Its a game most of us played as kids, musical chairs. Kids walk around a circle made of chairs as long as the music is playing and when the music stops we scramble to sit in a chair and not be the one without a place to sit. Eventually it gets to the point where you have just one chair and two competitors remaining. Who will be the one left out when the music stops? Occasionally you'll see musical chairs as intermission entertainment. I thinkk NHL lineups are sometimes a lot like musical chairs. Where at times its less about what a player has been doing for a club and simply a random choice just to try to change things up. On Saturday, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had announced that there would be no changes in the lineup after Thursday night's win over Chicago. Then suddenly just prior to the game, the team swapped out Jason Zucker for Mike Rupp. Rupp has played in just 9 games this season. After the game Yeo insisted 'Rupper' needed to get into the lineup and that it was an attempt to not allow the Sharks to take liberties against the Wild's skill players. The Sharks still took their opportunities to abuse Wild players anyways. The Wild squandered a 2-goal lead and lost in overtime 3-2. The Wild's 4th line played very sparingly, no doubt due to the fact Mike Rupp was on the line. Rupp had one good shift, but played the least out of any other player with just 6:40 of ice time. So what gives?
Either Mike Yeo believes Mike Rupp really was going to intimidate the Sharks (which he did not) or the Head Coach has some irrational harshness for the confident winger from Las Vegas, Nevada. Compared to other youngsters the Wild have had, Jason Zucker's leash has been tremendously short. Other Wild youngsters have been allowed a great level of leniency and their growing pains haven't resulted in being dispatched to the minors a bunch of times as has the case with Zucker. With the Wild traveling to Anaheim, a team that has oodles of speed and the best home record in the NHL this season will the coach be forced to give Zucker that last roster spot? The Ducks are still relishing the glow of winning their stadium series game over crosstown rival Los Angeles, can the Wild earn a rare road victory at 'the Pond' or will Anaheim provide another example of how they just might be the Western Conference's best team?
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1st Period Thoughts: The first period in my opinion was all about speed. There was the Ducks speed; super fast and flying all over the place and the Wild which was slower and spent scrambling about its own end. The Wild couldn't get anything going offensively because the puck almost never seemed to be on its stick for long and they could never really find and time and space because Anaheim was able to take away time and space so easily. Don't get me wrong, the Wild was not dragging its feet; they just didn't seem to possess the pure speed that Anaheim did. Darcy Kuemper wasn't super busy but he had to be ready as the Ducks were setting themselves up in the high slot. It would be nearly half the period before the Wild finally got out of its zone with some speed and with the numbers to do something as Zach Parise set up Mikael Granlund for a slap shot from the high slot that was blocked by a Ducks defender which seemed to surprise Jonas Hiller who had expected to make the save. The puck was swept up by Jason Pominville who carried the puck beneath the goal line before directing it towards the crease where it hit the backside of Hiller and into the back of the net to give the Wild a 1-0 lead. Shortly after Pominville's goal, the Wild would go on the power play as Luca Sbisa was tagged with a hooking penalty. On the power play, the Wild moved the puck fairly well from low to high, but all too often they were not waiting to shoot and that allowed Hiller to get square so when they did fire it he was in good position to make a save. The Ducks would get the kill where they tried to go back on the attack as they set up Ryan Getzlaf for a chance from the high slot that he drove wide of the net. Minnesota was counter punching well and Torrey Mitchell would draw another hooking penalty on Sbisa. On the power play the Wild tried to move the puck a bit quicker and the result was more shooting opportunities as Ryan Suter was able to get a few through from the point that were steered aside by Hiller. In the waning seconds of the man advantage the Wild had a quality chance as Nino Niederreiter fanned on a shot that was stopped Hiller but he gave up a rebound and Keith Ballard pinched but he too wiffed and Hiller would cover up the biscuit. After Hiller's stop, tempers would flare as Andrew Cogliano who was wearing a protective piece for his jaw gave Niederreiter a shove that he didn't appreciate. The Wild would continue to attack the Ducks' zone with speed but shots were hard to come by as the Ducks kept good active sticks. Ryan Suter had a beauty of a diagonal back door pass to Justin Fontaine who ripped a shot that was knocked up into the air by Hiller. Moments after that Suter would find Kyle Brodziak on a long pass to give him a breakaway but as he closed in he'd lose the puck and all Hiller had to do was cover it up. The missed opportunities would come back haunt the Wild as the Ducks would tie the game late in the period. Getzlaf would work the puck down low where he fed a pass out toward the right faceoff dot that was one-timed by Kuemper by Dustin Penner, bang-bang and just like that it was 1-1. Minnesota would go back on the power play soon thereafter as Penner would slash Jonas Brodin's stick into a few pieces. The Wild were not able to get much of anything going on the power play and you had to feel as the plethora of missed opportunities had helped build the Ducks' confidence towards the latter half of the period. With the Ducks flying all over the ice, I don't see why you'd want a slower player like Mike Rupp out there.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild still had 32 seconds of power play time left over from Penner's slashing penalty and Minnesota would take full advantage of it. Right off the rush they'd strike as Ryan Suter fed a long pass up to Parise who sent the puck towards the crease that was redirected perfectly by Granlund who chipped it by Hiller to make it 2-1 Wild. It was Minnesota's first power play goal in 24 attempts. The Wild did not just sit back and defend its lead, Minnesota continued to be aggressive as defenseman stepped up to keep the puck in the offensive zone. The Wild started to find time and space and the game seemed to open up a bit. The Ducks would move in with speed as Cogliano set up Mathieu Perreault who fanned on what looked like an open net and they'd never even get a shot off and the Wild would counter attack as Fontaine set up Matt Cooke for a quick shot and he found the crossbar. Moments after that Cooke was stopped again on another nice set up by Kyle Brodziak. As the speed of the game ramped up, so did the physical play as Jason Pominville would be on the recieving end of two vicious checks. The Ducks would earn their first power play of the game as Mike Rupp held up an Anaheim's Matt Beleskey. On the penalty kill the Wild would have the first quality scoring chance as Justin Fontaine stole a puck and he drew the defense towards him and then dished it over to Cooke who was wide open on the back side and the veteran got off a quick wrist shot that struck the left post and out. The Ducks tried to counter attack but the Wild's aggressiveness did a great job of preventing Anaheim's power play from ever feeling comfortable and Minnesota neutralized it with hustle and good puck pressure. The physical play continued to amplify as both clubs were taking every opportunity to finish their checks with authority. Minnesota would earn another power play as Bryan Allen was given a tripping penalty for hauling down Pominville. On the power play the Wild had a great chance early as a point shot from Ryan Suter was redirected in the slot by Dany Heatley that struck the cross bar and out as the puck rolled back towards Hiller who leaned back to cover it up. Minnesota continued to move the puck well but the Ducks forced Minnesota to settle for shots from the perimeter and they'd come up empty on the power play. The Wild continued to dictate the pace of play and were being rewarded with the lion's share of scoring chances in the closing minutes of the period. Mikael Granlund got another opportunity to step into a slap shot that was deflected up and over by the glove of Hiller. Moments after that Matt Cooke had a great chance that forced Hiller to make a big save. The Wild continued to attack and Charlie Coyle dropped a pass back to Niederreiter who hammered a slap shot that struck Cam Fowler in the foot that left him limping badly. Unfortunately the Wild were unable to take advantage of Fowler's discomfort in the closing seconds but Minnesota had to feel pretty good about the way that period went. While there were certainly some missed opportunities, the Wild were still applying pressure and causing lots of havoc in the Ducks' zone, outshooting Anaheim 11-4 in the period. The one-goal lead is a bit deflating considering how much the Wild dominated the 2nd period.
3rd Period Thoughts: Anaheim's Ben Lovejoy and the Wild's Charlie Coyle would start the 3rd period sitting the box with coincidental roughing minors for some pushing and shoving at the end of the 2nd. WIth the ice more open with 4-on-4 the period got off to a fast start as both clubs were trading rushes up the ice with one another. Minnesota had the best chance of the 4-on-4 as Nino Niederreiter moved in and got off a quick shot that Hiller stopped but he gave up a rebound that was pounced on by Ballard but the Ducks' goalie was able to stop him too. As play would go back to 5-on-5 it was Corey Perry moaving towards the slot and firing a shot that was stopped by Kuemper and the big goaltender was eventually able to cover up the biscuit as he had a bunch of bodies near his crease. Minnesota kept applying pressure, and their persistance and willingness to direct shots on goal started to be rewarded. It started with a faceoff win by Charlie Coyle who won it back to Marco Scandella who stepped into a slap shot that was redirected by Hiller by Parise to make it 3-1. You could hear the wind blowing out of the sails of the arena and the next minute or two was going to be telling in regards to the ultimate outcome of this game. The Wild defended a small push by the Ducks and then went back on the attack and another long range wrist shot by Pominville was redirected by Hiller, 5-hole to make it 4-1. Another huge goal, by the Wild who were now having the puck luck that eluded them in the first two periods. After the goal the tempers would flare but not as one would necessarily expect as Mike Rupp decided to challenge Luca Sbisa for his hits. The officials immediately stepped in before Rupp could mete out his punishment of Sbisa and he'd earn 4-minute double minor for roughing giving the Ducks a long power play. Initially, it was all Kuemper as he made a few quality saves to help calm things down a little bit. The Ducks would finaally find the back of the net as Mathieu Perreault went top corner, to make it 4-2 and Anaheim still had two minutes of power play time remaining. Minnesota's penalty kill was strong, and even a little aggressive as Parise and Suter went on a 2-on-1 that nearly cashed in as Parise's set up was just directed wide by Suter. The Wild would get a little lucky too as Kyle Brodziak had a chance to clear the zone but instead wiffed and missed, where he'd make matters worse by dropping his stick that put the Wild under that much more pressure but Kuemper stood tall and the Wild escaped without any further damage. Minnesota would earn a late power play as Perreault would get tagged with a cross checking penalty for a hit on Pominville. The Wild's power play didn't just sit back and kill time on the man advantage. Minnesota changed up its power play by putting Ballard and Suter at the point instead of Pominville and I felt the Wild moved the puck a bit quicker and the result was more shooting opportunities. The Wild didn't get a goal but they did allow Anaheim to build any momentum while shorthanded. The Ducks would press hard late in the 3rd but Kuemper came up huge; his best when he stonewalled Getzlaf on a shot taken from just above the crease as well as his rebound attempt which led to Minnesota earning a huge 4-2 victory.
Kuemper was again tremendous, making 31 saves in the victory. While I wouldn't say he had a lot of huge saves, but he made some very timely stops as well as did a fine job of limiting his rebounds to keep the hard charging Ducks from having much in the way of 2nd chance opportunities. He continues to be huge source of strength for the team and as long as the team continues to play confidently in front of him I'd expect him to continue to be the de facto starter. On the blue line the team got a great game from Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella. I also thought Keith Ballard had one of his better games and I liked how he stepped up to hold the offensive zone and I felt he looked more natural in that capacity.
Offensively the Wild had scoring chances from all over its lineup. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd lines all were having their moments where they created quality scoring chances. Matt Cooke could've easily had 2 goals in this game and I liked the chemistry he has developed with Justin Fontaine who also played well tonight. I thought Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund were fantastic, making a number of good plays in the offensive zone as well as finding ways to put the puck in the back of the net. Zach Parise was also rock solid and has really been a giant boost to the team, registering a goal and two helpers on the night. The Ducks defensive coverage was not great and the Wild exposed their lack of focus big time. The power play still needs work but they still found a way to contribute and that goal really lifted the team up at a crucial point in the game.
What a victory for the Wild, against a team that has been absolutely lights out at home. The Ducks had just 2 regulation losses at home this season, now they have 3. Minnesota dominated the Ducks through huge portions of this game and that isn't easy to do. The Wild were outchancing and outhustling and they didn't back down when the Ducks tried to make things physical. Now the Wild have to put this game behind them and do what they can to beat Colorado who has been a thorn in Minnesota's side this season.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Dany Heatley, Kyle Brdoziak, Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine, Mike Rupp, Erik Haula, Torrey Mitchell, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Niklas Backstrom backed up Darcy Kuemper. Jason Zucker and Stephane Veilleux were the healthy scratches tonight.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jason Pominville, 2nd Star Cam Fowler, 3rd Star Zach Parise
~ Attendance was 15,020 at Honda Center.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to extend its congratulations to Wild Athletic Trainer Don Fuller on being apart of his 1000th game with the franchise this evening.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 2, San Antonio 1 OT
Iowa was shooting early and often to start the 2nd of a 2-game weekend series with the Rampage on Saturday. Despite Iowa's aggressive approach it was the Rampage lighting the lamp first as a point shot by Ryan Whitney drew a rebound from John Curry that was banged home by Derek Nesbitt to give San Antonio a 1-0 advantage. The Wild would use the power play to put the Rampage under siege but they just couldn't seem to solve Michael Houser. However their persistence would be rewarded as Jake Dowell raced in and hammered a slap shot that was stopped by Houser but Marc Hagel was there to bury the rebound and tie the game at 1-1. The game would remain knotted at one in the 3rd and they'd go to overtime. In overtime, a high sticking call to Michael Caruso would give the Wild a power play and Iowa would cash in as Kyle Medvec blistered a slap shot from the high slot that beat Houser to give Minnesota's AHL affiliate a huge 2-1 victory. Curry had 25 saves in the victory. Iowa's next game is Friday against Milwaukee.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW – Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, H-East) ~ The offensively gifted winger helped the Fighting Irish split their weekend series with Northeastern as he tallied a goal and an assist in Notre Dame's 3-0 victory on Saturday. Lucia is leads Notre Dame in goals with 13 and is 2nd in points with 22pts in 25 games played this season.
D – Dylan Labbe (Shawinigan, QMJHL) ~ The defenseman had a goal and registered a hit in the Cataractes 4-3 loss to Gatineau on Sunday. The St. Benjamin, Quebec-native has 7 goals, 23 points and 16 PIM's in 46 games played this season.
D – Mathew Dumba (Portland, WHL) ~ The dynamic defenseman continues to find his way onto the scoresheet after contributing an assist and was a +2 in the Winterhawks 6-2 thrashing of the Everett Silvertips on Sunday night. Dumba has 2 goals, 6 points, 11 PIM's and was a +10 in 5 games played this season.
Minnesota High School Boys Hockey Report:
Here are the current rankings for Class A & AA Boys High School teams in Minnesota according to FollowthePuck.com as of Janaury, 26th 2014.
Class A (Boys):
2. East Grand Forks
5. New Prague
6. Mankato West
8. Duluth Marshall
11. St. Cloud Cathedral
13. Thief River Falls
15. St. Paul Academy
Class AA (Boys):
1. Lakeville North
6. Elk River / Zimmerman
8. Duluth East
9. Holy Family Catholic
10. Eden Prairie
11. Benilde-St. Margaret's
12. St. Thomas Academy
14. Cretin-Durham Hall
15. Maple Grove