I think its safe to say that most Wild fans are going into this game with a sense of macabre humor. The team is in the midst of its death spiral and with division-leading Vancouver coming to town the outcome is almost a foregone conclusion. While the season has zero prospects for any sort of berth in the playoffs, it has left Wild fans (who were granted the privilege of lots of home games to finish the season) the difficult obligation of finding something to do with their tickets. Sure, you can go to the game and watch the team half-heartedly pretend to want to win or you can try to get rid of them. Yet, who wants to buy tickets for a game where the home team is going to get stomped? Unless for some reason you find fans of the opposing team, its going to make for an awfully tough sell. As one Wild fan told me, “You can’t even give them away.” Ouch. Toss into the fact the team has had some miserable late-game collapses and it brought to my mind one of my favorite clips from the 1990’s sitcom Seinfeld. Perhaps holding onto a reservation is a lot like the Wild seem to hold leads these days.
As you can see in the clip, Jerry Seinfeld is annoyed that his reservation was taken (just like the Wild taking your money for the tickets) but the car rental company did not follow through with its obligation to ‘hold’ it and actually make sure he got the car (or in a Wild fan’s case holding onto a lead) he asked for. No matter how much a Wild fan may try to sell this game to his buddies with the hope they’ll do them a favor by buying the tickets I don’t think anyone who has even been partially paying attention to the Wild’s fortunes will believe this team is that ‘vibrant’ at all. Will the Wild surprise us all and hold onto a victory for a change or will it go talk with its manager and make some excuses why it didn’t get the job done (yet again)?
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1st Period Thoughts: Not a bad period for the Wild who exhibited a blue collar, keep it simple approach. The Wild were playing safe, making little plays with the puck so as not to give up odd man scoring chances to the Canucks. Between the pipes, Josh Harding looked real sharp, playing his angles very well and was showing a wickedly quick glove as he snared shots from David Booth and Ryan Kesler. Even when Harding gave up a rebound, Minnesota’s defenseman were tying up Canucks’ forwards and the Wild forwards were racing back to pick up the loose pucks and escort them out of danger. While Vancouver controlled much of the first half of the period, the Wild took over the 2nd half. Part of this was due to a determined forecheck where the Wild were paying the physical price along the boards and causing some turnovers with good puck pressure. A great shift by the top line of Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson and Dany Heatley was followed up by a solid effort by the 2nd unit of Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Cal Clutterbuck and it was at this moment you could sense a little momentum shift. Minnesota’s hustle was starting to put consistent pressure against Cory Schneider. The Wild was even showing a little edge physically as Steven Kampfer stepped into David Booth with a good hit and then Cal Clutterbuck leveled Marc-Andre Gragnani with a solid body check. Minnesota’s hustle would eventually lead to a little bit of fireworks as Dany Heatley gave Henrik Sedin a little shove at the end of a shift and Sedin made a subtle turn as he tried to hit Heatley with his stick. Alexandre Burrows decided to go after Heatley and immediately Kyle Brodziak was in his face and then Nick Johnson squared off with Kevin Bieksa. Burrows and Brodziak exchanged a few stinky mitts but Bieksa started firing some vicious punches which were landing against Johnson who seemed a bit surprised by it all and just like that you had the first quality fracas of the game. Burrows would get the extra roughing minor and it would prove to be costly for Vancouver. On the power play the Wild moved the puck effectively to set up a few chances from long range, but Schnieder was up to the task. Minnesota was persistent and with some great passing it was Brodziak feeding a pass from near the goal mouth over to a waiting Erik Christensen who somehow managed to sneak a wrist shot between the arm of Schneider and the left goal post to give the Wild a 1-0 lead with just 24 seconds left in the period. It was a huge goal for a team that has been struggling with its confidence. The Wild out shot Vancouver 12-11, but it could be argued Minnesota had the better quality scoring chances thus far.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period had a similar feeling to the 1st. Minnesota was moving well and being physical and ornery in the crucial parts of the ice. The Canucks were starting to show signs of frustration as Aaron Rome tried to step up his game with some big hits. When Vancouver did manage to find some space to work offensively, Josh Harding was there to shut the door. Even on the power play, where Vancouver is the most lethal team in the league there was Harding to steal away a the chance with a fancy glove save. Minnesota’s penalty killers did a nice job of frustrating the little bang-bang plays the Canucks’ thrive on and the Wild got a huge kill. The Wild answered back with a bunch of quality scoring opportunities from in close as Heatley, Setoguchi, Darroll Powe, and even Jed Ortmeyer all had point-blank range chances that Schneider fought off. Minnesota’s best scoring chance came off a fanned shot by Heatley that got through Schneider but Rome was able to sweep it away before it could trickle across the goal line. Vancouver found itself bottled up in its own zone as late shift by the 2nd line of Clutterbuck, Cullen and Setoguchi put on a clinic in puck possession as they frustrated the Canucks’ attempt to clear and were taking their chances to fire it on goal. The frustration continued to build as Rome would get into it with Stephane Veilleux and as Rome punched Veilleux, his head bounced back and Bieksa got a face full of Veilleux’s bucket sending him to the ice in pain. As a stunned and sore Bieksa made his way back to his bench, Matt Kassian talked a little trash at the fact Rome nearly knocked out his own player. A few minutes after that, Ryan Kesler would make a very dirty hit as he low-bridged Cal Clutterbuck near the Wild bench earning him a rare clipping penalty. The Wild were unable to do much on the power play and Minnesota still had to feel pretty good going into the 3rd period. Minnesota out shot Vancouver 17-12, not often you see that. Good period, liked the effort and hopefully they can finish well in the 3rd.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota kind of sat back in the 3rd period and attempted to defend its lead. This is normally a recipe for disaster, especially against a quality opponent like Vancouver. It probably would’ve fallen apart if not for Minnesota’s hard work in their own end, to win battles along the wall and Minnesota was able to deny Vancouver from having the 2nd chance opportunities. The Canucks were starting to win the territorial battles as they forced Minnesota to clearly the zone needlessly and give The Wild got a little help from the officials late in the game when Jannik Hansen was tagged with a phantom goaltender interference call as it was Tom Gilbert providing the slewfoot instead of the Canucks’ forward. Minnesota did little with the power play, but it killed off two valuable minutes as Vancouver really started to press for the equalizer. It probably wasn’t the ideal way to win with the team scrambling about its own end but they circled the wagons and with Harding’s stops were able to put the nail in the coffin as Brodziak buried an empty netter in a 2-0 win.
Josh Harding was fantastic, making 33 saves in the victory. He was seeing the puck very well right from the start, and demonstrated outstanding rebound control especially on the power play with traffic near his crease but this kept Vancouver from getting anything really rolling offensively. His glove was fantastic and he deserved the shutout this evening. Defensively I thought the Wild’s blueline did a decent job of sealing off Canucks’ forwards from having total freedom near the crease. Clayton Stoner was a physical presence in the Wild zone, eliminating Canucks’ forwards consistently.
Offensively the Wild got its forecheck going and it wasn’t isolated to one line as all four had their moments. Each line did a nice job of putting shots on goal and keeping Cory Schneider under pressure through a good portion of the first two periods of play. Say what you want but if Erik Christensen can continue to score goals in the home stretch of the season the Wild may have to think about re-signing him. When he plays with confidence he can really impress with his skill. It will be interesting to see if Ryan Kesler gets a suspension from the league for his clear lowbridge check on Cal Clutterbuck. You be the judge.
This win brought a huge deal of relief for the Wild who had to been feeling like they were circling the drain the last few days. It certainly didn’t hurt it got a win against its rival, and helped keep them a little farther away from catching the St. Louis Blues in their quest for the top spot in the Western Conference. Most importantly it was a win at home, and gave these fans who have felt stuck a chance to feel a little better about being season ticket holders.
~ The roster tonight was as follows: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Stephane Veilleux, Warren Peters, Matt Kassian, Jed Ortmeyer, Erik Christensen, Darroll Powe, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Cal Clutterbuck, Clayton Stoner, Tom Gilbert, Steven Kampfer, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Justin Falk and Kurtis Foster were the healthy scratches this evening.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Josh Harding, 2nd Star Kyle Brodziak, 3rd Star Erik Christensen
~ Attendance was 17,188 at Xcel Energy Center.
Houston Aeros Report:
Houston’s David McIntyre
Record: (32-20-3-9) 76pts 4th in Western Conference
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #14 Jon DiSalvatore ~ 25G 28A = 53pts
2. #37 Justin Fontaine ~ 15G 33A = 48pts
3. #22 Jeff Taffe ~ 15G 30A = 45pts
4. #20 Chad Rau ~ 10G 20A = 30pts
5. #13 Kris Foucault ~ 12G 16A = 28pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #4 Drew Bagnall ~ 84 PIM’s
2. #12 Cody Almond ~ 74 PIM’s
3. #26 David McIntyre ~ 71 PIM’s
1. #30 Joe Fallon (5-1-0) 2.10GAA .929%SP
2. #34 Matt Keetley (1-1-0) 4.31GAA .800%SP
3. #31 Matt Hackett (17-13-4) 2.41GAA .917%SP
4. #35 Darcy Kuemper (6-6-4) 2.36GAA .923%SP
The Houston Aeros are picking the right time to step up their game. The Aeros went 3-for-3 this weekend in a crucial home-stand that had Houston defeat Rockford and then sweep West Division rivals Abbotsford as well as division leader Oklahoma City in a shootout Sunday night. A great deal of the credit for the wins goes to Bemidji, Minnesota-native Joe Fallon who was absolutely stellar (named the AHL Player of the Week in fact) between the pipes for the Aeros. He gave up just 5 goals in 3 games, which included a ‘perfect’ shutout in a 1-0 shootout victory as he stopped every shot he faced including all five in the shootout itself. Offensively the Aeros had a strong weekend from UMD’s Justin Fontaine who had two goals and four points. Prior to this successful week, the Aeros were sitting in 10th place but it is still an ultra tight race with Houston has just a 3-point lead on Peoria and Abbotsford. With Niklas Backstrom returning soon and the relegation of Matt Hackett back to Houston it will be interesting to see what they do with Fallon who has been the hot hand in the crease. The Aeros have a two-game series with Rockford Friday and Saturday before finishing the week against Chicago Sunday night.
Wild Prospect Report:
Saint John Sea Dogs’ Charlie Coyle
C / RW – Charlie Coyle (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ Charlie Coyle had a strong close to his QMJHL regular season with a 2-assist performance against Cape Breton. The former Boston Terrier has earned rave reviews for his NHL-ready frame like you can see here. He has versatility, as he won 7-of-13 of his draws (53.8%) and has 15 goals, 38 points and 8 penalty minutes in just 23 games. His production and solid frame are a big reason why he was rated 14th in the Hockey News‘ Future Watch issue.