I remember back in the mid-1990's I really got into games on my personal computer. One of my early favorites was Microsoft Golf. As much as I loathe golf as a 'sport' in fact, I'll be honest I can't even bring myself to call it that it was a fun distraction on the computer. One of the attractions of the game was being able to play on real professional level golf courses that had been mapped in minute detail digitally giving the player the actual contours and challenges of the real thing. You started off in San Diego's Torrey Pines golf course, and if you spent a little more money you could purchase other courses like St. Andrews or Firestone Country Club. I would play the holes just as any golfer would, but simply enough for me if I hit a shot I didn't like I could simply click 'mulligan' and try again until I got the shot I was looking for. This meant through a full game of golf I birdied most of the holes, maybe even was lucky enough to eagle a few and at worst I'd accept par. By the time I was finished I may have accumulated 120-130 'mulligans', but I didn't care I finished the course -12 under. Wouldn't that be awesome though? Whether you're a golfer or not, to simply click a 'mulligan' button and have an instant do over? While I know that would erode the integrity of the game, imagine if you applied this to life. To have a 'mulligan' so you could undo those mistakes you've made. What sort of mulligans do you think the Columbus Blue Jackets might be wishing it had right about now as it sits at the bottom of the league standings with just 2 wins and a pathetic 5 points to its credit? Would Scott Howson have decided to hire Scott Arniel (who somehow has avoided termination, despite an embarrassing 9-2 loss to Philadelphia last weekend in addition to its aforementioned abysmal start)? Would Howson have decided to sign a more proven backup to work alongside struggling #1 goaltender Steve Mason than Mark Dekanich who has missed the early part of the season with injuries forcing them to put Allen York between the pipes for games when Mason can't stop a beach ball? I'm sure Columbus would be using a lot of 'mulligans' right now if it could, but what about the Minnesota Wild? What 'mulligans' would Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher consider using in his tenure with the franchise?
Maybe he is wishing he could call in a 'mulligan' for his terrible 3-year contract he tendered to Marek Zidlicky who between being hurt and generally ineffective hasn't been a good value for his $4 million annual stipend. Or how about his decision to trade Nick Leddy and Kim Johnsson for Cam Barker? Unfortunately there are no mulligans in life or all that often in professional sports. You get one shot, and that's it. Minnesota makes its first big 5-game Western swing starting this evening against the Calgary Flames. There are lots of good things going on for the Wild right now, will this Western trip and tonight's game be apart of those good feelings or will they be hoping for a 'mulligan' by the time its all said and done?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Flames were really flying around the ice early, but Minnesota would counter with its reconstituted energy line of Darroll Powe, Nick Johnson and Kyle Brodziak and they cycled the puck well which eventually turned into a nice set up of Matt Cullen from the slot that was stopped by a leg pad save by Miikka Kiprusoff. The Flames answered back with a good scoring chances of their own as Olli Jokinen fires a shot on goal that was stopped by Niklas Backstrom and he did a nice job of denying Matt Stajan on the rebound opportunity. Calgary continued to pour it on, and a miscue in the defensive zone by Justin Falk became a turnover that had Minnesota scrambling near its crease where the puck was briefly picked up by Nate Prosser but he'd lose it to Curtis Glencross who seemed to have all of the top portion of the net as he had Backstrom laying in his crease. As Glencross tried to lift a forehand he didn't get it quite high enough and Backstrom was able to come up with a huge save with his blocker. A few minutes later the Flames had another glorious opportunity as a long range shot from the point by Scott Hannan that whistled wide but the puck would take a strange carom off the glass and move right out into the crease and Backstrom ended up having to make a scrambling save on David Moss. With all of the momentum in Calgary's favor, the Wild would douse that momentum with sort of a flukey goal as a pass by Nick Johnson that glanced off the skate of a Flames defenseman and then the skate of Darroll Powe and by Kiprusoff to put Minnesota up 1-0. You could literally feel the spirit of the always raucous Pengrowth Saddledome just evaporate on the Minnesota tally. The Flames were clearly deflated so former Park Center star Tim Jackman would try to get his team going again by taking a run at Jared Spurgeon sending the diminutive Wild defenseman right onto his back. That forced Brad Staubitz to challenge Jackman for the hit; and they'd drop the gloves. Jackman did a nice job of really tying up Staubitz' uniform which prevented the Wild enforcer from really landing any effective punches. Jackman was able to throw a few quality right hands but the officials moved in before it got too ugly. A win for Jackman but neither fighter landed any real punches of consequence so we may see those two go at it again. Both clubs were being cautious in their own zone, but it was Calgary to have another quality chance as Wild-killer Jarome Iginla raced in and he wound up and blistered a slap shot that rang off the pipe. The Flames pressure would draw a hooking penalty on Brad Staubitz as he sort of hooked Mark Giordano while battling for the puck near the Wild blueline. On the power play, the Wild's penalty killers did a nice job with some early hustle by Kyle Brodziak to clear the zone. The Wild got a little lucky too as a fanned shot by Anton Babchuk went right over to a wide open Jarome Iginla who looked like he was about to be set up for a perfect one-timer but the bouncing biscuit hopped over the blade of his stick and that gave Minnesota a chance to get into position to block the shot and clear the zone and the Wild would escape without damage on the Flames on the man advantage. Minnesota's energy line would create the Wild's last scoring chance of the period as some great work down low by Nick Johnson to bring the puck out to the crease and fellow Ivy Leaguer Darroll Powe tried to pounce, even by kicking at the puck but Kiprusoff would cover up for a whistle. Minnesota had to feel a bit lucky going into the 1st Intermission leading 1-0 after being out shot 15-5. Backstrom was very sharp, making a number of quality saves to keep Minnesota in the game early on.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota's top line would create an excellent scoring chance early in the period as Dany Heatley raced into the Flames' zone, carrying the puck through Calgary's defense while the puck was pushed back to his skates and when he finally lost it the puck, Mikko Koivu got a weak backhander that was stopped by Kiprusoff. The energy line would follow that up with a nice shot of their own as Kyle Brodziak hammers a slap shot that was steered wide by Kiprusoff's blocker. The Wild would unfortunately kill some of their momentum on a lazy hooking penalty by Elk River's Nate Prosser which gave the Flames a power play. The Flames would have a good initial chance on a nice centering feed by Curtis Glencross that reached Jackman who redirected a shot high that was just directed up into the netting by Backstrom. Minnesota's hustle would result in some well-earned clears of the zone as Jared Spurgeon and Warren Peters won races to the puck. The Wild would get another big penalty kill and the Calgary crowd would again be silent. Minnesota's 2nd line would create some havoc with their speed and a nice outlet pass by Marco Scandella up to Matt Cullen who turned back and found Pierre-Marc Bouchard with a cross-ice pass and he hammered a slap shot on goal that was steered away by Kiprusoff. A few minutes the Wild would earn another penalty, this time a high sticking call on Justin Falk that drew a look of indignation from Minnesota Head Coach Mike Yeo as the Flames recieved their 3rd power play of the game. The Flames helped Minnesota out a bit on the penalty kill with some sloppy passes in the neutral zone that caused them to retreat all the way back into their own zone. The home crowd was not impressed and the Flames started to hear a few boo's for their poor effort. The Wild would get lucky a few moments later as Roman Horak set up Rene Bourque perfectly but the door was slammed shut by a beautiful save by Backstrom. Minnesota would kill off another penalty but the Flames were still pressing for the equalizer, but like a well-trained boxer the Wild were poised as Calgary forechecked and made nice little passes to alleviate the pressure. The 3rd line really was buzzing for Minnesota, and Nick Johnson found a little space near the slot and he let loose a heavy wrist shot that was knocked out of the air by the glove of Kiprusoff. Moments after that, it was Brodziak threading a pass through the crease towards Johnson that he nearly tipped in but his bid would go off the outside of the right post. The energy line's hustle would be rewarded by drawing the first Wild power play of the game as Matt Stajan was tagged for holding. After about a minute of not getting a lot accomplished the Wild began to speed up their puck movement, and they would light the lamp on a pretty tic-tac-toe play between Marek Zidlicky down to the halfwall to Koivu who passed it back into the slot to Heatley who snapped a one-timer by Kiprusoff who had no chance to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead. The Flames were clearly unhappy, and Iginla would drop the gloves with Nick Johnson and the former Dartmouth star just hung on as Iginla kept throwing punches before Johnson was able to wrestle him to the ice. A win for Iginla, but the loss of Johnson for Iginla is not a bad trade off for the Wild. In the fight, the officials would tag Johnson with a match penalty for head butting giving the Flames a 5:00 power play. The replay didn't really show any distinct head butting motion, as Johnson had his head down as he was trying to weather the storm of punches from Iginla, and as Iginla pulled him towards him Johnson's forehead made contact with Iginla's chin and he began to whine to the officials about it. Another replay showed NHL referee Tom Kowal attempting to explain the head butt to Mike Yeo, and Mikko Koivu was apparently asking a question or making a comment and he got a tongue lashing from LaRue who told him something along the lines of "don't f%cking talk to me, I am talking to the %ucking coach not you, so back off!" Minnesota's penalty killers were hustling well and being physical when they needed to and they were able to clear the zone. Prosser, Scandella and Falk were playing strong, with active sticks and this was doing a fair job of denying passing lanes. A few minutes later the Flames' power play continued to struggle against the superior hustle of the Wild and the boo's began to filter down from the anxious home crowd. The boo's wound intensify as the Flames passed it out to the point where they hoped to set up Babchuk for a rocket from the point but his shot wouldn't make it to Backstrom. Minnesota stymied the 5:00 Flames power play, but a few moments later the Wild's Marek Zidlicky would earn an interference penalty. Again the Wild's penalty killers would frustrated the Flames with some more great hustle and brave play in their own zone as they blocked shots and then followed it up by clearing the zone and Minnesota carried a 2-0 lead despite being outshot 27-14. Backstrom again very solid, but the penalty kill was absolutely outstanding in that period. Warren Peters was playing quite a bit of ice time, mostly on the penalty kill and looking very comfortable too.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Flames best chance of the remainder of the power play came just as it expired as Olli Jokinen fired a shot that had Backstrom falling over backwards and flailing to sweep the puck out of harm's way. Calgary was flying around and Backstrom was there to make the stop and slow things down. The Flames were really pouring it on, but the young defense of the Wild was remarkably poised as Marco Scandella uses strength and leverage to win a battle for the puck against Jarome Iginla. As good as Scandella was on that play, a few moments later he'd hook Tim Jackman and earn a 2-minute trip to the sin bin. The Flames power play was more direct in its approach, trying to set up a big shot and then crash the net and hope for rebounds. The strategy certainly created better quality chances, but Backstrom was up to the task absorbing the shot and not giving up anything for the crashing Flames forwards to pounce upon. Minnesota would kill off their 6th penalty of the game, but you wouldn't know it as the Flames seemed to be living in the Wild zone. After the big kill, the Wild started to counter punch a bit, and they nearly added another goal as Marek Zidlicky joined the rush and dropped a pass back to Setoguchi who rifled a heavy wrist shot that rang off the crossbar. Minnesota's counter attacking pressure drew a holding penalty on Alex Tanguay giving the Wild just its 2nd power play of the game. The Wild had a tremendous scoring chance early as Mikko Koivu backhanded a pass to Dany Heatley and he moved in and ripped a wrist shot that was blocked aside by Kiprusoff. Minnesota's power play continued to move the puck well, working the punt where Spurgeon stepped into a slapper that got on goal that was stopped by Kiprusoff but he was able to deny Kyle Brodziak on his rebound bid. The Wild would come up empty on the power play, and the Flames would be given another gift of a power play as Colton Gillies finished his check on Anton Babchuk. The boarding call on Gillies was laughable, as he rode him into the boards and he hit him from the front and there was no reason to make such a call unless you simply wanted to give the Flames another opportunity with the man advantage. With the Flames on their 7th power play of the game, the Wild got a huge early clear of the zone on a nice individual effort by Matt Cullen to carry a loose puck out of the zone. A few moments later, Roman Horak seemed to have a step on the Wild's defense but a desperate sliding play by Justin Falk forced Horak's shot wide of the mark. Minnesota got another big kill, and was content to just play rope-a-dope for the rest of the game after all if a Wild player so much as looked at a Flames player it seemed be worthy of a penalty. Flames Head Coach Brent Sutter would pull Kiprusoff with just over 2 minutes left as they were hoping to make up their 2-goal deficit, and the Viking, Alberta-native would call a timeout to talk things over with his team. The hustle and effort that had served Minnesota so well on the penalty kill worked just as well with the Flames sporting an extra-attacker as they moved their feet well enough to get into shooting lanes and block shots. Their effort would be rewarded as Dany Heatley gathered up the puck and passed it over to Guillaume Latendresse who skated it beyond the red line and wrist a long range shot that would skitter into the empty net to seal a 3-0 victory.
Niklas Backstrom was absolutely stellar, making 41 saves to recieve a well-earned shutout. Especially late as Calgary really was putting a lot of traffic near his crease he continued to see the puck well and he made a number of clutch saves even when he appeared to be down and out. Defensively I was very impressed with how physical Minnesota's young blueliners played against a team that normally pushes Minnesota's defense around. The penalty kill has been outstanding as of late, killing off the last 21 power plays they've faced and forced the Flames power play to go 0-for-7 tonight which included one 5:00 power play in the 2nd period. Backstrom also got lots of help from the shot blocking department too; as the Wild blocked 27 shots tonight. Nick Schultz also had a strong game too. With Josh Harding playing well and now Backstrom answering back with a 41-save shutout, the Wild have a good problem to deal with. Two very eager and effective goaltenders providing excellent play each night.
Offensively the Wild didn't dominate but they took advantage of their opportunities when they presented themselves. I was extremely impressed with the energy line of Brodziak, Johnson and Powe which was buzzing all night long until Johnson was tossed with a bogus match penalty. They were Minnesota's best line offensively and defensively, but after Johnson was tossed give credit to Warren Peters, and the 2nd line for picking up their play to make up for that absence. Dany Heatley is looking more hungry and focused each game and his power play marker in the 2nd really was a dagger to the Flames that really put them in a deep hole considering how well Minnesota was playing defensively. The offense was good enough to win and its tough to complain even though you would've liked to have seen them put more pucks on goal than the 26 they had tonight. Although being on the penalty kill for 20 minutes of the game may have something to do with that.
Now lets go to the controversy that will likely transcend this game. The is 'alleged' headbutt by Nick Johnson. I think its pretty obvious it wouldn'tve been called if Iginla hadn't whined for it. Check it out for yourself.
Now just in case NHL referee's Dennis LaRue and Tom Kowal are reading this. This is a headbutt.
That's a headbutt from the master in Zinedine Zidane. I hope you notice the clear driving of the forehead to the chest of the opposing player. The 'crown' of the head is clearly used as a weapon here. Was that the case in the Nick Johnson infraction? Nope. No forward swing of the skull. Did these guys learn to officiate from retired NHL official Mick McGeough? Maybe the refs should take a 'mulligan' on this debacle of a call.
It was another great road effort and while it was more of a defensive battle, due mainly to the amount of time spent on the penalty kill the Wild exhibited great hustle and effort and they were rewarded for their hard work. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo told the media after the game, "The PK had to be good tonight, your goalie is going to have to be great and Backstrom had an outstanding game." He said I don't think we could make a bad decision with who we put in net. "This is a game where the assistant coaches are happy, the penalty kill was great, the power play was good and our goalie got a shutout, and they're celebrating but for myself I am not overly happy with this game." I can understand where Yeo is coming from, because more often than not when you make 7 trips to the penalty box on the road you're going to lose; but tonight it worked. That too says something about the perseverance of this club and they'll need it Thursday when they travel to San Jose in what will be a homecoming of sorts for Heatley and Setoguchi as well as former Wild players Brent Burns and Martin Havlat.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Colton Gillies, Darroll Powe, Brad Staubitz, Nick Johnson, Kyle Brodziak, Warren Peters, Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, Nate Prosser and Marco Scandella. Josh Harding is backing up Niklas Backstrom. Cal Clutterbuck and Clayton Stoner are the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Curtis Glencross, 3rd Star Matt Cullen
~ Attendance was 19,289 at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
Wild Prospect Report:
D - Colton Jobke (Regina, WHL) ~ Jobke's strong start continues after a chipping in a goal in a 4-3 overtime win by the Pats over Medicine Hat on Sunday night. The Delta, British Columbia-native has delighted Regina fans with his versatility, where he can work the point on the power play or be a key shutdown defenseman. That must be music to the Wild's scouts and player development staff to hear that Jobke is having a wide variety of experiences.
C - Tyler Graovac (Ottawa, OHL) ~ Tyler Graovac has returned from a leg injury that had him sidelined for nearly 2 weeks, to making an impact right away for the 67' as he registered a shorthanded goal in a 3-2 loss to Sault Ste. Marie and an assist in his team's Monday night loss to Kingston. The Brampton, Ontario-native is finding his way on the score sheet on a regular basis and will be interesting to see if 6'4" 195lbs centerman can keep it up over the course of the season.
F - Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ Lucia continues to lead the way for the Penticton Vees, who missed his presence this weekend. The former Wayzata star sat out of the Vee's two weekend games, and Penticton split their series as they missed Lucia's offensive prowess. Lucia has 10 goals and 30 points in 15 games thus far.
F - Johan Larsson (Brynas, Eliteserien) ~ Wild prospect Johan Larsson seems to be heating up as he finds himself 10th in the Swedish Elite league in scoring with 4 goals and 16 points in 20 games. Larsson is best known for his hustle and defensive play, but he does have some offensive skill as well and he seems to be finding both sides to his game with an improving Brynas squad.