Take a long look Wild fans at the player standing on the left. This will be the last time you see $198 million collectively in salary standing next to one another on the ice in a Wild uniform for the next 2-3 weeks as Zach Parise was given his prognosis by team doctors yesterday. The news of Parise's foot injury, sustained on a play that personifies his willingness to do whatever it takes, blocking a slap shot from one of the top scorers in the league in Alex Steen. As bad as the news of Parise's injury is, it will be another test of the character in the face of adversity for the Minnesota Wild. Will the team spend more time worrying about who's not there, or will they circle the wagons and make the best of it with the guys that are healthy and keep the club winning games and piling up points in the standings? While its easily asked whether they have the will to do it, its another to ask if they can do it. Well, can they?
Make no mistake, losing Parise, their leading scorer and 2nd on the team in goals will be difficult to replace but its not impossible. It will just put more of an importance on establishing some secondary scoring each night and there are plenty of viable options on the 2nd and 3rd lines. Tonight will mark the first game the Wild have not had Parise in the lineup since he made his Wild debut last January. Will the Wild be able to overcome his absence and take down the Coyotes too or will Minnesota fans be in panic mode after a 2nd straight loss?
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1st Period Thoughts: The style of play throughout most of the 1st period was cautious. You could almost expect the "keep it safe" approach as they try to cope with new lines as a few surprise additions to the Wild lineup in injured players Mikael Granlund, Torrey Mitchell and Keith Ballard were back. The Coyotes were retreating quickly to stymie Minnesota's attempts to mount a rush. Phoenix had less hesitation and were winning the races to most of the loose pucks. Minnesota just was not moving its legs and overall they looked a little lethargic. As the lack of wheels was holding the Wild back in the offensive zone it was arguably worse in the defensive zone as the Coyotes were moving just about wherever they wanted to go as Minneosta blueliners were standing and reaching a fair amount of the period. On more than a few occasions the Coyotes had some scoring chances from in and around the blue paint as the lack of hustle had Niklas Backstrom sprawling in his crease and Minnesota would luck out that those opportunities didn't end up in the back of the net. Backstrom himself seemed to be fighting the puck, unable to control the rebounds giving the Coyotes 2nd and 3rd chances. The Wild seemed to lack the speed necessary to get away. Another consistency of the 1st period was the chippiness as on numerous occasions Minnesota and Phoenix skaters would get tangled up in little wrestling matches after the whistle. Phoenix would strike midway through the 1st period as a blocked point shot by Jonas Brodin ended up on the stick of Mikkel Boedker who raced down the ice in a 2-on-1 with Shane Doan. Boedker let a retreating Ryan Suter hold the middle of the ice and took his time and he ripped a wrist shot high and over the shoulder of Backstrom to give the Coyotes a 1-0 lead. The Wild had little to no push back as they continued to be in a mental haze throughout the rest of the period. Poor decisions never really gave the Wild a chance to develop any flow or level of comfort and Minnesota was lucky to get out of the period only down by one. An ugly 1st period by the Wild, and not the way you want to start any game let alone one at home. The Wild never really tested Thomas Greiss, and perhaps the best opportunities came off the stick of Dany Heatley who got off a few weak shots which skittered through the crease, but the team needs to raise its game if it hopes to end up with 2 points from this one.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota started the period with a little more effort and they would create a few scoring chances right away as Jason Pominville would direct a shot wide of the mark. The positive momentum was short-lived as the Coyotes would add to its lead as Tim Kennedy carried the puck down low behind the Wild goal and he'd swing a pass out front to Radim Vrbata who sort of clubbed a shot on goal that eluded Backstrom to make it 2-0 Phoenix. I wouldn't say the goal deflated the Wild, but Minnesota didn't really answer back with a little more anger in their step either. The Coyotes were content to retreat and disrupt the Wild. They were denying time and space in their own end, and settling to block and deflect shots. Minnesota would be gifted its first power play of the game as Mike Ribeiro was sent to the sin bin for chirping the officials after being thrown out of the faceoff. This was a potential break for the Wild, but as sleepy as the Wild were at full strength they were just as nonchalant on the man advantage as Phoenix had little difficulty clearing the zone. The bored crowd was now becoming agitated by the Wild's lack of urgency ane execution on the power play and you started to hear boo's raining down at each bad decision and lazy pass. The only quality scoring chance came at the end of the power play as Kyle Brodziak set up Nino Niederreiter for a quick shot that he fanned on making for an easy save for Greiss. Minnesota would finally start to show a little more hustle and this would lead to a few more shooting opportunities but most were from long range and when they did fire the puck long enough to create a rebound the Wild were often no where to be found near the net and potential secondary chances never materialized. The Wild would earn another power play late in the 3rd period as Jeff Halpern tripped up Justin Fontaine. Minnesota again were ineffective on the power play. Weak passes, predictable puck movement made it easy for the Coyotes to anticipate where Minnesota was going with the biscuit and they were able to clear the zone and again the Wild spent more time tracking the puck down in its own end than it did in the offensive zone. As another failed Wild power play expired the 3rd line of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak swarmed into the Coyotes zone for a few quick scoring chances and I think I wasn't alone wondering where that sense of urgency was during the rest of the game.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had a little better pace to start the period, but Phoenix, ever patient was happy to play rope-a-dope. The Wild were starting to earn a little more time and space and it started out small as they tried to funnel pucks on goal, forcing Greiss to make a few saves. You could tell the home crowd was feeling more anxious as the minutes and seconds evaporated as the Wild's chances appeared to be diminishing. The Coyotes were sitting back in a passive 1-2-2 trap that would've made former Wild Head Coach Jacques Lemaire proud. This forced the Wild to dump the puck into the zone and Minnesota only seemed to be able to win about 50% of the dump ins to the Coyotes' end. Minnesota was persistent and a great effort by the 2nd line of Nino Niederreiter, Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak would be rewarded as Brodziak won a battle for the puck along the boards and Heatley swept it up and worked it out to the point to Niederreiter who unleashed a long range wrist shot that went high and struck Greiss near the face mask and then moved about 15 feet out that was pounced on by Heatley who found the back of the net to cut the Coyotes' lead in half. 2-1 now. The Coyotes would go away from playing the passive 1-2-2 and instead try to disrupt and play keep away working the puck deep and forcing Minnesota to move up the length of the ice. Minnesota had some difficulty with the Coyotes change of pace, but they'd adjust and the scoring chances again started to tilt the Wild's way. Charlie Coyle chipped a Mikko Koivu pass just over the goal as he had Thomas Greiss guessing a bit. Unfortuantely that really was as close as it got as Kyle Brodziak would take a costly interference penalty in the offensive zone with just about a mintue left to play. Minnesota would pull Backstrom to make it 5-on-5 but as they did so some poor passes led to a turnover that ultimately led to Vrbata burying an empty net goal to seal a 3-1 Coyotes' win. Niederreiter had a good period, but it was too little too late.
Niklas Backstrom was a bit shaky, making 23 saves in the loss. His rebound control again was a bit suspect and while the Wild did a better job at tying up opposing forwards he was still leaving pucks in dangerous areas of the ice. I thought Jared Spurgeon had a rough game and I thought the Wild did not get that great of play from it's defense as they were not anticipating the play very well. I am not sure if that was due to the return of Keith Ballard and various defensive pairings being a little unfamiliar with one another but they had a number or circumstances where the Wild were getting caught sort of standing around their own zone.
Offensively the Wild were particularly lazy. Minnesota wasn't moving its feet nearly well enough and only in the 3rd did the Wild finally use some speed through the neutral zone and causing Phoenix some problems with its cycling game. The Wild were not directing enough shots on goal, and not following up their shots and taking advantage of some of the opportunites Greiss was giving up. The 3rd period goal by Heatley is a great example of what the Wild should've been doing all game long. Mikael Granlund going down with what looked like another concussion is not a good sign after he tried to deliver a hit to Curtis Murphy early in the 1st period. Granlund is a key set up man and I would be shocked if we see him back next game.
Whether the team missed Parise or not is irrelevant. This was a game the Wild could have and should have won. The Coyotes did not play so well that the Wild did not have a chance. There is no excuse for the Wild to start out as flat as they did. Minnesota had two rather lousy periods and only in the 3rd did they finally exhibit some urgency but it was too little, too late. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo told reporters after the game, "Clearly, we did not come out with the same force in our game, its seems like we're reactive, we're on our heels." Hopefully the Wild regroup and play their next game with more focus and energy than they did this evening.
~ The Wild lineup tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Torrey Mitchell, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak, Justin Fontaine, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Dany Heatley, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Zach Parise, Mathew Dumba and Nate Prosser were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Wild.com were: 1st Star Mikkel Boedker, 2nd Star Dany Heatley, 3rd Star Nino Niederreiter
~ Attendance was 18,265 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The Iowa Wild snapped a 6-game losing streak by earning a 3-1 win over the Chicago Wolves tonight. Jason Zucker had a big night back with the Wild, scoring twice while Stephane Veilleux added the other goal in the victory. Darcy Kuemper had 32 saves in the win. It was the first time the Wild had scored two goals in a game since November 9th.