If only video games would be like reality? You could be responsible for saving the planet from alien invaders, playing a crucial role in the outcome of World War II and leading your favorite NHL team to a Stanley Cup all on the same day. Unbelievable and out of touch with reality, certainly. Case in point, I am playing a season with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Baie-Comeau Drakkar in Electronic Arts' NHL '11 where currently I'm 45-1-0. I have little doubt that the Drakkar wish that were only true, as reality has been far more harsh 4-22-4-4, which is one of the worst records in all of Canadian major junior hockey right now. How bad is it in Baie-Comeau? In the most recent issue of the Hockey News reported that the team recently dealt its leading scorer at the time Pierrick Martel (14 games, 8 goals, 14 points) because he stated that he didn't feel like being apart of a turnaround in Baie-Comeau. The team responded with indignation and a quick trade to the Gatineau Olympiques. Ouch! With all that having been said, video games obviously do not mirror reality but they're certainly popular and they are a multi-billion dollar industry. Even in this tough economy, millions of kids across the United States shelled out about $60 for Activision's Call of Duty: Black Ops allowing it to gross $600+ million in the first week alone! That would represent over a 1/4th of what the NHL earns in an entire season! So whether these coveted 18-24 years old males are staying up late; the statistics would indicate they're likely playing video games rather than watching / playing hockey. Sad statistics unless you're a member of Activision or any of the major producers of video game systems; Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. As fun as it was back in the day to play a game of Konami's Blades of Steel or Nintendo's Ice Hockey they could never come close to replacing the opportunity to watch the real deal.
So what does this have to do with the Wild, it'd be easier if this was a video game. If this was my current Wild season the team would be undefeated and team captain Mikko Koivu would have 15 goals. As was stated before, reality is very different. Instead of being undefeated the team is more or less at .500 and the team's top goal scorers all currently have just 7 goals at a similar point in the season. The Wild are leaving the very snowy confines of the Twin Cities for the far more reasonable weather of Southern California when they play against the Kings this evening. Los Angeles have won their last 3 games while Minnesota is coming off a quality win against the Phoenix Coyotes. So will the Wild resemble those on my NHL '11 season or will it be a painful dose of reality?
Click on "Read More" to see the rest of the article...
The Wild would get a very lucky break to start the game, as the Kings' Drew Doughty would tee up a slapper that would hit some traffic near the top of the crease and into the goal but the goal was immediately waived off by NHL referee Don VanMassenhoven who said Dustin Brown did not allow Jose Theodore to make the save. The Los Angeles crowd was not impressed with the call, and the Kings were playing as though they were angry as Brown delivered a big hit to Mikko Koivu. A few moments later, Greg Zanon would be leveled by a big clean shoulder hit by Alexei Ponikarovsky and this caused Kyle Brodziak to race in to defend his teammate as he grabbed Ponikarovsky. As Brodziak was wrestling with Ponikarovsky when Wayne Simmonds came to his defense which caused Zanon to grab ahold of Simmonds. Brodziak would be given a cross-checking penalty and the Kings would go on the power play. Los Angeles had a great chance early as Jack Johnson blistered a slap shot that was redirected wide by Michal Handzus. Minnesota would have a little luck as Jonathan Quick left his crease to play the puck, he tried to pass it to Anze Kopitar but instead his pass went right to Mikko Koivu who wasted no time in firing a shot into the empty net for a 1-0 lead on the shorthanded tally. The Wild would try to build on its lead as the top line tried to take the puck to the net and Chuck Kobasew was shut down on his small backhander, and after Quick made the save there was some pushing and shoving near the crease and Koivu exchanged some nasty words with Ryan Smyth. The Kings' Alec Martinez would be tagged with a hooking penalty giving the Wild its first power play of the game. Minnesota did not make much of anything happen with the man advantage, bad passes and good active sticks by the Kings penalty killers prevented the Wild from sustaining any sort of offensive pressure. The Kings tried to answer back, but the Wild were also showing a willingness to take the body as Cal Clutterbuck was throwing his frame around. Minnesota's Brad Staubitz would take a foolish slashing penalty for a needless chop at the leg of Kopitar putting the Wild on the penalty kill. Minnesota had a close call early on the power play as a long range shot by Doughty was covered up by Theodore who did a snow angel in his crease. The officials thought Smyth knocked Theodore over and he was sent to the box for goaltender interference negating the Kings' power play. With the ice a bit more open 4-on-4 Dustin Brown stepped around a would be defender and looked to have a great scoring chance only to have the puck stolen from him by a nice play by Brent Burns. The Wild was not being the most disciplined as Marek Zidlicky was tagged with a cross checking penalty. Minnesota's penalty killers were more aggressive and challenging the Kings puck carriers well as Clutterbuck did a great job of winning the races to the loose pucks and then burning power play time by skating it deep into the Kings' zone. With another Kings' power play killed off the Wild continued to frustrate the Kings who were trying to increase their physicality but Minnesota was dishing out some hits of their own. One player trying to use his speed and willingness to forecheck was Warren Peters who nearly pulled down Wayne Simmonds. The Wild's 2nd line of Martin Havlat, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brodziak would find some space and it was Havlat carrying the puck to the slot before dishing it off to Bouchard who got off a quick snap shot that hit the side of the goal. Minnesota would fend off a few late chances by the Kings, but Theodore was seeing the puck well through the traffic near his crease and the Wild took their 1-0 lead into the 2nd period.
Jose Theodore found himself again under siege early to start, the 2nd but he was absorbing pucks well and not giving the Kings to have secondary chances via rebounds. The Wild tried to counter attack and Eric Nystrom would find some time and space as he hammered a slap shot that was gloved by Quick. The Kings tried to work the puck down low and use their superior size as they tried to take advantage of diminutive Wild defender Jared Spurgeon, but the smallish defenseman did a fine job of poke checking the puck away. A few moments later, Brad Staubitz would drop the gloves with the Kings' Kyle Clifford and the youngster quickly gained an advantage as Staubitz tried to lean out of range. Staubitz worked himself towards Clifford's body until he pushed himself back as he was hoping to be able to throw some punches but the youngster quickly reacted and threw some quick left handed jabs that withered the Wild tough guy as he fell backwards to the ice. A clearcut victory for Clifford. As the fans at Staples Center relished the fight, the Wild had a fantastic scoring chance as Martin Havlat was able to race around Drew Doughty for a breakaway and he'd lean to his left before backhanding a shot to the right that was gloved by a sprawling Quick. Havlat's failed attempt did draw a hooking penalty on Doughty and the Wild would go on the power play. Minnesota was moving the puck well early as they set up Pierre-Marc Bouchard for a shot but he passed up the opportunity and instead looked to pass and as he moved behind the goal where he passed it back out to Zidlicky who attempted another pass which was deflected out of the offensive zone. The Kings did a nice job of using their sticks to deny passing and shooting lanes and the Wild would again come up empty on the power play. Los Angeles would go back on the attack, putting bodies near the top of the crease as Johnson again fired a shot that missed wide of the mark. The Kings were persistent as they got Minnesota to scramble and a quick shot from the slot by Kopitar that was stopped by Theodore but it gave a big rebound and Brown fired the biscuit into the goal to tie the game at 1-1. However the good feelings for Los Angeles would be short-lived as right off the faceoff the puck was dumped down the ice by Cam Barker and as Quick raced back to play the dump in he tried to pass it which was stolen by Clutterbuck who quickly pulled the puck out front and into the open net to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead. Make that Quick's 2nd assist of the game. With the crowd at Staples Center rather silent, they'd get a small reprieve when Warren Peters would hold up Trevor Lewis earning him a 2-minute sit in the penalty box. The Wild's penalty kill was forcing the Kings to perimeter as they were more than happy to take a few token chances which attempted to take advantage of the traffic near the Minnesota crease. The Wild were quick to pounce and sweep the puck out of their own zone and as they flung the puck down the ice Jonathan Quick would hear 3 separate Bronx cheers as he played the puck to his defenseman. No sooner than the Wild had killed off the penalty they'd take another when Nick Schultz was given a minor for high sticking. The Kings would again take the long range chance from the point hoping that the traffic will affect Theodore's game but he was focused and making the saves with Kings' forwards in his face. Minnesota's penalty killers again tried to be aggressive in killing some time with good forechecking as Nystrom worked the puck deep into the Kings' zone and then trying to muck up the play along the boards. The Kings would have a few close calls late in the power play as a blast from the point by Johnson was redirected just over the crossbar by Smyth, and then a few seconds after that Kopitar rang a slap shot off the pipe behind Theodore but the Wild would get the big kill. Minnesota was standing up for themselves and as the Kings tried to assert the play down low as Kyle Clifford would exchange a few shoves with Cam Barker who was chirping quite a bit and playing the body well. At the very end of the period, Eric Nystrom would drop the gloves with Wayne Simmonds and Simmonds did not appear to want to engage in hockey fight style, and his first punch missed and Nystrom tagged him with a jab of his own. Then they finally grabbed hold and it was a very wild (no pun intended) affair with both pugilists swinging with reckless abandon until finally the officials stepped in what looked more like a lunchroom brawl between two girls. In the closing seconds the Wild would give the Kings another power play when Havlat got his stick into the grill of Handzus and the Kings would have the man advantage to start the 2nd period while Minnesota had to feel pretty lucky holding a 2-1 lead at this point in the game.
The Kings would be pressing hard right away to start the 3rd period as they had the power play. Minnesota was staying in a fairly tight box forcing Los Angeles to settle for the long point shot but the Kings were fine with that as Anze Kopitar blasted a slap shot that was stopped by Theodore and the rebound was shoveled home by Smyth who was waiting right by the crease. The Kings tried to work for the go-ahead goal as Trevor Lewis threaded a pass from behind the Wild goal out to Justin Williams for a one timer that was held onto by Theodore. The Wild would get a power play of its own when Cam Barker was high sticked by Ryan Smyth. Minnesota moved the puck effectively, setting up a slapper by Zidlicky taken from the right faceoff dot that missed wide and the Wild would manage to hold the zone and Mikko Koivu tried to make a nice little pass to Zidlicky but his shot was directed wide by a diving play by Rob Scuderi. Minnesota had one great chance late as the penalty expired as Nystrom drove to the crease that Quick struggled with but the Wild just couldn't get the puck to settle for them. The Kings tried to counter attack, and as Theodore held onto a high shot by Kopitar the Kings' Smyth skated by and made a gesture towards the Wild goaltenders head that drew the ire of Brent Burns who shoved him backwards and then to the ice as he fell to the ice. Unfortunately for Minnesota the Wild, Burns would get a penalty for defending his goaltender. On the penalty kill the Wild was very aggressive, as Chuck Kobasew had some great effort to work the puck out of danger or sacrificing their body for the team as Zanon continued to block shots. After killing off yet another Kings penalty the Wild tried to create some offense of their own but that was tough when they couldn't seem to go much longer than 5 minutes without taking another penalty. Sure enough, a few minutes after its kill it was Antti Miettinen earning a double-minor for high sticking. The Wild penalty killers, probably exhausted by this point of the game attempted to defend a back door play from Smyth to Ponikarovsky and Theodore got across his crease to make a huge save. The Kings were relaxed, content to create their optimum scoring chance but Minnesota would be aggressive as the Los Angeles puck carriers would turn towards the boards and clearing the zone. The Wild challenged the point men well forcing them to move the puck quickly and active sticks would come up huge in disrupting the Kings power play and Minnesota got another huge kill. Minnesota was looking pretty tired after spending so much time on the penalty kill and Los Angeles tried to take advantage of that as Kyle Clifford motored around Spurgeon who was caught flat footed but Theodore challenged him well and his attempt at a wrap around would slide through the crease and out of the Wild zone. The Wild looked exhausted as they tried to go on the attack as Patrick O'Sullivan fired a shot that was blocked wide by Peter Harrold. In the closing seconds of the game, the Wild's Pierre-Marc Bouchard made a turnover deep in the Minnesota zone that turned into a shot for Simmonds that was blocked by a diving play by Zanon and Minnesota would try for one last chance and Havlat fed the puck back to Zidlicky who rifled a slap shot that was directed aside by Quick to send the game to overtime.
After some rather sloppy play to set up a rush, Minnesota had the first shot in overtime, a long range shot by Cam Barker that was easily held onto by Quick. Both teams seemed to want to slow things down at least initially in overtime as Minnesota was probably still catching its breath from all the time spent on the penalty kill. Anze Kopitar made a pretty move to step around Brent Burns and he'd set up a crashing Dustin Brown for a quick shot that was stonewalled by Theodore. Minnesota would try to coutner attack and as Kobasew pushed the puck into the corner he was held up by Drew Doughty who earned an interference call. On the 4-on-3 power play the Wild patiently moved the puck from the wall to the point before setting up a chance between Brunette and Havlat and his backhand bid was stuffed by Quick. Minnesota would work its 2nd unit and Pierre-Marc Bouchard was waiting for something to open up and he wound up and fired a shot that hit the left post, but the Wild held the zone and they worked the puck back down to O'Sullivan who passed it back out to the high slot where Burns unloaded a one-timer that beat Quick to give the State of Hockey a huge 3-2 victory.
Jose Theodore was absolutely outstanding, making 24 saves in the victory. He had traffic near his crease all night long yet he was making the stops and keeping Minnesota in a game it probably had no business being in. On the penalty kill, there needs to be a hockey equivalent of a silver star / purple heart given to Greg Zanon and honorable mention to guys like Chuck Kobasew who were dropping down to block shots at critical times to help out their goaltender. The Wild's blueliners were also physical when they needed to be and they were at least matching the physical play of the Kings forwards who have traditionally abused Minnesota players without much in response. The penalty kill was excellent, giving up just one goal on 8 Kings' power plays. The giant kill on the double minor to Miettinen demonstrated both great effort and just sheer will power to get out of that situation unscathed. Theodore credited the penalty kill for limiting the Kings' shots as the reason he was able to be so effective.
Offensively the Wild really didn't have anything of note to speak of in this game. None of the lines was really able to create much offensive pressure at all, and at best they were able to create just a shot and that was it. No sustained pressure. Minnesota was lucky that Jonathan Quick made two crucial errors but give the Wild a little credit for being in position to take advantage of those mistakes. With the lone exception of overtime, the power play looked pretty miserable. It struggled to get established in the offensive zone and too many times the Wild were passing up opportunities to shoot. Bouchard especially could stand to shoot the puck more often; and Havlat was far less assertive this evening looking more like the passive Havlat that doesn't want to take a chance by firing the puck on goal which has had him so successful as of late.
In all honesty the Wild did not deserve to win this game. The two goals it had in regulation were total gifts and while keeping the game close gave them the chance to earn 2 points, most nights this would've been a 2-0 loss for Minnesota. They must also be far more disciplined than they were tonight, way too many penalties. Especially foolish lazy penalties of the slashing and high sticking variety are entirely under the Wild's control and must be eliminated if they expect to be able to earn a win tomorrow night against the Ducks who have been playing better as of late. Wild Head Coach Todd Richards summed the game up, "Too many penalties, the ones that hurt us were the stick infractions, the ones that drive you crazy and we obviously benefited by some of their miscues." He also felt Bouchard may be moved from the point to the faceoff dot where he felt he had a good look to either pass or shoot. It will be interesting to see what sort of energy the team has left after a game like tonight where the penalties shortened its bench so much. Richards indicated the team will have virtually the same lineup tomorrow night so I hope these guys get some good rest and be ready for another battle tomorrow.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Eric Nystrom, Cal Clutterbuck, Martin Havlat, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak, Warren Peters, Patrick O'Sullivan, Chuck Kobasew, Jared Spurgeon, Cam Barker, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon and Brent Burns. Niklas Backstrom backed up Jose Theodore. Clayton Stoner was the lone healthy scratch. Guillaume Latendresse is still out of the lineup recovering from lower body surgery he had about a month ago.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Anze Kopitar, 2nd Star Brent Burns, 3rd Star Dustin Brown
~ Warren Peters wore #43 for the Wild.
~ Attendance at Staples Center tonight was 18,118. In contrast, the University of Michigan and Michigan State battled one another to a 5-0 Wolverines victory played outdoors at 'the Big House' in Ann Arbor before the World's Largest Crowd to ever watch a hockey game with 113,413 in attendance! This is truly a record that will likely be extremely difficult to surpass.
Houston Aeros Report:
2010-11 Record: 28GP (15-10-1-2) 33pts 5th in West Division
Top 3 Scorers:
1. #26 Maxim Noreau ~ 7G 9A = 16pts
2. #62 Jean-Michel Daoust ~ 5G 11A = 16pts
3. #17 Robbie Earl ~ 7G 8A = 15pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #42 Matt Kassian ~ 65 PIM's
2. #23 Petr Kalus ~ 64 PIM's
3. #12 Cody Almond ~ 47 PIM's
1. #30 Anton Khudobin ~ 18GP (11-5-1) 2.32GAA .922%SP
2. #31 Matthew Hackett ~ 11GP (4-6-1) 2.87GAA .905%SP
Most Recent Game: Houston 5, San Antonio 3
I wonder how many of the 5,684 in attendance at Toyota Center realized they were about to witness a record breaking night for the the Aeros. They would not have to wait long as Casey Wellman made franchise history, scoring a natural hat-trick in the 1st period on three pretty set ups from Eden Prairie, Minnesota's Chad Rau. With the Aeros holding a 3-0 lead the Rampage tried to answer back, and it would be veteran NHL'er Petr Prucha who is making a strong case to be returned to the Coyotes as he beat Anton Khudobin to cut the Houston lead to two, 3-1. However, Wellman was not about to let Prucha steal the show and he tap home a rebound after a blast from the point by Elk River, Minnesota's Nate Prosser to score his 4th goal of the game just past the halfway point of the 2nd period. Houston would add to its lead just a few minutes later on the power play when Jean-Michel Daoust threaded a pass to Cody Almond who fired it by Matt Climie to give the Aeros a commanding 5-1 lead going into the 3rd. The Rampage would score twice in the period to make the game a bit more respectable on 2 goals from Brett MacLean. Khudobin had 30 saves in the win, and the Aeros will get a day of rest to travel to Cleveland where they will play the Lake Erie Monsters in a Sunday afternoon tilt starting at 2:00PM Central Standard time.
High School Boys Hockey Report:
Elk River Elks (Northwest Suburban Conference) - 4GP (3-1) 6pts
Most Recent Game: Elk River 3, Centennial 1
According to Mnhockeyhub.com, the Elk River Elks are not ranked but that could be just a matter of time. Elk River does not possess a tremendous amount of offensive firepower but they play a solid team game which prides itself on its hard work, physicality and intelligent play. So far the Elks find themselves near the top of the Northwest Suburban Conference, and look to improve on their 17-8-3 record from a season ago. Senior Ryan Jaremko should be the offensive catalyst most nights while juniors Nick McCormack and Mitch Kierstad will have the opportunity to cash in on Jaremko's playmaking ability. Between the pipes the Elks have the experienced junior goaltender Anders Franke who already sports a 2.24 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. Head Coach Tony Sarsland again provides experience and tenacity from the bench. The Elks have a big showdown on Thursday when they take on Eden Prairie and highly touted senior forward Kyle Rau who is the brother of Wild prospect Chad Rau. Kyle already had 11 points in just 3 games played this season so the Elks could really have their hands full.
Eagan Wildcats (South Suburban) - 3GP (1-1-1) 3pts
Most Recent Game: Eagan 2, Burnsville 2
While the record may not indicate it just yet, the Eagan Wildcats are on the cusp of being at or near the top of an always tough South Surburban (formerly known as the Lake) Conference. That record includes games against #3 ranked Edina and #4 ranked Burnsville. The Wildcats returned almost their entire team from a year ago which went 21-5-1. So to say that Eagan is excited about still having a fairly young team return almost complete intact is a bit of an understatement. In their most recent tilt against another very good team in #4 ranked (2A) Burnsville on they rallied back with 2 goals from Nick Kuchera and Sam Wolfe in the 3rd period to earn a tie. Junior forward, Kuchera leads a well-balanced attack with 7 assists and 10 points, while junior forward Michael Zajac is starting to heat up offensively. Eagan Head Coach Mike Taylor is poised and ready to take his team (currently ranked #9 in Class 2A) to the next level after being upset in the Section tournament last season by another young and up-and-coming team Apple Valley. The Wildcats faces off at home against Minnetonka this evening.