Since the Wild joined the NHL, I have jumped in with both feet and thus I'm a suscriber to the Hockey News. Beyond their annual Yearbook, two other issues that I really look forward to each year are their Future Watch issue and Draft Preview. These two issues are important for any hockey rubes who really want to understand their club through the eyes of people not connected with it. The Future Watch issue polls 17 NHL scouts to compile lists of prospects from all of the league's teams to find out who the top ones are and thus the relative prospect strengths of the organization. They then rank all 30 NHL franchises by the strengths of their prospect pool; with the lists handicapped by the average place where a team typically makes its first selection in the draft. Spoiler alert for Wild fans. Do not read if you want to read this for yourself in the Future Watch issue.
The Wild were ranked 4th (earning itself an A- grade) by this group of scouts consulted by the Hockey News. Not too shabby for Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Assistant GM Brent Flahr, as the years before their arrival the Wild's prospect pool was nearly bereft of quality talent due to poor drafting. Now the team seems to have a pipeline of talent that has provided valuable depth and given the team options to solve its own problems. Imagine where this team would be without Darcy Kuemper or Erik Haula right now?
Boston has also done reasonably well for itself in regards to drafting and developing players. They earned a ranking of 15th (earning a B- grade). The strength and depth of the Bruins is a bit deceptive as its benefitted from its solid farm system, particularly on the blueline where younger players like Torey Krug, Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski have filled in for injured defenseman like Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid are not accounted for in this ranking because they're older than the 21-and younger prospect requirement. The Bruins are again a very strong team, and the Wild need every point they can get. Will the Wild slay the bear this evening?
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1st Period Thoughts: Charlie Coyle estimated he had at least a 1,000 fans at the game tonight and he gave them a reason to get out of their seats early as a saucer pass by Mikko Koivu was taken by Coyle who got in behind Matt Bartkowski and he lifted a shot up that was deflected up and over the goal by Tuukka Rask. The Wild had good energy to start the game, out hustling the Bruins for the loose pucks early. Minnesota still had some dicey moments as the Bruins managed to get the Wild's defense to chase theme down deep in their own end which opened up their point men for big shots from the point that had Darcy Kuemper struggling to see the puck through a forest of screening Boston skaters. The Wild would escape unscathed and they'd go back on the attack where they'd draw the first power play of the game as Andrej Meszaros tripped up Zach Parise. On the power play the Wild would try to work a redirect from the high slot as a point shot by Ryan Suter was deflected on goal by Dany Heatley. Minnesota had a hard time getting shots through to Rask, but perhaps their best potential chance did not even result in a shot at all. Mikko Koivu would kind of slowly carry the puck into the Bruins zone where he'd dangle around a defender and find himself all alone that I think even surprised the Wild captain as he tried to move in for a backhand but the puck would roll of his stick at the last moment and he was unable to pull the trigger. The Bruins tried to answer back with a scoring chance of their own, and long-time Wild killer Jarome Iginla took the puck towards the blue paint where he tried to jam it inside the right post but Kuemper and a scrambling defensive effort by Jonas Brodin was able to keep it out before Boston could pounce. Minnesota would counter with its top line and Mikael Granlund threaded a diagonal pass to Jason Pominville who partially fanned on the one-timer resulting in a weak shot but the line continued to outwork the Bruins for the puck along the boards and they'd set up Ryan Suter for a wrist shot from the high slot that was steered wide by Rask. The Bruins would try to catch the Wild sleeping as a long pass found Brad Marchand who would race in for what appeared to be a breakaway only to have his stick lifted at the last moment by Suter. Marchand was not happy with Suter and as Kuemper froze the puck he'd give the Wild defenseman a shove and Parise would skate over to return the favor. Minnesota had to feel good about how the period went. They were hustling well offensively and blocking shots defensively.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had a good scoring chance early as Coyle set up Koivu for a quick shot that was stopped by Rask. The Wild were still hustling well, using small passes to negate the physical game of the Bruins. Unfortunately, the Bruins would take the lead as Iginla fired a shot that was partially blocked by Brodin that caused the puck to flutter and the puck would dive down and beat Kuemper 5-hole, 1-0 Boston. Minnesota would regroup and the Coyle-Koivu combination would work their magic as Coyle drove deep into the Bruins' end before working a pass into the slot where Koivu gathered it up where he worked it to his backhand and his shot was stopped by a diving Rask. I really liked the way the 4th line was looking with Justin Fontaine along with Erik Haula and Heatley. I thought the line looked less like a liability on the ice that it had in the last few games and Fontaine's injection of speed made a huge difference. Fontaine situational awareness also to a few turnovers in the Wild's favor. Yet, not everyone on the Wild was having that good of a game. The 3rd line of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Nino Niederreiter was struggling mightily. Jared Spurgeon and Suter would get caught in a long shift and Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Brodziak seemed to have a clear opportunity clear the zone, but Brodziak would cough up the puck to Carl Soderberg who would take the puck down beneath the goal line and he'd swing a pass back to Loui Eriksson out front for a easy goal to make it 2-0 Bruins. The Wild didn't get too deflated and they kept working, biding their time for an opportunity and they'd get one late. On a draw in the Wild end, Granlund would win the draw back to Suter who gathered up the puck and get tripped up and from his knees he'd make a long breakout pass to Pominville who had a step on Meszaros and he'd race into the Bruins' zone where he'd step into a stick shattering slap shot that beat Rask off the left post and in to cut the Boston lead in half, 2-1. It was a huge goal for the Wild and on the Boston bench, Head Coach Claude Julien was barking at this players for the late-period breakdown. The goal was huge in making the Wild feel as though they were still very much in the game after Rask had made some tremendous saves to keep Minnesota at bey to that point. Keep Kyle Brodziak off the ice, he's a disaster waiting to happen. Other than that I've been pleased with Minnesota's puck support.
3rd Period Thoughts: The period would start with both teams avoiding big risks offensively that could lead to prime scoring chances the other way. Both teams were cautious, waiting for a mistake they could exploit as Minnesota started to work the puck deep and the anxiety of the home crowd started to rise. Minnesota got a great shift from its top line as Parise set up Granlund in the slot that was stopped by Rask and then gloved out of the crease by Kevan Miller. The line kept battling well, setting up Ryan Suter for a point shot that was redirected just wide. The Bruins would extend their lead as Patrice Bergeron would take a shot from just inside the right faceoff circle that drew a rebound by Kuemper was tapped home by Reilly Smith, 3-1 Boston. Minnesota's top line would get a quick breakout and Granlund found some time and space and Dougie Hamilton would sprawl to block the shot and Granlund would patiently pull the puck around him before firing a shot on goal that was blocked aside by Rask. The top line kept buzzing, activating the defense as Spurgeon set up Pominville for a quick shot that Rask fought off. Between shifts for the top line, the Wild were using their 4th line of Haula, Heatley and Fontaine a lot as their speed seemed to cause problems for the Bruins. With the time fading away, the Wild started juggling their lines with less than 4 minutes left to play even if the combinations were a bit puzzling. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo chose to break up the top line by placing Parise on a line with Koivu and Heatley while he put Niederreiter with Pominville and Granlund. Neither combination did much of anything. Minnesota would then pull Kuemper for an extra attacker with a little over 2 minutes left to play. The Wild could never get set up in the Boston zone and Iginla would bury an empty netter to seal a 4-1 Bruins' victory.
The first goal was ugly for Kuemper, who waited too long to close down his 5-hole but beyond that he played ok this evening. Kuemper had 25 saves in the loss. Defensively the Wild did a reasonable job at blocking shots and keeping Kuemmper's workload manageable. While at times I felt Minnesota's blueliners were giving the Bruins a little too much respect as well as shying away from contact they actually did a pretty good job at moving the puck quickly and not allowing Boston to cause too much havoc on the forecheck. Penalty kill again had no work for the 2nd straight game, ironically both hae been losses.
Offensively, the top line of Parise, Granlund and Pominville were the straw that stirs the Wild's drink. They were the only line that threatened the Bruins consistently all game long. Mikko Koivu was pretty good for the first half of the game and then fell completely off the radar. When Koivu sort of fell off the tracks the 2nd line disappeared as well. Koivu looked tired as he just couldn't seal off Reilly Smith, but the Wild need Koivu to be assertive and shooting as he was even though they were not finding the back of the net. Matt Moulson was completely MIA other than watching him trying to win a few battles near the blue paint, and much can be said of Charlie Coyle who spent a lot of time riding the pine (which I am sure was no fun when you consider how many people he knew showed up just to watch him). I also felt the 3rd line of Cooke, Brodziak and Niederreiter was pretty rancid most of the game. The 4th line was dramatically better with Fontaine along with Heatley and Haula. I think its time the Wild need to consider giving Haula shot on the 2nd line. Haula has wheels, great hands and excellent instincts on top of not being a defensive liability.
The Wild again did not play all that bad, pumping 34 shots on goal, but their inability to bury its chances means that unless Kuemper plays a perfect game the Wild are hard pressed to win games. It might sound mean, but Koivu's return has prompted a scoring drought as the club reshuffled its lines. Moulson has not been able to develop much in the way of chemistry its seems counter intuitive in having more talent has yielded less production. The team cannot afford to feel sorry for itself and they better be ready for a vicious battle with the Islanders. No rest for the wicked, especially on St. Patrick's Day.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Moulson, Erik Haula, Dany Heatley, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Ilya Bryzgalov backed up Darcy Kuemper. Mike Rupp, Cody McCormick, Niklas Backstrom and Nate Prosser were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game according to 98.5FM the Sports Hub were: 1st Star Tuukka Rask, 2nd Star Jarome Iginla, 3rd Star Charlie Coyle
~ Attendance was 17,565 at TD BankNorth Garden.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: 25-25-6-4 60pts Last in Midwest Division
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #22 Brad Winchester ~ 17G 15A = 32pts
2. #51 Zack Phillips ~ 11G 17A = 28pts
3. #24 Jonathon Blum ~ 7G 21A = 28pts
4. #27 Carson McMillan ~ 11G 13A = 24pts
5. #25 Warren Peters ~ 8G 11A = 19pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #20 Curt Golgol ~ 170 PIM's
2. #14 Corbin Baldwin ~ 108 PIM's
3. #22 Brad Winchester ~ 87 PIM's
1. #31 Johan Gustafsson (11-13-2) 2.90GAA .908%SP 1SO
2. #33 John Curry (7-7-2) 2.31GAA .928%SP 1SO
Recent Score: Iowa 2, San Antonio 1
The Wild would strike first as Raphael Bussieres dangled around a Rampage defender before rifiling a shot by Scott Clemmensen to make it 1-0 Iowa. San Antonio would score early in the 2nd period as former Wild winger Jed Ortmeyer set up Anthony Luciani for a quick wrist shot that beat Johan Gustafsson. The Wild were pinching and activating their defense against San Antonio, peppering Clemmensen with shots but the Des Moines-native was solid keeping the game knotted at 1-1. Iowa would finally break the stalemate as Steven Kampfer would take a pass from Jake Dowell off the rush and he'd fire a laser of a snap shot by Clemmensen with less than 5 minutes left in the 3rd period. Kampfer's goal would hold as Iowa won its 3rd game in a row. Gustafsson had 28 saves in the victory.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Mathew Dumba (Portland, WHL) ~ I wonder if Seattle is sick of playing the Winterhawks as the two clubs seem to meet just about every other game. Either way, its worked out in the Winterhawks' favor as they blitzed Seattle 7-0 on Saturday night. The Wild's blue chip offensive defenseman had a monster game, contributing a goal and 3 assists in the victory. Dumba has 8 goals, 23 points, along with 37 PIM's and is a +31 in 26 games played this season.
F – Louie Nanne (Sioux Falls, USHL) ~ The former Edina star had a goal in the Stampede's 4-2 victory over Fargo on Sunday. The RPI-committ has 4 goals, 8 points, with 10 PIM's and is a -8 in 31 games played this season.
C – Adam Gilmour (Boston College, H-East) ~ It was a disappointing finish for the Boston College Eagles as they fell 4-2 to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Sunday in the Hockey East Quarterfinals. No doubt the team will still advance to the NCAA Tournament but their Top Seed might be in jeopardy after this defeat. Gilmour, anchoring the 4th line did his best to chipping in an assist, 3 shots and was a +1 in the loss. The former Muskegon Lumberjack has 7 goals, 19 points and 10 PIM's in 37 games played this season.
D – Gustav Olofsson (Colorado College, NCHC) ~ Olofsson's freshman season came to an end on Sunday night as the Tigers fell to North Dakota in Game 3 of their best-of-3 series on Sunday night. The Gavle, Sweden-native had an assist and 2 shots finishing a +1 in a losing effort. Olofsson finishes his freshman season with 4 goals, 9 assists and 20 PIM's in 31 games played this season.