For any of you TV trivia buffs out there, can you give me the name of the theme song to the hit TV show M*A*S*H? No, its not called the M*A*S*H theme song, but one of the most depressing titles in music history; Suicide Is Painless by Johnny Mandel and Mike Altman. The song choice is appropriate for the show that had a strong anti-war message as it plotted the difficult journey of a number of U.S. Army surgeons, nurses as they tried to repair the human casualties of the Korean War. The sarcastic wit about life in the military and questioning the value of being in conflict was a constant theme. Yet the lyrics could be somewhat descriptive of what the Minnesota Wild are going through as their team is starting to resemble a M*A*S*H unit of their own. "The game of life is hard to play, I'm gonna lose it anyway, The losing card I'll someday lay, So this is all I have to say, That suicide is painless, It brings on many changes, and I can take or leave it if I please" as you can see the lyrics are just as depressing as the title implies. Minnesota's injury list is rather lengthy with Justin Falk (back spasms), Casey Wellman (wrist), as Devin Setoguchi (ankle) and Guillaume Latendresse (post-concussion syndrome) have been put on injured reserve while the team's leading scorer and team captain Mikko Koivu is also out with a leg injury. Toss into that the skating wounded in Josh Harding (head/neck) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (broken nose and lacerated lip) are listed as questionable for tonight's game against the New York Islanders and you have a pretty busy schedule for the Wild's medical staff. I am confident team physicians Dr. Sheldon Burns and Dr. Joel Boyd can handle it, but in the meantime it will result in the Wild having to lean more on its American Hockey League affiliate the Houston Aeros who must feel as though they too are at half strength with all of the call ups they've had to endure. That's life as a farm club. Minnesota will be playing with a lineup akin to one of its pre-season games with a mix of NHL'ers and AHL'ers, hoping to overcome the odds and earn a victory. Its enough to make Corporal Klinger seem too sane for a Section 8.
At the rate the Wild are accumulating injuries, Corporal Klinger might be in the Wild's lineup before X-mas, or at the very least Paul Deutsch.
The last time the Wild played the New York Islanders they were thoroughly outworked for an embarrassing 2-1 loss. Islanders' goaltender Al Montoya was more than enough to stop the anemic Minnesota offense and fans began to question (at the time) whether really had anything changed between being under Mike Yeo and Todd Richards as it was a classic letdown you'd come to expect. Fortunately, the poor effort has been a rare story for the Wild who continue to defy the odds and tonight they will have to do so again. As a great hockey coach from Minnesota named Herb Brooks' once said, "Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard" will have to bethe Wild's mantra this evening if they're going to earn 2 points tonight. So can Minnesota's cast of youngsters, skating wounded and battle-scarred veterans have enough to defeat the always energetic Islanders?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota started the game with its energy line of Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson and Darroll Powe and the Wild were showing good hustle early, winning the little races to the puck. A few minutes later, the Wild won a small battle for the puck near its blueline as Warren Peters' freed it up and it was swept up by Jarod Palmer who skated into the Islanders' zone and he got off a quick backhander that was kicked away by the leg pad of Al Montoya. The Islanders would try to answer back with a little pressure as Andrew MacDonald blistered a shot from the point that caromed off the boards and back out front to P.A. Parenteau for two quick shots that were stopped and absorbed by Niklas Backstrom. Minnesota's modified top line of Matt Cullen, Dany Heatley and Cal Clutterbuck showed some spark as Heatley made a nice saucer pass that was directed just wide by Cullen. The Islanders would catch Minnesota in the midst of a line change and Marty Reasoner would fly into the Wild zone and he'd wind up and hammer a slap shot that was stopped by Backstrom. Defensively the Wild were collapsing around their goaltender and helping him out by sweeping up rebounds and escorting them out of the dangerous areas of the ice. At times Minnesota appeared to be playing a very passive 1-4. Minnesota had to work very hard to create shooting opportunities and Jared Spurgeon tried to take his opportunity as he stepped into a slapper that was stopped by Montoya. At times the Wild found themselves scrambling in their own end, and while this puck possession in the Minnesota zone can make a fan nervous the Wild were keeping New York to the perimeter and they were settling for shots from the point and Backstrom was looking comfortable in his crease. The Wild got a great shift from the 4th line of Peters, Gillies and Palmer, working hard along the wall but still scoring opportunities were hard to come by and after some great effort they had nothing to show for it. Minnesota would dodge a bullet late in the period as Kyle Brodziak mishandled the puck in the Wild zone that was collected by Matt Moulson and he rifled a shot up and over the Wild goal and the game would remain scoreless. It was not a pretty period, but considering the Wild had more than an entire line of Houston Aeros playing for them it wasn't too bad. The 4th line actually had some chemistry but Minnesota will have to find a way to generate more shots if it wants to have a chance to win this game. The Wild were out shot 9-5 in the period.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period started with a very cautious pace as Minnesota was quick to retreat to defend its own end of the ice. Jarod Palmer was getting a lot of ice time early as Minnesota, and it could be argued he was one of the Wild's more effective forwards early in this game. The Islanders would try to break up the monotony of Minnesota chipping the puck out of the zone and retreating quickly to play defense as New York's Mike Mottau unloaded a slap shot that was gloved by Backstrom. Darroll Powe would make a bit of a selfish decision after blocking a shot and breaking his stick in the process as he headed for the Wild bench he took one last body check near his bench and in the process give his team a 'too many men' penalty. Minnesota's penalty killers were staying in a tight box but their sticks were active making the passing and shooting lanes very small. The Islanders finally were able to work a shot on goal as Matt Moulson set up Frans Nielsen for a shot that was steered wide by Backstrom. A few moments later the Islanders tried to work the puck to the slot where John Tavares had a point-blank range but he was denied by a sprawling save by Backstrom and the Wild would get a huge kill. The Wild would finally have a quality scoring chance of their own after some great hustle by Colton Gillies and his backhand bid was steered away by Montoya, and he'd continue his great effort by backchecking and stealing the puck. Minnesota would go back on the penalty kill as Warren Peters rode Andrew MacDonald into the wall for a boarding call. The Islanders worked the puck down low to Kyle Okposo and then out to the slot where Josh Bailey shot a puck up into the netting behind the goal. New York was persistent and Niklas Backstrom laid out to deny Moulson from the top of the crease but the Islanders would get to the loose puck and Tavares fed it back to MacDonald who ripped a laser from the point that found the back of the Wild net to put the Isles up 1-0 just as the power play expired. The Wild's 4th line of Peters, Gillies and Palmer worked well on the cycle as they set up a slap shot from Marek Zidlicky that never made it to Montoya as it was blocked down by Mark Streit. A few moments later, John Tavares walked around Marco Scandella and he tried to dangle a shot around Backstrom and appeared to have him beat only to lose control the last second as he was taken off the play by the Wild defenseman. Minnesota would earn its first power play of the game as Kyle Okposo held up Colton Gillies up with his stick and his hustle is what really prompted the call to be made. The Wild really struggled to get set up in the Islanders' zone, losing nearly 35 seconds before they finally were able to get themselves established. Minnesota's first scoring chance on the man advantage was a weak wrist shot that was redirected by Heatley wide of the mark, and a few moments later it was Jarod Palmer finding a little space and he flung a wrist shot on goal. At the tail end of the power play, Matt Cullen would play a puck off the wall and track it down himself using his speed and as he tried to make his way back out looking to pass the puck to the slot he was tripped up by MacDonald to no call that drew the ire of the home crowd. The last few minutes were spent just attempting to get anything going offensively and they were pretty ineffective. There was small chorus of boo's as the period ended with Minnesota trailing 1-0. Minnesota managed just 4 shots in the period while the Islanders piled up 15 to make it a 24-9 advantage for New York. What did I say at the end of the 1st period? The team will need to find a way to generate more shots if it wants to have a chance, because 4 and 5 shots respectively per period just isn't going to get it done. Palmer is playing well though.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota clearly was focused on putting more shots on goal and the Islanders was content to just play rope-a-dope. The Wild just didn't have the ability to create time and space that you need in order to generate a scoring chance. The desire was there, the hustle, but the skill to make it happen was lacking and the Islanders very passive 1-3-1 was in full effect. Minnesota was starting to ramp up the intensity and they were spending more time in the Islanders zone. The Islanders were trying to counter punch a bit offensively themselves and they nearly padded their lead as Tavares dished a puck to Parenteau which was denied by Backstrom. Minnesota would get lucky as Al Montoya would make a foolish decision to play the puck by sending it up the middle of the ice and it was intercepted by Dany Heatley who promptly put a wrist shot on goal that was deflected by Cullen that Montoya struggled with and tapped in by Clutterbuck to tie the game at 1-1. The 3rd line of Powe, Johnson and Brodziak would follow that up with some tremendous hard work down low in the Islanders' zone and as Brodziak tried to take the puck to the crease the puck just squirted to the corner. Minnesota followed that up with the 4th line and it was Jarod Palmer faking a slap shot and stepping around Travis Hamonic to fire a wrist shot that was steered aside by Montoya before Palmer was rudely thrown to the boards. New York started to dump the puck deep and managed to keep Minnesota bottled up in its own zone with a nice forecheck by its top two lines. Minnesota couldn't seem to get its legs moving in the 2nd half of the period, and the Wild were laboring every time they skated up the ice as the shortened bench was starting to have some visible effects on the team's energy. The only line that seemed to have some jump late in the game was the 4th line and Warren Peters carried the puck into the zone where he dropped it off to Palmer who dished it to Gillies who was patient before firing a wrist shot that was deflected up and over the net. Both clubs seemed to be playing for overtime which was interesting considering Minnesota's depleted condition. And they'd get what they wanted as the game would remain knotted at 1-1 as the horn sounded ending the 3rd.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota tried to work for the first scoring chance as Matt Cullen entered the Islanders zone but his blind backhand pass was intercepted and New York would have the first opportunity of sorts as Michael Grabner dished it back to the point where Hamonic stepped into a slapper that was way wide but it took a weird carom off the boards and nearly went off the back of Backstrom's leg pad. Minnesota would answer back as Nick Johnson showed some tremendous patience as he dished a pass to Spurgeon who threaded a pass back to Johnson driving down the slot who drew Montoya for him before sliding a back door pass to Palmer that was just disrupted before he could pull the trigger on what would've been the game winner. A few moments later, it was Matt Cullen dazzling the home crowd with a pretty spin-a-rama to spit the defense for a hard backhander that was directed to the corner by Montoya. It was a fun overtime, but neither club seemed to have a lot of spark left in the skates and we'd have to go to a shootout.
Shootout Thoughts: Minnesota would opt to shoot first and they would send out Matt Cullen first. Cullen would move in and try to shoulder fake and his wrist shot would be denied by the leg and paddle of Montoya. The Islanders first shooter was John Tavares, and he'd skate in slowly where he tried to dangle back and forth and Backstrom would try to poke it away but his backhander was stopped by the Wild goalie. Minnesota's next shooter was Marek Zidlicky and he took a wide left approach where he tried to fire a wrist shot that missed wide. The Islanders' next shooter was Frans Nielsen and he would move in and beat Backstrom with a forehand to backhand as he roofed it over Backstrom. With the Islanders holding a 1-0 lead this meant Dany Heatley had to score and he'd try to move in and hesitate and beat Montoya with a wrister but he didn't bite on the fake and made the save to give New York a 2-1 shootout victory.
You certainly cannot blame Niklas Backstrom for the outcome of tonight's game, as he made 35 saves in the loss. Backstrom kept Minnesota in the game when they really had no reason to be. He was very solid, making a number of quality saves near his crease. Defensively I thought the Wild were ok. Marco Scandella was clearly playing wounded for much of the game which to me is more an indictment of his fellow blueliners who apparently couldn't take up his minutes despite the fact there were 6 others to choose from tonight. Hopefully the team doesn't lose Scandella as he really is the only defenseman who seems to have any real solid offensive instincts to create the rush if the need arises.
Offensively the Wild really were incapable of generating nearly enough shots. Even in the 3rd period, when the team was pressing offensively they were able to only generate 9 shots on goal. I understand the team had injuries to a good portion of its Top 6 forwards but you still have to find a way to put shots on goal. All they had to look to was minor league call up Jarod Palmer for inspiration in his NHL debut who was taking every opportunity he could to fire shots on goal. Palmer had 6 shots on goal which accounted for 28% of the Wild's 21 shots. The line I was disappointed in tonight was the 2nd line of Brodziak, Johnson and Powe who appeared tired and lethargic throughout most of the game. I must say I was puzzled at their low energy level when you consider the fact they had two days off prior to this game. Minnesota cannot afford to play like this and even expect to eek out an overtime or shootout losses to the likes of Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver whom they will face on this most recent road trip.
The Wild still managed to earn a mercy point, but the team have dropped their last 3 games going 0-1-2 over that stretch. That's not horrible, but when you consider the fact the Islanders are one of the worst teams in the NHL, Minnesota better hope some of those Top 6 players like Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard especially return because the team really seemed to be lost offensively. Injuries are a part of the game, and the team has already battled through their fair share. Afterall, they've already had 14 minor league call ups this season and have used 33 different players throughout the course of the 2011-12 season thus far. All any Wild fan can hope is the injury epidemic passes quickly and the team can rebound from this latest slide.
~ The Wild lineup this evening was as follows: Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, Warren Peters, Colton Gillies, Darroll Powe, Brad Staubitz, Jarod Palmer, Cal Clutterbuck, Cody Almond, Nick Johnson, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, Clayton Stoner, Mike Lundin, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Mikko Koivu, Casey Wellman and Pierre-Marc Bouchard were the 'healthy' scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Frans Nielsen, 2nd Star Niklas Backstrom, 3rd Star Jared Spurgeon
~ Attendance was 18,209 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Jarod Palmer wore #79 for the Wild in his NHL debut.
Houston Aeros Report:
Record: 16-4-2-6 1st West Division
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #14 Jon DiSalvatore ~ 8G 13A = 21pts
2. #22 Jeff Taffe ~ 5G 13A = 18pts
3. #37 Justin Fontaine ~ 7G 10A = 17pts
4. #39 Chay Genoway ~ 2G 13A = 15pts
5. #13 Kris Foucault ~ 6G 7A = 13pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #4 Drew Bagnall ~ 53 PIM's
2. #26 David McIntyre ~ 29 PIM's
3. #42 Matt Kassian ~ 25 PIM's
1. #31 Matt Hackett (10-3-3) 2.05GAA .930%SP
2. #35 Darcy Kuemper (3-1-2) 1.79GAA .944%SP
Recent Score: Houston 2, Oklahoma City 3 OT
The Houston Aeros have been feeling the Wild's pain as call ups have had a distinct effect on their roster as well. Tonight, 6'6" defenseman was put into action as a forward for the Aeros as they were short up front (sound familiar?). The Aeros would strike first as Drew Bagnall's wrist shot found the back of the net behind Yann Danis to give Houston a 1-0 lead, but Dylan Yeo scored with just 6.2 seconds left in the first period on the power play to tie the game. The Barons would take the lead early in the 2nd as tough guy Triston Grant tapped in a shot behind Darcy Kuemper to make it 2-1. Houston would score late in the period on the power play as Jon DiSalvatore rifled a shot by Danis on the man advantage. Both clubs would trade scoring chances throughout the 3rd and overtime to no avail sending the game to a shootout. In the shootout, it was all Oklahoma City as Magnus Paajarvi (making his AHL debut) and Gilbert Brule found the twine behind Kuemper while no one for the Aeros was able to do the same and the Barons earned the 3-2 shootout victory. Kuemper stopped 22 shots in a losing effort. The shootout has not been kind to Houston this season, as they've gone 0-7 so far compared to 10-5 a season ago. The Aeros play the Rochester Americans tomorrow night in Houston.
Wild Prospect Report:
C - Charlie Coyle (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ What you are seeing is not a misprint. Charlie Coyle has left Boston University in the middle of the season for the reason that he wishes to focus completely on hockey. The East Weymouth, Massachusetts-native had 3 goals, 14 points and 20 PIM's in 16 games for the Terriers this season. Coyle is now joining an already loaded squad in the 2nd place (in the QMJHL) Saint John Sea Dogs. I guess you could put me in the "this isn't a good sign" camp. I don't care if it was grades, etc but leaving your team mid-season to me definitely has to go as negative in the character column. It sounds a lot like the Kyle Okposo situation and I don't think a lot of people here were giving him kudos for leaving in the middle of the season (whether you were a Gopher fan or not). Yet there is something that has me a bit perplexed. So he leaves Boston University to go play for the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Q. Ok, tell me where he's going to play on that team. Zack Phillips is the 1st line center as one of the top scorers (6th overall) in the league. The 2nd line center is a guy I hope the Wild give a contract to in Danick Gauthier, 6'2" 200lbs and undrafted (7th overall in league scoring) who is more of a pure scorer than playmaker with 31 goals (which leads the team by the way). So now Charlie Coyle is going to go from Boston University's 2nd line center to being the Sea Dogs 3rd line center and have better development? I know the Q plays more games than NCAA guys but lets not forget Coyle is going to be playing against kids now instead of men, albeit on a lower line. Maybe its just me but I am not seeing how this will be so much better for his development. If Coyle wanted to leave at the end of this season I wouldn't really have a problem with it; but to leave and go onto a more loaded team where he'll likely see less ice time per game doesn't seem like the best situation. It may seem odd but I'd rather he go to a terrible team where he has tons of ice time as their top center instead of being the 3rd line center as I see Gerrard Gallant likely placing him. The Sea Dogs are the 2nd best team in the Q right now, record-wise, but I don't see them shaking up their whole lineup and demoting Gauthier just because Coyle arrives. Would you want to break up the team chemistry that obviously been a winning formula for you thus far. Just my 2 cents...
C - Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ I am sure that despite having another big season in the QMJHL, that Zack Phillips has to be feeling some major disappointment that he was cut during Team Canada's World Junior Championship squad. Phillips is perhaps playing with a little chip on his shoulder after scoring a goal against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles whom the Sea Dogs defeated 4-3 Friday night. The Fredericton, New Brunswick native also went 11-for-24 on faceoffs (45.3%) so perhaps there is some frustration too. Although I'm sure some of that frustration was deadened by the fact the Wild signed Phillips to an entry level contract.
LW - Brett Bulmer (Kelowna, WHL) ~ Brett Bulmer is also familiar with Zack Phillips' pain as he too was a cut from Team Canada's World Junior Championship roster. The Prince George, British Columbia-native returned to Kelowna to try to continue to carry that club on his back as he has done throughout most of the season since his short stint with the Wild earlier in the season. Bulmer had a lone assist in a 3-2 loss to the Prince Albert Raiders Friday night. UPDATE: Bulmer had a goal an assist and 2 PIM's in Saturday night's 5-1 victory over the Saskatoon Blades.
LW - Jason Zucker (Denver, WCHA) ~ Zucker seems to be back to his 'old' self as one of the scoring leaders for the Denver Pioneers. After a slow start, Zucker has rebounded, chipping in a goal in Denver's 3-2 overtime win over St. Cloud State Friday evening. The Las Vegas-native leads Denver with 11 goals and 24 points in 17 games.
F - Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ The Wayzata-native continues to make a mockery of the British Columbia's Jr.A circuit after posting another goal as the mighty Penticton Vees (a team with a bunch of Minnesotans) roll to a 5-1 win over the Westside Warriors Friday evening. Lucia has 26 goals, and 60 points in 31 games for the Vees. UPDATE: Mario Lucia had a hat trick in a 7-2 win for the Vees on Saturday night against Powell River Kings.