The season opener started with such great expectations, with young players now going to be playing primetime roles on the team. Better yet, the young players showed lots of promise and better still the Wild seemed to be embracing a puck possession style that involved less turnovers and more time controlling the play in the opposition's zone. The team played with hustle, confidence and poise against an opponent that the team has traditionally struggled against. However, the good feelings were soured somewhat by a 3rd period let down that allowed the Los Angeles Kings to tie the game and ultimately take the extra point in the shootout in a game where the Wild held a distinct advantage in shots on goal. So is it same old Wild already? A team that teases at improvement and then takes a step back?
The Wild hopes to answer back with a victory against a Anaheim Ducks squad that got slammed 6-1 by Colorado. The Ducks struggled against the Avalanche's speed and were embarassed. Although the game probably was more noted for its clash of egos after some chirping by Corey Perry towards new Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy turned into a firery exchange where he ended up trying to shove a pane of plexiglass into the face of Ducks bench boss Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau's team will be hungry and motivated when they drop the puck tonight in St. Paul. Will the Wild show fans they can finish after a good start or will the Ducks prompt Wild fans to question what sort of team they have on their hands?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Wild had an absolute rancid start to the game. Lots of standing, reaching and watching as the Ducks controlled the offensive zone for the first two minutes of the game. Minnesota's top line of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville lacked energy or a sense of urgency as the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry had them bottled up in their own zone. The Wild's 2nd line wasn't much better after some mental errors by the defensive pair of Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella. Spurgeon tried to carry the puck up the ice where he tried to pass the puck near the Wild bench during a line change, while Scandella decided to let Saku Koivu chase a puck without consequence that ultimately led to the Ducks first goal. The Ducks kept it simple, a quick shot by Francois Beauchemin from the point was redirected nicely by Saku Koivu and its 1-0 Anaheim. Perhaps sensing his team sleepwalking on the ice, Zenon Konopka dropped the gloves trying to inspire his team as he fought and defeated Matt Beleskey in decisive fashion. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to light a fire under his team. Mikael Granlund would take a bad hooking penalty and the Ducks would capitalize on the power play. The same type of play that plagued the Wild early, standing still, watching and just reaching for the puck was giving the Ducks extra time to shoot and move into scoring position. Scandella seemed lost, as the Ducks stormed the crease and Nick Bonino banged home a rebound to make it 2-0 Anaheim. Matt Cooke was one of the few bright spots of the period, hustling and using his speed to try to start the rush, as well as drawing an elbowing penalty to the Ducks' Bryan Allen. The power play finally got Minnesota to start moving its feet. The top power play unit worked with a sense of urgency as they took the puck to the net and began to pepper Jonas Hiller with shots. Hiller was looking pretty rusty, giving up rebounds in the 'bad' areas of the ice if you want to keep the puck of your net. Finally the Wild's persistence pays off as a Mikko Koivu feed was buried by a roving Zach Parise to cut the Ducks lead in half, 2-1. The goal got Minnesota hustling, but unfortuantely the effort was not rewarded with another goal as sloppy play with the puck thwarted potential rushes up the ice and scoring chances in the offensive zone. I did like what I saw from a brief experiment after Minnesota's power play goal when Mike Yeo put out a line with Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. They were making quick little passes and were able to work their way near the crease. I hope the Wild give that a line another try later in the game. I thought it was an ugly period for the Wild. Even though Minnesota seemed to have momentum in its favor at the end, the Wild have no excuses for starting the game that flat. Mathew Dumba didn't look that great in his first few shifts. Marco Scandella was awful. Keith Ballard looked calm and poised. I hope they play better in the 2nd.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild would get off to a slow start to start the 2nd period, and the Ducks would again take advantage of Minnesota's relaxed play. Marco Scandella seemed to content to let Matthieu Perreault operate without harassment behind the Wild goal and he set up Jakob Silfverberg for a quick shot that he buried behind Niklas Backstrom who didn't stand a chance to stop it. 3-1 Ducks. The Wild needed some energy, and it got that from the effort of its fourth line of Justin Fontaine, Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell who drove Anaheim crazy with a great forecheck that had the puck in the Ducks' zone for almost a full minute. The good shift finally got the team's feet moving and the scoring chances piled up. The Wild were at times a bit guilty of being a bit too choosy with its shots. Jared Spurgeon would catch the Ducks' defense off guard with a long pass to Mikael Granlund that was a 3-on-2. Granlund had at least a half step on Anaheim's 'D' but instead of taking his opportunity to shoot he drops it back to Kyle Brodziak whose shot is directed wide by a chasing Francois Beauchemin. Despite the unselfishness of Granlund, the Wild's improved hustle led to scoring chances and Jonas Hiller found himself under siege. A tripping penalty drawn by Matt Cooke would give the Wild a power play and just 4 seconds later, Jason Pominville would rifle a shot from the left faceoff circle that found the twine behind Hiller to cut the Ducks' lead to one 3-2. Minnesota tried to follow that up with more goals, but coudln't seem to get the stick on the loose pucks near the blue paint. Late in the period, Marco Scandella would get caught cheating a little too far up ice and this led to a near breakaway for Corey Perry but he was luckily able to recover to poke the puck away before he could pull the trigger. The Ducks then started to look to extend its lead once again, and a slashing penalty on Ryan Suter gave them a chance to do so. After some quick puck movement that had the Wild penalty killers chasing and bailing out Niklas Backstrom a few times they escaped the period just down by one. Keith Ballard contines to look good to me. Mathew Dumba, I just don't think he's ready yet. The game is moving awfully fast for him and while I sympathize that he has little to learn and nothing to prove in junior its probably the best place for him. Marco Scandella continues to struggle, and I hope the coaching staff is seriously considering benching him for next game. Mikko Koivu needs to start putting the puck on goal, too many shots are missing high and wide.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had a better start, killing off the remainder of Suter's penalty and then going back on the attack. A subtle but smart play by Keith Ballard to hold the offensive zone as it looked as though the Ducks were going to carry it out, becomes a shot on goal that was tapped home by Parise to tie the game at 3-3. The Wild were smart to recognize that the faster lines were causing the Ducks and their slow defenseman problems so they shifted lines to feature a little more speed as the 3rd line of Torrey Mitchell, Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak. This line was arguably the Wild's most effective in the period as they gave Anaheim fits in their own end with their quickness and tenacity along the wall. Cooke did a nice job of being the patient leader as he helped set up Mitchell for a few good chances from in close but he just wasn't able to solve Hiller. Wild fans also got their first obvious sighting of hybrid icing as Zach Parise was foiled of a chance to chase down the puck by NHL linesman Mark Wheler. The way its supposed to work is if a defenseman is clearly going to win a race for the puck the official will block it instead of allowing some potentially dangerous race to occur. This time though, Parise had at least a step on the Ducks' defenseman but it didn't matter and the home crowd let their disdain be known. Dumba spent most of the 3rd on the bench and Charlie Coyle never played a shift due to an injury he got from a body check by Andrew Cogliano in the 2nd period.
Overtime Thoughts: The 3rd period was wide open with both clubs trading rushes up the ice, but not a lot of shots were going on goal. Minnesota's best chance came on a blistering slap shot by Brodin that missed wide after a nice set up by Pominville. The missed opportunities came back to haunt the Wild as Jared Spurgeon collided with Marco Scandella that caused confusion in the Minnesota zone as Beauchemin found Perreault all alone and he slid a backhander 5-hole through Backstrom to seal a 4-3 win for Anaheim. I am not sure why the Wild didn't give Matt Cooke and Torrey Mitchell a chance on the power play as they seem to be able to cause trouble and create scoring chances.
Niklas Backstrom was just ok, making 26 saves in the loss. The last goal was more than a little soft. While Backstrom did an ok job of making the first save he wasn't absorbing rebounds and was dependent upon his defenseman to sweep away loose pucks in the paint. I thought Keith Ballard had a terrific game and felt he was a source of strength for the Wild. Suter and Brodin were ok, but not great. One player that was absolutely awful was Marco Scandella. Scandella was a glaring -3, and his passive and bungling play led directly to 3 Anaheim goals. I thought Mathew Dumba's debut was kind of yawn-worthy. He didn't do anything special out there but at least he didn't make any major mistakes.
The Wild got some meaningful offensive contributions from its top line as Parise buried his first two goals of the season. Parise is still the only Wild forward this team can rely on to consistently create scoring chances. That's good for Zach but not that great for the Wild. The Wild still needs more from Koivu, Heatley, Granlund and Nieterreiter who were guilty of being a little too cute with the puck and not taking their opportunities to shoot the biscuit. Minnesota did outshoot its opponent for the 2nd game in a row but it will only make this team that much harder to play against if these aforementioned names take their chance to pull the trigger. It will force teams to account for them and create more space on the ice as well as secondary chances off rebounds.
This game really was all about the Wild's slow start. Its sleepwalking act through the first 10 minutes dug itself a 2-0 hole that it spent most of the game trying to dig out of. The Wild don't have enough firepower (still) to spot its opponents to leads like that. Nashville will be hungry to play the Wild and it marks its first divisional game as well. This was another game where I felt the Wild should've come away with 2 points, instead it has just 2 points after 2 games. Sorry, but that isn't good enough.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Dany Heatley, Mikael Granlund, Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Keith Ballard, Marco Scandella and Mathew Dumba. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Healthy scratches were Mike Rupp, Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the wild.com were: 1st Star Zach Parise, 2nd Star Mathieu Perreault, 3rd Star Jason Pominville
~ Attendance was 18,213 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Mathew Dumba wore #55, joining Nick Schultz as members of the team to have worn that number.
Golden Gopher Hockey Update:
The Golden Gopher Women swept their first regular season series with two victories over Colgate of 3-1 and 8-3 respectively. The back to back national champions keep it rolling with the same level of explosive offense and stifling defense that makes them a nightmare to play against. Rachel Ramsey, the daughter of former Wild Assistant Coach Mike Ramsey had two goals in today's game.
Meanwhile, the men's hockey season opened up with an exhibition game against Lethbridge University. The Canadians were overwhelmed by the Gophers in what was a very chippy game where 4 Pronghorn players got tossed for facemasking. Yes, that's right, facemasking. Freshman Hudson Fasching got things going for the Golden Gophers early in the first period. After a Pronghorns tally the Gophers re-took the league and never looked back as Michael Brodzinski, Travis Boyd, Taylor Cammarata, and Ryan Reilly lit the lamp as they cruised to a 5-1 victory.