“I would walk two miles on my, hands and knees, ain’t no doubt about it, baby, it’s you I aim to please
I’d wrestle with a lion and a, grizzly bear, it’s my life baby but, I don’t care, Ain’t that tuff enough?” are the lyrics to the Classic rock tune Tuff Enough by the Fabulous Thunderbirds. They used to play this song on occasion after a member of the Wild dropped the gloves; most often it was the team’s original heavyweight enforcer Matt Johnson. Most people that fought “Moose” were not nearly tough enough to defeat him and he was one of the top enforcers in the league during his time with the Wild. However, there are some that believe the Wild have gone soft. Even though Minnesota has one of the top hitters in the game in Cal Clutterbuck, the team has not been one that has dished out a lot in the way of physical punishment to opponents. Earlier in the season, the Wild were paying the physical price to score goals and block shots but as the team has relaxed a bit in that manner the losses have piled up and the wins have become increasingly rare. When I saw this DirectTV commercial I immediately thought of the current situation the Wild finds itself in.
So hopefully the Wild don’t wake up in a roadside ditch after tonight’s game against the St. Louis Blues. The Blues play with an edge and we’ll find out if Minnesota is indeed tough enough to battle one of the better teams in the Western Conference. I have little doubt, that the Blues are going to challenge the Wild physically and test their endurance. If the Wild are unwilling to pay the price in the tough areas of the ice they will find themselves in a roadside ditch tomorrow morning. Will Minnesota show they’re tough enough tonight?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Blues wasted little time setting up Patrik Berglund for a quick shot on goal. Tempers would not take long to flare as Justin Falk obliterated David Perron with a huge hit, and he was immediately challenged by David Backes who wrestled the Wild defenseman to the ice. The hit looked clean and was from the front, but the officials talked it over. Backes would be given a minor for instigating, an unsportsmanlike conduct for instigating with a visor along with major for fighting and a game misconduct while Falk just had a fighting major for being pummelled and the Wild would have a 4-minute power play to work with. The Wild would have a tremendous chance early on the man advantage as Mikko Koivu skated in and got the defenseman to drop and he threaded a perfect cross-ice pass to Kyle Brodziak who hammered a shot that was denied by an amazing save by Jaroslav Halak. The Wild struggled to create much more than one shot at a time and at times were guilty of attempting the extra pass. The Blues’ penalty kill would gradually grow more aggressive as T.J. Oshie led a rush up the ice into the Wild zone, and Minnesota’s power play didn’t create all that much pressure. St. Louis would start to pour it on, both physically and offensively as Matt D’Agostini pulled the trigger on a wrist heavy slap shot that was blocked up into the air by Josh Harding as the Blues seemed to have a little more jump in their skates. Minnesota tried to counter attack, and Matt Cullen fired a slap pass that was re-directed by David McIntyre and off the skate of Ian Cole and by Halak to give the Wild a 1-0 lead. The Blues would try to press for the game-tying goal, taking the puck to the crease and the Wild were scrambling in their zone as Harding made the first save and the puck would sit perilously in the crease before it was swept out by Justin Falk. A few moments later another close in chance by Chris Stewart that was stopped by the leg pad of Harding and again the puck sat in the crease and again it was Falk sweeping it away. After nearly any time Harding froze a puck in his zone there would be a shoving match near his crease akin to what you normally see in the playoffs. The tension was continuing to grow as T.J. Oshie was frustrated during a whistle and he threw his arms right to the head of Nick Schultz who got back up and did nothing. The Blues were being very aggressive and the Wild started to counter punch a bit, catching St. Louis a little over committed in the Wild zone. St. Louis continued to get bodies near the Wild’s crease as they hoped to screen Harding but he was seeing the puck well and came with a big save. Clayton Stoner would drop the gloves with Chris Stewart, and initially it was Stewart throwing a few left handed jabs before Stoner started answering back with some big right hooks. Eventually Stewart would turn and wrestle down Stoner who clearly wanted to throw some more punches and both would head to the box for fighting. Soon after the fight the Wild would give the Blues its first power play of the game as Darroll Powe cleared a puck into the crowd for a delay of game penalty. On the power play, the Wild did a fine job of keeping St. Louis to the perimeter as the Blues were forced to settle for shots from the point that were stopped by Harding. Jared Spurgeon was even showing some fight as he battled along the boards with Vladimir Sobotka. The Blues power play did not move the puck all that well and Warren Peters was able to get in the way and block a few shots and Minnesota was able to escape without damage. As the penalty expired, the Blues nearly got on the scoreboard as a slapper by D’Agostini was stopped by Harding and he stopped 3 separate chances on the rebound which culminated in a point-blank range shot for Berglund that he lifted up into the netting behind the goal. Minnesota tried to alleviate that pressure with a forecheck of its own as Kevin Shattenkirk lifted a puck into the stands for a delay of game penalty. The Wild did absolutely nothing with the power play, being completely unable to get set up in the offensive zone. It appeared as though Minnesota was content to simply kill time than mount any sort of late surge of offense and the period would end with the Wild being out shot 17-4 but carrying a 1-0 lead. Not a great period and while it was good to see the Wild answer the bell physically from time to time, the Blues more or less dominated that whole period. They need to step up their game because they can’t expect to win when you’re out chanced as badly as they were. Also, the Wild were now without Mikko Koivu who left around the 7:00 mark of the period. This gives the Wild 2/3rds of a scoring line, not a good situation.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had just under a minute left of power play time to start the 2nd period. The Wild managed to work a puck into the high slot to Heatley who tried to settle it but he was tied up before he could do anything else and the Blues were able to kill off the power play without incident. Minnesota’s 4th line of Powe, Peters and McIntyre used their hustle and effort to create a couple of shots on goal as Powe lowered his shoulder and swung a shot towards Halak that skittered through the crease and Peters would pick up the loose puck and fire a wrister that was steered away by the Blues’ goalie. The Blues tried to go on the attack and it was Perron for a quick shot that was stopped by Harding and the Wild were able to chip the puck off the glass and out of the Minnesota zone. In a scary fall, Casey Wellman turned on the jets to chip a shot on goal before he caught an edge and went back first into the boards but he’d get up appeared to be ok. The Wild tried to show a little fire and Justin Falk looked to be goading Jamie Langenbrunner into a fight by the Cloquet-native wanted no part of it and a few moments after that Cal Clutterbuck went thundering for a hit on Pietrangelo that just failed to connect. Minnesota would then have a great chance as Dany Heatley found Warren Peters with a pass and he’d lift a backhander that was just fought off by Halak to keep it a 1-0 game. A few minutes later the Wild had a golden opportunity as a bad turnover gave Kyle Brodziak a 3-on-1 and he fired a shot well wide of the net. The missed opportunity would immediately come back to bite the Wild as a collision by Nick Johnson and Harding put him out of position and Perron drilled a shot into the open net to tie the game at 1-1. Harding was way out of his crease, but that would’ve made it unlikely he’d be in position to have made a save. More sparks, as Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves with Brad Staubitz. Reaves would give Peters a check as he was gliding through his own zone and that prompted the fight. Reaves would start firing some big right hands that knocked the helmet off of Staubitz but Staubitz would recover and he’d land a right hand that stunned Reaves. The Blues’ enforcer would rally back, but Staubitz held his own, continuing to throw big punches as the fight concluded. No clear winner, but a good showing for Staubitz. Staubitz would receive an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The Blues would take advantage of hte power play, and Backes would back into Harding and Alex Pietrangelo would bury an easy snap shot to put St. Louis ahead 2-1. The extra penalty to Staubitz seems strange since he didn’t jump Reaves, he challenged him and he agreed to drop the mitts. What was unsportsmanlike about that? Nonetheless it was 2-1 Blues. A few minutes after Pietrangelo’s goal, the Wild’s newly formulated top line of Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Cullen created some pressure as a drop pass by Cullen set up a heavy wrist shot for Setoguchi that was stopped by the outstretched leg of Halak. Minnesota would gather up the puck and Heatley swung a shot that Halak denied and the rebound ended up on the stick of Setoguchi for a backhander that again forced Halak to kick out a leg to make the stop in some of the best sustained offensive pressure by the Wild in the period. The Wild would draw an interference penalty on Sobotka to earn its 4th power play of the game. Minnesota moved the puck well enough to set up Healtey in the slot as he spun and fired a backhander that was stopped by Halak. On the ensuing draw, Brodziak would pull the puck back to Jared Spurgeon who thought about a pass and that drew the Blues penalty killer away just enough to give Spurgeon a lane and he wound up and fired a slapper that beat Halak to tie the game at 2-2. Huge power play goal for the Wild. The shot may have been redirected by Clutterbuck. Minnesota started to pour on the offensive pressure as the 3rd line of McIntyre, Johnson and Brodziak would swarm in the St. Louis end as each of the members of the line had opportunities to shoot the puck but too many missed the net altogether. The Wild continued to assert themselves in the offensive zone as Cullen found a sneaking Marek Zidlicky who drove a shot up and over the goal but the Wild would gather up the loose puck and kept firing shots on goal. Minnesota’s hustle was really starting to show itself as they were winning the races to the loose pucks and this was a good sign in the closing seconds of the period. The Wild would get a late penalty as Stoner got tagged with a slashing call and then an additional 2 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct as NHL referee Brad Meier keeps doing all that he can to try to get St. Louis a victory. Its a sour ending to what was a somewhat promising period for the Wild. The Wild piled up 17 shots on goal; most of them coming in the 2nd half of the period.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Blues had almost a full 4-minutes of power play time to start the 3rd period. Josh Harding would come up with a huge save on David Backes early as he tried to bang one home from near the top of the crease. St. Louis would help the Wild’s cause as Oshie hauled down Mike Lundin to make it 4-on-4 for two minutes. The Wild was looking to go on the attack with the ice a bit more open as Cullen and Clutterbuck went on the forecheck. The Blues would take another penalty as Backes checked Heatley in the back for an obvious call. St. Louis fans would be incensed as Marek Zidlicky appeared to trip up Perron to no call. The Wild now had a short 1-minute power play but you wouldn’tve known it since the Blues had Minnesota pinned in its own end the whole time and they nearly cash in shorthanded as Oshie dangled around Spurgeon and then dished the puck over to Stewart who couldn’t get a shot off as it was tapped away at the last moment by Zidlicky. Brad Meier wanting to keep his name at the top of everyone’s mind then called a high sticking penalty as he checked D’Agostini to give the Blues another power play. The Wild did a nice job of keeping St. Louis to the perimeter but they’d try to close in and Oshie tried to set up Pietrangelo on a back door play that was stonewalled by Harding. The Wild were dropping all over to block shots and valuable seconds of the power play continued to tick off. Minnesota was moving into shooting a lanes and giving the Blues little to nothing to look at and they’d get the big kill. St. Louis kept trying to just work the puck to the crease and jam it in and again more pushing and shoving near the Wild crease. Marek Zidlicky would take a lazy interference penalty by holding up Langenbrunner. Minnesota’s penalty killers were working hard, moving their feet well to deny passing and shooting lanes; and Harding was there to make the big stops despite having Blues forwards near his paint the whole time. A few minutes after the successful penalty kill, the Blues had another quality chance, this time off the stick of Barrett Jackman who was pinching down low and his backhander nearly struck Harding in the mask as it hit him in the shoulder. The Wild would get a late power play as Roman Polak checked Darroll Powe from behind and sent into the boards awkwardly as Polak protested. Polak got a minor for boarding and the Wild had a big opportunity to get the go-ahead goal (knock on wood). The Wild had some great chances on the power play, as they worked the puck towards the crease where Setoguchi pushed a shot just wide. Zidlicky would wind up and fire a shot that was redirected and it just went over the crossbar. The Blues started to raise their physical play and that caused the Wild problems and they were able to kill off the man advantage. St. Louis went back on the attack as D’Agostini pulled the trigger from the high slot that was steered to the corner by Harding. Both clubs seemed to be content to let the final seconds expire without incident and the game would go to overtime. Although registering just
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota would have a nice scoring chance early in overtime as Clutterbuck took the puck to the crease that was stopped by Halak and the Wild were hustling well. T.J. Oshie would deke Nick Schultz out of his jock as he dangled right around him for a backhand chance that was gloved by Harding. Great move by Oshie. Minnesota continued to be scrappy, disrupting the Blues attempts to mount an attack and then countering with good speed. David Perron would put on a puckhandling exhibition as he dangled back and forth and the pressure ultimately set up a chance for Perron as he took a pass from Shattenkirk only to be stopped by Harding. The Blues swarmed in the Wild zone, but thanks to some big blocked shots by Falk and great stops by Harding the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Overview: The Blues elected to shoot first, and their first shooter was Langenbrunner. The former Cloquet star made a nice deke, that got Harding to bail but he was unable to lift the puck and the Wild goalie made the stop. Minnesota’s first shooter was Matt Cullen, and he would move in slowly before moving to his backhand but Halak didn’t bail and Cullen’s backhander was gloved by the Blues netminder. St. Louis’ next shooter was Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk moved in with speed and beat Harding with a quick wrist shot stick side, 1-0 Blues. The Wild’s next shooter was Dany Heatley, and he nearly slowed down to a stop where he tried to lift a forehand but it was blocked away by Halak. This gave T.J. Oshie a chance to win the game, and the smooth skating Warroad star moved to the right and he tried to work a backhand but it was poke checked away by Harding. This put all of the pressure on Devin Setoguchi to keep the Wild’s chances alive, and he’d move to the left, slow down and fire a wrist shot that Halak was able to direct wide and the Blues earn a 3-2 shootout victory.
No matter what you cannot say enough good things about Josh Harding who was phenomenal tonight stopping 47 shots through regulation and overtime. Harding was seeing the puck despite having traffic near his crease all night long. Yet it wasn’t without help, as Minnesota blocked 29 shots, with 10 of them by Justin Falk who had a strong game and even showed a bit of a mean streak tonight as well. Marek Zidlicky was still a train wreck, with a combination of lazy and hesitant play. I thought Jared Spurgeon had a good game at both ends of the ice. Mike Lundin was not that great; he looked slow and mobility really is supposed to be his greatest asset, so far I’m not seeing it. Clayton Stoner was being physical and his fight with Chris Stewart was pretty good and helped set the precedent that the Wild were going to stand up for themselves tonight.
Offensively, the Wild didn’t get nearly enough pressure; especially down the stretch where they managed a paltry 4 shots in the 1st and 7 in the 3rd. That isn’t going to get it done. The Wild’s top line had just one good shift and now they look to be out with Mikko Koivu for an indefinite period of time with a shoulder injury. I like how some of our lower lines took their chances to shoot; especially the 3rd and 4th lines. Minnesota’s power play did cash in one time, but they need to generate more shots from Heatley and Setoguchi. Congratulations to David McIntyre on his first NHL goal.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had this to say about the game, “Impressive effort from our guys tonight, Harding was tremendous tonight but we gave ourself a chance to come away with two points and when you see guys taking hits, blocking shots its great to see.” Yeo noted that when Koivu went down early in the 1st the club stepped up and said he felt there was some leadership from other players on the club. He felt this game was very reminiscent of the way the team played early in the year. I’d have to agree with that assessment.
Overall it was a reasonable effort. The Wild were tested but they kept on battling even as injuries again forced them to juggle their lines. 3 fights, the Wild were standing up for themselves which was good to see. While I don’t think they ended up in a roadside ditch after this game but if Koivu’s gone for any significant period of time this team has a serious void to fill. The point was nice to get, but they needed to get two. It doesn’t get any easier as they return home to face rough-and-tumble Philadelphia on Tuesday. Perhaps after that one they will wake up in a roadside ditch.
~ The Wild’s roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Wellman, Warren Peters, Darroll Powe, Brad Staubitz, David McIntyre, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Mike Lundin, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon. Matt Hackett backed up Josh Harding. Niklas Backstrom and Greg Zanon were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Alex Pietrangelo, 2nd Star Josh Harding, 3rd Star Jaroslav Halak
~ Attendance was 19,150 at Scottrade Center.
Houston Aeros Report:
Record: (21-8-2-7) 2nd West Division
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #14 Jon DiSalvatore ~ 12G 18A = 30pts
2. #22 Jeff Taffe ~ 7G 17A = 24pts
3. #37 Justin Fontaine ~ 8G 14A = 22pts
4. #20 Chad Rau ~ 7G 12A = 19pts
5. #13 Kris Foucault ~ 7G 10A = 17pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #4 Drew Bagnall ~ 62 PIM’s
2. #42 Matt Kassian ~ 32 PIM’s
3. #41 Jed Ortmeyer ~ 28 PIM’s
1. #35 Darcy Kuemper (5-2-3) 2.07GAA .930%SP
Recent Score: Houston 2, Peoria 1
Houston would stumble early as T.J. Hensick found the back of the net behind Darcy Kuemper on a power play tally early in the 1st period. The Aeros would answer back as former UMD star Justin Fontaine buried a power play goal 4 minutes later. With the game tied at one, Houston would take the lead on a pretty play by tryout Mike Radja to set up Joel Broda who has been a hot hand for the Aeros lately to give the Aeros a 2-1 lead going into the 2nd period. That was all that Houston needed as Darcy Kuemper and the Aeros defense shut the door on the Rivermen as they prevailed. Kuemper stopped 22 shots for the victory. UPDATE: The Houston Aeros were not successful in their rematch against the Rivermen, falling 2-1. The Rivermen got out to a 2-0 lead with goals from Derek Nesbitt and Brett Sonne. The Aeros tried to rally back and with about 6 minutes left, Jed Ortmeyer buried a goal to cut the Peoria lead to one, but it wasn’t meant to be. Kuemper stopped 31 shots in the loss.
Wild Prospect Report:
Harvard goaltender Stephen Michalek
LW – Jason Zucker (Denver, WCHA) ~ It wasn’t easy, but the Pioneers and Jason Zucker prevailed in a hard-fought 6-3 win over the Bemidji State Beavers. A 5-goal, 2nd period carried Denver past Bemidji State with Zucker assisting on two of the goals. UPDATE: Zucker finished a strong weekend with a 2-goal, 1 assist game on Saturday as he helped lift the Pioneers to a series sweep over Bemidji State. The Las Vegas-native has 13 goals and 29 points in 20 games this season.
D – Sean Lorenz (Notre Dame, CCHA) ~ After a big win over the Golden Gophers the week before, the Fighting Irish stumbled to a 3-2 loss to CCHA foe Western Michigan who continues to have a strong season under the tuteledge of former NHL bench boss Andy Murray. For Sean Lorenz, he continues to have a strong senior season as he chipped in an assist and was a +2 in the loss.
G – Stephen Michalek (Harvard, ECAC) ~ Harvard is a team that is trying to redefine itself and its not an easy road but freshman goaltender Stephen Michalek is helping restore some of the Crimson’s former luster as a college hockey power. Last night, the Crimson fell 2-0 to a strong Union squad but it wasn’t for a lack of effort by Michalek who was named the game’s 3rd star after stopping 30 shots on goal.
C – Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ Zack Phillips keeps impressing as he buries a goal to help give the Sea Dogs a 3-0 win over the Drummondville Voltigeurs. The Fredericton, New Brunswick-native was also strong on his draws going 8-for-14 (57.1%).
RW – Charlie Coyle (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ Coyle scored his 2nd goal as a member of the Sea Dogs as he gives Saint John three 1st rounders on the top line. The Massachusetts-native was getting involved physically, dishing out 3 hits in the Sea Dogs’ 3-0 win over Drummondville.
LW – Brett Bulmer (Kelowna, WHL) ~ Bulmer continues be the offensive workhorse for the Rockets, scoring a goal and an assist in Kelowna’s 4-3 win over the Vancouver Giants Saturday night.