Ever sit in your car and come up with strange modifications of songs almost ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic-like? I started to think about the Wild’s injury situation as I listened to the game on the radio as I was driving home from a school fundraiser. As I thought about all of Minnesota’s injuries I began to hear the Wild radio broadcasters Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid lamenting about the Wild’s inability to create shots on goal, I felt it was unfair since the team was being forced to replace some of their better offensive players with rookies and players normally suited as grinders. As I did that the rhythm and music to Adam Sandler‘s Lunchlady Song popped into my head and instantly I was able to modify it to a song that seemed to answer the question why Minnesota was struggling to get many shots on goal. Please sing along if you can, “Rookies and Grinders, Rookies and Grinders, Clutter-buck, Clutter-buck, Rookies and Grinders, Rookies and Grinders, AHL en-forcer….Sloppy Play, Slop sloppy play uh huh, slop sloppy play uh huh.” It won’t be available on iTunes anytime soon, but I really think it answers the question why Minnesota is being outshot by such a large margin. That is who the Wild have been forced to replace offensive cogs like Antti Miettinen and Guillaume Latendresse with a rookie like Casey Wellman and grinders like Cody Almond, and Cal Clutterbuck who is now playing on the top line. It means that the Wild are not going to be able to create much offense from its 3rd and 4th lines as its playing with lots of guys that normally would be starring for its AHL affiliate in Houston.
These two expansion cousins are both organizations hoping to give their fans a reason to be excited after having disappointing campaigns in 2009-10. The Wild are coming off a fairly successful 5-game homestand, and the Blue Jackets have been playing some of its best hockey all season as of late. Something has to give. The Blue Jackets and their fans have felt like the red-headed step child of the league ever since they entered the league ten seasons ago and they love nothing more than to earn a victory over their expansion cousins. Columbus won the first meeting, so how will tonight’s game end up?
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The Blue Jackets looked hungry early as Rick Nash worked a 2-on-1 with Derick Brassard, and Nash would dish it to the youngster and his shot would be steered wide by Jose Theodore. The sparks did not take long to fly, as just 1:45 into the game that young Matt Kassian would drop the gloves with the Blue Jackets’ Jared Boll. Kassian would take control early, using his superior reach to keep Boll at a distance as he started throwing right handed jabs. Neither fighter was able to land too many big punches as Boll tried to reach him with a few left handed hooks and the officials would move in to break it up. Minnesota would get its opportunity on the man advantage after a goaltender interference penalty on former Wild draft pick (9th round, 272nd Overall in 2004) Kyle Wilson. The Wild would take full advantage of it as Matt Cullen would lead the charge into the Columbus zone as he drew a few Blue Jackets’ defenders towards him and he’d find Brent Burns sneaking behind the defense and he’d take the little pass and move in and beat Mathieu Garon on a pretty backhander to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. Columbus would answer back as Rostislav Klesla would carry the puck into the Wild zone and he’d drop a pass back to Brassard who returned the favor by delivering a beautiful pass to Rick Nash who tapped a shot by Theodore to tie the game at 1-1. The Wild would find themselves shorthanded after a cross checking penalty on Burns and Minnesota would go on the attack as John Madden would chase a loose puck into the Columbus zone where he fed a pass to Eric Nystrom who fired a quick snap shot that was blocked aside by Garon. The Blue Jackets would regroup and they’d set up Anton Stralman for a blast from the point that was stopped by Theodore and he sprawled as he would stymie a close in rebound chance by R.J. Umberger to keep the game tied at 1-1 going into the 2nd period.
The Blue Jackets would try to take the lead early as Nash would fire a long-range pass to Jakub Voracek who managed to sneak behind the Wild defense for a breakaway and as he closed in his wrister was blocked away by a poised pad save by Theodore. Minnesota looked real passive and lethargic and Columbus was taking full advantage of the extra time and space to be had. The Blue Jackets continued to attack and lazy defensive play by Cam Barker allowed Kyle Wilson to enter the zone without much opposition and he rifled a wrist shot that beat Theodore high, stick side to give Columbus a 2-1 lead. As much as Columbus was dominating the play in the period the Wild were keeping it close and the Blue Jackets would give Minnesota a window of relief when Klesla was tagged with a high sticking penalty. On the power play the Wild did not waste much time to strike back as a nice faceoff win by Mikko Koivu would win the draw and pass it down to Martin Havlat who dished it out to Koivu who slid a pass back to the point towards Burns who stepped into a slapper that beat Garon who was screened well by Andrew Brunette to tie it back up at 2-2 as Antoine Vermette fired the puck at the glass in disgust. The goal still did not inspire the Wild to show more energy and the Blue Jackets continued to carry the play and their pressure would draw a tripping penalty on Clayton Stoner. His penalty nearly cost the Wild as the Blue Jackets moved the puck well, from the half wall out to the point where Stralman hammered a slap shot on goal and Rick Nash tried to stuff home the rebound but Theodore was able to absorb the puck and keep Minnesota in the game, tied at 2-2 despite being outshot 16 to 3 in the period.
In the 3rd period the Wild would show far more energy than it did in the 2nd and the result was the Blue Jackets were not able to just work unimpeded in the Minnesota zone. The Wild would even sustain some pressure offensively with some good hustle and work along the boards as Justin Falk stepped into a slapper that was stopped by Garon and the puck was just out of reach of Eric Nystrom. Minnesota was beginning to assert itself physically by resuming the forecheck and it would earn the lead on a great individual effort by Cal Clutterbuck. The aggressive Wild winger would chase down a puck deep into the Columbus zone where he’d deliver a huge hit to Voracek that would also knock down Columbus’ Jan Hejda as well, and as Hejda tried to clear the zone the puck would be gathered up by Koivu who turned and fire a shot on goal that Garon knocked down and the puck would bounce out to Nystrom who couldn’t quite get a good stick on the biscuit which was still floundering around and it would make its way over to Clutterbuck who tapped home an easy goal to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead. Minnesota continued to apply pressure as Matt Kassian delivered a thundering check to Anton Stralman. A scary moment for the Wild would take place when Kyle Wilson tried to fire a shot on goal but instead the puck would ramp up the stick of Nick Schultz and strike him in the face and he immediately skated to the Wild bench and headed down to the locker room in clear distress. The Wild continued to work and the 4th line for the Wild nearly managed to add to its lead as Garon shut down Brad Staubitz from stuffing a puck by him. The Wild would hold off a frantic surge by the Blue Jackets as they pulled Garon late in a desperate effort for the tying goal, but Minnesota would circle the wagons and stave off the attack for a huge 3-2 road victory.
Jose Theodore had 35 saves in his first victory of the season. He was a huge source of strength for the the Wild, making quality saves especially during the 2nd period when the team’s effort was really flagging. Theodore bailed out his team on more than one breakaway, stonewalling Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard and those timely saves served to embolden a team that has traditionally struggled at Nationwide Arena. Defensively, the Wild’s defense showed good physical strength as well as great hustle and quality positioning to take away shooting lanes especially on the penalty kill to help their goaltender. Nick Schultz, Brent Burns and youngster Justin Falk were particularly solid. Falk especially has been impressive with his level of poise and stability and it appears he has the confidence of the Wild coaching staff as he was one of the players given the opportunity to play in the closing minutes of the game.
Offensively the Wild again were outshot by a wide margin as Columbus registered 37 shots to Minnesota’s 24. They were not overly effective at even strength but Minnesota was able to match Columbus with goals on the power play which continues to be a huge x-factor for the Wild. Minnesota’s power play continues to show versatility as they were able to create scoring chances off the rush in the first power play goal as Cullen used his speed to draw the defenders towards him and creating the space for Brent Burns to sneak in and make a pretty play and then later Burns would blast a slap shot from the point off a nice faceoff win in the offensive zone. Alot has been made about the fact the Wild are being out shot and out chanced, but there is something to be said for making the most of your opportunities and going 50% on the power play can win you a fair amount of games.
In the post-game interview shown on Fox Sports Net North, Wild Head Coach Todd Richards felt the 1st and 3rd periods looked real good, but for the most part was pretty jovial in his post-game interview. Richards gave a lot of credit to the strong play of Jose Theodore for bailing his team out of a miserable 2nd period adding, “This was a big win for us, and the guys deserve the credit, and Columbus has been playing well, this was big for us especially after having played the night before.” He also noted how important the fact the Wild now have 4 full days of rest before their next game in Atlanta on Thursday. Richards also downplayed the facial injury defenseman Nick Schultz recieved in the 3rd period, saying he thought he looked ok and that all he needed was some stitches.
The Wild win their 3rd straight and now get a few crucial days to heal up and recover before they go on a swing through the Southeast Division. The Southeast has been remarkably competitive this season and these will not be easy games for the Wild to win. So far the Wild are 1-2 against the Southeast having beaten the division leader Washington but lost twice to the Carolina Hurricanes in their games in Finland. Hopefully Minnesota can rest and relax but maintain their focus and work ethic that has carried them in this winning streak.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Martin Havlat, Eric Nystrom, John Madden, Casey Wellman, Matt Kassian, Brad Staubitz, Cody Almond, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Cam Barker, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Brent Burns. Niklas Backstrom backed up Jose Theodore. Marek Zidlicky, Guillaume Latendresse and Chuck Kobasew are out with groin injuries while Antti Miettinen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard struggle to recover from concussion-like symptoms.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Brent Burns, 2nd Star Cal Clutterbuck, 3rd Star Rick Nash. Sorry but its a crime that Jose Theodore wasn’t given a star in this game. He gets my 2nd star and push Clutterbuck down to have the 3rd star.
~ Tonight’s attendance was 13,457 at Columbus’ Nationwide Arena.
~ The Aeros would travel to Oklahoma City to take on the Barons Saturday night and it was a 4th straight victory for Houston as they earned a 4-2 decision. Houston would jump out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Brock McBride and Carson McMillan who has been heating up as of late. The Barons would answer back as skilled offensively gifted blueliner Alex Plante fired a long range shot by Anton Khudobin to cut the Aeros’ lead in half. Fridley, Minnesota’s Jarod Palmer would earn his first professional goal to give the Aeros a 3-1 lead on a nice power play tally. Houston’s Robbie Earl would add another to give the Aeros a commanding 4-1 advantage and the Barons’ Ben Ondrus‘ late 3rd period goal wasn’t enough as they’d fall 4-2. Khudobin was solid between the pipes, making 23 saves in the win.
WCHA Men’s Hockey Report:
Wisconsin (6-2-1) at Minnesota (5-4-0) – After thrashing the Gophers 6-0 the night before, game two was a far more competitive affair as it ended in a 3-3 tie. The Gophers got things rolling early on goals from Taylor Matson and Jacob Cepis. The Badgers would answer back with goals from Justin Schultz and a close-range tap in goal by Jordy Murray. Minnesota would re-take the lead on a blast by Jay Barriball, and it appeared as though Minnesota was going to be able to earn a split in the series but it was not meant to be as Jordy Murray would tap in another goal just under 3 minutes left in regulation. After a long goal review it was ruled to be a good goal and both teams traded quality opportunities late but neither was able to solve their opponent’s goaltender and the game would end in a tie.
Colorado College (3-5-1) at Denver (4-3-2) – Talk about a tale of two evenings, as Colorado College earns a series split with its in-state rival after a 9-2 crushing of the Pioneers as they completed a home-at-home circuit. The Pioneers ironically would jump out to a 1-0 lead as Drew Shore found the back of the net and from there it was all Tigers. Nick Dineen, Blues’ 1st rounder Jaden Schwartz, Hopkins, Minnesota-native Archie Skalbeck, Eamonn McDermott, and both Stephen Schultz and Cloquet, Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson each had two goals in a 9-2 rout. Even though this will not make Denver Head Coach George Gwozdecky feel any better, Wild fans will be happy to hear Jason Zucker scored his 7th goal of the season as the Pioneers tallied a late power play goal as he continues to show excellent finishing ability.
Bemidji State (0-4-1) at St. Cloud State (4-4-1) – The Beavers would earn its first win as a member of the WCHA in a 3-2 overtime thriller at the National Sports Center in St. Cloud. Bemidji State would jump out to a 1-0 lead just 44 seconds into the game when Emil Billberg found the back of the net. The Huskies would respond with a shorthanded goal from Nick Jensen and would take the lead early in the 2nd when former Warroad Warrior and Calgary Flames prospect Aaron Marvin lit the lamp to give St. Cloud State a 2-1 lead. Bemidji State was undaunted and they would earn the equalizer late on a Ian Lowe power play tally with less than 4 minutes left in regulation to send the game to overtime. The Beavers did not wait long in overtime as it was Lowe taking a pass from Verona, Wisconsin-native Jordan George who fired it home by the Huskies’ Dan Dunn for the game winner and a split in the series.
Minnesota State (2-3-1) at Nebraska-Omaha (6-1-0) – The Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks earn another sweep in the WCHA as they beat Minnesota State 5-2 tonight in Omaha. UNO jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Andrej Sustr but Minnesota State responded with a power play goal from Kurt Davis, yet the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks would wait just 2 minutes and 27 seconds later to re-take the lead as Zahn Raubenheimer lit the lamp to give UNO a 2-1 lead going into the 2nd period. Nebraska-Omaha would add another as Rich Purslow scored almost 10 minutes into the 2nd, but Minnesota State tried to keep pace as LeCrescent, Minnesota-native Eriah Hayes stuffed a shot by John Faulkner to limit UNO to a 3-2 lead going into the 3rd. The Mavericks of Nebraska-Omaha would go into overdrive as Johnnie Searfoss and Matt Ambroz added two more as they cruised to a 5-2 win and a series sweep of Minnesota State.
University of Minnesota-Duluth (6-1-2) at North Dakota (5-3-1) – The high powered UMD Bulldogs would earn a series split in dramatic fashion as they won in a 3-2 in overtime. The Fighting Sioux would take a 1-0 lead in the first period on New York Islanders’ 1st rounder Brock Nelson‘s goal. The Bulldogs would answer back as Mike Connolly would tie the game less than 3 minutes into the 2nd, but North Dakota would re-take the lead just a few minutes later when Evan Trupp found the back of the net behind Kenny Reiter. UMD would not back down and J.T. Brown fired home his 5th of the season to knot the game at 2-2 going into the 3rd. The 3rd would end with both teams playing cautiously sending the game to overtime. It would not take long in overtime as Wild prospect camp tryout Justin Fontaine scored the game winner just 58 seconds into the extra session to give the Bulldogs the season split to stay near the top of the WCHA.