5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Happy New Year’s everyone! Another year is behind us and as always people often feel compelled to put that previous year in perspective. Was it a good year? What would we change about if if we could? That of course leads people to make those famous weak promises (for most who do) to ourselves with the ‘New Year’s Resolution.’ A time were people vow to lose weight or work out more as they gorge themselves on snacks and alcohol. Of course these ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ sound so good when you say them as its usually about correcting something about habits or activities. Habits are difficult to break so most of these resolutions go by the wayside pretty quick. So if the Minnesota Wild could pass its own ‘New Year’s Resolution’ what do you think it should be? To stay healthier? To score more goals? To battle harder against opposing forwards who want to camp out near our crease? If you’ve ever listened to or watched a post-game interview with Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo a word he loves to use is ‘respond’. He is always interested to see how his team responds after a good game, or a game with lots of adversity, or a game where almost nothing seemed to go right. In essence, he is the kind of guy that always is waiting to see if that ‘resolution’ comes to fruition. For example, if there was a game where you were not getting enough shots on goal; he wants his team to respond with more shots on goal for the next game. Let’s completely change direction for a bit. What about prophecy? These are really the ultimate ‘resolutions’ because they go beyond just a declarative statement about what a person is going to do but rather a prediction of the future. There is no more popular prophecy right now than the Mayan prophecy of civilization’s ultimate demise that is said to be coming on December 21st, 2012 when their calendar finishes its 6th long count cycle and doom will embrace us all.
Are the Wild and the rest of human civilization doomed in 2012?
We’ve heard this story before. Y2k was supposed to bring about a similar collapse, but all it did was serve as a boon to those who sold canned food, batteries and electric generators and a reason to make fun of the few who did prepare themselves for a collapse that never arrived. Last year, two dates which a religious official claimed would be the Apocolypse came and went without incident. A few families quickly spent their life savings thinking the world was going to end only to find out the next day arrived and they had nothing. Yet, I am going to pose a tilt on this theme. Perhaps, these predictions were more or less an artificial motivator to see how we would respond. So you tell everyone that the world is going to end; how will they respond to this information. Will they selfishly horde food and build for themselves some kind of bunker hoping to defy the odds of some kind of catastrophic situation or will they simply live life as they always do. Or will they respond by being better to those around them. After last Thursday’s emotional 4-3 victory over Edmonton, Mike Yeo gave a sort of warning about how he hoped the team would not get too caught up in the game it just played so it could focus on taking care of business tonight. He said that teams that often go through an emotional win like they did often suffer a let down in their next game. While that certainly is no prediction to an end to civilization as we know it, it was a declaration that was made with the hope he’d see his team respond. So will the Wild respond with another victory tonight or will 2011 end with disappointment?
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1st Period Thoughts: If you ever needed an adjective to describe the first period, ‘ugly’ would be it. The puck just seemed to bounce around, and neither team seemed to be able to control the puck very well. Lately, one of those little things that can often be game changers has been annoying more than usual. I don’t know what it is about this year’s Wild team, but they seem to struggle to clear the zone, simply because they don’t get enough speed on the puck. Now, I know they want to avoid icing the puck, but one would think that this is a basic hockey skill, one that they’ve been practicing forever and ever. However, I cannot express how annoying it is when those failed clearing attempts time after time either lead to an opponent goal or a near goal. Those never should happen, because the puck should have been cleared in the first place. It’s even more frustrating when on the penalty kill when there simply is no penalty to send the puck down the end of the ice. This basic hockey skill manifests itself in other areas as well. If you can’t clear the zone, it also will manifest itself in overall poor passing. Tonight was one of those nights where passing wasn’t exactly crisp. Well when there’s no strength on the pass, it’s kind of hard getting it to your teammate. If there was one positive aspect to the first period, and the entire game, it was that the Wild tended to control the faceoff. Usually, when you control the faceoff, it will bode well for the game in general. Whether that’s true about tonight, that has yet to be seen. Strangely enough, one of the best scoring chances of the period happened just before the midway point of the first, and stranger still, it came from Greg Zanon. Wild fans don’t normally look to Zanon to score goals. We generally look to him to prevent goals by blocking them by all means possible. The problem for both teams is that zone possession was inconsistent. Truth be told, both teams were probably happy to go into the first intermission with not allowing the other to score.
2nd Period Thoughts: The second period wasn’t much better when it came to the ‘beauty’ of the game. Minnesota really needed to come out firing on all cylinders and play an energetic period. It seemed in the early moments of the second period that both teams were ready to stretch their legs and try harder to make something happen. For the Wild, the passing was a little bit improved. Not great, but definitely an improvement over the first. However, just past the six minute mark, we all saw a glimmer of hope that perhaps things were going to improve more. The Wild have been a team where perseverance usually pays off. In the case of Nick Johnson, he was the true embodiment of the word. Were it not for his hard work in front of Curtis McElhinney, Minnesota’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard never would have had the first goal of the night. Johnson simply kept poking away, and was finally able to free it and send it over to Bouchard waiting at the other side of the crease, with an open net. Shortly after Bouchard’s goal, both Dany Heatley and Marek Zidlicky got chances of their own, unfortunately they did not turn into goals. One has to imagine that eventually one of those chances will become a goal for Zidlicky. The Bouchard goal also seemed to serve as a wake-up call for Phoenix. Thanks to some lax defense by the Wild, Ray Whitney found himself with essentially a clear lane to the goal. If not for Niklas Backstrom, the game would have been tied. In the second half of the period, Minnesota definitely tried to tilt the ice in their favor, but for whatever reason, they simply could not score another. With just over six minutes left in the period, Zanon took an untimely and blatant holding penalty. It would be due to this penalty, that the Wild find themselves facing a tied game. While ultimately Daymond Langkow would get credit for the powerplay goal, it would ultimately be scored by Minnesota defensemen Jared Spurgeon. Backstrom called for a hit with a high stick. Yes, it was hit with a high stick, unfortunately that high stick belonged to his own teammate. Therefore, it is a good goal. While the period seemed to belong to Minnesota, that one power play goal would seem to take the momentum from them. Thankfully, the Wild didn’t fully give all their energy away after that goal, and in fact had some offensive zone time of their own. For both teams, they have to be much happier with their play, especially with both getting a goal out of it.
3rd Period Thoughts: The first six minutes of this period were not kind to Minnesota. I’m sure Radim Vrbata would disagree with that, as he scored two goals within about two minutes. What started as a comfortable 1-1 tie suddenly felt out of control and out of reach. And for a team like the Wild where scoring is not a forte, you hate to be down by two goals. While Backstrom has been strong most of the game, especially when his skaters leave him out to dry, was not at his best on the second Vrbata goal. However I, along with Wild fans everywhere, should realize that you can’t count this year’s team as down and out when they find themselves down a goal or two. It’s amazing how quickly things can change. Cullen rushes down the ice and suddenly find his feet pulled out from beneath him. As we all know, when your skates get pulled from you without the opposing skater playing the puck, a penalty shot is awarded. When we get down to it, we should count our lucky stars that is was Cullen that was pulled down because had it been some unfortunate soul like Greg Zanon taking the penalty shot, we’d still be down by two goals. Instead, Cullen scores off the crossbar. That extremely timely goal seemed to inspire Minnesota to skate harder. They also were fortunate that just under a minute later, Minnesota found themselves on their first power play of the night due to Michael Rosival sending the puck over the glass. Now while they were unable to get the all-important game-tying goal, you get the feeling that they felt the need to push themselves even more. In the last five minutes, we saw point-blank shots by Cal Clutterbuck and Dany Heatley and you have to just shake your head and wonder how they didn’t go in. And Heatley continued to pour it on. From the point, Heatley got another fantastic shot on goal, only to go unrewarded. However, no matter how hard they tried, they simply could not get another puck past McElhinney. And to add insult to injury, Mikko Koivu found himself pushed down from behind in front of the Phoenix goaltender. While he was wondering why there was no penalty, Whitney scored an empty netter to all but finish off Minnesota.
~ The Wild roster this early evening was as follows: Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Darroll Powe, Dany Heatley, Colton Gillies, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Johnson, Matt Kassian, Jed Ortmeyer, Warren Peters, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, Nick Schultz. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game according to the fans were: 1st star, Radim Vrbata; 2nd star, Matt Cullen; 3rd star, Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
~ Attendance was 19,297 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The Houston Aeros struck early and often in a 5-2 victory over in-state rival the San Antonio Rampage Friday night. Cody Almond and David McIntyre scored to give Wild’s AHL affiliate a 2-0 lead going into the 2nd. Jeff Taffe would score his 7th goal of the season and McIntyre would add another to give Houston a 4-0 advantage. Angelo Esposito‘s goal halfway through the 2nd tried to stem the tide but it was too late. The Rampage would scored late in the 3rd on the power play, but it wasn’t enough as Jeff Penner sealed an Aeros victory with the empty netter. Matt Hackett was very busy, stopping 38 shots for the win.
World Junior Championships Update:
Why did Finland’s win over Denmark seal Team USA’s fate?
USA 2, Czech Republic 5 – The 2011 WJC’s turns into a disaster for the Americans as they are dropped to the relegation round after falling 5-2 to the Czech’s Thursday afternoon. Wild prospect and Team USA captain, Jason Zucker absorbed much of the blame saying he felt he didn’t lead well enough although its hard to fault him too much for their loss as he led the Americans with an assist and 10 shots on goal! The game was not a good showing for another Wild prospect Charlie Coyle who was held scoreless and was a -1. To add insult (literally) to injury, Team USA faces Canada tomorrow in what could really be one ugly game with the Americans having nothing to play for other than pride.
Sweden 9, Slovakia 1 – Wild goaltending prospect Johan Gustafsson had the day off, but he got to enjoy his nation’s complete domination of Slovakia in a 9-1 rout. Minnesota forward prospect and Swedish team captain, Johan Larsson had a strong game tallying 2 assists as well as going 64.7% on his faceoffs. Last summer’s top pick, Jonas Brodin also found his way onto the score sheet, registering an assist for the team that seems to be one of the few that may have a chance to challenge a powerful Canadian squad but they will face their toughest test so far when they meet Russia tonight.
Finland 10, Denmark 1 – Finland provided the dagger that pushed TeamUSA into the relegation round (as it made them a statistical impossibility to avoid relegation) after they crushed Denmark 10-1 on the power of 4 goals by Detroit Red Wings prospect Teemu Pulkkinen. Wild prospect Mikael Granlund also had a big day, with 4 helpers (most of them for Pulkkinen’s goals) finishing with a +4 as well as going 68.4% on his faceoffs. Finland can put themselves in a great position if they can beat Czech Republic on what should be a pretty good game.
Wild Prospect Update:
F – Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ After a nice holiday break, the Gophers commenced their holiday classic with a game against Niagara on Friday. The Gophers blitzed the Nighthawks 5-1, and the Wild prospect chipped in a goal and an assist. The Pori, Finland-native is 3rd on the team with 10 goals but tied for first in points (27) with Nick Bjugstad.
G – Stephen Michalek (Harvard, ECAC) ~ Michalek and the Crimson faced the ever dangerous North Dakota Fighting Sioux. The Crimson put a bit of a scare as they scored first to take a 1-0 lead but after that it was a back and forth struggle before ending in a 4-4 tie. Michalek stopped 33 shots for the stalemate.