puck back to Jared Spurgeon who had T.J. Galiardi right in his face and he'd intercept the pass and race in on the break away only to be foiled by a diving save by Backstrom.  Stoner should be riding the pine for a while after these horrendous mistakes.  The mistakes continued as the Wild made some questionable decisions in its own zone that allowed the Sharks to cycle and keep Minnesota bottled up in its own end.  The Wild were absolutely dominated as the horn would sound with Wild trailing by two, with little to nothing positive to build from.  Clayton Stoner was an unmitigated disaster on skates, not only struggling to handle the speed of the game but a 2-3 turnovers nearly added to the Sharks' lead and his stupid penalty gave Boyle his chance to go coast to coast.  Justin Falk was pretty shaky too.  The Wild are still at a point where they can claw their way back into the game but another period even half as bad means they are doomed.  Minnesota was outshot 10-6.      

2nd Period Thoughts:  Clayton Stoner continued to plague the Wild with stupid play as he skated after a puck in his own end he lifted his stick into the grill of Joe Pavelski for an easy penalty call.  Minnesota's penalty killers would raise their game and good hustle, active sticks allowed the Wild to clear the offensive zone and they never really allowed the Sharks to get anything going on the man advantage.  Good kill.  The Wild tried to get its forecheck going as they were chasing with more vigor on their dump ins to the San Jose zone but the Sharks would counter punch effectively.  The Sharks came dangerously close to adding to their lead as Brent Burns dumped in a puck where Ryan Suter overskated it and Burns reached back and got a stick on it to direct it on goal and Backstrom would have to fight it off.  The Wild were attempting a lot of weak area passes that were becoming easy turnovers for the Sharks seemed to have that extra step advantage to get to loose pucks.  Minnesota was finally able to stustain a tiny bit of offensive pressure as the 'old' top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle as they outbattled the Sharks along the wall deep in their zone and Koivu would swing a pass over to Parise who found Charlie Coyle in the slot where he'd fire a shot on goal that was knocked up into the air by Niemi.  A few minutes later the Wild's top line would light the lamp as Coyle and Parise worked a nice give and go and Parise would fire a shot on the move that was stopped by Niemi where the puck was tipped back on goal by a Sharks defenseman and Coyle was there to tap it home to make it 1-0.  Minnesota would strike quickly again as Dany Heatley turned a blasted a shot from near the boards that beat a well-screened Niemi to make it 2-2 just 25 seconds after Coyle's goal.  Wow.  You could sense a high level of anxiety in the Shark Tank crowd as their team's lead had just disappeared as two former Shark properities found the back of the net.  The Sharks would go right back on the attack as the Wild were too fancy in their own zone as Clayton Stoner worthlessly floated about the defensive zone as the team repeatedly failed to take their chance to clear the zone and take the icing as Thornton would driect a puck on goal where it went off the skate of Stoner and in, 3-2 Sharks.  Minnesota's top line would go back on the attack and after some nice work to move through the neutral zone with speed Zach Parise was able to set up Tom Gilbert for a shot from the point by it was blocked by Boyle.  The Wild had to have felt a little disappointed after a much better effort that had them briefly tie the game only to squander it with a defensive breakdown.  Stoner needs to be a healthy scratch tomorrow night.  The Wild's 4th line had some good shifts and I've really liked the hustle from Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka.  

3rd Period Thoughts:  Both clubs were trading scoring chances to start the period.  Niemi and Backstrom were both giving up rebounds but aggressive backchecking were able to sweep the dangerous pucks away.  The Sharks seemed to have the extra step in their step to create the majority of scoring chances late.  The Wild would give San Jose a power play as Cal Clutterbuck tripped up Andrew Dejardins.  Initially the Wild's penalty killers did a fine job of keeping San Jose to the perimeter, forcing the Sharks to settle for shots from the point.  While the Sharks were working the puck along the wall and towards the point, a real battle was being waged near the Wilds' crease between Marleau and Falk.  The two were really jousting, taking turns slashing, poking, cross checking and tripping each other up as Backstrom made a save for a whistle the pushing and shoving continued and both would get sent to the sin bin.  San Jose would strike as Havlat fired a shot on goal from the slot that was stopped by Backstrom but Galiardi was there to jam it home to make it 4-2 Sharks.  The Wild would go right back on the penalty kill just a few minutes after Galiardi's goal as Ryan Suter was tagged with a high sticking penalty.  This time the penalty kill was able to circle the wagons, thanks to some good saves by Backstrom and Minnesota would then try to attack the two-goal lead.  Minnesota was clearly tired from killing as many penalties as they had and they just lacked the jump to really create some time and space that they could exploit to do some damage offensively.  Jonas Brodin tried to do his part by moving his feet well to then uncork a few big shots that forced Niemi to make some saves.  The Wild tried to pour it on in the closing minutes, but the Sharks played rope a dope well, just dumping it deep and then setting up to clog up the neutral zone.  Minnesota would pull Backstrom withh a little over a minute left, and with the extra attacker and the Wild would set up Mikko Koivu in the slot for a quick shot that was steered aside by Niemi.  Former Wild center James Sheppard would hook down Pierre-Marc Bouchard giving Minnesota its first power play of the game with just over 50 seconds left in regulation.  Minnesota would try to work the puck in close as Parise tried to jam a shot through Niemi as the Wild crashed the blue paint jamming away with the Sharks goalie laying on the ice but Brodziak wasn't able to lift a forehand up and over the goal and then a lot of tacking occurred and there was a bit of a hog pile in the crease.  Minnesota attempted one last chance as Parise directed a few shots on goal but they couldn't get one by Niemi. As the time expired, Dany Heatley would get into it with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Heatley would hurt his arm in their scuffle and the Wild took issue with it, but no one dropped the gloves and the Wild skated away having lost 4-2.  Vlasic "Ohlunded" Heatley's arm and there was nothing?  Also, why didn't his teammates step in and take Vlasic to task over it?  Vlasic did recieve a 5-minute major on the slash and 10-minute game misconduct.  

Niklas Backstrom was good, making 29 saves in the game.  He was making the first save, the Wild just had to clean up the rebounds and for the most part they did.  I just hope Backstrom isn't too frustrated, especially on the  go-ahead goal in the 2nd period where his team repeatedly failed to clear the zone.  Defensively, the Wild had an absolutely atrocious effort from Clayton Stoner who was an all out disaster all game long.  When he wasn't taking bad penalties he was committing horrible turnovers.  Adding insult to injury he even scored on the Wild as Joe Thornton pass went off his skate and in.  I was absolutely disgusted with his play and I hope he's scratched against the Los Angeles Kings.  I don't see how Brett Clark or Nate Prosser could any be worse than Stoner was tonight.  

Offensively the Wild struggled considerably.  Not having Matt Cullen really deprived Minnesota of that second source of offensive chances.  Devin Setoguchi was more or less invisible after his first shift of the game.  He's missing Cullen big time.  The reunited 1st line of Parise, Koivu and Coyle was the team's only line that could consistently create offensive chances.  I thought the 4th line did an ok job in the 2nd period of getting in on the forecheck but they were a non-factor along with the rest of the team in the 1st and 3rd periods.  Minnesota has to hope that Dany Heatley isn't seriously injured after Vlasic's two-handed slash that left him clearly in pain at the end of the game.  It is unfortunate the Wild were not able to generate power plays partly through the fact they were spending so much time shorthanded.  Area passes need to be abandoned and when the Wild are struggling that's what you see.  

I am not surprised by the outcome of this game but the team must start establishing chemistry quickly with Pominville as they've been sort of lost since Cullen went down with an injury.  With just 13 games left in the season that isn't a lot of time to figure it out and no one will take pity on the Wild if injuries really start to become an issue, they'll simply have to find a way through it.  Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was understandably disappointed keeping his comments extremely brief to reporters saying he felt the team worked hard but added the outcome was " unfortunate" and that really was about it.  Either way, no rest for the wicked as the Wild travel to Los Angeles against the Kings for a game tomorrow night.  

Wild Notes:

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

~ The 3 Stars of the Game by Dan Rusanowsky were: 1st Star Joe Pavelski, 2nd Star Brent Burns, 3rd Star T.J. Galiardi

~ Attendance was 17,562 at HP Pavillion.

 

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!

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