Minnesota Wild 2-1 (so) Edmonton Oilers
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Shots 35-22 in favor of Minnesota, including 15-1 in the third period. A game against a team that hasn't won in this building since Nixon was in office. A goal-hungry first line who has created more than their fair share of scoring opportunities, but hasn't converted nearly as many as they would like. Sounds like the making of a great story and a big home win to boost the spirits, right?
Enter: A very good goalie on top of his game, and it all came ever so close to crashing down around the Wild tonight. Nikolai Khabibulin was absolutely fantastic tonight, and the scary part was just how easy he made it all look. Nothing flashy, no circus saves, nothing that would even really make the highlight real. His positioning was textbook. You could have made a how-to video of him tonight. He was almost perfect.
The Wild came out tonight and were almost skated out of the building early. The young Oilers, especially Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi have fantastic wheels, and they seem to ignite the fire in their teammates. Ryan Jones, Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff work well with these guys and really move the puck, cycle and create problems with their speed. It looked bad for the Wild until Mikko Koivu took it upon himself to show his team exactly what they needed to do. One shift mid-way through the first, Koivu laid three big hits on the kids, took the body hard and worked them in the corners. This was the shift in the game. After the Wild saw what happened, and the kids started becoming more tentative with the puck, shying away from contact and dishing before they wanted to, the whole tenor of the game changed. Minnesota started playing Mike Yeo's system, taking the play to the Oilers, both with and without the puck and from that point on outshot Edmonton 30-10.
Matt Cullen continues his excellent play early this season. The second line again provided great energy, good scoring opportunities, logged possession time and made things difficult for the young Oilers. If Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse continue to put in the effort every shift they way they have so far, it's going to be a good year for them.
Marco Scandella. What can we say about him that hasn't been said. Every game he impresses. Every game he provides the confident play with the puck to lead the break and is one of the more solid defenders on the roster. The team needed someone to step up back there, and so far, it's Scandella.
Loved Colton Gillies tonight too. Played physical, drove hard to the net, had chances just couldn't bury it. He's going to get his and the third line with Cal Clutterbuck and Darroll Powe is entertaining to watch and drains the life out of the opposition.
Didn't notice much from 2011 #1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He had 15:18 TOI, but didn't get a shot on goal. He was a non-entity, but if he continues to watch the way Eberle, Paajarvi and Hall play, he'll pick it up.
I'll keep this short, as there is beer to drink at Bennett's, and I don't want to waste a drop.
The Wild came out slow, remarkably slow according to Coach Yeo. At one point, however, Mikko Koivu put the team on his back, started throwing some hits, and working harder (sorry Tom) than everyone else. The rest of the team followed, and absolutely dominated the Oilers for the final two frames. If not for Nikolai Khabibulin, this would have easily been a 6-1, 7-1 game. Apparently you learn how to stop things from entering where you don't want them in the tent prisons in Arizona.
The forecheck will be the story, or at least it should be. The forecheck was outstanding, and every line contributed to it. That is the Mike Yeo system, and if they keep that up, they will win way more than they lose. Yeo said he hopes "their D is tired tonight." They certainly should be. 20+ turnovers in the third period in their own zone. An impressive stat that likely did not get recorded.
Oh, and Niklas Backstrom won the shootout. I need a beer.
The Bennett's Chop & Railhouse Stars of the Game:
- Nikolai Khabibulin (34 saves)
- Matt Cullen (1 G)
- Devin Setoguchi (overtime winner)
Remember, when you begin and end your night at Bennett's, you're the star! Easy parking, drink and food specials and a free shuttle to and from the Xcel Energy Center. Check them out at http://bennettschopandrailhouse.com/.
See you back here on Saturday against the Red Wings.
- Bouchard is back tonight. Does the Wild's new enforcer play well? The goon was forced to serve the 2:00 bench minor for too many men on the ice. He almost gave the winning goal away late in the third, he was stopped in the shootout. 17:22 TOI, 2 shots. Eh.
- Brad Staubitz makes his season debut, can he stay out of the way? His line created some good opportunities and provided a lot of energy tonight, but it seemed to be in spite of him, especially since he only had 4:10 TOI. Wonder if the writing is on the wall.
- Cam Barker returns to the X for his first game post-Wild. Will he be the same Kobe we know and love? He wasn't fantastic. He wasn't terrible.
- Does Backstrom's ownership of the Oilers continue? By a sliver. Seriously.
- Until he shows up, we're going with this: Where is Marek Zidlicky? Bad Zidlicky tonight. He really needs to get going here. 28:05, -1, 2 shots, 1 hit, 1 takeaway, 1 giveaway, 1 blocked shot. He just looks out of sync.