“I’m in love with the feeling, of pressure to the ceiling, We come with the intention, to face my opposition, get raw when its time, to lay it on the line, to the walls where we’re taking it, let your light shine like let your light shine like, let your light shine, I’ve got a bad case of turning it up, It’s getting cold here so fire it up, I’ve got a bad case of turning it up, its getting cold in here so somebody fire it up, come on and fire it up,’ are lyrics to Thousand Foot Krutch‘s song Fire it Up. Maybe that is what is going through Minnesota’s mind after beating the always tough Detroit Red Wings twice in a row may be a sign of a turning point for the Wild. Minnesota’s captain, Mikko Koivu finally ended his 20-game drought with a game-tying goal on Tuesday in Detroit, perhaps this is a sign that he’ll start pouring on the points. Then again it may not. One the team that seems to be finding its stride late is the Vancouver Canucks who totally embarrassed the Calgary Flames by blitzing their Canadian-rival with a dominating 5-1 effort on Tuesday. The Canucks are starting to play like the team that just missed winning its first Stanley Cup by one game last spring. ‘The Children of the Corn‘ of twin brothers Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin (as called by wild.com’s Kevin Fallness) are again leading Vancouver in points with an identical (go figure) 14 points to their credit but it may surprise you the Canucks top goal scorer is not Daniel, or Ryan Kesler or even Alexandre Burrows but rather American-born Chris Higgins who has lit the lamp 6 times in 12 games. The fact a guy like Higgins is leading the team in goals gives you an idea of what makes Vancouver so difficult to match up against.
If Minnesota wants to continue to progressing forward it can build upon some of the good things they did in their last home game against the Red Wings which will help maximize its chances. First, the team can avoid needlessly chipping passes off the glass or mindlessly dumping the puck will help keeping the Canucks from utilizing their cycling game that they are so proficient at. In addition, the Wild must continue to be physical on the forecheck which will help tire out Vancouver but also be strong along the boards against the cycle to neutralize what makes the Sedins such a potent combination. The Bruins did precisely that and turned the league’s top two scorers into non-factors. It was a major reason Boston prevailed. Can Minnesota channel some of this positive momentum to earn another huge victory or will Vancouver put the Wild in its place?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota had outstanding start to the game as the energy line of Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck and Nick Johnson had a great early scoring opportunity as Vancouver’s Cory Schneider misplayed the puck but unfortunately the Wild were unable to take advantage of his error and all they could muster was Brodziak’s shot that skittered through the Canucks’ crease. Moments later the Canucks would answer back with a shift from its top line where Daniel Sedin gathered up the rebound off a big slap shot by Alexandre Burrows and he moved down low where he passed it out front which was whiffed upon by Burrows but a pinching Dan Hamhuis was right there to lift a shot over Harding to put Vancouver up 1-0. Nate Prosser moved over to challenge Sedin who just blindly put the puck out front and as Justin Falk knocked down Burrows with a big hit the puck just sat a few feet from the crease and Hamhuis had an uncontested chance. The goal would slow Minnesota down a bit over the next few minutes as they tried to regroup. The energy line tried to get things rolling as Cal Clutterbuck started throwing his body around as he crushed Vancouver’s Dale Wiese with a big hit. A few moments later the top line had a great shift as Dany Heatley made a pretty move on Keith Ballard that had him juked out of his jock before firing a shot on goal that was knocked down by the glove of Schneider. Heatley continued to find some space and he’d have two more quick shots on goal that the big bodied American goaltender was able to stop. But the period’s best spark plug was the 2nd line of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi and Matt Cullen who were moving well and their hustle would be rewarded with some quality chances. This line was really flying around and Devin Setoguchi and Matt Cullen were pesky on the forecheck and Vancouver was coughing up the puck and Schneider was forced to make some saves. The Wild really seemed to find its even strength groove, as their forecheck was causing Vancouver lots of problems but unfortunately they just couldn’t get a puck by Schneider. Vancouver was really only able to establish much pressure on the man advantage, but Minnesota seemed ready for that as well as they pressured the puck carrier well and were able to force the Canucks to settle for shots from the perimeter that Harding had little difficulty with. Jared Spurgeon and Colton Gillies were particularly impressive on the penalty kill, as Spurgeon fought off the forechecking Henrik Sedin to push the puck up to Gillies who was stuffed by a pinching Alexander Edler. Instead of panicking, Gillies turned and shoveled a pass back to Spurgeon who efficiently cleared the zone. It was a nice play that you see with players who are comfortable with one another, and no doubt their experience in Houston played a role in that sequence. Minnesota faded a tiny bit in the last 30 seconds as the Canucks pressured late and Jannik Hansen just lifted a shot wide of the mark as he stood near the Wild crease and there had to be a nervous sigh of relief from the Wild bench. A good period for the Wild where they carried the play offensively, out shooting the Canucks 12-8.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota started the 2nd with the same energy they had through most of the 1st period. The Wild’s top line was hustling and they drew a hooking penalty on Daniel Sedin. On the power play Minnesota put on a clinic, moving the puck with great efficiency and setting up a variety of quality shots on goal. As they set up chances for Latendresse in the slot and Bouchard from the point and Heatley from the half wall. It was great to see Minnesota being decisive with the puck, making crisp passes and then not hesitating to fire it on goal and it was clear the Wild had the Canucks on their heels. The Wild didn’t score but they certainly had swung momentum their way. Perhaps it was because of this Aaron Volpatti tried to energize his team with a big collision with Cal Clutterbuck sending the Wild’s hit machine onto his back. Brad Staubitz was not going to let this indiscretion go without incident and he challenged the Canucks resident tough guy to drop the gloves and he obliged. Right from the start Staubitz rained a series of quick right hands to the face of Volpatti who was weathering the storm rather well before he tackled the Wild enforcer. A clear cut win for Staubitz. The hit seemed to only increase Minnesota’s momentum and a nice play by Marek Zidlicky to give a pass to Guillaume Latendresse (who was now skating on the top line with Koivu and Heatley) and he’d walk around Kevin Bieksa who dove to the ice thinking the Wild winger was going to shoot the puck right away but instead he carried it towards the crease before beating Schneider with a wicked backhander to tie the game at 1-1. With the crowd wound up after Latendresse’s goal, the Wild’s 2nd line had a tremendous shift as the initial dump in was chased down by Devin Setoguchi who outworked two Canucks for the puck and he kicked it over to Spurgeon who had pinched down low and he passed it back to Cullen. Cullen briefly looked towards the net and then passed it cross ice to Bouchard who wound up and blasted a slapper that beat Schneider to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. The goals were scored just 21 seconds apart from one another. The old Wild would’ve sat back and tried to protect their lead; but not this version. Minnesota continued to forecheck voraciously, keeping the Canucks bottled up in its own zone and continuing to pile up shots on goal. The Wild were winning all of the small races to the loose pucks, the defenseman were holding the zone well and it was translating to more and more pucks being put on goal. The newest Canuck, David Booth would earn a tripping call and on the power play the Wild swarmed all over the Canucks zone, firing more shots on goal as Koivu took a few chances at setting up deflections that didn’t miss by much. Minnesota’s pressure was just suffocating, and it was only a matter of time before it was going to create another goal. It would happen off another battle won along the boards as Colton Gillies got the puck, and kicked it back to Brodziak who drew the defense towards him before dishing it back to Marco Scandella who stepped into a one-timer and his smoke wagon from the point beat Schneider cleanly to lift Minnesota to a 3-1 lead. The Canucks tried to answer back and they came very close as a shot by Sedin bounced off left post and the puck would straddle the goal line and Josh Harding would rather casually pull the puck off the goal line and sweep it away. Moments later Harding made another save near his crease and this would provide an opportunity for a review of the play. The replay clearly showed the puck never fully crossed the goal line and thus it was correctly ruled a no goal. The Wild would have to scramble a bit late in the period after Nick Schultz threw a puck up into the stands for an obvious delay of game penalty but Harding was again sharp as Vancouver tried to crash his crease but he was poised and able to make the saves. The Wild peppered Schneider for 22 shots that period, the most since a 2009 game against the Edmonton Oilers where they registered 23 in one period. Minnesota totally dominated the period but the game was still within reach of a Canucks comeback as the Wild had the worst lead in hockey and with Vancouver still holding over a minute in power play time.
3rd Period Thoughts: If you were expecting the Wild to just sit back and play rope-a-dope with its two goal lead you were wrong as Minnesota continued to apply pressure. Minnesota kept forechecking, kept hustling and backchecking giving the Canucks absolutely nothing to build upon. The scoring chances kept piling up as well as a long outlet pass turned into a 2 on 1 for the Wild and Matt Cullen was looking to dish it to Bouchard but a sprawling Canucks defender forced him to take a shot himself and he beat Schnieder with an improbable shot top shelf that sent the water bottle flying, it was a surprise to everyone that the guy working the goal horn hesitated and finally activated it almost 2 seconds after the goal was scored. With the Wild now holding a 4-1 lead they’re finally going to sit back and play defense right? Nope, the Wild continued to outhustle Vancouver and even when they gave up a power play the effort was obvious. Darroll Powe was a penalty killing machine, creating his own breakaway where his backhander was steered wide by Schneider. The Wild kept piling up the shots as Vancouver just seemed to be standing still in one of the most dominant efforts against their rival in recent memory. The frustration was building in the Canucks the result was predictable as Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck would get into a fracas near the Vancouver bench. Maxim Lapierre would grapple with Clutterbuck and have him leaning up against the boards on the bench and as he tried to throw a punch, he’d land a big hook right to the face of NHL referee Darren Gibbs as Bieksa continued to chirp at Clutterbuck. Clutterbuck would recieve a 10-minute game misconduct along with matching game misconducts for Lapierre and Dan Hamhuis. The Wild did not let up and a few moments later it was Devin Setoguchi hammering a slap shot that yielded a rebound that was pounced upon perfectly by Matt Cullen to give Minnesota a 5-1 victory.
While he didn’t have to be as good as he was against Detroit, Josh Harding was still very solid making 24 saves in the victory. He really was a source of stability and he continued to frustrate the Canucks after giving up a goal early in the 1st period. I have a feeling he’ll get the start against St. Louis, because he’s clearly the hot hand. Defensively the Wild played physically and with a simplicity to their game that kept Harding from facing too much pressure from a potent Canucks attack. The night was again headlined by the clubs youngest blueliners in Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella played like veterans and they moved the puck to the forwards efficiently.
Yet the big story from this game was the total offensive domination from start to finish of this game. Minnesota’s Nick Johnson registered the first shot on goal just 5 seconds into the game and they continued to pour it on, registering 45 shots on goal, the highest total it has ever compiled in the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center in franchise history. The 2nd line was absolutely stellar, most notably Matt Cullen who had a night for the ages. Cullen had 9 shots on goal, and was 13 for 17 on the draw (76%) and that was huge for Minnesota to be able to maintain offensive pressure. The former Moorhead star had 2 goals and an assist and simply appeared to be everywhere on the ice. Another player who had a strong game offensively was Dany Heatley, and while he didn’t put up any points he made his presence felt by firing 7 shots on goal. Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi were both looking pretty hungry out there creating space by moving their feet and helping set up teammates by their assertiveness. Latendresse got involved and seemed to mesh well on the top line where they can use his physicality along the boards to not only win battles for the puck but also draw the defense towards him and making more space for Heatley and Koivu to operate.
This was the kind of hockey that Mike Yeo talked about when he was hired as the franchise’s 3rd Head Coach in its history. He talked about having a team that would attack in waves and stymie the opposition with a strong forecheck and funneling shots on goal. That is precisely what happened tonight; Minnesota’s best defense in effect was its offense by making Vancouver’s offensive weapons a non-factor. The 45 shots on goal was due in large part by the fact Minnesota was being decisive with the puck and taking every chance to put it on goal and forcing Schneider to make saves, and it was only a matter of time before the Wild was able to light the lamp. It was easily the most dominant effort by a Wild team in perhaps 5 years, and hopefully this is something we see again and again.
~ The roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, Brad Staubitz, Colton Gillies, Darroll Powe, Nick Johnson, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Matt Kassian and Clayton Stoner were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by fans were: 1st Star Matt Cullen, 2nd Star Marco Scandella, 3rd Star Guillaume Latendresse
~ Attendance was 16,534 at Xcel Energy Center this evening.
~ The State of Hockey held a brief moment of silence for former Wild forward Sergei Zholtok who died of a heart condition 7 years ago today.
Wild Prospect Report:
G – Darcy Kuemper (Ontario, ECHL) ~ For many prospects who consider themselves potential NHL’ers someday, they may feel a bit depressed at the prospect of playing in the ECHL. For Darcy Kuemper its all about ice time, and like any goaltender he will be able to hone his game more playing the role of starter in the ECHL than riding the bench watching Matthew Hackett carry the goaltending load in Houston. So far, the 2011 WHL Goaltender of the Year is off to a great start with a 2-0 record, stellar 1.92 goals against average and a .925% save percentage.
Houston Aeros Report: Houston 5, Lake Erie 3
The Houston Aeros jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 47 seconds into the game as Chad Rau set up Jon DiSalvatore on a nice bang-bang play. The Aeros were able to get its forecheck working early and had the Monsters on their heels throughout most of the 1st period. Houston would find the back of the net one more time in the first period as Jed Ortmeyer fired a snap shot off a nice pass by Warren Peters. Lake Erie would cut the Aeros lead in half as former Saskatoon Blades star Stefan Elliot rifled a slapper from the point that beat a well-screened Matthew Hackett. The Aeros would re-establish a two-goal lead as Tyler Cuma feinted at a shot and then delivered a perfect pass to Peters for an easy tap in to give Houston a 3-1 lead going into the 3rd. Early in the 3rd, the Aeros were not taking any chances as David McIntyre shoveled home a goal to make it 4-1. Lake Erie would cut the Aeros’ lead back to two as former 1st round pick Hugh Jessimen snapped a shot by Hackett. Not to be outdone, Hastings, Minnesota-native Jeff Taffe would turn on the jets and fly by Mike Brennan and fire a laser of a wrist shot that beat Trevor Cann to give Houston a 5-2 lead. Hackett would give up another goal late in the game, as David van der Gulik one timed a shot that ricocheted off a number of legs and skates before sliding over the goal line to make it 5-3 and that is how it would end. Hackett had 25 saves on the evening.