“The cat came back, the very next day, the cat came back it just wouldn’t stay away,” were the lyrics by Laurie Berkner about a pest that no matter how hard you tried it wouldn’t go away. That’s kind of how I feel about snow, and how it keeps returning after teasing us the last few weeks that it was finally done for the year. As a new home owner I think about two things in their respective season, ‘has the grass grown?’ and ‘did it snow enough that I have to shovel it.” Either one gives me a task I almost can’t wait to put behind me.
I wonder if that’s how I feel teams see the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets these days. Even when opponents feel they have done what they could to defeat them, we keep coming back and at least this season (knock on wood) we find a way to win. Case in point on Tuesday night when the Wild looked to be on their way to a terrible loss to the Jets killed off consecutive penalties and then scored late in the game to prevail. Can the Wild add another road win to its impressive collection?
Before we get to the in-game reflection, I would like to introduce a Crease and Assist first. That being a guest commentator to provide additional perspective on tonight’s game in good friend and budding Wild fan Blake Volk, you can follow him @B30_wulf.
1st Period Thoughts: The 1st period was predictably cautious as both teams were wary of the other’ ability to strike quickly. Columbus and Minnesota were taking away time and space and forcing teams to settle for shots from the perimeter. At times I felt the Wild looked a little dangerous with some of its smaller faster players like Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker and Erik Haula but the Blue Jackets were being very physical as they attempted to slow them down. Minnesota would then answer back with some ‘heavy’ play of its own as Ryan White dished out a nice hit to Seth Jones that caught him watching his pass a little too long. Minnesota would earn a few power plays and it all came down to draws. When the Wild were winning its draws it was able to work the puck around, but when it wasn’t it was really struggling on its zone entries. The Wild were moving the puck with reasonable pace and precision but they need to be ready to release shots quickly in order to generate some rebounds on Sergei Bobrovsky. The Blue Jackets had a power play of its own and Devan Dubnyk had to be sharp as he swept away rebounds with his paddle and the Wild need to help out their goaltender a bit more than they did in the 1st. All in all a fairly uneventful period which is kind of what you’d expect against two of the league’s best teams. The 1st goal will be huge.
Blake’s 1st Period Thoughts: I felt that Devan Dubnyk played a very strong first period going 13-13 on saves, and playing very smart defensively. I also felt that on both power plays the Wild had the second one they were playing a lot more aggressive. On the second power play Charlie Coyle had a a great opportunity to score on a rebound, but was just a step to slow and ended up out of position for an easy rebound goal. The wild played well on the face offs, and hopefully it continues into the 2nd Period. I agree with Derek that the first goal will be huge and that will take the game to a whole new level. lets see what happens here in the start of the 2nd Period.
2nd Period Thoughts: The chess match opened up a bit more in the 2nd period. Before I talk about the play let me get into a bit of a rant. What in the heck is the story with whoever is keeping track of shots at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets send a few pucks towards the goal, two shots get registered on the scoreboard while the Wild pepper Bobrovsky with shots and it amounts to one shot recorded. Um, ok. Well rant over, the Wild started to win some of the smaller races for the puck and it started to result in some scoring chances. Minnesota thought it took the lead fairly early in the period when it appeared Erik Haula managed to deflect a puck across the goal line with his skate. The play was reviewed and it was determined that Haula kicked it in and it did not matter that the puck touched the leg pad of Bobrovsky before crossing the goal line. The Blue Jackets’ defense did a decent job at eliminating the Wild’s smaller forwards so Minnesota started to utilize its bigger bodies and the ice began to tilt in their favor. Eric Staal was particularly noticeable as he had the best chance of the period as he got behind the Columbus defense for a breakaway but he wasn’t able to pull off much of a move making for a fairly mundane stop by Bobrovsky. A few moments later it was Staal receiving a pass near the blue paint and then turning and attempting to jam a shot through but Bobrovsky again shut the door and an after whistle scrum ensued that had a dogpile in the crease with David Savard blatantly punching the back of Staal’s head to no call. Minnesota’s pressure started to yield some penalties as Josh Anderson sent a puck into the stands for delay of game and Seth Jones was sent to the sin bin for a slash to Granlund. The Wild were doing more with the power plays but just not scoring on them. Coyle had a few nice chances of his own that missed just wide. A more entertaining period of play but you know the officials are going to want to even up the penalties and can the Wild get one or two by Bobrovsky before that happens? 20 more minutes of hockey to find out.
Blake’s 2nd Period Thoughts: I thought the Wild came out great early in the 2nd Period. They were aggressive on face offs, and moved the puck very well. Bruce wins with best reaction of the night to the challenge on Haula’s skate goal call back. Dubnyk had another strong period with great saves all around. One thing I noticed is this period both teams have been playing solid defense all around, and I really think the first goal of the game is going to be the biggest momentum swing in either direction. One little rant that I have to mention is I am really surprised on the Savard no call for blatantly hitting Staal in the back of the head after he was pushed onto Bobrovsky. I think next period the Wild really need to buckle down on power plays and take quality shots. I think the final period will be very interesting.
3rd Period Thoughts: After all of Minnesota’s ‘close calls’ on the power play you knew the Blue Jackets were going to be able to answer with a goal of their own. A few minutes in they’d cash in as Brandon Saad skated down the wing and he swung a shot on goal that Dubnyk handled but he’d drop the puck to the ice and Saad tapped a puck that snuck over the goal line. 1-0 Blue Jackets. Minnesota would try to rally back but they seemed to be out of gas. The Wild tried to keep sending their big bodied forwards, but they couldn’t win the races to the puck or create much in the way of room near the crease. Even when they did manage to get shots on goal it was one-and-done as the Blue Jackets defenders were able to muscle off Wild forwards consistently. Columbus would then benefit from some power plays, and they would just work the puck in the offensive zone but not take any real risks with the man advantage. Minnesota threw all they had at the Blue Jackets late but it just wasn’t meant to be and they lost 1-0. On the bright side, the Wild’s team defense was vastly improved and gave up just 1 goal which in most circumstances is good enough to win the game.
Blake’s 3rd Period Thoughts: Start of the 3rd Blue Jackets were able to capitalize on an early goal. That was a big momentum swing in their favor. Also through the period the Blue Jackets where able to capitalize on power plays of their own. The Wild through out the period really struggled to get rebounds, and to create opportunities. Dubnyk even though he allowed the early goal in the 3rd was still able to play strong through the rest of the game. I really think this was a hard fought game, with a lot of great defensive hockey.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Hanzal, Jordan Schroeder, Ryan White, Chris Stewart, Erik Haula, Tyler Graovac, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Marco Scandella and Christian Folin. Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk. Nate Prosser was the lone healthy scratch this evening.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Sergei Bobrovsky, 2nd Star Brandon Saad, 3rd Star Devan Dubnyk
~ Attendance was 15,987 at Nationwide Arena.
Wild Prospect Report:
F – Joel Eriksson Ek (Farjestad, SHL) ~ the lanky forward was in major demand by other clubs hoping to nab the talented prospect from the Wild but Minnesota opted to deal picks instead. A big reason why is Eriksson Ek is progressing well as he was a point-per-game player in a short late-winter tournament scoring a goal and two helpers in 3 games for Team Sweden. The Karlstad, Sweden-native has held his own in Sweden’s top league albeit in limited action as he has 7 goals, 14 points, 10 PIM’s and is a +5 in 22 games.
G – Kaapo Kahkonen (Lukko, Sm-Liiga) ~ the 6’2″, 227 lbs goaltender is having a solid season in the Sm-Liiga. Kahkonen has a 11-10-9 record, a respectable 2.46 goals against average and a .924% save percentage in 30 starts this season.