According to to Webster’s Dictionary, the meaning of the word ‘mediocre’ is moderate to inferior in quality. Mediocre is an excellent way to describe the Minnesota Wild this season. Minnesota is good enough to tease at a chance at the playoffs but not good enough to be at the bottom to maximize their draft position, the Wild are simply ordinary and mediocre. The result is a midling draft position and that leaves the team having to hope it gets ‘lucky’ via the draft because most of the sure things are gone. However the Wild have proven in their draft history they can even turn a ‘sure thing’ into a near disaster when they selected Benoit Pouliot with the 4th Overall selection in 2005. After being an enigmatic prospect the team was able to trade him for Guillaume Latendresse who turned out to be an effective scorer and easily the biggest in-season acquisition for the Wild and for Pouliot it has been a great move as he’s been effective with increased ice time. Minnesota had its first bust in A.J. Thelen who was selected 12th Overall in 2004 and it seems to be on the verge of having another bust in James Sheppard who was picked 9th Overall in 2006. Those are hardly late picks, but due to their failure to become productive NHL players it has left the team scrambling to fill holes by the more expensive route of free agency. With Pierre-Marc Bouchard (8th Overall in 2002) still not even skating after a hit he recieved during he first game the team has struggled with its first round selections. Add into that, another former 1st round round pick, Mikko Koivu (6th Overall in 2001) is out with an upper body injury so that leaves Brent Burns (20th Overall in 2003) as the lone 1st round pick in the Wild lineup tonight. Actually on second thought, perhaps mediocre is not all that accurate of a term to describe the Wild. Drafting-wise I think the term you must use is pathetic. Pathetic, in case you were curious is defined by Webster’s dictionary is being capable of arousing scornful pity.
Tonight, the wounded Wild travel to Philadelphia who are known as one of the toughest teams in the league. While leading scorer Mikko Koivu is out of the lineup, so to may be leading goal scorer Latendresse who was banged up in a morning skate. So what does that say for Minnesota’s chances this evening despite the fact the Flyers are on a 3-game losing streak and have a goaltender that struggles to stop beach balls? Yea, with the way the Wild season has gone this doesn’t seem like a scenario that will end well for them, or will Minnesota find a strength in being counted out?
Murphy’s Law gained a few more ‘examples’ today with the way the Wild played in the 1st period. Case in point, Andrew Ebbett. I might sound mean to pick on the minor league journeyman but he had an absolutely disasterous minute and a half which really put Minnesota in a world of hurt early in this game. After making a nice steal on Lukas Krajicek, Ebbett would race in all alone on a breakaway and he couldn’t even manage to get a shot off as he lost it trying to work it to his backhand. Shortly after the failed breakaway, Ebbett would help lead a nice 3-on-2 rush into the Flyers’ zone and then for whatever reason he decided to pass the puck to a trailing John Scott for the finishing shot, instead his pass was behind the big defenseman which turned into a 4-on-2 for Philadelphia that they ultimately scored on to get off to a 1-0 lead. What the hell was he thinking? Dish the puck to John Scott? Is that really the person you want to finish the play? Ebbett would’ve been better off just flinging a shot on goal and hope to get lucky. Instead he throws away a potential scoring chance and compounds that first error by making a terrible pass and giving the other team excellent numbers in transition and it costs the team a goal. On the very next shift, Ebbett would lose the faceoff and a terrible turnover in the defensive zone would end up on the stick of Simon Gagner who rifled a wrist shot by Niklas Backstrom as Andrew Ebbett struggled to cover Daniel Briere who fell into the Wild goaltender after the goal. So in about a minute in a half of work he fails to even register a shot on a breakaway, and was a -2, you can’t get much worse than that. Later in the game, Ebbett would also throw away chances to perhaps redeem himself by being a little assertive as he routinely attempted the extra pass instead of taking the initiative and firing a shot on goal himself. One of the reason’s Ebbett has been able to stick has been his willingness to shoot as well as use his speed to create some havoc on the forecheck. Now he still may be forechecking ok, but the shooting has been replaced by attempting to be a set up man and the result he is not nearly as effective. For a player like him who is sick of packing up and going to another city each year, you’d think he’d be cogniscent of the fact he is playing for a contract right now. I think he’s enjoyed his experience with the Wild but a weak finish may make the team opt for another young centerman in Casey Wellman who the team already has under contract.
Speaking of Casey Wellman, he had another solid game in his first one as center. He did reasonably well on his draws and continued to show the hallmarks of his game, of great hockey sense and terrific speed. Wellman played a role in Havlat’s goal by continuing to charge towards the net, and later he earned some major kudos for standing up for his teammate when he went after Daniel Carcillo who got away with a blantant check from behind. Predictably the agitating Carcillo lacked the cajones to accept a challenge by John Scott. Offensively the Wild would be sparked by Havlat’s goal and Carcillo’s hit and showed good persistence and managed to tie the game. I have to admit this, I literally was ripping on the Wild for continuing to set up John Scott and then he finally puts one in the back of the net, although later the goal would be given to Andrew Brunette but it was Scott’s shot that made it happen. Perhaps I should’ve been criticizing the team earlier, or just John Scott at least.
Minnesota would surprise me even more when they not only willed the game to overtime, but then finally earned the game winner on a flukey play where Kyle Brodziak flung a shot on goal that bounced up into the air and then off the leg of Boucher and in the back of the net to give the Wild a 4-3 victory. It was a strange game won on a strange play but fitting considering the bad luck the team faced early on as well as the emotionless way they skated through most of the 1st and 2nd period of play. It was fitting that Brodziak tallied the game winner considering he took an elbow hit from behind to the head delivered by the Flyers’ Ian Lapperierre to again no call. The NHL officials were both veterans in Gord Dwyer and former NHL-Referee czar Stephen Walkom, and both passed on making a call that appeared to be precisely be a textbook example of the new “high head hit” rule just implemented by the league so it is impossible for them to say they didn’t know. Its been front and center of most rules related discussions yet no call. It will be interesting to see if a suspension comes from this and then moments later they also did not call Daniel Carcillo’s check from behind, so what are the players supposed to do if the officials are going to swallow their whistle with two obvious illegal hits? Perhaps Dwyer and Walkom ought to earn a suspension of their own. Although you know as well as I do that Colin Campbell will likely do nothing. No justice will be done.
Niklas Backstrom was excellent making 32 saves in the victory. Minnesota’s defense was solid in shutting down the potent Flyers power play as Greg Zanon continues to show his worth as a shotblocker, making a few game saving stops as Backstrom found himself out of position. The Wild were making the hustle plays in the end to not allow the Flyers to re-take the lead down the stretch and bought them the time to win the game. Brent Burns had a good game and was playing well at both ends of the ice. Minnesota finally got some offense from its defense with goals from Marek Zidlicky and John Scott.
Offensively, Martin Havlat was a bit more assertive and gave a few flashes of the dominant player he can be, scoring a goal and setting up another. Guillaume Latendresse wasn’t not an overwhelming offensive force but he contributed in the physical department by registering 6 hits and Minnesota despite looking tired was taking its opportunities to dish out checks to the Flyers out hitting Philadelphia 29 to 25. It was a resilient effort in a game where you could argue the Wild perhaps did not deserve to win especially when you consider the fact they only registered 21 shots. Wild Head Coach Todd Richards summed up the strange game pretty well when he said, “Well we played 5 minutes, but we got pick things up and get ready for to put in a full 60-minutes against Detroit tomorrow.” He also said he felt that Laperierre had hit Brodziak high and from behind just concluding the thought by shrugging his shoulders. Minnesota will not have long to rest on the good feelings of this game as it travels to Detroit for a game against the Red Wings tomorrow night.
~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Antti Miettinen, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Kyle Brodziak, Chuck Kobasew, Derek Boogaard, James Sheppard, Andrew Ebbett, Guillaume Latendresse, Casey Wellman, John Scott, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky and Cam Barker. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Cody Almond and Nate Prosser were the healthy scratches. Mikko Koivu is out with an upper body injury, while Clayton Stoner, Shane Hnidy are out with lower body injuries. Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still battling post-concussion symptoms.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Kyle Brodziak, 2nd Star Simon Gagner, 3rd Star Martin Havlat
Wild Prospect Report:
G – Darcy Kuemper ~ Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
2009-10 Stats: 68GP (28-23-4) 2.85GAA .905%SP
It has been a rough playoffs thus far for Wild prospect goaltender Darcy Kuemper. A lack of support both offensively and in his own zone conspired to create what was devastating start on Sunday. In Sunday’s game against Saskatoon, Kuemper surrendered 3 goals on just 4 shots and was pulled after playing just 4:36 in the game. Certainly not a performance that he wishes to repeat, but sporting an ugly 5.36 goals against average in the playoffs meant Kuemper sat on the bench for the next game as the Rebels again found themselves on the losing end of an overtime game. Kuemper has carried most of the load for Red Deer this season, the offensively anemic team who has to lean heavily on the 6’4″ goaltender if they are to have a chance at winning at all most nights. Like most prospects, Kuemper could stand to get stronger and if there is one glaring weak part of his game it is his puckhandling and decision-making with the puck as he makes his excursions from the crease a practice in near calamity most times. He did show some improvement in this area down the stretch but clearly the wheels have come off for the post season, and it will be interesting to see if Red Deer who is facing elimination goes with Kuemper to hopefully redeem himself with a clutch performance.
G – Matthew Hackett ~ Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
2009-10 Stats: 56GP (33-18-1) 2.62GAA .925%SP
While the playoffs have been something Darcy Kuemper may wish to forget, Matthew Hackett is making this season one to remember as he builds off another solid season with stellar play in the post-season for the Whalers. Last night’s game was a perfect example as Hackett was a rock between the pipes as he made 45 saves in a 5-3 victory over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Unlike Kuemper, the Whalers have a very potent offensive attack led by #1 rated (by International Scouting Service) skater in Tyler Seguin so Hackett does not often suffer from a lack of goal support. However, Hackett’s 45 saves demonstrates he is another big (at 6’3″) reason why Plymouth looks to be a contender for the OHL championship. Already 2-1 in the playoffs and sporting a gawdy .939 save percentage Hackett again looks to finish amongst the top goaltenders in the post season as he did last year. The Wild brass are also very impressed as they signed Hackett to a 3-year entry level contract. He certainly needs to add strength to to his frame but he possesses everything you want in a big goaltender as he has great post-to-post quickness and a wicked glove hand. So just how far can Hackett carry his team remains to be seen but he looks like perhaps the most solid goaltending prospect for the franchise since Josh Harding.