Once upon a time (okay, last season), the Wild were granted the gift of offense through a very well-timed trade by General Manager, Chuck Fletcher
. The trade moved two players who were struggling to find their niche on their respective teams. The two were capable of being offensively talented, but for whatever reason, they just couldn't break out. For Benoit Pouliot
, he was finding himself shuttled between St. Paul and Houston. His time in St. Paul was less than inspiring. For Guillaume Latendresse
, his offensive talent seemed to be stifled by the overwhelming media presence (or pressure) in hockey-mad Montreal, especially for the young French-Canadian player. After playing a decent rookie season and then another two good seasons in Montreal, the 2009-2010 season was not what he was hoping for. Strangely enough, the trade worked well for both teams. Perhaps Pouliot needed to be under the constant microscope to find his game, and Latendresse simply needed the freedom to simply be himself.
However, this season has not been the season that Latendresse wanted. First off, he came to training camp out of shape. That alone is pretty much a cardinal sin when it comes to professional sports. Perhaps he figured he could take the summer off after his best NHL season. He most likely forgot the fact that since he had a career season, he would be expected to continue that when he returned for training camp. Then just eight games into the season, he found himself on the dreaded injured reserve list with groin and hernia issues. Required surgery back in November meant that he was essentially going to be out for much of the season. That injury was what prompted the Wild to take a second shot at Wild draft pick, Patrick O'Sullivan
, a second shot that didn't pan out. O'Sullivan is now in Houston, and for the most part playing well. As we all know, there are players who simply will not find success in the NHL, but will in the AHL. O'Sullivan is most likely one of those players. The return of Latendresse comes at a good time. The Wild recently got defenseman Marek Zidlicky
back from injury right around the time that Wild captain, Mikko Koivu
was lost due to a broken finger. It is also good to have a bigger body like Latendresse back, especially now that the "human bowling ball", Cal Clutterbuck
is out with injuries of his own. On top of that, the flu bug seems to be making its way through the lockerroom. If everyone can get their health and legs, arms, fingers, etc. back at this time, the Wild stand a better chance of making a true push into the playoffs a more realistic goal.
Early in the game, the Wild decided that they were going to make a game of things. They weren't about to let a struggling Avalanche team take them down like they let the New York Islanders do last week. Within the first five minutes of the first period, it seemed like the Wild had gotten with the project. There were several legitimate scoring chances, but what seems odd about it all, is that in the first period, they only managed a paltry five shots on goal. What makes up for the few shots on goal, is that for the first time in a while, Minnesota was racing to the loose pucks. I can't express enough just how frustrating it is to watch players watching the puck instead of racing to the puck. The first goal of the night was simply because of hard work, and because of the old adage, "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Martin Havlat
had the initial shot on goal, missed, and got the puck back. It was on that second try, that Havlat got the puck past Colorado goaltender, Peter Budaj
at the 7:04 mark. That goal of course appeared to wake up the Avalanche. Thankfully the Wild skaters and goaltender, Niklas Backstrom
rose to the occasion. It was also nice to see that the Wild avoided the penalty box for 18 of the 20 minutes in that first period. As of late, it seems that many of their problems have stemmed from the fact that they've taken ill-timed penalties. Thankfully this time, it was Colorado having trouble staying out of the box, although Minnesota was unable to convert on either of their power play attempts.
For Minnesota, the second period started out strong. Of course it helps when you get an early power play. However, once again they were unable to capitalize on Paul Stastny's
hooking penalty. While they garnered few shots on their power play, they did mange to move the puck well. The opening six minutes truly belonged to the Wild, including some scoring chances of their own. Of course, the good luck cannot last forever. At 6:43, Kevin Porter
scored the first goal of the night for Colorado, which was not celebrated or realized at the time. Fans and players had to wait an additional three minutes until a whistle for the officials to go back and review the tape. Porter's shot went off Backstrom's glove, the post, and the goal camera and popped back out. How no one noticed it, it beyond me, because that is a lot of bumping around. So the three minutes go back on the clock, and the game is tied. That goal created a more energized, physical Avalanche, and a tripping penalty by Pierre-Marc Bouchard
. While the Avalanche were the ones with the man advantage, it was the Wild that tried to take advantage, with John Madden
taking the shot at a shorthanded goal. Budaj stood tall, and with a flourish of his glove, stopped the puck. The penalties were equal for both teams in the second period, at two each. On top of that, they both notched a power play goal. The first one came from Stastny at 16:11, who probably needed to make up to his team for his two earlier stick infractions. It was Brent Burns
who was sent to the box for interference. Much like the Wild didn't come prepared for overtime in their recent game against Buffalo, they came unprepared for this power play. The Wild found themselves behind for the first time in the game, and they needed to pick things up. That pick up would come through the penalty to Ryan Wilson
for closing his hand on the puck. Just twenty-four seconds later, Andrew Brunette
tied up the game to answer back. It was simply the best way to close out the second period, to hopefully propel the team into more in the third.
The third period belonged solely to the Minnesota Wild, although it took over ten minutes for that to become evident. Martin Havlat struggled with penalties of his own in the final period. Just over five and a half minutes in, he was called for high-sticking, thankfully for just the single minor. Between good goaltending and well-timed clearing attempts, the Wild were able to keep the Avalanche from pulling ahead once again. Just after killing the penalty, Madden fed a great pass to Havlat, however Havlat was unable to score. Madden found himself having a great game. With assists from Matt Cullen
and Chuck Kobasew
, John Madden scored his eleventh goal of the season at the 10:55 mark. With momentum in their favor, the Wild continued their scoring with a goal from Jared Spurgeon
. His goal marks his second of the season, of course getting offensive help from Martin Havlat does help. Sure, having the two goal lead should give you a feeling of security, but as the old saying goes, the two goal lead is the worst one in hockey. Peter Budaj committed one of the stupidest penalties of all time. There was no reason for him to take out his frustrations on Latendresse. While Havlat had a two point night, his hat-trick of penalties didn't make things easy for his teammates. His final penalty of the night for tripping, could have caused problems for the Wild. Thankfully, that penalty came on top of Budaj's, the penalty came at toward the end of the game, and it gave the Wild extra room. They were free to ice the puck at will without penalty (well after the four on four time ended). On top of that, the Avalanche pulled their goaltender, which then gave the Wild an empty net to shoot at. With just four seconds remaining in regulation, Kyle Brodziak
scored the empty netter, which included Backstrom's first point of the season.
There's still a lot of hockey left to play. Every night the standings tend to change, and now the Wild head out on a four-game road trip to face teams they often struggle against. If Minnesota wants any chance of the post-season, it really comes down to this roadtrip, especially when two of the opponents (Nashville and Dallas) are in the hunt like they are. They need to treat each game like a game seven in the Stanley Cup Finals, if they want any chance. That's a tall order to fill, and I honestly don't know if it's possible.
~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Antti Miettinen, Matt Cullen, John Madden, Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Brunette, Brad Staubitz, Kyle Brodziak, Eric Nystrom, Martin Havlat, Warren Peters, Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, Brent Burns, Cam Barker, Jared Spurgeon and Nick Schultz. Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom. Clayton Stoner and Cal Clutterbuck were the healthy scratches. James Sheppard (knee), Josh Harding (knee) and Mikko Koivu (broken finger) are still on injured reserve.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let's Play Hockey
were: 1st Star
~ Attendance for tonight's game was 18,441 at Xcel Energy Center.Wild Prospect Report
D - Bjorn Krupp
~ Belleville Bulls (OHL)2010-11 Stats
: 55GP 1G 10A = 11pts 54 PIM's -31
It has been a long tough season for Bjorn Krupp and the Belleville Bulls. The -31 jumps off the page and you may wonder if he's the worst or at the very least unluckiest defenseman in Canadian major junior hockey. In fact he's not even the worst +/- on his team, that dubious honor goes to fellow Bulls blueliner Steven Strong who is a -38. Ouch! The hapless Bulls just have not been able to string together quality efforts along with enough offense to really climb out of the OHL basement. Krupp has the NHL-ready frame at 6'3", 200lbs and is at his best when he keeps things simple. It will be interesting to see if the Wild sign Krupp to an entry level deal since the team does already have a glut of prospects at defense.
LW - Kris Foucault
~ Calgary Hitmen (WHL)2010-11 Stats
: 59GP 24G 23A = 47pts 56 PIM's -4
Overage players are expected to lead their respective teams and Foucault is doing just that for the Hitmen, as he is the team's top scorer. Sometimes you can lead but your team still manages to lose as was the case tonight when Hitmen fell to the Medicine Hat Tigers 6-2, but to Foucault's credit he had a goal and an assist. Consistency still dogs Foucault's overall game, but being a just a -4 on a terrible team is somewhat impressive. Foucault is another player whose future with the Wild organization may be on the bubble unless he has a real strong finish to the season. He's already at a career high in goals and points but is that enough to earn him a contract?