There are some games that you circle on the schedule ahead of time. Games against opponents you love to hate or you have old scores to settle. The Columbus Blue Jackets are not one of those teams. Not for me at least. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about the red-headed step child of the National Hockey League. In fact, most of the time the Blue Jackets make me laugh. Not just because of their play on the ice or their placement in the standings year after year, but because of their fans. I mentioned to you before about Nashville Predators' fan 'The Fang' and his ridiculous defensive nature, but multiply that by a factor of 10 and you have most of the Columbus Blue Jackets fanbase. While I wouldn't say the Blue Jackets fans are quite as antagonistic as 'the Fang' they certainly love conspiracy theories and believe the NHL has continually screwed them over from their franchise's exception. To be as bad as Columbus has been and to only have one 1st overall pick despite being right near the top statistically in the draft lottery is one thing but most of their conspiracies dwell upon officiating and Toronto's 'War Room' and as much as their plight makes me laugh I think they do have a point from time to time. Like the phantom goaltender interference call this weekend. How about the infamous 'stopped clock' incident from last year which gave the Kings a crucial extra point that put Los Angeles into the playoffs and tagged another loss in the standings for Columbus? Yet some of the conspiracies the fans in Columbus make me think of the History Channel's UFO expert, Giorgio A. Tsoukalos whose hair gets more crazy with each episode.
An NHL Conspiracy against Columbus? Alien involvement? Far more likely.
I have to admit, the History Channel has really been scraping the bottom of the barrel these days. While I can see the 'history' in a show like Pawn Stars or American Pickers the Ancient Aliens programs and the like are pretty far from actually talking about history in my opinion. So anyways, back to hockey and why someone would circle a date on a game schedule.
Former Wild bench boss, Todd Richards
One person who probably did just that is Columbus' bench boss Todd Richards. After being unceremoniously dumped as head coach of the Wild, Richards will likely want to take it to his former club. I have little doubt he will be working that 'revenge' angle with his players as they try to earn another two points after defeating Dallas last night. So will Todd Richards get his revenge or will he do something he did pretty well when he was the Wild's head coach, and lose at Xcel Energy Center?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota would start the game with its '3rd line' of Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck who had one of their better shifts of the season as they (gasp) went on the forecheck and caused Columbus' top lines to be bottled up in its own end. They were not able to generate anything really in the way of shots but it was a good first shift for the Wild who set the tone early. The pace of play would start to increase steadily as Vaclav Prospal made a nice move off the wall and around Tom Gilbert for a heavy backhander that was stopped by Niklas Backstrom. The Wild were having trouble connecting on their passes and struggling to get any sort of rhythm offensively. The Blue Jackets' forecheck was working well, as they pinched down low with 3 forwards and Minnesota's woes passing the puck was foiling their attempts to break out and counter attack. The Wild would get a little lucky, on a sequence that was all started by a nice effort by Jonas Brodin to fire a shot on goal that was stopped by Steve Mason and the rebound was picked up by Mikko Koivu who carried the puck down low while Zach Parise tried to set up near the crease and Koivu dished a pass to him that went off the back of Mason's leg pad and in to make it 1-0 WIld. Perhaps sensing his team could use a boost, former Wild 1st round pick Colton Gillies dropped the gloves with Darroll Powe. The shorter Powe made it tough for Gillies to really start throwing big punches and neither pugilist was able to really punish the other until finally Gillies wrested the Princeton grad to the ice. A few minutes later Backstrom was almost 'Mason'd' as a strange carom off the wall hit and snuck back towards the Wild crease that Backstrom was able to cover for a whistle. Minnesota would earn the first power play of the game as the non-stop work ethic of Parise would pay off again as he was held up by Fedor Tyutin as he tried to slow up the speedy Wild forward for an easy to call interference penalty. On the power play, the Wild's top unit came close to cashing in as a quick shot by Gilbert that was stopped by Mason and Parise almost shoveled home and Minnesota would come up empty. Minnesota would regroup with a modified energy line of Clutterbuck, Brodziak and Torrey Mitchell who made a real pest of himself using his speed to deny time and space. The Wild were outworking the Blue Jackets and it would have an impact as all three members of the top line battled along the wall for a puck which was tapped out to Mikko Koivu who stepped into a shot that was stopped by Mason who gave up a big rebound and that was pounced on by a pinching Gilbert who rifled it top shelf to make it 2-0 Minnesota. The Blue Jackets' problems would get worse as Adrian Aucoin would get caught holding up Clutterbuck for another interference penalty. With less than 20 seconds left in the period the Wild would only tease at a scoring chance on the closing moments, but Minnesota had to feel good about the way it played through one period of play. Brodin had a few little hiccups in the period but overall looked ok in his first period as Ryan Suter's linemate. Suter on the other hand continues to look more confident each game. After weathering a mild Blue Jackets' storm, the Wild were starting to control the pace of play, outshooting Columbus 8-5 in the period.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild started the period on the man advantage, but Columbus' penalty kill applied a little more pressure and Minnesota struggled to get anything going. As the penalty expired the Blue Jackets' R.J. Umberger wanted to go right on the attack only to be completely shut down by the smart play of Jonas Brodin. Minnesota would then go on the attack and the 2nd line came close to finally burying a chance as Setoguchi made perfect saucer pass to a charging Matt Cullen who redirected a shot on goal only to see it foiled by a diving save by Mason. The chippiness was starting to make its way to the surface as Clayton Stoner dropped the gloves with Jared Boll. Boll seemed to be able to get a hold on Stoner's arms which prevented him from really throwing big haymakers, and the Blue Jackets' resident tough guy began to fire a few punches where one landed pretty well on Stoner which stunned him a bit. The fight finally ended as Boll started to push Stoner over the boards near the Wild's bench; and I think Stoner is a bit lucky because I think Boll was just about to really take over. I give the win to Boll. However the chippiness wasn't quite over just yet as Zenon Konopka and Columbus' Derek Dorsett exchanged words, a few shoves but nothing would come of it. A few minutes later Konopka and Dorsett would again look to be on the cusp of dropping the gloves but again nothing would happen. Minnesota would go back on the attack with its top line as Parise found a waiting Dany Heatley near the top of the left faceoff circle and he ripped a heavy wrist shot that was steered wide by Mason. It can be dangerous to be an NHL linesman as Thor Nelson would find out as he took a puck to the face from Mikael Granlund. The Blue Jackets would get its forecheck going where they seemed to control the Wild zone for nearly a full minute and half as they cycled effectively down low before a point shot by James Wisniewski was stopped by Backstrom who sprawled for the rebound but Mark Letestu was just able to shovel it in to make it 2-1. Nelson tried to gut it out but after a few minutes he'd retire for the evening. Just as Nelson left the Wild's top line again asserted itself as Columbus' Nikita Nikitin's pass went right to Parise waiting in the slot and he patiently moved in and let loose a wrist shot that was stopped by Mason and the rebound floated out towards Parise who knocked it in to make it 3-1 Minnesota. The goal would be reviewed, as they looked to see if Parise punched it it in and the review seemed to indicate just that and it was ruled 'no goal'. So instead it was 2-1 Wild, and Minnesota would try to provide another answer as they went on a 4-on-2 with Justin Falk hammering a shot off the rush that was fought off by Mason. The Wild kept buzzing around the Blue Jacket's zone and a hard shot by Dany Heatley was stopped by Mason but the puck was swept up by Parise who attempted to wrap it around on the other post but just couldn't curl it quite enough. Minnesota wasn't done their yet as Matt Cullen continued to be snake-bitten as he was fed on a nice pass by Brodziak and the former Moorhead Spud made a nice little toe drag before unleashing a heavy wrist shot that was deflected up and over the goal by the glove of Mason. The period would end with Minnesota holding a tenuous 1-goal lead but they dominated most of the play thus far outshooting the Blue Jackets 22-8. The 2nd and 3rd lines still haven't registered a point and most of the prime scoring chances are still coming from the top line. The Wild better be ready for the Blue Jackets to really throw everything they have at them.
3rd Period Thoughts: The period started out with both teams playing a little cautious as they put out checking lines hoping to gain a little advantage on the forecheck. Minnesota would follow it up with its 4th line as Daroll Powe would give Columbus a little help for a big hit from behind on Nikitin, earning him 2 minutes for boarding. On the penalty kill the top pairing of Parise and Koivu caused the Blue Jackets a little trouble as Koivu intercepted a pass and he'd try to thread a pass to a streaking Parise but Nikitin was able to track it down. The Wild's penalty killers were able to win the little races to the puck and force Columbus to settle for area passes and Minnesota was able to kill it off with relative ease. Columbus continued to attack and its line of Letestu, Boll and Prospal caused some havoc as they forechecked effectively and it was Letestu ringing a long-range shot off the post. The Blue Jackets' pressure would draw another penalty as Granlund would trip up Jack Johnson. It didn't take long for Columbus to tie the game as the Blue Jackets won the draw and Johnson would take advantage of Kyle Brodziak stumbling a bit on the challenge of the shot from the point and he'd rip a laser that beat Backstrom cleanly, 2-2. Columbus continued to attack and Fedor Tyutin hammered a slap shot that was stopped by Backstrom who didn't seem to know where it was other than to make himself big and block it. A few mintues later the Wild would take another penalty as Tom Gilbert knocked a puck over the glass with his glove giving him a delay of game penalty. Minnesota's penalty killers stood tall as they did a nice job of gathering up loose pucks and clearing the zone with good efficiency. Matt Cullen would make a great diving play to deprive Derrick Brassard from an open shot in the slot and then cleared the zone from his knees. The Wild escaped the power play unscathed and still tied at two goals apeice. Minnesota started to counter attack and they'd catch the Blue Jackets' defense a little flat footed as a long pass by Justin Falk to Torrey Mitchell who fed a little pass to Bouchard who raced in and beat Mason high glove side to give the Wild a 3-2 lead. A few moments later, an interception of a pass by Bouchard and he was off to the races as he was hooked by Tyutin and the officials awarded him with a penalty shot. On the penalty shot, Bouchard would take a wide left approach and he'd move in and try to fire a shot underneath the arm by Mason wasn't fooled and came up with a big save to keep his team in the game. The missed opportunity would not go unpunished as Parise was tagged with a late holding call to give the Blue Jackets their 4th power play of the period. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo wasn't impressed and tried to talk it over with the officials to no avail. On the power play the Wild had a gritty effort from Mikko Koivu who outmuscled Brandon Dubinsky along the boards and then clearing the zone. The Wild's penalty killers were physical when they had to be and Minnesota would get the big kill. Columbus would make one last great push late as they pulled Mason for an extra attacker with about a mintue left but the Wild did a good job at getting into shooting lanes and they were able to keep the pucks from reaching Backstrom and Minnesota had to feel a little relieved after escaping with a 3-2 win.
Niklas Backstrom was ok, making 17 saves in the victory. I still get the feeling he's guessing a lot. On Letestu's goal in the 2nd period, he was flopping all over the place. I am not sure if that's a loss of confidence or a player that isn't able to track the puck causing him to over commit out of desperation. Defensively I thought Brodin looked very natural on a pair with Ryan Suter. Suter, I felt also played pretty well. If anyone wants to see another 'Suter effect' look at the scoring Tom Gilbert is able to provide now that he's able to play more of an offensive role. One defenseman that I felt struggled was Marco Scandella, who seemed to have problems in the physical battles and seemed to be a little nervous with the biscuit.
Offensively the Wild were lucky they got a contribution from Bouchard because the 1st line wasn't doing much in the 3rd period. The first line continues to be the workhorse, which is to be expected but I was hoping to see more shots from the 2nd and 3rd lines. However, they were much better on the forecheck and Kyle Brodziak worked the puck in the corners the way he did last year and that does also help wear down the defense which is something they did not do through the first 5 games. Mikko Koivu may have finally got the message of the benefits of him taking his chances to shoot the puck. If he continues to play like that it will only end up helping Heatley and Parise be that much more effective. I thought Mikael Granlund looked a bit overwhelmed at times this evening.
The Wild are very fortunate to come away with a regulation victory with the way they played in the 3rd period. You can't take 4 penalties in the 3rd period when you're up by a goal and expect to come away with a win. Minnesota still found a way to win which a good sign but certainly not the way they'd want to play against Chicago tomorrow. So hopefully get a good rest because they'll be in helluva fight tomorrow night.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Darroll Powe, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikael Granlund, Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Clayton Stoner, Tom Gilbert, Marco Scandella and Justin Falk. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser and Matt Kassian were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Pierre-Marc Bouchard, 2nd Star Mikko Koivu, 3rd Star Ryan Suter
~ Attendance was 17,854 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Bouchard's goal was #100 in his NHL career.
~ Wild prospect and Houston Aeros left winger Jason Zucker represented his team and the AHL Western Conference well as he scored the AHL All Star game's first goal and added a helper along with 5 shots on goal which was good for 2nd on the team.
Wild Prospect Report:
C - Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ Graovac has opened some eyes with his strong play this season, and after a trade from Ottawa to Belleville he is leading the way for the Bulls in scoring with 24 goals and 44 points in 38 games. He was a -16 with the 67's and a +11 with Belleville.
F - Louie Nanne (Penticton, BCHL) ~ It has been a feast or famine like year for the University of Minnesota recruit who has 13 goals and 27 points in 34 games. Nanne has a tendency to score in bunches but then goes for a few weeks without registering a point and currently he's in another drought having not registered a point through his last 4 games.