There is a funny but ridiculous saying that denial isn't just a river in Egypt. (Rant warning) After the Wild's 4-1 loss to Vancouver, a game the Wild should've been immensely desperate for a win the team started the game in a haze and were dominated by an apathetic Canucks team that sort of went through the motions which was more than enough to beat Minnesota. The team registered a paltry 3 shots on goal in the 1st period; so much for all of the moves and changes the team made since its last loss. Those changes would include a trade, a top down changing of the lines, a scratch of one of the team's more highly touted prospects, the call up of a promising prospect from its minor league affiliate and his promotion to the top line. Yet what did that result? 3 shots on goal in the first period in a game played at the friendly comfines of the Xcel Energy Center. The team would raise its intensity through the 2nd and 3rd period but its inability to bury its chances would again haunt them and the Canucks cruised to a fairly easy 4-1 victory. If the play on the ice to start the game wasn't a major red flag as to this club having bigger problems within its culture, the comments made by team captain Mikko Koivu were flat out delusional. Before I address them let me share with you some of the comments other members of the team made last night after the game including embattled Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo. From assistant captain Zach Parise, "We didn't show up tonight," and from Tom Gilbert who scored the Wild's only goal, "We did not come out ready to play, we have to find a way to get more shots on goal and be on right from the start," and assistant captain Ryan Suter, "we came out dead. It’s not fun right now. Things aren’t going well." It amazes me that they were that uninspired but at least these guys were being honest, but what about their team captain?
"I think we were right there” and the Canucks did the “little things.” Really? What makes you think we were so close in that game? How can you honestly say you're the captain of this team if you're going to be in such a huge state of denial after an embarassing loss at home? I have to admit I am a person that has felt that Koivu is not fit to wear the "C" and his post-game comments only provide more proof to take that mantle of leadership from him. Either way, its not going to get any easier as the Nashville Predators come to town. They've made up for their lack of offensive punch by being more stingy defensively. Perhaps the Wild should take a page out of the Predators' playbook. But don't tell that to captain Koivu, afterall "we're right there" right?
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1st Period Thoughts: Charlie Coyle gave Wild fans more reasons to cheer with an outstanding first few minutes of the game. The first cheer-worthy thing he did was win a battle down low in the offensive zone and pushed a pass over to Zach Parise for the Wild's first quality scoring chance of the game. Parise hacked away at the puck but Chris Mason was able to come up with the save. Then a minute later it was Coyle picking up a puck in the neutral zone where he made a little move before gunning a heavy shot on goal that Mason fought off and then a few seconds after that it was Coyle drawing a tripping call on Gabriel Bourque giving the Wild its first power play of the game. Unfortunately the Wild did absolutely nothing with the man advantage. The puck movement wasn't there and an opportunity was squandered. Niklas Backstrom looked sharp as a nice back door pass by Kevin Klein to Mike Fisher was nabbed by the Wild goalie's quick glove. The Predators' Craig Smith would fly into the Wild zone where he skated right by Jonas Brodin for a quick chance off the rush that Backstrom fought off. Then he'd gather up the puck as Brodin tried in vain to slow down the strong former Badger who then charged the crease taking a shot that was stopped by Backstrom and the rebound was tapped home by an alert Nate Gaustad, 1-0 Nashville. Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak would try to answer back stealing the puck from Roman Josi and then wheeling back towards the goal where he was stonewalled by Mason. The Wild were trying to be physical; even players not necessarily known for being big hitters were throwing their bodies around. Players like Devin Setoguchi and even Mikael Granlund. More on a 'hit' Granlund gave a bit later. Minnesota would earn another power play as Martin Erat was tagged with a hooking minor as he held up Brodziak. The power play take another step backwards as Minnesota was never able to really establish itself in the offensive zone and as the power play concluded after a weak pass by Dany Heatley exited the zone you could hear some boo's from the home crowd. The sloppy play continued as a long pass would be missed and head into the Wild zone where Backstrom would leave his crease and then choose to cover the puck instead of playing it before he was ran over by Erat and a scrum would ensue. Both clubs would get penalized as Backstrom got a delay of game call for freezing the puck outside of the crease and erat for roughing. With a bit more open ice the Wild went on the attack and Zach Parise would enter the Predators' zone with speed before passing it back to a charging Mikko Koivu down the slot but he couldn't get it by Mason who was able to steer it aside. Mikael Granlund tried to get involved physically, but as he put the body on Mike Fisher he was tagged with an interference call as he impeded the Predators' forward's progress. Late in the period the Wild's Zenon Konopka would trip up Josi for a penalty but Brandon Yip would move in and hit Konopka up high to even things up. With the ice a bit more open the Wild had its best chance of the game as Ryan Suter would pass a puck off to Heatley for a quick shot and seemingly right to the stick of Devin Setoguchi who tried to jam it home only to be foiled by a last minute stab by Ryan Ellis. Setoguchi was frustrated and a few seconds later Setoguchi wound up and crushed a slapper high of the mark and the period would end with the Wild trailing 1-0. The Wild were showing a little more urgency but the results are the same with Minnesota having nothing to show for it. You wonder when this drought will end.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild had some quality scoring chances early as Setoguchi set up Granlund near the top of the crease but the Finn lifted a shot up and over the goal. Minnesota was showing good energy to start the 2nd period. However they'd have some close calls either as the team was starting to get caught out of position defensively. The shift lengths were also getting a bit long in the tooth. On one sequence, Ryan Suter would break his stick and inexplicably Granlund wouldn't give the defenseman his stick. They finally worked the puck out of the zone as Michael Rupp raced down the ice for a breakaway where he was denied on a diving save by Mason. Coyle would take his first NHL penalty as he hauled down Erat. On the penalty kill the Wild provided good puck pressure and never really let Nashville get its power play settled. Minnesota would earn the big penalty kill. Minnesota was persistant and they'd tie the game as the 3rd line had a physical shift where Clutterbuck paid the physical price along the wall where it was picked up by Matt Cullen who would thread a pass back to Ryan Suter who would wrist a shot on goal that was deflected by Clutterbuck and by Mason to make it 1-1. With the crowd buzzing a bit at the goal, the Predators went back on the attack in search of the go ahead goal and nearly got it as Sergei Kostitsyn's bid was hit the side of the net as Backstrom dove to cover it up. A few moments later the Wild would take another penalty as Ryan Suter was given a slashing call as he knocked the stick out of Erat's hands. Minnesota's penalty kill was again solid, depriving Shea Weber of shooting opportunities. The Wild would get another big kill to the sound of a rousing cheer from the Xcel Energy Center crowd. Minnesota tried to go back on the attack as Mikael Granlund turned and swung a shot on goal that was was knocked away by Mason at the last moment. Minnesota's pressure would draw a power play as Colin Wilson would get his stick into the face of Tom Gilbert and give the Wild a power play. Minnesota would end the period with nearly a minute of power play time left and momentum on their side in a 1-1 tie.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild would start the period with just under a minute of power play time left. The Wild did nothing at all with the power play time that was left and the Predators were able to get the kill. Minnesota was carrying the play, working the puck deep in the zone and then sending it out to the point where they'd gun it on goal. Minnesota's hustle was winning most of the races to the loose pucks. The Wild's Devin Setoguchi would take a high sticking call that caused Scott Hannan to spring a leak up near his eye brown and give the Predators a 4:00 minute power play as Setoguchi protested vehemently from the penalty box. Minnesota's penalty kill scrabled at times, but they made the plays necessary to clear the zone and kill valuable seconds off of Nashville's power play. For the most part the Wild's penalty killers forced the Predators to settle for shots from the perimeter. When the pucks did reach Backstrom, the Wild goalie was seeing the puck well and coming up with some clutch stops on goal, including one where he had Gaustad camping out right at the top of his crease. The Wild's got a little luck too as Weber found him set up on a back door play but he drove a shot wide of the mark and when he returned to the Predators bench he bashed his stick on the rail and threw it in anger down the hallway towards the locker room as Minnesota got the huge kill. A few minutes later the Wild would find itself back on the penalty kill as Tom Gilbert was sent to the sin bin for high sticking. The WIld's penalty kill again stood tall as they kept the Predators' to the perimeter and through hard work was able to clear the zone and alleviate pressure. Minnesota would get another big kill and both clubs seemed to be playing cautious hockey, wary of making a major mistake that would give away the game. And time would expire with both clubs still knotted at 1-1.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota had a good quality scoring chance towards the beginning of overtime as Dany Heatley found himself set up near the Predators' crease as he'd unleash a wrist shot that was fought off by Mason. Minnesota would set up another chance, this time a point shot by Brodin that would miss wide. The Predators would have a tremendous chance of their own as Ryan Ellis dorve deep and set up a chance for Smith that Backstrom struggled with and the puck was picked up by Kostitsyn who then sent a pass out to Ellis who fired a quick shot that was knocked down by a diving save by Backstrom. Minnesota would get a big break as Nate Gaustad would get a faceoff infraction penalty as he made contact with his hand on a faceoff giving the Wild a power play with just over 2 minutes left. The Wild moved the puck well setting up Koivu for a shot from the point that was stopped by Mason. Predators' bench boss Barry Trotz would use his timeout to talk things over with his team as the Wild tried to press for the game winner. Minnesota's power play was patient, and its patience would be rewarded as some good passing from Suter to Koivu back to Setoguchi who registered his first goal of the year as he one-timed a shot by Mason to give the Wild a 2-1 victory.
Before the game, Mike Yeo gambled that Niklas Backstrom would be razor sharp after being pulled in last Wednesday's game and he was right as the Finnish-born netminder stopped 25 shots in the win. He was a source of strength all game long and he came up with some big stops to keep his team in the game. Defensively the Wild did a good job at supporting their goaltender and preventing the Predators from really getting its forecheck going. I thought Jonas Brodin had a nice game despite showing his lack of strength on the Gaustad goal as he couldn't physically handle Nashville's Craig Smith. Nate Prosser looked decent in his return to the lineup. Ryan Suter had an excellent game, chipping in two assists offensively as well as some big minutes in crucial stretches of the game.
Offensively the Wild got contributions from all of its lines and while the 1st line wasn't quite as prominent as it has been Minnesota got pressure from its 2nd and 3rd lines giving the team the balance it had been lacking. Proof is on the scoresheet as Clutterbuck and more importantly, Setoguchi tallied the goals. Setoguchi deserved it as he really had been working hard the last 3 games and its only fitting he ended up with the overtime game winner tonight. I think the call on Gaustad was pretty weak, but credit the Wild for taking advantage of it and getting a giant monkey off the back of a team that seemed to be spiraling out of control. Granlund had an ok game, where he tried to be involved physically which I have to give him credit for trying even though he's at a disadvantage.
This was a big win for the WIld, because the presssure was reaching fever pitch in the State of Hockey. Minnesota probably deserved a few more goals than it had, but it's persistence paid off and it finally was rewarded with a victory. Now they will be going on the road for a Western Canada road trip to Calgary and Vancouver. I think like a lot of people, the Wild were at a disadvantage tonight but they dug deep and got a victory. Hopefully they can build on that.
~ Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Michael Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Nate Prosser, Tom Gilbert, Justin Falk and Clayton Stoner. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Matt Kassian, Torrey Mitchell, and Marco Scandella are the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Cal Clutterbuck, 3rd Star Devin Setoguchi
~ Attendance was 18,806 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The Houston Aeros earned a 2-0 road victory over the Rockford Ice Hogs Saturday night. Darcy Kuemper had 38 saves in the shutout, while it got goals from Johan Larsson and David McIntyre.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW - Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ The Wild's 2nd round pick from 2012 has had a career season and he kept pouring it on offensively as he banged home two goals in Baie-Comeau's 5-3 loss to Cape Breton. Bussieres has 24 goals, and
C - Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ The big lanky centerman got the Bulls off to a good start on Saturday night burying 2 goals and helping Belleville to a 4-1 win over Erie. Graovac now has 26 goals and 48 points in 42 games played.