The Sports Daily > Crease and Assist
Backstrom’s huge shootout save and Bouchard’s goal lifts Wild to 1-0 shootout home win over Los Angeles

Brunette tries to score on Quick

Thomas Jefferson once said, “If angry count to ten before you speak, if you’re really angry, count to a hundred.”  I must admit I have never subscribed to this specific nugget of Jefferson’s wisdom.  Not that you care but I usually speak right away and let the consequences be what they are and that hasn’t always been the best thing either.  I doubt I am alone in possessing a wicked temper, but really what Jefferson is speaking to is of patience and not simply speaking in the heat of the moment.  Counting to 10 can go by pretty quickly and if you’re a bit of a hot head you’d still probably say something pretty nasty that you may regret later.  So counting to a 100 is a bit safer bet, if somehow you can hold yourself back enough to count that long.  This may sound strange but I just counted to a hundred and I timed myself, and without trying to sound like former Micro Machine’s pitchman, the speed talking Jim Moschitta, I managed to finish counting to a hundred in about a minute.  As athlete, emotions are often something very near the surface for any player as they are what often drives competitive instinct.  I wonder what a veteran player like Andrew Brunette would say if he was angry.  Brunette’s demeanor is usually pretty calm and collected but when the opposition tries to push him around he pushes back.  It may not be an aggressive shove but he isn’t just going to get thrown around and be intimidated.  Rarely do you see Brunette chirping back, opting more often to skate back to his bench or towards his linemates than to drop the gloves or agitating the situation further.  That is the sort of perspective one has after they’ve played 1,000 games as Brunette will achieve that career milestone tonight.  He knows not to let his emotions get the best of him and the always modest Brunette, who has loads of humility as he seems to relish making fun of his lack of speed has managed to have a pretty impressive career thus far.  After scoring an eye popping 62 goals and 162 points in major junior back in 1992-93 with the now defunct Owen Sound Platers of the Ontario Hockey League, Brunette was still just a 7th round pick (174th Overall) by the Washington Capitals.  After starting his career for the also defunct Hampton Roads Admirals of the ECHL, he battled his way through the minors where he put up very impressive offensive totals season after season only to earn a few limited stints with the Capitals no one would’ve blamed him for being angry at this point in his career.  Yet any interview you see with Brunette, there is never a shred of bitterness and in 1998 he really earned his first real shot in the NHL as he was picked up in the 1998 Expansion Draft by the Nashville Predators where he scored the franchise’s first goal.  In 2001-02 he joined the Wild, signing on as a free agent and Brunette thrived with the Wild, scoring the most important goal in franchise history when he beat Patrick Roy (for the last goal given up in his NHL career) in Game 7 of the 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals.  From here on out, Brunette continued to prove the naysayers wrong who criticized his lack of speed but season after season he’d end up with 50+ points.  999 games later, Brunette has accumulated 250 goals and 438 assists for 688 points, not too shabby for a guy who is “too slow.”  I am going admit it, I’ve criticized his lack of speed at times but for his salary and production there are very few players who can match his value on the ice.  His sense of humor, his hard work, especially behind the opposing goal are his trademarks.  Not to make this sound too much like a eulogy but he’s certainly a Wild fan favorite and I hope this team asks him to join the broadcast team when he’s finally retires. 

As Brunette gets ready for his 1,000 game, the team regroups after a restful week of the All Star Break.  Brent Burns and Martin Havlat represented the Wild fairly well on Team Lidstrom, but the Wild must jolt themselves back to reality soon as they play a tough Los Angeles Kings squad that is hoping to leapfrog Minnesota in the standings if they can get a win tonight.  Minnesota must re-establish the momentum it had created for itself in the weeks prior to the All Star Break and earning a victory over the Kings who like the Wild have 55 points would give the team some much-needed breathing room, until the next game that is.  So will Minnesota pick up where it left off, or will they play as though they’re still on their All Star break in their minds?  

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1st Period Thoughts:  The initial period was sort of what you would expect after the All Star break as both teams had plenty of energy, but plenty of rust to go along with it.  The rustiest player for the Wild in my opinion was one of its All Stars in Brent Burns.  He was moving his feet well, but his passing was terrible.  This was most evident on the power play where his errant passes really caused the Wild to never really get set up in the Kings’ zone.  I am not sure if he felt a need to impress after his return or what, but he was out of sync on finding his teammates throughout the entire period.  Another player who also looked a bit rusty was Kyle Brodziak, who passed up on a clear chance to shoot the puck to attempt a dangerous drop pass that nearly turned into a transition chance for Los Angeles.  The Kings were also moving well, but the Wild was lucky it was able to disrupt a few of their plays they attempted off of the rush.  The Wild had a few good shifts, where they were able to cycle and control the puck and fire a few shots on Jonathan Bernier but nothing all that threatening.  The Wild’s other All Star Martin Havlat looked very focused as he dangled through the Kings defense but his backhander would be steered wide by the stick of Willie MitchellPierre-Marc Bouchard looked good and I liked his assertiveness with the puck.  Yet Minnesota’s best player was Niklas Backstrom who had to be very sharp as Los Angeles was taking every opportunity to put shots on goal.  The Kings best chance came off the stick of Dustin Brown who took a pass from Brad Richardson in a 2-on-1 and he fired a shot that was just denied by the leg pad of Backstrom.  There was a small amount of boo’s from the crowd at Minnesota’s lack of focus on the power play and deservedly so.  I know this team is trying to refocus itself, all the while attempting to give Brunette his just due for his 1,000th game but they have to feel lucky still being tied at 0-0 after the 1st period.  The Wild somehow out shot the Kings 8 to 7, but they were clearly outplayed. 

2nd Period Thoughts:  I was much more pleased with this period.  Minnesota was hustling better and being less picky with their opportunities in the offensive zone.  They almost lit the lamp on a slapper by Mikko Koivu that rang off the post.  The Wild were swarming early on, as the reconstituted small guy line of Bouchard, Chuck Kobasew and Matt Cullen created some havoc as they set up Brent Burns for a few quick chances on goal.  Defensively the Wild were backchecking pretty well but they gave themselves some trouble by giving up two power plays.  The first one came off a boarding penalty by Burns when he cross checked Kyle Clifford who fell down surprisingly easy for being a pretty strong player (cough dive cough).  Minnesota’s penalty kill was very solid.  Challenging the puck carrier and forcing Los Angeles to settle for shots from long range.  As the Wild killed off the power play they set up Brent Burns who skated in and he wired a shot that was directed wide by Bernier.  Minnesota then followed that up with a solid forechecking shift that put the Kings on their heels.  The Kings would earn another power play on a marginal hooking call on Matt Cullen and this power play would get pretty dangerous.  Niklas Backstrom was outstanding, making some tremendous saves at point blank range as he stonewalled Ryan Smyth who tried to tap a shot by him from the top of the crease.  Backstrom had to have felt a little by himself as his penalty killers repeatedly failed to clear the zone and as they got gassed the opportunities continued for Los Angeles before the Wild goalie was finally able to bail himself out of trouble when he gloved a Drew Doughty shot to get a key whistle.  The game was also starting to get a bit chippy with some shoves and skirmishes near the crease as Richardson tried to goad Cal Clutterbuck into a penalty to no avail.  Clutterbuck would start to step up his game physically as he put a good shoulder into Doughty to knock him off the puck.  It wasn’t their worst 2nd period, but they weathered the storm of a Los Angeles power play that looked pretty sharp.  I liked the effort of John Madden, who did a nice job of denying time and space to the Kings, and Greg Zanon was stepping in front of the shots just as selflessly as he always does.  The officials need to learn how to drop the pucks, how many redo faceoffs do they need?  Brad Watson and Greg Kimmerly are not rookies, they should be better. 

3rd Period Thoughts:  I was very frustrated with the Wild’s lack of initiative during the closing minutes of the game.  The team was sitting back, content to play for overtime which I don’t see why you would want especially when you consider you are tied with the Kings in points as they are.  It makes zero sense to allow the Kings to win a point when you have the time to deprive them of any.  Give credit to the Kings for dumping the puck deep and applying pressure while the Wild had great difficulty clearing the zone let alone creating anything resembling an attack.  Even when Minnesota had managed to gain possession no one seemed to want the puck instead just passing it to no one and giving up the easy turnover.  It was a maddening end to a promising period where the Wild started to pinch and activate its defense as Jared Spurgeon and Brent Bursn were taking every opportunity to shoot the puck.  Unfortunately, few other Wild players seemed to want that opportunity.  Not the way you want to give up a point to a team tied with you in the standings. 

Overtime Thoughts:  I would say my criticism of the 3rd period is more or less repeated into overtime.  Where is the urgency?  Other than a brief sequence where the Wild were able to create some pressure with Brent Burns, Martin Havlat and Pierre-Marc Bouchard the Wild sat back and played rope-a-dope.  When you consider how abysmal the team has been in the shootout up to this point it seems rather risky to play for that sort of outcome.  A few things were obvious in this game; the guy the Wild want to set up is Brent Burns and no offense to Havlat, Koivu and others but it a bit of an indictment that no one else wanted that opportunity to pull the trigger.  I know Burns is the franchise leader in overtime goals but still, any forward should want the puck on his stick at that point in the game.  Luckily for the Wild, their passive performance throughout most of overtime didn’t come back to bite them. 

Shootout Thoughts:  First of all, why in the heck should anyone wait for Toronto to begin the shootout.  Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser is 100% correct, put the replay on the officials at the game.  Give them that ability so they can review if needed so the fans and players are not needlessly delayed while the Toronto “war room” gets its act together.  The Wild would elect to have the Kings shoot first.  Los Angeles’ first shooter was  its lone All Star Anze Kopitar.  Kopitar would go wide right and bear down on the Wild goalie and it was Backstrom who waited until the last second to fire out a quick poke check to foil the Kings forward’s chance.  Minnesota’s first shooter was Martin Havlat, and he’d skate more or less right down the middle where he tried to get Bernier to move on a shoulder fake before he attempted to squeeze a wrister 5-hole that he closed down pretty quickly.  The Kings next shooter was Jack Johnson.  Johnson would race in where he managed to get Backstrom to drop where he looked to have an easy forehand chance only to see his shot be denied by a last second lift of Backstrom’s leg that just got enough of it to make the save.  Minnesota’s next shooter was Pierre-Marc Bouchard.  Bouchard would take move a little to his left and then move down the middle where the feinted at a deke and he’d move in and slide a backhander that snuck through the wickets to give the Wild a 1-0 shootout lead.  This put all the pressure on the Kings’ captain, Dustin Brown to keep his team alive in the shootout.  Brown would skate in down the middle where he tried to shoulder shimmy and force Backstrom to open up but he did not and his wrist shot would be steered wide by Backstrom to give Minnesota the 1-0 victory. 

Niklas Backstrom was absolutely outstanding.  Making 27 saves including stopping all 3 of the Kings’ shooters to allow Minnesota to steal a victory.  He made big saves all game long, and kept Minnesota in the game at times when it didn’t deserve to be.  Backstrom did have some help as backchecking forwards and defenseman were there to sweep away the few rebounds he gave up and take it out of danger.  Minnesota’s defense also prevented a lot of pucks from reaching Backstrom, blocking 25 shots in the win.  Greg Zanon had 7 blocked shots by himself. 

Offensively the Wild were far too passive.  Too many passed up chances to shoot the puck and while the shot desparity may not look that alarming being outshot 27 to 25.  Minnesota does not have enough firepower to pass up on those types of opportunities.  The power play was rendered ineffective by poor passing and that will have to improve if it expects to do well against Colorado.  Burns seemed to be the go-to scorer on the team, but maybe its just me but wouldn’t you rather see a forward taking the initiative to be that player looking for the game winner? 

The good feelings about Brunette and the Wild’s victory are nice, but they really have to feel lucky to have earned 2 points tonight.  However a win is a win and while it is not good practice to give those you’re tied with in the standings free points they’ll have to settle for the one extra point they received.  The Wild will hopefully have a better effort on Thursday. 

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight is as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, John Madden, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, Brad Staubitz, Chuck Kobasew, Kyle Brodziak, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Martin Havlat, Nick Schultz, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon, Cam Barker and Brent Burns.  Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Marco Scandella was the lone healthy scratch.  Marek Zidlicky (shoulder), James Sheppard (knee) and Guillaume Latendresse (groin, sports hernia) are still on injured reserve. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were:

~ The attendance tonight at Xcel Energy Center was 17,504.

~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate Andrew Brunette on playing in his 1,000th game in the NHL. 

Wild Prospect Report:

C – Casey Wellman ~ Houston Aeros (AHL)

2010-11 Stats:  26GP  8G 9A = 17pts  8 PIM’s  -2

This season is all about development for the Brentwood, California-native.  The speedy center is slowly finding his way through his first full professional campaign.  Minnesota got a taste of Wellman’s skills late last season after the team signed him as a free agent, but made the decision to give him more ice time by having him serve a season in the minors with the Aeros.  After suffering through an upper body injury to start the season he returned to give Houston a much-needed jolt of offense, but is still far from being categorized a go-to scorer.  His speed and creativity are what set him apart but keeping him with the Aeros is probably the best thing for his development. 

LW – Colton Gillies ~ Houston Aeros (AHL)

2010-11 Stats:  40GP  7G 7A = 14pts  53 PIM’s  -4

Its easy to play the hindsight game, but I highly doubt the Wild trade up to nab Colton Gillies 16th Overall in 2007 if they knew how he would turn out.  Of course, there is still time for improvement but the expectations of him being a some prototypical power forward have been tempered to just hoping he can develop into an effective energy line winger.  He has reasonable speed to go along with a big athletic frame but anyone expecting a big bodied scorer will be greatly disappointed.  The White Rock, British Columbia-native has learned to use his frame to deliver hits, but he is not a natural hitter like a Cal Clutterbuck or an Eric Nystrom.  He is the type of player that could dish out one big hit and then just bump into the rest.  So far this season, the Aeros coaching staff has been pleased by Gillies’ play but its hard not to feel a little let down by a 1st round selection whose most optimistic projection is as a 3rd or 4th liner. 

Minnesota High School Boys Hockey Report:

Class 1A Rankings

#1 St. Thomas Academy Cadets (11-5-0)
#2 Hermantown Hawks (17-1-1)
#3 The Blake School Bears (15-2-2)
#4 Totino-Grace Eagles (14-3-0)
#5 The Breck School Mustangs (10-7-0)
#6 Duluth Marshall Hilltoppers (13-7-1)
#7 Hibbing / Chisholm Bluejackets (12-7-1)
#8 Thief River Falls Prowlers (12-6-1)
#9 Rochester Lourdes Eagles (17-2-0)
#10 Virginia / Mt. Iron-Buhl Blue Devils (15-6-0)

Class 2A Rankings

#1 Hill-Murray Pioneers (14-3-1)
#2 Eden Prairie Eagles (13-4-1)
#3 Minnetonka Skippers (13-4-1)
#4 Benilde-St. Margaret’s (15-2-0)
#5 Maple Grove Crimson (15-3-1)
#6 Duluth East Greyhounds (14-4-0)
#7 Burnsville Blaze (13-3-3)
#8 Wayzata Trojans (13-4-2)
#9 Edina Hornets (11-5-2)
#10 Eagan Wildcats (13-4-2)