In NASCAR, the sport wanted to add more interest in the annual competition to be the top driver at the end of their season so they tried to spice it up with ‘the Chase.’ Overall it didn’t matter and where it seemed promising that stock car racing would become mainstream it slipped back to being more of a niche sport. Hockey has also had its moments where its tried to go mainstream with some of its ‘spectacle’ games like Hockey in Vegas (not the expansion team but rather the 1991 game) or of course the Winter Classic and Stadium Series games. Still, the NHL is a niche sport and sometimes you have to simply be happy with that. Same goes for teams that are trying to feel the pressure of expectation. Instead of reaching for that next step and losing your way, sometimes the best thing to do is simply get back to basics.
That was certainly true for the Minnesota Wild on Friday night. It wasn’t the prettiest effort, but the team took a step back and played more unselfishly and the result was a 7-4 win against an ornery Florida Panthers’ squad. There are certainly portions of that game that were not anything to brag about, but they got the job done and did so with hard work so that is a positive. The Chicago Blackhawks have been struggling as of late too, but they seem to bring their best against Minnesota. Will the Wild finish the season series with a win?
1st Period Thoughts: It couldn’t get much uglier for the Wild to start a game giving up a goal just 51 seconds in and then another a few minutes later to spot Chicago a 2-goal lead. After watching Devan Dubnyk struggle against a few more shots, Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau had seen enough and he sent Dubnyk to the bench in favor of Darcy Kuemper. The Wild would pick up their game at both ends of the ice and Minnesota started to establish some quality time in the Chicago end. Minnesota would cut the Blackhawks’ lead in half as Nino Niederreiter set up Eric Staal. Minnesota was playing with more fluidity to its game and the pace was starting to intensify. Corey Crawford was looking focused and Chicago’s defenders were able to tie up the Wild’s forwards before they could get sticks onto any rebounds he was giving up.
2nd Period Thoughts: I thought the Minnesota Wild actually had a pretty good period even though they’d dig the hole they were in on the scoreboard a little deeper. Beyond one horrible shift by Ryan White where he took a penalty and then inexplicably just gave up on the play allowing Trevor van Riemsdyk get an easy tap in goal, I felt Minnesota really poured it on. In fact, the Wild outchanced and outworked Chicago most of the period. Initially in the 2nd the Wild were certainly going high glove on Corey Crawford but all too often and missing high and wide consistently. Minnesota was also settling for shots from the perimeter too much as well, but they’d change their approach and start shooting low to generate rebounds and from in close and suddenly quality chances started to manifest itself. I thought Nino Niederreiter was absolutely superb, using his speed well to create time and space and he had some terrific opportunities but Crawford was razor sharp. Crawford was doing a tremendous job on making the initial stop and Chicago’s defense were just strong enough to seal off Minnesota forwards before we could pounce on rebounds. The Wild were playing with a sense of urgency that we normally see saved for the final minutes of the 3rd period, but Minnesota had Chicago on its heels for a good 8 minutes of the 2nd period. The difference right now is Crawford, but from an energy standpoint the Wild played pretty well. Chicago had a few counter attacks the other way as Richard Panik just narrowly missed on a set up of Jonathan Toews but most were just token shots at best. If Minnesota keeps working this hard I think they’ll cut into that lead or tie it up.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild would replicate most of the good things they did in the 2nd in the 3rd. Minnesota would get an early goal as Mikael Granlund had a beautiful snipe cutting the Chicago lead to one. After that it was like watching the 2nd period all over again with the Wild dominating the play and setting up a plethora of chances and coming up just short or watching them be denied by Crawford. Minnesota was not able to get many shots through from the point, so they started to send defenseman down low and they had a few close calls as Jared Spurgeon ripped a sharp angle chance that missed by a few inches after a Crawford gave up a juicy rebound. The Wild were attacking in waves and Chicago was just holding on. Eventually the Wild would tire out a bit and they’d cash in as Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba got caught sleeping a bit and and long pass found Marian Hossa behind the defense and he would skate in and hammer a slapper high glove side on Kuemper. 4-2 and at that point it was pretty much game over. The Wild just didn’t have the legs to really push for the equalizer and while they had some more chances it wasn’t meant to be.
The decision to swap Darcy Kuemper after a rough start for Devan Dubnyk will no doubt be the big talk coming out of this game. In my opinion it was the right decision to make. Bruce Boudreau didn’t feel Dubnyk was sharp and so he switched goaltenders. It sent two clear messages; 1. Everyone is going to be held accountable, 2. Darcy, don’t get so mad, we still need you. Kuemper was positively fuming on the bench as he sat in the 3rd period against Florida and Bruce felt the two points were too important to pass up to not to go with his ‘ace.’ No matter how you slice it that was a backhanded insult to Kuemper, so I hope that on some level while Kuemper eats the loss for this game that he does feel he’s being treated at least more fairly by the Wild coaching staff. Dubnyk should get benched if he’s playing poorly.
Offensively the Wild created all kinds of chances but Crawford was outstanding. I thought the Zucker, Granlund, Koivu line were superb in the 3rd period and the Coyle, Niederreiter, Staal line was very solid in the 2nd. They were creating chances from in close and if Crawford isn’t great we probably win this game by 2-3 goals. I didn’t think we got much from Zach Parise and Jason Pominville though.
This was an example where the team gave a reasonable effort and was not rewarded with a win. It happens. There is zero reason to panic. The Wild have another tough one on Tuesday when they go play the Washington Capitals, but in some ways they’re fairly similar to the Blackhawks so it will be a good test to see if the team learned anything after today’s game.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Hanzal, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Chris Stewart, Ryan White, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser. Devan Dubnyk shared duties between the pipes with Darcy Keumper. Martin Hanzal, Christian Folin and Gustav Olofsson were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Corey Crawford, 2nd Star Patrick Kane, 3rd Star Duncan Keith
~ Attendance was 22,147 at United Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 5, Texas 1
With Minnesota playing back-to-back games, the High School State Hockey Tournament and college hockey getting closer to the playoffs it was easy to forget that the Wild’s farm team was also in action on Friday night. With nearly a week off to rest and recharge Iowa took it to an old rival with one of their most dominant performances in the last month or so. Iowa would jump out to a 2-0 lead on the strength of a power play goal by Sam Anas on a breakaway and an Alex Tuch snipe just 45 seconds later. In the 2nd period Texas would push respond with a goal of its own as former Rangers’ draft pick Ethan Werek cut the Iowa lead to one after a nice pass by Gemel Smith. Iowa wasted little time putting the game in the rear mirror with 3 quick goals early in the 3rd to put the game away. Iowa Wild Newcomer Michael Sdao made a good impression with a pretty deke that chased Maxime Legace from the crease in favor of Justin Peters. That didn’t help the Stars either as the Wild found the twine twice (on goals from Anas and Tuch) in a matter of 4 minutes to seal a 5-1 victory. Alex Stalock had 27 saves in the victory. Alex Tuch and Sam Anas both had two goals apiece while defenseman Maxime Fortunus and Mike Reilly both had two helpers.
Minnesota Boys State Hockey Tournament Summary:
Crease and Assist would like to give a ‘stick tap’ to all of the participating schools in this year’s tournament, making for another incredibly memorable year of high school hockey. From the newcomers to the games themselves, it was great competition with plenty of excitement that any hockey fan could appreciate.
Class A Champion: Hermantown Hawks (Won 4-3 2OT over Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake)
Class A 3rd Place: St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders (Won 2-1 over Northfield)
Class A Consolation: Delano Tigers (Won 6-3 over East Grand Forks)
Class A Herb Brooks Award: Charlie Voller (Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake)
Class A Coach of the Year: Moose Younghans (St. Paul Johnson)
Class A All-Tournament Team: Andrew Kruse and Ben Meyers (Delano), Casey Kallock (East Grand Forks), Jake Levinski and Jake Van Halbeck (St. Cloud Cathedral), Ben Ward, Charlie Voller, Nick Zwack and Tyler Klatt (Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake), Dylan Samberg, Jesse Jacques and Ryan Sandelin (Hermantown)
Class AA Champion: Grand Rapids Thunderhawks (Won 6-3 over Moorhead)
Class AA 3rd Place: Eden Prairie Eagles (Won 3-2 OT over Lakeville South)
Class AA Consolation: St. Thomas Academy Cadets (Won 5-0 over Wayzata)
Class AA Herb Brooks Award: Micah Miller (Grand Rapids)
Class AA Coach of the Year: Dave Esse (Cloquet-Esko-Carlton)
Class AA All-Tournament Team: Casey Mittlestadt, Nolan Sullivan (Eden Prairie), Isaiah DiLaura, Josh Ess (Lakeville South), Robbie Stucker (St. Thomas Academy), Carson Kosobud, Carter Randklev, Ethan Frisch (Moorhead), Blake McLaughlin, Gavin Hain, Micah Miller, Zach Stejskal (Grand Rapids)
Reed Larson Award (Top Defenseman): Dylan Samberg (Hermantown)
Frank Brimsek Award (Top Goaltender): Jake Begley (Hill-Murray)
Mr. Hockey Award (Top HS Player): Casey Mittlestadt (Eden Prairie)
Oh and one last thing…