Sometimes the fate of enemies can be intertwined by their own decisions. In a geo-political sense it may be connected by its use of various fuels, or strategic interests that can bring two foes to work together to solve a collective problem. This sort of describes the strange relationship between the Minnesota Wild and the San Jose Sharks. These two organizations, opponents on the ice have worked together a lot as they hope to solve their own team's personnel issues. It all started in what I called the 'Summer of the Shark' back in 2011. The Wild and Sharks made 3 separate deals that were supposed to have a big impact when they were originally made but also would loom like a shadow over these two clubs for years to come. The first of these deals, was made at the NHL Entry draft which was held in St. Paul that year when Gary Bettman strode up to the podium and said "We have a trade to announce..." and then said Minnesota trades Brent Burns and a 2nd round pick to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle and the 1st round pick (28th Overall who would become Zack Phillips) to the Minnesota Wild. Being at the draft as I was there was a mix of cheers as well as some alarmed looks on the faces of some Wild fans. Yet the two clubs were not done there as a week later the Wild and Sharks would deal two more times as Dany Heatley was swapped for an unhappy Martin Havlat and Minnesota would dump off injured and disappointing 1st rounder James Sheppard for a 3rd round pick. So far you'd have to say the Wild have had the better end of the deal. Setoguchi is absolutely on fire while Charlie Coyle seems to be a very promising power forward who is currently playing on Minnesota's top line. Brent Burns on the otherhand had an reasonable year last season delivering 11 goals and 36 points, but this year he started off the season injured and since he's returned his play has been erratic at best and has 2 goals and is a -6. The Sharks have even brought back the defenseman / forward experiment the Wild originally tried with Burns in his first few seasons after we drafted him. Burns is a tremendous athlete, but consistency and the mental parts of the game are not his forte and I think the Sharks' are realizing that, hence their experiment at trying him out as a forward. With the Sharks struggling this season I think its safe to say the pressure is on Head Coach Todd McLellan (who used to be the Houston Aeros Head Coach) as well as General Manager Doug Wilson who now commands an aging team with a hollowed out prospect pool whose best seasons seem to be behind them. Also since these deals we seem to have had an affinity for former Shark players having signed free agents Brad Staubitz also in 2011 and Torrey Mitchell this summer. Yet with all of these deals you could say the fate of one team could have a major impact on the other.
From Right to Left: Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, James Sheppard & Charlie Coyle
The Wild are currently surging towards the home stretch of the season having won its last four games in a row (knock on wood). San Jose is staying on the edge of the playoff window but cooled off a lot after a red-hot start. The Sharks know time is not in their favor so the sense of urgency builds with each game. Can the Wild extend their winning streak today or will they get fed to the Sharks?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Wild got their forechecking working right away, sending the puck deep in San Jose's zone and cycling the puck well to generate some early shots on goal taken from the point. Minnesota was winning races to the loose pucks and causing the Sharks some difficulty in their own end. A great two shifts in a row by the Wild's 2nd and 4th lines drew an appreciative cheer from the home crowd. A blocked Jared Spurgeon shot turned into a breakaway for Andrew Dejardins who had a step or two on Clayton Stoner who could not track him down without tripping him up as Dejardins got off a wrist shot that was steered away by Niklas Backstrom. The officals felt Dejardins deserved a penalty shot and he would go to center ice. Dejardins would move in and try to beat Backstrom with a quick snap shot by Backstrom stick side but the Wild goalie shut him down with a blocker save. After having dodged that bullet the Wild went back on at the attack and the 2nd line led the way as Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Pierre-Marc Bouchard put on a clinic of puck handling down low as Cullen found Setoguchi with a sneaky pass that went to his backhand and he gathered it up and tried to sneak a shot near the left post that was stopped by Antti Niemi. Minnesota would get tagged with a bogus penalty as former Wisconsin Adam Burish ran into the back of Zenon Konopka and then pretended to be victimized by a vicious hit. The official who was standing right there seemed to make the call based solely on Burish's act and the Sharks would get the first power play of the game. Minnesota's penalty killers did a good job at keeping San Jose's power play to the perimeter and more or less to a one-and-done offensively. The Wild were also being physical as Justin Falk did a good job bodying up on Brent Burns who didn't appreciate being checked and he put his stick right into the grill of Falk that sent him to the ice. Burns would get a double minor for high sticking. This would mean there was a little 4-on-4 action before the Wild would begin an extended power play and Minnesota would have an excellent scoring chance with the extra ice. A nice little drop pass by Dany Heatley to Jonas Brodin who was moving down the slot would make a few little moves to elude defenders before pushing a puck on goal that Niemi stopped and as the Wild crashed the crease they just couldn't get it by the Sharks' goalie. On the 3-minute man advantage, the Sharks' penalty killers challenged the Wild's puck carriers effectively but Minnesota still managed to create some good scoring chances, working down the slot and this time it was a shot by Ryan Suter that Niemi denied and again the Wild could not get a stick on the rebound and they'd come up empty on the man advantage. Backstrom was good when he had to be, making a few good saves and the period would end with both clubs held scoreless. I like the chances the Wild were able to create but I think they're best bet is to continue to crash the crease or work some kind of back door play against the big bodied puck stopper that is Antti Niemi. I love the way the 2nd line is looking against San Jose and I still think they appear to be the biggest threat to score. Minnesota did get some ok looks from its 1st line and I like the way Charlie Coyle is playing out there but I wish he'd be a bit more greedy and take his chances to fire the biscuit on goal. Also, Jonas Brodin's little dangle continues to give us all signs that this kid is still has parts of his game he's still discovering and I find myself getting excited whenever he's on the ice. Backstrom's penalty shot save was big in terms of bailing his team out at a crucial momentum point in the game. Minnesota out shot the Sharks 10-6.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild got a great early shfit from its 2nd line of Cullen, Bouchard and Setoguchi as they used their speed effectively to cycle the puck and find open space as they set up Setoguchi for a big one-timer that was fought off by Niemi. Minnesota would give San Jose a power play when Tom Gilbert decided to seal off Andrew Dejardins who was looking to dump and chase and he'd get an interference penalty. The Sharks would create some excellent chances but Backstrom would come up with some huge saves. The best opportunity came off the rush where Martin Havlat tried to set up Scott Gomez on the back side by Backstrom got across his crease to make a huge save. The Wild would get the big early kill and Minnesota would go back on the attack and it was Heatley chasing down a puck down low and he'd made a perfect backhanded pass to the slot to Cullen for a point-blank range chance that was stopped by Niemi. The Sharks answered back with a close one of their own as a good individual effort by Havlat to skate down the slot drew the Wild defense towards him where he dished it off to Logan Couture who had a yawning Wild net to look at and he directed a shot wide of the mark. Minnesota would answer back with another quality chance of their own as the 4th line got into the act and a nice play on forecheck by Jason Zucker to pass it over to Torrey Mitchell who took a sharp angle shot on goal that was stopped by Niemi as Konopka tried to push it in but the whistle would sound and the play would be dead just as Zucker poked the puck loose. Minnesota tried to raise its physical game and Cal Clutterbuck was throwing his weight around as he leveled Matt Irwin with a big hit and then a few moments after that he knocked Brad Stuart to the ice. James Sheppard would check Setoguchi off a faceoff and earn an interference penalty give the Wild its 3rd power play of the game. Minnesota's power play tried to keep it simple as Mikko Koivu dished a pass to Zach Parise who charged the crease where he attempted to jam a puck through Niemi who was up to the task. The Wild were then guilty of being a little too fancy with the puck and they struggled to enter the Sharks' zone killing valuable seconds on the power play time. Minnesota would keep working the power play and Parise almost set up Suter on a back door play but he couldn't get a good handle of it but he'd swing around and pass the puck out to the point where Koivu was waiting and he then found Parise on a beauty of a diagonal pass and the former Shattuck-St. Mary's star buried it as the power play expired, 1-0 Wild. Minnesota continued to pour it on offensively as Setoguchi fed a pass over to Heatley who moved in and he fried a quick wrist shot that hit the left post and then went off the cross bar and out. The Wild would keep applying pressure but they'd get into trouble as Charlie Coyle knocked down Douglas Murray near his crease and he'd earn an interference penalty as the 1st line was on the cusp of creating another quality scoring chance. Minnesota's penalty killers were aggressive and Cal Clutterbuck stole a puck from Couture and he'd race down the ice and he'd fire a shot that Niemi managed to held onto. During the power play, there would be a fight between Torrey Mitchell and San Jose's Tommy Wingels. It was a firery little fight as Wingels had control early throwing right handed hooks before Mitchell gained leverage catching Wingels with a great uppercut as the former Catamount proceded to dominate the former Red Hawk with a bunch of haymakers. The fight certainly fired up the Wild bench and Mitchell was given an appreciative 'atta boy' from the Wild's resident tough guy Zenon Konopka would move down towards the aisle to give him shoulder tap. The Sharks tried to get the equalizer and Jason Zucker turned on the jets to deprive Sheppard of a scoring chance as he moved in, lifted the stick and cleared the puck away. Coyle would draw a tripping penalty on Dan Boyle just as time expired giving the Wild a power play to start the 3rd period. It was an excellent period for the Wild who got some clutch plays and with great persistence found the twine behind Niemi who was playing very well so far in this game. Dany Heatley had a great period as did Clutterbuck and you could sense the team had some serious momentum at this point in the game.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would start the 3rd on the power play, and the Wild would take full advantage of it. After struggling to get set up in the San Jose zone, the Wild would settle down and go to work and a good entry by Kyle Brodziak would be tapped back to Koivu who sent it over to Suter who slid it over to Spurgeon for a one timer that be blasted by Niemi to make it 2-0 Wild. The Sharks would go on the attack with its 2nd line and their forecheck would draw a holding penalty on Clutterbuck. On the Sharks' power play, Joe Thornton dished it to the slot where Joe Pavelski wired a shot that was steered aside by Backstrom. The Sharks continued to swarm near the crease and Patrick Marleau got off a shot that Backstrom fell over backwards stopping and as the puck seemed to sit in the blue paint it was cleared away by an alert Ryan Suter. Minnesota would get another big penalty kill but they knew San Jose was going to continue pressing the attack. The Wild start to get caught standing still and the Sharks really started to pile up the shots on goal and the rink certainly tilted into the Minnesota zone. Niklas Backstrom continued be sharp as he denied Couture on a trick wrist shot off taken off the rush. Minnesota would try to counter punch as Spurgeon found Chalie Coyle with a long pass that turned into a break away and as he made his move he couldn't manage much more than a weak backhander that was steered wide by Niemi. Backstrom was getting lots of traffic near his crease and lot of that traffic was making physical contact as he was getting knocked to the ice repeatedly. At this point the Wild were content to dump the puck deep and keep their shifts short. Minnesota was still taking its chances to shoot the puck as Bouchard and Brodziak both fired bombs on goal. The Sharks would pull Niemi for an extra attacker but the Wild and Backstrom would shut the door repeatedly in the last minute to give Minnesota a 2-0 victory.
It is a great the Wild were able to do what they could to give Backstrom his 1st shutout this season. From the big penalty shot stop to some great saves off plays made onthe rush he was a very deserving first star. Backstrom stopped all 33 shots he faced and with tons of traffic near the crease, with lots of physical contact. He also got great help from his defenseman as Suter, Brodin and Spurgeon had tremendous games. The forwards also backchecked well and this really was a huge reason the Sharks was shut down as the rare occurances that Backstrom gave up a rebound they were able to sweep away dangerous pucks. Suter was also very involved offensively as well, stepping up to not only hold the offensive zone but stepping up and looking for scoring opportunities which are the sign of an extremely confident player. Another great effort by the penalty kill too.
Offensively the Wild really have to be happy with the variety of chances created by the power play. The puck movement was fast and efficient which was necessary to beat an excellent Sharks' power play. Minnesota's 2nd line of Cullen, Setoguchi and Bouchard was the club's best line 5-on-5 yet Yeo even modified it a bit from time to time giving Heatley some time on this group. Heatley also had a good game and should've had a goal as well. The Wild are getting some timely offensive contributions from its defenseman as Brodin, Suter and Spurgeon are getting shots on goal and keeping opponents honest defensively insteady of just being able to focus on our forwards. Parise got another quality goal to push the team over the hump.
This was a great win after a tremendous 4-game road trip. I like the character this team continues to show and it may seem strange but I think Mitchell's fight really got the Wild re-energized and focused after getting a 1-0 lead. If Mitchell gets rocked, the Sharks not only have rid the Wild of one of its better penalty killers for 5 minutes but they also have some momentum to use to get an equalizer that period. Instead they get humbled and the team plays focused in the closing minutes to take a lead into the 3rd period. The Wild did the little things they needed to do to get a win and that's what champions do and I hope they can replicate that again on Monday in Dallas.
~ The Wild roster this afternoon is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charli Coyle, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Danny Heatley, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Jason Zucker, Tom Gilbert, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter. Matt Hackett backed up Niklas Backstrom. Mike Rupp, Nate Prosser and Brett Clark were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Ryan Suter, 3rd Star Zach Parise
~ Attendance was 19,358 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate the University of Minnesota's Amanda Kessel on winning the Patty Kazmaier Award as college hockey's top player. Kessel has 44 goals, 97 points this season in 44 games this season. The Golden Gophers' women's team plays in the National Championship tomorrow at Ridder Arena against Boston University at 3:00PM CST.
Wild Prospect Report:
C - Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ The OHL playoffs have begun and top seeded Belleville is off to a good start after pasting Mississauga 8-1 Thursday night. The 6'4" 190lbs center contributed 3 assists in the victory and finished the game with a +2 rating. Last year, Graovac was a major point producer on a transitioning Ottawa 67's squad, I expect him to have another big post season.
RW - Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ The playoffs also began in the 'Q' and the Drakkar's assistant captain had a big 1st game where he posted a goal and two assists in 6-2 win over Sherbrooke. Last year Baie-Comeau ran into the buzzsaw that was the St. John's Sea Dogs but this time they're expected to go far. So hopefully for Bussieres they can live up to these bolstered expectations!