As a football coach, one thing you try to remind players is that they never know when there last play will be. The moral of such a saying is that they should never take a play off or for granted. Of course, its a sport but on any given play an injury can occur and a player's season can come to an ignominious end. I personally was fortunate to be mostly injury-free throughout my athletic career but one play is all it can take. If you ever feel as though you've had a rough go of it in life, check out the story of former Boston Bruins' wunderkind in the making Normand Leveille. He seemed to have everything going for him and then a fateful fall and his hockey career was over. While its extremely unlikely that the sprained knee that Charlie Coyle sustained will keep him out of action much more than a month, its certainly not something he or the Wild planned when they made him their 2nd line center. Coyle was poised to take a big bold step forward in his career and possibly carry the Wild's season on his broad shoulders. He's out, so now what are the Wild to do?
It means the Wild are going to have to do a little line shuffling. It means Mikael Granlund, the same player who failed miserably in an audition for the 2nd line center position a season ago will have it most likely for most of the time Coyle is out of the lineup. Luckily for Granlund and the Wild, he's improved. But will it be enough? Tonight's game against the struggling Nashville Predators will indicate if its a change the Wild can live with or whether it will have to find another solution to fill that hole. Can Minnesota finally earn an elusive victory in the Music City?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Wild started the game with some good physical play as the Wild were taking the body early. Good speed and intensity to start. Zenon Konopka would drop the gloves for the 3rd time in 3 games when he challenged Nashville's Rich Clune and it was a pretty even fight. Neither pugilist was able to really get an advantage although towards the latter half of the fight it was Konopka taking control a little but too tough to declare a winner. Slight edge to Konopka. Shortly after the Konopka fight the Predators' Seth Jones high sticked Mikko Koivu giving the Wild its first power play. Minnesota's power play was efficient as Ryan Suter threaded a cross-ice pass to Koivu who feinted at a shot which was really a back door pass to a waiting Zach Parise camped out near the blue paint for an easy tap in goal, 1-0 Wild. It seemed like a great start for the Wild but just seconds after Parise's goal, Kyle Brodziak took a very lazy interference penalty. Shortly into the penalty kill, the Wild didn't help their cause as Koivu would trip up David Legwand giving the Predators a long 2-man advantage. The Predators took full advantage of the power play; and the game would slip out of the team's hands in a hurry. After some quick puck movement, Seth Jones fired a shot from the point that was deflected on goal by Patric Hornqvist and the rebound kicked out to Filip Forsberg who rifled it by Backstrom who wasn't quite square to the puck. All tied at one, the damage wasn't yet over with. The Predators still had Koivu's penalty on the clock and they'd make the Wild pay again. This time it was a soft goal, as Matt Cullen slid a pass over to Colin Wilson who took his time and fired an unscreened shot that beat Backstrom with ease, 2-1 Predators and the momentum created by the Parise had completely boomeranged. The pain wasn't over yet, both literally and figuratively. After some nice hustle by Justin Fontaine deep in the Predators zone caused a little trouble but as he passed the puck out to the point the biscuit would bounce on the rough Nashville ice and Keith Ballard couldn't control it and it was chased out of the zone by Eric Nystrom. Nystrom turned on the jets raced for the Wild zone as Ballard tried to catch up, hooking, holding and ultimately tripping up Nystrom just before he could get a shot off and he'd crash into Niklas Backstrom and the Wild goaltender's leg would get caught along the left post. Backstrom stayed on the ice, clearly in some pain and Wild Head Athletic Trainer Don Fuller went out for a visit. After talking with Fuller, Backstrom decided he was done, which meant Josh Harding had to come into play, and not only that face Nystrom's penalty shot. Nystrom, the veteran forward had never taken a penalty shot before. He took a slightly wide right approach before moving down the middle of the ice and ripping a wicked wrist shot stick side that beat Harding, 3-1 Wild. Minnesota tried to answer back, as Jason Pominville set up Zach Parise for another quick chance on the doorstep that was absorbed by Rinne. The Wild would try to cut back into the Predators lead but Rinne was able to swallow up the pucks and not allowing any rebounds and Minnesota would go into the intermission trailing by two. I wouldn't say the Wild were standing around in the period but they certainly seemed to lose the jump in their skates after Nashville was able to take the lead. The Predators were content to sit back in a passive 1-2-2 and let the Wild make mistakes. It certainly will be an uphill battle if the Wild are going to somehow make a game of it. Losing Backstrom could even be potentially far worse than just losing this game (if that's what is going to happen). Nino Niederreiter is not suited for the 4th line. The Wild have to step it up if they want any chance at all.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild had a huge mountain to climb and they did a fair job at making a go of it. They took a few more chances at even strength to try to create offensive pressure on Nashville. Nashville was content to protect its lead and its passive-aggressive style allowed the Wild fairly easy entries into the offensive zone. Mikael Granlund would draw a penalty as he cut across the slot to take a Dany Heatley pass. The Wild power play took every opportunity to fire the puck on goal and Minnesota was making quick decisions which was opening up passing and shooting lanes. The Wild persistance would be rewarded when Nino Niederreiter would feint at a charge towards the net and he'd find Jared Spurgeon all alone near the right faceoff circle and the defenseman rifled a low-lying shot that eluded Rinne to cut the Predators lead to one, 3-2. The power play appeared to be the key to further cut into the Predators' lead. Minnesota strugggled to get much more than a shot on goal per rush. It got scary towards the end of the period as Rich Clune did a dangerously close fly by that sent Josh Harding falling onto his goal and as he tried to scramble out front Clune tapped the puck into the yawning net. Clune would be jumped by Clayton Stoner and a frakas would ensue with a few punches thrown. After the ice spray settled the Wild got a power play as Clune was tagged with a goaltender interference penalty to go along with a matching roughing minor. Unfortunately the Wild did not execute the same way it did in the earlier portion of the period. The Wild had a difficult time getting set up as the Predators penalty kill was particularly aggressive. Minnesota seemed to be having trouble with the puck, as the fumbled it away a few times and an opportunity was lost. It was not a shining moment for Jonas Brodin who really was fighting the puck. Parise would take a foolish slashing penalty in the final moment of the period. An ok period but where the Wild played with a bit more purpose and discipline.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period started with promise but the Predators were in full lockdown mode where they were content to clog up the neutral zone, create turnovers and try to counter punch as the Wild pressed for the equalizer. Minnnesota's shaky penalty kill stepped up with a big kill thanks to some hustle by Matt Cooke. Now the Wild tried to gather itself for a comeback but it just didn't seem to have the legs to do so. The Predators were winning the races to the loose pucks and when they did have the puck Nashville did a fine job of denying time and space. One Wild player sort of shined down the stretch. Nino Niederreiter raised his game to use his frame to protect the puck and set up teammates but unfortunately his effort was not rewarded with the game tying goal. One player who really struggled down the stretch was the Wild captain Mikko Koivu. Koivu was a step slow most of the game but in the 3rd period he was even slower. He didn't have the quickness or the speed to track down much of anything and in the last few minutes he helped bury his team further with a lazy hooking penalty. Minnesota tried to pour it on one last time but it wasn't meant to be as they fell 3-2.
Niklas Backstrom's injury will be the big storyline along with its 1st period debacle on the penalty kill. Backstrom was not that great, allowing 2 goals on just 5 shots. The first goal was hard to pin on him, but Colin Wilson's unscreened shot was a save this team had to have. Josh Harding ended up earning the loss despite just giving up a penalty shot goal (the first shot he faced) from Eric Nystrom and making 19 saves in relief. I thought he showed good resilience as he battled through a collision in the 2nd period and made some big stops. Defensively I thought Clayton Stoner played very well as did Ryan Suter. It was not the best night for Keith Ballard who had some costly turnovers, including the play the turned into a penalty shot for Nystrom. The penalty kill is also a major area of concern as Minnesota really lost the momentum battle in a matter of about 2 minutes. Some of that is a reflection of some lazy play by Mikko Koivu for the lazy tripping penalty. He cannot afford to put this team in a position like that, especially so far from his own goal. Now, with Backstrom's apparent injury it looks as though Josh Harding will have the opportunity to carry the Wild for a while. He must be a source of strength or the Wild's sputtering start could turn into a disaster.
Offensively the Wild need to find ways to get more chances at even strength. As much as the Predators did little to nothing at even strength much the same can be said for Minnesota. Too many times Wild forwards are hanging out near the perimeter and when shots do make it on goal there is no one there to pounce on potential rebounds or to even harass the goaltender a bit. The only Wild forward who really brings it is Zach Parise. Jason Pominville is ok, but he didn't have any chances from in close. Koivu had just one shot on goal, and that isn't nearly enough. Not for a player whom you are paying $7+ million per season. The 3rd goal again remains elusive for Minnesota.
Minnesota is winless after three games. Its lost its 2nd line center and now its starting goalie. I'm not going to say its panic time. Yet it might be if you are Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo. The team spent mega money, the expectations are quite high. How much more patience will the Wild show in Yeo to right the ship that is starting to list towards a quick fall out of playoff contention? If he thinks he's safe he should ask Peter Laviolette how safe he felt a week ago.
~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Dany Heatley, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Zenon Konopka, Justin Fontaine, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Keith Ballard, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner. Josh Harding shared duties between the pipes with Niklas Backstrom. Charlie Coyle is out with a knee sprain, while Nate Prosser, Mathew Dumba and Carson McMillan were healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Nashville media were: 1st Star Filip Forsberg, 2nd Star Pekka Rinne, 3rd Star Seth Jones
~ Attendance was 17,196 at Bridgestone Arena.
Wild Prospect Report:
D - Dylan Labbe (Shawinigan, QMJHL) ~ The offensively gifted blueliner tallied his first goal of the season in a 4-2 loss at the hands of Val 'd Or on Saturday. Labbe has 6 points in 7 games this season.