Cleaning up the house a little better than normal, wrapping up the gifts and making plans to travel are all a part of the holidays. The Minnesota Wild are going on a 4-game road trip just prior to the Christmas break, which brings about a rare league-wide respite. After losing 3-2 to the Oilers yesterday in St. Paul the Wild make their way to Chicago to take on their nemesis who happens to have the same amount of points as Minnesota in the standings in what will be a game with 4-point swing potential.
Saturday’s game no doubt left a bad taste in the mouth of fans and especially Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau so will the Wild play like a team with a chip on its shoulder or will they look sleepy and uninspired against Chicago. They better be careful as Chicago curbstomped Winnipeg (in Winnipeg) 5-1 in their last game. So will the Wild bounce back with a win and in the Windy City?
1st Period Thoughts: I hate to say it in fear of jinxing matters, but I like the jump that the Wild seem to have in the first few minutes. Less then 2 minutes in, and Minnesota already has five shots on goal. I mean we’ve had games where in 17 minutes, you maybe have 3 shots on goal. Players have some jump in their legs. However the penalties are going to start early. More of the usual stick infractions, which is a sign of not moving feet. One should not be surprised that this first lazy, flatfooted, checking with the stick penalty would go to Mikko Koivu. It’s had to build on the momentum your skaters create when you take penalties you shouldn’t be taking. Thankfully the Wild’s penalty killers were again up to the task. Now they need to figure out how to tip the ice in the other direction. It looked for a moment that we were going to be without Matt Dumba after we just got Jared Spurgeon back in the lineup. He took a shot on his left arm which made him drop his stick and then it appeared that he wasn’t able to use it. Thankfully it was most likely more of a stinger, because he would re-take the ice a few shifts later. I am pleased to see that even after the penalty, pretty much every skater has kept their focus, and continues to find ways to not get penned into their own zone and more importantly continue to get shots on Corey Crawford. The concern though, is that many times we have seen the Wild come out firing on all cylinders in the first period and then forget that there’s still 40 minutes left in regulation. And of course just as I’m feeling good about how the Wild are playing, the Blackhawks would get numbers going into the Wild’s zone, and Patrick Kane would find the back of Alex Stalock’s net. He and Nick Schmaltz would make some amazing passes to each other, but no one should be shocked at Kane’s ability to finish. If he gets the puck on his stick, there’s a good chance he’s going to get a good shot on goal, and he’s not afraid to shoot. Because of that lack of fear for shooting, he scores goals. You hear that Mikko? Wild skaters are looking for the loose pucks, Daniel Winnik having a great chance with the live boards at United Center. The Wild would get their first power player after Artem Anisimov was called for hooking. Now if Minnesota can continue to put some pressure on Crawford on the power play like they have even strength, we might be on to something. Chicago would successfully kill the penalty, but I think they are assisted by the fact that Koivu gets so much power play time. He doesn’t have the speed for the role and in fact, his hands seem “off” this season. He tried to get the puck out to Nino Niederreiter yet it gets either tangled up in his own skates or it’s stripped by the penalty killers. He’s been more of a playmaker over the seasons, but even that ability is questionable. In the waning seconds of the period, players like Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle are fighting for possession and getting shots on goal. However that hard work would create even penalties, Niederreiter for unsportmanlike conduct and Chicago’s John Hayden for roughing. With the exception of one Finnish center, I’m quite pleased with this period. If the Wild can build on this period and play a solid second period, they stand a good chance of tying this game.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild appear to have decided to let the Blackhawks get the shots on goal early in the period, as opposed to the start of the first period. The Wild would get just one shot on goal in the first three minutes, although I will admit I like the shot they did get. I feel like Minnesota is using their bodies better tonight than they have in other games, but then Chicago isn’t an overly physical team either. This seems like a much better matchup when it comes to using their bodies. The Wild’s penalty kill would get tested again, with Jason Zucker getting called for tripping in the offensive zone. Another positive I feel like I’m seeing is the faceoff circle. The Wild aren’t getting booted from the faceoff like they have in other games. It also feels like they’re winning faceoffs. Now they may not fully control the puck on the faceoff win, but I’ll take it. I had to take a look at the in-game stats, and as we near the midway point of the period and the game, Minnesota is winning in the faceoff circle. This certainly helps kill the penalty, which the Wild have done again. At some point, it has to pay off. Of course that also means that they need to continue this trend. Yet they’re going to get another chance to test their penalty kill as the Wild were called for the too many men penalty as Coyle jumped on the ice, the puck hit his skate as Matt Cullen was crawling over the boards. Stalock got a little feisty with the officials as he clearly had the puck frozen under his pads yet the referee claimed he could still see the puck. Really? How? Stalock almost resembled a turtle, there is absoltely no way referee Dan O’Rourke saw a loose puck. This is turning into a typical second period with the lack of shots by the Wild. Right now with just over 6 minutes left in the period, the Wild have gotten three shots on goal to the Blackhawks 19. It’s hard to generate any kind of serious offense when you’re not getting shots on goal. At this point, I wouldn’t even care if they were low percentage shots. While I’m worrying about just getting shots on goal, Kane gets a stretch pass off the bench while everyone is switching players, and he’s able to go five-hole on Stalock and make it 2-0. Instead of finding a way to to re-focus on the job at hand, Cullen would take an offensive zone penalty for tripping. Minnesota would again kill the penalty. While I should feel good about that, I would feel much, MUCH better if the Wild would stop taking so many penalties. The fact that so many are stick related (tripping, slashing, hooking), it just shows a lack of effort. And with the end of another abysmal second period, I’m wishing more and more that I could just turn this game off.
3rd Period Thoughts: Who feels like waving the white flag for the season? I do. As it took less then two minutes into the period for Ryan Hartman to score the first goal of the third period. And then shortly after that goal, Ryan Suter would take a boarding call for catching a turning Brandon Saad. That makes for five penalties for the Wild with only one power play in their favor. With all the penalty kill practice Minnesota gets every game, it should come as no surprise that they would be able to kill yet another penalty. The Wild would finally break the seal on their lack of goals with an even strength blast from the blue line by Matt Dumba. Again it feels very much like too little too late. The goal felt completely anti-climactic. I mean, how does one get excited when they’ve been essentially unable to generate any offense since the first period? And then comes the sixth penalty of the game, with Joel Eriksson Ek getting called for interference. And again, they kill another penalty but you don’t win games by killing penalties. By taking so many penalties, all you end up doing is greatly reducing your possession time which of course reduces scoring chances. The Wild would get their second power play of the night with Vinnie Hinostroza called for slashing. Of course for whatever unknown reason, Koivu gets precious power play time. I have to wonder more and more what head coach Bruce Boudreau sees in Koivu. I sure as hell don’t see it. With over four minutes remaining in regulation, Boudreau will pull Stalock. He’ll make that bold move, but he won’t bench Koivu. He won’t put him in the press box. And with that empty net and the Blackhawks on the penalty kill, they have free shots at the empty net. This allows Tommy Wingels to score the empty net, shorthanded goal. With that goal, Stalock is put back in the net. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said a million times. I’m tired of watching this team.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Charlie Coyle, Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Chris Stewart, Eric Staal, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Daniel Winnik, Zack Mitchell, Tyler Ennis, Mikael Granlund, Mike Reilly, Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Nate Prosser, and Jared Spurgeon. Alex Stalock got the start in goal while Steve Michalek serving as backup while Devan Dubnyk is out with a week-to-week injury.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Patrick Kane; 2nd Star, Corey Crawford; 3rd Star, Ryan Hartman.
~ Attendance was 21,813 at United Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 3, Chicago 6
In Ozzy Osbourne’s song “Might as well be on Mars” he has a line where he talks about being so close and yet so far, you might as well be on Mars. That is kind of how this strange game turned out between the Wild and the Wolves. Penalties were a constant theme all game long, just simple minors that seemed to keep either club on special teams most of the contest. Iowa would go on its second power play as former Gopher Jake Bischoff went to the box for slashing. On the man advantage a turnover near the blueline turned into an odd man chance for T.J. Tynan and he beat Adam Vay to give the Wolves a 1-0 advantage on a shorthanded tally. Iowa would regroup with what was left of Bischoff’s penalty and Luke Kunin would beat Kasimir Kaskisuo tying the game at 1-1 just under a minute later. Later in the period and another Iowa power play it was deja vu as Tynan forced another turnover and he’d beat Vay once again to give the Wolves a 2-1 lead. Iowa again stay focused and they’d score with the remainder of the power play as Zach Palmquist blasted a shot from the point to skate into the 1st intermission tied at 2-2. Chicago carried most of the play in the 2nd period as the Wild hoped to avoid being blitzed by the Wolves. Teemu Pulkkinen would score late in the 2nd on a slap shot that rang off the post and in to give Chicago a 3-2 lead going into the 3rd. Iowa would earn a power play early in the 2nd and they’d cash in as Sam Anas pounced on a loose puck and buried it by Kaskisuo tying the game at 3-3. The next few minutes it appeared as if the game was destined for overtime. But the wheels would come off as Tynan lit the lamp after a turnover in the neutral zone and then he beat Vay with ease to get a hat trick. A minute or so later the Wolves would extend their lead as Tomas Hyka sent a shot off the blocker of Vay and then back off Hyka and into the back of the net, 5-3 Chicago. The Wolves’ Wade Megan would add an empty netter and what was once a tied game turned into a 6-3 blowout. Vay had 37 saves in the loss.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Ivan Lodnia (Erie, OHL) ~ armed with a 3-year entry deal boost of confidence, Lodnia continues to pile up the points as he had two assists (4 shots on goal) in Erie’s 3-0 win over North Bay on Saturday. Lodnia has 16 goals, 38 points, 14 PIM’s and is a +7 in 34 games.