A poster named Geo has an interesting signature that I think fits hockey fans just about anywhere, but especially in the State of Hockey. "Three wins in a row means you plan a Stanley Cup parade route, three losses in a row means trade everyone." After the Wild's most recent skid, the natives we re getting restless and message boards and comment sections of Wild beat writer Michael Russo read like a giant manifesto of frustration for a fanbase that feels its hopes of a post-season may already be slipping away just a little over 20% into the season. Whether its blaming the lackluster play of the team's forwards or the inconsistency between the pipes almost everyone has a theory of why the Wild are struggling. Most of the frustration is focused on the lack of scoring, and area many felt the team addressed with the signing of Zach Parise and the addition of wunderkind Mikael Granlund. Yet the truth is the Wild are currently 27th in the league in scoring averaging just a shade over 2 goals per game.
Scoring just 2 goals per game makes it pretty tough to win, but there is always the reverse and we'll see that tonight with the Calgary Flames who can put up points but they can't stop anyone giving up almost 4 goals per game. Despite the wide open style of new Coach Bob Hartley, the Flames defense has been porous and if there was ever a time for certain players to get something going offensively now would be the perfect time. So will the Wild rediscover its offense tonight or will they be the ones that get burnt by the Flames?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota would get off to a quick start as Mikko Koivu flung a backhander off the rush that was steered aside by Leland Irving and just moments after that Koivu had another great chance after taking away the puck for Mark Giordano for a close in shot that was absorbed by the Flames netminder. Minnesota was showing some good physicality as Dany Heatley, Cal Clutterbuck and Justin Falk were throwing their body around early. The Flames tried to answer back as Matt Stajan charged the Wild crease where he jammed away at the puck near the left post before a whistle was blown and in th scrum that ensued it was Tim Jackman getting a penalty even though there were a few shoves from Nate Prosser and Justin Falk as well. This gave Minnesota its first power play of the game. On the man advantage the Wild moved the puck quickly against an aggressive Flames penalty kill, and while Minnesota held the zone and were executing fairly well they were forced to settle for shots from the perimeter. When the Wild did take their chance to shoot the puck, it was without the benefit of a screen so the saves were pretty easy for Irving and Minnesota came up empty on the power play. The Flames would try to counter with its top line of Jarome Iginla and Curtis Glencross as Glencross found a little space just above the left faceoff dot that was blocked painfully by Tom Gilbert. Minnesota tried to go back on the attack and it was the hustle of Charlie Coyle that drew a hooking penalty on Alex Tanguay. Minnesota's power play victimized itself by being a little to non-chalant with the puck and this allowed the Flames to clear the zone. Minnesota's best chance on the man advantage came off a simple attempt to jam a shot from close range by Parise but Irving stayed strong in his crease and the Wild again had nothing to show for a power play. Calgary would go on the attack and start asserting itself physically in the offensive zone and Minnesota struggled with the pressure, opting to chip the puck blindly off the boards rather than tape-to-tape passes allowing the Flames to maintain possession under a bounty of cheap Wild turnovers. The Flames were trying to catch the Wild's defense sleeping and they attempted a few home-run passes that nearly connected, including one by Jiri Hudler that was just out of reach of Roman Cervenka who had to dive to prevent an icing call but otherwise he should've been free for a breakaway. Both clubs would start to share scoring chances as Mikael Granlund threaded a pass to Heatley who swung a heavy shot just high over the head of Iriving. The Flames would go back on the attack as they tried to work a play off the rush as it was foiled by a diving play by Ryan Suter and the period would end with both clubs scoreless. Not a bad period for the Wild, but they need to try to work the puck closer to the net because the unscreened shot from the perimeter is not going to get it done. I thought Jonas Brodin looked terrific and he seemed to be one of the few Wild defenseman who consistently was able to make the long tape-to-tape outlet passes. Minnesota outshot Calgary 8-7 but most of the Wild's shots came on the man advantage and they will have to find ways to create more shooting opportunities at even strength.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period started with both clubs moving up and down the ice but with very few shots being taken. Lots of dumping and chasing and more chasing. Minnesota's Zach Parise would draw a penalty as he was held up by Jay Bouwmeester. Off the faceoff, the forwards would converge as Charlie Coyle backhanded a shot that was fought off by Irving. Minnesota kept hustling on the power play and would have a number of good shots on goal as Devin Setoguchi pulled the trigger on a one-timer that was blocked by Dennis Wideman. Predictably, the Flames would go on the power play as Gilbert hooked Cervenka. The Flames power play took advantage at the somewhat passive Wild penalty kill as T.J Brodie unloaded a slapper that missed high and wide and then Wideman had a great chance as he stepped around a sliding Kyle Brodziak for a blast that was knocked down and covered by Niklas Backstrom. Calgary moved the puck well between its point ment as they set up Giordano threaded a slap shot that hit the left post and out. The Flames not convert on the power play, but Calgary tried to use its momentum to on the assault and they nearly cashed in as Stajan's little chance off the rush was thwarted by a nice leg pad save by Backstrom. The game would kind of start to slowly tilt into the Wild end as the Flames forecheck combined with Minnesota relaxing its posture a bit led to some long shifts and desperate (and often failed) attempts to clear the zone. Calgary nearly got on the scoreboard as Lee Stempniak snapped a heavy shot that Backstrom got just enough of to direct it wide of the goal. A few minutes later some good hustle by Dany Heatley along the boards deep in Calgary's zone that allowed Ryan Suter the chance to pinch which was dished to Devin Setoguchi who fed Brodziak with a pass and he got Irving to bail early before sliding home a backhander into a gaping net to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. The goal seemed to really deflate the Flames and the Wild had a little more jump towards the conclusion of the period. I really think Heatley has played inspired this evening, showing more jump than we've seen all season and he's been more involved along the boards than I've seen him in a long time. It was great to see Brodziak break the ice with a goal and now hopefully Minnesota will stay assertive instead of just trying to protect a one-goal lead.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild had a tremendous 1st shift to start the period as Minnesota's top line cycled effectively, moving the puck well and demonstrating good chemistry. After nearly a full minute of holding the zone, Ryan Suter made a nice spin-a-rama and then moved with the puck down beneath the goal line before dropping a pass back out front to Setoguchi who shoveled a shot on goal that was stopped by Irving. The Flames would counter attack and Clayton Stoner would try to pass a puck around Cervenka that was blocked and Hudler picked up the loose puck for a 2-on-1 with Cervenka and Hudler ripped a shot 5-hole that tied the game at 1-1. The goal gave the Flames a bit more spark in their legs and Iginla would set up Glencross from the slot that was stopped by Backstrom. The next few mintues, both clubs would play a bit more cautiously as their defense was quick to retreat and this made scoring chances almost non-existant. A pair of penalties threatened to upset the stalemate as Ryan Suter was tagged with an interference penalty for holding up Blair Jones. The Wild's penalty killers were rock solid, moving their feet well to get into passing and shooting lanes and able to prevent the Flames from being able to develop any sort of serious scoring chances. The Wild would get a chance of their own on the man advantage as Alex Tanguay tripped up Granlund. The Flames' penalty kill was taking no chances, being very aggressive against the puck carrier and they effectively killed off half of the power play before the Wild were even able to get set up in the Calgary end. When they finally did all they could muster were a few shots from the perimeter by Gilbert. The clubs were again cautious in the closing minutes of regulation and this game would go to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota was very cautious in overtime, almost as though they were playing for a shootout, retreating quickly back to their zone. Other than a few long range shots from Glencross and Iginla respectively there wasn't much action in the 1st half of overtime. With just over 2 minutes left, Flames' bench boss Bob Hartley called a timeout to give his team a break as his team was caught on an icing call. The Wild's lone shot in overtime came off a solo rush by Cal Clutterbuck that was stopped by Irving with ease. Minnesota should had a prime scoring chance in the closing minute as Mikael Granlund got behind the defense and then made a nice pass back to a trailing Ryan Suter who took it with the backhand so he couldn't pull the trigger and the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Overview: Calgary elected to shoot first and they sent Blair Jones out, and he mvoed slowly up the ice where he tried to beat Backstrom with a quick backhander that was denied by the Wild goalie. Minnesota's first shooter was Zach Parise and he'd move in and get Irving to bite a sweet deke before beating him with a backhander, 1-0 Wild. Perhaps that inspired Jiri Hudler who used a similar move to get Backstrom to bail and then beat him on an easy forehand, 1-1 now. Mikko Koivu was the Wild's next shooter and he'd go wide left and make a pretty move from his backhand to his forehand that fooled Irving, 2-1 Wild. The Flames' next shooter was Alex Tanguay who moved in rather slowly and attempted a rather uninspired backhand to forehand deke that didn't get Backstrom to bite on and the Wild would win.
Niklas Backstrom was again strong, making 23 saves in the victory. He didn't really have that many quality shots to stop but when Calgary did have traffic near his crease he was making the saves he needed to. He may have wanted Hudler's goal back, but he kept Minnesota in the game and was one of the main reasons this team came away with 2 points. I thought the Wild's blueline played very well, supporting their goaltender well and showing a little nastiness at times which was good to see. Ryan Suter was a total workhorse, tallying an assist along with over 28 minutes of ice time. Jonas Brodin was also tremendous, looking poised as he logged nearly 25 minutes of ice time himself.
Offensively the Wild had some flashes of brilliance with its top line as Koivu, Parise and Coyle looked very comfortable on the cycle, they just need to find more ways to get pucks on goal. I thought Dany Heatley had a fine game; not as much in an offensive role but I thought he was more involved defensively as well as physically as he delivered a bunch of nice hits tonight. Brodziak also had a good game and looked more like the player that frustrated opponents with his grit and determination along the boards and buried a big goal tonight. Hopefully its a sign of more goals to come. Setoguchi also had a good game in my opinion.
It wasn't the best game; I know they would've preferred to have won in regulation instead of gassing themselves more when they know they have a very tough test tomorrow in Vancouver. However they still managed to come up with the 1st road win. 2 points is important to this team no matter how it comes to them at this point. Beggars can't be choosers but tomorrow's going to be a real uphill climb so hopefully they can dig deep and surprise us all.
~ The Wild's roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikael Granlund, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, Zenon Konopka, Cal Clutterbuck, Mike Rupp, Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner, Jonas Brodin, Justin Falk and Nate Prosser. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Matt Kassian, Torrey Mitchell and Marco Scandella were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Dennis Wideman, 2nd Star Jiri Hudler, 3rd Star Mikko Koivu
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate Mikko Koivu on notching his 500th NHL game.
~ Attendance was 19,289 at ScotiaBank Saddledome.
Wild Prospect Report:
(F) Louie Nanne (Penticton, BCHL) ~ The Edina star is having a roller coaster of a season for the Penticton Vees. He's gone through long stretches without points and then he'll burst with a big multipoint night; and Saturday night's game against Alberni Valley is a perfect example of Nanne's offensive potential as he lit the lamp 4 times in an 8-4 win for his club. Nanne has 17 goals and 34 points in 37 games this season.
(D) Daniel Gunnarsson (Lulea, SEL) ~ The lanky defenseman is having a solid season with Lulea, playing well in his own end as well (currently a +8) as chipping in points through the use of his big shot. With 6 goals and 12 points in 45 games he won't be confused for being the second coming of Erik Karlsson, but he has good offensive potential and his mobility gives the abilty to lead the charge up the ice if need be.