A lot of people are expecting the Wild to get a harsh dose of reality in the Central Division. That may be true, but couldn't that also be true for the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche all of whom having enjoyed a heavy helping of Eastern Conference foes? Why do people around the league as well as many Wild fans seem to think the Wild are likely going to suffer? The Wild will wade into the tremendously cutthroat waters of a Conference where the 8th place team in the West would be in 2nd place in the East. The records for all teams in the Western Conference will likely will see some fluctuation. Minnesota has shown tremendous resilience this season (knock on wood) and few felt the hopeful expectations for its core of youngsters would come through but it has worked. The young players have made improvements to their game and stepped up to play important roles for the Wild and they will need to stand tall tonight against a very tough St. Louis Blues squad.
This is not your normal St. Louis Blues, a team that leans heavily on its goaltenders to win games and uses a gritty style of hockey where they hope to score just enough to win games. This Blues squad is one of the most explosive offenses in the league led by a breakout effort by Alex Steen who is scoring at torrid pace. The Blues have traditionally been a tough physical challenge for Minnesota and maybe we will find out if we're contenders or just pretenders. Which one will it be?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Wild had to feel more than a bit annoyed to start the period after Ryan Suter's wrist shot was deflected in by Zach Parise. NHL official Frederic L'Ecuyer would immediately waive off the goal, as he'd skate over to the scorekeepers table as they waited for the inevitable review from Toronto. After a very lengthy review of nearly 4 minutes they ultimately ruled 'no goal' even though the replay would show that Parise almost certainly made contact with the puck beneath the crossbar as he chopped the puck down to the ice where it bounced by Jaroslav Halak and in. Parise did have his stick above the crossbar as he started his downward swing but it was pretty obvious his stick was beneath it when the contact was made. As L'Ecuyer tried to make his case to Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo, he let the official know what he thought of his 'judgement.' As if on cue the Blues would strike just about 50 seconds later as Clayton Stoner had a pass intercepted by Jaden Schwartz who worked the puck to the point to Carlo Colaiacovo drove a slap shot that Niklas Backstrom stopped but Vladimir Sobotka followed it up and ripped a shot by the still recovering Wild goaltender and it was 1-0. The Wild had a little push back as the 2nd line would create a quality scoring chance as Jason Pominville fed a puck out to Jason Zucker for a quick shot by Halak held the post. However, the frustration from the disallowed goal seemed to have a little carry over as Ryan Suter was given an unsportsmanlike call, after bickering with the official on a waived off icing call. The Wild penalty kill did a great job at giving the Blues little to work with and thanks to some fine plays by Matt Cooke Minnesota would escape unscathed. Meanwhile the E-mail from the NHL on the no goal call was short and sweet.
At 0:30 of the first period in the Wild/Blues game, video review was inconclusive in determining whether Zach Parise's stick was below the level of the crossbar when he deflected the puck into the St. Louis net. Therefore, the referee's call on the ice stands. No goal Minnesota.
The Blues started to use their speed and grit to put the Wild on their heels and a big point shot by Jay Bouwmeester drew a big rebound that was pounced on by Alex Steen who powered by Jared Spurgeon and chipped a backhand up and over a sprawling Backstrom to make it 2-0. It just kept piling on against the Wild as a few minutes after Steen's goal, Vladimir Tarasenko would get into a little traffic and flail and draw a tripping call on Charlie Coyle. Again the Wild's penalty kill did a great job at anticipating the Blues' puck movement and were able to get sticks and bodies into shooting lanes and keep the puck away from Backstrom and Minnesota would again force St. Louis to come up empty on the man advantage. The Wild just couldn't mount much of a counter attack as St. Louis was really bottling Minnesota up in its own end. Its tough not to think the bogus no goal call sort of helped deflate the Wild bench and it appeared as though Minnesota was trying to fight through it the rest of the period. Not a big shock that St. Louis was outshooting the Wild 12-4. I liked what I was seeing from Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter, but the team has to dig deeper.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period was more of the same. The Blues controlling the pace of play with its superior strength on the puck getting the Wild to chase them all over their own zone. Minnesota was spending so much time trying to track down the puck the Wild was exhausted by the time they were able to exit their own zone so all they could do was dump the puck deep and then go on a line change. Making the challenge that much more difficult, was the fact Zach Parise, still hurting from an Alex Steen slap shot he blocked with the inside of his left skate towards the end of the 1st had him still in the locker room. He'd try to come back but after a few shifts he'd retreat back to the locker room a second time. The Blues pressure kept drawing power plays as Jared Spurgeon was given an interference penalty. The Wild penalty kill came to play and they would again show some heart as they disrupted passing and shooting lanes and stymied another Blues man advantage. Minnesota tried to claw its way back into the game, working hard to try to establish a cycling game of their own. As Parise briefly rejoined the action on the ice, the assistant captain would draw a penalty through pure hustle as he was cross-checked by Colaiacovo who was tired of the pesky winger buzzing near the Blues' crease. Yet, on the power play you could see just how depleted the Wild seemed to be from having to work so hard just to get the puck all game long. The Wild could not find almost any time and space and all they were able to create were a few shooting opportunities for Jason Pominville who was manning the point. Minnesota would manage just one shot on goal and the Blues would carry their two-goal lead into the 2nd intermission. Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker seemed to cause a little trouble in the Blues' zone but an emphasis on 'little' since the Blues were never seriously threatened. Niklas Backstrom came up with a few saves as well as be bailed out by a fortunate goal post as Maxim Lapierre found the crossbar. Its certainly not way out of reach, but the Wild need to find away to score in the 1st half of the period and then battle for the equalizer.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Blues were very patient and content to simply play keep away throughout most of the 3rd period. St. Louis would evade the Wild's attempt at a forecheck with relative ease as they'd force Minnesota to dump it in, then win the race for the loose biscuit and work the puck out of the zone and Minnesota had to lug it up the length of the ice. It was a painfully simple strategy and with the Wild trying to hold on without Parise, Minnesota looked as though they were running on fumes. There would be a little chippiness as Spurgeon and Steen would collide knee-to-knee as the Blues leading scorer landed on top of the diminutive Wild defenseman and he'd take out his anger on the former Spokane Chief as he cross checked him in the back of the neck. Spurgeon wasn't going to take that cheap shot without answering back and as Steen was on just one knee he cross checked him into the boards which drew the ire of the home crowd as well as Blues' captain David Backes who started shoving Spurgeon around. No penalty was called on Spurgeon who had every right to be annoyed by Steen and the knee-to-knee contact did not appear to be malicious. A few minutes later the Wild would earn another power play as Jaden Schwartz was given a rather weak hooking call. On the power play the Wild were guilty of being a little too static and predicable and the result was little gained in the way of momentum as well as shots on goal. The chippiness continued as a solid bodycheck by Nino Niederreiter would annoy Alex Pietrangelo who took exception and he cross-checked him in the back of the head and get sent to the sin bin for 2 minutes. On the power play, Jason Pominville threaded a beauty of a back door pass to Koivu who did not get as much on his shot as he hoped and Halak was able to make the save. The Wild would bull Backstrom for an extra attacker and Pominville made another superb back door pass to Dany Heatley who unleashed a one-timer but Halak was able to shut the door. Alex Steen would sweep up a puck and snipe a long range empty-net goal to seal a 3-0 Blues victory.
Niklas Backstrom kept the Wild in the game, making 18 saves in the loss. He did give up some juicy rebounds that the Blues' capitalized on, but he was good enough to give the Wild a chance if it was able to create any offense at all. Defensively the Wild were physically overmatched and Backstrom had to deal with Blues players crashing the crease early and often. I thought Ryan Suter had a good game but the rest of the Wild's blueline looked a little gun shy out there and not all that willing to battle in the corners for pucks. Minnesota did have a great effort from its penalty kill which went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
Unfortunately the Blues penalty kill was also perfect, as the Wild had a hard time getting pucks on net and building any sort of sustained offensive pressure. When the Wild had Parise's deflection goal denied just 30 seconds in, you could immediately tell the Wild were kind of demoralized by the unfortuante turn of events and when the Blues scored just 50 seconds later the two-goal swing was just too much for the Wild to overcome. The Blues got rolling and the Wild just couldn't seem to answer. What remains to be seen is how bad Zach Parise's injury is. Parise tried to come back in the 2nd period but it just wasn't working. Parise would not play at all in the 3rd period; he felt he'd know how bad his foot is tomorrow but was limping badly after the game as reported by Minneapolis Star Tribune's Michael Russo.
Parise's potential injury is far more devastating than the 3-0 loss is. The Blues are a great team and no one thought it was going to be easy. Even despite the early adversity the Wild hung around in this game and only gave up 20 shots (just one in the 3rd period) to one of the more explosive teams offensively-speaking in the NHL. I am not trying to say this is a moral victory or anything like that, but it could've been worse. If Parise is ok to come back fairly soon, then the loss is just a temporary one. However it Parise has to miss a week or two the effect could be significant. All Wild fans can do now, is hope Parise is ok.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Justin Fontaine, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, Jason Pominville, Dany Heatley, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Josh Harding, Torrey Mitchell and Mikael Granlund are out of the lineup with injuries. Mathew Dumba was the lone healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jaroslav Halak, 2nd Star Alex Steen, 3rd Star Jay Bouwmeester
~ Attendance was 15,832 at Scottrade Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: (6-11-0) 12pts Last in the Midwest
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #10 Brian Connelly ~ 0G 11A = 11pts
2. #9 Erik Haula ~ 4G 6A = 10pts
3. #51 Zack Phillips ~ 3G 5A = 8pts
4. #24 Jonathan Blum ~ 2G 6A = 8pts
5. #17 Brett Bulmer ~ 6G 1A = 7pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #14 Corbin Baldwin ~ 36 PIM's
2. #18 Raphael Bussieres ~ 29 PIM's
3. #21 Stephen Kampfer ~ 25 PIM's
1. #31 Johan Gustafsson (3-3-0) 2.62GAA .910%SP 1SO
2. #35 Darcy Kuemper (3-7-0) 2.97GAA .908%SP
It has been a very frustrating last few weeks for the Iowa Wild. Perhaps its a indicative of your team's main problem when your top scorer has no goals. The Iowa Wild have lost their last 8 games, in their last 6 games have scored just 5 goals total. Yes, the team's goal scoring drought is that bad. So why are they not scoring? Its certainly not for a lack of effort. In the Wild's most recent loss, the Wild fired 43 shots on goal against Abbotsford and all they could manage was just one goal on Brett Bulmer's tally in the 1st period. Bad puck luck, hot goalies, whatever you want to call it the Wild are tired of the excuses. Making the losing streak that much more painful is the fact that most of the losses have come at home. For the most part the Wild have had good goaltending from Johan Gustafsson and Darcy Kuemper and the games have stayed low scoring. The team has lacked that go-to scoring element that carried them in seasons past. Will it turn around? Eventually but now the Wild will have to rekindle their offense on the road. Iowa's next game is against Chicago on Wednesday.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW ~ Kurtis Gabriel (Owen Sound, OHL) ~ The rugged power forward continues muscle his way onto the scoresheet as he chipped an assist in the Attack's 4-3 win over Belleville on Saturday night. The Newmarket, Ontario-native has 5 goals, 21 points, 45 PIM's and an even rating in 19 games played this season.
D – Gustav Olofsson (Colorado College) ~ Olofsson did what he could against a juggernaut St. Cloud State squad. The lanky defenseman scored his 2nd goal of the season, but it wasn't enough as the Tigers were handed a 6-2 loss and he finished the game a -2 while playing on his club's top defensive pairing.
D – Dylan Labbe (Shawinigan, QMJHL) ~ The defenseman is doing his best on one of the worst teams in the 'Q'. Labbe registered a hit and an assist in the Cataractes crazy 8-5 loss to Victoriaville. The St. Benjamin, Quebec-native has 2 goals, 13 points and 13 PIM's with a -11 rating having played in 24 games this season.
G – Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) ~ The athletic goaltender rebounded nicely after a sub par effort on Friday to help the Huskies' earn a 5-4 overtime victory. Belanger had 19 saves in the victory which improves his record to 12-6 with a 3.40GAA and a .872% save percentage in 19 games played this season.