When I woke up this morning, I was determined to write my intro to tonight’s post-game report as I always do. I often write this in the morning or around noon in part to save time, but to provide some sort of segue to the game. Tonight could mark the return of Peter Forsberg the Colorado Avalanche lineup since he last suited up for the team in 2008. So as I thought this morning I figured I’d go with the very cliche “He’s baaack” kind of round about explanation to jump into a talk about the returning former Avs stud. The origin of this commonly used cliche is the creepy little girl in the Poltergeist movies from the early to mid-1980’s, Heather O’Rourke whose cinematic catch phrase is about as signature as cycling the puck is to the Sedin twins popularly known as creepy kids of their own by fans across the State of Hockey as Children of the Corn. While not nearly as creepy as his aforementioned Swedish brethren, Peter Forsberg does share a few a few commonalities as the creepy duo as both hail from the town of Ornskoldsvik which has been a pretty impressive little bastion of hockey talent considering Forsberg, the Sedins, as well as Canucks’ great Markus Naslund and budding Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman call this community their hometown which numbers just a little over 40,000 people. Forsberg is one of the most popular players to have ever played the game in Sweden, known affectionately as Foppa, but talk to Wild fans (and other Avs haters) and you’ll hear a less affectionate version that describes his style of play “Floppa.” Even though Forsberg, a player known to be dirty who loved to dish out cheap shots when he wasn’t amazing fans with his excellent stickhandling and great hands near the net could at times show great strength when dishing out hits but could fall remarkably easy when nearly any opposing player skated by him. Like Heather O’Rourke, Forsberg spent lots and lots of time acting, acting as though someone had tripped or cross checked him, diving to the ice with great regularity and being so skilled at it that he managed to convince more than a few NHL referees to give him the call the Swedish forward desired. The propensity of Forsberg and his Avalanche teammates to fall with little to no contact caused some fans to start whole websites dedicated to ridiculing “Floppa” and his their antics. Forsberg may be in the lineup tonight, then again he may not be.
One person who should be in the lineup this evening is Andrew Brunette. Oddly enough the team is choosing tonight to celebrate Brunette’s 1,000th game in the NHL rather than the ACTUAL night of his 1,000th game which was last week against the Los Angeles Kings. Doesn’t that sound like a spouse who may have forgotten about their significant other’s birthday or Valentine’s Day? Sure sounds like it to me, and if so its pretty sad. Especially when you consider how this team fell over itself to honor Mike Modano in his “last” game with a whole series of tributes only to have the former North Star, who repeatedly dissed the State of Hockey, sign on for another season with the Detroit Red Wings. The Wild make a big deal of honoring a player who never played for the organization and then forget to really celebrate their own player’s career milestone for a guy who had some of his most memorable hockey accomplishments take place. (shrugs) So will the Wild honor their teammate with another victory or will they play so poorly as they did last Saturday in Phoenix you’d think they were honoring Peter Forsberg instead? (UPDATE: Forsberg will make his debut perhaps this Saturday as he still has to finalize his immigration visa according to NHL Home Ice Radio on XM.)
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1st Period Thoughts: After a very classy celebration just prior to the game, to commemorate Brunette’s 1000th game where his hometown hockey association (Valley East, Ontario) was awarded $15,000, then Bruno himself was recognized with a Tiffany crystal from the NHL and a silver stick from the Wild the puck would drop and it was obvious the team was a little energized. The Wild had great speed and hustle out of the gate, outworking Colorado at both ends of the ice. Minnesota was also fore checking well and being physical along the wall as Eric Nystrom lit up Kyle Cumisky with a nice hit. The Wild clearly had talked about shooting the puck with greater frequency and shots were being blasted from wherever Minnesota could find time and space. I really liked to see Minnesota being aggressive and taking its opportunities to fire the biscuit; it may not have resulted in a ton of goals but kept the crowd going and the Wild were able to maintain a pretty furious pace. The Wild were carrying the pace of play, but Minnesota was playing well defensively. Clayton Stoner was his normal solid self, using his frame to punish the Avalanche along the boards as he dumped Cody McLeod with a big check as well as sealing off the puck from opposing forwards to clear it away out of danger. Niklas Backstrom was also very sharp, stopping Chris Stewart with a nice save with his leg pad. Minnesota would finally get on the scoreboard on the power play as Antti Miettinen wound up and uncorked a slapper that was helped by an Avalanche screen to just be out of reach of Craig Anderson as it found the top corner. The Wild’s jubilation would be short-lived as Colorado struck just 11 seconds later as Minnesota fell asleep a bit during a faceoff in its own zone that ended up on the stick of David Jones who got off a quick wrist shot that beat Backstrom 5-hole to tie the game at 1-1. Minnesota would waste little time before responding in turn as the team’s 2nd line worked the puck down low and Kyle Brodziak poked a pass to Martin Havlat who out battled Paul Stastny for the puck and he carried it out front where he reversed direction and swept a wrist shot by leg pad of Anderson to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. It was a solid period where Minnesota had lots of speed. Brodziak was showing tons of great hustle early on, and Andrew Brunette had found himself setup for a number of good scoring chances.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild had some difficulty to start the 2nd period. They weren’t moving their feet as well and the result was some penalty trouble. First it was Burns with an interference call. Colorado came very close to making the Wild pay for their lack of focus early on as puck made its way to the crease where it was punched in by David Jones who was lying on his stomach in the Minnesota crease. The goal was immediately waived off by Craig Kimmerly but it was still reviewed. After a fairly lengthy review, you could see Jones’ glove punch at the puck and Kimmerly moved out to center ice where he correctly declared “no goal.” It was a close call that appeared to wake the Wild up; sort of. Minnesota would get the big penalty kill thanks to some great hustle by Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Cullen who harassed Colorado in its own zone. The Wild penalty kill would not have much time to rest as it found itself again a man down a few minutes later as Mikko Koivu was tagged for tripping. Minnesota’s penalty kill kept Colorado at bey with good active sticks and quality puck pressure that never really allowed the Avalanche to get much going with the man advantage. Only being up by one goal still made the lead rather tenuous and it was after this 2nd penalty kill that Minnesota got its legs going and started to take back control of the game. Minnesota would get a huge goal right around the halfway point of the period when Jared Spurgeon stole a puck in the neutral zone where he dished it off to Cullen who threaded a pass to John Madden who was skating down the slot and he ripped a wrister by Anderson to give the Wild a 3-1 lead. Avalanche Head Coach Joe Sacco had seen enough and he pulled Anderson and sent out Peter Budaj to save the game. Minnesota kept attacking and nearly added to its lead after one its best offensive shifts all season by the top line who cycled the puck with great efficiency, ultimately ending up on the stick of Brunette who wrapped a shot that struck the right post and out. It was a nice recovery by the Wild who looked to be on the ropes at the start of the period.
3rd Period Thoughts: Colorado would burst Minnesota’s bubble of momentum a bit on a strange goal to start the 2nd period where David Jones working behind his net sort of lifted a puck that bounced off a Wild defenseman and over the shoulder of Backstrom for a goal. The goal got the Avalanche really swarming around the Wild zone. They were working the puck out to the point where they tried to blast shots from the point with the benefit of screens in front of Backstrom who was only able to wave at the puck as flew on by his goal. The chippiness started to become a bigger factor as Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson started to take every opportunity to try to goad Minnesota into taking foolish retaliation penalties. He was marginally successful as he went after Matt Cullen who had followed up a bouncing puck before stopping just short of Budaj and giving him a little spray in the process. Wilson went after Cullen and a scrum ensued. Wilson and Clutterbuck paired off but the officials stepped in before they could start throwing punches. The Wild ended up having the extra penalty, but the Wild penalty killers did a fine job of killing off the penalty. The scrums continued but it was refreshing to see the Wild not back off down the stretch but instead go on the attack and Colorado simply didn’t have enough defenseman (since they were down to 5 after Kyle Cumisky’s injury) and Minnesota pressed hard for the insurance goal. Even as Colorado pulled Budaj for an extra attacker the Wild were the team on the attack denying the Avalanche any scoring chance in the closing seconds of the game. One player who really stood out for me effort-wise all through the period was Eric Nystrom. Nystrom had a few close chances to score, the best one coming off a pretty redirect chance that just failed to click. Minnesota is lucky the failed (albeit short) 5-on-3 power play did not come back to haunt them.
Niklas Backstrom was again very solid between the pipes making 23 saves in the victory. Backstrom would probably like to take back the first goal he gave up as he was simply caught a little unprepared by Jones’ shot, the 2nd one was an unconventional shot that could’ve beaten any goaltender. Defensively the Wild were fairly solid at keeping Colorado from having the 2nd chance opportunities near their crease. The Avalanche’s best skater was clearly Matt Duchene but for the most part the Wild kept Duchene from having a lot of time and space and defensively the Wild’s hustle made a big difference as they backchecked aggressively virtually all game long. I thought the Wild got strong performances from Greg Zanon, Clayton Stoner and Nick Schultz. Brent Burns looked as though he was trying to do a little too much out there.
Offensively the Wild were pouring it on early, but I felt the team eased up through the 2nd period which could’ve spelt doom if not for a fortunate “no goal” call. I was not overly impressed with the power play in the 3rd period where the Wild opted for shots from the point instead of working their way in close to the Avalanche crease. Minnesota did manage to get a power play goal tonight, but at a critical juncture the team let Colorado off the hook and against a better team those sorts of mistakes can be fatal. On the positive end, it was good to see John Madden be involved offensively, and Matt Cullen had one of his best games in recent memory. The fore check was pretty stifiling early in this game, and I think that helps get the blood going and gives the team a good energy level at the start of the game.
Minnesota will get to wait until Friday when they travel to St. Louis for what will be a home at home considering the Wild will return home for another tilt against the Blues Saturday night as the showcase of Hockey Day Minnesota. The Blues are the only other team in the NHL that has the same amount of games remaining in the Western Conference which means it will be important to do well in this back-to-back match up. You have to like the way Minnesota played throughout most of this game but it will have to be better against St. Louis, which is a team that lately has given the Wild a lot of problems.
~ Wild lineup tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, John Madden, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, Brad Staubitz, Chuck Kobasew, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Martin Havlat, Jared Spurgeon, Cam Barker, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz and Brent Burns. Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom. Marco Scandella is the lone “healthy” scratch although he has been struggling with symptoms that are concussion-like. Marek Zidlicky (shoulder), James Sheppard (knee), Josh Harding (knee) and Guillaume Latendresse (groin and sports hernia) are all on injured reserve.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were: 1st Star Andrew Brunette, 2nd Star Matt Cullen, 3rd Star Niklas Backstrom
~ Tonight’s attendance at Xcel Energy Center was 18,194.
~ The Houston Aeros traveled to Rockford to battle against West Division foe the Ice Hogs. The Aeros found themselves trailing early in this game as Hastings, Minnesota-native and former 1st round pick of the St. Louis Blues Jeff Taffe scored to put Rockford up 1-0 late in the first period. Houston would then rally back with 4 unanswered with two goals in both the 2nd and 3rd periods to blitz Rockford 4-1. In the 2nd, it was Elk River, Minnesota-native Nate Prosser lighting the lamp for the 5th time this season and then about two minutes later Jean-Michel Daoust buried a close-range shot to give Houston a 2-1 lead going into the 3rd. The Aeros would find the twine again on the power play when Patrick O’Sullivan kept his hot streak alive as he blistered a shot by Alec Richards to lift Houston to a 3-1 lead. Carson McMillan would add an empty netter to seal the 4-1 victory. Matthew Hackett stopped 24 of 25 in the win.
~ Just as a reminder, the State of Hockey News will be providing FULL coverage of all the festivities that make up Hockey Day Minnesota, including post-game wrap ups of the high school, college and of course the showdown between the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues. The Minnesota Wild announced that former ESPN hockey analyst and current Blues’ broadcaster Darren Pang (Holy Jumpin’!) will also be joining in the event hosted by Fox Sports Net North.
Wild Prospect Report:
F – Mikael Granlund ~ HIFK Helsinki (Sm-Liiga)
2010-11 Stats: 28GP 6G 18A = 24pts 8 PIM’s
Granlund seems to have a dramatic flair to his game, as he has shown an ability to deliver in big games. In a recent outdoor game that looked just as spirited (if not more so) the NHL’s Winter Classic against arch rival Jokerit, Granlund scored twice. After suffering through a concussion early in the season, the skilled winger is back at it as HIFK prepares for the post-season. The Oulu, Finland-native has great hands, but his skating ability is still a big question mark where the larger European ice surface may allow him the time and space to avoid defenders which will not be the case on smaller NHL-sized rinks. Generously listed at 5’8″, Granlund’s skating deficiencies may seem a bit alarming but his hockey sense has always put him in good position on the ice. Check out the video of highlights from the Finnish ‘winter classic’ which show Granlund’s goals at 1:25 and 5:42 respectively.
F – Jason Zucker ~ Denver Pioneers (WCHA)
2010-11 Stats: 26GP 17G 11A = 28pts 32 PIM’s
Jason Zucker has been anything but your typical freshman. Few freshman can boast Zucker’s explosive offensive output, and he has used his speed to its fullest advantage to make the Pioneers one of the best teams in the NCAA. Wild fans will get their first local look at Zucker, as the Pioneers come to town to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. After a reasonable showing at this year’s U-20 World Junior Championships where he just managed to weather a concussion to play in the medal round. The Las Vegas, Nevada-native has scored most of his goals at even strength, and he has delivered in the clutch as 3 of his 17 goals are game winners. Little doubt Zucker will realized the fans in the State of Hockey will be watching him rather closely and it will be interesting to see if it brings out the best in him.