Cue the obligatory boo's for Ryan Suter. That of course means the Wild are heading to Nashville to play the team that Wild majority owner Craig Leipold used to own. Over the years I've often poked fun at the Predators but I assure its out of love. Yes, you heard that right, love. My next favorite NHL team is the Nashville Predators. I am not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was the fact the Predators were apart of the latest league 'expansion' back in 1998, and since I knew Minnesota was going to have its own team in 2000 that I latched onto them in the meantime or it could be because I've always admired the way the team has played. They are one of the few NHL teams that play man-to-man in their own end and they play a blue collar style of hockey. Under their self-imposed salary cap the Predators have produced a tremendous amount of success despite not being loaded with stars and have always been a club that has played bigger than the sum of its parts. Having visited Bridgestone Arena this summer, it is a great building and its all Predators. I didn't hear Tim McGraw's "I like it, I love it, I want some more of it" when I was there and even though I roll my eyes when I hear that at Predators' games but its a reflection of the culture there and its what makes Nashville unique.
The Predators fans of course boo their former defenseman Suter for the anger they feel over him signing with another club after having told the community he wanted to stay in Nashville. While the fans of the Predators see Suter as a 'traitor' the truth is Nashville could not afford both Suter and their super star defenseman Shea Weber. They had to choose. Nashville couldn't really match Minnesota's offer and with little discussion with Zach Parise they chose they wanted to be members of the Wild. The Predators didn't have the resources because of their limited level of corporate support forces the club to be a bit more frugal despite having a rabid fanbase. So to the Predators' fans out there, boo the corporations who have chosen not to support the Predators than boo Suter. Can the Wild give Predators' fans a case of the Blues or will be hearing lots of Tim McGraw tonight?
Click on "Continue Reading" for the rest of the article...
1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota had great energy to start the game, hustling well as they tried to get their forecheck going and racing back defensively too. The Wild would have a great chance early as Nate Prosser got the puck up to Jason Zucker who chipped a pass off the boards to Charlie Coyle who was behind the Nashville defense and he'd move in and fire a shot that was stopped by Marek Mazanec. The Wild's 2nd line of Coyle, Zucker and Dany Heatley continued to cause the Predators some problems defensively as Coyle and Zucker nearly combined to give Minnesota an early lead. The Predators would try to counter attack, but a bad pass from deep in the Wild zone was swept up by Rich Clune who moved in and fired a shot that was denied by Darcy Kuemper. Minnesota was really winning the little races to the loose pucks and then using their speed to open up space to get shots on goal. A great example of this was when Erik Haula would pick up a puck in the neutral zone and he'd race in and rifle a hard wrist shot on goal that Mazanec gave up a big rebound on, narrowly eluding Torrey Mitchell and then Haula raced back to shut down the Predators' counter attack. The Wild were carrying most of the play, but a mental mistake near its bench as they get caught with too many men would put Nashville on the power play. Minnesota's penalty killers did a great job using active sticks to deny passing lanes and Kuemper was able to make a few little stops as the Wild's skaters were able to sweep away dangerous pucks. The Wild would come out of the killed Predators power play with a good rush up the ice and Charlie Coyle carried it in where he passed it down to Heatley who then chipped it back to Ryan Suter who then made a nice diagonal pass down the length of the slot to Heatley for an easy redirect by Mazanec to put Minnesota up 1-0. It was a pretty play that has been happening more and more lately with this line. A few minutes later the scoring chances kept piling up for this line as Charlie Coyle was found on a long pass by Suter to get him behind the defense and Coyle hammered a shot off the rush hit the crossbar and out. Moments after that the Wild found more open ice behind the Predators defense who was really getting caught a lot as Dany Heatley found a little space for a 2-on-1 with Zucker and Heatley waited patiently before feeding Zucker who tapped it by Mazenec to make it 2-0 Minnesota. The Predators just looked lazy and the Wild were taking full advantage of it. Predictably Nashville tried to rally back as they bottled up the Wild in their own end as they worked the puck to Craig Smith who fired a shot that was absorbed by Kuemper. How bad are the Predators' playing in this game? The fans who were doing their best to boo Suter loudly anytime he touched the puck stopped caring enough to do so because they were so frustrated with how their own team was playing. Minnesota had to feel pretty good after that period, outworking and outshooting the Predators 11-4 and holding a nice 2-0 lead. However, they should know by now that the Predators are going to come out the intermission with a little fire to their game.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota kind of picked up where they left off in the 1st period as they were again able to enter the Predators zone with ease as Granlund got set up for a big shot that was fought off by Mazenec in the opening seconds of the game. Sensing his team needed a spark, Paul Gaustad would drop the gloves with Clayton Stoner. Gaustad immediately got the upper hand as he swung Stoner to the ice who then grabbed on and pulled Gaustad down really before either player was able to start throwing punches. Both would sit 5 minutes for fighting even though it was an inconclusive showdown. The Wild's 2nd line of Coyle, Heatley and Zucker continued to cause havoc in the offensive zone as they entered the zone with speed and created space for one another as Coyle found himself set up for a shot that just missed wide. The Predators tried to counter but Minnesota was playing well defensively, forcing Nashville to settle for shots from the perimeter and when they did reach Kuemper he was seeing the puck and making the save. Minnesota continued to be rewarded by their great hustle back into their own end as Jason Pominville disrupted a pass that turned into rush the other way for the Wild as Nino Niederreiter ripped a wrist shot that Mazanec struggled with it and unfortunately Granlund couldn't pounce on the generous rebound. Defensively I thought the Wild were getting some excellent minutes from Nate Prosser who was exhibiting some great anticipation and then making the quick outlet pass out of the zone. The 2nd line continued to create quality scoring chances as Zucker set up Dany Heatley for a close-in chance in the slot but he pushed it just wide of the right post. It was at this point the Predators started to show signs of life. Their energy line of Eric Nystrom, Matt Hendricks and Matt Cullen were able to keep Minnesota contained in its own zone and they would come dangerously close to scoring as Hendricks kicked a pass over to his stick where he swept the puck wide of the mark. The Predators started to control the pace of play more, but Minnesota was content to defend its lead. When Nashville did get a shot on goal, Kuemper was quick to cover it up. After failed Wild line rush the Predators countered and were able to get Minnesota to scramble in its own end before settting up Shea Weber for a bomb from the point that was steered aside by Kuemper. Kuemper was playing with confidence as a minute after stopping Weber's slap shot, he'd glove Matt Cullen's backhand shot out of the air. The Predators certainly were turning up the heat but Kuemper was shutting the door well to preserve Minnesota's 2-0 lead going into the 2nd intermission. Justin Fontaine certainly deserved a penalty called on Mike Fisher who elbowed him right in the face, but no call was made. Minnesota was out shot 9-3 in the period and hopefully the team spends more time in the Predators' zone in the 3rd period than they did in the 2nd.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would get out to a quick start as the 3rd line of Kyle Brodziak, Justin Fontaine and Matt Cooke would keep the Predators hemmed in their own zone before Fontaine finally directed a shot on goal that was stopped by Mazenec and lifted top shelf by Cooke to make it 3-0 Wild. It was a crucial goal that gave the Wild a bit more comfortable cushion to work with. The Predators were not happy and the scrums would start up almost after every whistle. Darcy Kuemper would further help to demoralize the Predators with a beauty of a leg pad save on a hard shot by Hendricks who decided to facewash Nino Niederrieter and he'd end up in the box for roughting giving Minnesota a power play. On the power play the Wild nearly made it a 4-0 lead on a pretty play by Heatley to redirect a Granlund pass that was just kicked aside by Mazenec. Minnesota would come up empty on the power play and as it expired the Predators tried to set up Hendricks on a breakaway as he exited the box but a tremendous effort by Jonas Brodin to hustle back and sweep away the puck depriving him of a scoring chance before he went careening into the boards. The arena was nearly silent as they knew their team was dead in the water. Minnesota would add to their lead off a faceoff draw win by Granlund to Niederreiter who moved it back to Marco Scandella who fired a snap shot that surprised Mazanec to make it 4-0. There wasn't even groans or angst on the soft goal, just silence. At this point, the Wild now were likely going to focus on doing all they could go preserve a shutout for Darcy Kuemper. The Predators were determined to score just for pride reasons. Some sloppy play in their own end as Torrey Mitchell tried to pass the puck to Stephane Veilleux for what should've been an easy clear of the zone instead went off his skate into the corner and Clayton Stoner would get tagged with a hooking penalty. Minnesota's penalty killers did a good job at clogging up the shooting lanes and all the Predators were able to manage were a few shots from the perimeter that Kuemper blocked aside with ease and the Wild got another nice kill. Nashville kept looking for the pride goal but Minnesota was hustling well for its goaltender and they achieve their goal as they shutout the Predators 4-0.
Kuemper certainly has turned his game around (knock on wood) after that initial foray against the Blackhawks earlier in the season. He didn't have a lot of work to start the game but as the Wild kind of eased up a bit and the action tilted in his end he shut the door on the Predators repeatedly to keep them from building any kind of momentum making 23 saves in the victory to earn his first NHL shutout. Defensively I thought the Wild got excellent play from its defenseman who did a good job at sealing Predators' skaters off the puck and making a quick play out of danger. Nate Prosser, Ryan Suter, Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin were outstanding. Minnesota gave the Predators nothing on the power play and have really locked things down defensively on the road giving up just 2 goals in its last 3 road games.
Offensively, the line of Zucker, Coyle and Heatley was a real force this weekend. They were creating all kinds of chances in the 1st period and really put the team on its shoulders with some uncanny chemistry. Even when they didn't bury the biscuit they were creating pressure with just about every shift and playing up tempo putting Nashville on its heels early. The Wild then got some 'secondary' scoring if you can call it that these days down the stretch to crush any chance the Predators had to get back into this game with those two 3rd period tallies. I know he did not have any points tonight but I really liked what I saw from Erik Haula and I loved his hustle and how he was continuously throwing shots on goal.
Minnesota totally dominated the Predators in virtually every facet of the game. Both clubs were coming off losses and the Wild looked like a fresh team. I love the way this team is battling at both ends of the ice. Dare I say it, the hard working effort is reminiscent of the early days with Jacques Lemaire. The only difference is this group has a lot more talent than those early Wild clubs and the kids are really leading the way. Now Minnesota has to come back, relax a bit and then get ready to get another win on Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators.
~ The Wild roster was as follows for tonights' game: Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Dany Heatley, Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, Justin Fontaine, Matt Cooke, Stephane Veilleux, Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella, Jonathon Blum and Clayton Stoner. Niklas Backstrom backed up Darcy Kuemper. Keith Ballard and Mike Rupp were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the Nashville media were: 1st Star Darcy Kuemper, 2nd Star Dany Heatley, 3rd Star Charlie Coyle
~ Attendance was 16,221 at Bridgestone Arena.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 1, Grand Rapids 4
Iowa would get out to a 1-0 lead on a late period blast from the point by Kyle Medvec. Iowa was out shot 13-4 in the 1st but held the lead. The Griffins would tie the game in the 2nd period on the power play when Andrej Nestrasil picked up a loose puck in the slot and swung and fired a shot that beat John Curry. Grand Rapids would take the lead when Mitch Callahan redirected a shot from Xavier Ouellet to make it 2-1 and at this point the wheels came off. Tomas Jurco would dangle around a Wild defender and then make a pretty move to beat Curry to make it 3-1. Brennan Evans would add the empty netter and seal a 4-1 victory. Curry kept the Wild in it for 2 periods making 30 saves in the loss. Iowa's next game is a Sunday afternoon game against Hamilton.
Wild Prospect Report:
D - Dylan Labbe (Shawingan, QMJHL) ~ The Cataractes earned a big victory on Saturday, with a 4-2 win over Moncton. Labbe helped the cause by chipping in two assists as well as two hits in the victory. The St. Benjamin, Quebec-native has 5 goals, 19 points and 16 PIM's in 41 games played.
C - Adam Gilmour (Boston College, H-East) ~ The 6'3" center is still anchoring the 4th line for the Eagles, and in their non-conference tilt with the Brown Bears, Boston College battled to a 3-3 tie. Gilmour had 2 shots on goal and was a +1 in the game.
RW - Kurtis Gabriel (Owen Sound, OHL) ~ The rugged power forward had an assist and was a +2 in a losing effort as the Attack were blitzed 6-3 by the Sarnia Sting on Saturday night. The Newmarket, Ontario-native set a new career high in points with 9 goals, 29 points in 36 games played this season.
RW - Anthony Hamburg (RIT, Atlantic) ~ Anthony Hamburg moved up to RIT's 3rd line, where he played on the wing. Unfortunately it wasn't enough for the Tigers to win as they fell 4-1 to Bentley who earned the weekend series sweep. Hamburg had just a shot on goal and finished the game with an 'even' rating.