Your senior year. The culmination of your time in high school or college. Your last year before graduation, and for most people involved in sports often times your last chance to represent your school or community. Its a bittersweet time for athletes and their parents; and I’m sure its even more conflicted if you know you can’t be there for when that likely ‘end’ will take place. That could very well be on the mind of St. Louis Blues Head Coach Mike Yeo whose son Kyler is playing in the Minnesota State High School hockey tournament with Hill-Murray who play their first game against Moorhead on Thursday. Luckily for the ex-Wild coach his team does not have a game that night, so will he make it to the Xcel Energy Center to cheer his son on?
The Boys State Tournament means the Wild are going to be spending the next week on the road, so this is their last game before leaving the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center. The Blues are scratching and clawing trying to make the playoffs and currently are in the last wildcard spot. Will the Wild go into the road trip with another 2 points under its belt?
1st Period Thoughts: The pace of play was kind of what I expected. Both clubs were not taking many risks offensively with time and space hard to come by. The Blues were working pucks deep and then forcing the Wild to work in order to get it out of their own end. Minnesota’s defense was missing Mathew Dumba a bit as the team had a harder time transitioning quickly from offense to defense. If Jared Spurgeon or Jonas Brodin were not out on the ice this was especially true. Minnesota did not seem to have much synergy offensively as passes weren’t quite on the mark but with some persistence the Wild would start to pepper Jake Allen with shots. The Blues’ big defenseman did a good job of taking the body and sealing off the Wild from second chance opportunities. Minnesota only had a few chances from in close and Allen did a nice job of absorbing pucks and giving up little to nothing in terms of rebounds and the Blues defense boxed out well. The Wild had its best chances on the power play, but still came up empty. The Blues would then score a few minutes later as a point shot from Colton Parayko was deflected perfectly by David Perron up and over the shoulder of Devan Dubnyk. 1-0 Blues. Minnesota did not have much push back offensively. One player who I felt moved the puck pretty well as Chris Stewart who was exhibiting some decent chemistry on a line with Eric Staal and Zach Parise. The physical play started to ramp up a bit towards the end of the period as Scottie Upshall lit up Nino Niederreiter with a big hit after he dumped the puck into the offensive zone that drew the attention of his peers and a small scrum ensued. Minnesota outshot 11-9 and nothing out of the ordinary. The Wild need to use its speed more against these slower big-bodied Blues’ defensemen, hopefully we’ll see that in the 2nd.
2nd Period Thoughts: The period was pretty close to a carbon copy of the 1st period. The Wild were playing a bit timid and slowing themselves down making them fairly easy targets for the Blues and the result was little to no attack in the offensive zone. The Blues had some great chances of their own. The first was a fortunate ‘no goal’ call on Patrik Berglund‘s high stick goal. The replay to me looked almost inconclusive but the Wild would get the benefit of the doubt. A few minutes later the Blues nearly cashed in again as a shot snuck between the legs of Dubnyk and was moving back towards the goal line only to be swept aside at the last moment by a very alert Jared Spurgeon. The Wild tried juggling lines; breaking up the Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker line in part because I think Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau felt the team needed more speed through its lineup from its timid play. Minnesota tried to answer back with some pressure but when the Wild tried to pounce on some loose pucks in the offensive zone they found themselves tackled to no calls, drawing the ire of the home crowd. The Blues looked physically stronger in nearly ever battle and the Wild didn’t appear to have an answer or the ‘want to’ to overcome it. They still are very much in this game, but will they pour it on or just wimp out?
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period was mildly better and that is probably being rather kind. The Blues’ created a barricade of players in their own zone, denying the Wild the middle of the ice and slot area. The Wild seemed unwilling to pay the price to take the puck in close. The Blues kept dishing out hits and the Wild seemed to get distracted the same way a person gets distracted when the mosquitos come out, just flailing away out of frustration more than anything else. The Wild tried to charge into the Blues’ zone with speed but the result was mostly the same, a centering pass with a redirection on goal that Allen would cover as Minnesota forwards were sealed off by the stronger Blues defenseman. That scenario played out again and again and Minnesota wasn’t even really challenging the Blues all that much. The Blues would add the dagger mid way through the period as a bad turnover in the neutral zone turned into a rush the other way and a shot on goal by Vladimir Tarasenko would hit a screening Jaden Schwartz who alertly swept up the puck and sent a pass to Tarasenko for an easy finish. 2-0 Wild. Ryan White tried to spark the crowd by dishing out some big hits including a beauty on Alexander Steen, but no one else seemed interested in taking the body and paying the price to make a play. Minnesota would score with just over 10 seconds left in the period when Mikko Koivu skipped a shot off the ice that beat Allen, but they deserved to be shutout. 2-1 Blues.
The truth is the Wild certainly did not deserve to win this game. They didn’t have the fire, the effort or the gumption to win this game tonight. The Wild looked like a team that was far too comfortable and hoping someone else would make a big play to bail them out. No one wanted to really battle or just play hard and will themselves a penalty or a goal as they have in the past. Minnesota allowed the Blues to get them out of their game and we’ve seen this happen before. Colorado has done it to the Wild 3 times and they’re horrible. The Ducks did it to us a few weeks ago.
Minnesota is at its best playing fast and with tempo. If they slow down and get involved in the sideshow they become very ordinary pretty quick. I’d give a lot of that credit to the Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo, Robert Bortuzzo, Joel Edmundson and Carl Gunnarsson who drove Wild forwards crazy all game long by not giving them any free ice. Minnesota has to be better if it expects to earn points on this road trip against a collection of desperate hockey clubs in search of wins of their own. Put this game in the learn from this game, then put the film in the trash and get ready for Tampa Bay.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Martin Hanzal, Ryan White, Chris Stewart, Erik Haula, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella and Gustav Olofsson. Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk. Jordan Schroeder and Mathew Dumba were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star David Perron, 2nd Star Jake Allen, 3rd Star Vladimir Tarasenko
~ Attendance was 19,124 at Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota High School Hockey:
The Minneapolis Star Tribune named the 2016-17 All Metro Boys Hockey Team today and here is who made it. With the Minnesota Boys State Hockey Tournament set to begin this Wednesday this serves as a pretty good primer going into it. Crease and Assist would like to congratulate all of these players on this accomplishment and wishes them all the best of luck in their futures in hockey!
F – Casey Mittlestadt (Eden Prairie) – U. of Minnesota commit
F – Ben Meyers (Delano) ~ U. of Maine commit
F – Noah Cates (Stillwater) ~ Minnesota-Duluth commit
D – Nick Leivermann (Eden Prairie) ~ Notre Dame commit
D – Nick Perbix (Elk River / Zimmerman) ~ Notre Dame commit
G – Jack Begley (Hill-Murray) ~ Undecided
Wild Prospect Report:
LW / C – Joel Eriksson Ek (Farjestad, SHL) ~ the lanky forward is doing his best to help out in crunch time as Farjestad readies itself for the playoffs. Eriksson has 7 goals, 15 points, 10 PIM’s and is a +6 in 24 games.
LW – Kirill Kaprizov (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL) ~ the highly skilled Russian’s season came to an end as Salavat Yulaev was eliminated by Ak Bars Kazan 2-1 on Saturday. After setting a new under-20 record for points in the regular season, Kaprizov had 3 goals in 5 playoff games.