“All around me are familliar faces, worn out places, worn out faces, bright and early for their daily races, goin’ nowhere, goin’ nowhere, their tears fillin’ up their glasses, no expression, no expression, hide my head I want to drown my sorrow, no tomorrow, no tomorrow” is the opening verse of the Tears for Fears song, Mad World. It has been covered by Gary Jules more recently and yes it is a bit Emo, but it is tough not to feel that way as the painful reality of another season without the NHL playoffs in the State of Hockey is about to come true. While some Minnesota fans may be relishing the ridiculous 8-year, $184-million ($23 million per season) contract hometown hero Joe Mauer signed with the Twins, for hockey fans the glum fate of their hockey team and the close of another NHL season sooner rather than later is a bit depressing. Oh one last thing about the Mauer signing, just to put that into perspective he will be making per season just over 1/3 of the Wild’s salary cap by himself, in fact early on his yearly salary was more than Minnesota’s entire inaugural season payroll! Back to hockey, I know for myself it is like going through withdrawal and the offseason seems to be an eternity.
The Wild have a rough home stretch of games as they finish off the 2009-10 season with games against San Jose, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago just in the month of March alone. That almost sounds worse than the road to the Final Four of your favorite 16th seed had to face. So will the Wild manage to relish the role of spoiler and earn a victory over the Flames or will Minnesota be torched the way Mauer just torched the Twins with his gawdy deal (if they have $184 million to pay Mauer why didn’t they spend that money for a retractable roof)?
Minnesota seemed fragile and hesitant right away as the Flames dumped the puck into the Wild zone early and Jarome Iginla blasted a shot on goal forcing Josh Harding to make a save in the early saves of the game. The Flames continued to try to work the puck deep in the Wild zone and cycle it towards the slot where Niklas Hagman fanned on the opportunity and Minnesota would counter attack as Martin Havlat raced into the Calgary zone where he tried a centering pass to a crashing Andrew Ebbett who was hooked by Ales Kotalik resulting in a Wild power play. On the man advantage the Wild struggled to get set up in the Calgary zone, but once they did Cam Barker would rifle a shot that was deftly redirected by Guillaume Latendresse that was stopped by Vesa Toskala. Minnesota would come up empty on the man advantage and Calgary would try to go back on the attack. Calgary’s strategy was direct, hoping to use Iginla and company to cycle the puck down low and to create some space in the slot but Minnesota was battling well along the boards and was able to alleviate the pressure. Minnesota’s 2nd line would show some good hustle and energy to create a quality scoring chance of their own as Martin Havlat dished a pass out front to Latendresse who slammed a shot on goal that was stopped by Toskala as a flurry ensued with Havlat, Kyle Brodziak and Latendresse poking away at it but it would be kicked to the corner. A few minutes later, Casey Wellman made his presence felt when he ripped a wicked wrist shot from the boards that Toskala stopped but he gave up a big rebound and unfortunately a crashing Nick Schultz wasn’t able to lift a shot over the sprawling Flames goalie. The pace of the game would start to increase and both teams were trying to create offense with good speed through the neutral zone. A great example of this, Cal Clutterbuck would race into the Flames zone to retrieve a dump in and after outworking Jay Bouwmeester for the puck he’d pass it around the boards to Chuck Kobasew who tapped a pass back to Kyle Brodziak who tried to take it towards the slot but he’d lose the handle and it was Clutterbuck picking up the loose biscuit to fire a quick shot that was stonewalled by Toskala. Moments later, the Wild’s Mikko Koivu would be tagged with a tripping penalty, one that would prove to be very costly. Just seconds into the Flames power play, Steve Staios would step into a slap shot that was partially deflected by the skate of Minnesota’s Andrew Ebbett and the puck would elude Harding to put the Flames up 1-0. Minnesota would answer right back as the top line worked the puck well down low and Mikko Koivu set up Andrew Brunette who beat Toskala on a tricky shot that he banked off of the Flames netminder to tie the game at 1-1. Calgary tried to answer back as Mark Giordano dangled around a few Wild defenders for a quick shot that was gloved by Harding. Minnesota’s energy line of Clutterbuck, Kobasew and Brodziak would create some more havoc in the Flames’ zone as Clutterbuck ripped a rising slap shot from the point that Toskala struggled with and the Wild kept the zone and they’d fire another shot that Toskala steered aside. Minnesota would earn another power play when Kyle Brodziak took a high stick from On the man advantage, the Wild again struggled to get established in the offensive zone as Calgary was challenging well. The Wild looked disorganized, and you could sense the crowd’s level of anxiety as you could hear a few boo’s from the Xcel Energy Crowd but Minnesota would help silence that pessimism when Owen Nolan finally pushed the puck down low to Guillaume Latendresse who skated towards the crease where he beat Toskala with a backhander 5-hole. The Flames would try to answer right back as Jay Bouwmeester wound up and blasted a shot that stung Kyle Brodziak who blocked it but Calgary would pick up the loose biscuit and work it towards the crease where Harding would knock it down before covering it up. With just 10 seconds left in the period, the Flames would win the faceoff and draw it back to Steve Staios who unloaded a slapper that didn’t miss by much and on the tail end of the play as time expired, Josh Harding was ran over by a combination of Matt Stajan and Jarome Iginla to no call. Minnesota still had to feel good about holding onto a 2-1 lead going into the 2nd period.
Calgary would try to re-establish its cylcing game to start the 2nd period and they had Minnesota scrambling in its own zone that was only foiled by its own errant pass. The Flames would have a great scoring chance minutes later as David Moss took a Craig Conroy pass and move towards the Wild crease where Moss fired a shot that was stopped by Harding and Calgary crashed the crease and somehow Conroy’s rebound chance was cleared out of the zone. Minnesota went on the attack itself and a fine hustle play by Casey Wellman caused a bad pass that was intercepted by Kyle Brodziak who blistered a slap shot that was stopped by Toskala who fell backwards onto his back and Chuck Kobasew would sneak a shot through the sprawling goalie to give the Wild a 3-1 lead. Flames Head Coach Brent Sutter had seen enough of Toskala so he sent Miikka Kiprusoff between the pipes. Calgary tried to respond as Ian White took a small pass from the boards and he wound up and rifled a shot that would strike Daymond Langkow in the back up near the name plate and he’d lie on the ice clearly a bit worse for the wear as the Flames and Wild training staff went onto the ice to look at the Flames winger. It was a scary moment as the doctors and other medical staff wheeled out a stretcher to take Langkow off the ice as he seemed to have some level of awareness as you could see him talking with the trainers. On the play, it was Greg Zanon who cross checked Langkow slightly and he’d fall forward and duck down from the shot and the puck hit him. With the entire Flames bench standing around him as well as a good portion of the Wild out on the ice Langkow would recieve a nice semblance of applause. On the ensuing faceoff, the Wild had some good forechecking pressure as Martin Havlat dangled a puck into the slot area that was picked up by Andrew Ebbett who ripped a shot that was blocked. The Flames would immediately go on the counter attack and it was Ian White moving down the slot where he’d rip a shot that was partially deflected by a diving Ebbett and off the post and by Harding to cut the Wild lead to one, 3-2. Minnesota seemed to be playing very conservatively as they seemed to be content to just defend their lead. The Wild would finally show a little fire as the top line created some havoc as Koivu flung a diagonal pass towards the crease that Greg Zanon tried to tap in but he’d miss the puck, but Koivu would gather it up and take it beneath the goal line as he fed Wellman for a point-blank range chance and he was robbed by Kiprusoff. The Flames would come close to taking advantage of two Wild players (Cal Clutterbuck and Brent Burns) losing their sticks as Calgary seemed to be on a power play but the hustle of prevented the Flames from creating any quality scoring chances. Minnesota tried to respond with a scoring chance of their own as Marek Zidlicky stepped into a shot from the point that was redirected just inches wide of the goal by Latendresse. The Flames would find some time and space and Niklas Hagman rocketed a shot that was blocked aside by Harding. A few minutes later, the Wild would showcase some outstanding hustle as Cal Clutterbuck dangled around a defender and then passed a puck from his knees to Mikko Koivu who ripped a shot that was steered wide by Kiprusoff but the Flames were unable to clear the zone on a great play by Brent Burns who then stickhandled around a few Calgary defenders to dish a pass over to Kobasew who ripped a shot underneath the arm of Kipper to give Minnesota a 4-2 lead. The Flames’ Jamal Mayers would try to agitate a bit as he attempted to goad John Scott but Mayers would not oblige the big Wild defenseman’s request to drop the gloves. Minnesota would have to feel good about carrying a two-goal lead into the 2nd period.
The Flames were moving the feet well early on, forcing Minnesota to chase a bit to start the 3rd period. The game had sort of a sleepy feel as Minnesota was not taking any unneccessary risks and perhaps their conservative approach would cause Wild Head Coach Todd Richards to call a timeout to give his team a small break and talk things over. Minnesota would dodge a bullet early after the timeout as Hagman found his way behind the Wild defense and he attempted to dangle a puck by Harding who stretched out to make the stop and got up a little slowly. Speaking of getting up slowly, so would Jamal Mayers as he was obliterated by a huge hit delivered by Guillaume Latendresse. Mayers would return to his bench a big banged up, but the Flames would respond with another goal as Cory Sarich would wind up and unload a slap shot that somehow made it through a good Calgary screen and trickling through the pads of Harding and into the goal to cut Minnesota’s lead to one, 4-3 (Eric Nystrom would get credit for the tally). A strange side effect of Latendresse’s hit, it damaged the door to one of the Minnesota penalty box and this would cause a delay while they repaired the door. After a few minutes they sealed up the Minnesota penalty box and play would resume. Minnesota had a terrific chance early after the long stoppage when Antti Miettinen cranked a slap shot that was stopped up high near Kiprusoff’s mask as he’d hold on for a save. The Wild continued to swarm and a nice play by Cam Barker to ring a pass along the boards down to Andrew Brunette who wasted little time in feeding it out front to Mikko Koivu who snapped a quick shot just wide of the Flames’ goal. Moments later a nice strong play on the puck by Andrew Ebbett to keep his feet after a nice hit by Rene Bourque and control as he carried it down beneath the goal line before feeding a pass between the legs of Bouwmeester to Martin Havlat who chipped a shot that was snagged out of the air by Kiprusoff. Minnesota was hustling well and counter attacking against the Flames’ attempts to get their cycle going. The physicality was starting to increase as both teams were desperate to close out this game, and Ales Kotalik would inadvertently trip up Cam Barker who would fall awkwardly into the boards and he’d struggle to get back to his skates but luckily for the Wild he would skate to his bench under his own power. A bad turnover in the neutral zone turned into a 3-on-1 for the Flames as Jarome Iginla as he’d fire a shot that was knocked down by Harding and he ended up getting run into by Marek Zidlicky but Minnesota’s defense would collapse and manage to clear the puck out of danger. The Wild were playing rope-a-dope just hoping to dump the puck deep and force the Flames to bring the puck up the full-length of the ice as the clock could not count down soon enough. Latendresse would help out defensively by taking Craig Conroy off the puck with a nice shoulder and Minnesota went on the counter attack but Andrew Ebbett’s centering pass failed to click. Calgary was looking for turnovers in the neutral zone as Iginla would steal a puck from Martin Havlat and Iginla would move in and he’d cannonade a shot that missed high and wide. With just over a minute left, the Flames would pull Kiprusoff for an extra attacker. Minnesota was challenging well, and Marek Zidlicky flipped a shot on goal that was stopped by a diving play by Mark Giordano. The Flames would regroup and enter the Wild zone with good speed and Calgary nearly tied the game on a cross-ice pass that was one-timed by Rene Bourque that missed just wide and Minnesota would prevail in a 4-3 victory.
Josh Harding was solid making 29 saves in the victory, providing the Wild with some great saves with some traffic near his crease that seemed to be very close to goaltender interference. The goals that did beat Harding were due to deflections so he was seeing the puck very well all game. Defensively, having Brent Burns return was significant in his ability to move the puck efficiently and his ability to help offensively allowed for Chuck Kobasew to score the game winner. Greg Zanon continues to be a warrior who insists on going back out there despite having a cracked bone in his ankle and numerous other bruises as he’s stood in there to block 90+ mph slap shots. Minnesota’s defense was physical when it had to be, and the Wild’s forwards were helping out by hustling and sweeping aways the loose pucks the defense had missed.
Offensively the Wild were counter attacking well and eluding the Flames forecheck with good short passes, as well as forechecking well to cause Calgary plenty of trouble in their own zone. Chuck Kobasew really has come alive lately, as he has finally appeared to return to game shape after his long absence with a knee injury. Minnesota had great pressure from all of its lins as Casey Wellman continues to provide a good offensive spark and finished the game with an even rating. His speed and good hockey sense is very clear and he seems to be poised to finally light the lamp himself. The Wild got contributions from its usual suspects but Kobasew’s emergence gives Minnesota a nice secondary scoring option it has lacked all season. The power play was nothing to get excited about and seems to work best when its kept simple. Too many times the Wild have tried to be a little too fancy with their puck movement and a little too predictable to when they’re going to finally shoot giving the opposition’s penalty kill a chance to block the shot and make something happen shorthanded.
Wild Head Coach Todd Richards, felt the injury to Langkow and the boards repair issue caused his team to lose energy and focus and that really is impossible to deny. The Wild did show resilience and good hustle down the stretch to outwork the Flames for the victory. It is too bad they didn’t bring this sort of effort the last two games where it could have mattered in the playoff race; although I am sure Detroit certainly appreciates the help we gave them today. The Wild have another tough challenge when the Sharks come to town on Tuesday, and they better be prepared to put forth a similar gritty effort if they wish to come away with another victory and with the Coyotes nipping at San Jose’s heels (fins?) they will be focused and ready to bring their “A” game as they hope to keep the Pacific Division firmly in their grasp.
~ The Wild roster this afternoon is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Antti Miettinen, Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Ebbett, James Sheppard, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Guillaume Latendresse, Casey Wellman, John Scott, Brent Burns, Cam Barker, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz and Marek Zidlicky. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Robbie Earl, Derek Boogaard, Jaime Sifers and Nate Prosser were the healthy scratches. Shane Hnidy, Clayton Stoner were out with lower body injuries while Justin Falk and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are out of the lineup with concussion-like symptoms.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were: 1st Star Chuck Kobasew, 2nd Star Mikko Koivu, 3rd Star Brent Burns
Houston Aeros Report:
Record: 29-30-6-4 68 points Last in West Division
Houston 1, Milwaukee 3
Like the Wild, the Houston Aeros are languishing as they get close to the conclusion of the 2009-10 season. Last night’s game against arch-rival Milwaukee was a case in point why the Aeros struggled this year, a chronic lack of offense often doomed the team despite having quality goaltending most nights. The other reason for the Aeros’ latest slide is a lack of discipline by taking foolish penalties and forcing lesser experienced defenseman to have more ice time than they probably should. Just 47 seconds into this game Colton Gillies put the Aeros down a man when he was tagged with a boarding call. This was an early momentum killer and only some tremendous goaltending by Anton Khudobin was able to prevent the Aeros from trailing after the 1st period. At the start of the 2nd, the Aeros quickly found themselves on the penalty kill as J.P. Testwuide would earn a hooking call. The Aeros were showing some desperation as they tried to crash the crease, hoping to get something by the Admirals’ Mark Dekanich, but instead of lighting the lamp they were marching to the penalty box as both Colton Gillies and Danny Irmen would each get to sit 2:00 for goaltender interference. Former New York Rangers’ 1st round pick, Hugh Jessiman would break the stalemate by rifling a wrist shot by Khudobin to give Milwaukee a 1-0 lead going into the 3rd. Penalties continued to plague Houston, and a hooking call on J.P. Testwuide would prove to be costly the Admirals would add to their lead when Alexander Sulzer slid a pass over to his defensive partner Teemu Laakso who stepped into a slapper that found the back of the net just as Testwuide’s penalty expired. Houston would try to rally back and as they began to swarm about the Milwaukee zone, the Admirals’ Nick Spaling tried to clear the zone instead his attempt cleared the glass at Toyota Center and he’d go to the penalty box for delay of game. The Aeros were mythodical moving the puck from the half wall and out to the point where Maxim Noreau blistered a shot on goal that was stopped by Dekanich and Jean-Michel Daoust moved in and banged home the rebound to cut the Admirals’ lead in half, 2-1. With the Admirals lead cut to one it seemed as though Houston was back in the game and luck appeared to smile on the Aeros when Milwaukee’s Ben Guite was tagged with a goaltender interference penalty putting the home team back on the man advantage. However, the Admirals were far more aggressive on the penalty kill and Houston could not find the sort of time and space it used to such great effect the first time and they’d come up empty. Houston still tried to press for the equalizer but Milwaukee would take advantage of the Aeros’ aggressiveness and a turnover in the neutral zone would prove to be disastrous as Guite raced in the Houston zone before dishing a pass to Ryan Maki on a 2-on-1 and he’d bury it to lift the Admirals to seal a 3-1 victory. Khudobin had 26 saves in the loss. The Aeros play the Admirals again today in a 3:05 tilt.
WCHA Men’s Hockey Roundup:
3rd Place Game: Wisconsin 6, Denver 3
The Wisconsin Badgers take home the 3rd place trophy in the WCHA and it was senior Blake Geoffrion asserting himself well scoring 2 goals as the Badgers cruised to a victory. Denver’s heart just did not seem to be in it and Head Coach George Gwozdecky certainly was not happy with some of his better players as he benched them throughout most of the 3rd period. It will be interesting to see if the Pioneers can regroup to be a threat in the NCAA tournament. Denver starts the NCAA tournament by playing Atlantic Hockey’s RIT Tigers, and the Badgers’ first round opponent is the Vermont Catamounts.
Broadmoor Trophy Game: North Dakota 5, St. Cloud State 3
In a fantastically entertaining final game the Huskies jumped out to a two goal lead scoring twice in the first minute of the game on goals from Garrett Raboin and David Eddy. The Fighting Sioux would answer back with some excellent set ups by Evan Trupp who drew the defense towards him before dishing the puck to teammates Corban Knight and Brad Malone to tie the game at 2-2. The Fighting Sioux were relentless, using their superior size to work their way to the scoring areas, and their pressure would allow them to find the back of the net two times in the 2nd period from senior Chris Vande Velde and freshman phenom Danny Kristo. St. Cloud would score late in the 2nd to cut the North Dakota lead to one on another goal by Eddy, but that was as close as it ever got as the Huskies really poured it on in the final minute, peppering Brad Eidsness with shots only to have a misplay of the puck give Matt Frattin an easy empty netter to seal a 5-3 victory for the Fighting Sioux. It was North Dakota’s 3rd Broadmoor Trophy. St. Cloud State will face Northern Michigan Wildcats in the NCAA tournament while the Fighting Sioux will face the high powered Yale Bulldogs.