“You better not try to stand in my way as I’m walking out the door, Take this job and shove it, I ain’t working here no more,” are the words to the classic country song Take this Job and Shove it! by Johnny Paycheck. Its a blue collar anthem for those who are fed up with their job. While I would never call myself a fan of country music, I wonder if this song is on the minds of NHL’s three most recent fired coaches in Paul Maurice, Bruce Boudreau and Randy Carlyle who join Davis Payne as this season’s coaching casualties so far. How Columbus’ Scott Arniel, whose team has a woeful 6-15-3 record at the time of the writing still has his job is anyone’s guess. Perhaps its because Columbus General Manager Scott Howson doesn’t want to bring attention to his own pathetic record as he hopes to avoid the axe from falling on himself as a termination of Arniel would be another major failure of his regime. Perhaps Howson hopes no one notices the dramatic turn around division foe St. Louis who now finds itself just one point behind the Wild in the standings. Either way, as we pass the 1st quarter of the season patience is starting to wear thin. The standings picture is still incredibly tight, with just 4 points separating 1st place in the Western Conference from as low as 9th place. Crazy, right?
For all of great things Minnesota managed to accomplish through this month of November they are not exactly running away from the competition. However, the Wild still are on top and they control their own destiny. I am sure Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo wouldn’t want it any other way. The last time the Wild faced the Oilers, they were embarrassed on home ice 5-2. It was a terrible effort that had fans booing and unhappy. The Wild have made quite a few internal roster moves since then and they found a way to win on Monday against Tampa Bay. So can Minnesota get a level of payback against the Oilers tonight?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota started the game with its top line of Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley and Cal Clutterbuck as Koivu flung a wrist shot off the rush that missed wide of Nikolai Khabibulin. The Oilers would counter with its top group and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins spun and ripped a wrist shot that was absorbed by Niklas Backstrom. Minnesota would go back on the attack with its 3rd line as Nick Johnson fed a short pass to Kyle Brodziak for a quick shot that was stopped by the ‘Bulin Wall.’ The long-awaited fight between Darcy Hordichuk and Brad Staubitz as both players had a long and furious struggle. Staubitz and Hordichuk were both throwing big right handed punches that were not really landing with great effect but you could see they both really wanted to erase the other. Just as Staubitz managed to knock off the helmet of Hordichuk the officials moved in to break it up. Not a bad fight, although I’d give Hordichuk a slight edge. With Staubitz and Hordichuk in the box for 5-minutes with fighting majors, the Wild would give the Oilers their first power play as a Mike Lundin was tagged for a very marginal holding call as they said he held up Ales Hemsky. Minnesota’s penalty killers were hustling well and disrupting the passing / shooting lanes effectively. The Wild got into a little trouble as the Oilers’ top line took advantage of a lazy shift and started to pepper Backstrom with shots as Jordan Eberle found himself set up in the slot that was just steered wide by a shoulder save by the Finnish goaltender, and then another fine stop on a wrist shot by Ladislav Smid. Minnesota would turn the tables on the Oilers as the 2nd line of Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard used their speed and hustle to win races to the loose pucks and Setoguchi and Cullen fired shots on goal that Khabibulin had little difficulty with. A few minutes later the Oilers would strike after controlling the puck for about 35 seconds in the Wild zone with relative ease as Minnesota was guilty of being a bit passive and a great backdoor pass by Andy Sutton for an easy tap in goal for Nugent-Hopkins to give Edmonton a 1-0 lead. Minnesota’s struggles would continue as Brodziak was given a tripping call, giving the Oilers their 2nd power play of the game. The Oilers immediately looked to set up another chance in the Wild crease as Shawn Horcoff tried to work a pass to Ryan Smyth but he was tied up well by Clayton Stoner and Backstrom was quick to cover up. Edmonton would reset and try the same play, this time the play was again disrupted by a fine play by Stoner and cleared by Cullen. Minnesota would get an early relief as Edmonton was busted for having 6 skaters in the Wild zone and a goalie between the crease for an obvious ‘too many men’ penalty. The Wild would go on the power play where they were working a shot from the point in concert with a deflection from Heatley who was waiting for the puck in the slot. The first time Heatley missed wide, the second time Heatley didn’t get a lot on it but it went on goal that was pushed aside by Khabibulin. Minnesota would continue to work the offensive zone and after a nice play by Nick Schultz to hold the zone, Matt Cullen would have the puck down low and he drove to the crease but Khabibulin was up to the task. The Wild came up empty on the man advantage but they’d have another great opportunity late in the 1st, when a turnover in the Oilers’ zone became a great chance for Colton Gillies who wound up and thundered a slap shot on goal that was held onto by the ‘Bulin Wall.’ Minnesota would get lucky late, as Magnus Paajarvi raced down the right side of the ice before firing a wrist shot on goal that was stopped by Backstrom and a crashing Theo Peckham just pushed a puck wide of the mark. The Wild would earn a power play on the play as former Minnesota draft choice Ryan Jones ran into Niklas Backstrom. With Minnesota on the man advantage, a point shot would ricochet off of a few legs and right to the stick of Heatley who got off a quick shot that Khabibulin denied. At the end of the play, Cal Clutterbuck moved in looking for a rebound and he was crosschecked towards the crease and Ladislav Smid would head to the sin bin giving Minnesota a 5-on-3 power play. It was a complete practice in futility as Minnesota moved the puck back and forth from the points, lacking the speed to actually open up shooting lanes and the result was predictable. Edmonton had more than enough time to get into the shooting lanes and as the Wild settled for shots from the point, nothing made it on goal and Minnesota squandered nearly a full two-minute 2-man advantage. Pathetic. The period would end as the Oilers seemed to be leveling Wild players all over the ice; which included a knee-on-knee collision between Cal Clutterbuck and Ryan Whitney that had the Wild’s hit machine reeling. Not a great start, as the Oilers were winning the physical battles and Minnesota wasn’t funneling nearly enough shots on goal. Minnesota was out shot 9-6 in the period, and trailed by one. (sigh)
2nd Period Thoughts: The Oilers had a great scoring chance in the first 20 seconds of the period as Sam Gagner had an excellent chance that was steered aside by Backstrom. The Wild were struggling with the Oilers’ speed and Magnus Paajarvi would turn on the jets to race into the Minnesota zone where he stopped and whistled a wrist shot just wide. The intensity was steadily increasing as the body checks were starting to be dished out regularly; especially by Minnesota as Andy Sutton was crushed by Colton Gillies. Moments after that it was David McIntyre who attempted an open ice hit on Hordichuk that sent the AHL journeyman falling backwards a bit. Minnesota’s hustle was starting to create some offensive chances as Pierre-Marc Bouchard won a nice battle along the wall against a much bigger Andy Sutton and he skated it out front where his backhander didn’t miss by much. The Wild would get jobbed with another very weak penalty as Greg Zanon ‘earned’ a roughing call for just putting his glove to the face of Magnus Paajarvi who acted as though he was high sticked and the official bought it. Edmonton’s power play wasted little time in lighting the lamp as they worked another backside play that had Nugent-Hopkins setting up Jordan Eberle who lifted a backhander by Backstrom to give the Oilers a 2-0 lead. Minnesota tried to answer back with its 2nd line which had good speed and they were able to create a quick shot off the rush for Setoguchi that was blocked away by Khabibulin. The next few minutes would see more hitting, as Darroll Powe got ran by former Wild center Eric Belanger right into the open gate on the Edmonton bench that had the former Princeton star in bad shape. The hit seemed to make Minnesota play a bit more hesitantly and the Oilers started to carry the play. The Wild zone started to resemble a shooting gallery as Backstrom was busy stopping shots from the perimeter. Minnesota would regroup and the top line would strike as Mikko Koivu center a pass towards the crease and the puck was tapped in by Devin Setoguchi that snuck through Khabibulin 5-hole cutting the Edmonton lead to 2-1. The Wild were a bit pumped after the goal and Powe had a good chance that missed wide and after the near miss it was Brodziak leveling Ryan Jones with a big hit. Minnesota would get a little lucky as Andy Sutton was tagged with an interference penalty as he gave Colton Gillies a shove to the back. The Wild had a few chances on the man advantage early on as a long range shot by Bouchard was blocked and the rebound worked out to Heatley who fired a backhander that went wide. Minnesota was persistent and the 2nd power play unit and Matt Cullen made a sick toe drag type move to step around Peckham where he roofed a backhander that struck the crossbar and out. The near chance did not slow Minnesota down and it was Kyle Brodziak taking the puck and driving to the net where through sheer will managed to somehow jam it through the ‘Bulin Wall’ to tie the game at 2-2. The goal was reviewed but ruled a good goal and Minnesota had a tie. Overall it was an outstanding power play were Minnesota did a lot of the little things right and really were buzzing around the Edmonton zone and showing the urgency that was missing on the 5-on-3 during the 1st period. The Wild would almost immediately give Edmonton a power play as Nick Johnson lifted his stick into the grill of Paajarvi giving the Oilers a power they hoped to quell Minnesota’s momentum. The Oilers power play was surprisingly static, but they still managed to work a back door play but this time Eberle’s chance was stopped by Backstrom helped in part because Eberle had to settle the puck before releasing his shot. Minnesota did a nice job of keeping Edmonton to the perimeter and getting their sticks in the lanes to stop the back door plays that the Oilers were attempting again and again. Minnesota would get the big kill and preserve the tie although it wasn’t without its moments. A few minutes after the killed Oilers’ penalty, Edmonton nearly took the lead on another fine diagonal pass from Nugent-Hopkins to Eberle who missed on a gaping Wild net and Minnesota escaped the period still knotted at two goals apiece. It was a great rally from the Wild after they lost one of their key players in Clutterbuck who appears like he could be out a while with that knee injury.
3rd Period Thoughts: With Darroll Powe now also out of the game, Minnesota was more or less content to be patient and play rope-a-dope. The Wild were forced to scrap together a sort of 3rd/4th line. It was not an overly entertaining period to watch but Minnesota was patient, biding its time by playing conservative hockey. It wasn’t without some drama as Shawn Horcoff was robbed on a great poke check save by Niklas Backstrom. Minnesota was forechecking well, forcing the Oilers to try to bring the puck up the full length of the ice. They stayed disciplined and that was important since they were already playing shorthanded.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota had a tremendous scoring chance early in the power play as Pierre-Marc Bouchard raced into the Wild zone where he got off a heavy shot that struck the crossbar. The Wild were being the aggressor in overtime, as Heatley just failed to click on a pass to Koivu who was all alone about 5 feet from the Oilers’ crease. Minnesota was also patient, content to control the puck and they would be rewarded as Ryan Smyth tripped up Jared Spurgeon giving the Wild a power play with just under two minutes into overtime. The call was rather weak, but it makes up for some of the very marginal calls against the Wild earlier in the game. Minnesota would use its timeout to talk things over as it was about to go on a 4-on-3 power play. On the man advantage the Wild were very static, with not a lot of puck movement and this made it easy for the Oilers to get their sticks into the shooting lanes and deflect shots up into the netting. With 38 seconds left, the Wild’s newly formed 2nd power play unit was 4 forwards but it wasn’t meant to be as all they could manage was a few ugly shots from the point that never really threatened Khabibulin.
Shootout Overview: The Oilers opted to shoot first, as their first shooter was Jordan Eberle. Eberle would speed down the center of the ice as he went from forehand to back hand and he roofed it right behind the crossbar and in, pretty goal. Pierre-Marc Bouchard was the Wild’s first shooter and he takes a slow wide left approach as he dangled a bit before sliding a sneaky backhander 5-hole to tie the shootout at 1 goal apiece. The Oilers next shooter was Ales Hemsky as he tried to hesitate and fire a wrist shot 5-hole and Backstrom made the stop. Minnesota’s next shooter was Mikko Koivu. Koivu would move out to the left where he deked to the backhand and forced Khabibulin to drop and then pulled it to the forehand and ripped a forehand to give the Wild a 2-1 shootout lead. The Oilers’ next shooter was Sam Gagner who had to score to keep his team in it. He’d raced in and dangle a bit before sliding a shot 5-hole to keep Edmonton alive, tying the shootout at 2-2. Minnesota’s next shooter was Matt Cullen who moved in real slow and as he lifted a wrist shot it’d strike the post and out. Edmonton’s next shooter was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who skated in and made a slow forehand to backhand deke before lifting a shot off the right post. The Wild’s next shooter was Devin Setoguchi who moved in and tried to rip a wrist shot that was denied by Khabibulin. The Oilers’ next shooter was Shawn Horcoff who moved in and made a pretty deke to slide a shot around Backstrom. Minnesota’s next shooter was Dany Heatley, who had a rain of boo’s from the hostile home crowd as he approached Khabibulin where he made a nice deke to backhand a shot just inside the right post before crashing into the goal. The Edmonton bench wanted some kind of interference call but none came. The Oilers’ next shooter was Ryan Smyth, and the Wild killer raced in and was denied on his backhand attempt by Backstrom who steered the puck to the corner. This gave Minnesota’s Kyle Brodziak a rare chance to win the game in the shootout, and the 3rd line center skated in and made a simple few plays with the puck before firing a shot through Khabibulin 5-hole to give the Wild a 3-2 shootout victory.
Niklas Backstrom was outstanding, making 28 saves in the win. He did his job to make the first big save and his defense did their job sweeping away the rebounds and preventing the Oilers from having too many 2nd chance opportunities. Defensively the team was ok, but they were giving scoring chances on the backside. Minnesota got a little lucky the Oilers didn’t finish on a few of those plays late in the 2nd and 3rd periods. Still, Backstrom was the x-factor and gave the Wild a chance to hang around in this game and eventually win it.
You can see the blatant knee-on-knee hit by Ryan Whitney on Cal Clutterbuck here. I would like to think that is rather suspension-worthy since it appears pretty intentional as Whitney sticks his leg out towards Clutterbuck and makes no attempt to avoid a knee-on-knee hit. Add to that, Clutterbuck being injured on the play should make it a slam dunk for some sort of suspension in my opinion but we’ll have to wait and see what the head of the NHL Safety Department, Brendan Shanahan has to say about it. I do not think there will be a suspension to Eric Belanger for his hit on Darroll Powe which sent him into the doorway of the Edmonton bench that seemed to catch the Wild forward in the ribs. Losing both of these players hurts; they’re both crucial players on the penalty kill and also dishing out hits on the forecheck. I am not sure Minnesota will be able to really replace them if both are expected to be out for a few games. Hopefully the team only sat them out for precautionary reasons. Both injuries were described by Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo as “charley horses” so we’ll see if that is enough to keep them out of Friday’s game against the New Jersey Devils.
Offensively the Wild got a little spark from the top line scoring the first goal, but again it was the energy players chipping in to tie the game. Kyle Brodziak had an outstanding game, where his effort was just contagious and coming up big in the shootout was a huge bonus. Brodziak claims that former Oiler Dustin Penner taught him the move he used to undress Khabibulin, and that he was shaking that he was so nervous taking just his 2nd shootout attempt in his career. Another player that deserves some credit is Nick Johnson who really stepped up his game in Clutterbuck’s absence, eating up big minutes and being an absolute terror on the forecheck. Mikko Koivu pulled off a sick shootout move that should keep opposing goaltenders up late at night studying it.
This team just continues to find ways to win. Here are some stats to think. For the 9th time this season, the Wild came back to win a game after giving up the 1st goal. They only managed to do that 8 times all of last season. Tonight’s win was their 11th for the month of November which is the best month in franchise history. The win also puts Minnesota back in 1st place in the ENTIRE NHL. I have to give credit to the Wild’s Ryan Stanzel (via Twitter) for this little nugget, but he did a little research and could not find a team that was in 1st place on November 30th that did not qualify for the playoffs. Whoa!?!? I know, that’s a huge statistic and all you can do is hope it continues to be true. The New Jersey Devils should be a focused team when they come to St. Paul after being spanked by the Colorado Avalanche 6-1 tonight. Although by now the Wild seemed to be accustomed to succeeding when things may not be easy.
~ The Wild lineup tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, David McIntyre, Colton Gillies, Brad Staubitz, Darroll Powe, Nick Johnson, Kyle Brodziak, Jared Spurgeon, Nick Schultz, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon, Mike Lundin and Marco Scandella. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Healthy scratches were Casey Wellman and Justin Falk.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 2nd Star Kyle Brodziak, 3rd Star Jordan Eberle
~ Attendance was 16,839 at Rexall Place.
~ The Houston Aeros prevail 2-1 over the Lake Erie Monsters tonight. Cody Almond and Chad Rau with the goals, while Matt Hackett made 32 saves in the victory. Jarod Palmer and team captain Jon DiSalvatore with the assists.
Wild Prospect Update:
C – Charlie Coyle (Boston U., H-East) ~ Normally, my prospect profiles talk about the progress of these youngsters but in the case of Charlie Coyle it is more of an enigma. Coyle, who was one of the better freshman in NCAA last season is in a literal sophomore slump as he struggles to find his way onto the score sheet. The big bodied went scoreless this weekend and is currently 5th on the team in scoring with a very modest 2 goals and 11 points in 12 games. While scoring at nearly a point-per-game may not seem that disturbing, his lack of goal production is making some experts believe he projects into more of a playmaker than a power forward. It certainly is not panic time just yet, but if he goes another weekend or two without any points the team may want to ask what’s going on. Coyle was invited to attend Team USA’s World Junior Championships squad.
G – Stephen Michalek (Harvard, ECAC) ~ The freshman is having not bad start to his college career as he carries the goaltending load for the Crimson, going 3-2-1 in 7 games, with a 3.02 goals against average and a .898% save percentage. Michalek relieved Raphael Girard this weekend in a tilt against New Hampshire and led Harvard to a 7-6 victory, making 24 saves.
F – Mikael Granlund (HIFK Helsinki, Sm-Liiga) ~ The undisputed top prospect for the Wild, Mikael Granlund is starting to heat up. The Oulu-native scored twice and was a +3 in HIFK Helsinki’s 6-3 win over the Lahti Pelicans. Granlund is the Sm-Liiga’s top scorer with 10 goals and 30 points in 24 games. It should come as no surprise that Granlund was selected to attend Team Finland’s World Junior Championship tryout camp.
C – Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ Phillips continues to lead the way for the Sea Dogs, extending his scoring streak to 20-games as he had two assists in Saint John’s 2-1 overtime victory over the Moncton Wildcats Tuesday night. As impressive as the Fredericton, New Brunswick-native’s scoring has been, his work in the faceoff dot has not been a strength as Phillips went 9-of-21 (42%) on his draws. Phillips strong play has caught the attention of Team Canada who has invited him to the World Junior Championship tryout camp.