I have been playing video game hockey from the very beginning. My first system was a Coleco Telstar that was from the late 1970's where you could either play Tennis (i.e. Pong) or its opposite, Hockey which more or less was an video game version of air hockey. You can watch it on the YouTube clip below. In this primitive game, you don't even really shoot the puck, you simply deflect it and do all that you can to keep the puck out of your goal. You do attempt (when you can) to make some difficult angles for your opponent to deal with but in many ways its a defensive game. Video Game hockey has come a long way since then, where the player can choose to fire big slap shots, wrist shots or one-timers where you can actually direct where the shooter fires the puck so you can go 5-hole or roof it underneath the crossbar. Present-day hockey video games include many of the more subtle nuances of the game like battles along the wall for pucks, poke checks, shot blocking, deflections and the ability to dangle the puck around defenders. You also have the physical parts of the game with post-whistle scrums, fights, vicious body checks (both legal and illegal), and injuries, penalties as well. Yet there are two things new hockey games still do not account for. Effort and desire. The game may make players lag a bit for taking a long shift, but otherwise your players are giving it their 100% all of the time. Whoever is playing the game doesn't have to worry that their players will sleepwalk through their shifts or be unwilling to pay the price to do the little things that win hockey games. I wonder what Electronic Arts, the company that has been the industry's leader of hockey games for the last 15 years what they'd give the Minnesota Wild for an effort and desire rating?
Maybe a 60 (out of a 100) perhaps? In the team's most recent loss to their rival Vancouver Canucks, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was clearly pretty worked up when he openly questioned the effort of much of his team when he said, "We flat-out stink." So after that debacle, was this team put through a nasty bag skate? Nope, instead it was treated to a team meeting so they could talk about it. Count me in with those that feel that was a weak sauce response for two pathetic efforts in a row. An article by the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins describes the feelings of Wild fans all across the State of Hockey when they think about where this team is at right now at this point in the season. You can read that article here. We're sick of the cliches of how they need to do better, or how much they care. As Scoggins correctly states, its all about action at this point. If the team can't muster enough pride and energy to stomp last place Columbus in front of a home crowd then this team might as well start the fire sale and start shipping off players. The team put tough guy Brad Staubitz on waivers (and he passed through with no other teams claiming him), so perhaps that's the first step. So will this team finally match action with all of the talking its been doing or will it be more 'coulda woulda shoulda' cliches at the end of tonight's game?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Blue Jackets neutralized the Wild's top line after the drop of the puck as the superior speed of Columbus made it tough for them to create time and space on the ice. A little later, the 2nd line had a spirited shift as Greg Zanon tee'd up a slapper that was stopped by Steve Mason who gave up a big rebound that went to the high slot where Matt Cullen stepped into a slap shot of his own that missed wide. The Wild were looking hungry early, as the top line had a great opportunity of their own as Mikko Koivu threaded a pass back to Devin Setoguchi who put a quick shot on goal and Dany Heatley nearly was able to bang home a rebound that was steered wide by Mason. The Blue Jackets tried to answer back with its top line as R.J. Umberger set up Rick Nash for a wrist shot that was absorbed by Niklas Backstrom. A great forechecking shift by Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson kept Columbus' bottled up in their own zone, but once the Blue Jackets broke out they created some trouble with a small flurry of shots as a quick wrister by Derrick Brassard surprised Backstrom who was just able to block it away. Minnesota's 2nd line would go back on the attack, as Matt Cullen dangled around a Columbus defender to push a pass up to Cal Clutterbuck who snapped a quick shot off that was knocked down by Mason who again gave up a big rebound and Cullen drove on goal that was fought off by the Blue Jackets' goalie. Darroll Powe would earn the first penalty of the game as he knocked down Aaron Johnson giving him 2 minutes for cross-checking. The Wild were aggressive on the penalty kill, challenging the puck carrier effectively which caused Columbus to cough up the puck a few times. Minnesota's penalty killers were also strong along the wall, out working the Blue Jackets for the puck and Columbus really got nothing going on the power play. Kyle Brodziak was particularly strong on the penalty kill, registering the only shot of the man advantage. Minnesota would light the lamp a few moments later as Mikko Koivu drew the defense towards him and he dished it to the slot where Devin Setoguchi sniped a shot by Mason to give the Wild a 1-0 lead. The Blue Jackets tried to answer back and it was former Wild winger and 1st round bust Colton Gillies getting tangled up with Darroll Powe, but it was only Powe going to the penalty box. The Wild's penalty kill was again very aggressive, challenging the Blue Jackets all over the ice and a steal by Cullen turned into a chance for Brodziak who nearly was able to cash in shorthanded. Brodziak moved in but couldn't manage to lift a shot high enough and Mason was able to make the stop. A few minutes later the Wild's top line would create some havoc in the offensive zone as a point shot by Nick Schultz was redirected by Mikko Koivu that missed by just inches. However, with just 56 seconds left in the period, Columbus would tie the game as a long range shot by R.J. Umberger trickled through the pads of Backstrom and in, 1-1. Cal Clutterbuck tried to spark his team with a big hit late in the game as he leveled Aaron Johnson, and one player who didn't like it was the Blue Jackets' Derek Dorsett who was looking for blood. Dorsett tried to launch himself at Erik Christensen who had his head down in the corner and Christensen was just able to step out of the hit as Dorsett careened into the boards. It was an ugly ending to a promising period. I know I've probably said that maybe 15-20 times in the last 2 months. The Wild were out shooting Columbus 15-10. Not a bad period but that was another soft goal given up by Backstrom. Those are killer for a team that is struggling with its confidence.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had a passive 1-2-2 from its top line to start the period, but the Wild would ramp up their game as a point shot by Mike Lundin skittered off a few sticks and Heatley couldn't manage to tap home an easy goal. The Wild had another golden opportunity a few minutes later as a turnover by Mikko Koivu turned into a breakaway for Powe and the gritty winger tried to flip a shot by Mason but his attempt missed wide left. The Blue Jackets went on the attack and the Wild found themselves chasing around in their own zone and R.J. Umberger swung and missed at a great potential chance. Minnesota would take its 3rd penalty of the game as Powe again went to the penalty box (his 3rd minor) for hooking. The Wild's penalty kill was again very strong, giving Columbus little to no time to think with the puck and the result was another man advantage with nothing accomplished for the Blue Jackets. As the penalty expired, Powe would leave the box and find himself in a 2-on-1 with Mikko Koivu. Koivu patiently skated into the Columbus zone where he eluded a defender before firing a wrist shot that Mason stopped and unfortunately for Minnesota, Clutterbuck couldn't get a stick on the rebound. The Wild was carrying the play over the next few minutes, but now was starting to be guilty of trying one too many chances instead of just firing shots on goal. Minnesota would get a little relief as Fedor Tyutin was tagged with a tripping call giving the Wild its first power play of the game. After a few minutes of inconsequential play the Wild tried to keep it simple and just throw a shot on goal and Kyle Brodziak attempted to swing it in but was stopped by a diving save by Mason as the bodies started falling all over the crease. Tempers would flare and a number of players became entangled with one another, as Minnesota's Erik Christensen, Cal Clutterbuck and Columbus' and Derek McKenzie would sit in the box for two minutes each for roughing. On the replay it looked as though the puck never completely crossed the line. Minnesota would resume its power play where they had reasonable puck movement but when they finally set up an ideal shot for Heatley he was unable to pull the trigger. They continued to move the puck patiently but were unable to create anything more than a long wrist shot opportunity for Marek Zidlicky. Shortly after the failed Wild power play, the Blue Jackets had a great chance of their own as Rick Nash moved in on a breakaway and he'd beat Backstrom but his wrist shot struck the pipe and went out as the post bailed out the Wild goalie. The Wild tried to answer back and Marek Zidlicky attempted to join the rush but he'd run into Mason for an easy goaltender interference call. The Columbus power play again struggled mightily as the Wild's penalty killers were skating well and keeping the Blue Jackets under pressure. Minnesota had a great shorthanded opportunity as Darroll Powe attempted a saucer pass that failed to click with a wide open Nate Prosser who had joined the rush. The Blue Jackets settle down and finally got set up in the Wild zone and with time winding down on both the power play and the period, a point shot by James Wisniewski that Backstrom stopped and Umberger was there to lift home the rebound to give Columbus a 2-1 lead with just 18 seconds left in the period. It was another ugly last-minute goal and despite some good pressure by the Wild in the period they had nothing show for it as they trailed by one. Minnesota was out shot 5-7 in the period. Can't you just see the desperation in their game when they've only managed to register 5 shots on goal on the worst team in the league?
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild pressed for the equalizer early as Devin Setoguchi redirected a shot on goal that Mason struggled with and the puck actually sat on the cheater portion of his mitt that Mikko Koivu tried to sweep into the net but he'd only fan on it and the puck fell into his glove. A few minutes later the Wild were able to set up Dany Heatley for a quick chance off the rush that Mason was just able to fight it off. Columbus was in full rope-a-dope mode, content to just lift the puck deep into the Wild zone, change lines and force the Wild to carry it up the full length of the ice. When the Wild did manage to set up a quality shot, they'd fire it wide or not get a good stick on it. Marek Zidlicky would start to pinch down low, almost looking like a 4th forward as the Wild were pressing but Columbus was doing a good job at tying up Minnesota skaters so they could not pounce on 2nd chance opportunities. The crowd was clearly a bit bored even as the Wild were trying to apply offensive pressure as the wave made its way around the lower bowl (the Twitter traffic about this was hilarious). The Blue Jackets were sitting back in an ultra passive 1-2-2 just hoping to challenge the Wild's entry into the offensive zone, and Minnesota was starting to look a little frustrated. Minnesota persisted, by working the puck deep but they were unable to win the race for the dump in and Columbus was able to clear the zone with a high flip into the air. This happened over and over again. Columbus was hustling well and making sure Minnesota was one and done whenever they took a shot. Erik Christensen caught Columbus' Antoine Vermette with a bit of a dangerous hit near the Wild bench that sent him careening into the boards but there was no call. Minnesota was working hard to create some scoring chances but Columbus was tying up sticks and was content to clear the zone and ice the puck. Columbus bench boss Todd Richards would call a timeout after an icing call to give his tired team a much-needed break as the Wild tried to devise a plan to score the equalizer. Minnesota had pulled Backstrom for an extra attacker, and the Wild would win the draw and they would control the puck until it was passed out to the point where Jared Spurgeon mishandled it and they were forced to reset. It was a costly mistake as the Wild were unable to hold the zone and James Wisniewski lifted a puck up into the air and the puck would skitter its way into the empty net sealing the Wild's fate, 3-1.
Niklas Backstrom was again ok, but the late goal he gave up in the 1st really changed the tone of the game. He came up with some ok saves, but this was a game where Minnesota needed to be air tight and he wasn't quite good enough. Defensively the Wild didn't do too bad, only giving up 18 shots to the Blue Jackets. I thought Mike Lundin looked reasonable after being scratched for so long. Marek Zidlicky was shooting the puck a bit more, and he was very assertive tonight as he took a lot of trips up the ice to join the forwards on the forecheck.
Offensively, the team simply did not get it done. Setoguchi's goal was nice, but Minnesota was not able to get sticks on the rebounds and that meant more often than not the Wild were one-shot wonders on the attack. You have to give the Blue Jackets' defenseman credit for tying up Wild forwards to prevent those 2nd chance opportunities but a lot of that in my opinion has to do with willpower. Where you either get a stick on the puck or you draw a penalty in the process. Just standing there and twisting isn't getting it done. The Wild will likely point to 35 shots as the team putting enough shots on goal, but how many of them were quality chances? 6-7? The team was going against Steve Mason who has been struggling mightily this season and made him look like a Vezina trophy candidate. The team now possibly losing Cal Clutterbuck (knee is my guess) certainly didn't help.
Like it or not, Todd Richards is 2-0 against his former club. I am sure he must've relished hearing the boo's from the Xcel Energy Crowd which he knew was not for him, but the hometown Wild. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo is right on the money, this team flat-out stinks. Two losses against the league's worst team (a team that is horrible on the road), including one at home after another poor effort the night before. While I didn't think the effort was horrible, but near the net and in the scoring areas this team didn't quite fight hard as it needed to. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had this to say in the post-game press conference, "Well you knew that was a possibility, sometimes you don't get what you deserve, and sometimes you do." Yeo was far more pleased with the team, feeling the effort was good enough to win. Ok, you think it was good enough, but you still lost. We're sick of the talk, sick of the 'we deserved better' we obviously didn't if we were not out battling Columbus for the rebounds that really was the difference in the game.
~ The roster for tonight's game is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Erik Christensen, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Darroll Powe, Warren Peters, Matt Kassian, Carson McMillan, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky, Mike Lundin, Nate Prosser and Jared Spurgeon. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Justin Falk was the lone healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Steve Mason, 2nd Star R.J. Umberger, 3rd Star Devin Setoguchi
~ Attendance was 18,958 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The Houston Aeros had a crazy game Saturday night in Grand Rapids. After Marco Scandella scored in the 1st period the Griffins answered with 3 goals of their own to take a 3-1 lead going into the 3rd period. Houston would claw their way back into the game as Jed Ortmeyer made a pretty play to steal a puck off of Tom McCollum to cut the Griffins lead to 3-2. Kris Foucault would score the equalizer early in the 3rd. Houston would then bang home the go-ahead goal as a steal by Justin Fontaine was one-timed by David McIntyre that beat McCollum cleanly. The Griffins would pull their goaltender in the final minute and Joakim Andersson fired a shot by a sprawling Darcy Kuemper. The game seemed to be destined for overtime, but the Aeros would strike with just 29 seconds left as a point shot by Drew Bagnall was redirected by Jon DiSalvatore for the game winner. Kuemper had 30 saves in the victory.
Wild Prospect Report:
Kelowna's Brett Bulmer
LW - Brett Bulmer (Kelowna, WHL) ~ The power forward returned to the Rockets' lineup last night after being out for a week due to illness and got Kelowna off to a huge start as he scored twice in the 1st period. With Kelowna leading 4-1 going into the 2nd, beating Kamloops should be easy right? Wrong, the Rockets self-destructed with Bulmer collecting two minor penalties as Kelowna's collapse was made complete when the Blazer's Chase Schaber lit the lamp in overtime to seal a 5-4 Kamloops victory. The Prince George-native has 22 goals, 41 points and 64 penalty minutes in 36 games this season.
F - Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ The Penticton Vees extended their league-record winning streak to 31 games with a 10-1 demolition of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Friday night. A big part of the Vees winning ways is former Wayzata star Mario Lucia who continues to pile up the points. Lucia lit the lamp twice in the victory. The son of Gophers Head Coach Don Lucia, he may regret not making a stronger plea to his son to play for him, as Mario has 34 goals and 79 points in just 44 games.
F - Anthony Hamburg (Omaha, USHL) ~ Winner winner chicken dinner, for Anthony Hamburg as he delivered the clutch game winning shootout goal in the Lancers' 5-4 win over arch-rival Lincoln on Friday night. The Phoenix, Arizona-native also chipped in an assist as well. Hamburg has 5 goals, 18 points and 55 penalty minutes in 36 games for the Lancers this season.
C - Zach Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ With Hockey Day in Canada in full swing, today was supposed to be Prince Edward Island's way and they hoped their hometown Rocket team would be able to earn a win against the mighty Saint John Sea Dogs. Phillips and Saint John were not going to give them what they wanted as they prevailed 5-0 with the Wild prospect center chipping in an assist and went 80% on his draws (8-for-10). The Fredericton, New Brunswick-native has 26 goals, 68 points and 21 penalty minutes.
RW - Charlie Coyle (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ I think Charlie Coyle is liking the QMJHL so far since joining mid-way through his Sophomore season from Boston University. Coyle banged home a goal in the 5-0 victory. The Weymouth, Massachusetts-native has 7 goals and 11 points in 9 games.
LW - Jason Zucker (Denver, WCHA) ~ Zucker had a goal in the Pioneers 5-3 win Friday night, but that is probably not what made the game so memorable. About two minutes after Zucker scored his goal, he was the recipient of a dangerous and very late hit by the Gophers' Kyle Rau that had the dynamic winger on the ice motionless for a little while. What at first looked as though could be hockey's next great tragedy, it was mitigated as Zucker regained his strength well enough so he was able to walk off the ice but he'd miss the rest of the game as he was evaluated medically. So far it is believed that he may have some lung or rib issues, but for the most part he's ok. Zucker has 15 goals and 34 points in 25 games this season. Rau was given a one-game suspension for his dangerous hit.