Maybe its the side effect of a shortened season but the line between celebration and panic is incredibly thin. A poster over on the Wild.com message boards named "Geo" has a signature that is all to true amongst hockey fans. "Three wins in a row means a Stanley Cup, three losses in a row means trade everybody." Exaggerated, but more or less true. Case in point, the Wild's most recent game which was a 3-1 loss to Nashville who was winless prior to the match up. In the 3rd period, a poorly executed play turns into what was the game winning goal for the Predators. The daggers were drawn instantly, with fans blaming Niklas Backstrom (who coincidentally won't be starting tonight), the defenseman and hometown hero Zach Parise. The fans manic reaction to this one play in one game (since the team has played 3 whopping games so far, all of them at home) was somewhat heckled on KFAN today by both Paul Allen and the "Common Man" Dan Cole and his co-host Brandon Mileski. I think it is a bit laughable to read a ton into what has happened in 3 games, and fans can be pretty bi-polar; especially when there is so many games over a compressed season. By the end of this road trip the Wild will give fans, hockey experts and novices alike a lot better idea of where they're at. We should find out the answer to these questions.
1. Are the 2nd and 3rd lines going to be able to produce offensively? Or are they going to continue to be bystanders?
2. Can this newly formulated Wild team be just as successful on the road?
3. Will the Wild's defense show improvement, both in their own zone but also in starting the break out?
So the Wild start their road trip against the suddenly suspect team the Detroit Red Wings who have had a slow start and are currently at the bottom of the Central Division standings. However this is still a team with some All Star calibre talent so to expect them to continue to struggle is not a real good bet. However, it wouldn't surprise me if Red Wings fans are a little edgy right now. So grab a nice cold beverage and just try to relax for tonight's games. Its just the Red Wings right, what could possibly go wrong?!?! (cue scary music)
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1st Period Thoughts: The pace of the game was fast and furious as the Red Wings wanted to play the game at a fast tempo to start. Minnesota was forced to counter punch a bit, but the Wild's defense did a nice job of staying calm and working it out of the zone. Jonas Brodin, playing on his first shift did a fine job of protecting the puck against the forechecking Jordin Tootoo who was probably salivating at hitting the slight Swedish-born defenseman. The Wild would weather the early Red Wings' storm and Zach Parise would draw a tripping call on Brian Lashoff. On the power play Minnesota moved the puck well at the point as they set up a few shots from the perimeter by Ryan Suter and Tom Gilbert. Off a quick shot by Suter that was stopped by Jimmy Howard, who pounced on the loose puck as Parise jammed away at it. After this failed chance by the top unit, the 2nd unit featured two Wild 1st round picks in Brodin and Mikael Granlund. The Wild's power play moved the puck well from the point and Brodin would take his first NHL shot on goal that was blocked aside by Howard, but Minnesota was able to maintain possession and they'd create a few more shooting opportunities but to no avail. A few minutes later the Wild ended up on the power play again as Pavel Datsyuk was tagged with a hooking call and Minnesota would renew its domination of the Detroit zone. The Wild operated in Detroit's zone for almost the full two minutes of the power play; again setting up a variety of chances. From the shots from the point to close in attempts to jam away at the puck, Howard was the equalizer making the saves to get his team out of trouble. As if it was scripted, the failed Minnesota power plays were answered by two quick penalties called against the Wild. The first was a hooking call on Cal Clutterbuck and then a hooking call Clayton Stoner giving Detroit a long 5-on-3 power play that was about 1:40 in length. However, Minnesota's penalty killers circled the wagons very effectively, using active sticks to deny shooting and passing lanes. The first was a nice diving effort by Kyle Brodziak to knock a pass out of the zone and deep enough to allow for a line change. The next was a nice play by Ryan Suter who was being boo'd everytime he touched the puck to deny a close-in centering pass and then backhand the loose biscuit out of the zone. Josh Harding also came up big, making a nice save on Henrik Zetterberg who attempted the short side snipe. Minnesota would get the huge penalty kill and Detroit would put the Wild right on the power play as Dan Cleary cross checked Nate Prosser near the Wild goal. The Wild's power play who have already had plenty of practice had a bit more difficulty operating in the zone as they had on the previous two times on the man advantage. The Wild were at times being guilty of looking for the perfect opportunity as Koivu passed up on a few open opportunities to let unleash a shot and Minnesota again would come up empty. Mikael Granlund would get a physical taste of the NHL as he was worked over pretty good along the wall as Johan Franzen would try to grind the young Finn into board dust. Tom Gilbert would get a weak cross-checking penalty who knocked down Valterri Filppula (who fell pretty damn easy) putting Detroit on the power play. The Red Wings wouldn't get a chance at all; as Clayton Stoner and the Minnesota penalty kill was able to gather up the puck and send it to the other end of the rink and the game remained scoreless going into the 2nd period. It was a great 1st period for the Wild, but they need to capitalize on these power plays. I thought it was more effective early on when they made quicker passes and funneled pucks to the net with greater frequency. Mikko Koivu needs to start shooting the puck. Having the puck near the faceoff dot and never taking a shot just allows the Detroit penalty killers to cheat a bit more out to the point and cover the other Wild skaters on the power play. They need to go back to that. Jonas Brodin looked tremendous in his first period in the NHL; calm, smart and confident. I also really liked to see Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell on the penalty kill, especially Konopka who proved just how good he can be on the draw when he beat Datsyuk on the faceoff during that big penalty kill effort. Minnesota was out shooting the Red Wings 11-6.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Red Wings did not take long to strike on the carry over of Gilbert's penalty as Damien Brunner raced by the Wild's defense to gain some room before unloading a shot that beat an unscreened Josh Harding to put Detroit up 1-0 to a joyous cheer by the home crowd that was breathing a sigh of relief at their first power play tally of the season. The goal seemed to flip a switch for the Red Wings as they'd strike again just a few moments later as a faceoff win by Datsyuk turns into a shot from the point by Brendan Smith that ended up on the stick of Filppula who sort of swept a backhand that chipped up in the air off the stick of Todd Bertuzzi and floated past Harding to make it 2-0. Minnesota would gain another power play, with an interference call on the Red Wings' speedster Darren Helm. The Wild would get a bit more help as Parise drew another penalty as Niklas Kronwall who hooked the pesky winger to make it a 1:40 of 5-on-3 power play time. The Wild had a golden chance early as Suter dished a pass to Parise who sort of turned and tried to jam a shot through Howard but the former Maine goalie came up with a big save. Minnesota would finally cash in after a myriad of passes a stopped shot by Koivu which ended up on the stick of Pierre-Marc Bouchard who passed it back out to Suter who then passed it down to Parise who fired it quickly and by Howard to cut the Detroit lead in half, 2-1. Just a few minutes after the successful power play, the Wild's hustle drew another penalty as Darroll Powe was tripped up by Jakub Kindl. Minnesota's power play again did a fine job of maintaining the zone and moving the puck quickly but they were unable to solve Howard despite a plethora of good looks. The Wild's power play; especially Ryan Suter did a tremendous job of holding the zone, depriving Detroit the chance to change up its penalty killers and this pressure finally gave Minnesota the chance it needed. A great play to hold the zone by Jonas Brodin, would be gathered up by Granlund who feinted looking to shoot before firing a good hard pass to the high slot where Gilbert stepped into a one-timer that beat Howard stick side to tie the game 2-2. Pretty play after a nother quality effort on the power play. Koivu was starting to shoot the puck a bit more and it was helping create some more space. Minnesota was buzzing all over the ice and you started to see some of the dividends of the effort with the play 5-on-5. The Red Wings tried to counter with its top line and had a dangerous chance as Zetterberg redirected a point shot by Kent Huskins that just missed wide of the mark. Detroit would thwart its own attempt to re-establish momentum as Kronwall hooked Matt Cullen. NHL officials Brian Pochmara and Kevin Pollock would meet with both clubs' captains, Zetterberg and Koivu respectively to talk over the parade to the penalty box. Minnesota's top power play unit had some golden chances as Dany Heatley nearly cashed in on a pass from Parise but the missed opportunities would boomerang in a bad way for the Wild. The 2nd power play unit would fail in epic fashion as Devin Setoguchi found a saucer pass and was all alone behind the defense where he inexplicably would attempt another pass instead of shooting the puck and the defense recovered and the Wild ended up with nothing. Minnesota would still hold the zone though and Granlund passed a puck up to Cullen who then tried a blind backhand pass that never reached its intended target of Setoguchi and the Red Wings went on the counter attack. Henrik Zetterberg would get the puck where he got Harding to move out to challenge him but he'd be patient and waited for the right moment to pull the trigager and he'd beat the Wild goalie as his shot skittered over the goal line and underneat the goal and out as it was popped up on its pegs by Granlund. It was a good goal, and the Wild had to feel pretty deflated after being so close and now finding itself down 3-2. The Wild tried to answer back with its 4th line who had a good shift as Torrey Mitchell paid the price by taking a big hit as he held the zone which ultimately ended up on the stick of Bouchard who found a trailing Clayton Stoner who stepped around a diving Detroit defender before firing a shot that was blocked. Minnesota would take a penalty as Koivu hooked Zetterberg who sold it a bit by going to one knee rather easily, and the Red Wings would take full advantage of the opportunity. Just moments into the man advantage, Datsyuk let loose with a wicked wrister that beat a well-screened Harding who had Franzen in parked right in front of his crease to make it 4-2 Detroit. The Wild's woes continued as Jonas Brodin would get caught a little flat footed and he held up Darren Helm giving the Red Wings a late power play. Detroit's power play wasn't nearly as assertive as they were more cautious and Minnesota probably was lucky it was only trailing 4-2 despite outshooting the Red Wings 21-17 at end of the 2nd. The 2nd line really screwed the pooch late in the period with way too unselfish play by attempting too many passes instead of taking the opportunities the Red Wings were giving them.
3rd Period Thoughts: Brodin had just 11 seconds left on his power play and Minnesota would escape unscathed. The 2nd line would finally put a few pucks near the goal; as Granlund tried to set up Matt Cullen but his pass would be intercepted just a foot away from the Wild forward. The line would have another chance just moments later as Setoguchi tried to set up Cullen but his tip was steered away by Howard. The Wild continued to persist and Cullen made a diving play to knock the puck back to Suter who then stepped into a slapper that was stopped by Howard but his rebound went right to Cullen who had a lot of twine to look at but he pushed it wide of the mark. Detroit would ice a puck and this prompted Red Wings' head coach Mike Babcock to call a timeout to give his team a breather. The Red Wings would respond well with a little more rest as Tom Gilbert would get caught trying to step up to intercept a Detroit pass which led to a 2-on-1 between Datsyuk and Bertuzzi who'd skate in and lift a quick snap shot over the shoulder of Harding to make it 5-2. The Red Wings continued to swarm as the Wild seemed defeated menatlly, just turning and watching Detroit operate in their own zone as Datsyuk was stopped on a point-blank-range opportunity. With Detroit feeling a bit more confident Jordin Tootoo decided to get involved by deliver a huge hit to Konopka that got the home crowd going a bit and Konopka tried to track the speedy pest down for an element of revenge but he wasn't going to oblige a request to drop the mitts. The Wild's lack of jump was making Detroit look better than they should as Brendan Smith hammered a slap shto that Harding stopped but the puck trickled towards the goal line which was chopped away by Stoner just before Bertuzzi could tap it in for a hat trick. Justin Falk would drop the gloves with Justin Abdelkader, but it was more of a wrestling match Falk got one good left handed jab before the former Michigan State Spartan wrestled down Falk to the cheers of the crowd. The fight got Minnesota back skating again and the top line would work well to start cutting into Detroit's lead as Gilbert shot a puck wide that was picked up by Zach Parise who would chip a shot from near the right post that rose up Howard's shoulder and as Parise made his around the back of the net to the other side suddenly the red light was on and it was just a 2-goal lead, 5-3. Parise certainly deserved it for the way he had been playing; especially near the crease where he was a presence all game long. Minnesota's improved effort would earn them another power play as Daniel Cleary was called for holding giving the Wild a much-needed power play. Minnesota sent out its 2nd unit which needed to justify its existance as Granlund set up Setoguchi who ripped a shot from just above the right faceoff dot that was gloved by Howard. Minnesota would get caught as the power play ended as Filppula found Cleary who had just exited the penalty box for a break away but Harding would stay square and make up a huge save. A few moments later Zetterberg set up Franzen right in front of the crease that Harding kicked out right to Brunner who pulled a shot wide. Minnesota would pull Harding for the last minute and a half but were unable to create much in the way of scoring chances and they'd fall 5-3.
Josh Harding didn't play too badly. Making 22 saves in the loss. The only goal he might want back was Zetterberg's goal where he got caught challenging the shooter a little too much and was caught out of position. Defensively the Wild got hurt a few times as a lack of attention to details came back to haunt them. You cannot lose track of a guy like Franzen on the power play and allow him to set up camp right in front of your goalie. I thought Jonas Brodin had a terrific first NHL game and I thought he exhibted the subtle, smart play that is what made scouts so excited about his potential. I am not going to compare him to a recently retired Red Wing defenseman, but his level of anticipation is very impressive.
Again the story was the lack of offensive contributions by the 2nd and 3rd lines. The 2nd line especially of Cullen, Setoguchi and Granlund have come up well short of expectations. Cullen can't buy a goal to save his life and Setoguchi seems to have little desire to shoot the puck anymore. Granlund is doing all that he can but being saddled by two linemates who seem intent on passing at the wrong times and being unable to finish when they do have the opportunity to do so really has made them a big liability for Minnesota. The top line again was the only real threat the Wild had. While Heatley didn't have a ton of chances the line did a good job at piling up the shots on goal. Parise again ended up leading the team in shots, with 6 shots on goal, Heatley had 2 and Koivu had 3 shots. Look at the contrast between the second line where Granlund and Cullen had none and Setoguchi had just 2 shots. Yuck. Cullen had a number of misses but if it doesn't go on goal does it really matter? The Wild got more shots from its top paring of defenseman in Suter (4) and Gilbert (3) and the 3rd line didn't make much noise either. Part of that is a side effect of all the time spent on the power play but still you have to find a way to have an impact on the game. No shots from Clutterbuck, and just 1 for Brodziak and 2 for Bouchard isn't going to get it done. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has plenty of reasons to blow up that line for what will be a very tough game against St. Louis on Sunday.
Its still not even close to panic mode yet, but this game is also about missed opportunties. The Wild's power play really should've yielded more goals than it did, because early on Detroit was playing like a team sitting at the bottom of its division. It was lazy and that doesn't happen a lot with Detroit and you have to make them pay when they play like this. But we didn't. So hopefully this team takes a long look at itself before it tries to pull off an upset against the Blues. It certainly won't get any sympathy from them.
~ The roster tonight was as follows: Zach Parise, Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Daroll Powe, Jonas Brodin, Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Nate Prosser. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Matt Kassian and Matt Dumba were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Pavel Datsyuk, 2nd Star Todd Bertuzzi, 3rd Star Zach Parise
~ Attendance at Joe Louis Arena was 20,066.
~ Jonas Brodin wore #25 joining Eric Belanger, Nick Johnson, Cam Barker, Rickard Wallin, Randy Robitaille and Sergei Krivokrasov to have donned the number before for the Minnesota Wild.
~ The Houston Aeros defeated the Red Wings' AHL affilaite this evening 1-0 on a goal by Justin Fontaine after a great effort by David McIntyre. The Aeros would hold on to earn the victory, as Darcy Kuemper got the shutout making 28 saves earning his 2nd victory in a row after a win on Wednesday in Milwaukee.