Do you remember what you were doing 9 years ago? I am sure that for most people, its not that easy. Even remembering what you did last week can be a challenge for some. Can you even remember all that you did just 2 days ago? Important events can certainly ingrain themselves to the emotions we felt when we initially experienced them, but for the mundane parts of life most people would probably struggle remembering all that many details. So why did I bring up what you remembered 9 years ago? Was it because I wanted to tell you that the price of gasoline was $1.72 and people thought that was ridiculously high, 50 Cent‘s “In Da Club” was the top song, and the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King was the top grossing film that year. So where am I going with this?
What does 50 Cent have in common with the Wild playing Dallas?
Well, almost 9 years ago, March 21st, 2003 was the last time the Minnesota Wild won in Dallas. Manny Fernandez was between the pipes, and this was Minnesota’s stretch before it went on its remarkable 1st run through the Stanley Cup playoffs. I can actually remember that run rather vividly, the Wild’s overtime heroics and the late night’s spent watching Minnesota willing its way back twice from 3-1 series to pull off the improbable comebacks. So the Wild have had 9 years of futility in Big D ever since. So will the Wild reverse this trend tonight or will it be waiting a little bit longer to put this to an end?
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1st Period Thoughts: There was lots of physical play to start the game, the Stars especially were taking every opportunity to deliver hits as Dany Heatley got rocked with a big hit by Steve Ott. Minnesota was weathering the storm well, skating well and trying to get established on the forecheck. One player who was clearly on a mission was Ott who was trying to agitate with each big hit he delivered and he’d get carried away as he hit Nate Prosser long after the puck had passed by him and he’d earn an interference penalty. On the power play, the Wild moved the puck well, moving it from high to low and back out to the point where Prosser nearly scored on a shot from the point that just trickled wide. Dany Heatley gathered up the loose biscuit and he tried to swing a shot around the sprawling Kari Lehtonen but he came up with a huge save. Newest member of the Wild Erik Christensen got some power play time and he didn’t look completely out of place where he kept feeding the puck back to Kyle Brodziak. Minnesota would come up empty on the power play after good pressure, and the Stars were flying around the ice being physical. Ott who had exited the boss just narrowly missed a cross-ice pass but Minnesota would counter with its top line. The Wild’s top line of Kyle Brodziak, Dany Heatley and Nick Johnson would cause the Stars fits with some hard work in the offensive zone as Brodziak set up Heatley 3 separate times for shots on goal but each time Lehtonen would manage to make the stop. The Stars tried to answer back and Jamie Benn sped through the Wild’s defense before dishing it to Mike Ribeiro for a quick shot that beat Niklas Backstrom and stuck the crossbar and out and luckily the puck bounced over a few stick blades to stay out of the back of the Minnesota goal. Minnesota would go back on the attack in this up-and-down game, and Marek Zidlicky threaded a diagonal pass to Devin Setoguchi who unloaded on a one-timer that Lehtonen denied, but Minnesota would gather the puck and it would go back out to the point where Zidlicky was given plenty of space and time to shoot and he’d hesitate then try to skate around and fire a wrist shot that the Stars goalie held onto for a whistle. Zidlicky passing up a shot was comical, he had a good shooting lane and plenty of time but he just couldn’t will himself to fire it, that’s why you’ve been a healthy scratch! Minnesota continued to create offensively as Jared Spurgeon led the rush, and he’d fire a snap shot on goal that Lehtonen juggled and a host of Wild bodies tried to poke the puck home but it would be covered up for a stoppage in play. A few minutes later, the Stars got their cycle going and the Wild’s 4th line had no answer. Tom Wandell, Adam Burish and Jake Dowell were moving the puck with impunity but they were not putting a lot of shots on goal until Burish tried to drive towards the net and his shot was kicked away by Backstrom. Both clubs were battling well, and while Minnesota was winning the races to the loose puck it was the Stars carrying the load physically. Minnesota out shot the Stars 13-7 and I really liked Minnesota’s aggressiveness and willingness to put the puck on goal. They were not rewarded this period but if they keep doing this I have no doubt they’ll be lighting the lamp soon enough.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period started with much of the same intensity that typified the 1st period, as it was end to end action and both clubs looked for opportunities to take the body. Cal Clutterbuck took a pretty good run at Jamie Benn who just managed to step out of the way just in time to avoid the big hit. The Stars were carrying the play to start the period, able to create more shooting opportunities. The hitting continued as Jed Ortmeyer knocked Jake Dowell into his bench, but Dowell not missing a beat told his bench to just go for a line change. Dallas would help the Wild a bit, as they’d take a ‘too many men’ penalty giving the Wild its 2nd power play of the game. On the power play, the Wild were a bit careless with the puck that gave Dallas some easy opportunities to just clear the zone. Just getting set up in the zone was too much for the Wild and Minnesota failed to get anything going, not even getting close to even putting a shot on goal. A few minutes later, it ws Matt Cullen carrying the puck deep into the Stars zone where he tried to spin and fire a shot on goal that was stonewalled by Lehtonen who was covering his left post pretty well. Vernon Fiddler would be called for cross checking giving the Wild another power play. On the man advantage, Minnesota moved the puck pretty well as they set up a few nice shooting opportunities for Cal Clutterbuck that forced Lehtonen to come up with some big saves. The Wild had good puck movement and they built up some positive momentum. The Stars would go on the attack and it was Ott setting up Benn for a shot from point-blank range that was stopped by the toe of Backstrom. The pressure yielded a power play, as Matt Cullen held up Jamie Benn on a pretty weak call (apparently it was for slashing, uh ok). Minnesota was aggressive on the penalty kill that kept Dallas at bey for a while before a blast form the point by Alex Goligoski missed wide but the puck caromed out front and it was swept up by Mike Ribeiro who deposited it behind a sprawling Backstrom to give the Stars a 1-0 lead. After the Stars goal, the Wild tried to push for the equalizer with its top line and they came very close to giving Minnesota the equalizer, after some solid play down low along the boards they’d get caught up near the Stars’ bench where Heatley would pick up the puck and dish a pass over to Brodziak who was all alone and his backhand bid was stopped by Lehtonen. The Wild kept applying pressure and Devin Setoguchi ripped a wrist shot that was steered wide by Lehtonen, as Minnesota was putting the Stars on their heels. The final seconds would evaporate and Minnesota would end the period trailing by one. Minnesota again held a 10-9 shot advantage but it was a more even period and the Wild were not taking its opportunities to shoot as much as they did in the 1st. They need to get back to that shoot first mentality. Especially on the power play where the Wild managed just 3 shots on 3 power plays.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had a good look to tie the game early in the period as Dany Heatley wound up and fired a laser of a slapper that was gloved by Lehtonen. The Stars were being aggressive on the forecheck and this caused the Wild to have some problems. Dallas seemed to have a little bit more jump and Minnesota was hesitating just enough that kept the Wild bottled up in their own zone. However, the Wild kept hustling and the top line would strike off a turnover in the neutral zone that was stolen by Nick Johnson who one-touched it to Brodziak who moved in and lifted a shot over the outstretched arms of Lehtonen to tie the game at 1-1. Minnesota’s top line continued to be pesky as Nick Johnson forced another turnover on the forecheck and it was Heatley with a chance that was just directed aside by Lehtonen. The Wild’s forecheck was now causing the Stars to have some issues in their own zone as Cal Clutterbuck and Devin Setoguchi forced a turnover that eventually turned into a shot for Justin Falk that missed just wide of the mark. Moments later it was the top line creating more havoc on the forecheck as Nick Johnson came close to chipping in a goal that missed just wide as Lehtonen got just enough of it to make a save. The Stars had a dangerous opportunity of their own as Michael Ryder dangled around Warren Peters for a quick shot that missed just wide. The game started to resemble a chess match as both clubs were waiting for the slightest mistake to exploit. A few minutes later, the Wild were able to create a scoring chance after some great work along the wall by Cullen he’d wrap shot on goal that Lehtonen stopped with the leg pad. A minute or so after that the top line again would go on the attack and they’d work the puck down low where Brodziak fed it out front for Heatley who was waiting near the blue paint and he chipped a shot wide of the goal. The Wild were leaning heavily on this line and a few moments later it was a long backhand pass that was flipped into the air where it was knocked down by a jumping Sheldon Souray but Kyle Brodziak got his stick on the puck and Souray hauled him down before he could go on a break away drawing a late period penalty. Minnesota was not able to get much of anything going early on the power play other than few weak attempts from the dasher by Heatley who tried to jam a shot by Lehtonen. With the game still tied at 1-1 at the end of regulation the game would go to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota would have 53 seconds of power play time to work with to start overtime. The Wild seemed content to just slowly move the puck and their series of saucer paces were bouncing around on the crappy ice of American Airlines Arena. Minnesota would call a timeout with just 6 seconds left in their power play to give their top players a much-needed rest. The Wild finally registered a shot on goal when Heatley wound up and blazed a slapper that was gloved by Lehtonen. The Stars would go on the attack, and despite some scrambling play in the Wild zone all they were able to create was a blast from the point by Phillip Larsen that was directed aside by the leg pad of Backstrom. Minnesota tried to go back on the attack but a misplay of the puck Setoguchi turned into a rush the other direction and Backstrom was forced to make a big save on a crashing Sheldon Souray. The Wild’s Cal Clutterbuck would take a tripping penalty with just 55 seconds in overtime. Kyle Brodziak made a nice strong play on the puck as he lost the faceoff but kept working and managed to get a crucial early clear of the zone. The Stars power play moved the puck slowly, but Dallas seemed to have the game winner in hand as Ribeiro was denied near the crease and it was Darroll Powe making a huge clear of the puck to bail out Backstrom and the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Summary: The Dallas Stars opted to have the Wild go first, and Minnesota would go to Erik Christensen. Christensen would move out to the right a bit and he tried to move to the left and then dangle it back from the right and Lehtonen was able to make the save with his leg pad. Loui Eriksson was the Stars first shooter and he’d go out to the left and move to his right and beat Backstrom easily 5-hole to put Dallas up 1-0. The Wild’s next shooter was Matt Cullen who skated down the middle made a nice shoulder fake that got Lehtonen to commit and he beat him on the forehand, 1-1. Jamie Benn would take a wide right approach and he’d move in and beat Backstrom with a wrist shot. Minnesota’s next shooter was Jared Spurgeon who struggled to get the puck moving and he’d skate in and his wrist shot was denied by Lehtonen who gave Dallas the 2-1 shootout win. The 9 year streak would have to last a little longer.
Niklas Backstrom did all he could to give the Wild the victory but he was horribly exposed in the shootout. Still, he made stopped 25 shots in the loss. He made a few huge saves when the defense had some gaffes positionally and that’s all you can ask of your goaltender. Defensively I thought the Wild did a pretty good job. Nate Prosser, Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon had a strong game. Marek Zidlicky wasn’t beyond horrible, but he played hesitantly and did nothing to help the team on the power play.
Offensively, it may seem strange to give the club a big pat on the back for a one-goal performance but I was relatively pleased with the way this team created opportunities to shoot the puck. Minnesota had a fantastic game from its top line of Johnson, Brodziak and Heatley who have some excellent chemistry working for them. Heatley was shooting early and often, pounding 8 shots on goal, and Johnson chipped in 3 and Brodziak had 4 shots of his own. This line was making things happen in the offensive zone all night long, with Brodziak and Johnson on the forecheck creating turnovers that were converted into shooting opportunities for Heatley. I really hope the team does not choose to break up this line once Mikko Koivu returns, they create the space that Heatley needs and even though it may be a shot to the pride of Koivu he needs to understand this team needs to have its $7.5 million winger firing the puck on goal. One player who I felt really struggled offensively apart from the hesitant Zidlicky was Devin Setoguchi. He seemed to be fighting the puck much of the night. I thought Erik Christensen wasn’t too bad in his Wild debut especially when you take into account he hadn’t played since mid-December; he has some decent speed and he has a very quick shot. I was hoping he’d fire it on goal more than he did, but is not a gritty player. His shootout move came dangerously close to working and its nice to see that level of skill and hands. Overall though, 33 shots on goal is pretty good for this team and its too bad they couldn’t connect on those chances they had early in the game.
I was hoping the Wild would’ve been able to end this 9-year long streak of futility, but they got about as close as you could get. I like how they battled back in the 3rd to get the game-tying goal and then kept pouring it on down the stretch. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was not happy with Backstrom’s performance in the shootout saying that this team needs to make him better in that part of the game. He also said he felt the power play took a step back, mainly because of its unwillingness to shoot the puck. Yeo told the reporters in his post-game, “That was a good game, both teams played well, it was fast and I thought we played well, especially 5-on-5 its a shame we didn’t come away with a win.” I agree, the Wild deserved a better fate, but that’s the game and at least they earned a point in the standings. I think the Wild could be in for a battle on Tuesday when they play the Todd Richards‘-coached Columbus Blue Jackets. If the Wild play like they did tonight, Richards will have another loss to his credit.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Johnson, Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe, Carson McMillan, Jed Ortmeyer, Warren Peters, Brad Staubitz, Erik Christensen, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser and Jared Spurgeon. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Mike Lundin, Matt Kassian and Clayton Stoner were the ‘healthy’ scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Kari Lehtonen, 2nd Star Mike Ribeiro, 3rd Star Dany Heatley
~ Attendance was 18,532 at American Airlines Arena.
Houston Aeros Report:
2011-12 Record: (23-11-3-9) 2nd West Division
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #14 Jon DiSalvatore ~ 14G 19A = 33pts
2. #37 Justin Fontaine ~ 10G 20A = 30pts
3. #22 Jeff Taffe ~ 8G 20A = 28pts
4. #20 Chad Rau ~ 7G 12A = 19pts
5. #26 David McIntyre ~ 11G 8A = 19pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #4 Drew Bagnall ~ 62 PIM’s
2. #26 David McIntyre ~ 39 PIM’s
3. #56 Joel Broda ~ 26 PIM’s
1. #31 Matt Hackett (14-8-4) 2.38GAA .920%
2. #35 Darcy Kuemper (5-4-4) 2.21GAA .927%
Recent Score: Houston 3, Texas 1
The news that the Wild made a trade may have been received with some optimism in Minnesota, its been met with dread and frustration in Houston as Minnesota parted ways with the Aeros top goal scorer Casey Wellman. Wellman has more or less been the Aeros lone go-to scorer with 14 goals and 26 points in 26 games. The Aeros, like the Wild are a team that struggles to score goals and they have a modest committee-like approach like their parent club. Team captain Jon DiSalvatore leads the way offensively, and fellow AHL vets David McIntyre and Jeff Taffe hasn’t quite shown the scoring touch he has in other stops. In addition; rookie AHL pros Joel Broda, Justin Fontaine, Kris Foucault and Chay Genoway have tried to provide the secondary scoring any successful team needs especially when the workhorses do not exactly tear up the stat sheet. However, Houston’s greatest source of strength is in the crease where Matt Hackett has had another strong season and rookie pro Darcy Kuemper has been quite solid too. Houston’s low scoring attack necessitates Hackett or Kuemper be at their absolute best if they expect to win games. The Aeros gave up the first goal on Thursday night against in-state rival Texas Stars to respond with 3 unanswered; including one from the now-traded Wellman who will be reporting to play for the Connecticut Whale. Hackett had 26 saves in the victory. With so many ‘Aeros’ playing up with the Wild; players like Jed Ortmeyer, Warren Peters, Matt Kassian, Nate Prosser, Carson McMillan and Jarod Palmer battling a concussion its no small achievement that Houston still finds itself in 4th place in the AHL’s Western Conference. That has meant Aeros GM and Wild Assistant GM Jim Mill has been very busy, but so far some of his call ups from the ECHL have had success as Mike Radja has chipped in 2 goals and 6 points in 13 games. Its not ideal, but that’s life as an AHL affiliate. Houston’s next game is tonight against the Lake Erie Monsters. UPDATE: Remember the Wild’s 5-4 collapse earlier this week against Nashville. This time it was the Aeros giving the Lake Erie Monsters a collapse as they rallied back from being down 4-1 to earning a 5-4 shootout victory in front of the largest crowd in Aeros history as 13,390 packed into Toyota Center. David McIntyre got things started by giving Houston a 1-0 lead, but the Monsters answered back with 3 goals of their own to put the Aeros down 3-1 at the end of the 1st. Lake Erie’s Justin Mercier would score his 2nd goal of the game early in the 2nd to make it 4-1 and Houston had its work cut out for them. Chay Genoway would get it started as he blistered a slapper on the power play to make it 4-2, and Houston would chip away at the Monster’s lead and Jeff Taffe and Kris Foucault each banged home their 8th goals of the season to tie the game at 4-4. After a scoring chance filled overtime, the game would go to a shootout where Houston has struggled all season. Former UMD star Justin Fontaine got things goaling by beating Gerald Coleman on a forehand to backhand deke, but Hackett was a wall stopping all four shots he faced. ECHL call up C.J. Stretch had a huge night for Houston as contributed two assists in addition to the game winning shootout goal for the Aeros.
Wild Prospect Report:
Omaha’s Anthony Hamburg
RW – Charlie Coyle (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ The former Boston University standout had a goal for the Sea Dogs in their hard-fought 3-2 shootout victory over the Drummondville Voltigeurs Friday night. Coyle’s tally gives him 6 goals in just 9 games. UPDATE: Had an assist in a 2-1 victory over the Cataractes today.
C – Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMHL) ~ Phillips chipped in an assist Friday night for the Sea Dogs as they skated to a 3-2 shoout victory. The 6’1″, 181lbs center was horrendous on his draws, winning just 3-of-11 (27.7%). UPDATE: Had an assist in a 2-1 victory over Shawinigan Saturday afternoon.
D – Josh Caron (Everett, WHL) ~ Its been a rough week for the Everett Silvertips, the surprise news of their club’s GM Doug Soetaert being fired on Thursday put the team in a state of flux for an organization that has mostly known success. The Silvertips lost Friday night, but the rugged blueliner had a good game, finishing with 2 helpers and a +1 in a 6-3 decision.
F – Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ The 6’3″, 200lbs forward normally plays the role of sniper, but on Friday night against Chilliwack he demonstrated he can be an effective playmaker chipping in 2 assists in the Vees 5-1 victory. Penticton has been a literal scoring and winning machine, with an unreal 41-3-0-2 record.
F – Anthony Hamburg (Omaha, USHL) ~ As team captain, there is lots to Anthony Hamburg’s game that does not necessarily register on the score sheet. However, its always nice to see him on the stat sheet as he chipped in an assist in a 4-3 overtime win over the Fargo Force Friday night. The Phoenix, Arizona-native was also a +2 as well.