Wild down Sharks in a shootout

Well, the Wild did it. They won against a good team and, with the exception of the last few minutes of the game, played a very good game.

Of course, the last few minutes of the game almost saw the wheels come off entirely and the Wild skated through overtime by the skin of their teeth to get to the shootout and then got the win off of goals from Matt Cullen and Mikko Koivu and two good saves by Josh .

According to many people, the buzz word of the day today for Mike Yeo was “fight.”

He wasn’t talking about dropping the mitts (though the Wild came very close a couple times). Instead, he was talking about pushing back. Fighting for the win.

In other words, showing a little passion.

The Wild got a lead early in the game with Cal Clutterbuck sniping a horribly positioned Antti Niemi (I’m not a goalie and even I could tell you he was way too far back in his crease) and the Wild used that momentum to keep the pressure on the Sharks for most of the first period.

A very poor decision by Kyle Brodziak (though it was one heck of a two-hand to Joe Thornton’s boot) got the Wild two-men down with just a few minutes left in the first period and the Sharks capitalized with a Dan Boyle shot that got through a screen and past Josh Harding.

Warren Peters scored the lone goal in the second, crashing the net and seeing the puck carom into the net off of him and past Niemi. Just a few moments later, it was almost 3-1 as Matt Cullen hit the post and Casey Wellman then put in the rebound which was lying on Antti Niemi’s breezers, but the ref blew the whistle to stop play right as Wellman was getting his stick on it. It might have been an early whistle, but it was the type of play that might have broken the Wild in the past few games – but not in this one. The Wild kept pushing, even after the unfortunate break and…

…Nick Johnson made it 3-1 in the third with another beautiful snipe on a horribly positioned Niemi. In fact it was almost identical to the shot that Clutterbuck took on Niemi.

The Sharks didn’t have an ounce of quit in them, though, and fought back to make it 3-2 with a gorgeous deflection from Benn Ferriero that Josh Harding didn’t even see (evidenced by the fact that he was standing straight up when the puck went past him) and they put the pressure back on the Wild.

The difference between the Wild, tonight, and the Wild over the last handful of games was that they didn’t give up. In fact, they pushed back and fought as if their lives depended on it (and, for some, their lives with the Minnesota Wild very well might have). They fought and, just under four minutes later, Casey Wellman Matt Cullen put the Wild back up by two, driving to the net, getting the shot on and then being fortunate enough to have a Casey Wellman shot deflect off of his leg on the way in.

Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau had something to say about the Wild’s win, though, tallying goals 22 seconds apart to tie the game at four with time winding down.

And that’s where you could feel the wheels start to come off.

The Wild’s confidence was shaken. They started to doubt again. Had there been any more time left on the clock, they very well might have fallen. But they hung on and got the game to the shootout, where they were finally able to put it away.

Some Thoughts

  • Cool story about Cal Clutterbuck’s goal. Clutterbuck spoke to Jack Jablonski before the game and promised him he would score for him. It’s not Babe Ruth, calling his shot, but it’s cool nonetheless.
  • Devin Setoguchi was a healthy scratch for having a little too much fun on Monday night with his old teammates and missing a team meeting Tuesday morning. I get that he’s young, but he’s got to be smarter than that. According to Yeo, he’ll get a fresh slate on Wednesday, but what he did damaged both his teammates’ and his coach’s trust in him. He’s going to have to work to get that back.
  • Casey Wellman looked spectacular for most of the game. I’d say that, for a good chunk of it, he was the best Wild player out there. He had two assists and looked very much at home on the Wild’s second line. He finally is starting to look like he belongs in the NHL.
  • Josh Harding looked solid. I’d have a hard time pinning any of the Sharks’ goals specifically on him. Now, I’m a huge Backstrom supporter, but I think Harding has earned the chance to run with the ball a bit and see if he can help the Wild get hot again.
  • Huge, huge win for the Wild. If they lose, they’re in ninth place, just three points from 12th. With the win, they’re in seventh place, three points ahead of the ninth place team. They’re also just three points out of fifth and seven out of first with a lot of hockey left to play.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild score? Four goals in regulation, plus two more in the shootout. I’d say that, at least for one game, they found their scoring touch again.

Can the Wild play with trust in their teammates and their system? They did. They were supporting the puck all over the ice and they played within their system quite well for the majority of the game. They had a relapse towards the end of the third and in overtime, but they were still able to come away with the important thing – two points.

Can Josh Harding have another stellar night? Stellar? That’s debatable. But good? Yes. If I’m Mike Yeo, I give him another shot on Thursday in Chicago.

Can the Wild stay healthy? So far, it seems like they did.

Will the Wild make Matt Cullen’s 1,000th game a memorable one? A win, a goal for Cullen and a shootout goal for Cullen. I’d say it was pretty memorable.

3 Stars

1)      Matt Cullen – His 1,000th game saw him pot a goal, the game-winning shootout goal and have a solid, solid game.

2)      Dan Boyle – A goal and two assists, plus a dynamic performance all around.

3)      Casey Wellman – Two assists and a terrific game all around.

The “Head-Butt” heard round the league

Tuesday night, Nick Johnson was given five minutes for fighting, a match penalty and a game misconduct or “head-butting” Jarome Iginla.

Now, I am a very large fan of Iginla’s. I think he’s one of the classiest players in the league and I’ve always been a fan of his. But, in my estimation, his actions on Tuesday were uncalled for.

First, the fight:

If you can see a blatant, head-butting motion, you’ve got better eyes than I. The only action I could see from Johnson that even resembled a head-butting motion was when he raised his head to try to look at Iginla (who, incidentally was fighting with a helmet and visor on against a guy whose helmet and visor he had knocked off during the fight).

What’s more, though, is that Iginla actually stops throwing punches in the middle of the fight, solely to point to Johnson, look at the ref and tell anyone who would listen that he was head-butted.

Now, I get lobbying the officials. That’s part of the captain’s job. But, for crying out loud, if you’re going to do it at least have enough respect for your opponent to wait until the fight is over.

Instead, Iginla made a mockery of the fight by essentially stopping his part in the fight for long enough to complain about it, then he complained about it the entire way to the penalty box, then threw a tantrum in the penalty box until he was given what he wanted.

Hey, it worked. The Flames got their five minute power play.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Mikko Koivu then got sworn at by an on-ice official who was talking with Mike Yeo (unfortunately, I can’t find a single clip of that). Not necessarily the picture of professionalism.

I’m not as bold as to claim that the refs had it out for the Wild. I don’t subscribe to any Red Wings literature and am not a member of the tinfoil hat club, but there were definitely some questionable calls on Tuesday night, as well as some fairly poor displays by the on-ice officials.

I highly doubt Nick Johnson will be suspended for his “actions” in the fight, but I really hope that the NHL takes a good look at the officiating of this game and has a nice chat with the on-ice officials involved.

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.

Columbus downs Wild and the final Preseason Gameday Thread

Kyle Brodziak and Steve Mason

The Wild couldn't put it together for 60 minutes last night

Well, because of how late I’m getting to this, I’m going to combine the gamer and the gameday thread – especially since the kids and myself are all under the weather.

ANYwho…

Last night’s game was, simply, a typical Wild game. It’s clear that this team isn’t going to go anywhere until they can learn to play a full 60 minutes.

The Wild dominated for bookends again, but it typical Wild fashion, they pissed it down their legs (for lack of a better term) in the middle 20.

Guillaume Latendresse

The Tenderness was one of the Wild's bright spots last night

They came out on fire. They dominated much of the play the first period, outshooting the Jackets 16-7 and going up 1-0 on a goal by the Tenderness (that’s Guillaume Latendresse, for those not accustomed to the nickname). In a word, they were rolling.

But the proof of how the game is going to go lies in the middle 20 and, in this case, it was an unmitigated disaster.

They turned the puck over, they weren’t skating, they weren’t supporting each other on defense (which, to be honest, was really the only zone they were in for the bulk of the period). Basically, anything negative you could think that a team could do, the Wild did it and everything positive you could think that a team could do, the Wild didn’t do it.

To steal a catch phrase from Todd Richards’ playbook, they just didn’t compete.

The Jackets had tied the game 44 seconds into the period, then had grabbed the lead by 2:38 and Jeff Carter gave the Jackets a two-goal lead by the time the second period had ended.

The Wild rebounded slightly in the third, but it wasn’t enough to dig themselves out of the hole they dug themselves in to.

So, the bad was pretty much that the whole team just gave up defensively in the second period. But what was the good?

Well, the top two lines again looked great in the offensive zone. In fact, Kyle Brodziak looked right at home between Bouchard and Latendresse, which could give Mike Yeo pause about making Matt Cullen the outright second-line center.

Nick Johnson looked okay but, to be fair, he had a rough go of it getting to the arena so last night’s game could be a wash. Clutterbuck is out tonight, though, so Johnson will get another shot at proving he can stick with the squad.

Well, let’s move on to tonight’s game.

Here’s the roster per Wild.com:

The Wild’s final audition lineup will once again include Brett Bulmer, who will skate in his fifth preseason contest. The injured players - Matt CullenJared SpurgeonMike LundinDrew Bagnalland Cody Almond will not be seen until the regular season starts. Cal Clutterbuck will also sit out tonight with a sore groin:

Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley
Latendresse-Brodziak-Bouchard
Johnson-Powe-Wellman
Gillies-Nystrom-Bulmer

Zanon-Scandella
Schultz-Falk
Zidlicky-Stoner

Backstrom and Harding

The fact that Clutterbuck is out is a positive for a couple of players – namely, Casey Wellman and Nick Johnson.

Cal Clutterbuck

Clutterbuck's injury opens the door for a couple players to impress

As I mentioned, Johnson had a rough go of it in last night’s game, but he also rode in a car from Pittsburgh to Columbus and played about 2 hours after he got to the arena. He’ll have full prep-time today, so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to show what he can do.

For Casey Wellman, this could be his make-or-break moment. He’s underwhelmed in his two games this preseason after missing the beginning of it with injury and he’s got to come out and show the Wild why they were so high on him when they signed him a couple seasons ago as an undrafted free agent.

In short, he needs to show that he’s capable of being a dynamic, offensive player at the NHL level like he was in the college level. He’s got to shoot the puck, he’s got to use his speed and he’s got to show the Wild something if he wants to make this squad. Right now, he’s going to really have to impress to stick in the NHL. That means, in short, he’s got to make something happen.

Tonight is also going to be a good look at whether or not this team can play a full game. Over the last 180 minutes of hockey, they’ve played roughly 80 solid minutes. That’s a little over one game. I understand having rough patches – every team has them – but this team needs to start working. They’ve got so much talent on this squad, if they just put a full 60 minute effort together every night, we could be talking about them contending for a playoff seed as opposed to dissecting why they’re giving away games.

They’ve got talented forwards, they’ve got talented defensemen and they’ve got talented goalies. But it’s pretty hard for any of them to show off their skills when the team is constantly hemmed in their own zone, making defensive errors and just not trying.

This is the end of the audition period for every single player on the roster, whether they’re certain to make the squad or not. The practice games end tonight, so the Wild need to get their heads on straight so that they’re ready to compete by the time October 8 rolls around.

The puck drops tonight at 7pm and will be streamed live on Wild.com and FoxSportsNorth.com.

Preseason Gameday Thread: @ Columbus

Columbus and Minnesota face off for the second time this preseason

Well, it’s just a couple hours until the drop of the puck and the Wild are looking to improve upon their performance on Tuesday against the Blues.

I didn’t do a gamer due to illness and, if you didn’t see the game, basically what happened was that the Wild jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but then just took their foot off the gas and started making mistakes in their own zone and, well, gave up three straight goals to lose 4-3.

Minnesota wants to rebound from a rough last two games

This team is showing a lot of positives right now, so it’s not all bad, but the Wild have got to start making good decisions with the puck. It doesn’t matter if you can get out to a two or three goal lead like the Wild were able to if you’re just going to turn the puck over and give away your advantage.

As Yeo said, the Wild need to “learn what the right play is.”

Now, I don’t want to editorialize too much here, but I’m going to go ahead and translate this into, basically the Wild need to unlearn everything they learned under Todd Richards.

Richards had them pushing the tempo so much that, many times they would make mistakes with the puck because they would be rushing to get up ice.

They need to unlearn that and start learning that, sometimes, the best play is to just move the puck laterally or backwards so you can get a better angle for your passes.

Anyway, the Wild will attempt to execute this tonight against Columbus.

Tonight’s line up per Wild.com:

The Wild will essentially use the same lineup that saw the ice against St. Louison Tuesday. Nate Prosser will be the extra defenseman:

Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley
Latendresse-Brodziak-Bouchard
Bulmer-Powe-Clutterbuck
Gillies-Nystrom-Wellman

Zanon-Scandella
Schultz-Falk
Zidlicky-Stoner

Backstrom and Harding

It should also be noted that the Wild claimed forward Nick Johnson off of waivers from Pittsburgh, so it’s completely possible that Johnson gets slotted in somewhere tonight if he makes it to Columbus on time which, according to Assistant GM Brent Flahr is about 50-50.

In any event, the Wild is closing out the preseason with back-to-back games against Columbus tonight and, tomorrow, at home against

Look for the Wild to simplify their game this time around

Edmonton, so either way we’ll get to see Harding at least once more this preseason.

A big thing to watch for tonight is the playoff Brett Bulmer and Casey Wellman.

Bulmer impressed last game, scoring his first goal in a Wild uniform, while Wellman underwhelmed to the point that he was limited to just 12 minutes in ice time despite being slotted in between Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse.

With Cullen out and Staubitz suspended, both have tremendous opportunities to show what they can do. If they can impress, we very well might see them on the opening day roster. If they don’t? I hearHoustonis nice this time of year (or, in Bulmer’s case,Kelowna).

Tonight is also a big opportunity for Brodziak to prove that he should be the team’s second-line center. Essentially, whoever is in the spot this season is just a temporary solution until Mikael Granlund comes over next season, but the Wild need someone in the interim, and Brodziak could provide that if he can find the same chemistry with Latendresse and Bouchard that he had with Latendresse and Havlat last season.

The puck drops tonight at 6pm CST and will be streamed live on Wild.com and FoxSportsNorth.com.

Photos Courtesy of Getty Images