What was supposed to be the triumphant return of Marian Gaborik to Xcel Energy Center ended up instead being the triumphant return of Petr Sykora. After his sloppy, and uninspired play led to a benching then being scratched in the Wild's last two games, the Czech veteran got the message and worked hard tonight, doing what he was brought in to do. Play around 13-15 minutes, work the puck down low and get on the scoresheet. Toward the end of the first period, Sykora, Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette worked the puck down low, applying decent pressure on, until that point, the stellar Henrik Lundqvist. The play culminated in Sykora burying a tap-in past Lundqvist on a beautiful pass across the slot by Koivu. It was the result of hard work in the offensive zone. Classic NHL. In fact, the Wild seemed to get the message from coach Todd Richards, and Richards changed his game plan, abandoning the 2-man forecheck. The added help in the neutral zone alleviated a lot of the pressure on the defense and the Wild were buzzing. They controlled the flow of the game, and led in shots 12-5 after the first.
Starting the second period, the Wild seemed to regress. The Rangers were moving the puck up and down the ice, and seemed to have the better chances. Then at 5:33 of the second period, Dane Byers, who was called up from the AHL today and jumped off the plane and onto the ice, took a pass from Wade Redden who forced a sloppy turnover by Owen Nolan, and wristed one past Niklas Backstrom. That goal, however, sparked something in the Wild instead of motivating New York. Just over two minutes later Petr Sykora started the play, making a nice pass to Martin Havlat who fed across to Eric Belanger who put the Wild back up 2-1. This time though, the Wild didn't let up. They kept up the pressure the rest of the period until Antti Miettinen took a drop pass from Mikko Koivu, used Koivu as a screen and snapped the puck through Lundqvist's 5-hole. The period ended 3-1 and the Wild saw a nice 25-13 lead in the shots on goal department.
The third period began the same way as the second, with the Wild on their heels and Marc Staal taking a pass from Vinny Prospal, streaking up the ice and firing a shot past Backstrom. Minnesota then settled down and fought off the Rangers for the remainder of the game, playing it safe and locking down the 3-2 win.
It was nice to see Havlat get an assist, as he was pointless in his last seven games. Heck, even Derek Boogaard looked good tonight with two quality scoring chances. I love when Boogey has a chance to park in front of the net. He's so big, takes up so much space and is so hard for the opposition to move, that he wreaks havoc down low. He hasn't scored since January of 2006, but if he continues to get decent minutes and get work in the low slot, he's going to get his garbage goal.
The Wild are lucky tomorrow, in that they face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins without Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, but we'll see what happens. Richards made it sound like he was going to put Anton Khudobin in net, but that might just be playing with the minds of the Pens. Who knows?
Please read the game recap over at Blueshirt Banter
Hockey Wilderness Three
Questions to Answer
- Will the Wild be the first team to 10 losses? Not yet!!
- Can the goal against Nashville spark something in Owen Nolan? Well, Nolan didn't have a great game tonight, but did get four shots on goal and two decent scoring chances in 12:38, but was a -1 due to his turnover.
- With Marian Gaborik out, who will pick up the offensive slack for the Rangers? Aside from Gaborik and Christopher Higgins, it should have been Ales Kotalik, but he was virtually non-existent. Lucky for the Rangers, Marc Staal had a decent game and finally got on the scoresheet.
- With Sean Avery out, who will pick up the being offensive slack for the Rangers? Dane Byers. What's wrong kid? Your first career goal wasn't enough? You had to try to goad Cal Clutterbuck into a fight? Really?
- This is a frustrated team. Can Todd Richards get them to turn things around? Tonight was the best 60 minutes of hockey the Wild played all season. They dominated much of play, but started to wane in the early part of the third period. Thankfully after the Staal goal, they locked it back down and got away with the regulation win. They'll need to look at this game on how to play within themselves.