“On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again, the life I love is making music with my friends, and I can’t wait to get on the road again, on the road again, goin’ places that I’ve never been, seein’ things I may never see again,” is Willie Nelson‘s legendary song On the Road Again and it really describes last month for the Wild. Of course back at home, ‘March madness’ the high school version at least is in full-swing as the Boys High School State Hockey Tournament is in full swing and that means the Wild must take its game on the road while the Xcel Energy Center hosts the state tournament. Wild fans often complain about the amount of time the team spends away from the friendly confines but its of its own making. Its simply a side effect of playing in the State of Hockey. Minnesota has a real tough road stretch over its next four games including tonight’s match up against the Nashville Predators. The Predators, have the exact opposite problem where most of its remaining games are at home. Good news for Nashville, normally not so good for the Wild although this season Minnesota has been a little better outside the State of Hockey.
It is your classic late-season slugfest between teams fighting for the last playoff spot and the winner will likely be who gets out to a fast start. Both teams have stingy team defense, but offensively they do not put fear in just about anyone, other than themselves of course. With my heart still in St. Paul thinking high school hockey, the Wild must be prepared to play a very focused Predators team otherwise it might mistake Nashville for New Orleans as they’ll be singing the blues. Can the Wild get their 4-game road trip off to a good start or will it stumble out of the gate?
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1st Period Thoughts: The first minute looked pretty good, the Wild were moving their feet well and dictating the pace of play with a good forecheck in the Nashville zone. That good start would be squandered by a foolish interference penalty by Greg Zanon who tried to deliver a hit to Patric Hornqvist at least a second or two after the puck had passed him by. Minnesota’s penalty kill was fairly solid, forcing the Predators to the perimeter. Niklas Backstrom was busy, as Nashville was taking its chances to put pucks on goal with great frequency. Martin Erat would be robbed by a pretty paddle save by Backstrom, and as the penalty would expire and the good feelings from the huge stop were still there it would turn into heartbreak in a hurry. David Legwand gathered up the loose puck from behind the goal and feed a pass out towards the slot where Joel Ward was waiting to fire a one-timer over the glove side shoulder of Backstrom. Nashville kept swarming, while the Wild’s inexperienced defensive pairing of Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon struggled to hold off the Predators’ forecheck and this inability to match the Predators’ physically would haunt Minnesota less than a minute later. As Jarred Smithson out worked Spurgeon for a loose puck he’d turn and thread a pass to a crashing Nick Spaling who banged home a shot by Backstrom to put Nashville up 2-0. Minnesota simply had no answer, as the home crowd razzed Backstrom for the two quick goals. The Wild were not doing much at all offensively. Other than a few token shots taken from long range, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne had little to worry about. The Predators would add another goal about 6 minutes later when Martin Erat pounced on a puck that Backstrom just couldn’t cover up quite soon enough and the Wild found themselves down 3-0. It was at this point in the game the Wild finally started to create a little offensive pressure which was orchestrated by Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Martin Havlat and Brent Burns. Burns would create the best scoring chance of the period as he took the initiative to dangle the puck by a Predators defender and he lifted a backhander that deflected up and over the Nashville goal. Perhaps out of frustration more than anything else, Brent Burns got his arms up on a check on Nick Spaling that would give the Predators a late-period power play. It was a terrible period. Minnesota was reacting and the Predators were simply out working the Wild at every turn. Guillaume Latendresse looked slow and out of shape and his hands were not that good either as he fumbled the puck away on more than one occasion. The Predators’ Jordin Tootoo was flying around the ice delivering big hits without consequence. Being down 3-0 to a stingy Predators squad is just about a worse case scenario at this point.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had a little better effort to start the 2nd period. After killing off the remainder of the Burns’ penalty the Wild went back on the attack. It was the 2nd line of Kyle Brodziak, Bouchard and Havlat that were able to create a little time and space as Havlat found Brodziak with a pass and his wrist shot would strike the right post. The Predators had a close one of their own as they swarmed into the Wild end, and it was a desperate diving play by Greg Zanon to block an attempted wrap around shot by Hornqvist who looked to take advantage of a sprawling Backstrom only to see his attempt blocked aside by the diving Minnesota defender. Minnesota was looking more composed in its own end, even as the Predators tried go back on the forecheck the Wild defense was collapsing well and getting the puck out of the dangerous areas of the ice. The only problem was the fact as the Wild chipped the puck out of the zone, they were simply just giving it away to the Predators conceding control of the ice to the Predators. It was frustrating to watch but there were signs Minnesota was getting a little ornery too; as Marek Zidlicky seemed to be in a hitting feud with Patric Hornqvist as the two players exchanged a series of checks against one another. The Wild were not finding a whole lot of time and space to work with; and on a few occasions Minnesota simply settled to dump a puck near the crease hoping for a lucky bounce. The Predators were content to defend its leave and not take any big risks, by being quick to retreat to have 3 players in position to deter the Wild’s attempts to enter the offensive zone. Jordin Tootoo continued to take his opportunities looking for a big hit. Minnesota would finally create a little sustained offensive pressure late in the period which would draw the Predators’ first penalty as Tennessee-native Blake Geoffrion was tagged with a hooking call. On the power play, the Wild only had one quality chance as Andrew Brunette used his strong frame to take the puck from behind the goal to bring it out front where Martin Havlat looked to tap it home to no avail. Being down 3-0 to Nashville at this point is not a good sign at all, especially when you consider the Wild had just 9 shots to its credit for the whole game. Ouch! Where is the urgency? Marco Scandella continues to play like a rookie.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period was more evidence of the Wild not being ready to really compete in this game. Minnesota was trying to take some more chances offensively but even as they were able to maintain a little puck possession at the critical times they were not capable of making the right pass or putting their stick on the puck to get off a quality shot. A great example of this, was where Brent Burns managed to bring the puck over towards Martin Havlat but he simply was not able to reach it as they had Rinne sprawling. Errant passes, offsides calls consistently thwarted potential scoring chances for the Wild. The Predators kept hustling, as they were more than happy to force Minnesota settle for long-range shots. Guillaume Latendresse was now being put on a line with Bouchard and Havlat but other than a missed set up of Havlat they were unable to mount much of an attack. The frustration continued to build as Antti Miettinen would take a retaliatory high sticking penalty after a cross-check by Cody Franson. No one seemed to have much jump in their skates and the Predators added one more goal late, as Minnesota got caught staring at Shea Weber who had jumped up into the play and he gave a pass through the crease by a sprawling Backstrom putting the puck onto the stick of Nick Spaling who fired home his 2nd goal of the game to seal a 4-0 victory. The Cellblock, Section 303 serenaded the Wild (and Backstrom) with a loud and rowdy “You Suck” chant and the team deserved the disgrace it got.
Niklas Backstrom was not that great, making 27 saves in the loss. He made a great paddle save, but he struggled to control his rebounds and that hurt the Wild a bit tonight. However you cannot blame the loss on Backstrom. The loss was more of an indictment of the poor play of Minnesota’s defenseman. No one played very well. The effort was scrambling and not physical enough. Not to make excuses, but the team clearly was missing the gritty play of Clayton Stoner. Marco Scandella looked like a junior player attempting to play in the NHL with his passive play. Greg Zanon was spinning around in his zone more than a top. No power play goals given up tonight, but the Predators didn’t need them. Defensively as a whole the positioning was sloppy.
Offensively, the effort was even more pathetic. The missed passes, the constant giveaways and the offsides calls really deprived Minnesota from establishing any flow in this game. Those are all mental mistakes, nothing more nothing less. That all comes with being mentally prepared to play. The Wild had just 19 shots on goal, which wasn’t nearly enough pressure to solve Pekka Rinne.
Wild Head Coach Todd Richards said it best in his post-game interview shown on Fox Sports Net North, “Its all started with your back end, if you want to play offensive hockey, we have to be more cohesive coming out of our own zone,” adding “it was a first effort game, where we go once but there was nothing else following it up.” Just a pathetic and milquetoast effort in a game it absolutely HAD to have. There is no excuse for it. Sure they miss Mikko Koivu, sure they miss Cal Clutterbuck but good teams find a way to win when injuries strike. Instead of advancing in the standings they fall to 11th place in the Western Conference as the Predators leap frog them. What more motivation could you need? Well they will have to put that behind them as they board a late-night flight for Dallas to play the Stars tomorrow.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, John Madden, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, Chuck Kobasew, Eric Nystrom, Brad Staubitz, Warren Peters, Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Martin Havlat, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky and Brent Burns. Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom. Clayton Stoner, Cam Barker and Cal Clutterbuck were the healthy scratches. Josh Harding (knee) , James Sheppard (knee) and Mikko Koivu (broken finger) are out of the lineup and on injured reserve.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Nick Spaling, 2nd Star Pekka Rinne, 3rd Star Joel Ward
~ Attendance tonight at Bridgestone Arena was 15,343.