Selective amnesia, its one of those things I come across on a daily basis as an educator, when a student tries to think of a creative way to tell me an assignment hasn't been completed. "I didn't know it was due" or other forms of selective amnesia. The stereotypical "my dog ate my homework" is more myth than anything bound in reality. So what do you call it when you have an NHL player attempt to float a pretty weak excuse? The player in question is Edmonton's Taylor Hall in his post-game interview after his dirty low hit on the Wild's Cal Clutterbuck. "The first thing I did was look back to the officials to see if it was a penalty, which it obviously was (guilty right there) I really didn't feel like it was knee-to-knee at all, I thought I got him with the hip or torso area, it was a weird play. I don't think it was a dirty play, I don't think I led with my knee." Really? Well the National Hockey League certainly was not buying Hall's excuse as they handed the Oilers' star a 2-game suspension. I will admit, I was surprised that the league gave him 2-games. With Hall being a star player the league rarely doles out suspensions to high profile players and since he's a 'first time offender' I felt the league would use that to give him to little to no discipline. I think the suspension was certainly warranted and probably should've been longer if this was a normal-length season. I thought NHL Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan's explanation was fantastic. Good to see the NHL step up and take a stand, and if you're Taylor Hall you better keep your head on a swivel because I have a feeling there will be more punishment handed down by the Wild.
Despite the dirty hit Minnesota earned a huge road win over Edmonton so now it will try to re-focus to take on a struggling Calgary Flames squad. This should be the easier of the two Alberta teams which makes tonight's match up for the Wild a perfect trap game. The Flames' high scoring attack will hope to overpower the Wild, but Minnesota while being the 2nd worst team in the league in scoring will hope to take advantage of Calgary's porous defense. Will the Wild manage to earn the Alberta sweep?
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1st Period Thoughts: Calgary would control the play in the first minute as Alex Tanguay worked a puck out to the point where Jay Bouwmeester fired a shot from the point that was gloved by Niklas Backstrom. Minnesota seemed calm as it would break out of its zone as a long pass by Zach Parise created a 2-on-1 for Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu and Heatley fed a saucer pass that went over the stick of Wild captain and Calgary went on the counter attack. Bouwmeester would find Tanguay with a stretch pass that had him behind the Wild defense for a break away and he got Backstrom to drop and he lifted a backhand for an easy goal, 1-0 Flames. Minnesota's 4th line tried to answer back and pass out to the point by Mike Rupp reached Jared Spurgeon who side-stepped the defense to set up Torrey Mitchell for a quick shot that was knocked down by Joey MacDonald, but the Wild couldn't cash in on the rebound. The Flames would try to add tot heir lead as Jiri Hudler nearly connected on a nice little play off the rush as his saucer pass was just out of reach of a crashing Sven Baertschi. The Wild's 2nd / 3rd line of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Charlie Coyle and Kyle Brodziak worked the puck down low in the Calgary zone as Bouchard took a few opportunities to shoot it on goal forcing MacDonald to make a few saves. A few minutes later this line would tie the game off a beauty of a rush where Brodziak threaded a long cross-ice pass to Bouchard who then delivered the perfect saucer pass to Coyle for a tap in goal. The Flames went back on the attack and Mike Cammalleri dropped a pass back to Curtis Glencross for a wide open shot from the slot but he'd fire it wide. The Wild's Jason Zucker would get the puck and he'd turn on the after burners to race by the Flames defense and he'd fire a shot high and wide of the Calgary goal. Just about 30 seconds after Zucker's failed chance he was flattened by a big open ice hit by Glencross which drew the ire of Clayton Stoner who challenged the gritty Calgary forward who would not oblige the request to drop the mits. Minnesota would get a power play off a faceoff violation when Blake Comeau shuffled the puck back with his glove. The Wild's power play moved the puck well and set up well in the zone but tried to be a little too cute with the puck and were not taking its chances to put shots on goal. Minnesota more or less helped Calgary get the kill and its unfortunate because I think they missed a real chance to go ahead and put more doubt on a team that is struggling mightily with its confidence. The Flames would have a great shift from its line of Comeau, Jiri Hudler and Baertschi as a mishandle of the puck by Spurgeon led to a great scoring chance for Baertschi by Backstrom was there to knock the shot down with his glove and then cover it for a whistle. It was a huge save that allowed Minnesota to go into the 1st intermission tied at 1-1. Minnesota was guilty of trying to be a little too fancy with the biscuit and Dany Heatley needs to start playing like he wants to be a star on this team. Too much floating and indecision. His passiveness in trying to set up Koivu cost Minnesota a goal. I thought the Wild's 4th line and line of Bouchard, Coyle and Brodziak were the team's best lines. Not a bad 1st period and it was the first time in 8 games that Minnesota managed to score a goal in the opening stanza. Minnesota was outshooting Calgary 13-7, let's hope that continues.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota's top line would create a little havoc early as Zach Parise put on an exhibition of pure hustle as he willed a few chances, including a no-look backhand shot that was kicked out by MacDonald. The Wild would give Calgary an early power play as he knocked down Glencross in the neutral zone as he tried to track down a dump in earning him 2 minutes in the penalty box for interference. Minnesota's penalty killers were very strong as they challenged the Flames puck carriers very well, killing nearly a full minute before Calgary was finally able to get set up in the zone. The Wild would have the best chance of the Flames power play as Matt Cullen intercepted a pass and went on a 2-on-1 with Kyle Brodziak and Cullen made a nice move to elude the defenseman and it was Brodziak being stopped on the point-blank chance by a diving save by MacDonald. The game would settle down after the successful penalty kill and both teams would settle into a more defensive posture wary of giving the kind of odd-man chances they had done in the 1st period. Akim Aliu, the Nigerian-born former Chicago Blackhawks' draftee would make his presence felt in a big way after delivering a huge hit on Clayton Stoner as he took a pretty long run (from at least the blueline) to deliver that hit that got the slumbering crowd awake who gave an appreciative cheer. Minnesota would look a bit confused in its own end and this ultimately ended up with a sad turnover by Tom Gilbert to Lee Stempniak who fired a shot on goal that was gloved by Backstrom. The ice would start to tilt into the Wild's end as some lazy play and area passes allowed Calgary to carry the play. It almost looked like a Flames power play as they were winning all of the races to the puck while Wild players stood around and reached for the puck rather than skating to it. Luckily for them Backstrom was still sharp and he made some big saves. Mike Rupp would earn a 10-minute game misconduct along with Aliu after a heated discussion at center ice. Rupp's absence prompted the Wild started to juggle its lines and it had the desired result of getting more hustle out of the team. Lines were Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise while we also saw a line of Dany Heatley, Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Brodziak. Either way the team was moving its feet better and they started to get some scoring chances again. Backstrom would make one last save to keep the game knotted at 0-0 going into the 3rd. The Wild really took its foot off the gas in that period and they're fortunate not to be trailing. The Wild need to show a bit more urgency and fire out there, Heatley especially who was again playing rather uninspired out there.
3rd Period Thoughts: With 80's music being played during every stoppage the two clubs played cautious hockey. Dumping the puck, retreating quickly and just waiting for the opponent to make a mistake. As the time steadily evaporated you could sense the anxiety of the crowd building as they were waiting for the Flames to do something to end the stalemate. They would finally get their chance after a blocked shot by Jonas Brodin was worked out to Chris Butler who stepped into a slap shot that created a rebound that was briefly touched bJarome Iginlan and just pushed over the goal line by Matt Stajan to give Calgary a 2-1 lead. Clayton Stoner would deliver a huge hit of his own as he crunched Blake Comeau with a check that threw him into the curved glass near the bench. The Flames would have another great chance as Iginla rang a shot off the right post. Minnesota's top line of Bouchard, Koivu and Parise would cycle the puck down low and work it back out to the point where Jared Spurgeon tried to fire a shot only to have it blocked. The Flames tried to work for an insurance goal and the Wild would inadvertently help their cause as Zucker was called for goaltender interference as he tried to race for a puck and accidentally clipped MacDonald who sold it pretty well. Minnesota's penalty killers did a great job at challenging the Flames entry into the zone and a nice little poke check by Brodziak would clearn the zone and as the Wild center tracked it down deep into the Flames' zone he was hit from behind by Dennis Wideman negating the rest of the Calgary man advantage. After a little 4-on-4 time where the Wild got set up in the offensive zone the Wild would try to exploit a shortened power play but despite a little bit better puck movement they couldn't set up Ryan Suter as they wanted to and when they finally did his stick shattered in the attempt and another opportunity was missed. The Wild would have to wait a few more minutes before they'd have another prime opportunity as the 2nd line of Cullen, Bouchard and Setoguchi dumped the puck in and won some battles along the boards before Setoguchi set up Cullen for a chance near the crease that was absorbed by MacDonald. With 1:24 left to play, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo would call a timeout to talk things over as well as pulling Backstrom for an extra attacker. Initially the Wild were unable hold the zone and Minnesota would only be able to chip a puck on goal that was again stopped by MacDonald. After that, there was a bizarre sequence where the Flames cleared the puck off the glass where it looked like another icing call, but it was waived off and as Suter tracked down the puck for the touch he'd let the puck goal and it would be gathered up by Glencross and the Wild were stunned and tried to scramble back but not before Stajan buried an empty netter to seal a 3-1 win.
Niklas Backstrom was terrific, making 24 saves in the loss. He certainly played well enough to give the Wild a victory and he came up with some big saves on defensive breakdowns. Defensively I thought the Wild got caught pinching a little too much and they were a little too nonchalant with the puck. Overhandling it and when they were pressed they resorted to chipping the puck off the glass and were simply attempting area passes that led to easy turnovers.
Offensively the Wild were trying to be way too fancy with the puck; especially on the power play. This team is 30th in the NHL in total offense, and I don't know why they would think they can ever be fancy and expect to score. If anything, the goals the Wild have scored have been for the most part (as is the case with most teams) ugly. The Wild can't help opponents by refusing to shoot until they get the ideal set up; they need to work as many shots as they can and hope for something cheap or something ugly. An ugly or a flukey goal count the same as fancy ones do. You could see the Wild coaching staff were searching for answers by juggling the lines more than we've seen all season. Yet I thought the team should've given more shifts to Cullen, Setoguchi and Zucker as they were the only line I thought that consistently had jump in their skates. One player that needs to be called out is Dany Heatley. His effort through the first half of the game was pathetic. Aimlessly floating around the ice, and half heartedly chasing the puck made him a huge liability. He showed a little more desire after Yeo juggled the lines but he's becoming a problem the team is having to dance around. The team is paying him way too much for him to be a 'dilemma' and perhaps its time to start offering him up to other teams. Pittsburgh's scout and former Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell, the man who drafted Heatley back in 2000 was in attendance tonight so hopefully he thought he saw something he could use in his former player. I was glad to see Coyle get his first goal, but I was not happy seeing him try to force a pass late in the 1st period instead of taking his chances by taking a shot from the slot. The best thing for him to do is to shoot the puck if he wants to stay with this team. The Wild have way too many unselfish players right now.
I think there is no reason the Wild should've been only able to muster a blah effort like they had tonight. They had a night off, so they should've been rested enough to play with fire for 60 minutes. I thought they might have played hard for a little over a period. Wild head coach Mike Yeo was clearly annoyed (as he should have been) when he told the media after the game, "We had a sense that things were going to come easy for us and we stopped shooting the puck and in this whole game we took the wrong approach. We didn't execute the right way and we didn't play our game and the result was what we deserved." Can't argue with you there.
~ The Wild roster for tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Jason Zucker, Matt Cullen, Torrey Mitchell, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Justin Falk and Mikael Granlund were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Matt Stajan, 2nd Star Joey MacDonald, 3rd Star Charlie Coyle
~ Attendance was 19,289 at ScotiaBank Saddledome.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate the Golden Gophers Women's hockey team who won 3-0 today over St. Cloud State to earn their 42nd consecutive victory and complete this year's regular season a perfect 34-0! An additional congratulations goes to Gophers' goaltender Noora Raty who collected her 39th career shutout which ties her for an NCAA record.
~ The Wild's AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros earned a 2-1 win over the Oklahoma City Barons tonight as they got goals from newcomer Dan DaSilva and Steven Kampfer. Chad Rau had two assists. Matt Hackett made 35 saves in the victory.
Wild Prospect Report:
C - Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ The muti-talented Finn had another strong night for the Golden Gophers, in their 5-3 win over in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth on Friday. Haula had 2 goals and was an impressive +4 in a game that had lots of end to end action. The Pori, Finland-native leads the Gophers in scoring with 15 goals (2nd on the team to Nick Bjugstad's 16 goals) and 39 points in 28 games.
D - Matt Dumba (Red Deer, WHL) ~ Its not likely he's going to reach last year's lofty totals but Matt Dumba is still finding ways to contribute offensively for the Red Deer Rebels. My sources still tell me he looks a little tuned out but even for a player who may simply be biding his time and waiting for his shot at the professional ranks still has 13 goals, 36 points and is +6 with 63 PIM's in 53 games. On Friday, Dumba had an assist and was a +1 in the Rebels' 2-0 win over Lethbridge, but against Prince Albert tonight the Calgary-native had two assists in a 4-2 win over the Raiders.
D - John Draeger (Michigan State, CCHA) ~ It has been rough year for the Spartans but a promising year for freshman and Wild prospect John Draeger. Draeger who surprised many by being on the team's top defensive pairing to start the season, now has been relegated to the 2nd unit. The former Shattuck-St. Mary's product contributed an assist in the Spartans' 1-0 road win over a decent University of Alaska squad last night. Draeger has 1 goal, 7 points and 16 PIM's in 33 games this season.
RW - Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ The rugged forward asserted the physical side of his game registering a hit and getting involved in a fight to go along with being a +2 in the Drakkar's 7-2 win over Rimouski this afternoon. Bussieres has 24 goals, 58 points and 37 PIM's in 52 games.
C - Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ The lanky center keeps finding the back of the net as he potted two more goals in Belleville's 5-2 win over Peterborough tonight. Those two tallies brings Graovac's total up to 34 goals on the season. The Brampton, Ontario-native has 61 points in 49 games to go along with 18 PIM's and is a +20 too.