The price for failure can be high. Just think about how it was dealt with on Star Wars, Imperial Admirals who made mistakes were killed by Darth Vader as the ultimate penalty as he used the force to choke them. Since we are talking about failure and choking, why not talk about last night's Wild game against Dallas. After the Wild decided to pay their 'respect' for Mike Modano yet again, Minnesota choked away a 3-2 lead and lost a crucial two points in the standings to a team that has been closing the distance in recent weeks. Just look at the current Western Conference standings.
1. Anaheim Ducks – (43-14-7) ~ 93pts
2. St. Louis Blues – (43-14-6) ~ 92pts
3. San Jose Sharks – (41-17-7) ~ 89pts
4. Chicago Blackhawks – (37-13-4) ~ 88pts
5. Colorado Avalanche – (41-18-5) ~ 87pts
6. Los Angeles Kings – (36-22-6) ~ 78pts
7. Minnesota Wild – (34-22-7) ~ 75pts
8. Dallas Stars – (31-23-10) ~ 72pts
9. Phoenix Coyotes – (29-24-11) ~ 69pts
10. Vancouver Canucks – (29-27-10) ~ 68pts
The Wild are still in the playoff window with at least a game in hand over Anaheim, San Jose, Chicago, Colorado, Los Angeles, Dallas, Phoenix and Vancouver. So its doubtful the fans of Minnesota would wish to give either General Manager Chuck Fletcher (who just recently was signed to a contract extension) or Head Coach Mike Yeo a force choke just yet but last night's game put Dallas in a position where they're just about breathing down our neck.
If the sting of last night's loss wasn't bad enough it also comes with the realization that we have to return to St. Paul to play arguably the best team in the NHL in the St. Louis Blues. The Blues are a perfect 4-0 since they traded for Ryan Miller, and they are a nightmare to matchup against as they have combinations of size, speed, skill and scoring mixed all through their 4 lines. I watched the Blues play Colorado yesterday, a team also playing with a ton of confidence and St. Louis took everything the Avalanche had and still won the game 2-1. Needless to say, the Wild are going to have to play far better than they did last night just to have a chance at beating the Blues this evening. So can Minnesota answer back from its mistake-filled game from last night to pull off an improbable upset today?
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1st Period Thoughts: The fireworks started right away as Steve Ott and Kyle Brodziak would tangle off of a faceoff after Brodziak did not take too kindly getting a few stickchecks from Ott. The two would drop the gloves and would have a spirited fight as Ott would tear the helmet off of Brodziak before just narrowly missing with a vicious uppercut but Brodziak would rally back and start throwing some punches of his own before both pugilists fell to the ice and as the officials stepped in to break it up the two kept yapping at one another. The Blues would get a benefit from a weak call as Ryan Reaves tripped over the leg of Jason Pominville giving St. Louis the first power play of the game. St. Louis would take advantage of it as Alex Steen drove a shot that was stopped by Ilya Bryzgalov and the rebound was gathered up by T.J. Oshie who sealed off Marco Scandella before sliding a sharp angle shot that just trickled over the goal line to make it 1-0 Blues. With the crowd still annoyed at the bad call, now turned into a goal the Wild would earn a power play of their own on a marginal interference call drawn by Matt Moulson. On the power play the Wild struggled to get set up as the Blues were quick to muck and grind along the boards and their superior strength allowed them to win those battles even when Minnesota outnumbered them along the wall. The Blues were methodical, exposing the lack of strength by working the puck deep and forcing the Wild's defense back in an around its crease where they'd add to their lead a few minutes after their first tally. It all started on a turnover down low off a blind Charlie Coyle pass as Jaden Schwartz would intercept it before Clayton Stoner could there and he'd swing a pass out into the slot where Carlo Colaiacovo was wide open and he'd rip a wrist shot top left corner by Brzgalov to make it 2-0. The Blues would relax its physical play and the Wild didn't seem to want to have anything to do with trying to raise their physicial level, instead opting to chip it away and take icing calls instead of taking hits. Minnesota finally got a scoring chance as Pominville skated it down to the left corner before sending a pass just beneath the left faceoff dot where Mikael Granlund got off a quick shot that was stopped by Brian Elliott as Zach Parise looked to jam a rebound before the whistle blew. The 2nd line of Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson and Coyle would follow that up with a quick shot on goal by Koivu that Elliott deflected wide and then minutes after that the Wild had another great chance as Erik Haula turned on the jets and he lifted a backhand just over the goal off the rush. Minnesota continued to attack as Parise found Nino Niederrieter with a long pass and he'd race in on a partial breakaway but couldn't get much more than a backhander that was denied by Elliott. The Blues tried to assert itself a bit more in the closing minutes and the Wild struggled a bit as they worked it deep. T.J. Oshie would lower his shoulder and make a power move from behind the net that he tried to wrap around Bryzgalov who covered the right post well but he gave up a rebound where luckily no Blues player was there to tap home what would've been an easy goal and the Wild trailed by two going into the 1st intermission. The Wild were outshot 6-5 by the Blues. I thought Nino Niederreiter had a great period, and I'd like to see the Wild give Erik Haula more opportunities as I think his tremendous speed is something the team should embrace.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would strike early in the 2nd period, as nice little diving pass by Zach Parise to Jason Pominville who sniped a wrist shot off the right post and in to cut the Blues' lead in half 2-1. Minnesota's hustle was starting to make up the difference in physical play as they started to win more races for loose pucks. The better hustle was starting to result in more offensive opportunities.. There were not a lot of shots but Minnesota was gaining more confidence with each shift. The Wild would score the equalizer a few minutes later as Matt Moulson delivered a nice hit on the forecheck to Kevin Shattenkirk and as he tried to pass the puck along the boards it was intercepted by Koivu who threaded a perfect pass towards the top of the blue paint that was tapped in by Moulson to tie the game at 2-2. The Wild were really buzzing after Moulson's tally as they were taking every chance to fire the puck on goal as 3rd line would come dangerously close to giving Minnesota the go-ahead tally as Matt Cooke set up Brodziak for a one-timer that missed just wide. Minnesota continued to attack and Jason Pominville took a long pass and he'd drop a pass back to Mikael Granlund who was coming in with great speed and he'd skate down the slot and rifile a shot that was stopped by Elliott and then tapped the rebound that skittered just wide of the left post and just out of the reach of Zach Parise. The Blues tried to counter attack but Minnesota was really moving well and they backchecked effectively to thwart the rush before it ever really got started. Minnesota would draw a penalty as Jared Spurgeon turned on the jets as he raced by the Blues defense and as he tried to fly by and shoot a shot around Elliott he'd lose the handle of the puck before he could get a shot off but he'd draw a hooking penalty in the process giving the Wild a power play. Unfortunately on the power play the Wild would get a bit too fancy with the puck and instead of taking their chances and directing pucks on goal to create other opportunities they overhandled it and tried to attempt the perfect pass and the result was a fair amount of possession with nothing going on with the man advantage. Minnesota would play solid defensively, despite another late push by the Blues and they had to feel awfully good after negating the Blues lead with sheer willpower, outshooting St. Louis 7-3. I like Charlie Coyle, but he should not be on the power play. Especially if he's going to be on a power play unit with Mikko Koivu because neither of them want to shoot the puck and shots don't occur and you squander power play opportunities.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Blues wanted to agitate and intimidate right away as they tried to assert themselves physically at he start of the period. St. Louis would charge the net and work it down low where they tried to jam a shot near the right post but Bryzgalov covered it up, with a whistle as Steen tried to jam at the puck. The play would be reviewed but the whistle clearly blew before the puck was jammed into the goal. Minnesota would try to answer back and the top line would try to use its speed to stretch out the Blues defense as Pominville took a sharp angle shot that was steered away by Elliott. The Wild would start to counter punch and they had a great opportunity as Jared Spurgeon bombed a slap shot that produced a rebound that went right to Granlund who tried shoveling it on the open net but his shot would hit the paddle of Elliott and skitter harmlessly through the blue paint. The next few minutes had both teams biding their time for some opening they could exploit as neither club seemed really willing to open things up offensively. Minnesota would get an offensive zone penalty as Parise sort of threw Maxim Lapierre to the wall, giving the Blues a key power play mid-way through the 3rd. The Wild's penalty kill did a good job at denying the Blues the middle of the ice and forcing St. Louis to the perimeter and they were able to get the kill without too much trouble. Unfortunately as the Wild wanted to attack, their own choices sort of helped the Blues stymie their attack. Marco Scandella made some foolish decisions to pass the puck along the wall instead of simply looking for a tape-to-tape pass which was also available put Minnesota on its heels and the first line instead spent its whole shift just trying to get the puck out of its own end. The Wild's top line would finally get some speed going through the neutral zone and Parise set up Pominville for a shot from the slot and he fired a laser that was snagged by the glove of Elliott. Minnesota's pressure late would draw a roughing call on Patrik Berglund with just 1:29 left to play in the 3rd. Minnesota would win the initial draw and hold the zone and the Blues were staying in a fairly tight box in around Brian Elliott allowing Minnesota to take shots from the perimeter. The Blues would call a timeout about 1:15 into the power play to talk things over and to give their top penalty killers a rest. Minnesota would demonstrate a tremendous lack of initiative in the closing seconds of the power play and their lack of focus nearly came back to bite them as Alex Steen would gather up a loose puck and wire a shot off the post. Luckily time expired allowing the Wild to regroup in overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: The Wild started overtime with a 4-on-3 power play for 35 seconds. The Wild would were able to create one quality shot as Ryan Suter hammered a slap shot that struck Elliott in the shoulder and unfortunately the Wild couldn't bang the rebound home. As the power play expired, the Wild would find Mikko Koivu all alone on the backside and despite time, plenty of space Koivu would attempt a nearly impossible pass instead of taking the shot. Minnesota had another great chance a few minutes later when Mikael Granlund dangled by a Blues defender and as he was falling he got off a quick shot that was steered away by Elliott. The Blues would regroup and counter attack and Steen would work a shot on goalt that Brzgalov stopped and the puck would lay in the crease before it was escorted out of danger by Scandella and the game would go to a shootout. Koivu's ridiculous decision not to shoot might come back to cost the Wild a point in this one.
Shootout Summary: Minnesota would opt to shoot first and their first shooter was Zach Parise. Parise would move to the left where he did a little deke that got Elliott to drop but he'd A-frame and stonewall the Wild alternate captain. The Blues first shooter was T.J. Oshie and the former Warroad star would move in wide right and he'd snipe a shot just inside the right post to give St. Louis a 1-0 shootout lead. Minnesota's next shooter was Mikko Koivu and the Wild captain would move wide to the right where he'd be looking to pull off his forehand to backhand deke and Elliott poke checked a little which prompted Koivu to release his shot too soon and he'd miss wide right. This meant Alex Steen could win it if he made the shot and he'd move off to the right and bear down on Bryzgalov before ripping a shot right past the crossbar to seal a 3-2 shootout victory for the Blues.
Ilya Bryzgalov was ok, a bit shaky in his rebound control but did well enough to give the Wild a chance to win this game which is all Minnesota really wanted when they traded a 4th round pick for him. Luckily for him the Wild played far better for him defensively than they did Darcy Kuemper the night before. Bryzgalov had 21 saves in the loss and was 0-for-2 in the shootout. Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon were considerably better than they were last night in Dallas. The Wild still need to find a way to be tougher around their own crease and knocking / pushing out bodies in an around the blue paint. The Blues were able to crash the net without consequence for most of the game.
Offensively the Wild found enough goals to make a game of it, but in critical moments couldn't bury the biscuit nor did they always seem to recognize the moment and the need for simplicity in the offensive zone. I felt Minnesota was often the Blues' best defender in the way the Wild were overhandling and attempting that needless extra pass. 19 shots on goal is not enough, and I thought Brian Elliott was battling the puck tonight and Minnesota let him off the hook a bit by not taking their chances to funnel pucks on goal. Koivu's decision not to shoot in overtime is unforgiveable. He's on the backside and if he's ready at all he should either one time it or blasting a shot on goal but instead he attempts to thread a pass between two players. I thought Granlund and Niederreiter were great and I think the team needs to seriously consider placing Niederreiter on the 2nd line. Coyle just doesn't want to shoot the puck and with a line that already has one pure set up man in Koivu it could use another player willing to shoot and Niederreiter would be your logical next choice.
This was another frustrating game as I felt the Wild missed another opportunity to get 2 points in the standings. On Saturday the team threw two points away, this time I think they left one on the table. Minnesota did a nice job of digging deep to claw their way back into the game but when it wanted to push through to take the lead the team seemed to freeze up. Its not panic time by any stretch of the imagination but the team needs to respond in a big way on Tuesday when the Oilers come to town.
~ Wild roster was as follows: Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson, Matt Cooke, Nino Niederreiter, Kyle Brodziak, Cody McCormick, Erik Haula, Dany Heatley, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Jonas Brodin and Clayton Stoner. Darcy Kuemper backed up Ilya Bryzgalov. Mike Rupp, Justin Fontaine, and Keith Ballard were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Wild TV were: 1st Star Ryan Suter, 2nd Star Jason Pominville, 3rd Star T.J. Oshie
~ Attendance was 18,909 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to dedicate this article to Zach Schiller, a 7th grader and youth hockey goaltender from Mauston, Wisconsin who tragically lost his life in an accident on Saturday. Zach was a hard working kid who loved sports and the outdoors. Zach will be greatly missed by the many lives he touched both on and off the ice. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Schiller family.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 3, Grand Rapids 1
The Wild's scoring drought finally ended at nearly 200 minutes, in other words about 13 minutes into the 1st period when Brad Winchester deflected a shot from the point by Jonathon Blum to give Iowa a 1-0 lead. Grand Rapids would tie the game late in the 1st on a power play goal by Teemu Pulkkinen. The Wild would pour it on throughout most of the 2nd and 3rd period, but Tom McCollum was solid in the crease for the Griffins. Iowa would finally break the stalemate just 32 seconds into the 3rd as Marc Hagel banged home a rebound. Iowa continued to pressure the Griffins and they'd seal the deal with a Warren Peters' empty net power play goal, giving the Wild a 3-1 victory and snapping their 6-game losing streak. Johan Gustafsson had 28 saves in the victory.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Brady Brassart (Calgary, WHL) ~ He was signed to give the team another offensively gifted player who still played responsibly in his own end, and he continues to do just that with the Hitmen. Brassart had an assist and 2 PIM's in their 2-1 victory over Saskatoon on Saturday. The Vernon, British Columbia-native has 34 goals, 80 points, 94 PIM's and a +13 in 67 games played this season.
D – John Draeger (Michigan State, Big 10) ~ Michigan State split their weekend series with their in-state arch rivals Michigan as the Spartans rallied to a 4-3 victory on Saturday night. Draeger helped start that rally as he assisted on the game-tying goal in the 3rd period. The former Shattuck-St. Mary's product has no goals, 7 assists and 14 PIM's in 21 games played this season.
RW – Zack Mitchell (Guelph, OHL) ~ The Storm's alternate captain did his best to lead by example as he chipped in with a goal and an assist as well as a +2 rating in Guelph's 6-2 win over the Sarnia Sting this afternoon. The Caledon, Ontario-native has 31 goals, 81 points, 40 PIM's and is a +49 in 65 games played this season.
F – Avery Peterson (Grand Rapids, USHS) ~ Today it was announced that he had won the coveted Mr. Hockey Award given to the state's top high school player as awarded by NHL scouts joining such names as Tom Chorske, Nick Bjugstad, Paul Martin, Darby Hendrickson just to name a few. Peterson had a monster season for the Thunderhawks piling up 35 goals, 65 points in just 25 games this season and had over 200 points in his high school career. He will be attending Nebraska-Omaha next fall. Peterson is the 2nd Grand Rapids' player to win the award as Aaron Miskovich won it back in 1997. It should also be noted that fellow Thunderhawks teammate, goaltender Hunter Shepard won the Frank Brimsek Award as the top goaltender in the state this year.