This weekend, I taught at a Technology Camp where I live. I taught a few classes regarding applications related to Google, and I had time between my classes so I took an old school video game system I owned which allows a person to play the old Nintendo Entertainment System games, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. I hooked up to my SMARTboard at school (which is where Tech Camp was being held) and played some of the old games on there. A colleague joined me and pretty soon we were tearing it up playing the Konami classic Blades of Steel. In a back and forth game, my team, Minnesota prevailed 11-8 over Chicago. Blades of Steel is considered by many as one of the best hockey video games ever made, let alone one of the all time classic titles for the NES and we had a blast. One of the big things Blades of Steel introduced to the video gaming world was fighting which of course is still a part of professional hockey in North America. The only difference between the real deal (which has random fights between players) is that play instant resumes at the conclusion of the fight and the winner basically wins control of the puck. Imagine if that's how the NHL handled fighting instead of making those players sit in the penalty box 5-minutes or longer? Would it be better or worse. So imagine if that was true what could've happened when Edmonton's Taylor Hall knee'd Cal Clutterbuck? Would this make the game more or less safe?
As the picture above correctly states, fighting in hockey is a form of communication. Sure its brutal, but differing messages are sent when players square off and drop the gloves. It is a message meant to rally their team, or to stand up for a teammate. Or it can be a message about what happened the last time these two clubs faced one another, but Wild fans are going to be deprived of that form of communication as Hall is out with a hamstring injury he sustained in their game against St. Louis. So what other messages might the Wild send tonight; perhaps someone on the Wild might try to send a message to Ben Eager? Most importantly, what message will the Wild send to its fans at home after two reasonable efforts on the road?
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1st Period Thoughts: The message the Wild sent early was they were going to be opportunistic and outwork the Oilers as they used speed to put pressure on Edmonton right from the drop of the puck. The line of Jason Zucker, Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi were buzzing all over the ice. They really caused some problems for the Oilers and the chemistry seemed to be building as they moved the puck effectively in kind of a cycle along the wall before Zucker fired a shot on goal that was stopped by Devan Dubnyk. In their 2nd shift a great hustle play by Setoguchi to dive and push the puck out ot Jared Spurgeon who flung a wrist shot that beat a well-screened Dubnyk to give the Wild an early 1-0 lead. Minnesota continued to use its speed effectively as Tom Gilbert threaded a long pass to Pierre-Marc Bouchard who raced in on a break away but he'd push his shot just wide of the mark. The Oilers tried to counter attack with a good forechecking shift from its top line of Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky and Jordan Eberle but while they were able to cycle the puck pretty well but Minnesota was able to keep the top line from generating much in the way of shots on goal. Minnesota seemed to have the extra step to their game where they routinely were winning the races to the loose pucks all throughout the period. Mikael Granlund seemed to have a spark in his game as he was playing as assertively as we've seen all season, including one play where he took the puck off the back wall and then charged towards the crease but was knocked down before he could pull the trigger. The Wild were able to break out of the zone fairly easily all period long, with a good first passes by the Wild defense and when that wasn't available Minnesota's blueliners exhibited some confidence by carrying the puck out of the zone. The Oilers would continue to try to work the puck deep and then attempt to set up a player in the slot but their persistance would be rewarded as Magnus Paajarvi battled well behind the Wild goal before reaching out front and banking a shot off the inside of Niklas Backstrom's leg and in to tie the game with just over 2 minutes left in the period. Minnesota was moving well but it had to feel a little disappointed by being tied at the end of the 1st. I thought Jonas Brodin was again tremendous; looking cool and collected under pressure and then showing that great hockey mind to make the right decision with the puck. Hopefully they can have the same energy to start the 2nd period.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild didn't have quite as much jump as it did in the 1st period but they were still moving well and controlling the play with good hustle. Defensively, Minnesota's blueline was doing an excellent job along the wall and winning battles for pucks and this led to transition. A fine defensive play by Ryan Suter to intercept a potential pass to break up a 3-on-2 for the Oilers turned into a 2-on-1 for the Wild and Jason Zucker raced down the ice and he fired a slapper that was knocked down by Dubnyk who slapped it aside with his paddle. The Wild would get the first power play of the game as Nick Schultz shoved Charlie Coyle in the back earning him a two minute rest in the sin bin. On the power play the Wild worked the puck down low to Parise where he fed a pass to Kyle Brodziak for a quick shot but he was denied by the leg pad of Dubnyk. Minnesota had good puck movement on the power play and Mikael Granlund made another nice play as he worked down behind the goal and made a nice backhand pass out front to Dany Heatley who just could jam a puck by the Oilers big-bodied goalie. The missed opportunity meant it was only a matter of time before Edmonton got a power play over their own and Matt Cullen would trip and fall and rookie Justin Schultz fell as a result of that. Minnesota's penalty kill would start with a great scoring chance as good hustle by Brodziak allowed him to turn and set up Torrey Mitchell for a one-timer from the slot that he drove just wide of the mark. The Wild's penalty kill was very aggressive, and challenged the Oilers' puck carriers very well and really never let Edmonton get much of anything going on the man advatage. With a big kill, where Edmonton did not even register a shot on goal the Wild went back on the attack. Minnesota would have some tremendous chances late in the period as Devin Setoguchi rifled a shot on goal that was fought off by Dubnyk and then followed up for a backhander off the rebound that hit the side of the goal. The Wild continued to buzz in the offensive zone and Setoguchi set up Mikko Koivu in the high slot for a big one-timer that he blasted wide of the goal. The offensive chances drew an appreciative cheer from the home crowd. Minnesota's pressure would cause some confusion on the part of the Oilers as they'd take a 'Too Many Men' penalty with just over two minutes left to play. Where the Wild had been able to assert itself offensively at ease throughout the period they'd struggle a bit on the man advantage as they had a hard time getting set up in the Oilers' zone. Minnesota was a little too cute and was waiting for a 'perfect shot' instead of taking the opportunities the Oilers' were giving them. It was one of the most dominant periods the Wild have ever had, outshooting Edmonton 18-0 in the period but more importantly it was still 1-1 on the scoreboard. It was the 3rd time in the team's history that the Wild had managed to hold their opponents to no shots in a period. Granlund had another solid period and again I think the Wild's 2nd line was its most dangerous. Hopefully they can find the back of the net in the 3rd.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota took just 9 seconds to do what they couldn't do in the 2nd period, and that was score a goal as a long chip off the boards by Charlie Coyle where Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could control it and it was taken from his near possession by Mikko Koivu who picked it up in the slot before rifling a shot by Dubnyk stick side to make it 2-1 Wild. Minnesota continued to pour it on as the 2nd line created some great chances as Setoguchi fed a pass to Jason Zucker who tried to zoom behind the net and attempt a wrap around that was kicked away by Dubnyk and the puck was fanned on by Matt Cullen. The Oilers tried to rally back and it was Jordan Eberle chipping a shot on goal off th rush that was fought off by Backstrom before it was escorted out of danger by Ryan Suter. Minnesota would light the lamp again as a turnover in the neutral zone would turn into a nice little play off the rush as Koivu worked the puck to Parise who dished it over to Coyle who skated in and he unleashed a wicked backhander that beat Dubnyk to give the Wild a 3-1 lead. The Oilers felt the game was slipping away so Edmonton's head coach, Ralph Krueger called a timeout to discuss the matter. Minnesota would play a little more cautiously as Edmonton tried to cut into the Wild's lead and it was Ryan Jones setting up Jeff Petry for a quick redirect chance off the rush foiled perfectly by Backstrom. Edmonton was taking its chances to dump the puck deep and then try to go on the forecheck and Edmonton would get a flukey goal as Mikko Koivu tried to clear a puck off the boards and his clearing attempt went off the skate of the Oilers' Sam Gagner that floated out in front that was tapped into the goal by the stick of Ryan Suter. With the Wild now holding onto a 3-2 lead Minnesota would go on the power play as Niklas Backstrom was tackled by Petry who was trying to join the Oilers' rush. Minnesota's power play again had a little difficulty getting set up in the offensive zone. Granlund would set up Heatley for a shot just inside the left faceoff dot that was denied by Dubnyk. The Wild's power play would move the puck well before setting up Koivu for a big shot from the point that would deflect off the stick of Dany Heatley and sneak in to make it 4-2 Wild. After Heatley's power play goal the Wild would look a little lazy as they just wanted to sit back and defend their lead. Edmonton decided to take advantage of Minnesota's passive play as they pulled Dubnyk with 3 minutes left to play with their team trailing by two. Minnesota would sort of go in penalty kill mode. Edmonton was showing desperation but even as they did so they continued to try to be fancy with the puck and this resulted in a few failed plays when they really needed it. and the Wild got an important home victory.
Niklas Backstrom didn't have to particularly good, making just 19 saves in the victory. You can't really blame him on the 2nd goal, although he may want to keep his paddle more on the ice as that cost him on the first goal. Defensively, the Wild's speed to the puck and the way they made the smart play with the puck with the short pass instead of just blindly chipping it off the glass really allowed Minnesota to control this game. The Wild hustled well in the defensive zone making Edmonton one and done even when they did manage to get a shot on goal. The shot-less 2nd period was only the 3rd time they've managed to do that in team history. The penalty kill also continues to be rock solid.
Offensively the Wild had a diverse offensive attack as the 1st and 2nd lines were really buzzing all night. The team even got some pressure from its 3rd line as Mikael Granlund had one of his best games in a Wild uniform. He was playing with a purpose and some confidence as he was taking his chances to shoot but also be decisive with the puck as he distributed it to teammates. Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Jason Zucker continue to give Minnesota that element of explosive speed that really changes the way opponents can play against the Wild. Mikko Koivu also had a great game, and he too seemed to be playing with a bit more purpose and his 3 point night (1 goal, 2 assists) really carried the team. Koivu must be an offensive force in order to justify his elite player type salary. Charlie Coyle also had a good game and it was great to see him showing the confidence to rip a backhander like he did. 43 shots on goal is something this team needs to aim for every night.
This was a great effort by the Wild, and Edmonton didn't seem to have their heart in it. Perhaps it was sitting in the pressbox as Taylor Hall was seen walking through the "X" by a fan, carrying a bunch of pizzas with no limp or soreness apparent. So maybe it was a case of the 'Minnesota Flu". Either way, Edmonton wasn't battling and when the Wild still were tied after outshooting the Oilers 18-0 in the 2nd period I was worried Minnesota was going to get discouraged but the Wild kept right on plugging away and the pucks started to find the back of the net and Minneosta won the game going away. Now Minnestoa will have to re-focus and get itself ready for what will be a big battle against the still undefeated (in regulation) Chicago Blackhawks. 19-0-3 is a video game hockey like record. Its time for the Wild to get rid of that goose egg that sits there. Time to send another message!
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Jason Zucker, Dany Heatley, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikael Granlund, Mike Rupp, Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Brodziak, Ryan Suter, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon, Tom Gilbert and Jonas Brodin. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser and Zenon Konopka were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Mikko Koivu, 2nd Star Mikko Koivu, 3rd Star Charlie Coyle
~ Attendance was 18,675 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
C - Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ The Golden Gophers' leading scorer embraced the role of the set up man as he chipped in 3 helpers in Minnesota's 5-1 victory over Denver. Haula now has 42 points which is the 2nd straight season that the Pori, Finland-native has topped 40 points in a season. The Wild have to be happy with that level of consistency.
LW - Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, CCHA) ~ The lanky winger continues to provide the Fighting Irish with a boost offensively for Jeff Jackson's team. Lucia contributed a goal and an assist in Notre Dame's 4-1 win over a pretty decent Bowling Green squad on Saturday night. The Wild's 2nd round pick from 2011 has 12 goals and 22 points in 27 games.
F - Louie Nanne (Penticton, BCHL) ~ University of Minnesota recruit, Louie Nanne continues to his feast or famine production and on Saturday night against the Trail Smoke Eaters it was feast as he potted a goal an assist in a 5-4 win for the Vees. The Edina-native has 19 goals, and 41 points in 44 games this season.