The sweet taste of birthday cake, the celebratory annual occasion that was the birthday party. Whether it was a fun time spent at home with some friends or a more staged party at a restaurant or an arcade (the places where most of people of our ilk played their first video games) it was a time where it was all about the big day. You'd open gifts, and relish at being the center of attention for one day each year. Maybe some of you were generous enough to try to bring in everyone on the celebration by bringing treats to class (which is kind of the current norm by the way). Yet over time the annual celebration really fades after your 16th birthday doesn't it? Here's another question you can ask yourself. At what point in your life did a birthday stop becoming a celebration and more or less a nasty reminder that you are just getting older? Where now if you happen to go out on your birthday you almost plead with those around you not to remind the restaurant staff that it is in fact your birthday for fear of being serenaded with an embarrassing and sappy 'Birthday Song' because they're not allowed to use trademarked Happy Birthday ditty. I'm 35, so I wouldn't say I dread this day most of the time but I have to admit it starts to make me put my age into perspective when I think that if I was an NHL'er I'd likely be considered to be in the twilight of my career. By the way I can hear your jokes about how I'm in the twilight of my blogging career but I'm ignoring them.
So why am I talking about birthdays? Well that's because the Wild have a birthday of one of their own to celebrate as the team's captain, Mikko Koivu celebrates the big 3 0 today. Happy Birthday Mikko! You could say the Wild have already given Koivu his birthday gift as they still have him signed through the 2017-18 season at a hefty $6.75 million per year. Its the gift that keeps on giving, to Koivu at least. So will Koivu and the Wild deliver the fans of Minnesota a birthday treat or will Anaheim supply a nasty birthday spanking?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota's 3rd line had a monster shift early, as Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak and a pinching Jared Spurgeon getting involved and Jonas Hiller found himself under siege as the Wild fired a bunch of shots at close range but came up empty. The crowd gave an appreciative cheer for the great pressure the line created. The Wild followed up that great shift with another from its 4th line as Zenon Konpoka drew a Anaheim defender to over persue and attempt a check into the Anaheim bench as Torrey Mitchell picked up the loose puck and he moved in and patiently lifted a backhander underneath the crossbar but the puck straddled the goal line giving Minnesota an apparent lead. The play would be reviewed and the replay was not all that conclusive. The offficial call reflected that as the goal was declared no good as Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo tried to talk to the officials to no avail. In my opinion this is another reason why the confirmation line is an absolute no brainer. The line's presence would've determined definitiely if the puck was actually completely over the goal line and it doesn't change the game at all. Making matters that much more tense the Wild's captain Mikko Koivu was tagged with a tripping penalty. However, the Ducks' top ranked power play would be thoroughly dominated by the excellent hustle of the Wild's penalty kill. Minnesota's penalty killers were very active in challenging the Ducks through the neutral zone, forcing turnovers that kept Anaheim from even being able to set up in the offensive zone let alone get a shot on goal. The Wild killed the penalty and then the Ducks zone looked like a level of NES' Duck Hunt as Minnesota was blasting away slap shots on goal that kept Hiller busy. The crowd would give another appreciative cheer as the Wild kept attacking and putting one of the league's best teams on their heels. A few minutes later the Wild would go on the powe play as Brandon McMillan took a good run at Cal Clutterbuck. Minnesota's good fortune would continue as Saku Koivu would called for hooking. On the 5-on-3 the Wild were painfully static and predictable in their puck movement as they attempted to set up the right handed shot in Devin Setoguchi but he was unable to beat Hiller on a few sharp angle chances. After Hiller froze a puck, the Wild would use its one timeout to talk things over, but inexplicably the power play strategy was really unchanged as the puck movement was again at a minimum and all they could muster was another sharp angle shot for Setoguchi who missed wide of the net that cleared the zone and effectively killed off the 5-on-3. It was a terribly disappointing power play effort which lacked the energy and jump the team had when it was at even strength which had given it so much momentum. The poor power play energized the Ducks and the Wild looked a bit befuddled after a poor showing on the man advantage. A few minutes later with both teams wanting a jolt of energy Konopka would drop the gloves with Patrick Maroon. This would be a long, back and forth struggle with Maroon throwing a flurry of jabs early before Konopka scored on a nice right handed hook. The hook stunned Maroon a bit and the Wild enforcer who had a reach disavantage would move in close as he tried to tie up Maroon's arms in his sweater while freeing his own arm so he could start hammering away with right handed jabs. By the time Konopka would get his arm free Maroon was completely exhausted and as he landed his first punch Maroon would take a knee and the fight was over. I am not really sure you could say it was victory for anyone as much as it was both fighters getting tired. Minnesota would go back on the power play as Devin Setoguchi was high sticked by Luca Sbisa. On the man advantage the Wild moved a little more than they did on the 1st power play but with only marginal better results at first. Yet their persistence would be rewarded as Matt Cullen fed a pass to Setoguchi who had to settle the puck before firing a wrist shot by Jonas Hiller who had the angle but because Setoguchi hesitated moved to stand up giving up the 5-hole that the Wild sniper exploited. The Ducks were unable to get anything going offensively and Niklas Backstrom was never tested at all, having to make just 3 saves the whole period and none of the quality variety. Minnesota was hustling well and winning the races for the loose pucks which made them appear every bit the match for the Ducks. I expect the Ducks to come out with far more fire to start the 2nd period.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period would start with a pair of collisions as Corey Perry tripped up Niklas Backstrom who had just made a save to no call as he was already falling down before he crashed into the Wild goalie and the Wild would go back in a 2-on-1 of their own with Mikko Koivu stepping into a slapper that was stopped by Hiller who was then ran into by Zach Parise who had been tripped up by Ryan Getzlaf. The Wild were rancid on the man advantage as they lacked focus and hustle and the Ducks showed a little fire as Andrew Cogliano was causing some havoc with his great speed as he rang shot off the pipe off the rush. Minnesota's power play would regroup and they'd keep it simple and work the puck in close as Brodziak one-timed a shot as the Wild swarmed near the goal but Hiller was able to get a whistle. The Wild would go back on the attack and as Jason Zucker worked the puck back out to the point he was ambushed by a vicious late check by Corey Perry who left his feet, stuck out the elbow leveling the speedy winger. Perry would get a 5-minute interference penalty plus a 10-minute game misconduct. It was a filthy play and I'm fairly certain we're going to see a suspension as he made contact to the head, on a late hit and with a player who was more or less defenseless. Zucker laid on the ice almost motionless as Wild trainer Don Fuller went out to attend to him. He'd have to be helped off the ice, clearly rather weary from the big hit. The Wild would then have a 5-minute power play but it had lots of problems through the first two minutes of the man advantage. The Ducks' penalty kill was very aggressive and challenging Minnesota's entry into the offensive zone and was able to keep the Wild bottled up in its own zone as the home crowd started to boo a bit at their bumbling play with the puck. Bad passes, indecision made for an ugly 1st half of the power play. The Wild would finally get into the offensive zone and they'd start to put some pucks on goal as Cullen found Brodziak for a one-timer that struck the shoulder of Hiller and then moments after that it was Heatley redirecting a pass from Jared Spurgeon that hit Hiller in the mask who looked like a soccer goalie as he did his best to direct the puck out of danger. Minnesota would come up empty on the power play and the Wild tried to go back on the attack. The Wild were making decent plays in transition as they'd force a turnover in the neutral zone and a 2-on-1 between Koivu and Zach Parise just failed to click thanks to an aggressive backcheck by Saku Koivu. The Ducks tried to counter attack and Peter Holland raced into the Wild zone with speed before unleasing a wrister off the rush that was gloved by Backstrom. Anaheim would have a great chance late in the period as Teemu Selanne worked a 2-on-1 with Bobby Ryan who was foiled by a nice play by Ryan Suter who intercepted the pass. Minnesota would hold onto its 1-0 lead going into the 2nd intermission but they had to feel as though they missed on some tremedous opportunites with a long 5-on-3 and a 5-minute power play respectively. The Wild seemed to be a little too non-chalant on the man advantage and even though Zucker isn't on the power play Minnesota seemed out of it after the big hit. Tom Gilbert seemed to really be struggling, both to handle the puck as well as skating as he stumbled a few times. Hopefully Yeo can re-focus them to start the 3rd.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period started with Anaheim looking hungry and determined, as they were taking every opportunity to fire the puck on goal. Minnesota would try ro counter with its 4th line and Mtchell took a pass from Mike Rupp and lifted a quick backhand that hit the mask of Hiller. The Ducks would counter attack, and after out hustling the Wild a quick shot by Toni Lydman created a big rebound off the boards that was pounced on by Maroon who shoveled it by Backstrom to tie the game at 1-1. After a few minutes of back and forth play with neither club able to generate much of anything offensively the Wild finally got a great scoring chance as Dany Heatley made a nice little move to step by Lydman who just managed to recover enough to disrupt his shot. As the Wild were swarming in the Ducks' zone, Kyle Brodziak would get caught up in the legs of Brandon McMillan where he fell to the ice for a tripping call. McMillan looked like he fell to the ice rather easily but it didn't matter as the league's best power play hit the ice. Minnesota's penalty killers again were sold, by getting sticks into passing and shooting lanes so they could create a few turnovers and clear the offensive zone allowing them to get another big kill. As the Ducks' power play expired, Anaheim had a great chance as Cam Fowler side stepped a Wild forward before rifling a shot on goal and a flurry ensued before Backstrom was able to come up a big save from his stomach to keep the game knotted at one goal apiece. The Zucker injury really had Mike Yeo shuffling lines and it seemed like every shift featured a completely new combination of forwards. The game also started to get a bit more chippy and there was lots of chirping between players and the officials tried to tone some of this 'talk' down by sending Mike Rupp and Bryan Allen into penalty box opening up the ice with a little 4-on-4 play. Minnesota would make some questionable decisions with the extra ice as they sent out Kyle Brodziak and Dany Heatley. Why? Heatley's slow and you want to put him in a situation where he's going to have more ice to cover defensively? Sure enough the Ducks press the play with the slower Wild forward on the ice and Minnesota scrambles in its own zone and on a strange carom off the stanchion that went back out to the high slot, Luca Sbisa let loose with a slap shot that went up high and seemed to surprise Backstrom who could only swat at it as it hit the shaft of his own stick and went in to make it 2-1 with just over 3 minutes left. Minnesota tried to surge late but they didn't seem to have the gas in the tank let alone to really push for the equalizer. A late slashing call on Ryan Suter more or less started the nail into the coffin. The Wild would still have a chance as Mikko Koivu found himself alone in the slot and he slapped a shot wide of the mark and that was it, Minnesota loses 2-1.
Niklas Backstrom was pretty good until he got fooled by Sbisa's shot. He must have lost it when it hit the stanchion because he was more or less trying to keep the puck from hitting his mask when he got beat on what would be the game winner. Yet overall he played well enough for the Wild to win the game. Defensively the Wild got good backchecking support from their forwards and Minnesota did a fair job at keeping the Ducks from having too many 2nd chance opportunities. The penalty kill was again brilliant, shutting down the Ducks potent power play completely.
Offensively, it was the failure of the power play that really killed the Wild. A long 5-on-3 and a 5-minute major yielded only a few shots and no goals and that really was the difference. Minnesota had a lot of shots goal, 30 of them and even some that were of the quality variety but its inability to finish allowed Anaheim to hang around in this game long enough to steal away a victory. The decision to put out Heatley in 4-on-4 boggles my mind. I know he had a nice little move on Lydman, but its 4-on-4, the game best suited for your best skaters not your power forwards. I can understand seeing a teammate get hurt making you lose your focus a little, but Zucker was not a key component of the Wild's power play. So the Wild's best power play performers were all healthy and ready yet they really dropped the ball. The loss of Zucker really seemed to throw all of the lines with the lone exception of the 4th line out of sync. Cullen and Setoguchi seemed to be lost without having the speedy rookie on their wing. I thought the Wild's best forwards were Mike Rupp and Torrey Mitchell who seemed to work well together and they created some excellent chances that they just couldn't bury. Mitchell's 'no goal' will be a topic of discussion for some but to me this is another reason why you use a confirmation line. If that puck touches the confirmation line you know it was completely across the goal line but without that line there you have to guess and in the absence of a goal call they had to say 'no goal' because the replay was not conclusive. Cal Clutterbuck, where were you buddy? Also, where was the 1st line? Parise was a non-factor and Koivu struggled mightily against the Ducks' Sheldon Souray and Francois Beauchemin.
The hit on Zucker should warrant a supsension since its precisely what the league is trying to rid itself of. Perry saw Zucker pass the puck away and he had more than enough control available to him not to have delivered a hit at all. Not to sound too much like Brendan Shanahan but he left his feet and the principle point of contact was Zucker's head with Perry's elbow. That should yield at least a 2-game suspension in my opinion. Even though Yahoo's Puck Daddy (Greg Wyshynski) pointed out that Perry's previous 4-game suspension for elbowing Philadelphia's Claude Giroux back in 2009 apparently has passed the statute of limitations. Did you know there was a statute of limitations on dirty plays? I didn't know that but I think its pretty lame to discount that history. Perry is a player who is known as a high scorer but he's also borderline dirty and that should be considered when handing out some justice in my opinion. We shall see what the Department of Player Safety deems fit in the next day or two I'd imagine.
With Zucker likely out for a while, with what is probably a concussion it might be an open door for Pierre-Marc Bouchard, but with the strong play of Torrey Mitchell the team may wish to use the speedy former Vermont Catamount on the 2nd line with Cullen and Setoguchi. Bouchard would not be well suited to the 4th line, so perhaps you call up a player better suited to that role from Houston like Jake Dowell or Carson McMillan. Either way, this was a game the Wild should've had. Injury to Zucker or not the team has to answer back and take advantage of its chances otherwise you're not going to beat too many teams let alone Anaheim. The loss combined with a shootout win by the Vancouver Canucks means the Wild drop out of 1st place in the Northwest Division. If the Wild are disappointed they need to re-focus and earn a win against a Colorado team that has been hit or miss this season.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Jason Zucker, Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Mike Rupp, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Justin Falk, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter. Matt Hackett backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser and Pierre-Marc Bouchard were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Jonas Hiller, 2nd Star Matt Cullen, 3rd Star Zenon Konopka
~ Attendance was 18,802 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
D - Mathew Dumba (Red Deer, WHL) ~ Sunday's game for Dumba gave Wild fans a taste of some the talents as well as some of the possible pitfalls a player with his bomastic style can bring to the table. In Red Deer's 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary, Dumba helped pace his team offensively contributing a goal and an assist, but on the negative side he also added 3 foolish minor penalties. These were infractions of the retaliatory and lazy variety that ultimately cost his team the game as his 3rd period hooking call with 5 seconds left led to a game winning power play goal in the extra stanza. While the points may be what some fans deem more important than his mistakes, Dumba has quietly compiled a fairly respectable season offensively thus far with 16 goals, 42 points. He's still shy of the 20 goals and 57 points he had last season, but still an intriguing prospect who seems to win more than he loses.
C - Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ A player mentioned but not on the Wild's Top 10 prospects list in the Hockey News' Future Watch issue is Tyler Graovac. Truth be told, if he was in just about any other team's prospect pool he'd likely be listed. The lanky Brampton-native has been the go-to offensive force Belleville hoped he'd be when they traded for him back in January. One trend that isn't as well known is that Graovac has a penchant for lighting the lamp first, and that held true on Monday night as his tally halfway through the first period powered the Bulls to a 4-2 victory over Kingston. Graovac now has 38 goals, 69 points and 18 PIM's 57 games this season.