Last year, the Phoenix Coyotes were often called the Cinderella team of the NHL after shocking many experts by their surprising 2009-10 season that ended in the 1st round of the playoffs. Throughout the season, experts predicted the Coyotes would falter but they held strong and ended the year in 4th place in the Western Conference. The Coyotes were another shining example of how well executed, defensively focused team with great goaltending can go pretty far. Coyotes bench boss Dave Tippett did what 'the Great One', Wayne Gretzky could never seem to do; make Phoenix into a winner. It may not be the most entertaining style of hockey but it was pretty stifiling most nights as their collection of speedy forwards would eliminate time and space and their goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was a near impenetrable wall proved to be a winning combination. It is amazing how some things can change while others remain the same. The Coyotes are again near the top of the Western Conference standings, sitting in 7th place but despite the repeated success as well as the progress from last season the team still struggles through woeful attendance and the league still waiting for a buyer for the Desert Dogs. Just 12,708 showed up to their most recent home game, a 6-4 loss to arch rival Anaheim. Both the Wild and Coyotes are coming off 3-0 losses to the Flames and Predators respectively so which team will bounce back tonight, and which Cinderella hopeful will be left disappointed with the final horn sounds?
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Minnesota had the first real scoring chance of the game when John Madden created a steal, before blasting a slapper wide of the net. The early pressure by the Wild drew a penalty as Ray Whitney was tagged with a hooking call. Yet it was the Coyotes that had the first quality scoring chance on the Wild power play as Lauri Korpikoski stole a puck from Jose Theodore who was playing the puck behind the net and he skated out to the front and he fired a shot on goal that Theodore fought off. Minnesota struggled to get established in the Coyotes zone but when they finally did, it was Martin Havlat that would carry the puck down low behind the goal and back out front where he found Brent Burns who rifled a shot on goal that was gloved by Jason LaBarbera. The Wild would come up short, but they'd get another big chance right away as Vernon Fiddler got his stick into the grill of Burns and then said a few choice words to NHL referee Justin St. Pierre earning him an extra minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. News of the double-minor got a nice response from the home crowd. Minnesota fans would give another cheer a few minutes later as Pierre-Marc Bouchard jumped onto the ice for the first time in over a year. The Wild had a bad turnover in its own zone and Martin Hanzal got off a quick wrist shot that was deflected away by Theodore. Former Wild forward Eric Belanger would win a battle along the boards and clear the zone as Minnesota was really struggling to get much of anything going on the double minor. All the Wild were able to create were a few long range blasts from the point that were easily dismissed by LaBarbera. You could hear a few hints of disgust from the fans as the team struggled to create much of anything. The best scoring chance of the 4-minute power play came on a tipped pass that floated high into the air and as it came back down near the crease Havlat shoveled a shot on goal as LaBarbera flopped to make the big stop. The Coyotes were creating some havoc with a 2-man forecheck that drew a turnover that gave former Wisconsin Badgers' star Kyle Turris a chance to blast a shot just wide of the mark. Moments later the Wild had an excellent chance as Havlat raced into the Phoenix zone, creating some time and space with his speed where he stopped just after passing the blueline and then he chose to drop a pass back to Greg Zanon wound up and uncorked a slapper that reached LaBarbera who made the stop and then made another fine save on a rebound chance by Kyle Brodziak. The Coyotes would have a golden chance of their own as Keith Yandle delivered a long pass to Whitney who raced in on a break away and he deked and tried to slide a shot 5-hole that was denied by the right leg of Theodore just before it was going to cross the goal line on an incredible save. The Coyotes could sense a shift in momentum as they raced up the ice in a 3-on-2 culminating in a big shot by Phoenix captain Shane Doan from the high slot that didn't miss by much. Minnesota tried to counter attack but a rush up ice by Eric Nystrom was stopped literally and figuratively by a nice hit delivered by David Schlemko. Andrew Brunette and the top line would finally create some offense from down low where he worked behind the goal setting up Mikko Koivu for a quick shot that was knocked down by LaBarbera. Tempers would flare a few minutes later when Havlat tried to start something with Wojtek Wolski, who immediately had big 6'5" Nolan Yonkman to his defense who started throwing his big paws towards Havlat. Yonkman would head to the box for roughing, while Havlat would earn two roughing minors for initiating the frakas. Minnesota was strong on the penalty kill, winning the draws and keeping the Coyotes to the perimeter. Eventually the Coyotes fired a shot from the point that reached Theodore and the puck was just out of reach by Hanzal who was looking to wrap a shot around the Wild goaltender. In the closing seconds of the man advantage, Eric Belanger would hammer a slap shot on goal that created a bit of a rebound and Theodore would pounce on the puck for a whistle. A failed clearing attempt by Brent burns would turn to be disastrous as the puck would eventually would be worked out to the point where Adrian Aucoin let loose a wrist shot from the high slot that was redirected by Ed Jovanovski to give Phoenix a 1-0 lead with just under a minute left to play in the 1st period. The Wild tried to counter attack and Matt Cullen found some room and set up Antti Miettinen for a quick chance that he fired off the right post and Minnesota headed to the lockeroom a bit disappointed after trailing by one going into the 2nd.
The Coyotes had to feel pretty good leading after 1-0 despite giving the Wild 3 nearly consecutive power plays early in the 1st period. The Coyotes controlled the play nicely by winning a battle along the boards and worked it into the Minnesota zone where David Schlemko held the offensive zone before flinging a wrist shot that was stopped by Theodore. The Wild seemed real nonchalant, but a long pass would free Martin Havlat on a breakaway and he moved in but would lose the handle as LaBarbera attempted a poke check that perhaps drew his concentration away from the puck and it was another opportunity missed. Phoenix would cycle the puck down low in the Wild zone, and it was Lee Stempniak making a nice little power move towards the crease but he'd lose sight of the puck and Minnesota was able to clear the zone. The Coyotes were outhustling Minnesota and Lauri Korpikoski had a fine opportunity with a quick wrist shot that was knocked down by Theodore and Koivu was just able to sweep away the rebound before the Coyotes could pounce on a 2nd opportunity. Phoenix would add to its lead, as Pierre-Marc Bouchard would ge bounced off the puck and that would lead over to Shane Doan who raced into the Wild zone where he slid a backhanded cross-ice pass to Scottie Upshall who blistered a slap shot by Theodore to give the Coyotes a 2-0 lead. The Coyotes seemed to sense the Wild's lack of initiative and seemed to recognize a chance to put a nail in the Wild's coffin as they raced in on the forecheck before working a pass out to Ray Whitney who tee'd up a slapper that was gloved and held onto by Theodore. Phoenix really had Minnesota chasing around its own zone, as Martin Hanzal found a little space but his backhander would flutter wide of the goal. The Wild again tried another long pass to what looked like a potential 2-on-1 but the pass was off the mark. Phoenix was winning every race to the loose pucks and the Coyotes nearly added to their two-goal lead with a nice little play where Vernon Fiddler put a backhand on goal that was blocked wide by Theodore. Minnesota would try to counter attack and it was Havlat making a pretty saucer pass through the legs of the Coyotes' Schlemko to a crashing Brent Burns who redirected a shot wide of the Phoenix goal. Havlat continued to move his feet well and he took two fine wrist shots that required nice saves by LaBarbera before he'd cover up the biscuit for a whistle. Minnesota kept up its pressure as Pierre-Marc Bouchard worked the puck along the boards before sliding it to Kyle Brodziak who got off a weak shot that was no real problem for LaBarbera to freeze. The Wild tried to answer back with its top line as they worked a few quick redirect plays that didn't go on goal as Koivu and Brunette roved near the Phoenix goal. Minnesota would try again and it was Jared Spurgeon taking a long range wrist shot that was deflected aside by LaBarbera at the last second who struggled to see it through a Havlat screen. The Wild would try to stir things up with some physicality as Eric Nystrom leveled Upshall with a big hit. Minnesota started to try to play fancy hockey and this would lead to some turnovers as an ill-advised Havlat passed turned into a rush for Korpikoski. Even if they were not necessarily translating to scoring chances for the Coyotes, turnovers served to keep Minnesota out of this game. Minnesota would finally create some quality pressure as the energy line of Nystrom, John Madden and Marek Zidlicky worked the puck well down low where Madden found some room where he tried to set up Zidlicky waiting near the crease but it failed to connect. In the closing seconds of the period, Martin Havlat really started to show some intensity, especially after a terrible icing call where Havlat clearly was the first one to reach the puck. He would argue the poor call but Minnesota would lose out and the faceoff was sent out to center ice. Minnesota would win the draw and then go on the attack where Havlat tried to backhand a Mikko Koivu pass on goal but LaBarbera would shut the door. Adding insult to injury, the Coyotes would earn a power play with just 10 seconds left in the period when Phoenix blueliner Keith Yandle would take a dive drawing a hooking call on Koivu who protested rather vehemently to no avail as the Wild trailed by two going into the 3rd.
The State of Hockey would start the 3rd period on the penalty kill and they seemed relaxed as they dumped the puck deep into the Wild zone where they chased it down but Minnesota was using active sticks to disrupt the passing lanes to control the puck and work it back into the Phoenix zone. The lone scoring chance the Coyotes had on the power play was a close in chance where the puck was just out of reach of Wojtek Wolski and Minnesota was able to sweep the puck out of danger and get it out of harm's way. With the penalty killed off, the Wild would try to go on the attack. A nice little play with the stick to deflect a pass would be pounced upon by Havlat who raced up the ice for the puck and had a 2-on-1 with Bouchard, but Havlat wasn't looking to pass as he fired a wrist shot that was blocked up and over the Coyotes goal. A few moments later the top line would show some good initiative as Mikko Koivu carried the puck down low, made a slight turn and drove to the net looking for the stuff in but LaBarbera stood tall as the Wild tried to jam the puck by him and Brunette would pick up the rebound and he'd move behind the Phoenix goal where he tried to set up Koivu who got off a quick shot that was again stopped by LaBarbera. Minnesota was showing some desperation as John Madden raced back to help out defensively after a mishandle of the puck near the blueline by Andrew Brunette nearly turned into a 3-on-1 for Phoenix and it was Madden's hustle that denied Upshall of a great chance to score. The Coyotes were very relaxed, content to just work the puck deep and retreat and play a very passive 1-2-2 waiting to create turnovers in the neutral zone. The Wild just did not seem to have a lot of legs at this point in the game; lots of gliding and floating while Phoenix was moving its feet well and having little trouble playing keep away. Minnesota would continue to try to mount an attack to get back into the game and again it was the modified 2nd line leading the way as Bouchard found Havlat in the slot for a quick shot that was steered aside by LaBarbera. The Wild would get lucky just about a minute later when a nice play along the boards by Martin Hanzal who knocked a puck off the boards to a wide open Ray Whitney who had a near open net to work with and he fired a shot on the open net only to be denied by a diving play by Brent Burns who knocked it down with his glove. Minnesota would finally get some luck after a nice little rush by Patrick O'Sullivan who beat a few defenders with some slick litle moves and he drove to the net forcing LaBarbera to stack the pads but Cullen was there to lift a shot up and over the sprawling Coyotes goaltender to cut the Phoenix lead to one, 2-1. The Wild were still playing aggressively looking to go on the assault with each possession, and it was Bouchard making a nice veteran play to protect the puck near center ice with his body as he passed it back to Havlat who was really skating with vigor as he stepped around Ed Jovanovski before firing a backhander that was held onto by LaBarbera. Every rush up the ice had a level of anxiety that went with it, and you could hear the crowd's anticipation with each shot, but the Coyotes would do a decent job of diminishing that with some great hustle and mucking up the play along the boards. Minnesota had another solid shift from its 2nd line who was showing more and more chemistry between Bouchard and Havlat as a long wrist shot from Brent Burns went on goal and the puck would end up on the stick of Bouchard who tried to chip a shot up and over LaBarbera but he was able to come up with the huge save. The near miss really stung, as the Coyotes would again show some nice hustle to make the Wild kill some time in its own zone and an unfortunate carom would allow the puck to get onto the stick of Eric Belanger who dished it over to Upshall who gunned a shot that would change directions as it glanced off of Zidlicky and by Theodore to give the Coyotes a 3-1 lead. With some of the fans leaving after the goal Minnesota would pull Theodore with about 1:30 left in the game. With an extra attacker the Wild worked the puck down low and Martin Havlat would out battle Nolan Yonkman for the puck and he'd give a no-look pass back to Koivu who buried a quick shot by LaBarbera. With a little more hope back in the game, Wild Head Coach Todd Richards would call a timeout to talk things over with his team as they hoped to get the equalizer with about a minute left to play. Minnesota would keep Theodore on the bench at the next faceoff, and Minnesota would lose the draw and the Coyotes were looking for the insurance goal, but some good hustle by Marek Zidlicky would foil Korpikoski's attempt to score on the empty net. The Wild would work the puck back into the zone, but the Coyotes would win the race for the loose biscuit and the puck would squirt loose to Korpikoski who flung a long wrist shot into the open goal to seal a 4-2 victory for Phoenix.
It seems like a broken record as of late, but you can't blame Jose Theodore as he made 32 saves in the loss. He made several stops with a fair amount of traffic in front of his crease and the game could've been a lot more lopsided if it hadn't been for his solid play between the pipes. Defensively the Wild were not moving their feet well enough, especially in the 2nd period when there were numerous instances when the team just sort of stood out there. Minnesota did not give up a power play goal, and the Wild did play aggressively on the penalty kill but the team also suffered from some rather lazy backchecking by some of its forwards. Cam Barker also had another miserable game.
Offensively, Minnesota really was let down by its inability to cash in on 6 minutes of power play time to start the game. It was absolutely embarassing, not only did they not score but they barely created any offensive pressure at all. Instead of being full of energy at this fortuitous opportunity to start the game you'd swear the team felt it was up by 3 goals with just a few minutes left as their level of urgency was minimal. No real rush to make the entry into the zone right and the result was the fact the Wild nearly killed over half of its 4-minute power play just attempting to get set up in the zone. The big long penalty kill effort emboldened the Coyotes who immediately began using its speed to create space against the slower Wild. At even strength only one Wild forward showed energy and initiative all game long, Martin Havlat. Havlat is playing like a confident and dominant player that he can be when he's motivated to do so. He was the only one that was able to create scoring opportunities by himself. Otherwise, the rest of Minnesota's forwards did not seem interested in doing much of anything offensively until the 3rd period and the team was trailing by two. Pierre-Marc Bouchard seemed to get better with each shift, and it still remains to be seen if he can take a big hit but his passing skill looked very sharp and he had some good chemistry with Havlat which may help both get rolling on the stat sheet. Mikko Koivu finally managed to find the net, but he really didn't show up until the latter half of the 3rd period which makes you have to question the desire of the team captain. Much the same could be said for Patrick O'Sullivan who floated for 2 1/2 periods before he finally started to show some jump and heart and he gave a few glimpses of his skill as he made a nice rush to set up Cullen's goal.
The painful fact of the matter is that through 2 1/2 periods of this game, that with the lone exceptions of Havlat and Theodore this team simply did not seem to care as much about the outcome of this game as Phoenix did. Both teams were coming off of losses and the team that wanted it more showed up to play right away, and it was almost as if the Wild had to be reminded that this game was important enough to battle for. This has become a disturbing trend for the Wild all season thus far. Wild fans are really starting to grumble about this and you can hear it in the stands too; its not quite a Gopher football type of sarcasm in the stands but its getting close. Any team is judged by the way it handles adversity and overall Minnesota has had it fairly easy in that department, but right now its clear the team's confidence is very fragile. Either way, a pro sports season never gives you long to think before you're given your next challenge. Minnesota could exercise some demons if they can manage to earn a win against Calgary Friday night. So far it looks like Cinderella has found herself in rags and the carriage has turned back into a pumpkin but with so much season left and teams jumping all over the standings with a few wins or a few losses there is still hope for a fairy tale ending.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, Martin Havlat, Eric Nystrom, Cal Clutterbuck, Patrick O'Sullivan, Kyle Brodziak, Brad Staubitz, John Madden, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Jared Spurgeon, Greg Zanon, Cam Barker and Brent Burns. Niklas Backstrom backed up Jose Theodore. Clayton Stoner and Justin Falk were the healthy scratches. Guillaume Latendresse is still recovering from groin and sports hernia surgery while Chuck Kobasew is still out while he helps out his sick mother.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let's Play Hockey were: 1st Star Jason LaBarbera, 2nd Star Scottie Upshall, 3rd Star Martin Havlat
~ Tonight's attendance was 17,101, meaning the Wild have had just two sellouts this season.
Wild Prospect Report:
D - Sean Lorenz ~ Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
2010-11 Stats: 15GP 2G 3A = 5pts 8 PIM's
Safe and steady is the best way to describe Sean Lorenz's game as he plays on Notre Dame's 2nd defensive pairing. Possessing decent mobility and a good first pass Lorens is a stay at home defenseman has found a little bit more offense to his game this season. He'll never be a big time scorer, but he certainly looks like he could be serviceable NHL defenseman someday as he plays the consistent no-nonsense style of game that NHL coaches love. However when he does manage to find the back of the net it can be significant as his shorthanded game-winner against Michigan State two weeks ago would suggest. After having played for the U.S. National Development Program the Littleton, Colorado-native has made steady progress and may not be at the top of the Wild's list of prospects but consistency has been a hallmark of the Junior's game the last few seasons.
D - Kyle Medvec ~ Vermont Catamounts (Hockey East)
2010-11 Stats: 11GP 0G 1A = 1pt 14 PIM's
Perhaps there is a little reason to be concerned at the progress (or lack thereof) of big bodied defenseman Kyle Medvec. The 6'6" senior is having a rough season (as are the Catamounts who are 1-6-4) and has been relegated to the team's 3rd pairing. While he is strong and physical, mobility is an issue as the Catamounts were thrashed 6-0 by defending national champion Boston College last week where Medvec was a -2. The Apple Valley, Minnesota-native has struggled to establish consistency, and that was best seen last year when he was a healthy scratch against Wisconsin during regional action played at Xcel Energy Center. Medvec's future with the Wild organization is uncertain, and while his size may make the team wish to offer him a professional contract he certainly seems to project as a long-term project.