Sibling rivalry, the pleasant way of describing wars between brothers, sisters. It can be subtle from one sibling feeling less favored than another or it can be direct with a fusillade of insults or physical abuse to let the other sibling know you may be related but you’re a bitter rival. Growing up with a brother, we had more than our share of battles. Luckily for me I was older and physically much bigger and stronger so the battles were usually pretty one sided. Many of the battles were over issues of respect, and if I felt he was being a little too confident I felt compelled to put him in his place. Like any younger sibling he was adept at playing the victim when it was to his advantage and I have little doubt he took a little joy at the scoldings I’d receive from my parents. That’s all apart of the sibling rivalry right? This is sort of what the relationship has been between expansion siblings Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets. There is no playoff history between them and yet both clubs seem to ratchet up their animosity for one another. Both teams find themselves virtually out of the playoff race so all they have is their mutual dislike of one another and is the perfect environment for another chippy contest.
According to Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota’s lineup is not supposed to be any different than it was in their game against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday evening. Expect sparks to fly early as both teams may not have a good chance to make the playoffs but they are in need of every point in addition to wanting to get the best of their rival. The outcome may not be consequential at all, but this game is likely about pride more than anything else. Just as I mentioned about my brother, sometimes it wasn’t about anything they did as it is about putting them in their place. The Wild have had the better overall franchise record and that has been a constant source of irritation for Columbus and its fans, but its time to put them back in their place. Will Minnesota be able to put its sibling in its proper place (behind them) or will the Blue Jackets get the best of them this afternoon?
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1st Period Thoughts: Kind of a strange period. The Wild should be reasonably well-rested but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the first shift from the top line of Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen as they very nonchalantly glided around the ice. The Blue Jackets were not much better but they had more jump in their skates initially than Minnesota did. Minnesota then had a much better shift from the 2nd line of Martin Havlat, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Kyle Brodziak. Havlat was looking hungry and assertive as he ripped a few shots on goal that forced Mathieu Garon to come up with a few decent stops early. Minnesota was keeping things pretty simple offensively, taking every opportunity to put shots on goal forcing Garon to stay alert in his crease. Unfortunately, as soon as that 2nd line left the ice the Wild went back to being lazy and reactive on the ice. Columbus started to apply some more pressure, and it was Rick Nash finding a little time and space and he ripped as shot that was absorbed by Niklas Backstrom who was battling the puck a bit in his first few saves, and after the shot Nash would give a shot to Clayton Stoner who would move towards the Blue Jackets leading scorer as the two players exchanged a little trash talk. Talk about the highs and lows of a rookie in an NHL game was the play of Marco Scandella. Initially he had a nice defensive play to deny Derek Dorsett of a breakaway using good positioning to direct his shot wide of the goal, but a few minutes later, Scandella abandoning his man Rick Nash to go play out towards the wing giving the Blue Jackets captain free reign through the slot where was set up for an easy goal that Backstrom had no chance on. Minnesota did not wait all that long to respond, but it was an improbable combination to do so. After some good hustle in the Wild zone it was John Madden leading a 3-on-2 rush and the cagey veteran drew Columbus’ Fedor Tyutin towards him as he brought the puck near the goal line before threading a pretty backhander pass cross-ice to a wide open Brad Staubitz for what was an empty netter to tie the game at one apiece. It was a pretty feed and for Staubitz it ended a 79-game goal-less drought. Minnesota would relax a bit after the goal and Columbus went back on the attack. Niklas Backstrom had to come up with some big saves; the best was a shorthanded chance as he denied Sami Pahlsson in a 2-on-1 where it was Antti Miettinen making a costly turnover. Speaking of Miettinen, he had a horrible period. He appeared disinterested and his lack of focus led to multiple turnovers that quickly turned into scoring chances for Columbus. The Blue Jackets dominated the remaining minutes largely because of mental mistakes by Miettinen.
2nd Period Thoughts: Another sort of enigmatic period play for the Wild where they had some excellent play and then the same lack of focus that ended up costing them on the scoreboard. I loved the energy the Wild had at the start, moving their feet well and one player who obviously was being sent a message by the Minnesota coaching staff was Antti Miettinen who was relegated to the 4th line and Chuck Kobasew was moved up to work with Koivu and Andrew Brunette. Kobasew’s edition resulted in the line having more jump and this turned the 1st line into a scoring threat. Mikko Koivu almost immediately responded with a pretty attempt that was steered wide by Garon. The Wild was also was playing more physically as Cal Clutterbuck, Chuck Kobasew and even Mikko Koivu was throwing their bodies around. Minnesota was also continuing a steady stream of shots; even those coming from non-traditional shooters like Greg Zanon who had 3 shots on goal in the period. The Wild’s hustle was starting to pay off as Cal Clutterbuck found himself set up in the slot and he unloaded a one-timer that was snagged out of the air by Garon’s glove. The home team continued to persist and with some great work by Mikko Koivu to draw the defense towards him before sliding a pass back to Clutterbuck who was set up in the high slot and he rifled another one timer that beat Garon top shelf, glove side to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. You could sense the level of confidence growing as Brad Staubitz took a pretty good run at the Blue Jackets’ Sami Lepisto who was helicoptered by the hit. Derek Dorsett did not like the hit and went after Staubitz and the two would drop the gloves. It was not much of a fight as Staubitz clearly was in control, throwing just a few punches that landed on the top of Dorsett’s head and eventually he’d wrestle the fiesty former Medicine Hat Tiger to the ice. Dorsett would get an instigator but the officials also determined that Staubitz may have charged when he took his run at Lepisto meaning the teams would stay 5-on-5. The tensions continued to build as Mikko Koivu unintentionally went knee-to-knee on Grant Clitsome. A few moments later, Koivu would get into it with Scottie Upshall and both would push and shove each other as they both earned roughing calls. The rough stuff would continue late in the period as Upshall gets into the face of Martin Havlat who pays him back with 5 quick jabs and both would go to the box. With the ice now a bit more open 4-on-4 the Wild would get lazy and a horrible defensive breakdown had Rick Nash set up nearly all alone near the Wild crease as Backstrom stops his attempt and he’d swing the puck back to Kris Russell who ripped a shot by a sprawling Niklas Backstrom to tie the game at 2-2. Minnesota had a big surge late in the period but the late-period let down squandered what was a pretty good period for the Wild.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period started with Minnesota feeling a little empty after giving up that late-period goal to the Blue Jackets. That uneasy feeling would be amplified early when Jan Hejda took a pretty nonthreatening shot from the point that snuck through the pads of Niklas Backstrom and in. Backstrom tried to complain that he was interfered with as Derrick Brassard passed through the crease briefly but made no significant contact and the replay clearly showed he was in position to make the stop but it got through, 5-hole. The goal took the crowd out of the game and Minnesota just didn’t seem to have the legs to get back into the game. That feeling took an even more desperate turn as Columbus entered the zone in a 3-on-2 where Rick Nash found some space and he fired a laser of a shot by Backstrom to put the Blue Jackets up 4-2. At this point I thought the Wild were done, stick a fork in them, game over. Luckily they didn’t listen to me, the Wild would go on an all out attack and with about 5 minutes left, Antti Miettinen found himself set up in the slot and he fired a bullet of a wrister that beat Garon to cut the Blue Jackets’ lead to one, 4-3. The goal got the crowd back in the game and Minnesota went right back on the attack. Every rush up the ice had a level of anxiety and anticipation, and the Wild’s chances were getting closer. Just under two minutes left, a great battle for the puck by John Madden who turned and passed the puck back to Matt Cullen who dished it over to Jared Spurgeon who wound up and uncorked a slapper that was stopped by Garon, but Pierre-Marc Bouchard was right there to bang home the rebound to tie the game at 4-4. Minnesota was firing on all cylinders and continued to apply pressure until the horn sounded ending regulation. There was a good feeling in the building.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota really was pouring it on right from the drop of the puck. The Wild was taking every chance to go on the attack throughout overtime. Any player that was on the ice for Minnesota was joining the rush and even having chances to win the game. The first great chance came early as Martin Havlat fired a shot that was directed aside by Garon, but the Wild were attacking in waves. Off a rush where Cal Clutterbuck created a scoring chance it was Greg Zanon who fired a shot off the rebound that was stopped by Garon. Just moments after that, the puck was gathered up by Brent Burns who dangled around a few defenders for a point blank range chance that was just poked away by the stick of the Blue Jackets goaltender. The Wild were playing desperate and determined hockey and that’s precisely why the ending was a cruel twist of fate. A faceoff in the Minnesota zone with just over 35 seconds left was won and drawn back to Brent Burns who had been very dominant all game long attempted an ill-advised cross-ice pass from deep in his zone but instead fanned on it and the puck went towards the crease where it was directed into the slot by Clayton Stoner who tried to clear it but he gave it right to Antoine Vermette who buried it by Backstrom to give Columbus the game winner, 5-4.
Niklas Backstrom was just ok, making 28 saves in the loss. I really felt he was fighting the puck throughout much of the game. He made some good stops, but the goal he gave up to Jan Hejda was a real softie as it snuck through his pads 5-hole. I don’t care what sort of contact Derrick Brassard may have had, he was still in position to make the stop and he didn’t. That goal was a momentum changer and he was lucky his team was able to battle back the way it did. Defensively the Wild had some bad breakdowns that ultimately cost them the game. Marco Scandella is now out with a broken right index finger after blocking a shot in the 2nd period, so the team will have to perhaps consider another call up in Houston unless Marek Zidlicky or Cam Barker are able to play tomorrow. I would guess Nate Prosser or Justin Falk would get the call. No matter what, this team had the kind of breakdowns you’d expect to have from players lacking experience. Burns’ overtime snafu notwithstanding you must give credit to Columbus for capitalizing on its opportunities.
Offensively the Wild had a pretty good effort. They put up 36 shots and I liked the fact they were coming from nearly every player on the roster. Even guys normally not involved offensively were taking their chances to fire the biscuit and that can only be a good thing for a team that has struggled to score as of late. I liked the hustle. An unsung hero in late in this season has been the lead-by-example play of John Madden who continues to find ways to inspire his team with big goals in situations where’s not with a lot of other offensive players as line mates.
Wild Head Coach Todd Richards told reporters at the post-game press conference, “At times it was a really good game, at times it was really chaotic, at times there was little emotion and times there was lots of emotion, we battled back hard but it was a disappointing finish.” He added, “we gave ourselves chances in overtime, just weren’t able to finish.” Richards mentioned Miettinen’s failure, “I didn’t like his first period, and we needed some energy and I thought Kobasew did that for us and we needed a change.” Personally I like Kobasew as an alternate for Miettinen, but he needs to be more ready to shoot the puck as he was set up a few times and then wasn’t able to pull the trigger because he just wasn’t quite ready. The loss hurts a lot, but in many ways the outcome typified the 2010-11 season for the State of Hockey. Where the Wild showed some good promise, then lost it, came back but just couldn’t finish it when it had to.
Minnesota must regroup and ready itself for what will be another crucial game against the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal is a team with a lot of speed and some good dynamic talent and if Minnesota isn’t ready to hustle it could find itself getting blitzed by the Habs. Jose Theodore is the likely starter for tomorrow’s game and I am sure he’ll be very focused to face his former team where he won a Vezina trophy.
~ The Wild roster this afternoon was: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, Chuck Kobasew, John Madden, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, Brad Staubitz, Kyle Brodziak, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Martin Havlat, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz and Brent Burns. Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom. Cam Barker, Warren Peters, Guillaume Latendresse and Marek Zidlicky were the ‘healthy’ scratches. Josh Harding (knee) and James Sheppard (knee) are on injured reserve.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were:
~ Attendance was 18,305 at Xcel Energy Center, the 19th sellout of the season.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Colton Jobke ~ Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
2010-11 Stats: 50GP 1G 8A = 9pts 84 PIM’s +6
It has been a trying season for the young defenseman, who has battled injuries throughout the year. Jobke is more of a mobile stay at home defenseman whose game is reminiscent of Nick Schultz. He is the player Kelowna Head Coach Ryan Huska sends out when his team needs to shut the other team down. The Delta, British Columbia-native will never be a big point producer but like any player with a defensive focus his importance is all about how many goals he prevents from happening. He is slightly undersized at just 6’0″, 170lbs but he’s no shrinking violent and he’s not afraid to drop the gloves if need be as he fought Vancouver’s Scott Cooke in his most recent game Friday night. Jobke’s skill set is very similar to many of the other Wild’s defensive prospects so he will have to find ways to make him standout from the rest of the pack.
D – Josh Caron ~ Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
2010-11 Stats: 26GP 1G 1A = 2pts 47 PIM’s -1
Like Jobke, Josh Caron has battled injuries this season. His rough and physical style means he plays a game that close to the edge. His big 6’4″, 212lbs frame is very imposing and he loves to dish out big hits but at times his want to be physical lands him in the penalty box. Caron earned kudos as a tryout during the Traverse City Tournament for being willing to drop the gloves to defend his teammates and he’s an accomplished fighter, perhaps too much as he’s seldom challenged anymore. I think his NHL aspirations are a long shot, but his size and physicality may may him unique enough amongst the Wild’s blueline prospects that may warrant him a longer look.
WCHA Frozen Five Final Preview:
#1 North Dakota Fighting Sioux (29-8-3) vs. #2 Denver Pioneers (24-10-5) ~ The battle for the Broadmoor Trophy will commence just a few hours after the conclusion of this afternoon’s game between the Blue Jackets and the Wild on the same Xcel Energy Center ice. Denver staved off an early surge by Cinderella story Bemijdi State to roll to a 6-2 victory, while North Dakota had a back and forth classic against Colorado College before Matt Frattin buried the game winner on a pretty pass by Evan Trupp. Pioneers bench boss George Gwozdecky even stated he felt North Dakota was the team to beat before the Frozen Five started, and his squad will have their hands full stopping a fast and physical Fighting Sioux attack. Jason Gregoire and Matt Frattin are a lethal combination. Denver has some decent firepower of their own led by senior Anthony Miani, sophomore Drew Shore 2nd year blueline force Matt Donovan and freshman stud and Wild prospect Jason Zucker. The Pioneer’s goaltender Sam Brittain will have to be at his best if Denver is to pull off the upset. OUR PICK: I think North Dakota is a very complete team, but I think we’ll see the underdog be victorious.