It seems like it was already a long time ago, but just one week ago Team USA battled Canada at the close of the 2010 Olympic games in one of the best hockey games in the last 10 years. Canada gave its nation the ultimate gift by winning gold on its home soil and the United States surprised many by earning the silver and pushing the host country to its limits. Tonight is another type of award is going to be given, that for the best movies of this past year at the annual Academy Awards Show as actors, directors and films vie to win the coveted ‘Oscar.’ Some believe big blockbusters like James Cameron‘s Avatar have the best chance at winning the biggest prize, ‘Best Film’ while others think less heralded and far less expensive movies like Crazyheart will earn a big upset. The categories cover virtually every aspect of filmmaking and this got me thinking about events in the Wild’s season and giving out my own awards. We’ll call them the “Herbie” Awards in honor of St. Paul-native and Minnesota coaching legend Herb Brooks. My emcee would be Andrew Brunette.
“Best Move by Owner, Coach or GM” (Nominees are: Craig Leipold for firing Doug Risebrough, Chuck Fletcher’s trade of Benoit Pouliot, and Todd Richards’ decision to make Mikko Koivu the permanent Captain.)
~ The Award goes to Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher for dealing away Benoit Pouliot to the Canadiens for Guillaume Latendresse. Not only did this allow Minnesota to move a player who couldn’t seem to find his groove here, but it also allowed us to acquire Latendresse who has provided a significant injection of offense as well as helping spark Martin Havlat and giving the team a viable 2nd scoring line. As sort of a side story, the move has worked out rather nicely for Pouliot as well who has been reasonably productive for Montreal. This may seem as an upset since the firing of Doug Risebrough was well recieved by Wild fans.
“Best Supporting Player (role player)” (Nominees are: Greg Zanon, Cal Clutterbuck, and Anton Khudobin)
~ The Award goes to Greg Zanon who has been the team’s best free agent pickup from last summer. He has been an absolute warrior on the blueline and is often the team’s most reliable defender in addition to being the team’s best shot blocker. He puts everything he has into his job and especially when he’s blocking shots his body takes a tremendous amount of punishment yet he has not missed a game for the Wild which is a further testament to his dedication. Anton Khudobin was the equivalent of your “Sundance Film Festival winner” a great dark horse who came up huge to earn two victories for the Wild including one in his first NHL start against a tough Flyers team but he hasn’t played enough to outweigh the season-long consistency of Zanon.
“Best Player (team MVP)” (Nominees are: Mikko Koivu, Guillaume Latendresse, and Niklas Backstrom)
~ The Award goes to Mikko Koivu who continues to really be the one-man workhorse for the team. He leads the way in points, is the player the team looks to in order to win key faceoffs, and he provides good defense as well as being the main catalyst for the top line. While a player like Niklas Backstrom is very important, if Koivu doesn’t register points the team does not win many games.
So with the “Herbie” awards distributed, will the Wild deliver an award winning performance this afternoon and take a big step forward in the standings or will it be another frustrating game similar to the one they had Friday night against the lowly Edmonton Oilers?
Just 19 seconds into the game, the Flames found the back of the net as Steve Staios wound up and blasted a slap shot that was redirected perfectly by Rene Bourque to give Calgary a very quick 1-0 lead. The Wild tried to answer back with their 1st and 2nd scoring lines but while they were able to work the puck into the Flames zone, Calgary’s defense was doing a better job of getting sticks on passes and they were able to disrupt Minnesota’s attempts to cycle with relative ease. Minnesota had a great chance when Martin Havlat took advantage of the Flames Mark Giordano stepping up and he tapped a pass to Andrew Ebbett who skated in a 2-on-1 towards Vesa Toskala, and he dished it to Guillaume Latendresse who slid a weak backhander just wide of the mark. The Flames would counter attack after this failed Wild rush and some nice passing by Rene Bourque to set up Giordano who redeemed his poor play with a blistering one-timer that beat Backstrom to put Calgary up 2-0. Minnesota would try to answer back as Andrew Brunette fed a pass to Antti Miettinen who would wind up and rip a shot that was gloved by Toskala. The Flames would have another ‘close’ chance as Niklas Hagman took a big hit before sliding a pass to Ales Kotalik who hammered a shot that was juggled up into the air by Backstrom who seemed to really be fighting for the puck but luckily for him his defenseman were able to sweep the puck away. Minnesota would try to utilize some grit with a strong shift from its 3rd line of Owen Nolan, Chuck Kobasew and Kyle Brodziak but despite all their hard work and effort they were unable to register a shot on goal. The Wild would follow that up with a great shift by its 2nd line where Guillaume Latendresse attempted a wrap that didn’t quite curl enough, and the Flames would counter attack and Rene Bourque hammered a blast that didn’t miss by much. His big shot would carom off the glass and Martin Havlat would skate up the ice and then make a terrific saucer feed to a crashing Latendresse who tried to roof a shot that ended up going over the net and again Calgary went on the counter attack. After an initial chance by Bourque that was stopped by Backstrom and then Jarome Iginla wiffed on a shot the puck was quickly pushed ahead to Chuck Kobasew who almost seemed to have a step on a Flames defender but he instead tried to spin and fire a shot that weakly made it towards the crease for an easy stop by Toskala. Moments later Antti Miettinen was nailed with an interference call for a check he delivered to Jamal Mayers, but Minnesota was very sharp on the penalty kill as they challenged Flames’ puck carriers well and the Wild were able to kill off the power play without much consequence. At the very end of the Flames power play, Ales Kotalik was called for hooking giving Minnesota a great opportunity to cut into the Calgary lead. The Wild’s power play was very disjointed and all too often they seemed to be caught in indecision, and at times this would yield great shorthanded chances for the Flames as Chris Higgins and David Moss had outstanding scoring opportunities that forced Backstrom to make some clutch saves. Minnesota’s power play just was an attempt to set up a shot from the wall or an attempt to set up Andrew Brunette who was camping out near the top of the Calgary crease. After the Wild failed to score on the power play they were renew their assault on the Calgary zone as the 2nd scoring line was able to create some pressure as Guillaume Latendresse took a quick pass by Martin Havlat and he carried the puck to the front of the crease for a backhander that Toskala stopped but Havlat would try to backhand the rebound that was again pushed aside by the Flames goaltender. The Flames would go on the attack themselves as their top line duo of Rene Bourque and Jarome Iginla were causing some havoc in the Wild zone and after a shot was chipped wide of the mark it left Niklas Backstrom way out of position and the biscuit was dished to Bourque who ripped a shot that Backstrom was just able to get in front of to make the save. A late-period slashing penalty by Mikko Koivu would give the Flames a power play but they were content to just play it safe and take their 2-0 lead with still over a minute of time on the man advantage to start the 2nd period.
The Flames would start the 2nd period with a nearly a minute and twenty seconds of power play time but Minnesota’s penalty kill did a good job of keeping Calgary to the perimeter, and the Wild would earn a crucial kill. The Wild tried to answer back and Brent Burns was really being active offensively as he took plenty of chances to jump into the play as he’d race in and rip a heavy wrist shot that Toskala bobbled before jumping on top of it to freeze it for a whistle. Minnesota continued to apply pressure as Guillaume Latendresse rifled a shot that Toskala fumbled with and Chuck Kobasew tried to fire home the rebound but the Flames goaltender would hold on. In a bit of a controversial sequence, Latendresse hauled down Calgary’s Robyn Regehr with his stick and then moments later it was Regehr being tagged with a hooking penalty of his own. On the power play the Wild had an outstanding chance where Minnesota peppered Toskala with shots as Marek Zidlicky snuck in to pick up a rebound but he was unable to lift a puck over the sprawling Flames goaltender. Minnesota would continue to move the puck well where Antti Miettinen was set up for a one-timer that he blazed on goal that struck the crossbar and the Wild continued to swarm near the Calgary goal and Cam Barker wound up and blasted a shot that struck Staios in the ribs that sent him to the ice in pain. The Wild had 6 shots on the power play but again no goals to show for their terrific pressure. Moments later, Calgary tried to take advantage of this frustration by the Wild as Curtis Glencross raced in and uncorked a slapper that was gloved by Backstrom. The Wild seemed to be a bit deflated after their failed power play and the Flames begain to assert themselves on the forecheck as Minnesota was just going through the motions. With the game in sort of a lull, the 2nd line would finally give the sellout crowd a reason to get out of its seat as Martin Havlat entered the Calgary zone, turned and then fed a perfect backdoor pass to Latendresse who was wide open and he beat Toskala with a small deke and a nice little backhander to cut the Flames lead in half, 2-1. The Flames tried to respond to the Wild goal with a hardworking shift down low in the Wild zone along the boards by Daymond Langkow, Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins and it was Kotalik for a point-blank shot that was stopped by a fine save by Backstrom. The Wild tried answer back as the top line attempted to tie the game as Mikko Koivu worked the puck behind the Flames goal to set up Antti Miettinen hammered a slap shot was stopped by Toskala that seemed to leave Miettinen a little worse for the wear. The Flames would counter attack as Jarome Iginla would press the play and he’d feed a cross-ice pass to a crashing Steve Staios who was denied by a diving Niklas Backstrom. Soon after this close chance the Wild’s Brent Burns would take a delay of game penalty for shooting a puck over the glass and it would prove to be costly. Minnesota’s penalty kill did a terrific job of killing off the first half of the Flames’ power play which was taking every opportunity to fire the puck on goal. This simplified approach would eventually pay off as Rene Bourque won a battle for the puck to get a rebound which he slid back out towards the point to Jarome Iginla who just unloaded a slapper that blew by Backstrom to extend the Flames’ lead to 3-1. Minnesota would try to answer back soon after as the 2nd scoring line of Latendresse and Havlat created some outstanding pressure in and around the Flames crease but Toskala and the Calgary defense was able to keep the puck out of the harm’s way but the Wild’s pressure did draw a holding penalty on Robyn Regehr. On the man advantage, it started off slowly as Minnesota tried to set up down low and Andrew Brunette would try to feed a pass out to Koivu but it was intercepted by Jay Bouwmeester who cleared the zone. Backstrom would try to help out by playing the puck and pushed it out to Brent Burns who turned and fed a long ‘home run’ pass to Latendresse who was behind the Flames’ defense and he moved in and he blistered a slapper Brian Rolston-style by Toskala, sending Mark Giordano’s stick flying in the process as he tried to disrupt the shot to give Minnesota a power play goal cutting the Calgary lead to one, 3-2. Moments later, the Flames would benefit from an apparent high stick and the puck ended up on the stick of Craig Conroy who skated in and he would backhand a shot that was nabbed out of the air by an outstanding glove save by Backstrom. The Wild were not happy about the non-call on the obvious high stick but fortunately Backstrom was able to make the save so Minnesota only trailed by one going into the 3rd period.
The Wild were attacking well early as Marek Zidlicky as helping support the play early working down low but his attempt to feed the puck out towards the crease was intercepted by the Flames defense. Minnesota continued to apply pressure and Barker would fire a shot from the point that was redirected by Ebbett up into the netting above the goal area. The Wild strategy to start the 3rd period seemed simple, take shots from the point with traffic in front and look for redirects and rebounds as Greg Zanon flung a shot from the point that attempted to use Brunette as a screen. Minnesota was still applying pressure as Owen Nolan chipped a pass to himself and he’d skate in towards the crease where he was looking to wrap a shot around Toskala and he’d lose the puck and the Flames’ defense was just able to sweep away the puck before Zidlicky could pounce on it. The Wild would keep skating well and draw another Flames penalty when Rene Bourque was called for hooking. On the power play the Wild had a good initial chance on a heavy wrist shot from the point by Marek Zidlicky that was absorbed by Toskala. Minnesota would show some good puck control as they held the zone for a chance that was thwarted by some diving Flames players to take away shooting lanes. With the crowd growing anxious, the Wild tried to mount a rush but a poor decision by Mikko Koivu salted away the final few seconds of the power play and Minnesota missed on a great opportunity to tie the game. The Wild would continue to pressure and it was James Sheppard making some good things happen as he helps win a battle along the boards and firing a wrist shot that missed just wide and then just seconds later tried to redirect a point shot that was steered aside by Toskala. With Minnesota pinching it was only a matter of time before the Flames had a prime scoring opportunity because of this and Regehr would find Iginla behind the Wild defense and he’d skate in all alone on the break away and he was stonewalled by Niklas Backstrom. The Wild tried to go on the attack as Mikko Koivu would skate around Ian White and he’d take the puck to the net and just wasn’t able to wrap it by Toskala and he tried to avoid him but he’d partially collide with him and earn a goaltender interference penalty from new NHL Referee Chris Ciamaga. Minnesota’s penalty killers would skate hard attempting to kill a fairly passive Flames power play without incident but the Wild would end up recieving an additional penalty as Owen Nolan would go to the box for interference. Nolan was insensed by the penalty and he’d deliver a nother hit to Niklas Hagman but the end result was a 5-on-3 for the Flames. Calgary did not waste any time finding the back of the net as Jarome Iginla one-timed a slapper by Backstrom to give the Flames a crucial 4-2 lead to a serenade of boo’s from the Xcel Energy Center crowd. The goal was scored with just 2 seconds left on Koivu’s penalty which meant the Flames still had well over a minute of power play time. Just as the penalty ended, the Wild tried to set up Owen Nolan who was exiting the penalty box and he’d race after the loose puck but could not get there before Vesa Toskala swept it away. Minnesota would try to go back on the attack to cut into the Flames lead while Calgary was content to simply play keep away. The Wild’s defense was pincing in, as Brent Burns would pinch in. The Wild would pull Backstrom with nearly 2:15 left on the clock and the Flames would be a bit lacadasical with an empty net as Iginla flung a shot that went wide of the open goal. Minnesota would try to counter attack but a bad pass would yield a weak shot and it was Iginla who earned a hat trick to put the nail in the coffin as his bouncing shot found the twine, 5-2 Flames. It was a disappointing finish to a game where the Wild again suffered from a slow start as the team lost another critical chance at 2 points in the standings.
Niklas Backstrom had just 18 saves in the loss, and the two quick goals he allowed in the first period really never allowed the Wild to have much of a chance in this game. He did come close to redeeming himself with some good saves in the 2nd and 3rd periods but it wasn’t enough. Backstrom was really fighting the puck in the 1st period, and the Wild’s defense was giving Jarome Iginla way too much space to operate.
Offensiely the Wild were not able to create much significant offensive pressure apart from plays by Brent Burns and Guillaume Latendresse. While the Wild did manage to find the back of the net once on the power play, it was too inconsistent. Effort was also inconsistent with some lines bringing good energy each shift and others just going through the motions and let’s face it the Flames were playing with a lot more focus and urgency than they did last week Wednesday. The Wild’s playoff hopes are officially on life support and there is no way to say that their next game, Tuesday against the Florida Panthers is anything but a must win. It may sound annoying to use that cliche but it is the bed that Minnesota has made for itself. Certainly, no “Herbie’s” were given for this afternoon’s effort.
~ Wild roster this afternoon was: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Antti Miettinen, Kyle Brodziak, Andrew Ebbett, James Sheppard, Robbie Earl, Cal Clutterbuck, Chuck Kobasew, Guillaume Latendresse, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Shane Hnidy, Marek Zidlicky, Cam Barker and Brent Burns. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. John Scott was the lone healthy scratch. Clayton Stoner is out as he recovers from groin surgery and Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were: 1st Star Jarome Iginla, 2nd Star Guillaume Latendresse, 3rd Star Rene Bourque
~ With 18,217 in attendance at this afternoon’s game it marks the 400th consecutive sellout in team history which is the 3rd longest consecutive sellout streak in NHL history.
~ Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard recieved a 2-game suspension from the league for a knee he gave former Minnesota Wild draftee Ryan Jones in Friday’s game against Edmonton.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Tyler Cuma ~ Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
2009-10 Stats: 49GP 4G 17A = 21pts 69 PIM’s +9
Cuma has been playing much better as of late, as are his 67’s who are having a solid 2nd half of their season. The Toronto-native has simplified his game and finally seems to be fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered last year. The smooth skating blueliner is very solid positionally and makes a good first pass while being a capable puck mover as well. Cuma is the second amongst 67’s defenseman in scoring. 3 of his 4 goals were scored on the power play. It will be interesting to see if his solid play continues into the OHL playoffs.
Houston Aeros Report:
Houston 3, Texas 4
The Houston Aeros rallied back after spotting the Stars a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Ray Sawada and Travis Morin. Tempers would flare up early in the second period as Sawada and Petr Kalus would exchange slashes with one another before they started throwing punches in a spirited fight. Duncan Milroy got the Aeros on the board after tapping home a rebound created by a Ryan Gunderson shot from the point. The Stars would push their lead back to two, when Warren Peters fired a shot from the slot after a bad turnover in the neutral zone that beat Anton Khudobin. With the momentum back in Texas’ hands, the Aeros’ Cody Almond would drop the gloves against Colton Scevior and Almond would win decisively getting his team’s spirits back up just before the end of hte period. Houston would answer back in the 3rd period with two goals to tie the game from Gunderson on a blistering slapper from the point that beat Matt Climie, and then Milroy would score his second goal of the game would finish off a nice effort by Nathan Smith. Penalties would disrupt the Aeros ability to add the go-ahead goal and they would give up the coup de grace when Scevior found some open space and fire a wrist shot by Khudobin to give the Stars a 4-3 lead with just over 5 minutes left. The Aeros would try to get the equalizer but Texas did a good job at mucking up the play along the boards and Houston would lose 4-3. Khudobin had just 18 saves in the loss.
The Aeros currently sit in 5th in the AHL’s Western Conference. Houston does not play until Friday (March 14th) against the Peoria Rivermen.
AHL West standings
1. Chicago Wolves – (40-18-1-5) 86pts
2. Rockford Ice Hogs – (38-23-3-3) 82pts
3. Texas Stars – (35-22-3-4) 77pts
4. Milwaukee Admirals – (34-22-1-6) 75pts
5. Houston Aeros – (29-28-6-2) 66pts
6. Peoria Rivermen – (29-26-1-6) 65pts
7. San Antonio Rampage – (28-27-3-6) 65pts