I should warn you right now this is not going to be my typical post-game report. Sorry if that was what you were hoping to read, but sometimes objectivity needs to be trumped with some raw emotion and this is one of those times. As I drove home from the game with my father. Yes, I know I’m 32 years old and my father is 60 but it doesn’t mean a father and son can’t enjoy a game together but as we made the trek back to the Northwest Suburbs I lamented to my dad about what I was going to write about this game. My dad’s cold and honest answer, was to simply type in a very large font “NO EFFORT AT ALL” and leave it at that. After watching one of the more pathetic losses of the 2010-11 season; it was tough to disagree with what he said. The effort was pathetic, and more less non-existent from most of the roster. The team started flat and with one lone exception which I will make note of a bit later the Wild had no jump in its skates nor hustle other than a very brief period of about 2 minutes towards the waning moments of the game. The Nashville Predators out hustled, outworked and outplayed the Wild in every facet of the game. They certainly deserve credit for taking it to the apathetic Wild and ending a 5-game losing streak in the process. However, the fact a team that down on its luck received such a paltry effort from the Wild is beyond me.
I have mentioned this before, but I coach high school football in Wisconsin and I don’t ride on the bus with the kids, I ride in the vans with most of the coaching staff. In those rides home from games; particularly after a loss those trips back to the high school can be very intense and analytical ranting sessions about players, decisions, officiating (at times), but often the most common complaint is about the team’s effort. I am not giving anything away here, afterall what is said in the van stays in the van as we like to say but for anyone that thinks coaches just make their way back home after a loss without discussing, reflecting and discussing some more about what happened after a loss is fooling themselves and I apologize if I shattered your perception of a perfectly quiet van ride back to school. Last night’s ride home felt a lot like those van rides after a loss. We discussed the boo’s from the crowd, we discussed our frustration about the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the team where it can appear completely different from one game to the next and we did our best to analyze what the team lacks (which at the time seemed to be just about everything) and why in many ways the game explains perfectly why the Wild are 13th in the Western Conference.
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I have spent the last few days watching lots and lots of hockey; one of my treats to being back home in Minnesota where the game is appreciated as it should be. Almost every holiday year I usually make my way to the Premier Hockey Classic at South St. Paul’s Wakota Arena. I go there to see a friend of mine, Head Coach Mike Taylor and his team, the Eagan Wildcats. Eagan is off to a terrific start having defeated #1 ranked (Class 2A) Eden Prairie on December 23rd, and then later they went on to defeat tournament host, South St. Paul 4-1 in convincing fashion to take home the championship after having trounced North St. Paul 7-0 and Woodbury 5-1 in the quarterfinals and semi-finals respectively. I couldn’t help but make connections between the way the Wild played and Eagan. Throughout the tournament, Eagan had great hustle, speed through the neutral zone and took every opportunity to take away time and space by being physical with each and every shift. Meanwhile the Wild rarely had any of those qualities against the Predators and on the rare instances where they did; especially the line of Matt Cullen, Chuck Kobasew and Patrick O’Sullivan managed to create a little havoc in the offensive zone but not nearly enough to put Nashville on its heels for any sustained amount of time. Eagan got terrific performances from its top 3 forwards Michael Zajac, Nick Kuchera and Will Merchant who all played like leaders and they led the Wildcats attack and carried the offensive play to their opponents, where almost every shift they had resulted in some level of offensive pressure. These players all looked to create opportunities to shoot the puck for themselves. It was a far less glowing story for the Wild whose top line of Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen were amazingly ineffective, no one really appeared to want to shoot the puck and seemed content to simply cycle it down low and hope one of the other linemates would finally take a chance to shoot the biscuit and the result was an awful lot of nothing getting accomplished. Doug Johnson of Let’s Play Hockey may have given Koivu the 3rd Star of the Game but I respectfully ask him to justify that because I saw a player who was going through the motions and loafing as he skated back to his bench at the end of a shift, hardly appropriate for any player let alone the team captain. If I was Head Coach Todd Richards, I might be considering taking away the “C” from Koivu because his leadership, whether it is as a vocal element in the locker room or by example by his play on the ice has left a lot to be desired. Eagan plays the game with the right amount of intensity,while the Wild only appear to be capable of that 50% when they are playing at home which is a slap to the face of fans who shelled out big money to watch them play.
I almost felt bad for Niklas Backstrom as he found himself under seige throughout most of the game and poor play in the defensive zone wasn’t helping as a very banged up Predators squad forechecked at will and even the 4th line was able to bottle up Minnesota’s top two lines with relative ease. Marco Scandella did not have a very good game and his inexperience was exposed through the steady puck pressure of the Predators, but even Scandella looked poised compared to the scared and timid play of Jared Spurgeon. Spurgeon, who is considerably smaller than his listed height and weight played like the young kid he looks like. For a player of his size, he is not very fast and lacks the quickness to win races to loose pucks even when he may be closer to it than an opposing forward. According to reports, the Wild coaching staff love the way he plays and again I’d really like to know why. What does the Wild really gain from a tiny, weak, timid defenseman who isn’t quick has little offensive prowess as far as I’ve seen. When Spurgeon is on the ice, its no coincidence, the opposing team goes on the attack and all Spurgeon can do is skate along side opposing forwards while he attempts vainly to poke check it away. In fact, watching Spurgeon’s defensive play reminds me a lot of former Wild blueliner Petteri Nummelin but at least with Nummelin you had a guy who could demonstrate some offensive creativity and at the very least some killer moves in the shootout. Why does such an ineffective player like Spurgeon get so much leniency when he makes his mistakes while Clayton Stoner gets exiled to the press box for multiple games at a time after only a few errors? If Stoner can’t do it, why not give Drew Bagnall, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk or even Tyler Cuma a shot? Why is Spurgeon the flavor du jour for the Wild coaching staff? Spurgeon to me is not much more effective than the Schweigert Hot Dog kid that they bring along to help the ice crew gather up all the snow during the intermissions.
The only player who I felt looked as though he was trying each and every shift was Martin Havlat, but even on his line he seemed very much alone out there. Havlat was the only player that would initiate scoring chances on his own and when the Wild finally scored it was his attempt that set up Chuck Kobsew‘s goal. Either way, there is no reason that only Wild player should’ve showed up after having a day off after another home game.
All in all it was a disastrous effort in a game where the team could have used the points to advance themselves in the standings. The Predators gave Minnesota opportunities to get back into the game; even the officials did so on a phantom delay of game call in the 1st period where the puck clearly went into the Wild’s bench and not the stands. So what did Minnesota do with those opportunities. They relaxed, and tried dumping and chasing against a team that clearly could outskate them from top to bottom. The result was a lot of pointless giveaways and power plays where almost nothing was accomplished other than frustrating the home crowd. Before the Wild tries to blame the fans, the fans gave Minnesota two full (and ineffective) power plays to clean up its act and when it didn’t during the 3rd power play did they finally voice their frustration. Former Minnesota Vikings and NFL Hall of Fame Head Coach Bud Grant once stated he felt the crowd should boo if the effort is not there on the field (ice) and I think all of those fans who voiced their displeasure were 100% within their rights. Boo loudly Wild faithful, do not accept a poor effort no matter if the season is a washout or not. We know the game, and we know how it should be played. Its about time the team and the players realized that.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, John Madden, Eric Nystrom, Brad Staubitz, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Chuck Kobasew, Matt Cullen, Martin Havlat, Patrick O’Sullivan, Jared Spurgeon, Nick Schultz, Marco Scandella, Greg Zanon, Cam Barker and Brent Burns. Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom. Clayton Stoner was the lone healthy scratch while Marek Zidlicky and Cal Clutterbuck were out of the lineup with upper body injuries. Guillaume Latendresse is still attempting to recover from November surgery to his lower body.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were: 1st Star Cody Franson, 2nd Star Pekka Rinne, 3rd Star Mikko Koivu
~ Attendance for tonight’s game was 18,285 at Xcel Energy Center.