I was watching the critically acclaimed film Rashomon (1950) by legendary Japanese film producer Akira Kurasawa the other day and it really got me to reflect on the current state of the Wild. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the film, it is considered to be one of the best film's ever made. It was a screenplay derived from the book In the Grove by Ryunosuke Akutugawa and the story is about the rape of a woman, and death of a warrior told from 4 different perspectives. Yes, a rather violent story, but it isn't gory at all or there is np real graphic injury. The focus is on how 4 different people can go through the same event and then recall such a different experience. I sometimes wonder if that is not a perfect analogy to what I've seen and heard from some Wild fans and media members after Tuesday's pathetic 4-3 shootout loss to the lowly Edmonton Oilers. Of paricular concern was the paltry performance of the power play which failed to find the back of the net during a 5-on-3 power play that lasted nearly a minute and a half or the nearly two-minute long 4-on-3 power play in overtime where failed to register a shot on goal. One perspective from the TV broadcasters Anthony LaPanta and Mike Greenlay were sympathetic saying fans should be okwith that since the team did score once during the four opportunities they had. Another perspective was from Head Coach Mike Yeo was that they would look into the slow movement and lack of player movement. Lastly there were fans like myself who were thinking, especially after Yeo's comments, with both disdain and frustration as we ask 'what really has changed about the power play for the last few months?' Either way, the power play is what it is, but we have 3 distinctively different viewpoints.
Like the film we have an apologist / bright side-er in LaPanta and Greenlay, then a silent witness in Coach Yeo and lastly an antogonist who are fans like me who see a terrible power play and very little change over a long period of time. On Wednesday the Wild spent a fair portion of their practice time working on the power play and shootout. Will that practice pay off against the New York Rangers or will it end being too little, too late?
Click on "Continue Reading" for the rest of the article…
1st Period Thoughts: I thought the first 5 minutes of this game were absolutely horrendous for the Wild. Lots of poor passes, not a lot of hustle and it looked like another team sort of going through the motions. Minnesota's defenseman were turning bad situations into worse ones by making passes to players who were in even in an even more suspect position. This put Minnesota on its heels as the Rangers tried to work the puck deep into the Wild zone. The Rangers were sending pucks towards the goal and fortunately for the Wild they were not connecting but Minnesota was playing with fire. The Wild's top line would try to go on the attack as Mikael Granlund entered New York's zone with speed and as he moved to the middle of the ice he'd have the space to shoot the puck from the high slot with other forwards bearing down on Cam Talbot but instead he'd try an improbable pass that never made it to Zach Parise and the Rangers would counter attack. Big 6'6" Brian Boyle would motor down the middle of the ice, splitting Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon who reached and eventually tripped up Boyle as he got off a wrist shot before sliding into the boards and giving New York the first power play of the game. On the power play the Wild did a decent job at denying the middle of the ice to the Rangers and they were able to get the kill without too much trouble. Shortly after the Rangers power play, the Wild's 4th line would go on the attack and Erik Haula cycled the puck with Nino Niederreiter. They were unable to get any shots on goal but as the Rangers tried to leave the zone former Wild 1st round (4th Overall in 2005) pick Benoit Pouliot got sent head over heels by a nice hip check by Keith Ballard. The Wild would take advantage of the chaos and they almost managed to light the lamp as Ballard directed a shot on goal that was blocked by Talbot and then batted out of the air by Jason Pominville and steered away by the Rangers' goalie. In the process the Wild would draw their first power play of the game as Hastings, Minnesota-native Derek Stepan sat in the box for hooking. On the power play the Wild moved the puck pretty well with its 2nd power play unit as Jared Spurgeon found Jonas Brodin open and he fired a shot that Talbot froze. Minnesota's top unit was unable to do much of anything with the man advantage and you could sense the anxiety starting to build in the arena. With a failed power play behind them the Wild's 3rd line would strike as Kyle Brodziak forced John Moore to get rid of the puck a bit early that was picked up by Rick Nash who inexplicably sent it out into the slot where it was ripped home by Niederreiter. 1-0 Wild. The goal didn't make the Wild much more responsible as a long pass by the Rangers turned into a near breakaway for Carl Hagelin and he was stonewalled by a fine save by Darcy Kuemper. Minnesota would draw another power play as Pouliot was given a hooking call. The Wild were not able to get much of anything going offensively but they still would carry their 1-0 lead into the 1st intermission. Minnesota outshot the Rangers 9-7 in the period. It was a sloppy period of hockey, and the Wild need to simplify their game. A few passes and send the puck on goal instead of trying to make the pretty play.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota started the 2nd period with its 2nd line of Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle and Matt Moulson. The line had good forechecking pressure as Moulson swung a pass out to Koivu who was given a lot of time and space and he ripped a wrist shot that was denied by Talbot. The Wild would kill their own early momentum as Brodziak skated through the neutral zone and got his stick into the grill of Chris Kreider giving the Rangers a power play. This would prove to be a costly power play as the Wild were content to let the Rangers operate on the perimeter and Derek Stepan would patiently wait for his opportunity before firing a laser of a wrist shot by a screened Kuemper to tie the game at 1-1. The next few minutes were spent trying to mount an attack or preventing the Rangers' from doing the same so shots on goal were few and far between. At times the effort of the Wild seemed to be an interesting mix of contrasts, where some Wild players effort was pretty lazy as they stood around and reached for the puck (cough Dany Heatley, Clayton Stoner cough) while others were busting their tail all over the ice (Haula, Niederreiter). Minnesota would finally create a little pressure as Mikael Granlund wound find Zach Parise with a pass, but unfortuantely the puck was rolling so he'd have to wait and settle it which gave Talbot a chance to square up and Parise's shot struck him in the shoulder and he was able to make the stop. The Rangers had their share of close chances too as Ryan McDonagh stepped into the slot and took a pass from Rick Nash and his shot would rang off the left post and out. Minnesota answered back with a scoring chance by Matt Moulson who bowled over Dan Girardi before getting off a quick shot that was dismissed by Talbot. The Wild would draw a power play late in the period as Hagelin hauled down Koivu. On the power play the Wild tried to generate more shots on goal by working the backdoor passes but the puck was always rolling or on edge causing Pominville to wait and the opportunity was lost. As another Wild power play fell by the wayside, Minnesota would have one last great chance as the top line would race through the neutral zone with speed where they worked a tic-tac-toe play back to Spurgeon who probably would've had a goal if he shot a one-timer but instead waited and Talbot was able to square up and make the save keeping the game tied at one going into the 2nd intermission. Minnesota is sometimes forgetting the benefit of shooting quickly and not allowing the goaltender to square up which even if it doesn't go in will likely lead to rebounds. I am not sure what to expect in the 3rd with the game tied. The Wild have seemed to think the 3rd period was a time to wind down and relax and that would be the recipe for a disaster against the Rangers. If I'm Justin Fontaine I'd be really annoyed watching Dany Heatley loaf through his shifts. The Wild really is a better team when it has more speed in its lineup. Yet I'm going to guess the Wild have $7.5 million reasons not to make this move. Either way, its a shame.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota's top line would provide a huge boost in the opening minute of the 3rd period as Mikael Granlund drove towards the Rangers' crease where he got off a quick shot that was kicked away by Talbot. The Wild would crash the net and Pominville would pounce on the rebound that was also stopped by the sprawling Rangers' goalie, and Granlund would gather and dish it back over to Parise who fired it home to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. The Rangers' defense was guilty of just standing and watching the play as all 3 of the Wild's forwards were able to put pucks on net before Parise finally buried it. The Wild would again seem to take their foot off the gas as the veterans on the 3rd line were a bit lazy on the shift, mishandling the puck and it turned into a few quality scoring chances for the Rangers and Kuemper had to bail out his team again on a fine save from in close on Derick Brassard. Minnesota would counter punch with the modified 2nd line of Niederreiter, Koivu and Moulson and the hard work of Niederreiter led to a great potential opportunity for Moulson in the slot who would lose control of the puck just as he pulled the puck around Girardi. Minnesota would sit back and wait for the Rangers to attack and shots and scoring chances would pile up as the Wild tried to defend its one goal lead. New York nearly tied it up off a wide shot by Anton Stralman that was rang off the post by Brad Richards who shot the puck right off the carom. Kyle Brodziak would make that passive strategy that much more interesting when he cleared a puck into the stands from his knees giving the Rangers a power play with about 3:20 left to play. On the power play Minnesota again did what they could to protect the middle of the ice and Minnesota would kill it off. Rangers' Head Coach Alain Vigneault would pull Talbot for an extra attacker towards the tail end of the power play to give his team a brief 2-man advantage but Minnesota would clog up the middle of the ice and circle the wagons around Darcy Kuemper and Minnesota would slide by with a 2-1 victory.
Kuemper was very solid, making 29 saves in the victory. The big goaltender seemed a bit calmer than he has in previous nights and he had at least 2 huge saves to bail his club out and got help in the form of 3 saves from the post. Defensively the Wild were ok, I am not sure I'd say they were great. Jonas Brodin still is shying away from contact instead of taking the hit to make an important play with the puck. He was a +2 but teams will continue to exploit that part of his game. I thought Clayton Stoner was slow and lazy and he wasn't getting a lot of shifts late in the game. Minnesota needs more from him.
Offensively the Wild had better performance from its 2nd line once Niederreiter was moved up and Coyle was moved down. It was a good move because Niederreiter works harder along the boards, controls the puck better and generates more shots and opportunities for his teammates. The top line found a way to get a goal when the team needed it, but more is needed from them. They too could benefit from keeping it simple as they did on the play they scored on, a simple drive to the crease which led to secondary chances which ultimately led to the game-winning goal. Yet the other player that must be mentioned and who I felt was worthy of a star was Erik Haula. Haula was all over the ice; coming up big at both ends of the ice. I really would like to see him get a chance in the top 6 someday. His speed, his skill and versatility is so huge for the Wild. A few guys that need to pick up their game are vets Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Dany Heatley who were mostly lazy throughout the game. Slow to pucks, reactive play really was a sore spot for the Wild.
This was a huge 2 points for a team that was starting to feel the pressure from those clubs that have been chasing them in the standings. I would say it was a marginal improvement over Tuesday's disappointment. I do not like the fact the team decided to sit back and defend a 1-goal lead in the 3rd period. Minnesota has a real tough challenge this Saturday against Minnesota's expansion sister club in the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets are playing great right now and are desperate to get back into the post-season. They are playing like a team with confidence and the Wild must be better than they were tonight if they wish to come away with 2 points in that game, and quite frankly they need those points. So relish it now Wild, but go back to work and take it to the Blue Jackets.
~ The Wild roster is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Nino Niederreiter, Dany Heatley, Erik Haula, Cody McCormick, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Ilya Bryzgalov backed up Darcy Kuemper. Niklas Backstrom, Mike Rupp, Justin Fontaine and Nate Prosser were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Wild Radio were: 1st Star Mikael Granlund, 2nd Star Darcy Kuemper, 3rd Star Zach Parise
~ Attendance was 18,885 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 3, Milwaukee 2
In a game strangely similar to one the Wild had played on Tuesday, Iowa would jump out to a 3-0 lead in the 1st period against Milwaukee. Brett Bulmer scored unassisted to get things started for the Wild. Then Iowa would strike twice on the power play as Zack Phillips and Stephane Veilleux helped give the Wild a 3-0 advantage. At this point the Wild would put the game into cruise control and Milwaukee did all they could to claw back into the game. The Admirals would finally get on the board in the middle of the 2nd period as Miikka Salomaki found the twine behind Johan Gustafsson to make it 3-1. The Wild would hold Milwaukee at bey the rest of the period. Milwaukee would really make the Wild feel anxious midway through the 3rd when former Wisconsin Badgers defenseman Joe Piskula hammered a slap shot from the point that beat Gustafsson to cut the lead to one. Yet unlike Minnesota, Iowa was able to withstand Iowa's late game surge to earn a 3-2 victory. Gustafsson had 26 saves in the victory.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Brady Brassart (Calgary, WHL) ~ The Vernon, British Columbia-native's big night helped propel the Hitmen to a 5-3 victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Tuesday. Brassart chipped in 3 assists including one on the game winning goal. The 6'2", 196lbs center has 49 assists and 83 points to go along with 94 PIM's and a +13 rating over the course of 68 games played this season.
D – Mathew Dumba (Portland, WHL) ~ The Wild's blue chip defenseman prospect was clutch for the Winterhawks on Tuesday night, tallying the game-tying goal en route to a 3-2 overtime win over a tough Tri-City Americans squad. The Calgary-native has 6 goals, 18 points and 37 PIM's to go along with a +23 rating in 24 games played this season.
RW – Kurtis Gabriel (Owen Sound, OHL) ~ The rugged power forward helped the attack rally back from a 1-0 deficit as he set up Kyle Hope's game-tying goal. Hope would add one more in the 3rd period to give Owen Sound a 2-1 victory over the Plymouth Whalers. Gabriel has 34 assists, 48 points and 95 PIM's to go along with a +3 rating through 58 games played this sesaon.
C – Anthony Hamburg (RIT, Atlantic) ~ It was a disappointing end of the season for the Phoenix, Arizona-native who spent it as a healthy scratch for the Tigers' first round match up against Holy Cross. The Crusaders won the best of three series as they won 3-2 in overtime to end RIT's season. 'Poppa Hammer' as the college junior calls himself had pretty modest totals of 2 goals, no assists and 4 PIM's in 22 games played this season.