PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 8: Martin Havlat #24 of the Minnesota Wild is congratulated by the bench after scoring a goal in the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 8 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
For Pittsburgh perspective please visit PensBurgh
Can the Wild please, please, please be reassigned to the Eastern conference? That's a four-game winning streak with three coming against Eastern opponents, including two division leaders. In fact, the Wild are now 9-2-1 against the Penguins all-time. Not a bad record against the darlings of the NHL brass.
The Wild are riding an 8-2-1 stretch over their last 11, and have their first three-game road winning streak since the start of the 2008-2009 season. Quietly, this team has put themselves into playoff contention. Not a bad way to finish out the first half of the season.
Goals of all varieties came tonight. Chuck Kobasew opened the scoring when a Mikko Koivu shot deflected off his body and past Marc-Andre Fleury. Less than five minutes later, Martin Havlat buried a rebound from a Pierre-Marc Bouchard shot after driving hard to the net. The Wild ended the first period up 2-0 and tied in shots at 10. Minnesota came out hard in the second period, beating the Pens to loose pucks, working hard and creating scoring chances, but couldn't beat Fleury with any of the 18 shots they put on him. Luckily though, the Wild controlled the play, and Jose Theodore continued his domination over Pittsburgh. Since coming into the league, only Martin Brodeur has beaten the Penguins more and only Patrick Lalime has a better goals against average. Theodore just has their number.
Heading into the third period, Minnesota continued to apply the pressure, and dominate the game. The Penguins had two great chances to tie it, but Zbynek Michalek hit the post and Arron Asham was stoned by Theodore. Cal Clutterbuck continued to show that he's not just a pest, and rifled a beautiful snapshot from the right circle, cleanly beating Fleury and putting the Wild up 3-0, then with an empty net and 3:00 left in the third, Kyle Brodziak attempted to clear the zone by flipping the puck high and up the ice, and the Penguins were helpless to watch it trickle into the net to seal the game, with the score 4-0.
All on all, a great three game road trip out East. Three wins, two decisive and over the best the East has to offer. Sure, Sir Sidney Crosby wasn't playing, but you have to play the cards you're dealt. The Pens still had Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and company, but it didn't matter. Minnesota was simply better tonight.
Oh, and quietly both Cam Barker and Marco Scandella were a +4 on the night. Barker has silently taken it upon himself to replace Marek Zidlicky with Zids' injury, and has been everything the Wild could ask of him and Pizza is making it impossible to send him back to Houston. Get your Pizza j-shirts now. The kid is going to be around a while.
Hockey Wilderness Three Stars:
- Jose Theodore (26 saves, 1st shutout of the season, 30th of his career)
- Martin Havlat (1 G, 1 A)
- Kyle Brodziak (1 G, 1 A)
- Will the Wild end the first-half of the season with 21 wins? Absolutely!
- Does Jose Theodore continue his solid play? Theodore is on fire right now. He is doing exactly what Fletcher & Co envisioned he would do in the case of an extended injury to Niklas Backstrom, and likely is outperforming their expectations. If he continues to play close to this level, look for him to have serious trade value as we get closer to the deadline if the Wild find themselves looking in from the outside on a playoff spot.
- Over/under on Sidney Crosby mentions, even though he isn't playing = 19.5 - What do you take? Over. Definitely the over.
- How many times will people pine for Goligoski and Martin to be on the Wild, since you know, they're from Minnesota and all? I counted three people on Twitter calling for them to "come home."
- Do we still hate Chris Kunitz and Matt Cooke since they're no longer in our conference and we only see them once a year? It's funny, Kunitz may have changed his game to remove the pest element.He wasn't atrociously irritating tonight. Cooke, on the other hand, is an assclown.