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.

Player Profile: Darroll Powe

Darroll Powe

Darroll Powe

Born – 6/22/1985
Position –
Ht –
Wt –
Shoots –

Powe brings another heavy hitter to the Wild

The Skinny
The Wild traded for Powe this off season and, instantly, Twitter became inundated with comments about how great of an addition he was – not because of his goal scoring acumen or his unbelievable offensive talent, but because of his character, his work ethic and what he brings to the rink every night.

In other words, Powe is a great addition for all of the right reasons. By all accounts, he’s a great guy and a player that will make Minnesota more difficult to play against. He’s not going to be a 20-plus goal scorer – in fact, he’s never broken 30 points in his career, pro or otherwise.

Last season, Powe was 21st in the NHL with 196 hits. Add that to Cal Clutterbuck’s 336 and the 169 that both Eric Nystrom and Greg Zanon had and, well, you get the picture of the team that Chuck Fletcher is trying to assemble. One that’s exceedingly difficult and annoying to play against, and not because they shut down the neutral zone.

You can tell from his size that Powe is going to be another little bowling ball, just like Clutterbuck. Pair the two on the same line and you’re going to have one potent forecheck that’s going to cause a lot of mistakes just simply because of the physical play that they bring.

What we don’t know, yet, is how he’s going to fit in. His offensive game has improved every season that he’s been in the league but, then again, so did the Flyers offense. He’s going to be leaving an offensive juggernaut where he played about 12 minutes per night to a team that is just growing into its newfound offense, where he might play a bit more or a bit less than that, depending on the situation.

Is it an ideal situation for him?

Probably not, but he’s going to do what he does best. He’s going to show up to the rink every day and he’s going to play hard. What that brings him, we’ll just have to wait and see, but I think it’s going to be fun to watch.

Offense isn't Powe's priority, and it doesn't need to be

This Season
If the line combination for the Wild’s first pre-season game is any indication, it looks like Powe is going to be on the team’s third line with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck. That means he’s going to be playing with two players that have some offensive up side. Does that mean we’ll see an up tick in his production? Probably, but not by a marked amount. He’s improved every season he’s been in the league, and playing with two players that are going to look to find the back of the net as well as shutting down the opposing lines might help his production.

He’ll be used on the penalty kill and he’ll be used at even strength, but I would wager that he’ll get little to no power play time unless the game is out of hand one way or the other.

So, what’s that mean? Well, don’t expect the world offensively from him, but expect him to play his role well.

As I mentioned, he’s improved every season he’s been in the league and he’s going to be playing with a couple players with some offensive upside, so seeing him improve on last season’s stats wouldn’t be out of the question. Again, though, he’s never been what anyone would call an offensive power house, so keep your expectations tempered.

My prediction for Darroll Powe this season is:

GP 71, 10 G, 10 A, 20 PTS

Wild acquire Powe; Qualify seven

The Minnesota Wild has acquired Darroll Powe from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a 2013 3rd Round Pick.

I love this move for Minnesota for a number of reasons, most important of which is that they’re receiving a player that will have the opportunity to contribute next season without giving up a roster player.

But I also love Powe’s game. He led the Flyers last year with 196 hits and the expectation is that he’ll slot in on the other wing on the third line with Cal Clutterbuck. Can you say scary?

All indications is that Powe brings the same type of game that Clutterbuck brings, just without the offensive upside. He’s a reliable penalty killer (he was second on the Flyers among forwards with 257 shorthanded minutes) and he’s a strong, character player – something that the Wild minced no words about wanting to acquire.

With the acquisition of Devin Setoguchi, the Wild’s top-six is more or less set, but the Wild now have a strong contingent of players jockeying for position on the team’s third and fourth lines. Powe, Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz will likely all get some good looks in the team’s bottom-six, while you’ve also got James Sheppard, Casey Wellman, Colton Gillies and Cody Almond competing for spots as well.

To me, when you look at the players that will likely make the roster (the first five I mentioned), I think it makes the most sense for the roster spots to go to Gillies and Almond. (Keep in mind that this is before camp, so obviously this could change.)

Gillies and Almond both play a game that suits playing on the third and fourth lines. To be honest, I think either player could flourish being slotted between Powe and Clutterbuck, while I think Gillies could really find himself in a great position to have a strong rookie season playing on the wing with Cullen and Clutterbuck.

Initially, that would leave Sheppard and Wellman as the odd men out.

For Sheppard, I think that it’s very clear that he needs to play at least one full season in Houston. Sheppard is a player that should not be a bottom-six forward. He has top-six skill that just hasn’t been realized, and I think that the best thing for him will be what the Wild did with Gillies – stick him in the AHL and let him develop both his game and confidence in his game.

For Wellman, it’s clear that the best position for him is going to be on one of the top two lines for Minnesota. He’s not a checker. He’s a finesse player with a tremendous amount of skill. Because of the chemistry that Kyle Brodziak has shown with both Guillaume Latendresse and Martin Havlat, to me that means that Wellman is going to have to wait one more year to get his shot, and that’s not a bad thing. A full year in Houston will also do Wellman wonders, especially if Houston can build off of their success this season.

Next season, the Wild will likely have an influx of very highly skilled, young players vying for roster spots. Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund will both be jockeying for spots on the roster. Add Wellman to that mix and you could potentially have a deadly stable of youngsters ready to contribute, and that’s never a bad thing.

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The Wild also made their qualifying offers today. They qualified seven players, which were Powe, Gillies, Sheppard, Wellman, Justin Falk, Jarod Palmer and Jeff Penner. They did not qualify Patrick O’Sullivan.

The seven aforementioned players will all become restricted free agents as of July 1 if they are not signed before then, though I would imagine that the lot of them will be.

As far as O’Sullivan is concerned, from what people are making it sound like, the Wild will try to re-sign him to a two-way contract should he not sign with any NHL squad or in Europe.

In other RFA news, the Montreal Canadiens did not qualify Benoit Pouliot, which is making the Latendresse trade look better and better by the day.

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Speaking of free agency, I’ll be hosting our annual UFA day chat here and at Hockey Primetime and I’m currently working on getting some solid guests lined up to help field your questions. We’re still unconfirmed as to whether or not there will be a radio show, but I’ll keep you updated as I hear.