During the 2011 NHL draft that was held in St. Paul, I wore my Winnipeg Jets’ jersey and my Atlanta Thrashers’ hat as the league was going to officially welcome Winnipeg organization back into the fold. The not so secret mystery at the time was what the team name of the new Winnipeg organization was going to be. That revelation was supposed to happen as the relocated franchise made its first selection in the draft. Winnipeg fans came down in droves to welcome their new organization, and being in the arena I happen to be closed to a few. The fans were excited but I asked them, how long do you think it will take for the team to be successful? Most of them said “right away.” Jets’ General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and then Head Coach Claude Noel were expected to make this team competitive right away. It didn’t really work out that way. The team has failed to make the playoffs the last 3 seasons and Noel was dismissed early in the season in favor of Paul Maurice. An organization continues to only be consistent at being inconsistent. The Jets have some solid components, but just haven’t been able to put it all together over the course of an entire season. Counting the years the franchise spent in Atlanta, the team has not been to the playoffs since 2003-04, and they have no playoff wins to their credit.
So instead of priming itself for its first playoff run, the Jets are forced to try to work themselves up in the role of spoiler. So far, they’ve done a pretty good job in that capacity as the Toronto could attest to as the Jets relished the opportunity to put a dagger into the Leafs’ playoff hopes. I have little doubt the Jets will be equally determined to hurt Minnesota’s chances to clinch a wild card spot as players try to play for contracts for next season. The Wild have shown excellent focus down the stretch but can they muster another solid effort against a team that is not playoff bound or will the Jets force Minnesota to wait a little longer to clinch a spot in the post-season?
1st Period Thoughts: The Jets dominated the play early as they were able to work the puck deep, cycling the puck effectively as they tried to work it out front. It would be nearly 3 minutes before the Wild were really able to break out of their zone. Evander Kane was motoring around the ice and looking hungry as was Blake Wheeler. Minnesota would register its first shot on goal nearly 4 minutes in as Jason Pominville fired a long range shot from beyond the blueline that was steered aside by Michael Hutchinson to a rousing cheer from the MTS Centre faithful as they helped him celebrate his first NHL save. The Wild would slowly start to apply some mild offensive pressure as the 2nd line of Matt Moulson, Jason Pominville and Erik Haula would give the Jets a little trouble as they used their speed to create a little time and space before Haula set up Moulson for a shot that never made it to Hutchinson. Minnesota was getting held and hooked a bit as they tried to enter the zone and chase down dump ins but to no call. The Jets would then get the first power play of the game as Zach Parise tripped up Paul Postma. On the power play the Jets’ had a great opportunity as Wheeler blistered a shot that was snagged out of the air by a pretty glove save by Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov was showing plenty of alertness on a few fine saves from in close; the best one coming off a shot by Eric O’Dell that drew a rebound and then made a nice recovery stop with the right leg pad on Matt Halischuk‘s attempt. Minnesota would get the big penalty kill and they’d go back to work. The pace was fast, and the play was physical as both clubs were finishing their checks every chance they got. The Wild would get a power play of their own as former Rochester Lourdes’ star Mark Stuart put an elbow up high into Cody McCormick. Unfortunately the Wild did little to nothing on the power play as they seemed disorganized as they were often bunched together that made for easy turnovers and Minnesota was never able to establish any cohesion beyond a close range chance by Parise. Minnesota would end up with another power play with a little under a minute left in the period, but it was spent chasing the puck around the wall in the Winnipeg zone before it was finally cleared and the first stanza of the game was over. Winnipeg outshot the Wild 7 to 6. Minnesota needs to find to funnel more pucks on goal against a goaltender making his NHL debut. There is no excuse for just 6 shots against the Jets at this point. They need to step it up. I like the way Minnesota’s defense was playing, but Minnesota better be prepared to find another level offensively if they expect to win this game.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota started the 2nd period with a power play and the Wild were able to work the puck deep and with some great work along the wall by Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu they’d work a puck into the slot for a quick shot by Charlie Coyle that snuck through the 5-hole of Hutchinson to give Wild a 1-0 lead. The goal would light a fire underneath the Jets who started to raise the tempo of the game. Minnesota would counter attack nicely and Erik Haula would help lead a few nice rushes up ice, but both times the Wild tried one too many passes and what could’ve been quality scoring chances never materialized. The Wild’s over selective nature would be punished by a somewhat weak power play as Parise incidentally tripped up Zack Redmond. On the Jets’ power play, the Wild did a nice job of forcing Winnipeg to muck and grind along the wall instead of setting up scoring chances and Minnesota would get another important kill. After the penalty kill the Wild would start to assert itself offensively. A nice little play off the boards turned into a 3-on-1 as Coyle dished a pass to Parise for a quick shot in the slot that was knocked down and covered up by Hutchinson. For a little over a minute the Wild were bottling the Jets up in their own zone with a great forecheck, paying the physical price to win battles for the puck and then working it out to the points where Minnesota’s defenseman were taking every opportunity to bomb shots on goal. Minnesota’s pressure was finally stopped by a bench penalty as the team was given a questionable “too many men” penalty even though Cody McCormick never played the puck. The Wild’s penalty kill was again solid, denying the middle of the ice to the Jets and forcing Winnipeg to take shots from the perimeter that were easy to block and Minnesota got another kill to its credit. A few minutes later the Jets were clearly feeling a little frustrated over their inability to create offense they tried to just charge the net and hope for the best as Devin Setoguchi just put his shoulder down and carried the puck to the crease and Bryzgalov would make a nice save and the rebound went out into the slot as Halischuk fanned on the loose puck before the Wild goalie could pounce on it. Minnesota would earn another power play late as Eric Tangradi hooked Pominville as he was racing towards the Winnipeg goal off the rush. On the power play the Wild were far too patient, trying to set up the perfect shot and passing up obvious shooting opportunities. Minnesota’s power play would finally send a puck on goal when Jared Spurgeon‘s diagonal pass reached Justin Pominville for a wicked one-timer that was stopped by a nice save by Hutchinson. With the home crowd pretty sleepy from the lack of scoring chances, the Wild were content to head to the 2nd intermission leading by one. Minnesota outshot the Jets 7 to 4 in the period. I still think the Wild could be finding more ways to get pucks on net and work to expand their lead. The time is to put the hammer down and put the Jets away.
3rd Period Thoughts: Instead of starting the period with the swagger of a dominant club on the verge of qualifying for the playoffs, the Wild instead were in full rope-a-dope mode. The Jets raised the physical tone of the game that awoke the slumbering home crowd who decided to focus its energies on an “Ilya, Ilya” chant trying to destabilize the veteran goalie. Bryzgalov seemed to enjoy the attention as he gestured the crowd to raise the volume of their chant. Minnesota was content to defend and battle along the boards and then use the boards and glass to work the puck out of the zone. Jonathon Blum would staple Michael Frolik with a big hit that drew the ire of the anxious crowd who felt there should’ve been a hit from behind. Minnesota was only able to mount a few rushes into the Jets zone where it was resulted in little more than a shot on goal and then retreat. The Wild’s defensive posture was only inviting the Jets to be more aggressive and it was only a matter of time before it would draw a Minnesota penalty. It was Nate Prosser tripped up Setoguchi giving the Jets a late power play. The Jets power play looked desperate but Minnesota’s penalty killers were solid; forcing Winnipeg to be content to taking shots from the point. Bryzgalov was like a puck sponge, absorbing pucks and not giving up almost any rebounds. The Wild got another big kill but the desperation of the Jets continued to keep Minnesota hemmed in their own zone and perhaps because of that Winnipeg Head Coach Paul Maurice would pull Hutchinson with 1:44 left in the game. The Jets threw themselves at the Wild but Minnesota kept good active sticks, disrupting passes and shooting lanes and the Wild would escape with a 1-0 victory.
Ilya Bryzgalov was solid, stopping all 24 shots he faced. Bryzgalov never really gave the Jets any 2nd chance opportunities and defensively the Wild did a great job at keeping Winnipeg’s shooters to the perimeter which made for fairly straight forward saves for big Russian puckstopper. The Togliatti, Russia-native has gone 142:15 without surrendering a goal and with the Jets’ crowd razzing him he was cool and collected all game long. Minnesota did an outstanding job of supporting the puck in their own end and they really prevented the Jets from having any wide open chances. The penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4. I thought Ryan Suter, Jonathon Blum and Marco Scandella had terrific games in their own end tonight.
Offensively I was a little disappointed even though they got enough to earn the victory. I thought Minnesota at times was trying that one extra pass which often led to squandered opportunities. Luckily this evening, 1 goal was good enough to win the game. Most nights that will not be the case. The Wild did not create much offensive pressure beyond its top line. Seeing Coyle shoot the puck is a good thing and the team needs him to be a shooter as it will help open up space for Parise and even Koivu to have their chances if he’s willing to pull the trigger. I was also a tad bit disappointed in the power play which looked disorganized and way too picky in its shot selection overall.
The Wild really can feel as though they’re on the precipice of the playoffs as the ‘Magic Number’ is now down to just one point in the standings. Even the slightest stumble from Phoenix or a Wild point anywhere and Minnesota’s in. Minnesota now must regroup and get ready for what should be a tough battle at home against Boston. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo seemed fairly pleased when he talked to reporters after the game saying, “I was really impressed with the way our defenseman battled, especially on the penalty kill, was huge for us.” He also gave huge kudos for his goaltender, even acknowledging Bryzgalov’s ‘encouragement’ of the locals to chant his name. This was a classic trap game, and while it wasn’t perfect the team still managed to get the job done and right now, that’s all that matters.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Erik Haula, Matt Moulson, Jason Pominville, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Nino Niederreiter, Cody McCormick, Stephane Veilleux, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser and Jonathon Blum. John Curry backed up Ilya Bryzgalov. Mike Rupp, Dany Heatley, Keith Ballard, Clayton Stoner, Mikael Granlund and Christian Folin were healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Ilya Bryzgalov, 2nd Star Michael Hutchinson, 3rd Star Charlie Coyle
~ Attendance was 15,004 at MTS Centre.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 4, Chicago 3 SO
The Wolves got things going very early as former Canucks’ farmhand Alexandre Bolduc (you may remember Bolduc from this fight against John Scott from Wild days gone by here) found the back of the net just 18 seconds into the game. Normally, such an early goal would be the death of the offensively challenged Wild squad. However Iowa would rally back with two goals in the space of a minute midway thru the 1st period as Tyler Graovac backhanded a shot by Matt Climie that beat the former Bemidji State goalie 5-hole and then seconds after that Kris Foucault went top corner to give Iowa a 2-1 lead. The Wolves would tie the game in the 2nd period when Pat Cannone scored on Cody Reichard. Chicago were applying lots of pressure but Reichard was standing tall making a number of quality saves. Cannone would give the Wolves the lead early in the 3rd and it appeared as though the Wild were going to come up short once again. But Kris Foucault had other ideas as he lit the lamp for the 2nd time, as he beat Climie with a wicked wrist shot which would send the game to overtime. The Wolves would dominate overtime, and it was Reichard who shut the door repeatedly and the game would go to a shootout. Reichard was masterful in the shootout stopping all 6 Wolves shooters he faced including some of the most deadly snipers the AHL has to offer in Keith Aucion and Ty Rattie. This opened the door for youngster Dylan Labbe to be the hero as he moved in and beat Climie to give the Wild a 4-3 shootout victory. Reichard had 42 saves in the victory.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Zack Mitchell (Guelph, OHL) ~ It was a rough Sunday for the Guelph Storm as their series with the Knights is now even at 1-1 after London rolled to a 7-2 victory. Yet for Mitchell, a model of consistency avoided being out there when the damage was done and he finished the game with an assist and a +1 rating. The Caledon, Ontario-native has 2 goals, 10 points and is a +7 in 7 playoff games this season.