Every holiday year you get your standard barrage of Christmas themed commercials that try to inspire you to ‘buy’ something for friends, family, etc. Anyone out there like myself who cringes at the first time they hear the radio start blasting away the Christmas music tunes of “Jingle Bells” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” with ad after ad. There is virtually no escape. Now I am sure that makes me sound like a modern day version of Ebeneezer Scrooge; the misery curmudgeon depicted in Charles Dickens‘ classic tale A Christmas Carol. I would dispute that I’m miserly, I can accept being called cheap at times but its more out of necessity than a choice to be frugal. Yet hating on Christmas? No, I think I like the holidays just fine and certainly don’t mind the days off. So what if the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future visited Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo. Now before I explain further I do not see Mike Yeo the same as I do Ebeneezer Scrooge. I will say that Mike Yeo is very pragmatic and is candid and honest in his responses to the media but at times during the early portion of the season where the Wild were winning games perhaps it didn’t deserve he was always quick to point out he was not always happy with their effort or their attention to detail as they play his system. I guess that could be perceived as a ‘bah humbug’ of sorts couldn’t it?
Is Mike Yeo really a lot like Ebeneezer Scrooge?
Yet, Yeo is really the most logical person to place in the role of Scrooge in my humbly titled, “A Christmas Carol: Wild Style“.
The Ghost of Christmas Past: Minnesota’s woes on the road and injuries. Historically the Wild have had troubles winning on the road; but earlier this season Minnesota had one of the best road records in the NHL but have dropped their last two in sad fashion in Vancouver and Calgary respectively. The team’s road heavy schedule begins just as a rash of players find themselves on the injured list including two players who were supposed to be important offensive cogs this season in Devin Setoguchi and Guillaume Latendresse who is out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms. Toss into that recent, less severe injuries to team captain Mikko Koivu and its not real difficult to see why the team is having issues scoring goals. Injuries have derailed a few Wild seasons, although never one where Minnesota had been sitting so high in the standings. This season is not derailed yet but its pretty obvious the momentum has stopped. Historically that follows a long-established trend where the Wild have traditionally struggled to win games in December and January and this month has been no different.
The Ghost of Christmas Present: Mike Yeo must be almost as frustrated as the team will play a period where it embraces his system and funnels shots on goal only to forget for a period (or two) and find itself out of the game. The team’s inconsistency has left him juggling lines in a near Jacques Lemaire-like fashion and during their game against Calgary, Yeo dressed 7 defenseman out of frustration with the lack of hustle and energy from some of his lower level forwards. The Wild Head Coach is also dealing with a defense that still has not had any real leader emerge at either end of the ice so that too has been a hodge podge of different pairings with mixed results. Goaltending has remained fairly solid as it has the whole season (knock on wood).
The Ghost of Christmas Future: Unlike Scrooge’s glimpse of Christmas’ future, Yeo’s future looks very bright. By everything I’ve read on various blogs and message boards Yeo’s support from fans is very high. So far he is saying and doing the right things. If anything, the Wild seemed destined to be a team that will only get better over time. The club does not have to look far to see this future as Finnish star Mikael Granlund shined during a pre-World Junior Championships game against tournament host Canada, which you’d expect from a player who’s leading Finland’s Sm-Liiga in points. Granlund, and many other Wild prospects (Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett, Zack Phillips, Brett Bulmer just to name a few) are enjoying strong seasons and within a few seasons Minnesota should have lots of young talent ready to contribute to the big club. If Yeo sticks around to see it, he should be inheriting a team that will have character, speed and skill which about all any coach can ask for.
So which ghost will visit Mike Yeo and the Wild tonight?
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I will start out by saying this will not be my typical post-game article. As is by annual tradition, the holidays means I travel back home to Minnesota to celebrate with my family. Its a long trek, but well worth it and I would say its the overall highlight of my year without fail. The Wild were playing their game as I made the transit from South Central Wisconsin to Minnesota, and so I listened to a fair portion of the game on Sirius XM radio, Channel 212 where I had to listen to the Edmonton Oilers’ feed. I thought the Edmonton broadcasters were more than fair in their assessment of the Wild and you could tell they definitely did their homework in terms of understanding Minnesota’s injury situation as well as the strength of its farm team which the club has been leaning heavily on as of late. It is rare for me to say this, but I am actually pretty glad I didn’t get to see this game.
I realize I was listening to the Oilers’ broadcast, but it sounded like complete domination by Edmonton. The Oilers controlled the puck and were peppering Niklas Backstrom with shots right from the get go. Even when Minnesota had the power play, it seemed like it really was the Oilers that were at full strength and the Wild were shorthanded as they out worked, out hustled and out chanced them as well. I did not listen to the game beyond the 2nd period, and I had little urge to really watch it apart from morbid curiosity of just how bad of a blowout it was going to be.
1st Period Thoughts: The first goal, off of a botched clearing attempt by Clayton Stoner who had more than enough time to make the play (as I watched the ‘highlights’ the following morning) was an exhibition of the Oilers’ superior level of talent as Jordan Eberle knocked it down and then pulled off a sneaky toe drag move before firing it by Niklas Backstrom. If Stoner takes just a little more time and doesn’t rush himself Eberle never has that opportunity. Instead he gets impatient and makes a boneheaded play. A few minutes later, the Wild’s old nemesis in Ryan Smyth gave Minnesota an example not all goals have to be pretty by simply stuffing it in from the right post. Minnesota would be well served to try to take more chances like this since we know they do not possess an abundance of skill, and it is the ugly goals like this that have disappeared the last 6 games. The Oilers nearly added another goal late in the period when a long pass by Ladislav Smid would reach Taylor Hall who turned on the jets for a break away but was tripped up by Stoner as he was taking his shot. The officials immediately pointed to center ice granting the former 1st Overall pick a penalty shot. Luckily for Minnesota, Hall was a bit winded still as he made his attempt and Backstrom was able to make a fairly easy save on Hall’s backhander. At this point, the Wild should’ve felt very fortunate to only be down 2-0 after being out shot in embarrassing fashion, 20-3. When you’re out shot that bad, unless you were on the penalty kill the entire period which the Wild were not, it simply means you weren’t ready to play. Considering the Wild had a day off (with no practice on Wednesday) before last night’s game to be that lethargic is unforgivable in my opinion. Being dominated so badly set the tone and it was clear to just about anyone that unless Minnesota was going to show signs of life early in the 2nd this game could get out of control in a hurry.
2nd Period Thoughts: Even with a power play to start the period thanks to a foolish penalty by Ben Eager, this opportunity would blow up in the Wild’s face. After struggling to get set up in the Edmonton zone, a bad pass into the skates of Jeff Taffe was intercepted by Lennart Petrell and he skated in and blasted a slap shot by Backstrom to put the Oilers up 3-0 on his shorthanded tally. It was a bad turnover caused by a lack of focus by the passer Marco Scandella (as it was a pretty routine outlet pass that was off target) and Taffe didn’t seem to be prepared to accept it either way, only to be compounded by the fact Backstrom was beat on an unscreened slap shot taken from near the top of the right faceoff circle. That may be a tough one for a high school goaltender, but Backstrom went way out of his crease to cut the angle down and he still got beat with ease on what looked to be a rolling puck, and to me that’s a soft goal that was a huge buzzkill early in the period. I was a bit surprised Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo didn’t pull Backstrom but I think he knew that a goaltending change wasn’t going to change the outcome of this game. Minnesota still was skating as though they were in a haze and a flurry near their net would end up in the Oilers’ 4th goal as a puck left in the slot was picked up by Eberle who patiently dangled it around Backstrom for an easy backhand goal that more or less sealed the Wild’s fate. Again, this normally would’ve been a point where you’d expect a goaltending change but none was forthcoming from Yeo and Backstrom stayed in Minnesota’s crease. Eberle’s 2nd goal of the night finally appeared to awaken the Wild, who started to skate with a bit more purpose as they tried to pull off an improbable 4-goal comeback. I do believe the Oilers felt fairly confident they had the game in hand and also relaxed their pressure quite a bit as well. This is about when I arrived at my destination and stopped listening to the game. At this point I was expecting to see maybe a 6-1 or 7-2 kind of score when I finally checked out the aftermath.
Dany Heatley scored the lone goal for the Wild, which was his 10th of the season making him 2nd on the team in that category behind Kyle Brodziak who has been M.I.A. over the course of this 3-game road trip. I should note the Edmonton radio guys took great pleasure in announcing that Heatley is on pace for a 21-goal season. Ouch, but seriously, the sour Canadian grapes around Heatley is getting old. So much for treating one of their ‘own’ with respect.
The holiday break could not have arrived soon enough for the Wild. While you can place a certain amount of blame on injuries; I still think you have to question the effort the team gave during this disaster of a 3-game road trip. The team’s lead in the standings has evaporated completely and with a 6-game losing streak you’d have to think morale is pretty rough right now around the Wild’s locker room. I also am not a big fan of Mike Yeo’s decision to not have a practice on Wednesday after a paltry effort in Calgary. While I do not think a bag skate would’ve been necessarily appropriate, but I probably would’ve skated them pretty well with a practiced that forced the team to win battles along the wall. The team has lost its identity to a degree, and I think what concerns me the most is that the hard working 3rd line (now the 2nd line) has gone away from the style of game that made it so successful. In computer terms its time the club pressed control, alt, delete and rebooted the way it played in November that made the Wild so tough to play. Hopefully, a restful holidays will give the club a chance to heal and it re-establish that identity all over again.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Jeff Taffe, Jed Ortmeyer, Warren Peters, Nick Johnson, Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe, Brad Staubitz, Jarod Palmer, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Mike Lundin, Greg Zanon and Colton Gillies were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Jordan Eberle, 2nd Star Nikolai Khabibulin, 3rd Star Ryan Smyth
~ Attendance was 16,839 at Rexall Place.
Boys High School Hockey Report:
Maple Grove Crimson
I was a senior in high school when Maple Grove High School came into existence. After branching off a strong Osseo Hockey program, the Crimson have started to etch a name for themselves in the tough Northwest Suburban division. Currently rated #3 in Class AA by Minnesota Hockey Hub, the Crimson turned some heads after defeating a very tough Benilde-St. Margaret’s squad Tuesday night, 5-4. The Crimson get a decent amount of offense from its top two lines which makes them feel as though they’re ready to usurp traditional conference powerhouses in Elk River and Blaine. The Crimson’s duo of juniors Jordan Gross (8 goals, 18 points) and Dylan Steman (8 goals, 17 points) are tough to contain. In the crease, its all about 6’2″ senior goaltender Kyle Koop whose been the workhorse thus far posting all 7 victories for Maple Grove along with a 2.45 goals against average and a .899% save percentage. Koop could either be the x-factor or the Achilles’ heel of the Crimson this season.
Duluth Denfeld Hunters
This will probably date me a bit, but I remember watching Duluth Denfeld in their first appearance in the State Tournament back in 1986 where they had a run of 3 state tournament appearances in 4 years over the course of the late 1980’s. Duluth Denfeld wants to start a new string of success with this year’s club, and so far the Hunters are off to a good start. Currently the Hunters are rated 7th in the State in Class A according to Minnesota Hockey Hub. The Hunters are led by star Levi Talarico (junior) whose 9 goals and 21 points are the best on the team, but there is scoring balance behind him as Duluth Denfeld has two solid scoring lines. Junior puckstopper Zach Thompson carries most of the load between the pipes with a 4-1 record and a 2.60 goals against average and mundane .876% save percentage. The Hunters will have a solid early test tonight when they face their Lake Superior Conference rival, the #3 ranked Hermantown Hawks. A win against the Hawks would go a long way to making people believe the Hunters are again a force to be reckoned with.