Ever get the feeling like you’re the swimmer from the movie Jaws? Where you’re just a helpless human being slowly moving in a large body of water all the while a 25-foot Great White Shark is stalking you and waiting to bite you in half the way it would a baby seal. The thought of those razor sharp teeth ripping and shreading both flesh and bone at the same time was petrifying for many young swimmers who first saw the movie back in 1975. I am not trying to demonize sharks and I fully realize that most attacks are simply a case of mistaken identity and most times the shark simply bites, realizes its mistake and leaves. The problem is, the bite it may take still has a very good chance of being lethal. I know it was a few years after the film was first shown when I first saw it and I was petrified, even though I swam mostly in lakes where there are no sharks as a kid you still worry. I wonder if that is how the Wild are feeling before their game against the San Jose Sharks this evening. Just like that nearly unstoppable sea predator, San Jose is going to be focused on revenge as it tries to answer back to a bold challenge by the Phoenix Coyotes who have managed to battle their way to 1st place in the Pacific Division. The Sharks have lost their last few games and more or less had command of the top spot the duration of the season so they will be focused and ready to tear the Wild apart. San Jose has great speed, punishing size and they play a relentless game that can grind even the best of teams down. The Wild have been the wounded seal as of late, decimated on the blueline with injuries although there have been a few recoveries lately.
Minnesota really has nothing to lose in tonight’s contest, and perhaps that will allow them to play relaxed and just enjoy the game without feeling much in the way of pressure. Chuck Kobasew has been the hot hand as of late scoring 4 goals in his last 3 games. Will the Wild be chumming the waters for this efficient scoring machine that is the Sharks or will the Wild give them another reason to choke while the Coyotes howl with glee over the failure of San Jose who almost looks as though its choking prior to the post-season for a change?
The Wild hung in there for a while as they swarmed well early, peppering Evgeni Nabokov with shots but the bounces that seem to benefit the best teams were what helped carry the Sharks to a 4-1 victory. While the hustle was there at times, it was the moments where they were indecisive that hurt them as San Jose pounced when the opportunities presented themselves. A classic example of this was Dany Heatley‘s goal after a quick turnover in the neutral zone where he moved in and took advantage of a passive Nick Schultz who couldn’t seem to make up his mind to either cover a potential pass or take a run towards Heatley giving him the opportunity to take the puck to the net and wrap a shot around Niklas Backstrom who also seemed confused as to what he should do as well. This leads me to my first beef about tonight’s game.
1. Does Nick Schultz ever make a solid decision? Time and time again, I’ve seen Nick Schultz attempting to help out by joining the rush and what does he do, when he is given the puck instead of at least taking a quality shot on goal he feathers a weak backhander to Nabokov because he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to pass or shoot. At this point the Wild was down 3-1 and that is his help, by giving the Sharks defense who had been put on its heels, a nice break? Defensively, watching Nick Schultz is a window to insanity since his “should I, shouldn’t I” style of play and then only to screw up an easy play that should drive coaches and fans crazy. At $3.6 million a season his contract which goes to 2013-14 looks like one very ugly albatross. He doesn’t move the puck well enough to offset his lack of initiative to be physical and clear the area in front of the crease.
3. Did the Wild make a giant mistake by signing Marek Zidlicky to a 3-year deal? I am beginning to think this was another massive error by Minnesota’s upper management, somewhat similar in scope to the deal they gave Nick Schultz. At $4 million per season, if he isn’t shooting the puck as he is right now all he is giving the Wild is a needless risk taker who is trying to do far too much dangling which is perhaps a side effect to how he had to play for the Czech Republic in the Olympics. Zidlicky is all too often trying to go end to end and pinch, placing the Wild in very vulnerable situations for what are diminishing returns. Brent Burns improved his game considerably since coming back from concussion by trying to do less offensively and not forcing the puck up the ice simply because it happens to be on your stick. Zidlicky would be wise to take a more Brent Burns-like approach.
Offensively, I liked the way the Wild moved the puck but down the stretch Minnesota became far too selective in taking shots and forcing Nabokov to make quality shots and this resulted in squandered opportunities. This leads me to my next two complaints about this team both throughout the season that again exhibited itself in this game.
3. Martin Havlat was meant to replace Marian Gaborik? Really? While Havlat has great puckhandling skills and at times can exhibit sublime vision on the ice where he can find teammates with pin point passes, it is his inability to really be a goal scoring threat on a consistent basis that really lets this team down. What the Wild really got with Havlat was a replacement for Pierre-Marc Bouchard, another passive playmaker who has a decent shot but does not use it nearly enough. How many times do we see Havlat dangle around a few defenders and intead of shooting the puck instead squander a great scoring chance by forcing a pass to either Guillaume Latendresse or Andrew Ebbett. While Latendresse and to a far lesser extent Ebbett are willing to shoot the puck he must realize he could make his line so much better by taking his own chances since he often finds himself in far better scoring position as the result of his puckhandling than his linemates.
4. Why is this team still auditioning James Sheppard? He has had over 200+ games of action for the Wild, isn’t it painfully obvious he just isn’t NHL material at this point in his career? He isn’t fast enough to be a forechecker, nor does he handle the puck well enough in traffic to offset his lack of quickness. I have no problem admitting that he is working harder than ever since joining the Wild, but that is no doubt due to the fact he realizes that if Minnesota doesn’t want him back he has to somehow show other NHL teams he is a viable contributor. I wouldn’t offer Sheppard a deal, unless it was a two-way contract because he really needs to figure out his role. Right now he does just about nothing well enough to be an asset to the Wild, and is a liability as he tries to be a forechecking forward that just does not possess enough speed to be.
Minnesota avoided another opportunity to play the role of spoiler but they’ll get another chance on Thursday and Friday in games against Philadelphia and Detroit respectively. The Wild will face a similar challenge with Philadelphia as they will be a determined team that will want to physically dominate Minnesota. Minnesota will have to be able to counterattack well and take advantage of their goaltending issues in what will be a hostile environment. Hopefully they can rise to the challenge.
~ Wild lineup tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Antti Miettinen, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Andrew Ebbett, James Sheppard, Casey Wellman, Guillaume Latendresse, John Scott, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Brent Burns, Greg Zanon and Cam Barker. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Derek Boogaard and Nate Prosser were the healthy scratches. Clayton Stoner, Shane Hnidy and Pierre-Marc Bouchard were both out of the lineup with ‘lower body’ injuries and is still battling post-concussion symptoms which still have him on the shelf.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let’s Play Hockey were: 1st Star Joe Pavelski, 2nd Star Guillaume Latendresse, 3rd Star Dan Boyle
Wild Prospect Report:
LW ~ Kris Foucault – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
2009-10 Stats: 68GP 22A 21A = 43pts 31 PIM’s +3
If the old axiom is “its not about how you start but how you finish” then that is perhaps a way to explain Kris Foucault’s season thus far. After a very fast start, he cooled off completely for a 35-40 stretch through the middle of the season only to heat up again towards the post-season for the Hitmen. A player with great skill but lacking in consistency, Foucault can dazzle at times as he dangles the puck around defenders and at others he can drive you crazy by his nonchalant play. Last season, Foucault had a very strong playoffs for the Hitmen and that is perhaps a big reason why the Wild selected him in the 4th round (103rd Overall) of the 2009 Entry draft. This year he is again off to a good start in the post season with a goal and an assist in 3 games. Due to Foucault’s inconsistency it is very important for him to have another strong post-season.
D ~ Marco Scandella – Val ‘d Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
2009-10 Stats: 31GP 9G 23A = 31pts 41 PIM’s +10
Normally when a team talks about a hit that nearly ends a respective player’s season its more often a matter of taking a hit than dishing one out. For Marco Scandella, he nearly had his season ended from an overreaction by QMJHL officials for an elbow he delivered to Rimouski’s Alexandre Durrette that left him with a nasty scar to his face, but instead was handed a 15-game suspension. So far since returning from suspension, Scandella has been red hot for the Foreurs tallying a goal just 20 seconds into his first game back and has 3 more assists in 3 games. Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune who moonlights with the Hockey News rates Scandella as the team’s top NHL prospect and after a solid showing at the World Junior Championships you can see why he’s giving the Wild a lot to be excited about as he combines good mobility with a 6’3″, 200lbs frame.
High School Hockey Report:
With the conclusion of the 2009-10 High School Boys Hockey Season also comes with a nod to many players continuing their playing days at the college level or to Junior A. No matter what it invariably means these players will have to prove themselves with new coaches, and new teams often at a level that is vastly superior to what they faced in high school. Here is a listing of most of the notable players across the state and the college commitments they made according to FollowthePuck.com.
F ~ Mark Alt (Cretin-Durham Hall) – University of Minnesota
F ~ Joey Benik (St. Francis) – St. Cloud State
F ~ Nick Bjugstad (Blaine) – University of Minnesota
F ~ Travis Boyd (USNDT-Hopkins) – University of Minnesota
F ~ Justin Crandall (St. Thomas Academy) – University of Minnesota-Duluth
F ~ Cal Decowski (Andover) – University of Minnesota-Duluth
F ~ Max Gaede (Woodbury) – Minnesota State
F ~ Max Gardiner (Minnetonka – University of Minnesota
F ~ Caleb Herbert (Bloomington Jefferson) – University of Minnesota-Duluth
F ~ Christian Isackson (St. Thomas Academy) – University of Minnesota
F ~ Adam Krause (Hermantown) – University of Minnesota-Duluth
F ~ Mike Morin (Breck) – Colorado College
F ~ Brock Nelson (Warroad) – North Dakota
F ~ Connor Reilly (Holy Angels) – University of Minnesota
F ~ Ryan Reilly (Holy Angels) – University of Minnesota
F ~ Archie Skalbeck (Hopkins) – Colorado College
F ~ Garrett Hendrickson (Virginia/Mt.Iron-Buhl) – St. Cloud State
D ~ Chris Casto (Hill-Murray) – University of Minnesota-Duluth
D ~ Troy Hesketh (Minnetonka) – Wisconsin
D – Justin Holl (Minnetonka) – University of Minnesota
D – Andrew Prochno (Minnetonka) – St. Cloud State
D – Ben Marshall (Mahtomedi) – University of Minnesota
D – Nate Schmidt (Fargo Force, St. Cloud Cathedral) – University of Minnesota
D – Brett Stern (Centennial) – Minnesota State
D – Andy Welinski (Duluth East) – University of Minnesota-Duluth
D – Matt VanVoorhis (USNDT-Edina) – Denver
D ~ Joe Faust (Bloomington Jefferson) – Princeton
D ~ Danny Fick (Forest Lake) -Harvard
D ~ Derek Fobort (USNDT-Duluth East) – North Dakota