If you want to watch a game that pretty much has the season on the line, this is the game for you. I know pessimism was my feeling for much of the day. And it’s not just the game between the Wild and Phoenix. There are the other games in the Western Conference for Wild Card positioning. Minnesota needs to come in focussed, and truly, I don’t know if the Wild have it in them. We have seen uninspired, disorganized hockey over the past ten games. I wish I have a better prognosis for tonight, but as in most games, what we see in the first five to ten minutes of the game, is what we’ll see for the majority of the game. Phoenix is going to be bound and determined to do everything and anything to take both points, particularly in regulation, tonight. The Coyotes have not been a kind opponent for the Wild. To add insult to injury, the Coyotes have a couple of Wild-killers by the names of Shane Doan and Mikkel Boedker. While trying to keep those two off of the score sheet, Minnesota needs to remember there are other skaters that are willing to make the Wild look like the desperate team, clinging to the playoffs by a narrow thread. The truth of the matter, is that the Coyotes are the more desperate of the two teams. It would be nice if Minnesota comes out, looking like the team with more points tonight.
1st Period Notes: Well, it’s certainly nice to see a team with a little bit of energy to them. Of course, when you finally bench Dany Heatley for the first time in recent memory, you’re automatically going to have a little jump in your step. Of course with that fire, often come mistakes. The first early mistake would be a too many men call on the Wild. During that penalty came the bigger mistake. Minnesota was simply unable to clear the puck. When you’re on the penalty kill, and you have the opportunity to do so, you absolutely must clear the zone. The Wild had two excellent chances, yet failed both times. Phoenix took advantage of the Wild’s inability, and Mikkel Boedker found the back of the net. One thing that has been nice to see, is that at the very least Minnesota hasn’t just sat back. However, it’s still early, and there’s plenty of time for the Wild to tank. The Wild could continue to have difficulty clearing the zone, even full strength. When I watch struggles like that with simple skills, I think back to Wild teams of the past, you know when they had a fantastic penalty kill. Of course those teams were much faster teams as well. As crazy as it seems, the line I’ve enjoyed watching mid-way through the period has been the Matt Cooke, Erik Haula and Stephane Veilleux line. They managed to put some pressure on the Coyotes in their zone. Plus, they’re not afraid to go into the dirty areas of the ice. It’s too bad we don’t have more players like them. Really, imagine a line with their determination with a lot more speed and scoring skill. Heck, I think I might just faint if I think of such a dream line. But alas, I don’t know if the Wild will ever have such a line. Once again, passing tonight seems to be an issue. Wild skaters seem to either pass where there’s no player or into the skates of their teammates. Last I looked, that not a great way to maintain puck possession. The Wild would take another penalty with a tripping call on Nino Niederreiter. This time they were a little better at clearing the zone, but not much. Instead of facing up the ice and clearing the puck, they choose to turn back towards their own goaltender and then send it back around the net. Here’s a suggestion, don’t send the puck toward your own goaltender during the penalty kill. If, and this could be a big if, the Wild can head into the locker room for the first intermission down just the one goal, they just might have a chance. Some even up penalties would come in the last 3 or so minutes due to the Coyotes spraying Ilya Bryzgalov and the Wild finally showing some emotion and stood up for their goaltender. Of course the standing up took Ryan Suter to the box. With the extra room in the ice, Zach Parise got a nice look at the goal. They need to get more chances like that, because eventually something has to go behind Thomas Greiss. Thankfully, the Wild would answer the prayers of many by not allowing another Phoenix goal. However, with two more periods to go, it could yet get ugly.
2nd Period Notes: The Wild would once again come out with some fire to start the period. Once again, we’re seeing a team standing up for their goaltender. Of course it would be Nate Prosser which means we risks penalties, because for whatever reasons the officials around the league seem to target Prosser for calls. Minnesota would get called for interference on the part of Mikko Koivu. However, this time if looked like a far more organized and effective penalty kill. Wild players are beginning to wonder however when they’re going to get a power play of their own. They’re getting held up and cross-checked, yet they have yet to earn a power play. While in theory it would be nice, we as fans know that in practice it’s a bad idea as the Wild’s power play if often ineffective, at best. It’s getting to the point where it’s as if the officials are completely turning a blind eye to the Coyotes infractions. In fact, a puck clearly hit a Coyotes player as he was coming over the boards, yet they didn’t get called for too many men. So if being down 1-0 isn’t bad enough, it’s getting compounded by the fact that the Dallas Stars are currently beating the Saint Louis Blues. Doesn’t that just make you feel all warm and fuzzy? While the Wild have been playing a little better this period, Phoenix is still getting the better of the chances. It’s gotten to the point where it seems that there’s nothing the Wild can or will do to improve. They’ve hit their plateau, and now it’s time to go downhill. Minnesota would finally get its first power play of the game after Mikael Granlund was hauled down to the ice. The Wild absolutely must convert on this power play. The ultimate problem Minnesota has, is that either their skaters aren’t ready to shoot or they take too long to shoot. Not only doesn’t it waste precious time on the power play, but it allows the shorthanded team to prepare for the shot. The key to a good power play is to keep the shorthanded team on their heels. Minnesota is simply unable to do so. I guess we should be thanking our lucky stars, that the Wild are still
only down by one goal. How the Wild come out to play in the third period will not only determine tonight’s game, but probably how the rest of the season goes.
3rd Period Notes: The opening faceoff would feature some sloppy play by the Wild. Somehow they managed to prevent Phoenix from getting any good chances on net. They would settle down, and look a little more focused. But then just when you think they’ve figured out how to play again, they cough up the puck in the zone, and it was a goalpost that prevented the Coyotes from being up 2-0 on a shot by Shane Doan. It would once again be the fourth line of Haula, Cooke and Veilleux that would provide the most pressure. While they were unable to score, at least they took chances. The Wild would once again go on the penalty kill thanks to a slash by Prosser. It’s only taken four penalty kills, but the Wild seem to have finally figured out how to not only kill the penalty but to effectively clear the zone. They even managed to put some offensive pressure on Phoenix while shorthanded. Parise would ultimately prove the importance of offensive zone faceoff wins and quick shots. That goal would finally even up the game. Minnesota needs to do that more often and not just tonight. The Wild almost took the lead thanks to a nifty move by Koivu, and truth be told, I have no idea how Greiss was able to stop it let alone see the puck. More hard work from the Wild, starting with Matt Cooke, and then a quick line change, would bring a blast from the blue line from Jared Spurgeon, would give the Wild the first lead of the game. It’s going to be interesting to see how Minnesota and Phoenix respond. Minnesota seemed to put on the pressure while Phoenix seemed to lack the ability to get a shot on goal. Eventually, Phoenix would pull Greiss, and the Wild would continue to put the pressure on. Parise would get a strange shot from the boards for the empty net goal. After that goal, Shane Doan would draw a game misconduct because of either chirping at the officials or the length of the ice shot at Bryzgalov in frustration.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Justin Fontaine, Stephane Veilleux, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Matt Moulson, Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund, Marco Scandella, Jonathan Blum, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Nate Prosser, and Jared Spurgeon. Darcy Kuemper backed up Ilya Bryzgalov.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Zach Parise; 2nd Star, Michael Stone; 3rd Star, Mikko Koivu.
~ Attendance was 16,691 at Jobing.com Arena.
Wild Prospect Report: