With the visiting Calgary Flames in town, one has to wonder if it will be a repeat of last season's final meeting with Calgary. Do you remember that game? When the playoffs could have been clinched with a game against the Flames at home? Yeah, well that didn't turn out so well. It took another game against Los Angeles (which could have easily been lost as well) combined with some luck amongst the other teams looking for playoff spots for Minnesota to get in. Thankfully, tonight was not a repeat of that last game. With tonight's fantastic showing, I'm hoping they played that disaster out of their system. Minnesota stumbled into last year's playoffs after an abbreviated regular season. If Minnesota can continue to play like they did tonight throughout the entire season, the Wild could be a serious threat to the rest of the league.
While things didn't always go like one would hope, there are a couple of things I'd like to point out. First off, everyone seemed to be having fun. Yes, it's their job to play a game, but if you can't enjoy yourself, you're going to struggle. I work in customer service, and one of my customer's yesterday commented on how positive and friendly I was helping him with the problem he had with his order. He asked how I can remain that cheerful all day. I simply told him that if I let it get to me, it makes for a much longer day. If the Wild can continue to channel the concept of fun, I think it could go a long way it making them a far more competitive team. The other major theme for tonight's game is a combination of two things. One, the top line came to play and scored three goals. But I think even more importantly is the "reappearance" of Dany Heatley. Minnesota needs offense from all corners. A struggling Heatley wasn't helping anyone. While he didn't score tonight, he certainly played in a way that everyone has to be happy to see. Hopefully, Heatley takes my advice to have fun at his job.
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1st Period Thoughts: Well tonight might be one of "those" nights. The kind of night no matter how hard they work, Minnesota might just find themselves on the wrong end of the box score. After a nice bout of sustained pressure in the Calgary end, Minnesota loses the puck and the man and Jiri Hudler is able to get an easy one past Josh Harding. And sadly, it only took about five minutes in for the first goal. However, it's lapses like this that can sink any team, and the Wild need to learn to overcome them and avoid them as much as possible. And yet with some of the pressure that Minnesota exerted, about halfway through the period, they only had one shot on goal. Not exactly the way you want the game to play out. Yet, just as frustration might be setting in for us as fans, Mikko Koivu managed to even things up thanks to hard work by himself as well as by Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle. I must say it's reassuring to see a goal come from the top line. Minnesota would be the first team to draw a penalty. While Dany Heatley (I know, right) was working hard on getting to the net, Torrey Mitchell was getting interefered with by Kris Russell. Unfortunately, the Wild power play was short lived, when Koivu decided trip Matt Stajan. Four on four skating isn't usually the best recipe for power play success. Neither team was able to score during their respective penalty kills/power plays. Minnesota got close to scoring again during the last minute of the first period. These are the kinds of goals you want to see go in for your team. Hopefully that pressure late in the period will help them come out ready to play in the second.
2nd Period Thoughts: While I'm sure the game plan for both teams to start the second was to put pressure on the other, that was not what we got. Instead of intense hockey, we got choppy hockey full of turnovers and icings. Not exactly fun to watch or productive. No one should be surprised that the first real scoring chance from Minnesota would come at the hands of Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville. Minnesota would once again be the first team on the power play for the period, and one can only hope that they get a full power play instead of taking a penalty of their own. Minnesota was able to maintain the offensive zone for much of the period, which is what you want. Even better, they were able to prevent a crucial zone clear by the Flames, and continued to applied pressure. Through lots of hard work, smart play, and pure determination, Minnesota would score thanks to Parise. It's play like that, that I hope we continue to see a lot of throughout the season. I know it's the kind of play I've seen our opponents manage to get against the Wild over the year, and I'm just glad to finally see it happen for Minnesota. In fact, if we get more and more play like that, it wouldn't be crazy to picture a playoff appearance again this season, and a playoff appearance that lasts longer than last season's. My big worry now is whether they'll sit back and try to protect a one goal lead or if they'll continue to pressure the Flames. I know what my wish is. Minnesota came close to scoring again with an unlikely 3 on 1 of Zenon Konopka, Mitchell and Heatleym however the puck got tied up in Mitchell's skates. Heatley managed to get a great shot on goal, but it just wasn't meant to go in. To make matters just that much more interesting, it seems that we have plenty of game left to see some bad blood between Keith Ballard and Mike Cammalleri come to the forefront. And just when you're worried that a defenseman could be goaded into a serious penalty at some point tonight, we learn that Jared Spurgeon is missing from the Wild's bench. Now with a defenseman missing, is not the time to go to the penalty box, however that is the case with Pominville for tripping. Calgary hasn't scored a power play goal in six games, so you can only hope that tonight is not the night that they break their curse. Just like Calgary was unable to clear the puck during the Wild's last power play, Minnesota is unable to clear as well until the power play was almost over. If there was one major lesson to take from tonight's game, even just through two periods, it's that Dany Heatley seems to have found himself tonight. Tonight is probably one of his best games this season. He looks invested in the game and is putting forth great effort. One has to think that if he continues to play the rest of the season like he has tonight, we just might see the rebirth of Heatley. We could definitely use the goals that he could score. And for better or for worse, the physical aspect of the game is picking up. How that effects the third period will be interesting, if it continues.
3rd Period Thoughts: Best news to start the period is seeing Spurgeon on the ice again. But what does concern me is the choppiness again to start the third period. After the great strides made during the second, what I'm seein now doesn't make me comfortable. One thing mentioned by the broadcast group of Anthony LaPanta, Mike Greenlay and Kevin Gorg are the struggles of Jonas Brodin. He's not playing like he was prior to his injury. And while I rarely like to give props to our broadcast crew, they might be right. They think that Brodin's struggles are coming from having to compensate for the full Itech shield he's wearing. He's not seeing the ice like he normally does, and it is effecting his play. Minnesota would continue to apply the much needed pressure, and second goal from Koivu for the night was just short of coming to fruition. I'm beginning to think that we're finally seeing the first line that we've been waiting for all season. While the line changes for the Montreal game didn't do much for the team, they may have just spurred that line into action. Perhaps Mike Yeo will keep that in mind when they get into another slumo. And just when you're excited about what we've been seeing from the top line, the line of Justin Fontaine, Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak would strike. A much needed goal came from Fontaine, putting the Wild now up by two goals. once again, this is not a time for Minnesota to sit back and protect a two-goal lead. Then when I'm thinking of that, lo and behold, Konopka scores his first goal as a member of the Minnesota Wild. Calgary clearly is starting to feel frustrated, demonstrated with a fight between Tim Jackman and Clayton Stoner. However, it is ill-timed for Jackman, as it earned him a 2-5-10 penalty instead of just the 5 minute major for fighting, which was all Stoner earned. But of course Minnesota just couldn't hold on to its powerplay, with Nino Niederreiter taking a slashing penalty. The top line along with Ryan Suter's help would strike again, with Parise notching his second of the night. Now one has to wonder if Calgary will continue to play a bit dirty to send a message or if Parise will be able to score the hat trick. Granlund would get a great scoring chance, but would not get the goal. Yet when Minnesota is putting pressure on again, Pominville would take the unfortunate interference penalty at the blue line. Right at the announcement of one minute remaining in regulation, Calgary rings a puck off the post. And with all said and done, Minnesota takes this game to Calgary with a 5-1 win.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Justin Fontaine, Dany Heatley, Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Zenon Konopka, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Keith Ballard, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, and Jared Spurgeon. Niklas Backstrom served as back up to Josh Harding.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Zach Parise; 2nd Star, Mikko Koivu; 3rd Star, Ryan Suter.
~ Attendance was 17,708 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: 5-4-0 4th in the Midwest Division (out of 5)
It was not a great weekend for the Iowa Wild. Last week Friday, the Wild pulled out a 4-2 win over a tough Texas squad but then it went downhill pretty fast. Texas played Iowa again the next night and thoroughly routed the Wild 5-0, and then on Sunday Iowa fell to Milwaukee 5-2. Jason Zucker and Erik Haula both had two goals on the weekend. Haula leads the Wild in points with 3 goals, 7 points in 9 games with all of his goals coming on the man advantage. Bloomington, Minnesota-native Brian Connelly leads all Wild defenseman in points with 6 assists but unfortuantely he's also a -4. Neither Johan Gustafsson or Darcy Kuemper have played so well to establish a true #1 goaltender yet. Both have nearly the same save percentage, .913% for Gustafsson and .915% for Kuemper. Iowa's next game is this Friday against the Ice Hogs in Rockford.