"Well you're the real tough cookie, with the long history, of breaking little hearts, like the one in me, that's ok, let's see how you do it, put up your dukes, let's get down to it, hit me with your best shot, why don't you hit me with your best shot, hit me with your best shot, fire away," are the lyrics to Pat Benetar's famous song Hit Me With Your Best Shot. Last night Dany Heatley took Marc-Edouard Vlasic's best shot after the game concluded last night in San Jose and after a cross check to the back, Vlasic then gave a two-handed chop to the forearm of Heatley that left him skating back to the Wild bench in immense pain. At the time a few Wild players verbally abused Vlasic and the Sharks' over the dirty play but that was about it. When asked about it, Vlasic said that he was only 'defending himself' and that an attempted slash by Heatley that missed had to be answered back but that he did not intend to hurt him. I wonder if Vlasic thought the same thing when he delivered this hit to Philadelphia's Danny Briere last season. Seems a bit dirty doesn't it? Unfortunately, the NHL chose not to suspend 'Pickles' as he's known by his teammates for that hit and makes you wonder if he'll draw a suspension from the NHL Department of Player Safety this time around. Had Vlasic had that official history of a suspension I would think the likelihood of him being forced to sit a few games would've been considerably higher. My guess is Vlasic has a 30-70 chance of being suspended. Even if Vlasic is suspended for A game, the Wild are likely to be without the services of Dany Heatley of at least a couple games if not more so it hardly seems like fitting justice to me. Its just a little slash on the wrist to Vlasic, but the league didn't mean to hurt him. Really, it didn't.
With all of the Vlasic / Heatley Incident speculation aside the Wild are going to have to hit control, alt, delete in their minds after last night's game and re-focus and come ready to play in Los Angeles this evening. The Wild escaped with a come-from-behind shootout victory when the two clubs played in the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center on March 30th. The Kings will no doubt want to avenger their loss plus continue to gain ground on what is a very contentious race to the playoffs. The Kings, perhaps more than any other team in NHL history realizes just how much one point can mean in a season after having qualified for the playoffs last year by just one point and then making a magic run to its first ever Stanley Cup. The Wild would be smart to learn from this example and understand there are no mulligan hockey games anymore. They need to try to earn points in each and everyone of them if they want to qualify for the post season and let's face it that was the real underlying message of Minnesota's siginificant splash at the trade deadline yesterday. So will the Wild fight back or will they hobble back to Minnesota, a little dazed, confused and banged up?
Click on "Continue Reading" for the rest of the article...
1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota would stumble then trip out of the gate as the Kings cashed in twice early in the game on chances from a strong transition game. The Wild tried to attack as the 'captain line' of Jason Pominville, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu entered the Kings' zone with speed as Koivu hammered a slap shot wide of Jonathan Bernier, and the miss turned into a great outlet pass for Justin Williams who picked it up off the wall and then turned on the jets for the Wild's zone in a 3-on-1 with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Tom Gilbert tried to play the middle to prevent the pass and Williams wired a shot by Niklas Backstrom to give the Kings' a 1-0 lead. The Kings would add another just 2 minutes later as Jeff Carter would get a pass from former Flyers' teammate Mike Richards and he'd blast a shot by Backstrom to lift Los Angeles to a 2-0 lead. With two shots and two goals, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had seen enough and he would pull Backstrom in favor of Darcy Kuemper. The quality scoring chances would continue for Los Angeles as Kopitar motored his way by the Wild defense and he'd be denied by the leg pad of Kuemper. The Wild would stabilize things a bit as they started to move their feet a bit more in their own zone and the Kings were not able to have so much freedom in the Minnesota zone. Minnesota would start to go on the attack with the 'captain line' and they'd put on a great exhibition of stickhandling, deft passes and puck movement as they created a few quick chances that Bernier was up to the task to stop. The Wild would follow it up with its line of Kyle Brodziak, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund and Coyle would carry the puck deep in the Los Angeles zone before being muscled off the puck by Jake Muzzin before dishing the puck back to Mikael Granlund who tried to move out front for a close range chance and his short-side bid just hit the shoulder of Bernier otherwise it looked like it was destined for the back of the goal. A few minutes later the 'captain line' would again dominate the Kings' zone with their speed and their strength on the puck that was driving the Kings crazy as they chased the Wild around their end of the ice. A late tripping penalty on Torrey Mitchell who got his stick into the skates of Colin Fraser gave Los Angeles a golden opportunity to add to its lead. Minnesota's penalty killers would raise their game and they'd outhustle the Kings to earn a few clears of the zone and the Wild would go into the 2nd period still trailing 2-0. For the second night in a row the Wild have dug themselves a hole by spotting their opponent a two-goal lead and now have to try to scratch and claw their way back into the game. The 'captain line' looked scary good towards the middle of the period and Pominville demonstrated some definite chemistry with Parise and Koivu that dare I say almost looked Sedins-like. The Wild will start the 2nd with about 11 seconds of power play time to kill off.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild would get the early kill on a nice hustle play by Parise. Minnesota were very sloppy with their passes and this really prevented the Wild from getting anything going offensively. Los Angeles would add to its lead as Justin Williams raced in while Minnesota was in the midst of a line change and he'd wind up a blast a slapper that went over the shoulder of Kuemper and underneath the crossbar and in. It was shades of Mike Bossy as the Wild found themselves down 3-0. It was Williams' 2nd goal of the game and an unbelievable shot. Minnesota tried to rally back with its top line and again Parise, Koivu and Pominville moved and cycled the puck down low with tremendous speed and efficiency but all they were able to generate was a pass out to the point to Jonas Brodin who moved down the slot where he got off a backhander that was stopped by Bernier who knocked it down but unfortunately no one was able to pounce on the rebound. The Wild would get its first power play of the game as Jordan Nolan got an elbow up into the grill of Zenon Konopka near the Kings' bench. Minnesota's power play got things going early as they set up Jared Spurgeon for a blast from the point that was calmly gloved by Bernier. You could sense the level of desperation in the Wild as they really tried to pour it on offensively as they tried to storm the crease as Koivu fed a pass out front that was shoveled on goal by Parise and then Pominville couldn't get it by Bernier. The Wild tried one more time as Ryan Suter carried the puck in and his shot attempt was blocked by a diving play by Slava Voynov but the Wild continued as Pominville was stopped at point blank range and the Kings went back on the counter attack where Kopitar looked to be off to the races for a breakaway where he was harassed and hauled down by Spurgeon for an easy tripping call. Minnesota was again strong on the penalty kill, getting sticks into passing and shooting lanes and the Wild were able to get a big kill. Minnesota tried to answer back with its 2nd line of Setoguchi, Bouchard and Granlund and it was Bouchard ringing a wrist shot off the left post and out. Another period would conclude and now the Wild were down 3-0. I love the way the 'captain line' is playing and I like how they tried to keep it simple and crash the net and probably should've been rewarded for their effort. The 2nd line of Bouchard, Granlund and Setoguchi was a little better, but Setoguchi seems to have to slow down in order to accomodate his linemates and thus the unit is far less explosive than when Cullen was centering it. Thinking of how Cullen played with Setoguchi, its really kind of fun to think about just how dangerous the Wild could be with the 'captain line' and that quality 2nd line that was such a force for a while. There were not a lot of shots reaching either goaltender, but the problem was proportionately quite a few of them were finding the twine behind Wild goaltenders with Minnesota holding a 11-9 edge in shots. Defensively, Clayton Stoner still leaves a lot to be desired.
3rd Period Thoughts: The third period clearly demonstrated the overall problem facing the Wild. While they had their moments of working hard, they just were never rewarded for doing so. On top of that, it just seems that no matter what they did, they were continually one or two steps behind the puck all night long. When you can't get to the loose pucks before the opposition, you're going to find it difficult to put forth a consistent offensive effort. That was the tale of the puck. Of course when you're missing players and have "new" players inserted into the lineup with little to no practice, it certainly isn't going to help matters. The players are frustrated, the coaches are frustrated, and the fans are especially frustrated, since it is now after midnight for the second night in a row. The team just didn't seem to have the gas left in the tank to will themselves to a comeback.
The interesting part of this game was the fact the Wild were not way outplayed. The Kings had some great scoring chances early but after mid-way through the 1st period the Wild played better defensively and the Kings didn't get much going offensively themselves. Don't get me wrong, the Kings capitalized on the few chances they had and for the most part played a tight defensive game that limited the Wild's chances and that was more than enough to earn a shutout. Jonathan Bernier was sharp and wasn't giving up rebounds for the Wild to take advantage of and that's why Minnesota got shutout. Niklas Backstrom's two goals on two shots really put the Wild in a big hole early and for the next few minutes afterwards the team seemed to be in a stupor as it gave a few more odd man chances off the rush but after that the Kings were content to muck and grind along the boards and make the Wild have to scratch and claw to even get a single shot on goal. I thought Darcy Kuemper did an adequate job. The one goal he gave up would've been scored on anyone and he played it properly, it just was a phenomenal shot by Justin Williams.
The only line that was working for the Wild all night long was the 'captain line' of Pominville, Koivu and Parise. This line cycled the puck at a Sedin like level where they almost unconsciously knew where each other were going to be and caused all kinds of problems for the Kings defensively. While they did not manage to score a goal the chemistry between them was obvious and they have all the makings of a truly lethal NHL line. As good as this line was, I think last night provided further evidence of how much this team misses Matt Cullen. The 2nd line was lost out there, unable to do much of anything and Devin Setoguchi was a complete non-factor because his linemates were struggling with the game to a point where they could barely find the time to avoid hits to let alone set up Setoguchi. This team needs Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak to step up into a more offensive role and provide some sort of secondary scoring presence because the Wild were basically reduced to being a one-trick pony last night.
The loss is the Wild's 3rd straight as well as dropping the team out of 1st place in the Northwest and pushing them back to 6th in the Western Conference. It isn't panic time yet, but the Wild need to figure out its chemistry issues; especially on its 2nd and 3rd lines soon. The Wild have been pretty healthy all season (knock on wood) so they're not going to get any sympathy as they play a desperate and confident Columbus Blue Jackets team on Sunday in Columbus, an arena where they've traditionally struggled to win in. Minnesota could really make a statement by earning a win in Columbus, but another loss could cause the natives to get pretty restless.
~ Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikael Granlund, Zenon Konopka, Mike Rupp, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Clayton Stoner, Brett Clark, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. Darcy Kuemper shared duties between the pipes with Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser and Justin Falk were healthy scratches as Dany Heatley and Matt Cullen.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Justin Williams, 2nd Star Jonathan Bernier; 3rd Star Robyn Regher.
~ Attendance was 18,118 at Staples Center.
~ Jason Pominville wore #29 for the Wild joining Jamie "Noodles" McLennan, Josh Harding, Jed Ortmeyer and Jon DiSalvatore to wear that number.
Houston Aeros Update:
Houston 3, San Antonio 2 OT
Persistance pays off as the Houston Aeros rallied back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 3-2 win in over time over in state rival San Antonio tonight. It wasn't for a lack of trying as they peppered Dov Grumet-Morris with 43 shots on goal. After giving up 2 goals to Scott Timmins and Jack Combs. The Aeros would finally solve Grumet-Morris as Chad Rau got a pass from Justin Fontaine that deflected off the goalie and Rau buried it to cut the Rampage's lead to one. Houston would get the game-tying goal as bad turnover in the Rampage's zone was pounced upon by Jason Zucker who rifled a shot into the back of the net with just over 5 imnutes in regulation. The Aeros would strike in OT as Tyler Cuma blasted a shot from the point that created a big rebound off of Grumet-Morris and it was Zucker ripping a quick one timer to give Houston a 3-2 win. Cody Reichard had 15 saves in the win. The victory snaps a 5-game losing streak for the Aeros.