Wild get big win over Preds

If there was ever a playoff series I want to see, it would have to be between the Wild and the Predators.

By the time the game was over, there was so much pent up animosity between the two teams, I’m surprised things didn’t boil over at the final horn (though there was never really a chance for it to).

It started at the end of the first period, with Francois Boullion poking and prodding at Dany Heatley and seemed to abate a bit until Mike Fisher blatantly speared Kyle Brodziak in a “sensitive” area.

Fisher’s excuse to Brodziak? It wasn’t intentional.

I watched the replay and there was nothing unintentional about it.

It really got going, though, late in the third when Cal Clutterbuck caught an unseen punch from Patric Hornqvist and went absolutely ballistic. In fact, he got a solid DDT from the ref in order to stop him from trying to tear Hornqvist limb from limb.

But the Wild came out and played a full game and played quite well for the duration. They seemed very disorganized in the offensive zone during the first two periods but, they spent most of that time in the offensive zone. In fact, the Preds were so pressed in their own zone that, when they got the puck, all they could do a lot of the time is chip it out and change.

That’s exactly what the Wild want.

They wore the Preds down and, were it not for Pekka Rinne, the game could have been a lot different. Like 5-2 or 6-2 different.

Rinne was brilliant all night long but, by the time the third period rolled around, the Wild had won the war of attrition. They finally played their game for the whole 60 minutes and it paid off for them.

And, speaking of which, I’m sold. I’m sold on the system, I’m sold on the coach and I’m sold that this team is actually a good team.

That’s right, I’ve said it. They’re a good team.

They’re not only getting bounces, but they’re creating bounces.

You hear coaches on teams that are down say a lot that they’ve got to create their own luck, and that’s true. Puck luck only takes you part of the way. The rest is up to the team to create and that’s what the Wild are doing. They’re putting themselves in the right positions to get those lucky bounces and things are starting to fall into place.

What else?

  • Dany Heatley looked like the Dany Heatley of old tonight. He broke a six-game goal drought with his third-period tally, he had four shots and he legitimately could have had a hat trick tonight if not for some solid goaltending by Pekka Rinne.
  • Koivu was dominant again tonight. He had two assists, three shots and he led the Wild in ice time.
  • Harding was dazzling once again, which keeps giving the Wild a great tandem. He’s 10-0-1 in his last 11 games at home (dating back to 2008).

Burning Questions

 Can the Wild avoid a letdown tonight? Boy, did they. They played great in all three zones tonight and were a dominant team.

Can the Wild’s weapons start firing? Their top line combined for three points. They definitely started.

Can the Wild’s second line get into the act again? Yes and no. Clutterbuck got a shortie and their second power play had the PP goal.

Three Stars

 1)      Mikko Koivu – 2 assists and dominating play all night long.
2)      Dany Heatley – 1 goal, great offensive play.
3)      Josh Harding – 23 of 25 saves, was dazzling all night long.

Wild shutout Flames 3-0

Another solid win

To say that this game is going to be a contentious topic among Wild fans is going to be something of an understatement.

First of all, let’s start with the good. The Wild won 3-0 over Calgary for their fifth straight win, despite getting outshot 41-26 and despite giving up seven power plays (I’ll get to that in a few), and despite the bad (getting out shot by 15 shots and spending a significant amount of time shorthanded), the Wild didn’t look bad tonight.

First and foremost, the Wild’s team defense was on point tonight, plain and simple. Niklas Backstrom was spectacular in net, but the Wild’s team defense did a tremendous job of shutting down passing lanes and shooting lanes and keeping the puck to the outside, for the most part. They did a good job of supporting one another in the defensive zone and they did a great job of getting the puck out of the zone once they got control of it.

Second, the Wild’s offense really wasn’t that bad. It’s hard not to get outshot by a huge margin when you spend that much time on the penalty kill and the majority of that margin came in the first period, where the Wild were outshot 15-5 and really stumbled out of the gates again. If that gets turned around and the Wild can come out strong and post at least 10 shots in every period, the goals are going to come.

Backstrom looked GREAT tonight

Finally, Niklas Backstrom responded in a HUGE way. He knew his job could potentially be on the line and he played like it. He stopped all 41 shots he faced, he made some spectacular saves and he was engaged all night long. I’ll finally go ahead and say it. The Wild have themselves a good, old fashioned, goalie controversy.

So, let’s break down the game (and I’ll get into the bad while I do this).

The Wild really did come out flat, getting outshot by the Flames 8-0 within the first four minutes of the game. They got their legs going after that and were able to push back a little, but they didn’t look good and they didn’t look focused to start.

The Wild’s third line again sparked the team, though, with Darroll Powe (filling in on the third line for the injured Cal Clutterbuck) tipped a Nick Johnson shot past Miikka Kiprusoff to get the Wild going.

Shortly after that, Tim Jackman and Brad Staubitz got together for a fight that, honestly, looks a lot better on paper than it did in reality. It didn’t really do much for either team’s momentum, as the Flames kept pouring on the pressure and the Wild kept turning them aside.

The rest of the period was uneventful, with the Wild hanging on to their tenuous 1-0 lead and the Flames pushing hard.

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the Wild’s locker room after the first period, because the Wild really came out a lot stronger in the second. The Wild’s parade to the penalty box started early in the period, but the Wild continued turning the Flames aside until, finally, they got their second of the game on an absolutely gorgeous passing play to set up Dany Heatley for his fifth of the season.

Then comes that contentious part I was telling you about.

Just under a minute after Heatley scored his power-play tally, Justin Falk and Jarome Iginla started jostling with one another. Nick Johnson jumped to his teammate’s defense and he and Iginla started to tussle. That’s when things got interesting. In the middle of the fight, whether by accident or not, Johnson’s head came into contact with Iginla’s chin. The refs seemed to think nothing of it. Iginla, on the other hand, immediately pointed at Johnson and started telling anyone who would listen that he was headbutted.

Johnson got sent to the locker room, the Flames got a five-minute power play and the Wild were down a man for the rest of the game.

The Wild's role players were again key tonight

Now, I’ll share my personal views on this in a different post, but needless to say I disagree with the call.

The third period came and this was the period that I thought the Wild really played their game best. They put pressure on the Flames (when they weren’t a man down) and they got some shots on goal. It was a good period and they continued to weatherCalgary’s storm. Guillaume Latendresse potted an empty netter late in the third to give the Wild the final score of 3-0.

Burning Questions

Will Backstrom respond? A 41-save shutout? I’d say that he did.

Can Minnesota play their game? To be honest, they didn’t really have the chance to. All of the time they spent on the PK really messed up their game plan but, when they were even strength, they kept with the Flames and even were able to take it to them a little bit. But puck possession, they just didn’t have enough time to establish it.

Can the Wild get it done on the road? Again, they shut the Flames out. It might not have been pretty, but I’d say they got it done.

Can the top line keep it up? Four points between Koivu, Heatley and Latendresse. Yeah, they done good.

Three Stars

1)      Niklas Backstrom – Backs made 41 saves, many of them spectacular, and he was the reason the Wild won.

2)      Dany Heatley – Heater had a beautiful power-play goal and assisted on Latendresse’s empty netter.

3)      Nick Johnson – He may have gotten kicked out, but he definitely was playing his butt off before he did. He assisted on Powe’s goal and was buzzing most of the night.

Wild shock Wings in overtime

I’ve been waiting for a few games this season to say this in a good way but, tonight, the Wild got what it deserved.

After a shaky first period, they came out and played with the Wings in the second and third. They didn’t dominate play, but they didn’t look outmatched either.

In the second and third period, what they looked like was a team that was finally understanding their system and finally understanding what it was that they have to do to win.

It still wasn’t a complete game, but the Wild’s penalty kill was effective and their power play wasn’t a momentum killer like it has been in past games (though it still wasn’t perfect, or good for that matter). Basically, it was the best game that they’ve played within the system so far this season (in my opinion, anyway).

It wasn’t perfect, but it was darn sure a start.

There are still a lot of things that need to be fixed.Minnesota’s power play is still horrendous. They seem to be allergic to shooting the puck when they have the lanes and, instead, hold onto the puck and try to find the perfect play.

The Wild also need to stop taking freaking penalties late in the game. Honestly, there’s rarely a good penalty to take, but with five minutes left in a one-goal game? That’s the kind of thing that just kills a comeback.

So, with no burning questions for tonight’s game, I’m just going to throw out a few random thoughts at you:

  • The power play continues to be a troubling part of the Wild’s game and a big part of that is their play from the point. Their defensemen aren’t getting shots through, they’re forcing the issue (not in a good way) when they try to be aggressive and when they’re not forcing the issue and trying to be aggressive, they’re just playing pitch and catch between two players and not getting anything towards net. So, basically, they’re either trying to pretend to be aggressive, or being too passive. Either way, that’s bad news for the Wild’s power play.
  • My God Josh Harding was great tonight. That’s three straight games where Harding has absolutely stood on his head and kept the Wild in the game. You all know that I am a HUGE Niklas Backstrom supporter, and I’m always going to be. But, right now, Harding is making the decision to go back to Backs in the cage a very, very difficult one. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s a goalie controversy inMinnesotayet, but Hards is doing his best to create one.
  • How good has Justin Falk looked? He’s been an absolute beast on the blue line for the Wild, and it was evidenced tonight by the fact that Falk was on the ice with the goalie pulled and the Wild pushing for the tying goal. He’s positionally sound, he’s physical and he’s showing that he actually has a bit of offensive acumen at times too.
  • On the same token, how bad has Marek Zidlicky continued to look. He’s a complete liability defensively (like usual), only he’s not getting the production to make up for that. He’s the Wild’s power play quarterback, the Wild had eight power plays and Zidlicky had zero shots on goal. That says it all. It’s getting to the point that, when Stoner and/or Zanon are healthy, Zidlicky may find himself the odd man out (and should, in my opinion).

The Wild are off until Thursday, when they face off against the Canucks. Laterz!

Ducks beat Wild 3-2

This is just getting painful to watch.

The Wild just can’t seem to get things going offensively, despite all of their offensive weapons, and fell to the Ducks last night 3-2. A large part of that is because, despite getting a good amount of shots, the Wild just can’t sustain any offensive pressure in the zone because, as Russo intimated in his post last night, the Wild are dumping great, but when it comes to chasing, they need some work.

It isn’t even that the Wild aren’t forechecking either. They are. In fact, a lot of times they have a very strong forecheck but they’re not using it to their advantage. When you’re playing a dump and chase style (which, I assure you, isn’t the way that Yeo wants the Wild to play), the chase is dependant on using your forecheck to get behind the defense and get the puck. Instead, the Wild seem to be dumping it, then expecting someone else to chase it.

Again, let me stress that this isn’t the way that the Wild want to play. They want to be a puck possession team. To me, dump and chase has always been the most ridiculous style of play. You’ve worked hard on defense to gain the puck, just to chip it in and chase after it once you hit the blue line? It just doesn’t make sense.

Now, there are some teams that are better suited for it. There are some teams that it works for. This team, it doesn’t.

Now, I’m sure that this isn’t the style of game that Yeo would like the Wild to play, but if it’s going to be something that the Wild continue to revert to (and, let’s be fair, every team dumps and chases at some point), it’s something they have to work on in order to do it well enough so that it’s a benefit to the team, not just a planned turnover.

If they Wild are going to revert back to this strategy at points during the game, then using it to get in behind the team’s defense needs to be indelibly seared into their memory.

When I was back in high school, I was on the basketball team. After one particularly disheartening loss (read: we got curb stomped), our coach decided to teach us a little about hustle. In the drill in question, we lined up in two lines on the baseline, coach rolled the ball towards center court, and one person from each line went, for lack of a better expression, balls out trying to get to the ball first. We got court burns, we were exhausted, we were all hurt in some way, shape or form but, most importantly, we got better. That’s exactly what the Wild needs to do. They need to separate the forwards and defensemen, dump the puck in deep and let them hit it out down low trying to come out with the puck. People are going to get pissed, punches could be thrown, but let’s be honest here. If the Wild aren’t pissed off with the start that they’ve had, they’re not paying attention.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild close out a game? This is kind of a moot point, because the Wild didn’t really have the opportunity to close the game, but I will say that the Wild just folded mentally in the last few minutes of the third period when they were within one. At that point in the game, you just can’t take careless penalties, and that’s exactly what they did. I don’t care how unintentional the delay of game penalty was, you can’t take that penalty at that point in the game. You just can’t.

Will Guillaume Latendresse be successful on the fourth line? No, he wasn’t. In fact, in his 13 odd minutes of ice time, he was largely ineffective. Now, that could be because of lingering after effects of his injury or that could be because he was playing on the fourth line. Two things really stuck with me about this game and it was that Latendresse wasn’t the offensive force he has been this season because, well, he was rarely able to get time in the offensive zone and that, if Cal Clutterbuck is getting more power play time than Bouchard, Latendresse and Setoguchi, something’s wrong. I love me some Clutterbuck, but a top-six forward he is not.

Cal Clutterbuck on the first line? Will he succeed? Yes and no. I’m hesitant to call him a huge success on the first line, but he did create some chances. The problem is, though, that he doesn’t really have much of a net presence. Just because a player is physical doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to hold their own consistently in front of the net. Clutterbuck used his body to create chances for others tonight but, to me, it just seemed like the whole square peg in a round hole scenario for Minnesota.

Can Cullen get back on the scoresheet? Yup. The second line was one of the Wild’s top lines and Cullen got a power-play goal that pulled the Wild within one.

Three Stars

1)      Teemu Selanne – Selanne was just a force all night long, no question about it. He had assists on all threeAnaheim goals and just dominated the offensive zone.

2)      Corey Perry – Perry was his typical “Wild killer” self, getting under people’s skins and scoring goals while he was at it. He scored the first goal and that really set the tone for the game.

3)      Ryan Getzlaf – No “homer” star predictions here. Getzlaf got the game winner for the Ducks and, like Perry and Selanne, was a force for the Ducks.

Wild shock Oilers, win 2-1

The Wild battled and came out with a win

Talk about your heart-stoppers. The Wild used every second of regulation last night to get on the board but, when it was all said and done, they left Edmonton with a 2-1 shootout victory, leaving a lot of displeased Oiler fans in their wake.

I’m going to keep it short today, so we’re just going to get right to some of my thoughts on the game:

  • Greg Zanon is having a rough go of it. He had a rough night against the Pens and he had another one last night that culminated

    This looks like it hurts

    with him missing the final 21 minutes with a groin injury. The injury wasn’t even the most troubling part. (Hey, he’s Greg Zanon. He doesn’t do push-ups. He pushes the world down.) For the second game in a row, Zanon made an errant pass that led to the Oilers’ only goal. Granted, Zanon got his skate stuck in the boards and fell, but at the end of the day he’s got to make better decisions than that with the puck.

  • It wasn’t the Wild’s best game, but they showed flashes of what they were capable of. The biggest thing that the Wild need to do, but aren’t, is possess the puck. They’re still working on getting comfortable in this system and getting comfortable with each other in this system, but once they do they’re going to be a force.
  • Again, Matt Cullen and Guillaume Latendresse had awesome games, even though they were held off the scoresheet. Both were buzzing, Latendresse was a physical force again and both had some great chances. Believe me when I say, if Latendresse can shake off the rust soon, he could be the Wild’s leading goal scorer this season even if Heatley hits his stride.
  • Backstrom was great again in the shootout. He turned away Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins on good plays and got a little lucky when Belanger rung his shot off the pipe. In all honesty, if it’s anyone but Belanger, I think they don’t even get the shot off. Backstrom went for the poke check, but it was obvious that Belanger knew his tendencies from his time with the Wild and he knew exactly what Backs would do and when he would do it. Backs missed the puck by this much, but Belanger’s move pushed him to a bad angle. Seriously. The distance between Backstrom’s stick and the puck couldn’t have been much longer than the word this.
  • Heatley was on tonight, period. He was exactly the Dany Heatley that the Wild thought they were getting. He was dynamic with the puck, he peppered the net and was just flat out good. Setoguchi, on the other hand, still looked tentative playing with Heatley and Koivu. The line was much better tonight, but Setoguchi has got to stop deferring to the two veterans and shoot the puck himself. If he’s not going to do it on the top line, then maybe it’s time to swap him with Bouchard and see if he’ll do it on the second line.

Backs was really, really good again

Burning Questions

Can Guillaume Latendresse continue his strong start? He was held off the scoresheet, but he still made an impact on the game (just ask Anton Lander). He had a couple glorious chances and he was all over the place (in a good way).

Can the first line buzz again? Yes and no. Heatley and Koivu looked really good, but Setoguchi still looked a bit tentative. They controlled play a lot better, but they still need to be better for the Wild to be successful this season.

Can the Wild come out of the gates strong? Again, yes and no. They came out better than they had in previous games, but they can still be a lot better.

Three Stars

1)      Dany Heatley – He scored the game-tying goal with 1.2 seconds left on the clock. Sure, it might have been a bit lucky, but it was definitely deserved.

2)      Nikolai Khabibulin – For the second straight game, Khabibulin was the reason that the Oilers were ahead in this one.

3)      Niklas Backstrom – Backs rebounded well from a rough night against the Pens and was a big reason why Heatley’s goal tied the game.

Wild fall to Pens 4-2

The Wild were manhandled by the Pens on Tuesday

You can’t say the Wild aren’t getting what they deserve.

For the second straight game, the Wild came out and laid an egg and, at the end of the night, skated off the ice with a 4-2 loss to an ailing Pittsburgh Penguins team.

Minnesota just couldn't get anything going in a physical tilt

The Wild were, again, their own worst enemy as turnovers, penalties and poor special teams doomed the team from the start and, once they fell behind they just couldn’t catch up again.

A turnover by Greg Zanon led to the first Pens goal by Chris Kunitz just 46 seconds into the second and, after Brad Staubitz took a four-minute high sticking penalty, Jordan Staal made it 2-0 after he gobbled up a rebound and fired it past a sprawling Niklas Backstrom.

Just under a minute later, though, the momentum seemed to be turning as Cal Clutterbuck scored his second of the season, firing a wrist shot past Brent Johnson on a 2-on-1 chance shorthanded to pull the Wild within one.

Once Clutterbuck scored, the table seemed to be tilting back towardsMinnesota. The fans were back into it and the team started getting their legs under them again. They were forechecking, they were engaged, they were battling, but they couldn’t get anything past Johnson and the period ended, as did their momentum.

Early in the third, a poor turnover by Marco Scandella led to James Neal fooling Backstrom and firing a shot five-hole on the veteran goaltender to make it 3-1. To the Wild’s credit, they didn’t fold after this goal and were pushing to pull it within one. Staal took an offensive zone penalty for the Pens and the Wild had a brief chance to pull within one, but their power play was a huge momentum killer (as it has tended to be of late) and it ended up leading to a short-handed breakaway and firing the puck past Backstrom for a three-goal lead.

Guillaume Latendresse got the Wild on the board again with his first of the season, but by that point the curtain had fallen on the Wild.

They had a couple more chances, but they just couldn’t crack Johnson again.

Some thoughts:

  • The Wild just killed themselves tonight on the man advantage. They went 0-for-5 on the power play and, every single time they

    Latendresse was the Wild's best player all night long

    got on the power play any momentum they had just crashed and burned. With all the offensive weapons they have, this should just not be the case. Heatley is struggling, Setoguchi is struggling, Koivu is struggling, Zidlicky is struggling. The list goes on. In fact, the only two players that see power play time that haven’t been struggling of late have been Latendresse and Cullen. That should tell you something.

  • The Wild have got to learn to shoot the puck when they have the shooting lanes. They’re holding onto the puck WAY too long right now and, by the time they decide to pull the trigger, the lane they had has disappeared and they’re shooting it right into a forest of shinpads. I hate to sound like that annoying guy up in the cheap seats, but “SHOOOOOOOOOOOT!”
  • Turnovers have turned into this team’s Achilles’ heel. Three of the four goals were direct results of Wild turnovers. All the Pens had to do was put on the pressure and the Wild just put the puck right onto their sticks. Mike Yeo has preached responding under adversity, and the Wild just haven’t gotten it yet. Any time they’ve gotten into an adverse situation, they’ve just folded so far this year. This is something that has got to be learned, so they’ll get there, but it’s going to take time.

So, what of our Burning Questions?

Can the Wild control play instead of the other way around? Well, yes and no. The Wild outshot the Pens and did control the play at some points of the game, but at the end of the day they couldn’t control play when they needed to the most.

Will the Wild take advantage of the Pens’ lack of manpower? Nope. They just couldn’t get any traction tonight. Even without their four best players and their starting goalie, the Pens were still the better team.

Can Backstrom continue his strong season so far? The Wild needed Backstrom to come up huge, but he struggled tonight in large part due to his team’s struggles. Three of the goals were a direct result of poor turnovers by the Wild – in other words, they should’t have been scoring chances to begin with. That said, in games like this one you need your goalie to make a couple big saves to cover your rear ends, and Backstrom didn’t do that tonight.

Can the special teams be special? Again, nope. 0-for-5 on the power play, 1-for-2 on the penalty kill and a short-handed goal against. That’s pretty bad.

Three Stars

1)      Pascal Dupuis – The ex-Wild winger came out and tore it up against his old squad for a goal, an assist and six shots.

2)      Brent Johnson – The Wild didn’t make it terribly difficult on the Pens’ keeper, but Johnson still made some big stops when he needed to.

3)      Guillaume Latendresse – G-Lat keeps looking better and better and he was easily the Wild’s top player tonight.

Wings down Wild 3-2 in OT

It was all within our control.

That’s what Mike Yeo had to say to the media after this game, and he was completely correct in saying that. The Wild were their own worst enemy in this one.

They got out to a 2-0 lead, scoring two quick goals (one to end the first and one to open the second), then, in typical Wild fashion, decided that they had done enough and just stopped executing the way they had been.

Halfway through the second period, the Wild were actually outplayingDetroitdespite the disparity in shots, and everything looked like it was coming up roses in Josh Harding’s first start since March of 2010. The Wild just couldn’t keep it together and, after all of their play in their own zone, they were just exhausted by the time the third period rolled around.

Despite being outshot by a large margin in the first, the Wild were controlling the tempo and got on the board with Greg Zanon’s one-time goal with 11.3 seconds left in the first.

Minnesota came out guns blazing in the second and, just 16 seconds in, Cal Clutterbuck gave them a 2-0 lead after a strong forecheck by Colton Gillies caused a turnover and Gillies fed Clutterbuck out front of the net for a one-timer.

That was all Minnesota would get in the middle frame, as it would quickly turn into your typical second period lull.

Josh Harding was the only thing keeping the Wild ahead (well, him and some solid defense by the blueliners), and the Wings finally broke through with 47.7 seconds left in the period with a goal from Ian White.

The Wings struck again 3:46 into the third with a tally by Jiri Hudler to tie the game and, at the end of the period, the Wild were feeling lucky to have escaped the game with a point.

Overtime started with a strong effort from the wild, but quickly turned into the Detroit show again and, with time running out Johan Franzen potted the game winner, sending the Wild home disappointed.

So, some thoughts:

  • The Wild truly did look like the better team through part of the second period. They weren’t getting shots, but they were grinding Detroit down and were controlling the tempo of the game. One they got up by two, though, they took their foot off the gas and by the time they realized it, it was too late.
  • Guillaume Latendresse looked good once again. He was held to one shot but, then again, so was most everyone else. Latendresse got his fourth assist in five games and he looks more engaged than I’ve seen him look since being inMinnesota. In other words, I think someone wants to stay here a while.
  • I’ll be honest, with the way that Colton Gillies is starting to play, I don’t see Brett Bulmer sticking with the squad past his nine games. Bulmer played just over eight minutes in tonight’s game and I think he benefits more from playing more minutes in juniors than eight to ten in the NHL, especially with players like Matt Kassian and Nick Johnson scratched who are more than capable of filling in the slot where Bulmer is playing.
  • Josh Harding was absolutely unbelievable tonight. The entire locker room should be apologizing to him for this one, because he deserved ten times better than this and you could tell that everyone knew it. Every shot they showed after the end of the game was telling – especially the one of Harding kneeling on the ice, looking like he was near tears.

Burning Answers

How will Harding look tonight? Harding made 38 saves and was the reason that the Wild got a point out of this one. There’s absolutely no question that he looked like he was back to form.

Can the Wild’s role players pick it up? They did. The problem was that no one else came with them. The Wild had 14 shots, and their bottom six accounted for six of those.

Will Matt Cullen’s hot streak continue? Cullen didn’t look that great tonight but, in fairness, neither did anyone else.

Can the Wild’s special teams be special? Minnesota was 0-for-1 with the man advantage and 1-for-3 short handed. The problem was that one was the winning goal.

Three Stars

1)      Josh Harding – Hards was fantastic tonight in defeat. He stopped 38 shots and, again, was the reason the Wild picked up a point.

2)      Johan Franzen – The Mule tallied a goal and an assist and was the Wing that notched the game-winner.

3)      Cal Clutterbuck – Clutterbuck scored the Wild’s second goal and led the team with three shots.

That’s all for tonight. We’ll be back tomorrow with our in season schedule.

Wild down Oilers in shootout 2-1

Snipe!

I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I was watching the game on my DVR (two kids, plus bedtime doesn’t always for an easy time watching the game make) and one of my buddies texted me to share something he did in Dark Souls (trust me, if you’re a gamer and you’ve played the game, you know doing something positive in the game is definitely something to brag about). Being that he’s a huge Wild fan, my response was to immediately tell him that I was watching the game because I didn’t want any spoilers.

His response to that was, “Well, I won’t tell you what happened then.”

To which, my response was, “If it went to a shootout, I can guess.”

Boy was my guess wrong, and I’m man enough to admit it.

Okay, so it's not the shootout. But he was still good.

Backstrom simply rocked the shootout. He got outwaited by Jordan Eberle first thing, then stopped three shots in a row to give the Wild a shootout victory and, according to Russo’s twitter, his second shootout win in his last ten.

I’ve always been a Backstrom sympathizer (not always a popular position among Wild fans), and seeing him come out and turn the Oilers away in a shootout yesterday just made me smile.

Before the shootout, Mike Yeo came over and pumped his tires (to steal some phrasing from ourVancouvercounterpart), and Backstrom looked like a completely different goalie than he did inOttawa. InOttawa, he wasn’t sure of himself. He almost looked timid trying to stop the shots. Tonight, he did not.

The Oilers came out strong and, again, the Wild struggled through the first period, giving up a goal midway through the period to Ryan Smyth, which seemed to wake them up a bit. From there, the Wild poured on the pressure and after being outshot 12-9 in the first period, the Wild outshot Edmonton26-10 the rest of the way.

Despite the disparity in shots, the only goal the Wild managed to get through Nikolai Khabibulin’s wall was Matt Cullen’s snipe in the second period. The rest of the way was typified by some great chances by the Wild and either some great saves by Khabibulin or missed opportunities byMinnesota.

The Wild came out of overtime assured of a point, but wanting the extra mark against a division foe and, this time, you saw just what kind of coach Yeo really was. Backstrom was staring at open ice, preparing himself for the shootout, and Yeo came over, leaned in and said something to him, then patted him on the back.

Now, I’ve never played goalie, but I can tell you from my experience playing organized sports, that sort of pep talk from your coach can do you wonders. Even if it’s a simple, “You got this,” it’s something that is vastly underrated in a coach’s arsenal, and Yeo utilized it to perfection last night. After allowing a goal to Jordan Eberle, Backstrom played the rest of the way perfectly and the Wild were able to skate away with a shootout win.

So, some thoughts on the game:

Yay! We won!

  • Backstrom truly looks back to his old form and, honestly, I feel a lot of the reason why is because of his level of trust in his defense. The last two seasons, he never really seemed to trust the players in front of him (and for good reason, because he never really knew who was going to be where) and it showed in his play. This season, he’s confident that players are going to need to be where they should be and he’s able to play much more aggressive and much more self-assured because of it.
  • Guillaume Latendresse continues to look great on the ice. He’s throwing his weight around and he’s shooting the puck and getting some great looks. It’s only a matter of time before he starts putting the puck in the back of the net, though I feel like he’ll have a lot better shot at doing that if he uses his quick release and stops winding up for slap shots.
  • Matt Cullen scored his third goal in four games and, though he’ll probably slow down sometime soon, he’s looking really good and really confident with the puck. More importantly, he’s scoring at even strength – something he did only three times last season.
  • The Wild’s first line was held off the scoreboard last night, but they still got some great looks. They already have some decent chemistry and haven’t even been playing together more than a couple of months. Once they start learning each other’s tendencies, watch out – they’re going to be very explosive.
  • How about Colton Gillies? The kid just keeps getting better and better. He hasn’t shown much of an offensive upside yet (though, in his defense, he hasn’t really played with any players that exude offensive ability), but if he keeps playing like he has, he’s definitely going to get a shot on the power play at some point.

Alright. There was no gameday thread, so no questions to answer, but here are our three stars.

Three Stars

1)      Nikolai Khabibulin – There’s no way this game even makes it to a shootout without the Bulin Wall playing like he did. 34 saves, many of them coming after defensive zone turnovers by the Oilers and, my goodness, that third period was spectacular on his part.

2)      Niklas Backstrom – Backs played solid again, and he looked like a man with a chip on his shoulder in the shootout. If he keeps playing like this, it bodes well for the Wild.

3)      Matt Cullen – Cullen scored the Wild’s lone goal and potted the opening goal in the shootout. He looks calm, confident and very, very good out there right now.

Alright. Coming up in a few is our look at the game for you all to watch tonight with no Wild game on. Cheers!

Sens down Wild 4-3 in shootout

Well, that was a letdown.

The Wild stumbled out (certainly not stormed out) to a 3-1 lead over the Ottawa Senators, only to let it slip away from them and fall to the Sens 4-3 in a shootout.

Look, you can paint as pretty of a picture as you want of this, but the bottom line is that the Wild once again came out and failed to play a full 60 (or in this case, 65) minutes.

Sure, there were some positives. Clayton Stoner once again looked like an absolute stud on the blueline.Minnesota’s top two lines played great. Niklas Backstrom looked unbelievable in the cage – at least, before the shootout started. The Wild had no place winning this game and they stole a point from the Sens. All of those are positives that can come from this game.

But the last one comes with a bullet. The Wild had no place winning this game. In fact, they were lucky to escape the second with the lead and had no place leading the game 3-1 at one point in the third.

Plain and simple, that’s how bad this game was.

The Wild came out and competed very hard through one period and skated into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead.

In typical Wild fashion, though, the Wild came out in the second period or, to phrase it better, didn’t come out in the second period. The Sens came out and outshot the Wild 13-2 and the Wild just couldn’t get anything going and, quite frankly, were lucky to still be in the lead.

The third period was better, though not much, as a goal from Chris Neil (which was actually a pretty nice goal) and a goal from Colin Greening (due, in large part, to the Wild’s inability to clear the puck) tied the game.

To the Wild’s credit, Neil’s goal really lit a fire under the Wild and they started playing much better but, by that point it was almost too little too late and you just had a feeling that Ottawa would get that one more.

Let’s see here, some thoughts on the game:

  • Like I said, Stoner was a stud tonight. He’s looking more and more to be the Wild’s shutdown defenseman of the future. I keep waiting for him to regress or to slip up and he just doesn’t. He’s even starting to pinch in and contribute some offense here and there, so keep your eye on him.
  • A lot of people have been down on Backstrom lately, but this game I think proves that he’s back. Granted, he’s certainly in midseason shootout form (which means, he still looks awful), but he looked absolutely amazing tonight. He was in position, he was aggressive and he looked much better than I’ve seen him look in a long time. The first and last goals were pucks that were loose around the crease that Backstrom couldn’t get to and the defense didn’t get cleared and the middle one was just a great shot with players lying around him. All-in-all, Backstrom was the reason that the Wild even got a point out of this and that’s how it should be viewed, not that he was the reason they didn’t get two.
  • I continue to be impressed with Brett Bulmer and the way that he just goes after players. In the first three games of the season he’s laid out Rick Nash, John Tavares and Jason Spezza, the latter of which got the Wild a power play. I couldn’t tell you if he’s going to stick or not but, right now, he’s doing all the right things.
  • Guillaume Latendresse continues to play tremendous hockey for the Wild. He didn’t have a point tonight, but he kept throwing his weight around, he’s being aggressive and it’s only a matter of time before he puts a puck in the back of the net with the way he’s asserting himself on the ice.
  • You can tell that the team gets Mike Yeo’s system, but it’s just a matter of them executing it properly. The defensemen need to keep the play in front of them and the forwards need to forecheck and create turnovers. Once they start doing that on a regular basis and playing puck possession hockey, they’ll be pretty fun to watch.

That’s all from today’s game. Enjoy your days and we’ll be back tomorrow afternoon with the game to watch.

Wild down Jackets 4-2 in home opener

It was exactly what everyone hoped it would be. The Wild came out and, despite being outshot, dominated most of the play en route to a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets to stretch their home opener record to 10-0-1 (the one being a tie) and their streak in home openers to ten wins.

The Wild started this one quick with a beautiful breakout pass from Guillaume Latendresse to Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who just feathered the puck up to Matt Cullen, who promptly buried it for the 1-0 lead, and they would never look back. A power-play goal by Marco Scandella (his first NHL goal) and a power-play marker by Dany Heatley (not his first NHL goal, but a sick goal nonetheless) would give the Wild a commanding three goal lead midway through the third.

Derek Dorsett would close the gap to two with a gritty, hard nosed goal in the crease, but Devin Setoguchi would give the Wild a three-goal advantage again with a blistering one-timer from the slot just under a minute later. Maksim Mayorov would close out the scoring in the latter part of the third period but, by that point, the game seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

So, the first game is in the books. How did the Wild look?

Well, it took a while, but they look like they “get it,” so to speak. The biggest thing was that they buy into the system that Mike Yeo has put in front of them and, for the most part, they look like they did. They forechecked hard, they possessed the puck (even when they weren’t getting a ton of offense out of it) and they kept the play in front of them. In fact, the only two goals came from when they let the play get in close to Backstrom. They even kept their foot on the gas for most of the game.

If I’m nitpicking, the one thing I will say is that the last half of the third period was the Wild’s second period in this one. The Jackets started looking tired and, instead of putting their foot down and trying to get one more, they seemed to be content with just sitting back and coasting to the win, and that’s part of where the Jackets’ second goal came from.

In any event, some thoughts:

  • Marco Scandella looked really good tonight. I mean, really good. As in, he could potentially make everyone forget about Brent Burns this season if he keeps playing like that. He made great decisions with the puck, he jumped into the play, he was aggressive, he was positionally sound and he played mistake-free hockey. He’s going to be a good one, folks.
  • Brett Bulmer had a rough first game, but he showed flashes. He made a couple key mistakes, but that’s to be expected of a 19-year-old rookie. He made a couple key plays, though, including one strong forecheck that led to a drawn penalty that then led to a power-play goal.
  • Have I mentioned that I absolutely love the Wild’s first line? They’re dynamic, they’re fast, they hit…They do everything they’re supposed to do. In fact, Koivu was so shocked by some of the set ups he got that he just didn’t know what to do. That will come in time, but these three are going to be good.
  • Backstrom looked absolutely outstanding. He looked like the Backstrom that Wild fans got accustomed to seeing, not the goaltender that they saw over the last couple years. He made some huge saves and he was right where he needed to be all the time.
  • I’m not sure exactly what happened, but from all the angles I saw it looked like Pierre-Marc Bouchard just flat out two-handed Matt Calvert in the mug. It might have rode up Calvert’s stick, but either way Butch has got to be more conscious of where his stick is. He’s responsible for his stick regardless of what Calvert does, and he’s got to take care of that. I sincerely hope he doesn’t get a call from the Shana-hammer, but I’m worried that he might.
So, before we get to our Three Stars, let’s take a look at our questions:
Will the Wild play a full 60? Not quite, but they did for the most part. They kind of fell asleep with about ten minutes to go in the game, but that’s kind of a moot point as the game was well in hand. That’s not to say that it’s not something that they need to work on, but they need to learn to keep their foot on the gas the whole game, not just part of it.
Can the first line (we need a name for them) keep their momentum? Um, two goals, four points? I’d say they did.
Will the defense rebound after a handful of subpar efforts to end the preseason? Definitely. They kept the Jackets’ offense to the outside and they really played well against a pretty good Jackets offense. The penalty kill, especially, looked very good tonight and that’s something they should be very proud of.
Brett Bulmer will get a lot of ice time tonight. Will he look out of place? He didn’t look out of place, but he didn’t look altogether comfortable either. He made a couple of nice plays and he made a couple mistakes, but that’s to be expected of a rookie who’s playing in his first game. If he keeps playing like this, though, I’d expect him to stick.
Three Stars
1) Dany Heatley – Heater was just as promised. He played a great offensive game and, more importantly, he shot the puck. His goal in the second was a thing of beauty and he showed some great playmaking skills too in setting up Devin Setoguchi’s blistering one-timer. I wouldn’t expect 164 points from him, but he didn’t look out of place in the least.
2) Niklas Backstrom – Backstrom looked fantastic in net for the Wild. He stopped 29 of 31 and he played the type of hockey that the Wild need him to play in order for the team to be successful. He had to make a couple spectacular saves but, for the most part, he was very unassuming in net which means he was playing his game very, very well.
3) Marco Scandella – The Wild’s young defenseman scored his first NHL goal and looked pretty darn good out there all night long. His power-play goal was a beaut and he didn’t look out matched — in fact, he reminded me a lot of Brent Burns in many regards. He made good decisions and he played good, mistake-free hockey.
That’s all for now. We’ll be back on Monday with our gameday thread for the Isles game which, reminder, starts at 11:30 in the am.

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