I am probably going to date myself, but do you remember the character Schneider (Pat Harrington) from late 70’s early 80’s CBS sitcom One Day at a Time? Not old enough or you don’t remember. Let me refresh your memory or enlighten you in case you never had a chance to see the show. Schneider was the superintendent of the apartment complex that the main character, single mother Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) who was trying to raise two teenage daughters. The superintendent frequently would drop by where he’d do his best to make a pass at the mom, who would quickly dismiss him with some dry wit that would often leave him speechless or looking like a fool. When he wasn’t hitting on ‘mom’ he was obsessed over keeping his most prized item, his trusty tool belt in perfect shape. The character as a whole was highly delusional, one where he felt both power in his position as superintendent but highly vulnerable as his sleazy attempts to court just about any woman ended in complete failure. Its a classic recipe for comedy, but what in the heck does this have to do with the Minnesota Wild? Like Schneider, I think the league and many of the experts have played the role of mom and see the Wild much the same way as a delusional wannabe which may have achieved a small level of success and want nothing more than to quickly dismiss them.
What does One Day at a Time‘s Schneider have in common with the Wild?
Its hard to blame them. They have the 28th best offense in the NHL, and a 25th ranked power play, hardly numbers that stand out and demand the rest of the league take notice. With our top scoring forward posting a very modest 3 goals and 13 points in 20 games we look a lot like Schneider. Where even when we’re at the top of our respective heap we are not exactly impressing many people with our style and our peers may question how legitimate our standing really is. The Wild’s job is to see if they can prove the non-believers wrong, and perhaps use their disbelief as fuel for their own quest as they hope it leads towards respectability. The Wild are playing against the Predators; coming off a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the upstart Edmonton Oilers who have been red hot lately. So will the Wild be able to keep the Predators on the skids or will they look like the pretender with delusions of grandeur?
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1st Period Thoughts: There was a fast and furious pace to the first period as both teams were flying around the ice. Minnesota had the first shot on goal as Pierre-Marc Bouchard stopped just inside the blueline where he wound up and uncorked a slapper that was steered wide by Pekka Rinne. The Wild followed it up with a great shift from its top line as Dany Heatley worked the puck down low behind the Predators’ goal and he passed it out just underneath the left faceoff dot to Mikko Koivu who hammered a snap shot that was directed wide by Rinne. Minnesota’s pressure would draw a Nashville penalty as Martin Erat earned a minor for hooking. The Wild looked hungry on the man advantage as Heatley put a wrist shot on goal that was blocked on its way but the former Atlanta Thrasher followed up his shot as he snapped off a quick shot that appeared to surprise the Predators’ goalie, but unfortunately a few seconds later the power play would come to an end as Cal Clutterbuck would take a lazy hooking penalty in the offensive zone. Both clubs had plenty of energy, as the speedy Predators were finding themselves on the ropes early. Despite all of Minnesota’s control to this point in the game, the Predators would strike first as Jordin Tootoo would snap a sharp angle shot on goal that snuck through the pads of Josh Harding and trickle over the goal line to put Nashville up 1-0. The goal seemed to light a fire in the Predators and they started to generate more pressure offensively, and Harding suddenly found himself rather busy. The game would start to slow down a bit as both clubs struggled to find much in the way of time and space. Minnesota’s top line again would get things going offensively as Devin Setoguchi pulled the trigger on a one-timer that missed just wide right. The top line was looking dangerous with each shift and Setoguchi again fired a snap shot that worked against the grain that was nabbed out of the air by a nice glove save by Rinne. The Predators and Wild were both hustling well, battling effectively on the boards. Minnesota had another close chance when blocked shot worked its way out to the point where Justin Falk stepped into a slapper that caught the right post and out. A few minutes later, Dany Heatley would make a pretty play at the Predators’ blueline to stay in control of the puck and fire a wrist shot that was blocked away by Rinne but Minnesota controlled the puck as the top line was again swarming in the Nashville zone. The period would end, with Minnesota still trailing 1-0, but I liked the effort and especially the play of the top line where I think it was one of their best overall performances offensively of the season thus far. Not a bad period, and I think it will take more than one goal to win this game.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Predators were being patient, and counter punching early in the 2nd period. Minnesota’s 4th line was hustling well, but they got a little too carried away as Colton Gillies was tagged for boarding with a hit from behind on Brian McGrattan that made the Predators goon a little worse for the wear. On the power play the Predators were moving the puck well from high to low before Ryan Suter sent a shot intentionally wide of the goal that would carom off the boards behind the goal and out front where Sergei Kostitsyn snapped a shot on goal that Harding denied with a diving glove save. The Predators’ power play kept buzzing and former Wisconsin Badgers star Craig Smith skated right towards the crease where he tried to jam a shot through the pads of Harding but he closed up the gaps and was able to make the save. The Wild would earn a power play of their own soon after the big kill as Mikko Koivu was held up by Francis Bouillon who was given a minor for interference. The Predators’ penalty kill was making things difficult for Minnesota as an intercepted pass turned into a 2-on-1 for Nashville but Jared Spurgeon would retreat and making a diving pay to deny the passing lane for the Preds’ David Legwand. After a lousy 1st half on the man advantage the Wild’s 2nd power play group went to work and Minnesota began to sustain some offensive pressure as Matt Cullen had a few sneaky wrist shots that forced Rinne to make some saves. As the penalty expired the Wild were still working well in the Predators’ zone, only to be interrupted by a high sticking penalty to Cullen who got his stick into the grill of Mike Fisher. The Predators’ power play would be short-lived as Colin Wilson lifted Gillies’ stick right to the mouth of the Wild forward who lost a chicklet in the process that would give Minnesota a long 3-minute long power play on the double minor to Wilson. Nashville’s penalty kill was again very aggressive, challenging the puck carrier giving the Wild precious little time to decide what to do with the puck. The openings to shoot were rather brief and this made it tough to really establish traffic in front of the big-bodied (6’5″) Predators goaltender. The Wild’s power play started to be a little more effective as they moved the puck quickly from the half wall out the point but Minnesota was forced to settle for shots from the perimeter that Rinne stopped with ease. You can’t knock the Wild’s hustle or sense of urgency as they were taking every opportunity to put shots on goal, but they were unable to release many shots near the Predators’ crease. Nashville was protecting the slot area very well, but Minnesota persisted in firing shots whenever the opportunity presented itself. Marco Scandella would hammer a shot from the point that was partially deflected by Heatley and on goal that was just directed aside by the blocker of Rinne. The Wild were carrying the play, and the energy line would try to score off the rush but Nick Johnson‘s wrist shot would deflect off the shoulder of Rinne and miss wide right. The Predators tried to stem the tide a bit with its own small attack of its own but Harding was up to the task as he was able to block away a blast from the point by Suter. Minnesota continued to attack, and the top line again made something happen offensively as Mikko Koivu made a pretty, no-look backhand pass to Dany Heatley who got off a quick shot that almost fooled Rinne but he was just able to squeeze the pads enough to make the stop. Another solid period for the Wild, with nothing to show for it. Yet the fundamentals for Minnesota; good hustle, funnelling shots on goal, and winning the little battles for the puck were all there. I really liked what I saw and I really believe its just a matter of time before their rewarded for their hard work on the scoreboard. At times the Wild were guilty of being a bit too fancy with the puck; and if they can work to take their shots closer to the Predators crease they’ll probably have more success.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Predators were trying to press the attack early to start the period, but Minnesota would counter attack with a 2-on-1 between Heatley and Koivu and it was the Wild captain threading a perfect pass by a diving Ryan Suter to Heatley for a nice finish to tie the game at 1-1. With the crowd still roaring a bit, Minnesota would take a careless penalty as Bouchard accidentally tripped up Rinne for an obvious goaltender interference infraction. Right off the start of Predators’ power play they had a great scoring chance as an errant pass by Falk was intercepted by Kostitsyn who moved in and rifled a wrist shot that was denied by a flashy glove save by Harding. The Wild’s penalty kill was scrambling a bit, but they were managing to keep Nashville to the perimeter due to some great hustle. Minnesota would get the big kill and the Wild would put out its energy line to try to re-establish themselves as being in control of the tempo of the game. The Wild would earn a power play on a somewhat weak call as Josh Harding went out to play a puck, but as he approached the goal line he realized he was too far out from the trapezoid but as he second guessed himself he was bailed out by Craig Smith who bumped into him. On the power play Minnesota was moving the puck well but were a bit too fancy to set up shooting opportunities. Late in the man advantage as they began to swarm around the crease Ryan Suter would slash Devin Setoguchi and Minnesota would have a short 2-man advantage. Minnesota was a bit too passive on the 5-on-3, but they’d put out their 2nd power play unit for most of the remainder of the power play and with some great puck movement they ultimately set up Kyle Brodziak who nearly blew his chance by setting the puck down instead of one timing it but his snap shot would beat Rinne 5-hole to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. Just moments later, the Wild would give Nashville a power play when Nick Johnson was tagged with a boarding call on a weak hit on Jack Hillen. The Wild penalty kill was being very aggressive; pressuring the puck carrier and this would create turnovers which ended up being the turning point for the game. On a steal of the puck by Koivu, he’d chip a pass off the glass and the puck would hit a stanchion and take a strange carom that Pekka Rinne misjudged as he left his crease to try to play the puck but found himself out in no man’s land and a hustling Cal Clutterbuck picked up the loose biscuit and he’d step around a sprawling Predators goalie for an easy empty netter as Rinne tried to stop him with a last ditch slap with the stick. With Minnesota up 3-1, and the crowd still on their feet the Wild would get a bit carried away after a failed Nashville flurry near the Wild goal as Nate Prosser, Justin Falk would get into a shoving match with Mike Fisher and Patric Hornqvist. As Prosser and Hornqvist exchanged shoves, Minnesota agitator Cal Clutterbuck stepped in and Hornqvist punched Clutterbuck which caused him to get incensed and he was tackled by the linesman. The result was a 2:00 minute Predators 5-on-3 power play as Clutterbuck chirped at a few Predators players from the penalty box. Nashville did not waste any time, as they scored about 20 seconds into the two-man advantage as Jordin Tootoo fed Ryan Suter right in the slot and he lifted a shot over Harding to cut the Minnesota lead to one, 3-2. That still left the Predators with nearly 1:40 of 5-on-4 power play time. Minnesota’s penalty killers were assertive and pressuring the puck carrier but the Predators nearly got the equalizer as Wilson set up Suter for a one-timer that Harding just got enough of to keep it out and just seconds later a rebound worked its way back out in the slot that Suter rifled on goal and his shot went right into the crest on Harding’s sweater and the Wild kept its one-goal lead. In the closing minutes the Wild defense circled the wagons and with a few more close calls Harding was able to steer the puck wide and Minnesota held on to earn a 3-2 victory.
Josh Harding was pretty good, but not perfect as he stopped 23 shots in the win. At times he looked a bit disorganized, as he was caught playing a little too deep in his crease but he held it together to stop the shots he needed to. He also came up with some outstanding saves; the two great stops on Sergei Kotstitsyn stand out. Defensively I thought the Wild youngsters again stood out. Marco Scandella gave the Wild’s blueline some of the offensive punch it lacked with his big shot and his mobility also came in handy on multiple occasions. Nate Prosser also had a strong game.
Offensively, I really liked what I was seeing out of the top line which looked dynamic but most importantly dangerous. Koivu, Heatley and Setoguchi were all taking the opportunity to put shots on goal and the line accounted for 11 of the Wild’s 30 shots on goal this evening. It was great to see Koivu and Heatley connect on the first goal since Heatley had a number of close chances early on. Minnesota’s forwards matched the work ethic of the Predators, and that’s no easy feat as that’s Nashville’s calling card.
Apart from the result, one of the most intriguing stories of the evening was that about a 51-year old adult league goaltender named Paul Deutsch. Deutsch hadn’t started playing goalie until he was 37 years old. The current coach of an under-14 girls hockey team does occasionally practice with the team, but it was clear he was both excited, humbled and anxious even if he was meant to be an emergency backup for the Wild. The Wild had to sign Deutsch to a one-day tryout contract because Niklas Backstrom was unavailable due to the birth of his child and Houston goaltender Matthew Hackett was set to arrive at 6:30 at the airport which meant he may not be available. So, that’s why Deutsch got his one-day contract and was on the ice for warm ups. I think just about any of us out there would’ve gladly have taken that opportunity no matter how ill-prepared we may have been. It was the ultimate fan moment. Hackett would arrive to Xcel Energy Center right around 7PM and Deutsch was immediately made a healthy scratch.
In an all too familiar pattern this season, the Wild stumbled at the start but battled back to recover and earn a victory over the very kind of team that it will be fighting for a playoff position for. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said its time for the team to prove the naysayers wrong, and a victory against a quality team like the Predators not only keeps Minnesota atop the NHL standings but also makes them resemble something unlike Schneider from One Day at a Time even if that is the approach of this team that continues to exceed expectations.
~ Wild roster is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, Colton Gillies, Brad Staubitz, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Warren Peters, Nick Schultz, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser and Jared Spurgeon. Matthew Hackett backed up Josh Harding. Paul Deutsch, Niklas Backstrom and Mike Lundin were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Dany Heatley, 2nd Star Josh Harding, 3rd Star Mikko Koivu
~ Attendance tonight is 16,981 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Paul Deutsch wore #33 for the Wild.
Wild Prospect Report:
F – Mikael Granlund (HIFK Helsinki, Sm-Liiga) ~ Mikael Granlund has returned from the Karjala Cup, where he registered 3 assists in 4 games with a renewed focus. The Oulu-native is the leading scorer in the Sm-Liiga with 7 goals and 26 points in 22 games. A player with outstanding hands and offensive instincts, Wild fans are perhaps the most excited about his potential than perhaps any other prospect in franchise history and so far he’s only adding fuel to this fire of anticipation.
F – Johan Larsson (Brynas, Eliteserien) ~ Larsson continues to rise up the Eliteserien scoring ranks, currently sitting in 8th in the league with 5 goals and 17 points in 16 games. Not too shabby for the 2nd year pro, while also providing solid team defense.