The Wild picked up right where they left off, playing a brutal first two periods tonight against the Anaheim Ducks. They were getting a decent number of shots (17 through periods 1 and 2), but not many were quality scoring chances, and they were still letting far too many opposition players enter the zone and get free down low. Each of the three Anaheim goals were a result of poor defensive positioning, something many of us anticipated as the team learns a new system and starts to grow out of old habits.
The defensemen were lax in their zone, seemed to be confused as to what to do with the puck on the breakout. There were miscommunications in taking the zone. The forwards were hanging the defensemen out to dry by forechecking too deep and getting caught out, then they weren't backchecking hard enough. To make matters worse, they weren't taking the zone with speed when they should be, and dumping when they shouldn't. The power play was sloppy, with the Wild hardly getting enough time in the offensive zone to set anything up. It was a comedy of errors.
"The second period got away from us," admitted Richards. "I don’t think we played real good hockey. I think the players felt that way, too. But we turned it around in the third. Each guy made a commitment to each other to turn it around. The guys were rewarded."
Then suddenly something clicked. Now, it may have been coincidental (and as someone who hates the fighting just to spark the team, I hope it was) but once John Scott paired off with Anaheim tough guy George Parros, and caught him with a clean right cross, knocking him to the ice, the team suddenly found their identity. After that point, the Wild took over the game. Shots were 13-2 in favor of the home team and the crowd (who was clearly energized by the Twins extra inning win over the Tigers to capture the AL Central) got back in the game as the Wild poured on the pressure.
At 6:29 of the third period, Mikko Koivu got the crowd to their feet as the power play finally connected. Havlat to Brunette to Koivu who buried it past Jean-Sebastian Giguere. Once that first one got past the seemingly unbeatable Giguere (the Wild killer), the team realized that yes, he was human and can be beaten. Six minutes later, Petr Sykora did what Petr Sykora was born to do, score a goal-scorers goal with Todd Marchant draped over his back coming across the low slot. It was a nice finish to a great feed from Martin Havlat (his second beautiful assist of the night). Then with the crowd rolling and the team fired up, Eric Belanger took Todd Richards advice to heart, and just threw the puck at the net. His wrister on the power play beat Giguere in the 5-hole (again assisted by Havlat) and the game was tied. With just over two minutes left in regulation, the Wild absolutely owned play. They had a couple more decent scoring chances, but as time ran down and this as headed to overtime, the Metrodome magic seemed to travel east on 94.
I don't even recall Anaheim having the puck in the extra session. Every time I looked at the TV, the Wild were either streaking through the neutral zone, or working the puck for an open shot. With a scrum in front of the net at the 1:44, Anaheim's James Wisniewski made a boneheaded decision to punch Kyle Brodziak in the face, and Brodziak did the smart thing and just stood there. Wisniewski was heading off for a stupid roughing penalty, and you knew this was over. With the Wild working the puck below the goal line and looking for the quick goal, Kim Johnsson fed down low to Eric Belanger who put the puck in front of the net and Andrew Brunette, always the poacher, popped home the game winner and the jubilant crowd once again danced to the sounds of Joe Satriani.
A beautiful ending to the night. Let's hope Richards can get these guys concentrating on playing the way they did in the third period. It's time to hit the road for a brutal West Coast swing.
Hockey Wilderness Three
Questions to Answer
- Can the Wild bounce back from a relatively weak performance? For two periods, they were even worse, but everything changed in the third.
- Will John Scott settle in at wing? In 3:07 TOI, Scott was a non-factor. Then in his last :03 of TOI, he pounded
Freddie MercuryGeorge Parros and seemed to have turned the game around. That being said, I hate him at wing.
- With no Chris Pronger, no Chris Kunitz, no Brian Burke, no Todd Bertuzzi, do we still hate the Ducks? I would have said no, but these Ducks were still awfully chippy, and apparently decided to try to start a fight after Brunette's game winner.
- Can Bouchard get over whatever was with him on Saturday? It seemed so, until he went to Fletcher and said that his recurring headaches needed to keep him out. Let's hope this doesn't linger, but I have a bad feeling about it.
- Can the Wild stop Corey Perry, Ryan Carter and Bobby Ryan this year? 1 assist between the three of them. I like that.