A few days ago, children all across America donned a wide variety of costumes and went around to their local neighborhoods trick or treating as they went. Some of the costumes are often more cute while others love to bring on the gore. Zombies, these days seem to be the 'fashionable' costume of choice which is understandable considering the popularity of shows like AMC's the Walking Dead and films like World War Z. However the NHL has its own monster-related team, the New Jersey Devils. Every now and then, Christian groups take issue with the New Jersey Devils because they believe it promotes Satanic ideology and time after time they are corrected as the New Jersey Devils is a reference to a mythical beast that lives in the pine barrens of the state. Rumors of the 'Jersey Devil' go way back to the early 1800's and it is said to have the body of a dog, but with hooves and a head similar to a horse and bat-like wings and large teeth which it will use to exsanguinate its victims. No, I'm not talking about Snooki or the Situation. There are lots of New Jersey residents that strongly believe in the actual existance of this creature even though no pictures or physical specimens have ever been found.
Which Jersey Devil is more scary?
Currently, as frightening as it may be to come across a real live Jersey Devil, the play of the New Jersey Devils might be just as hideous. With a roster that features lots of older players, injuries have not been kind to the Devils and they come to town fresh after a 1-0 loss to another hapless and depleted squad, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Minnesota Wild are coming off a victory over a decent Montreal team so can they vanquish New Jersey and gain more ground in the uber competitive Central Division? Or will they find themselves bedeviled by overconfidence?
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1st Period Thoughts: The first period started out pretty ugly for the Wild. Minnesota was groggy and slow, like a team who you would've expected to be the one that played the night before and arrived in St. Paul on a red-eye flight. The Devils were flying all over the Wild zone, and their puck pressure was causing the lethargic Wild all sorts of problems. The first two minutes of the period the Wild could barely keep the puck out of their zone as Josh Harding found himself busy right away. Luckily for the Wild, Harding was sharp and alert and he came up with some big stops early as he stonewalled Mattias Tedenby at point-blank range and another nice chance by Andrei Loktionov. I have to admit, I wondered if we were going to be 'treated' to major disappointment of a game with the Wild's lack of jump and poor execution. The team just had the look of a club waiting for the other guy to make a play instead of just taking the initiative themselves. Torrey Mitchell would get tagged for tripping as he tried to track down a puck and was racing with young defenseman Jon Merrill who felt Mitchell's pressure and actually grabbed onto Mitchell's stick before losing his edge and went careening face first into the boards. Merrill was not in good shape, with a nasty gash, and blood spilling onto the ice as you could tell he was also likely concussed from his collision with the boards at Xcel Energy Center. He had to be helped off the ice by the Devils' training staff and even though it looked as though Merrill was perhaps somewhat 'guilty' for what happened to him it was not a pretty sight nonetheless. He would not return which forced an already banged up Devils' blueline to play a man short for the rest of the game. The Wild would go on the penalty kill and this is where I think the team finally 'woke up' and started skating and playing more to its potential. Minnesota's penalty killers did a superb job of disrupting the entry into the offensive zone and never really allowed New Jersey to get set up at all. The Wild would get the big kill, but the penalties continued to dog Minnesota as they were kind of staying away from its game of puck possession and just chipping it out of the zone that were easy turnovers for the Devils to pounce on. Ryan Suter would get sent to the box for stepping in front of Damien Brunner, but once again the Wild's penalty killers stood tall and shut down New Jersey's power play which was rather static and couldn't seem to find much in the way of shooting lanes. After the Wild killed off Suter's penalty, they'd go on the attack and the top line would get involved as Suter would carry the puck deep and then thread a perfect cross-ice pass to Mikko Koivu who hammered a shot on goal only to be foiled by a great save by Schneider who had gotten across his crease in a hurry. It was Koivu's best chance in probably the last 6 games and in most cases that would've probably ended up in the back of the net if not for that highlight reel stop. The Wild would finally strike later in the period when the Devils would get caught with two forecheckers deep in the Minnesota zone as Keith Ballard turned and fired a long outlet pass to Jason Pominville who sort of used the boards to step around a Devils defender to set up Nino Niederreiter on a close in chance that was stymied by an aggressive play by Schnieder. Schneider, sprawling just to the right of his crease, was unable to corral the puck and Niederreiter recovered and slid a short pass to the top of the crease where Mikael Granlund fired home the puck on a yawning net to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. It was a nice finish for a player who has been the Wild's best set up man this season. The Devils did not answer back with much of anything, even on a late power play after a weak cross checking call on Ballard, and Minnesota held the lead going into the 1st intermission. It was not the best period for Jonas Brodin who again looked a little rusty out there. Overall, the Wild's defense was far too guilty of using the boards and glass instead of making a short tape-to-tape pass to break out of the offensive zone.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period was a little better as you could sense the confidence the team had in itself. New Jersey had tremendous difficulty finding any time and space on the ice and everytime they'd work themselves to an open area of the ice they found that opening closing very fast and whatever chance they thought they had was gone. Minnesota's hustle started to be rewarded with power play time. The top unit was ok, but still far too static for my taste. The puck movement is quite predictable and at a pace where the oppising penalty kill can get into position to close down shooting and passing lanes. The 2nd unit got a little time and Mikael Granlund went to work setting up Dany Heatley for a quick chance from the slot that was fought off by Schnieder. It was Heatley's best scoring chance in at least 2 weeks. Heatley seemed to have a little more get up and go as the game went on. The Wild were getting lucky too, as the Devils nearly tied the game as Josh Harding made the initial stop of a Damien Brunner shot and the puck trickled back behind him where an alert Justin Fontaine swept in and took the puck out of danger. Minnesota would add to its lead as Ryan Suter made another pretty cross-ice pass to Zach Parise who looked to shoot but was challenged aggressively by Schneider so he adjust his angle and looked to bank a shot in off the collection of Wild forwards and Devils defenseman racing back towards the crease. He fired the shot wide towards this mass of humanity and got the desired result as it bounced off Torrey Mitchell and then Marek Zidlicky before sliding across the goal line just prior to the former Wild defenseman trying to negate the goal by lifting the net off its moorings. The goal was reviewed but since it went off Zidlicky, the goal would stand and Mitchell would get his first tally of the season. I am sure for the Devils this goal was tough to take as they knew all too well that to overcome two goals was a very tall order for them. Minnesota seemed content to control the pace of play and they kind of went back to their puck possesson game. Jonas Brodin was a lot better, moving the puck with the pace and confidence that he had before he got injured.
3rd Period Thoughts: In the 3rd period, the New Jersey Devils were clearly a little tired as the Wild's hustle began to tell with each passing minute. Marek Zidlicky would get tagged with an interference penalty as he tried to step in front Zach Parise who appeared set to be going on a breakaway. On the power play the Wild started out with its 2nd unit made up of Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Dany Heatley, Jonas Brodin and Keith Ballard and I felt this unit moved the puck with good pace and unpredictable movement that ultimately set up a wrist shot from the point by Ballard that was redirected by Heatley and by Schneider to make it 3-0 Wild. For Heatley it was his first goal against a goaltender between the pipes and I'm sure that was immensely relieving. Ballard's ability to find the shooting lane and get the puck on goal really makes that 2nd power play unit dangerous in a way the 1st unit could learn from. Again New Jersey had no real answer to the goal, they were just too tired to mount much of a counter attack. With his team down by three, Devils head coach Peter DeBoer pulled Schnieder with a little over 3:30 left in the game. Minnesota would handle the pressure created in the 6-on-5 and a simple break out of the zone led to Nino Niederreiter setting up Jason Pominville for his empty net goal that he took from just across the red line to seal a 4-0 victory.
Josh Harding was again solid, making 19 saves to earn his 2nd shutout of the season. He helped the Wild weather the storm early when the team wasn't moving its feet and was bottled up in its own end. Defensively I thought the Wild got a tremendous game from Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon who made lots of nice plays in the defensive zone, as well as Keith Ballard who has not looked all that rusty since returning to the lineup. Jonas Brodin continues to get closer to his level of play he had before the injury and the team's penalty kill looks markedly better from where it was. Yes, they were playing the Devils who had very few offensive weapons but Minnesota kept New Jersey from gaining any momentum at all on the man advantage.
Offensively the Wild continue to be led by the 'Granville' line of Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville and tonight's linemate of the day Nino Niederreiter who chipped in 3 assists. The Wild still could use more from Zach Parise who has cooled off a bit, and Mikko Koivu who continues to be a passenger far too many times on his shifts. It wasn't the prettiest effort, but the team still found ways to score timely goals.
Although, I have to say I'm a bit concerned that the team has gone away from its puck possession style that was so stifling earlier in the season. While I realize they were not scoring as many goals as they have the last two games, it was a style that also worked defensively too. Its one thing to score 4 on New Jersey, but the cheap turnovers they're giving up will come back to haunt them against clubs like Chicago, St. Louis or Los Angeles and San Jose. The team has a lot of confidence, having won 6 out of its last 7 games and making this homestand count. Yet as the standings continue to prove, climbing the ladder is exceedingly difficult in the ultra-competitive Western Conference and Central Division.
~ Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Dany Heatley, Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Brodziak, Zenon Konopka, Carson McMillan, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Keith Ballard, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Charlie Coyle (knee soreness), Mike Rupp (knee) were out with injuries while Nate Prosser and Mathew Dumba were healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Fox Sports North were: 1st Star Josh Harding, 2nd Star Mikael Granlund, 3rd Star Nino Niederreiter
~ Attendance was 17,571 at Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota Golden Gophers Hockey Report:
The Golden Gopher Men had the weekend off, but the women had another successful weekend sweep in WCHA action as they beat in-state rival Minnesota State in a home-at home series by scores of 4-1 and 7-0 respectively. Goaltender Amanda Leveille gave up just one goal on 38 shots she faced this weekend. Kate Schipper, Rachel Ramsey, Dani Cameranesi and Brook Garzone tallied for the Gopher women on Friday night while Tracy McCann got the lone goal for the Mavericks. On Saturday the floodgates really opened for the Golden Gophers as Garzone, Hannah Brandt, Milica McMillen, Baylee Gillanders as well as Kelly Terry added a hat trick in a 7-0 route in Mankato. Gopher forward Sarah Davis tallied her 100th collegiate career point on an assist in the 2nd period. The sweep keeps the Gophers a perfect 10-0 on the season and their consecutive wins streak extends to 59 games.
Wild Prospect Report:
G – Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) ~ The talented goaltender recovered nicely after an incredibly one-sided game on Friday which saw the Huskies get beat by the ridiculous score of 15-5 by the reigning Memorial Cup Champion Halifax Mooseheads. Belanger gave up 6 goals on 22 shots in that one. Yet after that nasty game, Belanger had a far better evening where he stopped 22 shots to help give the Huskies a 6-1 win over the Quebec Remparts. The Sherbrooke, Quebec-native is 8-3 on the season with a 3.72 goals against average and an .871% save percentage.
D – Nolan DeJong (Michigan, Big 10) ~ The freshman defenseman helped Michigan to a series sweep over Michigan Tech as the Wolverines prevailed over the Huskies 2-1 on Saturday night. DeJong had an assist along with 3 shots on goal.
RW – Adam Gilmour (Boston College, H-East) ~ The young power forward picked a great time to register his first collegiate goal as he scored the game winner in the Eagles' 4-3 win over Northeastern on Saturday night. The former Muskegon Lumberjack had two shots on goal and was a +2 in the game playing on Boston College's 3rd line.