I teach a Leadership 101 class at my school, and the top 4 things when people around the world were surveyed about important traits to have in a leader were the following: 1. Honesty, 2. Forward Looking, 3. Competent, 4. Inspiring. How do you think New York Islanders' General Manager Garth Snow rates in those categories? Honesty is tough to evaluate, but how about in the areas of Forward Looking and Competence? When Snow went from backup goaltender to becoming the team's General Manager in the summer of 2006, the Islanders were much as they are right now. Dysfunctional and near the bottom of the league's standings. Poor drafting and a number of questionable moves have delivered diminishing returns for the Islanders. From the Ryan Smyth trade which only resulted in 1st round playoff loss to the Sabres in 2007, then allowing Smyth, Jason Blake, Richard Zednik to all walk for nothing via free agency that summer. Then the ridiculously expensive buyouts of Alexi Yashin (the team is still paying Yashin $2.2 million until 2015) and the compliance buyout of Rick DiPietro the Islanders have spent a lot of money for not a whole lot in return. Speaking of not getting much in return, it brings us to this season where the Islanders dealt away Nino Niederreiter (a guy who they drafted 5th Overall in 2010) for Cal Clutterbuck, then traded Matt Moulson and a 1st round pick and a 2nd round pick in 2015 for Thomas Vanek. Vanek who was set to be an unrestricted free agent bawked at the Islanders' contract extension saying he'd rather take his chances on the open market. This prompted the Islanders to have to trade Vanek to Montreal at the trade deadline and all they managed to get was a prospect (Sebastian Collberg) and a 2nd round pick from the Canadiens. So for a 1st round pick in 2014, a 2nd round pick in 2015, as well as Moulson and Vanek all the Islanders had to show for it is a prospect and a 2nd round pick. So with these 'wonderful' moves this year the team is ostensibly in rebuild mode of a previous rebuild mode. I will give Snow a tiny amount of kudos for managing to get the Wild to deal for Chris Simon but beyond that his record leaves a ton to be desired. The team has made the playoffs just twice since he became GM so can you really say he's inspiring? So how does he still have a job?
I am sure the New York Islanders' fans will be thrilled to see a player they enjoyed, who also enjoyed playing for the Islanders and whom the team dealt away return to the friendly if gloomy confines of Nassau Veteran's Coliseum. As has happened twice this last season, the Islanders' loss is Minnesota's gain. For whatever reason the Wild have struggled to get focused and ready to play against the Islanders over the years, and earlier in the season New York dealt Minnesota a painful loss at home. Will the Wild manage to earn a crucial 2 points on Long Island or will the Islanders have the last laugh?
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1st Period Thoughts: It did not start out all tha well. The Wild looked not only a little groggy, but also a little timid against the hard-charging Islanders who use effort to offset their deficiencies in talent. The Islanders' speed and assertiveness was dictating the pace of play. Minnesota was doing all the could just to chip pucks away because they didn't want to take a hit and this led to a plethora of easy turnovers for New York. It was only a matter of time before those turnovers started to turn into scoring chances. It all seemed to start for the Islanders with former Edina star Anders Lee who got the puck down low and he'd try to use his 227lbs frame to power the puck up front for close-in chances that Ilya Bryzgalov had to fight off. Bryzgalov probably didn't feel like he was getting much help, but he was making the initial saves, giving up rebounds about 50% of the time and luckily those possible 2nd chance opportunities haven't ended up in the back of the net (knock on wood). New York continued their aggressive play, as Lee ran over Bryzgalov drawing a bit of a crowd near the goalmouth area. The Islanders never mind getting scrappy in and around the crease, and after they were stymied on a close in chance by Matt Martin, Martin would start shoving around Ryan Suter as he tried to push him out of the blue paint after the whistle. Was there any pushback from the Wild? Nope, heads were hanging in shame as no one wanted to help defend their teammates. Lee would go to the penalty box for goaltender interference giving the Wild its first power play of the game. The Wild power play did not really lift the team's spirits. Minnesota moved the puck in the offensive zone ok, but when the time came to pull the trigger the Wild were too picky. A nice backdoor feed gave Mikko Koivu an open look but the team's captain waited and waited before finally directing a shot on goal that was blocked as the defense had more than enough time to adjust and take away the passing lane. Minnesota would come up empty on the power play and you really wondered if anyone was interested in taking the initiative to get something going offensively. The player that finally did so was Matt Moulson who entered the Islanders' zone and then waited for some help which took its time in arriving so he finally just directed a shot on goal which transformed into a nice forechecking sequence as Justin Fontaine and Moulson would work a nice little give and go. Moulson fed the puck to Fontaine who got off a quick shot on Anders Nilsson that created a rebound for Moulson to tap in, 1-0 Wild with a smattering of cheers and whistles at seeing their former star light the lamp. The Wild would then go on the penalty kill as Nate Prosser elbowed Casey Cizikas. On the penalty kill, the Wild did a fine job of keeping the Islanders to the perimeter as well as keeping the puck away from Kyle Okposo. Minnesota would get the kill, and they'd go right back on the attack. Nino Niederreiter would carry the puck deep and he'd feed a pass over to Dany Heatley who drew the defense down low a bit before sliding a pass back to the point that was one-timed by Jared Spurgeon that found the twine behind Nilsson to make it 2-0. The Islanders tried to push back late but Bryzgalov and the Wild were able to keep New York at bey so Minnesota could carry its two-goal lead despite being outshot 16-6. Ugly period of play for the Wild but its not aways about how many chances but rather what you do with them at this point.
2nd Period Thoughts: Much better period for the Wild in the middle stanza. The hustle, the energy was vastly improved over what was mostly an indifferent effort in the 1st period. I thought all of the lines were far better, the 4th line of Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Cody McCormick was able to cause a little trouble on the forecheck; as McCormick helped free up space for Kyle Brodziak for a nice little feed from in close that was stopped by Nilsson. Minnesota had another golden opportunity as Niederreiter blocked a shot at the Wild blueline and he go racing down the ice on a partial breakaway as he was harassed a little by the hustle of Travis Hamonic so all Niederreiter was anle to manage was a backhand that was dismissed by Nilsson. The Islanders again tried to get in close, but Bryzgalov and the Wild defense was up to the task. Bryzgalov got far better support from his defenseman and the Wild did a good job at preventing the Islanders from having much in the way of 2nd chance opportunities. Minnesota would add to its lead as Pominville patiently waited for a passing opportunity and he'd thread a pass to Granlund in the slot as he hammered a one-timer by Nilsson to make it 3-0. There were no boo's, no Bronx cheers, just the silence of indifference from the home crowd. Minnesota had to feel pretty good at this point.
3rd Period Thoughts: It was destined to get even better for the Wild as the Islanders startingb put forth the sort of effort of a down-trodden team. Clayton Stoner would hit Cizakas with a vicious hit from behind that would earn him a boarding minor. Minnesota's penalty killers were again solid, contesting shooting opportuniites and forcing the Islanders to settle for shots from the perimeter that were easily blocked. As the Wild would kill off the penalty Stoner would leave the penalty box and Mikko Koivu found him with a long outlet pass giving the defenseman a rare breakaway. The Port McNeill, British Columbia native made a nice little move from in close before lifting a forehand high and into the back of the net before he went careening into the boards. It wasn't the most graceful ending to the move, but it got the job done as I think everyone in the arena, including Stoner was caught by surprise. 4-0 Wild. The Islanders' effort continued to fade, while their home crowd's level of sarcasm started to become noticeable. Minnesota would add to their lead a little under halfway through the period even though they did not know it at the time as Justin Fontaine would race in off the rush and he'd wire a slap shot that appeared to beat Nilsson or hit the crossbar. The officials thought it was crossbar so play continued for a full minute longer until a stoppage in play allowed for a goal review. The replay showed Fontaine had indeed scored, so nearly a minute of time was put back on the clock as was a 5-0 Wild lead. The Islanders earned another power play as Mikael Granlund was called for tripping. The penalty kill was again solid, clogging up shooting lanes and preventing the Islanders' power play from developing any kind of synergy. Minnesota would have one last power play as Kevin Czuczman held up Charlie Coyle. The Wild tried to give its energy players some power play time, and they'd cash in as Matt Cooke ripped a shot that was stopped by Nilsson and the rebound was buried by Moulson who got the loudest cheers of the game. The crowd was a mix of 'love' for Moulson's days with the Islanders as well as sarcasm for their GM as they began to cheer "We want Moulson" in the closing minutes. Minnesota would draw another power play as Calvin de Haan tripped up Matt Cooke. The crowd would again chant "We Want Moulson" and the Wild would give them what they want as Moulson was sent over the boards to go back on the Wild power play. Minnesota tried as hard as they could to give Moulson a shot at the hat trick but the Islanders were shadowing him, preventing him from getting the 3rd goal but it wouldn't matter as the Wild relished a rare 6-0 victory.
Ilya Bryzgalov had a great game, stopping all 36 shots he faced. He looked focused and positionally rock solid. While most of Bryzgalov's work came in the 1st half of the game he kept Minnesota in it while it weathered a lethargic start. Defensively the Wild played reasonably well, providing good puck support and even chipping in two goals offensively. The penalty kill was solid but they know they'll have to be much better on Thursday.
Offensively, the team finally found itself rewarded on a fair amount of its scoring chances. Scoring off of rebounds and even its breakaway which is normally where they don't get it done. I have to give Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo some credit for the result they got from its 2nd line where moving Justin Fontaine up to play with Mikko Koivu and Matt Moulson. The result was more speed and creativity which resulted for shooting opportunities for all of them. The top line again found its way onto the scoresheet, but tonight the Wild had two dangerous lines and it was more than enough to earn a victory. The State of Hockey News would like to give a stick tap to Mikko Koivu, whose 3 assists make him the Wild's all time leading scorer with 438 points passing Marian Gaborik's 437.
This was the Islanders. The Wild got up a few goals and the Islanders kind of sat back and let the game become a blowout. I am sure it was tough for them to hear the home crowd root for a player on the other team and then watch him score twice. Minnesota now has to rest up and ready itself for what will no doubt be a far more intense battle against New Jersey on Thursday. The two points provide a nice sigh of relief for a team that was feeling more than a ltitle snakebit lately. Hopefully the Wild can build from tonight's win.
~ Wild roster is as follows: Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak, Cody McCormick, Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine, Dany Heatley, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser. Darcy Kuemper backed Ilya Bryzgalov. Niklas Backstrom, Mike Rupp, Keith Ballard and Erik Haula were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Matt Moulson, 2nd Star Ilya Bryzgalov, 3rd Star Mikko Koivu
~ Attendance was 14,888 at Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum.
~ The State of Hockey News congratulates the University of Minnesota Men's Hockey players and coaches for the following Big Ten accolades: Don Lucia, coach of the year; Adam Wilcox, player and goaltender of the year; Mike Reilly, defensive player of the year; Nate Condon, Big Ten Sportsmanship Award winner. The following players have also received Big Ten Honorable Mentions: Kyle Rau, Sam Warning, Ben Marshall, Brady Skjei, and Hudson Fasching.