You're probably familiar with the old Master Card commercials. Where the commercial lists various items along with their prices and then at the end it will list something simple and likely non-material and it will simply say "Priceless." The commercial resonated with people for making that connection between the things people buy and what really cannot be bought but might be far more important. In this day in age of NHL contracts being more or less public, sometimes you see a writer bring up a player's salary when they relate it back to their production. For example, if the Wild's team captain Mikko Koivu, does not manage to score a goal for the rest of this season that means the franchise paid Koivu approximately $1,305,000 per goal. Zach Parise's 7 goals have come at a cost $624,615 per tally. Obviously that total per goal decreases each time they light the lamp but it certainly puts it into a different perspective. How much is a nasty body check worth? Apparently its worth about $8,108.11 according to the National Hockey League after Devin Setoughi's vicious cross check to the grill of Detroit's Kyle Quincey on Sunday. With the signing if the new CBA, players being fined for the first time can only be a maximum of $10,000 or half of their daily salary during the course of a normal 185-day season according to Minneapolis Star Tribune's Star Tribune. That means Setoguchi clears $16,216.22 per day! How does that compare to your salary (if you have one)?
Now that I've likely made you feel as though you are poor, let's talk about wealth shall we? One team that has a wealth of young talent is the Edmonton Oilers, who have benefited from some tremendous fortune in the NHL draft lottery having connected on the 3-peat of 1st Overall selections. Its great to have young blue-chip talent because for owners not only do you have players that serve as the cornerstone of the franchise in their first few years they are also tremendous bargains. Using that same formula I used with Parise and Koivu take a look at how much the Oilers pay per goal from some of it star talent. Jordan Eberle has racked up his 5 goals this season at a fairly affordable $134,366 per tally, while rookie Nail Yakupov has 5 goals of his own at $437,900 apiece. I am not going to try to say that justifies you spending $8 on your glass of beer or your $6 hot dog but prices seem to be high all over, especially on the ice. So will the Wild's players make themselves more of a 'bargain' by earning a victory in Edmonton or will the price paid still look pretty steep?
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1st Period Thoughts: It did not take long for Pierre-Marc Bouchard to 'get into the game' as Ben Eager lit up the diminutive Wild forward with a hit right off the faceoff. The high-flying Oilers tried to go on the attack as Jordan Eberle motored into the Wild zone before dropping a pass back to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who hammered a slap shot wide of the mark. Minnesota's top line would have a goof shift where the worked the puck down low, cycling well before Mikko Koivu set up Dany Heatley for a chance but the big winger couldn't get much on the shot and Devan Dubnyk was able to make the save. A few minutes after that the OIlers' top line put Minnesota on its heels as they cycled the puck effective setting up Hopkins again as well as Theo Peckham who drove a shot that was kicked aside by Niklas Backstrom who found himself under siege. The shift lasted well over a minute before the Wild were finally able to chip the puck out of the zone and get a line change. A few minutes later, the Oilers' top line again caused havoc against Minnesota as Eberle drew the defense towards him and dished the puck to Nugent-Hopkins waiting in the slot and he pulled the shot wide. Edmonton's superior team speed and forecheck started to become a factor as they kept Minnesota bottled up in the area near its blueline as former Moorhead Spud Chris Vande Velde and Teemu Haartikainen were giving the Wild fits. The Oilers dominance in the Wild zone continued throughout the rest of the 1st period, as Minnesota was not helping their cause with area passes that made for easy turnovers. Minnesota finally broke out of the zone late in the period as the 1st line made something happen as Zach Parise sped in and then turned back and then fired a quick shot on goal that struck Heatley that went back to Parise who wasted little time before releasing another shot that was stopped by Dubnyk. On the ensuing faceoff the Wild won the draw and Mikko Koivu took the puck down low where he fed a pass out front to Heatley who got of a quick shot that beat Dubnyk only to have it strike the right post and out. The period would end with both clubs sporting goose eggs on the scoreboard, but Edmonton certainly dominated the period outshooting Minnesota 8-3 and certainly had the better scoring chances as well. The Wild need to find a way to stop or at least slow down the Oilers' top line and Minnesota cannot afford to stand and watch them because eventually the puck is going to end up in the back of the goal. Minnesota also needs to be more decisive with the puck in the offensive zone and be ready to shoot / pass quickly because too many times the Wild waited and what could've been at least a shot on goal would be foiled by the Oilers' speedy backcheckers.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Oilers tried to be physical to start the 2nd period as Eager would deliver another huge hit, this time to Nate Prosser that sent the defenseman falling to the ice after getting crunched pretty good against the glass. The only Wild line that seemed to have any ability to create offensive pressure was the top line as Parise dug a puck from out the corner and fed it to Heatley for a one-timer that was steered away by Dubnyk. Perhaps it was this hard work that inspired the 3rd line to go on the forecheck of their own as Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Cullen caused the Oilers some consternation as Clutterbuck was set up off the cycle for a close range shot that Dubnyk fought off. The Oilers tried to counter attack as Nugent-Hopkins set up Nail Yakupov who didn't get much on the shot and Backstrom reached back for a fine save to keep the game knotted at zero. A few minutes later there was a scary moment where Cal Clutterbuck took a stick to the ribs that sent him reeling into the boards, and Wild trainer Don Fuller went out on the ice to see that he was ok and the tough Wild winger skated back to his bench. Minnesota would earn the first power play of the game as Ladislav Smid would get a little carried away while checking Dany Heatley and he'd earn a roughing penalty. Smid would chirp to the officials to no avail. On the power play the Wild were too passive, as inaccurate passes and waiting too long for the perfect shooting opportunity meant Minnesota had nothing to show for the man advantage as it would be nullified by an interference penalty to Heatley. After a little 4-on-4 play where Clutterbuck had a nice opportunity to score, the Oilers would go on an abbreviated power play of their own. The Oilers were kept to the perimeter but when they finally tried to move towards the crease only to have it disrupted by the quick stick of Jonas Brodin and Minnesota was able to clear the zone. The Wild would go right back on the attack at the conclusion of the Oilers' power play and some tipped shots from the point provided some drama as the bouncing puck gave Dubnyk some trouble and Dany Heatley pushed a puck back on goal that Dubnyk scrambled to stop. The missed opportunities would haunt the Wild as Edmonton would strike first with its 3rd line as a simple in the Minnesota zone became a turnover as Ryan Smyth outworked Tom Gilbert for the puck, diving to tip a pass to Eric Belanger who directed it on goal that went wide and Smyth gathered up the loose biscuit and then wrapped it around just inside the left post to make it 1-0 Oilers. Minnesota would strike back a few minutes later as Matt Cullen caught the Oilers in the middle of a line change and he'd pick up a loose puck and fly into the Edmonton zone where he beat Dubnyk with a little backhander that snuck through 5-hole to tie it up at 1-1. Edmonton tried to rally back with its top line who again demonstrated their terrific chemistry on the cycle but despite all of their puck possession they didn't get a lot of pucks on goal, but they continued to cause Minnesota trouble and Backstrom had to come up big late in the period to deny Nugent-Hopkins. The Wild had one last potential scoring chance as Cal Clutterbuck tried to work a 2-on-1 with Bouchard but Clutterbuck waited a little bit too long and his pass was blocked aside by a desperation play by Smid and the rugged Wild winger would take out his frustration with a big hit to Ales Hemsky. The period would end with both clubs tied at 1-1, but for Minnesota it was nice to see them answer back to the Oilers goal. Both goals were the result of individual efforts by seasoned vets. The Wild outshot Edmonton 16-10 in the period and it was good to see them taking more of their opportunities to shoot the puck.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would start the 3rd period with terrific energy, as the 2nd / 3rd line would strike again early after some excellent hustle as Matt Cullen raced into the Oilers' zone where he fired a shot off the post. Minnesota would hold the zone thanks to a nice play by Jason Zucker and Jared Spurgeon would pinch and backhand a shot just wide where it was picked up by Cullen who made a pretty backhand pass to Setoguchi for a quick shto that found the back of the net to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. The Wild would draw another power play as Theo Peckham held up Mikael Granlund along the wall. Minnesota's power play did not move the puck with much expediency and the Oilers were able to keep the Wild from doing much of anything with the man advantage. With another ineffective power play underneath their belts the Wild would resume their attack 5-on-5 as the line of Clutterbuck, Brodziak and Bouchard was able to direct some quality shots on goal and you could sense the home crowd getting a little anxious. Minnesota's hustle really was the x-factor as the Wild were winning the races to the loose pucks and the effort was being rewarded with some shooting opportunities. A good example of this was a nice little hustle play by Setoguchi to play a stretch pass and he'd dump it deep which was tracked down by Jason Zucker who passed it back to Setoguchi who was behind the Oilers' goal where he fed a pass back to the point where Brodin stepped into a one-timer that was stopped by the leg pad of Dubnyk. Edmonton was scrambling around its own end, but they'd get a little lucky as they caught the Wild in a bad line change and Sam Gagner moved in behing the Wild defense but he was unable to control the puck as he moved it to his backhand as he had Backstrom dropping to his pads but the puck slid off his stick. As the Oilers seemed to be on the verge of starting to put the Wild under siege the Wild would get a huge goal to give themselves a two-goal cushion. A great little play by Clutterbuck near the Wild blueline to play the puck from his knees freed up Cullen for the breakout which was a 2-on-1 for him and Brodziak but Cullen would rifle a shot over the left shoulder of Dubnyk and in to give Minnesota a huge 3-1 lead. The goal was met with stunned silence and a "wow" from Edmonton bench boss Ralph Krueger as his team now trailed by two with just over 5 minutes left in regulation. Minnesota would sit back in a passive 1-2-2 to defend its lead. With the Wild's defense thwarting the Oilers doing much of anything offensively, Taylor Hall would take a run at Clutterbuck in open ice as the puck bounced out of the way. Clutterbuck was clearly in a lot of pain, with what looked like a serious knee injury as Fuller left the Wild bench to attend to him. Hall would get a shove from Brodziak who wasn't happy with the dirty hit but the officials moved in before anything could happen. Hall would get a 5-minute major for kneeing and a game misconduct for the hit while Clutterbuck had to be taken away on a stretcher shortly after he got off the ice. WIth the Wild on the power play for the rest of the game, Minnesota was patient and not wanting to take any ill-advised risks. The Oilers pulled their goaltender in the last minute trying to make it a one-goal game but nothing would come of it and Minnesota would prevail 3-1.
Niklas Backstrom had an excellent game, making 27 saves in the victory. Backstrom made some key saves early on when the Wild were lacking energy and struggling to handle the Oilers' speed and skill. Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin were tremendous, doing a fine job of finding a way to stifle the Oilers' top line and making them a relative non-factor down the stretch. Clayton Stoner had a rough game though, with lots of senseless chips along the boards which became easy turnovers.
Offensively the Wild had more diversity in its attack. Initially it was the top line creating most of the scoring chances but then the 2nd and 3rd lines found ways to get involved and put the Oilers on their heels and it was a big reason Minnesota was able to take over in the 2nd and 3rd periods of the game. The Cullen, Setoguchi and Zucker line did a fine job of using its speed to put the Oilers on their heels and create opportunities. Cullen certainly was feeling it, putting up his first 3-point game since December 4th, 2011. Kyle Brodziak also had a good game, and it was nice seeing him blasting some one-timers out there tonight. You could even argue Cullen deserved a hat trick as he rang a shot off the post in the 2nd. Of course, thoughts now focus on Cal Clutterbuck who also had a terrific game only to have it cut tragically short by a filthy hit by Taylor Hall. Hall saw the puck move away and then clearly took his chance to hit Clutterbuck unaware as he leaned out his leg for a knee-on-knee collision. I can't imagine it not being anything but a severe injury to Clutterbuck and Hall should get a suspension. It was a ridiculous hit and if the league really wants to take hits against defenseless players out of the game here is a perfect chance to set a precedent. Eyes are on you now Brendan Shanahan!
It was a nice rally by the Wild who overcame a lethargic 1st period to earn a huge road victory. The Wild really outworked the Oilers and suddenly Edmonton didn't look so fast and dynamic demonstrating some of the potential of this team. Yet its no resk for the wicked as Minnesota has another big road game against Calgary on Saturday so hopefully they can rest up and stay healthy so they're ready to go in another big game against a division foe.
~ Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, Devin Setoguchi, Torrey Mitchell, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Mike Rupp, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser and Jared Spurgeon. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Johan Larsson, Zenon Konopka and Justin Falk were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Matt Cullen, 2nd Star Ryan Smyth, 3rd Star Niklas Backstrom
~ Attendance was 16,839 at Rexall Place.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to join the Minnesota Wild in congratulating team Assistant Equipment Manager John Worley on being apart of his 1,000th NHL game.
Houston Aeros Report:
Record: 27-19-4-3 3rd in AHL's South Division
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #37 Justin Fontaine ~ 13G 20A = 33pts
2. #3 Charlie Coyle ~ 14G 11A = 25pts
3. #26 David McIntyre ~ 11G 12A = 23pts
4. #10 Brian Connelly ~ 2G 20A = 22pts
5. #39 Chay Genoway ~ 4G 14A = 18pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #4 Drew Bagnall ~ 84 PIM's
2. #2 Paul Mara ~ 42 PIM's
3. #39 Chay Genoway 37 PIM's
1. #31 Matt Hackett (17-17-3) 2.59GAA .909%SP
It has been an interesting year for John Torchetti's squad as the Aeros, like the rest of the American Hockey League benefitted from a 1st half bolstered by NHL-level talent the Aeros held their own thanks to a bevy of young players that gave Houston a nice collection of skill it hasn't had in a while. However as the NHL returned to action and the Wild's season started to sputter it was only inevitable the club was going to look to its AHL affiliate for help. In the last few weeks, some of the Aeros top scorers and performers Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Darcy Kuemper and Johan Larsson have been promoted. This has meant the Aeros have had to reshuffle their lines and put more of the spotlight on some of Houston's more veteran players like current leading scorer Justin Fontaine and hard working assistant captain David McIntyre. Eden Prarie's Chad Rau has started to heat up a bit offensively which is crucial to keep the Aeros moving in a positive direction. Former Calgary Hitmen stud Carson McMillan is the unsung hero whose blue-collar work ethic is showcased on each of his shifts as well as his team-leading 3 shorthanded goals. The Aeros still have younger blue chip prospect Charlie Coyle who looked good in his cup of coffee with the Wild and now can now try to be the go-to guy; as well as Zack Phillips who should get plenty of chances to impress.
The Aeros are a team that has good mobility in its blueline, but it has suffered a bit with the loss of Brian Connelly to injury. The former Bloomington Jefferson star really anchored Houston's power play and also provided solid play in the defensive zone too; and his ability to make tape-to-tape passes to start the rush has been sorely missed. Connelly's absence means Marco Scandella will get every opportunity to fill that void and will be logging big minutes and hopefully regaining confidence along the way. Steven Kampfer and Chay Genoway have tried to step up into that role but with mixed results. Apple Valley's Kyle Medvec has steadily improved this season into a big (6'6") mobile defensemen with a little offense to his game, while AHL hire Wes O'Neill and team captain Drew Bagnall provide toughness to the group. Tyler Cuma, the oft-injured Wild prospect is seeing his chances at an NHL career get that much more fleeting as he battles a broken foot he sustained about 2 weeks ago; he has a little over a month left before he'll be back in the Aeros' lineup.
Between the pipes its Matt Hackett's show now. After struggling a bit to the point where his goals against were above 3 per game, he was supplanted by Darcy Kuemper. With Josh Harding being placed on Injured Reserve for the foreseeable future it looks like Kuemper could very well be in Minnesota the rest of the season so now its up to Hackett to show the promise he's demonstrated since the team drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2009 NHL Entry draft. Hackett has been better as of late and his numbers are back at a more Hackett-like level.
The Aeros are finishing up an 8-game road trip where they've managed to win 5 of 7 games so far. Houston's next game is this Friday in Oklahoma City against their rival the Barons, a team the Aeros were tremendous against (6-1 record) even when they had Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Justin Schultz in their lineup.