Excitement surrounded the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome last weekend, and no I'm not talking about the bizarre Minnesota Vikings' game. I'm talking about the Minnesota State High School Football Tournament where it featured 7 games from teams representing 9-man to Class AAAAAA. The top teams from their respective class battled it out to be named state champions. It was all about what teams could rise to the occasion and overcome any obstacle their opponents could put in their way. In some games, the result was one sided, for instance in the Hutchinson versus Holy Angels (Hutchinson won 49-7), while other games came down to the wire like the game between New London-Spicer and St. Croix Lutheran (St. Croix Lutheran won 48-44). So what does this have to do with the Minnesota Wild? If the Wild want to count themselves amongst the Western Conference elite it must earn victories over those teams as well as vanquishing those clubs they clearly are better than.
Hutchinson and St. Croix Lutheran proved their mettle against both kinds of teams, pretenders and contenders. Now its the Wild's turn. The Wild have to exhibit the same intensity against current pretender Philadelphia this evening as they did against contender Colorado on Saturday night. Hopefully this time the Wild win the game. So will the Wild make a statement while on national television or will it be still in search of answers?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota had better energy to start the game, using ther speed to put the Flyers on their heels. I thought Minnesota kept this up real well the first 10 minutes of the game, winning most of the races for the loose pucks as they got their cycling game going. The Wild had a lot of posession time and they were trying to send the puck on goal but all too often Minnesota failed to connect and the puck would skitter harmlessly to the other side of the ice. When Minnesota was able to get a shot on goal, it was from the perimeter that Ray Emery had little trouble steering aside. The Flyers struggled with Minnesota's speed but they would adjust and settle for playing well defensively, blocking shots and denying passing lanes. The Flyers also settled for shots from the perimeter but those shots had the benefit of traffic in front of Josh Harding and he would bail out the Wild with some big saves. Minnesota was paying the physical price as well as dishing out some punishment which was drawing the ire of the Flyers. Charlie Coyle knocked Andrej Meszaros on his backside with a solid hit and Philadelphia was determined to answer back and Wayne Simmonds would wrestle down Jared Spurgeon earning a 2-minute trip to the enalty box. It was a selfish penalty taken in the last minute of the period. The Wild didn't do much of anything with the power play though. The puck movement was too predictable and Minnesota needs to be more assertive. The Wild were awful on their draws, which is unusual since Minnesota is one of the better faceoff teams in the NHL but they got beat 11 out of 13 times. Minnesota's best scoring chance came off the stick of Kyle Brodziak as Matt Cooke found him with a pass as he skated down the slot but his shot went right into the Flyers crest of Ray Emery. Energy level good, but shooting the puck and creating offense still leaves a lot to be desired. Baby steps I guess.
2nd Period Thoughts: Mike Rupp tried to give his team a spark by dropping the gloves with Jay Rosehill and while the fight was spirited I do not think it yielded the desired effect. After controlling the fight early with some big right hooks, Rupp ended up having the tables turned by the persistance of Rosehill who really humbled the veteran with a few nasty punches including one that drew a cut just above the right eye of the Wild enforcer. I give the win to Rosehill. You can see the fight here for yourself.
I thought the game sort of degenerated at this point for the Wild. Minnesota went away from its hustling, forechecking game which kept Philadelphia bottled up in its end so well in the 1st. The Wild started to sit back, and were careless with the puck making for easy turnovers for the Flyers. Most of it was just laziness too, guys just reaching out with their stick with one hand instead of skating to the puck. Luckily for Minnesota, the Flyers were unable to make the WIld play for its lack of attention to the small details. The ultimate result was a total snoozefest of a period. Minnesota had a few shots on goal with the benefit of a little traffic but Emery was able to make the stop and the Wild were unable to pounce on the rebounds making it one-and-done even on the Wild's better shifts. Zach Parise got loose behind the Flyers defense but unfortuantely he got a little too close and his wrist shot was knocked down and held onto by Emery. If there was any bright spot for the Wild, was the play of Minnesota's defense who back tracked well and got the puck out of the defensive zone efficiently but that really was about it. It is a 0-0 game against a blah hockey team; Minnesota was playing down to the level of the Flyers which is not a good sign. The one player that has impressed me with his effort and hustle so far in this game has been Torrey Mitchell but beyond that it looks like a bunch of guys waiting for someone else to make a big play to bail them out.
3rd Period Thoughts: I was not happy with how this period started. The Wild looked flat, hesitant and they were chasing the Flyers around their zone early. You could just sense that Minnesota was going to get hit with a harsh dose of karma as the Flyers swarmed around their zone forcing Harding to make a few saves. Just when it seemed as though the Wild were going to find themselve down by a goal the top line would come up with a big play as Mikko Koivu made a great pass out front to Jason Pominville who lifted a puck just underneath the crossbar and in to make it 1-0. Minnesota followed up that great individual effort with another one as Marco Scandella lingered after a good forechecking shift to hold the puck deep in the Flyers zone and he'd turn and swing a pass back to defensive partner Jared Spurgeon who stepped into a slap shot that Emery stopped but Coyle was there to bang home the rebound to make it 2-0 just 57 seconds after Pominville's tally. The Flyers would try to answer back and I felt the Wild did a nice job of responding with poise and smart safe plays. The Wild's penalty kill would kill off 2 penalties with aggressive puck pressure which never really allowed Philadelphia to get too comfortable in the offensive zone. Charlie Coyle, Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak all deserve gold stars for their play on the penalty kill. Not to be outdone, but Josh Harding saved his best save of the night on a Flyers power play when he leapt across his crease to deny Jakub Voracek who thought he had an open net. Flyers Head Coach Craig Berube decided to push all in, with 3:22 left in the game by pulling Ray Emery for an extra attacker with his club down by two. Philadelphia was able to get a few long range shots to reach Harding who fought them off, but Minnesota did a good job of circling the wagons keeping the Flyers to the perimeter and they'd come away with a 2-0 victory.
Josh Harding was solid making 21 saves in the victory. He may not have faced a lot of quality shots, but he made some big stops down the stretch to slam the door on the Flyers and help his club end its 4-game losing streak. The stop on Voracek was huge. Defensively, I thought the Wild did a great job at contesting the Flyers from having open looks at the net. The penalty kill was also very good at preventing the Flyers from building any kind of momentum.
Offensively the Wild got just enough to earn the win but I thought they were too picky with their shot selection. A few too many passes and not enough shots coming from the scoring areas. Minnesota did not follow up its shots until the 3rd period and coincidentally they were rewarded with Coyle's insurance goal. One other area that needs some serious work was the power play. The power play was abysmal. It was way too static, the puck movement was slow which did nothing to open passing or shooting lanes and thus it was very easy for the Flyers to deny the Wild from registering any shots on goal on the man advantage. That needs to be fixed. The power play used to be x-factor the team used to make up for the fact it's just ok at even strength. Its not only not registering goals, but its actually help kill momentum. I think the Wild may want to change up the personnel on the power play. I wouldn't mind seeing Erik Haula on the point or at least the half wall as he's creative and isn't afraid to shoot either.
The Wild have to feel relieved that this game didn't morph into a disaster as Minnesota sleepwalked through much of the 2nd period in a scoreless game. Those are the kinds of games that come back to bite you more often than not. With the 4-game losing streak behind them the Wild now have to regroup and refocus to try to defeat a super solid Chicago Blackhawks team on Thursday. Hopefully the team rests up a little, and is ready to start the game the way they did tonight. Its a start, but Minnesota needs to find ways to win games against elite teams like Chicago and others if it wants to climb up the standings.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville, Dany Heatley, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Nate Prosser, Mathew Dumba and Justin Fontaine were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game according to Wild.com were: 1st Star Josh Harding, 2nd Jason Pominville, 3rd Star Mikko Koivu
~ Attendance was 17,676 at Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota Golden Gophers Report:
It was a good week for both of the hockey teams at the University of Minnesota as both the men's and women's team swept their respective series. Both teams will no doubt still be rated #1 in the Pairwise rankings after another strong weekend.
The Women's team has rebounded nicely after the conclusion of their 62-game long winning streak by a demolition of the Princeton Tigers. On Saturday night, the Gopher women rolled to a 6-0 victory, outshooting Princeton 48 to 11. Dani Cameranesi had two goals (7th & 8th) while Hannah Brandt (8th), Sarah Davis (9th), Kelly Terry (11th) lit the lamp and Bethany Brausen scored her first goal of the season. On Sunday the Gophers earned the sweep with a 9-1 rout. Princeton's Breana Leahy prevented her team from earning the snowman this weekend while nine different Gophers scored. Davis, Terry, Brausen, Milica McMillen, Baylee Gillanders, Meghan Lorence, Kelsey Cline and Maryanne Menefee found the twine for Minnesota. Amanda Leveille gave up just 1 goal on 31 shots faced this weekend. The Gopher women are 17-1 this season.
On the men's side, the Gophers opened their Big 10 schedule with arch rival Wisconsin. In Friday's tilt, the Badgers struck first as former Holy Angels' star Joe LaBate found the back of the net behind Adam Wilcox. Minnesota would answer back with a power play goal from Mike Reilly, and just minutes after this goal it was Seth Ambroz ripping a shot by Landon Peterson to make it 2-1. Connor Reilly and Ambroz would add two more to seal a 4-1 victory. Saturday's game would have more drama as the Badgers again got off to an early lead as a point shot by Frankie Simonelli beat Wilcox. The Gophers responded with a goal of their own about a minute and a half later as Kyle Rau buried a rebound chance on Joel Rumpel. Wisconsin would re-take the lead late in the period as Nic Kerdiles scored with just 5 minutes left in the 1st. Minnesota would pour it on trying to work for the equalizer and its persistance would be rewarded as Tom Serratore fed a pass out front which was lifted up and over Rumpel to tie the game at 2-2. Early in the 3rd, Brady Skjei would step into a slap shot that would thread its way to the back of the net to give Minnesota its first lead of the game. Wisconsin would answer back as Michael Mersch would charge the Minnesota goal and sneak a puck through the leg pads of Wilcox tying the game at 3-3. The game seemed destined for a tie when a strange misplay of the puck by Jake McCabe would end up on the stick of Travis Boyd who swung a puck towards the goal that was picked up by Ambroz who then made a quick flip of the wrist to bury the game winner with 26 seconds left in the game. Ambroz had 4 goals on the weekend giving Minnesota an 11-2-1 record on the season.
Wild Prospect Report:
D - Nolan DeJong (Michigan, Big 10) ~ While the Golden Gophers were happy about starting off 2-0 in Big 10 play they were not the only team able to say that. The Wolverines earned a series sweep against rival Ohio State which was capped off by a 5-4 overtime victory on Monday night. The Wild's defense prospect played on the 3rd pairing for the Wolverines, tallying an assist in the victory. DeJong has 4 assists in 13 games for the Wolverines.