One thing I've learned as I've gotten older, is that it gives you a sense of perspective of how things change over time. The older you are, the more perspective you gain as you can compare and contrast current events to ones from the past. In the hockey world, there are very few people I know who have more 'perspective' than the man they call 'the Maven', legendary hockey reporter / writer Stan Fischler. Fischler has been watching NHL hockey since the 1940's and has been reporting about it since the 1950's. That's over 60 years of official 'perspective' he has over the rest of us hockey rubes out there. He still contributes a column for the Hockey News about hockey's more unusual stories from its past, many of which are stories that are unfamiliar to people of my generation or younger. Whenever the Wild make their way to Madison Square Garden he usually is part of the broadcast during one of the intermissions. Fischler provides perspective and insight rather than controversy like other guys like 'Mad Mike' Milbury or "Grapes" Don Cherry. He still works for MSG where he interviews players and its obvious he's a guy who loves his job immensely and appreciates the opportunity to have been around the league's stars from "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe and Maurice "Rocket" Richard to "The Great One" Wayne Gretzky and many other stars of the league. I've included the nicknames because I think 'The Maven' appreciated the days when the respective players for a team were given colorful nicknames. We simply do not see it as much. In fact, its become rather lazy as usually a player is simply given an "ie" or a "y" after their first or last name and that suddenly becomes their nickname. I have to admit, I'm not a fan of that. Its generic. I'd rather have a more colorful nickname like Jamie "Noodles" McLellan than just be Ovie.
"The Maven" Stan Fischler
I am sure Fischler will take the opportunity to talk with the Wild's Zach Parise after Fischler had covered him for many years when he was with the New Jersey Devils. The Minnesota Wild had to be thoroughly embarrassed after their performance on Thursday in Pittsburgh where they were completely outplayed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. So hopefully after a few more days off, and knowing they'll have a few more days to rest through Christmas the team will be motivated to win a hockey game against the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday. Will the Wild give their loyal fans the gift of a few road victories or will they give them some coal in their stockings?
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1st Period Thoughts: I was a bit leery with the way the Wild started the game. The d-zone converage was still a little suspect as the Rangers got a 3-on-1 thanks to players being a little irresponsible with the puck and Ryan McDonagh rang a shot off the post. The Rangers were able to break out of their own zone with ease as the Wild forecheck was still mostly absent. If there was a bright spot early it was how much sharper the 2nd line looked with Mikael Granlund centering it. Granlund, who had been out with a concussion the last 3 weeks gave no appearance of rust as he worked with Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville. The smallish Finn set up Niederreiter for a close-in chance. Those two would be working well together all period long. A little shenanigans by the New York bench after a Rangers' icing infraction was caught by NHL referee Dan O'Halloran who checked with the scorekeeper to find out who really should still be on the ice. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault tried to play stupid first before laughing about it when O'Halloran turned away. I doubt he was still laughing when the Wild scored on the ensuing draw in the New York zone as Mikael Granlund won the draw back to Ryan Suter and he threaded a diagonal pass to the blue paint that was tapped in by Pominville to give Minnesota a rare 1-0 lead on the road. It was a beauty of a pass by Suter. The 2nd line continued to give the Rangers' fits as Pominville raced into the New York end before stopping and sliding a pass over to Granlund who swung it over to Niederreiter for a quick shot on goal that was stopped by a leg pad save by Cam Talbot. Pominville would have another great opportunity as Jared Spurgeon carried the puck deep into the Rangers' zone and he'd send a pass towards the crease that was directed on goal by Pominville who rang it off the post. The Wild had all of the momentum at this point, but a lazy tripping penalty by Mikko Koivu on Carl Hagelin gave the Rangers a power play. For the most part the Wild's penalty kill did a good job at forcing the Rangers to settle for shots from the perimeter. As the Wild swapped out penalty killers; this gave Team Norway star Mats Zuccarello a chance to turn on the jets for a breakaway but he was stonewalled by a fine leg pad save by Niklas Backstrom. Minnesota would get the big kill and they'd go back on the attack and it was the 1st line causing the Rangers to have some issues in its own zone as Charlie Coyle won a battle down low where he passed it over to Mikko Koivu and he moved it out to Zach Parise for a quick shot that was deflected up into the air by Talbot who reached up and caught it before Parise could pounce on it. Again as the Wild seemed to be close to putting themselves up by two, a penalty threatened to derail that progress. A tripping call on Keith Ballard would blow up in the Wild faces right away. A won draw led to a shot by McDonagh that was tapped in by Benoit Pouliot, 1-1 game. There was a little chippiness late in the period as the Rangers took offense to a Matt Cooke hit on Zuccarello. Kyle Brodziak who stepped in to protect Cooke as well as the Rangers' John Moore were sent to the box. Not a bad period, but one where the Wild should've been up either 1-0 or 2-0 instead of tied at 1-1. Staying disciplined will be very important because that is really the only way the Rangers are able to get much in the way of quality scoring chances.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period was of the variety where I wanted to throw a brick through the television. The Wild started to dink around with the puck, where they wanted to be fancy and out skill the Rangers. It was a recipe for disappointment and frustration. The Rangers on the other hand kept it simple. Any chance to put the puck on goal was taken and they were rewarded for keeping things simple. A perfect example was the Wild's power play mid-way through the period. Minnesota's top unit of Koivu, Parise, Coyle with Pominville and Suter at the points moved the puck around but when they set up Coyle in the slot he seemed to think his role was to distribute the puck instead of taking the opportunity to fire the biscuit. Twice he passed on up on shooting opportuniites to stand with his back to the goal and pass it over to Jason Pominville for a big slap shot. While Pominville is probably the Wild's most dangerous shooter the fact Coyle wasn't shooting either tells me he doesn't understand the role of the guy in the slot is to shoot or at least appearing as though will shoot the puck or he doesn't think he's supposed to shoot. Why have 4 set up men for one shooter on the power play? The Rangers would counter attack immediately off the power play and it was Derek Dorsett sending a pass from down low into the slot where Carl Hagelin fired it by Backstrom, 2-1 New York. Well it wouldn't get any better as a few minutes later the Wild's top line works the puck into the slot to Koivu and the captain tries to pass the puck and it mishandles it without getting a shot on goal. The Rangers counter attack and Derick Brassard swings a pass into the slot with 5 Wild players standing nearby and the pass finds a streaking Zuccarello for a quick shot that is buried behind Backstrom, 3-1 New York. Watch the Rangers! Their simple approach was reaping dividends while the Wild were basically going through the motions. Give the Rangers credit for taking full advantage of the Wild's lack of initiative. New York outshot the Wild 17-5 in the period and now carried a 2-goal lead going into the 3rd period. Absolutely pathetic period where the Wild have no one but themselves to blame. Wayne Gretzky once said you miss 100% of the shots you don't take, the Wild are living that quote right now. If I could ask a question, where in the heck are the team leaders to get their teammates to simplify their game. Or is it easier to sit on the bench and be quiet and hope it works itself out on its own? Am I feeling a Wild come back at this point? Nope, not a snowball's chance in Hades.
3rd Period Thoughts: The eyesore of a game would continue as the Rangers were content to play keep away while the Wild tried to mount a feeble comeback. Even when the Wild's effort was almost ok, they couldn't finish when the opportunity presented itself as Koivu rang a shot off the pipe. A few minutes later, Matt Cooke who seemed to be under the Rangers' skin most of the game would draw a slashing penalty on Dominic Moore who chopped Cooke's stick in half. On the ensuing power play the Wild adopted a more direct approach, setting up a big shot from the point and also from in close but still couldn't get one by Talbot. As if on cue, the Wild's mistakes would result in a goal. This time it was Chris Kreider, outhustling Marco Scandella for a puck and then fanning on a shot that slid towards Backstrom who tried to poke it out of harm's way but instead he misses and it beats him 5-hole on one of the weakest goals you'll see all season. It was a yogurt soft goal you'd expect to see from a team that lacks focus and a goaltender who has no confidence. The Wild were unable to make even simple passes and poor decisions piled up for Minnesota in its own end. The game couldn't end soon enough.
Niklas Backstrom was just there, making 32 saves in the loss. In Backstrom's defense, no pun intended, the Wild were not giving him much help. Still, with a goal like Kreider's scored it hardly instills a lot confidence from his teammates who already seem to be just biding their time waiting for Josh Harding to return. Defensively the Wild had its share of breakdowns as their reliance on the boards and glass for breakouts continues to be a turnover machine. Even when they were huddled in around Backstrom the team seemed to lack the focus to actually watch the puck or the man and the Rangers scored twice in the 2nd period on shots taken from the slot. The Wild aren't even attempting body checks and the Rangers were able to skate wherever they wanted to. SOFT!
Offensively it was all about the shots the Wild stopped taking in the 2nd period. The team decided that it was simply going to beat New York with fancy set ups and pretty goals. Those chances didn't materialize so even when they had the puck in the Rangers' zone it wasn't even ending up in shots on goal. The Rangers didn't have the issue and they were getting pucks on goal and burying them behind a very average Wild goaltender. Dany Heatley looks completely lost on the 3rd line. He isn't fast enough to forecheck but he doesn't seem to know where he should be so he can at least be a help to Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke. The 2nd line was the lone bright spot but they mostly disappeared after the 1st period as did the rest of the team. Charlie Coyle needs to learn to be a shooter on the 1st power play or he shouldn't be on it at all. Mike Rupp? Yikes, he isn't an NHL player right now. He may be the slowest skater to ever have played for the Wild.
Minnesota won't have time to dwell on another pathetic loss as they travel to play Philadelphia tomorrow. The Flyers are playing better as of late, but Minnesota has to be better than that. The Wild had a decent 1st period but it was a complete debacle after that. Minnesota stopped themselves, and again they should've been well rested coming into this game. Two awful efforts in a row after more than two day break. This team should be absolutely humiliated and they better come out like banshees tomorrow otherwise you really have to question the direction this team is headed as well as who is 'leading' this team.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Mike Rupp, Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula, Kyle Brodziak, Dany Heatley, Matt Cooke, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard. Johan Gustafsson backed up Niklas Backstrom. Justin Fontaine, Zenon Konopka and Nate Prosser were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Mats Zuccarello, 2nd Star Carl Hagelin, 3rd Star Derick Brassard
~ Attendance was 18,006 at Madison Square Garden.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 3, San Antonio 2 OT
Iowa, like the Minnesota Wild had one more game before it started its holiday break but unlike its parent club it got to play at home against the San Antonio Rampage. The Wild would deliver their fans a great holiday treat. The game started out with both clubs fairly even until Jonathan Matsumoto found a little space in the slot where he rifled a shot by John Curry to make it 1-0 San Antonio. The Wild would answer back as rookie Raphael Bussieres banged home his 2nd goal of the year from a sharp angle to tie the game at 1-1. After a scoreless 2nd period the stalemate would finally be broken in the 3rd when former Hobey Baker award winner Matt Gilroy was hit by a point shot by teammate Jed Ortmeyer that eluded Curry to make it 2-1. Iowa would storm back with a goal of their own as Steven Kampfer pounced on a loose puck in the slot to rip a shot by Rob Madore to tie it at two and send the game to overtime. Overtime was inconclusive so the game would go to a shootout. The shootout was more of a duel between Madore and Curry as both goaltenders stopped the first 5 shooters they faced sending it to sudden death. Rookie Tyler Graovac was the 6th shooter and he'd fake a wrist shot and then beat Madore with a sneaky backhand shot 5-hole to give the Wild a 1-0 shootout lead. The Rampage's next shooter was Bobby Butler and the former University of New Hampshire star would not be denied as he raced in and beat Curry to tie at 1-1. Iowa's next shooter was Steven Kampfer and he'd move in and rip a wrist shot by Madore, glove side to make it 2-1. This put all the pressure on Jed Ortmeyer who'd move in and he rang a shot wide off the post and Iowa would win 3-2. John Curry was terrific, making 39 saves in the victory in front of 6,437 fans at Des Moines' Wells Fargo Arena.
Wild Prospect Report:
D - Dylan Labbe (Shawinigan, QMJHL) ~ The 6'2" defenseman continues to be a bright spot on a team that has more than its share of duldrums this season. Labbe tallied an assist along with 4 shots on goal and a hit in the Cataractes 2-0 victory over Charlotteville on Saturday afternoon. The left shooting defenseman has 3 goals, 18 points and 16 PIM's to go along with a -16 rating in 35 games this season.
G - Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) ~ I've always believed the most important statistic for any goaltender is their win & loss record. Belanger is hoping you feel the same way as he had a bit of a rough game, making just 15 saves on 19 shots in his team's 5-4 overtime win over Sherbrooke on Saturday night. The athletic goaltender's record improves to 18-8, with a 3.26 goals against average and an .876% save percentage through 28 games played this season.
C - Avery Peterson (Grand Rapids, USHS-West) ~ Its been an active last 3 days as Peterson and his Grand Rapids Thunderhawks competed in 3 hard fought games as part of the Edina Hockey Classic. Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher was in attendance to no doubt watch Peterson as well as some other promising youngsters. Peterson chipped in 2 assist in Saturday's 3-2 win over #2 ranked Elk River. In 9 games this season, Peterson has 9 goals and 18 points.