I was lucky enough to coach football with a Hall of Fame Wisconsin High School football coach, Mike Taake. Mike knows his x’s and o’s perhaps as good as any coach I’ve ever met, but one thing he always emphasized was working on fundamental skills. Whether it was blocking, tackling we always worked on those basic skills. He lived by the mantra, ‘Do it right, do it hard, or do it again’ in such a way that was very Vince Lombardi-like. So you kept working towards perfection instead of trying to cover lots of things but never really executing all that well. I kind of felt the Minnesota Wild went back to basics on Thursday in their game against the Blue Jackets where they played more conservatively and tried to be more responsible defensively.
Minnesota will face another offensively potent team in the San Jose Sharks who stand atop the Pacific division and are hoping to make another run at the Stanley Cup. The Sharks and Wild certainly have made some deals with one another and each time the teams face one another its time to reflect on how those deals worked out. Whether it was Martin Havlat for Dany Heatley, or Brent Burns for Devin Setoguchi, a 1st round pick (Zack Phillips) and Charlie Coyle. Can the Wild rally back from their loss to Columbus to take down the Sharks?
1st Period Thoughts: Well, early in this one, there’s been some sloppy, lazy passing. I would even say some of Minnesota’s legs look a bit tired, which makes no sense as they’ve had a few days off. And of course as I mention this, I get to hear Anthony LaPanta and Mike Greenlay talk about how the guys need to be cautious now because Minnesota pretty much will play every other night through the end of the regular season. Tonight is not a night to be cautious. You should have fresh legs, so you might as well take advantage of that fact. Thankfully, the opening minute or so seems to be a bit of an aberration, as the Wild’s play has picked up. They’re getting the shots on goal which you hope continues, as it shows that there’s more focus and determination than was was showing in that opening minute. And it looks like another defenseman has gone down for the Minnesota Wild. In an unfortunate boarding by San Jose’s Kevin Labanc that sent Christian Folin into the end board behind Devan Dubnyk would put Minnesota on the opening power play. However, the way Folin came off the ice, it’s quite possible that he has a broken wrist. On what looked like a bit of a frantic start to the power play, they finally got things settled down. On a determined shot/pass from the blue line by Jason Pominville to Zach Parise camped out in front of Martin Jones, would get the Wild on the board first. I guess if you’re going to come back for your first game since being out with the mumps, you might as well come out big. And if you’re going to lose a defenseman early in the game, you better come ready to play. It looked like the Wild had gone up 2-0 on a shot by Chris Stewart into the back neck of Jones’ jersey. However Jones had the smarts to keep his head and neck in front of the goal line. It was an easy call by the officials to waive that off. It did have some similarities on Wes Walz’s goal back in the day when his shot in goal ended up in the breezers of Columbus’s Pascal Leclaire who was fully across the goal line. Often goalies are saved by the goal posts, it’s rare that they’re saved by the name plate of their jersey. So instead of focusing on the non-goal, Minnesota came back and again had Jones in their sites. This time, the goal coming from Eric Staal. He’s definitely been missing in the goal column lately, so hopefully this goal gets him back there regularly. Minnesota would take their first penalty of the game, with Marco Scandella called for high-sticking with just over four minutes remaining in the period. The Wild would successfully kill the penalty, and managed to get a great chance at a third goal by Scandella just jumping out of the penalty box. Unfortunately, Scandella took his shot much to early. And just shortly after that scoring chance by Scandella, the Sharks would halve the lead with a goal by the strangely named Melker Karlsson. That goal seemed to propel the Sharks to pick things up. With the call for the final minute of the period, it looked like Minnesota was content to play a bit of a slow game like they started the period with. It looks like today is the day where Wild defensemen are being hunted. With just 6.4 seconds remaining in the period, Jonas Brodin took a high stick from Joel Pavelski to the mouth. Sure, it gets the Wild a four minute power play, but you have to hope that Brodin’s injury is one that can be quickly patched up. If Minnesota ends up with only four defensemen for the rest of the game, this could be a very long night.
2nd Period Thoughts: This period will start with 3 minutes of 54 seconds of power play time remaining. One can hope they use that time well. And having San Jose winning the first two draws of the period, isn’t the best use of time. Many fans should be breathing a collective sigh of relief seeing Brodin back on the ice. The first half of the power play did improve after the first two draws. They got some nice changes in close. However the second minor of the double, the Sharks did a good job of keeping the Wild to the perimeter and getting in passing lanes. Parise almost notched goal number two for the night off of a great pass by Jared Spurgeon. It was a nice rush by Parise, but he just wasn’t able to get Jones to open up the way he needed. The longer this game goes with Minnesota not finding the back of the net, the more nervous I get. And it doesn’t help that Parise takes a boarding call near the midway point of the period. It was a stupid play, and completely unnecessary. About halfway through San Jose’s power play, Martin Hanzal cleared the puck down the length of the ice that bounced in on Jones. It’s those kinds of bouncing pucks that give goaltenders nightmares, but Jones would keep the puck in front of him. Minnesota would successfully kill the penalty. Parise and Stewart are definitely creating a presence behind and in front of Jones. With the way they’ve been playing tonight, I have to expect more scoring from one of them. As the period is winding down, the Wild would go back on the penalty kill after Matt Dumba got called for holding. There’s never really a good time to get called, but I really hate penalties late in a period. Everyone is tired, but now you’re going to be down a man hoping to keep the score as it is late in the period. And again, the Wild would kill the penalty. There was a great push near the end of the period by the Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Zucker. Their hard work wouldn’t pay off, however it would generate another late period power play with Marcus Sorensen getting called for high-sticking. Again, the Wild will start another power play with the power play. Hopefully when the third period starts, the Wild will fare better in the faceoff circle and can control the play.
3rd Period Thoughts: And as I kind of thought, the power play did not get the kind of start they wanted or needed. Of course playing down a man, especially a defenseman, hasn’t helped matters. Now, no one can really afford to lose a player during the course of a game, but losing a forward is a little more forgiving as you have twelve of those, and the fourth line normally sees more limited ice time. Six defensemen normally see a lot more ice time in general, but when that number gets cut to five, players like Ryan Suter who play better when their ice time is managed, have to increase their minutes. If Folin is out beyond tonight, at least Minnesota has the dependable Nate Prosser and Gustav Olofsson to dress. It’s hard to say if they’ll just go with Prosser because he knows the playbook, or if they’ll use Olofsson more just to get him prepared for the post-season should he be needed. I will say it’s somewhat reassuring that this season there’s a little more depth at all positions the closer we get to the playoffs. Between injuries and the random infestation of mumps, it’s comforting that there are players who can easily step into positions. Getting Ryan White and Hanzal when we did certainly helped. When both Parise and Pominville found themselves quarantined, it was nice being able to plunk veteran players on the ice and not have to really worry. One thing I’ve noticed tonight, is the skating of Koivu tonight. On most nights, his skating looks far more effortless because Granlund and Zucker just make him look better and it probably works as an incentive to be with such talented forwards. However, Koivu is looking a bit more like “Kaptain Klydesdale” of previous seasons. It makes you wonder if he’s fighting a bit of a bug. Koivu appears to just want to play defense tonight and let Granlund and Zucker do all the work. However, truth be told, with all the hard work that Granlund and Zucker have been doing tonight, that’s almost the best defense the Wild have. Their hard work and determination are frustrating the Sharks beyond belief. Finally, the Sharks would be forced to pull Jones to get the extra attacker near the end of regulation. That pull of Jones would then lead to an empty net goal by Staal who had to battle Brent Burns for the puck. Staal would wisely poke the puck around Burns with his long reach and then skate the puck to the empty net. Minnesota would ice the puck which would allow San Jose to pull Jones again. However with that empty net, his teammates would try everything they could to get Staal the hattrick. While that wouldn’t happen, it was nice to keep the pressure on the Sharks to the end of regulation. Plus, you can do the happy dance again, as this win puts the Wild back in first place in the Central Division and Western Conference.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Charlie Coyle, Chris Stewart, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Martin Hanzal, Ryan White, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund, Christian Folin, Marco Scandella, Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, and Jared Spurgeon. Devan Dubnyk got the start with Darcy Kuemper serving as backup.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Eric Staal; 2nd Star, Zach Parise; 3rd Star, Jared Spurgeon
~ Attendance was 19,168 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Nolan De Jong (Michigan, Big 10) ~ the senior was throwing his weight around on Friday as the Wolverines responded with a 5-3 win over Minnesota. He also chipped in two assists in the victory. De Jong has 4 goals, 13 points, 37 PIM’s and is an ‘even’ rating in 30 games.
C – Avery Peterson (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ the proud Grand Rapids, Minnesota alum is no doubt happy to hear his team is making its way to St. Paul after beating Duluth East in the Section 7AA final. The Mr. Hockey Award winner had two helpers in Minnesota-Duluth’s 7-4 loss to Western Michigan. He followed up that effort with a goal and an assist on Saturday with the Bulldogs prevailing 6-3. Peterson has 7 goals, 11 points, 25 PIM’s and is a +9 in 17 games.
RW – Louie Nanne (Rennselaer, ECAC) ~ the former Edina star had an assist in Rensselaer’s 7-4 loss to in state rival Clarkson on Friday. Nanne has 3 goals, 11 points, 4 PIM’s and is a -12 in 34 games.
D – Jack Sadek (Minnesota, Big 10) ~ the Lakeville North star had an assist and was a +2 in the Gophers Big 10-clinching 4-1 win over Michigan on Saturday. Sadek has a goal, 8 points, 12 PIM’s and is +6 in 30 games.