A few years back I did an annual article series called the 'Best and Worst Fans of the NHL' where I rated each of the fanbases in the league. I rated each fanbase on average attendance in comparison to the capacity of their respective arena which also took into account their regular season record as well as internet presence. Teams that don't draw at a 100% yet had a strong team were punished by my standards. It wasn't perfect, but considering I wrote and published the articles in August it caused far more of a stir than I ever expected. The article was picked up by Yahoo! NHL blogger Greg Wyshynski, aka Puck Daddy and the firestorm ensued. In my first installment I rated New Jersey as having the 2nd worst fanbase in the NHL. Wyshynski who admittedly has leanings for the Devils was insensed and his blog essentially released the wolves towards my website. Comments were flying in and New Jersey fans were noticeably upset with my ranking of their fanbase. From discussion of my possible sexual preference to apparently their belief that we have absolutely nothing to do in Minnesota in addition to their attempts to say just how wrong I was. Yet, the proof was there. Good team, bad attendance yet their fanbase didn't want to face the facts. Many excuses were given attempting to explain why fans were not showing up to Devils' games. Bad location, travel difficulties, bad neighborhood, blah blah blah.
Has it improved in New Jersey since my article? Slightly. In their most recent home game, the Devils drew 16,162 in a 5-4 win over Carolina on March 8th. However, back to that wonderful fanbase I think we will see some of that same vitriol they vented towards me at being rated the 2nd worst in the NHL vented towards Zach Parise as he makes his first sojourn back to New Jersey since leaving for the Wild via free agency. I think it could be very similar to the sour welcome Ryan Suter has everytime the Wild play in Nashville. It is to be expected, but the question is whether Parise will revel in the role of the villain or will the Devils fans get a dose of revenge over their former star?
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1st Period Thoughts: The energy and vitriol of the crowd reminded me of a playoff game and the New Jersey Devils seemed to feed off the crowd. The Devils were buzzing, especially in the Wild zone as they were physical and assertive. Luckily Ilya Bryzgalov was focused and ready and he bailed the Wild out with a bunch of quality saves. New Jersey was also frustrating Minnesota offensively as they had a hard time moving through the neutral zone, forcing the Wild to try to reverse their puck movement to work for an open lane that they could work the puck into the Devils' end. Minnesota would draw a power play early as Adam Henrique hit Mikko Koivu in the face as he tried to lift his stick near the Wild bench. The Devils' penalty kill was very aggressive, which forced the Wild to move the puck perhaps a bit quicker than it wanted to. Minnesota only had one realy scoring chance on the man advantage as Zach Parise, who was getting boo'd everytime he touched the puck tried to move in and jam a sharp angle shot but Cory Schnieder was there to make the stop. A few minutes later the Devils had a power play of their own as Parise was given a hooking minor. The Devils power play has been deadly since in the Olympic break, but you wouldn't know it with the way the Wild's penalty kill shut it down. Minnesota did a great job at closing off the passing and shooting lanes with good active sticks. They'd clear the zone and get the big kill. New Jersey would continue to attack and Henrique would win a battle along the boards and push a pass back to Patrik Elias who then dropped a pass back to Michael Ryder who was wide open in the high slot and as Henrique skated right towards the crease Ryder would rifle a shot by Bryzgalov to make it 1-0 Devils. It was a very well executed set up, and Ryder sniped it perfectly. The Wild's troubles would get a bit worse when Tim Sestito tried to run Nate Prosser (who had already been leveled on a big time hit earlier in the period) as he went behind his net to play the puck. As Prosser was playing the puck and moving it along Sestito ran head first right into his elbow and collapsed to the ice. He was moving slowly and the Devils training staff attended to their injured energy winger. The officials were clearly convinced Prosser did something malicious as they gave him a 5-minute major for elbowing and a 10-minute game misconduct too. It was another ridiculous overreaction by the officials to Sestito's injury much in the same way Erik Haula was given a similar major and misconduct for apparently running Kari Lehtonen. The replay demonstrated that Haula was tripped and had no way of stopping and that real damage didn't come from Haula as much as it did from Lehtonen's head striking the goal post. Sort of similar to this one where Sestito's own attempt to crush Prosser led to him getting hurt. Prosser didn't do anything different or malicious that it deserved a game misconduct. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo who was clearly annoyed as this meant the Wild were going to be playing a defenseman down all game tried to discuss the issue with the officials to no avail. This gave New Jersey a 5-minute power play that would last the rest of the period. Minnesota's penalty killers again stepped up big time. A blocked Jon Merrill shot at the point turned into a 2-on-0 breakaway for Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. Parise raced in, with boo's raining down upon him but as the puck bounced on the crappy Prudential Center ice all he was able to try was a quick forehand that was absorbed easily by Cory Schneider. Minnesota's penalty killers continued to stonewall the Devils power play; and even on their best attempt, a point shot by Eric Gelinas that was redirected by Ryder was stopped by Bryzgalov and the Wild only trailed by one going into the 1st intermission. It was an ok period for the Wild, as the Devils were playing with a lot of energy and with a chip on their shoulder. Minnesota was outshot 10-6 in the period.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota still had nearly 3 minutes of Devils power play time to kill off at the start of the 2nd period. The Wild's penalty kill would bend but not break as they did a nice job of denying the Devils from having the big blast from the point that they wanted. The Wild did a good job at blocking a shots and Ilya Bryzgalov helped Minnesota weather an early storm to keep his team within one. One thing I didn't like during the penalty kill was how long Cody McCormick and Kyle Brodziak ended up staying out on the kill, neither player has great hands and towards the end they were really just sort of standing around and luckily for them Bryzgalov was able to kill the final few moments of the Devils power play off himself. Minnesota was struggling to create any sort of offense as the Devils were backchecking well. The Wild would get a power play as Tuomo Ruutu would tripped up Nino Niederreiter as he hooked down the Minnesota forward. The power play would not work out well for the Wild. The aggressive penalty kill by the Devils continued to cause the Wild problems and Minnesota was never really able to get much going on the power play besides a shot from the point by Jason Pominville that missed wide and out of the zone. As Minnesota tried to chase down the puck the Devils would counter attack Adam Henrique found Mark Fayne all alone on the backside as Dany Heatley slowly tried to backcheck and the defenseman would wire a shot by Bryzgalov to make it 2-0 New Jersey. The Wild were unable to answer back on the power play and momentum was clearly in New Jersey's favor. The game would spend the next few minutes with lots ineffectively play in the neutral zone as the Devils were content to protect their lead. Minnesota was guilty of trying to be way too fancy, trying to thread passes by multiple defenders instead of keeping it simple. New Jersey would give Minnesota a late power play as Andy Greene stepped in front of Pominville for an obvious interference call. On the power play, no one seemed to want to shoot the puck and even though the puck movement was quicker. So the period would end with the Wild looking a little listless. Minnesota was outshot 8-6.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would start the 3rd period with some power play time left over from the 2nd period and they'd make the most of it. After some quick puck movement Ryan Suter would fling a wrist shot that was deflected by Parise and by Schneider to cut the Devils' lead in half, 2-1. Unfortunately New Jersey would answer right back with a power play of their own as Jared Spurgeon was tagged with an interference penalty as he hauled down Dainius Zubrus on a partial breakaway. The Wild penalty killers did a good job through the first half of the man advantage, denying passing and shooting lanes but they couldn't finish as Jaromir Jagr found a little space in the slot and he'd rip a shot by Bryzgalov to make it 3-1 New Jersey. The Wild were trying to claw their way back into the game and they would benefit from keeping it simple. Mikael Granlund would take a Spurgeon pass and carry it down low into the zone and with no other options available flung a shot on goal that deflected off the glove of Schneider and in to cut the Devils' lead back to one. The goal reminded me of so many goals I saw the Detroit Red Wings needed in games where they were trailing. A seemingly low percentage shot, goes off a glove, a skate or stick and finds its way into the back of the net but if they would've waited for the perfect shot or play it may have never have happened at all. The Devils seemed to want to focus on defending their lead as Minnesota kept hustling and their lack of focus would give Minnesota another power play. New Jersey's penalty kill was more aggressive at challening the Wild's entry into the Devils' end and Minnesota had trouble getting set up. As the power play expired the Wild entered the zone with speed as Marco Scandella stepped in to recieve a cross-ice pass from Jonas Brodin and he'd blast a slap shot that was redirected by Matt Cooke and into the back of the net to tie the game. The hostile crowd sat in stunned silence. The Devils tried to catch the Wild a little punch drunk from their huge goal and they came dangerously close to re-taking the lead as Jaromir Jagr chipped a shot that was just directed wide off a desperate defensive play by Scandella who seemed to be a bit wounded after the play. Both clubs would be content to defend the stalemate and the game would go to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota tried to go on the attack early, as the defenseman were joining the rush. The aggressive stance would put the Wild in a vulnerable spot. Mikko Koivu had a nice chance as he ripped a low-lying shot that drew a rebound but Scandella couldn't quite reach it. New Jersey woudl counter attack off another failed rush and Patrik Elias backhanded a shot on goal that Brzgalov stopped and then was banged home by Andy Greene and the Wild fell 4-3.
Ilya Brzgalov played reasonably well in my opinion, stopping 26 shots in the loss. I felt he kept Minnesota in the game when it was not moving its feet as well and played a big role in making sure the Devils were not able to take advantage of a 5-minute major. Defensively I thought the Wild were guilty of attempting a lot of one-handed poke checks that made it very tough to get the breakout going. The penalty kill did give up a power play goal, but for the most part they did a pretty good job at keeping a very dangerous Devils power play at bey most of the game. The call on Nate Prosser was ridiculous. I highly doubt that will recieve any supplemental discipline from the league. Sure it sucks to see a guy like Sestito concussed as badly as he was, but he bears most of the responsibility from the hit in my opinion.
Offensively, the Wild rallied back but I felt Minnesota made this game a lot harder for itself by not taking more opportunities to direct pucks on goal against Schnieder who I felt was kind of shaky throughout most of the game. The first line continues to pace the team offensively and they managed to get some secondary offense but they needed more from the other line who were non-existant most of the game. I thought Charlie Coyle looked like a mess. He gives up the puck so easily when he feels he has to muscle his way by defenders. He needs to figure it out, or he should be sitting the pressbox. Dany Heatley recently complained a bit about playing time, but tonight he got power play time and his lack of movement and the bobbling of the puck didn't tell me he deserved anymore ice time than the 15:26 tonight. Probably deserved less. The Wild can learn something from their late rally, which was really created by keeping it simple and funneling pucks on goal.
Losing sucks, especially against some obnoxious fans who should've been boo'ing Devils GM Lou Lamiorello for being unable to afford Parise after they epic fail that was the Ilya Kovalchuk contract but the point the Wild earned was important. The Philadelphia Flyers did the Wild a favor by beating Dallas tonight. Still, Minnesota needs to start earning 2 points and winning some of these games that are going beyond regulation lately. I don't think Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo will be happy about tonight's performance, nor should he. It was another very slow start, and the Wild need to find a way to put their opponents on their heels early instead of always weathering the storm whether at home or on the road. The team has to be better, it certainly is capable of doing so. Now the Wild have to get ready for what will be another hard fought home-at-home series against Detroit this weekend.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson, Justin Fontaine, Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Cody McCormick, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser. Darcy Kuemper backed up Ilya Bryzgalov. Niklas Backstrom, Mike Rupp, Keith Ballard and Erik Haula were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Andy Greene, 2nd Star Matt Cooke, 3rd Star Patrik Elias
~ Attendance was 14,772 at Prudential Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 2, Texas 4
It was a super slow start for the Iowa Wild, who found themselves down by one just a little past the 2-minute mark of the game as Brendan Ranford ripped a shot by Johan Gustafsson to give the Texas Stars a 1-0 lead. The period was amazingly one sided as Gustafsson was under siege, stopping 14 shots while the Wild managed just one shot against Texas. Ranford would strike again, early in the 2nd period to give what must've seemed like a tremendous 2-0 lead when you consider how much Iowa struggled to get shots on goal. Iowa slowly started to create some scoring chances and they finally got their opportunity with the man advantage. The Wild would strike on the power play as Zack Phillips fired a shot that was redirected perfectly by Brad Winchester and by Jack Campbell cut the Stars' lead to one, 2-1. Iowa would then tie the game late in the period as Tyler Graovac intercepted a pass in the neutral zone and he'd race in on the breakaway before beating Campbell short side with a backhander to knot it up at 2-2 going into the 2nd intermission. In the 3rd period, Iowa was pouring it on in search of the go-ahead goal but it wasn't meant to be. Brett Ritchie would rip a shot off of a faceoff win to beat Gustafsson with just 2:25 left to play, 3-2 Stars. Iowa would give up one more late as Kevin Henderson beat Gustafsson as he was wanting to head for the bench for an extra attacker, 4-2 Texas. The Wild simply didn't get nearly enough pucks on goal; registering just 14 shots on goal. Gustafsson did his best, stopping 32 of 36 in a losing effort. Iowa's next game is Friday night against Grand Rapids.