In the days after Christmas is a time to cash in gift cards, spend some holiday cash or return items that either you did not want, already have or simply do not work for you. That being said, now is the time where stores and shopping centers can be an absolute zoo activity as people hope for post-Christmas sales or return those items for something they actually want. It may make you feel a tad bit guilty for giving back gifts like that, but at the end of the day its meant to be a gift and you should be able to get what you really want. We all know the gift giver who simply gives you something they want as opposed to what you wish. I have friends that are in retail, and I do not envy them as they face an endless wave of pushy customers. Especially to those working in returns, they deserve some rest and relaxation after the holidays wind down. With that being said the Wild seem to be in this returning sort of mood. Where they return leads and power play chances for losses and failed opportunities. Certainly not a good formula for your fanbase to digest but Minnesota is being a little too giving right now. I personally would like to see the Wild return some of its losses for the type of gifts it was giving fans prior to the holiday break. Is that really too much to ask?
Tonight the Wild travel to almost never friendly confines of Nationwide Arena; where Nationwide is certainly not on the Wild's side. Blue Jackets fans hate the Wild with a passion and while they are hesitant to admit it, its more a matter of jealousy than anything else. The Blue Jackets still have yet to win a single playoff game, and the attendance figures for this season reflect that. In fact, you could almost say the Blue Jackets are nearing crisis mode. So while they make a strong case to be given another gift tonight, I hope the return to their homes in the Columbus area empty and distraught. The Wild need the wins and to quote Clark Gable from Gone with the Wind, when considering the plight of the Blue Jackets (ironically enough a team with a Civil War theme), "Frankly, I don't give a damn. So will the Wild be overly generous road guests or will they give Columbus fans something more to mope about?
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Minnesota had good jump to start the game, starting with a solid shift by the top line where Brent Burns fed a puck up to Mikko Koivu in the slot who tried to fire a shot on goal that was blocked by Jan Hejda. The Blue Jackets would try to answer back but Minnesota was aggressive through the neutral zone and Kyle Brodziak raced into the Columbus zone and he wound up and uncorked a slapper that was stopped by a leg pad save by Steve Mason. The Wild continued to pour it on, and a steal in the neutral zone turned into a big slap shot by Nick Schultz that was stopped by Mason who gave up a big rebound into the slot that was pounced upon by Chuck Kobasew who banged it home to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. Columbus has tried to answer back but Minnesota was anticipating well, and moving its feet and playing physically along the boards and keeping the Blue Jackets at bey. Marco Scandella would battle Antoine Vermette, and throw his 6'3" frame against the Jackets' young forward and win the struggle for the biscuit and Minnesota was able to clear the zone. Minnesota was taking the hits when necessary, but they were chipping the pucks away to their supporting forwards and defenseman. Columbus kept swarming, and a point shot by Hejda where Chris Clark tried to jam it by Jose Theodore who held onto make the save. A thwarted rush by Martin Havlat would turn into a great scoring chance for Rick Nash who dangled the puck a bit to get some space from Schultz before unleashing a heavy wrister from the slot that missed wide. Jared Boll, was not happy after being tripped up a bit by Mikko Koivu and Boll took a run at Koivu getting his elbows up as he attempted an open ice hit. That would demand an immediate response and that would come from Brad Staubitz who challenged Boll to drop the gloves and soon after throwing down it was Staubitz was firing right hands that were landing, but Boll would regain his composure and start throwing some good punches of his own including a few uppercuts. Ultimately it was Boll getting tagged a few more times as Staubitz earned the win. With both pugilists sitting for two minutes, the Wild would try to go on the attack and they nearly were able to add another goal as Antti Miettinen's bid would miss off the side of the goal. The physical play was really starting to increase as both teams were throwing their bodies around with reckless abandon. Minnesota would earn a power play as Marc Methot was given a minor for slashing. The Blue Jackets penalty killers were challenging Minnesota through the neutral zone but the Wild were able to get set up where they created a chance from the slot for Koivu that was steered wide by Mason just before Miettinen could pounce on the rebound it was swept out of danger by Hejda. The Wild was still playing physical on the power play as Cam Barker leveled Ethan Moreau with a huge hit that probably should've been flagged for interference. Minnesota had one last quality scoring chance on the man advantage when Martin Havlat worked a pretty give and go to Andrew Brunette who skated in on Mason where he deked and tried beating him 5-hole but Mason would shut the window down at the last moment. The Wild would come up empty on the power play, but Columbus was not done going after Barker as Clark and Moreau would exchange a few smelly gloves and words after a failed scoring chance. The Blue Jackets continued to look for the equalizer and they nearly had it when Nash set up Vermette for a blistering one-timer that missed just wide of the mark. The Wild would earn its 2nd power play of the game, when Sami Pahlsson hauled down Chuck Kobasew. On the power play, Minnesota moved puck out to the points but Columbus was positioned well to deny the long range shots from the point. Andrew Brunette would have a nice backhand opportunity off an initial blast from the point by Marek Zidlicky. The Wild would retain about 29 seconds of power play time going into the 2nd period up 1-0.
The Wild were not able to do much of anything with the final 29 seconds of the power play, as Columbus won the draw and was able to control the puck and prevent Minnesota from generating any sort of offensive pressure. Columbus was trying to ramp up its physical play, and Mike Commodore was definitely head hunting for Wild players as he nearly sent Eric Nystrom's face into his bench and moments later he would hit Cal Clutterbuck from behind for an obvious charging call. The boo's would really cascade down from Nationwide Arena as the bad news came over the PA that Commodore was getting hit with a 5-minute major and deservedly so as Clutterbuck was already being engaged by Marc Methot. With Minnesota earning a 5-minute power play, it was a giant opportunity to really break open the game. However, it was obvious from the start Minnesota had looked at the generous time for the man advantage and relaxed its posture, as the Wild really were lacking in movement and creativity as they set up chances from the point that were easy for Steve Mason to steer aside. The Wild's lack of dynamic puck movement would also make it easy to force Minnesota to pass up shooting opportunities and it didn't help when they did manage to get Columbus' penalty killers to move a bit they weren't taking one-timers forcing them to lose their windows to fire the puck. The Wild would lose its advantage when Kyle Brodziak would try to step over Mason only to be knocked into the Blue Jackets goalie by Fedor Tyutin giving Brodziak a goaltender interference penalty. With the ice a bit more open, the Wild did not do too much as they could sense the tide of the game was starting to shift in Columbus' favor. With the Wild back on the power play, the Wild would try to move the puck with more zip and crispness to their passes as they had a brief 4-on-3 and an even a short-lived 5-on-3 but again all Minnesota was able to create were a few blasts from the point that Mason was able to stop. The best chance for this prolonged Minnesota power play was when Havlat carried the puck down low to Andrew Brunette who moved the puck out towards the crease where Mason over committed going way out of his crease to challenge the Wild veteran but he did not pay for his mistake and Brunette never even managed to register a shot on goal. The failed opportunity would embolden the Blue Jackets who were really flying all over the ice and rather predictably Minnesota would pay the price on the scoreboard as Kristian Huselius took advantage of a tired Wild line and he set up Derrick Brassard for a quick shot from the slot that beat Theodore to tie the game at 1-1. The Wild really was on its heels, as Columbus was being very aggressive on the forecheck and for a time Minnesota had sat back in rope-a-dope mode. The Wild would start to break out of its defensive shell late in the period and in the last 30 seconds, Antti Miettinen would steal a puck in the neutral zone where he skated into the Columbus end, drawing their defense to him before threading a pass to Mikko Koivu in the slot who evaded a defender before ripping a wrist shot by Mason with just 1.9 seconds to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead. Minnesota may have outshot the Blue Jackets' 14 to 6 but the period still felt like a defeat despite holding onto the lead.
In the 3rd period with Minnesota holding the lead, the Wild would pay dearly for some laziness early on. One player who was really getting involved physically was Brad Staubitz who would end up dropping the gloves with big Tom Sestito. Sestito who had 3 inches of height and nearly 30 pounds was a physical mismatch but Staubitz stood in as he threw a few punches before Sestito's size and strength took over, a clear win for the Blue Jackets big man. A botched play behind the net by Brent Burns who whiffed at the puck which had been dropped to him was swept towards Pierre-Marc Bouchard who also whiffed on a chance to clear the zone and the puck ended up on the stick of Tyutin who wound up and rifled a slap shot by Theodore to tie the game at 2-2. The bleeding did not stop there as the Blue Jackets continued to battle as Minnesota was just trying to weather another storm of activity in their zone. Minnesota tried to dish out some hits of its own as Nystrom and Clutterbuck delivered some punishment. The Blue Jackets would take the lead for the first time on some great hustle by former Bemidji State star Andrew Murray who used his 6'3" frame to protect the puck from Mikko Koivu who inexplicably just let him go and Murray skated behind the Wild goal and he threw a shot towards the goal and the puck snuck by the skate of Theodore who had failed to guard the post, 3-2 Columbus. With the game slipping away from the Wild they would begin to try to go on the attack in search of the equalizer. Minnesota would earn just that a few minutes later when Cal Clutterbuck raced into the zone where a shot taken wide of the goal would carom off the boards back towards the crease where it was tapped in by Clutterbuck tying the game at 3 apiece. The Wild would continue to attack; even having young Marco Scandella join the play as Minnesota hoped to tally the go-ahead goal. The Wild really was hoping to avoid overtime, and Minnesota was playing like a desperate team. Rick Nash would find some space, and he'd fire a wrist shot on goal that was steered wide by Theodore. Minnesota would counter attack with a long pass to Mikko Koivu who had managed to get behind the Blue Jackets defense but he just didn't have enough gas in the tank to move in close so he unleashed a slap shot that was gloved by Mason and the game would go to overtime.
In overtime, the Wild again would dominate the play setting up a variety of shooting opportunities but few were making it to Mason as Columbus was dropping to the ice to block them. The Wild had a few great chances; but all too often a great effort would be foiled by a bouncing puck. The first great opportunity came off a nice power move by Martin Havlat who skated around Tuytin for a backhander on goal that was trapped against the side of the goal by Mason. The Wild had an even better chance a bit later on a nice wrist shot by Marco Scandella that was redirected by Koivu that Mason was just able to get a leg pad on and then he stopped Koivu's rebound bid as well. A few moments later a centering pass was put towards Havlat but he missed the bouncing puck and Minnesota's bid to end the game in overtime would end in failure sending the game to a shootout.
In the shootout, the Blue Jackets would opt to shoot first and their first shooter was Rick Nash. The Blue Jackets captain would take a wide right approach where he moved into the slot and he fired a wrister that beat Theodore stick side where the Wild did not even attempt to make a save, 1-0 Columbus. Minnesota would send out its captain, Mikko Koivu as its first shooter where he'd also take a slightly wide right approach where he'd try to fire a wrister which was blocked to the corner by Mason. The Blue Jackets' next shooter was former Wild draft pick Kyle Wilson, where he moved in and beat Theodore with a wrist shot that went just over his glove, 2-0 Columbus. The Wild would go to Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and he'd move left and then move into the slot where he gave a bit of a shoulder fake that got Mason to commit and he made a little toe drag before sliding home a goal with a forehand, 2-1 Columbus. With an opportunity to seal the game, the Blue Jackets sent out Kristian Huselius who took a sort of a meandering approach before pulling the trigger on a snap shot that beat Theodore 5-hole to give the Blue Jackets a 4-3 shootout victory.
It was certainly not a great night for Jose Theodore, who gave up 3 goals on 22 shots including all 3 attempts in the shootout. He was shaky at the points in the game where Minnesota really needed a save and while it certainly was not all his fault for the loss he did not do what was needed to bail his team out. Tyutin's goal was particularly bad considering there was no screen or deflection and he was beat cleanly on a slap shot taken from on top of the right faceoff circle. Defensively the Wild were inconsistent. At times they were strong on the puck and making smart plays to get the puck out of the dangerous areas of the ice, but at others the team was careless in its own end and its inability to make those simple things happen would come back to haunt them big time.
However the real reason the Wild lost this game was its failure to score on the man advantage, going 0-for-7 on the night. Minnesota's failure to score on the 5 minute major to Mike Commodore was a turning point in the game and deprived the Wild a chance to put this game away as it should have. The team had its ideal start of getting a quick lead and when a team like Columbus is undisciplined you have to make them pay and when you don't do that you often end up getting burned and that is precisely what happened. I have little doubt the Wild locker room was pretty gloomy after tonight's game but this is certainly two points the team not only should've had but it had to have.
Minnesota cannot waste too much time pouting about tonight's outcome because it has to prepare itself for another tough battle against the San Jose Sharks who lost to the Los Angeles Kings 4-0 meaning they will be a very focused and intense group on Wednesday. The Sharks are going to be physical and the Wild cannot get caught just watching and not moving its feet. I am not sure what Head Coach Todd Richards will say to the Wild tonight but after having a nice little burst before the small holiday break it now seems like a long time ago after dropping 2 straight. All one can hope is that they manage to turn things around.
~ The Wild lineup tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Kyle Brodziak, John Madden, Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Eric Nystrom, Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen, Chuck Kobasew, Brad Staubitz, Nick Schultz, Cam Barker, Marco Scandella, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky and Brent Burns. Niklas Backstrom backed up Jose Theodore. Jared Spurgeon, Patrick O'Sullivan and Clayton Stoner were the healthy scratches. Guillaume Latendresse is still trying to recover from surgery he had nearly a month ago.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Steve Mason, 2nd Star Rick Nash, 3rd Star Kristian Huselius
~ Attendance tonight at Nationwide Arena was 14,454.
~ The Houston Aeros would answer an early power play goal by the San Antonio Rampage, to earn a 2-1 victory on goals from Carson McMillan and a shorthanded goal by Robbie Earl which ended up being the game winner. All the goals were scored in the first and it was just a matter of defending their lead and Mike Yeo's squad did whatever they could to help out Anton Khudobin who had 39 saves in the victory. The Aeros were outshot 40 to 17, so to say Khudobin earned the first star is almost an understatement. The Aeros play in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW - Jason Zucker ~ Team USA (World Junior Championships U-20)
2010 Stats: 1GP 1G 0A = 1pt
Jason Zucker has had a tremendous season with the University of Denver and so far it has carried over at the U-20 World Junior championships in Buffalo, New York. The Las Vegas, Nevada-native has surprised many with his finishing ability and his knack for timely goals. Zucker is continuing this trend with a crucial game-tying goal in Team USA's opening game with Finland, where the defending World Junior Champion squad managed to earn a 3-2 overtime victory on a goal by former Blaine Bengal Nick Bjugstad. He continues to be an important component of Team USA and key cog of the Wild's prospect pool.
High School Boys Hockey Report:
Blaine Bengals (Northwest Suburban Conference) ~ 5-0-2 record
Most recent game: Blaine 3, Minnetonka 3
The Blaine Bengals look as though they have another strong team, and co-coaches Dave and Peter Aus are hoping to win another Northwest Suburban Conference title, as well as earn another trip to the State Tournament. The Bengals had to rally back late to preserve a 3-3 tie against #8 (Class 2A) Minnetonka. A fairly balanced Blaine attack is led by forwards, senior Johnny Brodzinski (6 goals, 17 points) and junior Dylan Lambert (6 goals, 14 points). It is a season of transition and has some grumbling about what "could have been" if current Golden Gopher, Nick Bjugstad hadn't accelerated his studies and graduated a year early. Junior, Nick Malvin carries the mail between the pipes with a 3-0-2 record, a 2.12 goals against average, and a .924% save percentage.
White Bear Lake Bears (Suburban East Conference) ~ 5-2-0 record
Most recent game: White Bear Lake 0, Hill-Murray 3
It is one of the more dominant teams in the Metro area season after season, the White Bear Lake Bears again find themselves amongst Minnesota's elite high school programs. Head Coach Tim Sager guides a team that hopes to make a run to the State Tournament in March. Yet there is one major stumbling block along the way, its arch-rival Hill-Murray and the Bears failed its most recent test as the Pioneers routed the Bears 3-0 last week Thursday. White Bear Lake will have to wait until the section playoffs to have another shot at the Pioneers. The Bears are led by senior forwards Brandon Wahlin (11 goals, 20 points) and Mac Jensen (10 goals, 14 points) but it can be argued that White Bear Lake is more of a one line team. If that lack of offensive punch may be considered a detriment it may not be so limiting when you have big bodied (6'1' 247lbs) junior goaltender Jared Schletty between the pipes who sports a 3-1 record, a rock solid 1.55 goals against average and a stingy .926% save percentage. The Bears next game is this Thursday against the Blaine Bengals.