I keep thinking back to the line from the cult classic film Office Space where the snotty secretary sees Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) looking a bit down and assumes he has been complaining so she responds with the patronizing remark, “Looks like someone has a case of the Mondays!” I know with this game being on Tuesday this may not seem like that line fits all that well but its really the best way to describe how I feel as I am trying to think of just what to say about tonight’s game. The Wild are coming off a 1-0 game on Saturday where they rode the brilliant performance of Josh Harding who made 36 saves to give Minnesota its first regulation win since October, 11th against Columbus. So why am I supposedly having ‘a case of the Mondays’ a few days after a Wild victory? Maybe that has to do with some of the statistics that seem to be some of the same that follow the Wild season after season. What am I talking about. How about the fact the Wild have league’s most anemic offense? Or how about the fact that 10 games into the season team captain Mikko Koivu still hasn’t registered a goal?
One can always hope this turns around, or that Mikko Koivu starts lighting the lamp. Yet, unlike Peter Gibbons I’m not going to be looking to see a hypno-psychologist anytime soon. So in the meantime, it will have to come from the Wild to turn its fortunes around. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t panic mode or anything like that. I just hope the team can string together some good games to help provide a little more motivation to fans like me. So will the Wild provide that dose of good news this evening or will I feel like I just had a talk with Bill Lumbergh?
Click on “Read More” for the rest of the article…
1st Period Thoughts: It was patently clear from the drop of the puck that the Red Wings were not messing around as they were flying all over the ice while the Minnesota zone quickly became a shooting gallery. The Wild looked like a spectator at a tennis match, its head pivoting one way and then the other as Detroit passed the puck around with great execution and then took every chance to hammer slap shots on goal that had Josh Harding working early. Harding was also seeing lots of traffic as a combination of the usual screening suspects of Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi near his kitchen throughout most of the period. Speaking of Bertuzzi, the vengeful Detroit forward was looking for his pound of flesh after being abused a bit by the Wild on Saturday as he took a big run at Marco Scandella that sent the young defenseman falling to the ice. It was only a matter of time before all of this pressure drew a Wild penalty, and it was the ever lazy Marek Zidlicky to give them just that as he lost an edge and then carelessly swung his stick at the skates of Henrik Zetterberg for an obvious tripping call. On the man advantage the Wild penalty killers were hustling well and preventing some of the side-to-side plays Detroit loves to work but Josh Harding looked like Denis Lemieux from Slap Shot a bit as shots screamed by his goal that he clearly was struggling to see through the bodies camped out near the top of his crease. I think its safe to say that at times Harding was guessing as he snagged a Henrik Zetterberg shot out of the air with a tricky glove save. Minnesota would kill off the penalty but that didn’t mean Detroit was easing up offensively, and they continued to swarm and they were finally rewarded when a pass would work its way out to the point where Henrik Zetterberg stepped into a slapper that was redirected perfectly by a pinching Nicklas Lidstrom that beat Harding top shelf. Minnesota would try to rally back, and they would be helped by an interference call on Drew Miller. On the power play, Minnesota had fairly decent puck possession and even was able to register a few quality shots on goal that finally gave Jimmy Howard some work. As quickly as the Wild were able to create a few scoring chances on the man advantage it was over and so was Minnesota’s offensive attack. Luckily for the Wild, Detroit would take another bad penalty as Valteri Filppula tripped up Justin Falk. Minnesota was again able to create a little pressure as Devin Setoguchi used his speed and some nice hands to walk around Lidstrom to put a weak wrist shot on goal. Yet, the Wild were being a bit too picky at times as some good hustle along the wall created some time and space but when Jared Spurgeon stepped up into the high slot he opted for a pass instead and the pass was deflected away by a diving Darren Helm. Detroit tried to go back on the attack, but it was Minnesota’s young defenseman in Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella that kept the Red Wings at bey and the Wild had to feel a bit lucky that it was only trailing 1-0. Minnesota had one last chance in the 1st that typified the period when Marco Scandella led the rush and made a great move to have some time and space but like Spurgeon he decided to try to pass instead and the puck never made it to his intended target of Matt Cullen. Harding was again solid and this game could already be out of control if he hadn’t managed to come up with some great saves. Zidlicky and Schultz appear to have been relegated to 3rd pairing status. It seems kind of disconcerting when your vets are where the effort seems to be a question while the youngsters seem to be battling and scrapping for every puck.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had a bit better energy to start the 2nd period, they were skating better and they put out their energy line of Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson. This line was able to get a bit of a forecheck going that had Detroit bottled up in its own zone. This line would continue to be a thorn in Detroit’s side throughout the period. Nick Johnson and Cal Clutterbuck were especially pesky down low behind the Red Wings goal and came close to stuffing a few pucks by Jimmy Howard who was quick to drop to his pads. Even the Wild’s top line was getting into the act as Dany Heatley was using his ability to draw the defense towards him to create space, as he set up Mikko Koivu for a wicked one-timer that was steered wide by Howard. Minnesota’s hustle was also starting to frustrate the Red Wings a little; as a shot that went wide and Harding would pounce only to be bumped into by Holmstrom that caused the Wild goalie to embellish and fall over drawing a goaltender interference call. Upon realizing he just was called for goaltender interference, an angered Holmstrom decided to give a shove to Justin Falk who obliged and shoved him back and the cagey Red Wings’ veteran got his wish and got a partner in the penalty box. With the ice a bit more open 4-on-4, neither team was able to take advantage of it until Devin Setoguchi flung a long range shot that was easily dismissed by Howard. A few minutes later on a similar play that had Harding trying to get into fetal position around the puck he’d have Bertuzzi near his crease looking for a rebound that Marco Scandella did not appreciate and he tried to back off the angry Red Wings forward and true to form he cross checked Scandella earning himself a two-minute sit in the penalty box. It was a fortunate opportunity and Minnesota’s power play would create the Wild’s best scoring chance of the period as Mikko Koivu set up Guillaume Latendresse on a bang-bang play that was only kept out of the net by a beautiful save by Howard. Minnesota wasn’t able to get much going offensively beyond that and it was another opportunity missed. The Wild would have another power play late, but this time struggled mightily just to get its power play set up as Detroit was putting up a blockade near its own blueline. This too would be killed off without incident, but Minnesota had to feel a bit better about its effort as it out shot Detroit 12 to 7 in the period.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild would start the 3rd, with a great chance early as the reconstituted top line of Latendresse, Koivu and Setoguchi worked hard along the boards setting up Latendresse in the slot who recieved the puck with his back to the goal and he’d turn and fire a wrist shot that was steered aside by the right leg of Howard. Minnesota’s pressure would continue and a wicked slash by Todd Bertuzzi earned him another trip to the sin bin. The Wild power play would lose a face-off early and Detroit would clear the zone and as Josh Harding went to gather up the puck coming around along the boards behind his crease he was leveled by the check of Drew Miller. Harding was slow to get up as Wild trainer Don Fuller was there to make sure he was in control of all of his faculties. Miller would earn 2 minutes for charging that would give Minnesota a 5-on-3 power play. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo sensed the team’s best opportunity so he called a timeout to discuss the matter with his club. Minnesota went with 5 forwards on the two-man advantage; Koivu, Bouchard, Cullen, Setoguchi and Heatley. Despite this lineup of 5 forwards it was maddeningly patient and cautious, even with a two-man advantage as they passed back and forth to the points while Detroit’s penalty kill was content to sit in a tight triangle in front of Jimmy Howard. The few times Minnesota decided to shoot it was highly predictable and the shots were heavily contested. After a few frustrated attempts from the high slot that were blocked, Mikko Koivu took Bouchard’s place on the point and now the play was to work the puck to Bouchard who was between the right faceoff dot and the wall for a few sharp angle shots that didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell at beating Howard and Minnesota had nothing to show for the 5-on-3 power play. After the failed power play, the Wild tried to battle back with its energy line and again it was Nick Johnson out muscling Jakub Kindl for the puck and he swung a shot on goal that was directed aside by Howard. In the closing minutes, Minnesota did not help its chances with a few penalties by its young defenseman as Scandella would be tagged for holding and a couple minutes after that Nate Prosser would be called for slashing. The penalties only served to give Detroit 4 minutes of freedom from any attempt at creating scoring chances, but most of all it gave Josh Harding a chance to show off some acrobatic saves. On blast by Lidstrom the Wild goaltender almost literally stood on his head to make a remarkable save with his blocker. It seemed as though the Wild’s chances were all but gone as they pulled Harding with about a minute left for an extra attacker. This time the 6 attackers had a bit more grit as Clutterbuck was out on the ice and Justin Falk had a little time and space at the point and he teed up a slapper that was tipped by Koivu that eluded Howard to tie the game at 1-1. The sparse crowd at Joe Louis Arena booed in disapproval. With less than 30 seconds left, Minnesota nearly had another glorious opportunity as a misplay of the puck by Howard almost turned into a goal for the Wild but time would expire and we’d be headed to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Overtime was downright scary the first 35 seconds as Detroit came out determined and Henrik Zetterberg nearly ended it on two close range chances as Harding came up with two great saves. Moments later, Harding was sort of bumped into by Johan Franzen who was being checked simultaneously by Jared Spurgeon who had left his crease to challenge a long-range shot. Harding was nearly 6 feet outside of the crease and Franzen was clearly upset as he went to the penalty box for goaltender interference. I don’t blame him for being upset, it probably shouldn’tve been called but Minnesota would try to capitalize on the 4-on-3 in overtime. Detroit would take a timeout to talk things over, and Wild Assistant Coach Daryl Sydor would talk things over with the power play unit that was going to consist of 4 forwards in Koivu, Bouchard, Setoguchi and Heatley. Koivu would take the first big shot that was blocked aside by Niklas Kronwall and in the ensuing race for the puck the Wild captain blew up the hard hitting Detroit defenseman with a big shoulder hit and he picked up the puck where he took a quick shot that was stopped by Howard and the rebound was pounced upon by Setoguchi who lifted it up and over the sprawling Red Wings goalie to give Minnesota the 2-1 upset.
Josh Harding was again absolutely brilliant, making 36 saves in the victory tying his output from Saturday. Without Harding’s outstanding stops, Minnesota really had no business being in this game. He made a number of great saves at point blank range to keep the Wild in it and ultimately the opportunity to steal away two points. I have little doubt that Harding is now entrenched in the minds of Detroit who have managed to score just 4 goals in 3 games against Minnesota’s backup. There is a small movement amongst fans to give Harding a shot at the #1 goaltender spot for these stingy performances against a quality opponent like the Red Wings, and this performance will only make that flame burn that much brighter. Defensively I felt the Wild’s young defenseman were their best. Scandella, Prosser, Falk and Spurgeon not only seemed poised but appeared to be calmer and less frantic with the puck. Marek Zidlicky was atrocious, with a plethora of needless turnovers and just mindless play overall. Even when he had time to make good plays with the puck he would just blindly fire it for no reason giving the puck away a team that covets puck possession.
Offensively the Wild lived and died by the power play. Through most of regulation the story of the Wild’s power play was its incredible predictability and its frustrating passiveness as prime chances to shoot were declined in favor of one more pass that almost inevitably derailed the power play. The Wild were able to scrape just enough offense to earn a victory but there are still some big question marks. Why is Dany Heatley hesitating to pull the trigger so much? He has to know he was brought here to register shots on goal and in most games he has done just that. I really thought the Wild’s best line overall tonight was the 3rd line of Brodziak, Clutterbuck and Johnson who made good things happen on the forecheck all night long.
I have no doubt there will be lots of fans across the league and especially in Detroit that will feel Minnesota was given a gift; first for the penalty on Franzen in overtime but next on the non-call on what they will feel was an illegal hit by Koivu. Watch it for yourself, its clear Koivu’s hit was with his shoulder as they were both going for the puck. Niklas Krownall loves stepping up and delivering hits on players who are unprepared and this time he was the one who got lit up as he struggled to get back on his skates after the so-called ‘exploding shoulder.’ As I said check it out for yourself.
Wild head coach told the media, “Well that’s got to be a message, and its always about the next one and (Daryl) Sydor got the boys focused and we made it happen” as he talked about Koivu’s late 3rd period tally to tie the game. Yeo called the 1st period a ‘complete disaster’ saying that a number of players stepped up their game in the 2nd and 3rd period summarizing by saying, “all in all I have to say I was impressed by the resiliency of this team.” Minnesota registered 27 shots tonight, which is a deluge by their standards and I have to agree with the Wild head coach in talking about how the team has found itself with a chance to win or get to overtime by the way its battled late in games. Recently, its been a winning formula for the Wild.
~ Wild roster for tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak, Guillaume Latendresse, Nick Johnson, Colton Gillies, Brad Staubitz, Darroll Powe, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Matt Kassian and Clayton Stoner were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Devin Setoguchi, 2nd Star Josh Harding, 3rd Star Pavel Datsyuk
~ Attendance was 20,066 at Joe Louis Arena.
~ You can listen to the final 3 minutes or so of regulation as well as all of overtime as it was broadcast by KFAN’s Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid here, its an instant classic, enjoy!
Wild Prospect Report:
F – Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ This year is supposed to be a transition year for Mario Lucia, who is refining his game before he makes the jump to play at Notre Dame. So far he looks pretty sharp as he is the Penticton Vee’s leading scorer as well as 2nd leading scorer in the entire BCHL with 10 goals, 29 points in 14 games! The 6’3″ forward has been most lethal on the power play as 4 out of his 10 goals have come on the man advantage.
F – Mikael Granlund (HIFK Helsinki, Sm-Liiga) ~ Granlund’s team may not being having all that great of a season, but the Wild prospect is having a strong year so far. The Oulu-native leads HIFK in scoring, and like Lucia currently ranks 2nd in the entire Sm-Liiga with 6 goals and 21 points in 16 games.
F – Johan Larsson (Brynas, Eliteserien) ~ Larsson will never be mistaken for a big time scorer, but there are solid signs of progress for the defensive-minded forward. He has already surpassed last year’s modest total of 8 points with 4 goals and 11 points this season in just 17 games played. Physically, the Lau, Sweden-native is more mature than most 19-year olds as evidenced by his chiseled 203lbs, 6’0″ frame.
D – Jonas Brodin (Farjestad, Eliteserien) ~ Wild fans may be a bit unsure of what to make of Jonas Brodin’s season thus far; where he’s not exactly burning up the stat sheet with a very modest 2 assists to his credit in 17 games played. What is not as obvious, is that according to reports he’s showing significant improvement as well as the same level of calm and poise to his game that Wild scouts’ coveted so much.