The Wild needed this game. They needed to get a team they had beaten in 10 straight games at the X. They needed a team against whom Niklas Backstrom is unbeaten at home. They needed a team looking up at them in the standings. They needed to get aggressive, forecheck with authority, drive to the net, look for rebounds and get a power play goal.
Against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night, the Wild did everything they needed to get a convincing win. Sure, it was only 2-1 going into the last minute of play, but the game never felt like it was that close. Nice goals tonight for Andrew Brunette on the power play off a rebound of a bomb by Marek Zidlicky (Martin Havlat was the one who kept that play alive with a nice move down low to get the puck up top to Mikko Koivu who sent it across to Zidlicky). That was followed late in the second period by a seeing-eye backhander by Owen Nolan. The Irish God of War found the tiniest crack with that shot. Then to cap it off, Guillaume Latendresse was awarded for his great effort tonight with an empty netter.
What did I like tonight?
- The forecheck. Edmonton was chipping the puck out of the zone all night rather than skating it out and taking the blue line with speed. That was all a result of the aggressive two-man forecheck. Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Guillaume Latendresse, Andrew Ebbett and Mikko Koivu were making it very uncomfortable for the Oilers tonight. That trend must continue for the Wild's new system to work effectively.
- Martin Havlat - Andrew Ebbett - Guillaume Latendresse. This is the line I've been waiting for since the first time Ebbett and Lats took the ice for the Wild. Havlat's a playmaker, ok, we can handle that. Ebbett is an energy guym can chase the puck down in the offensive zone and Latendresse isn't afraid to shoot, will plant himself in the low slot and can work the puck in the corners without losing it, because he's just that strong on his skates. Havlat needs to continue to work with these two, get comfortable, make that pretty toe-drag and feed it to the big man to finish.
- Clayton Stoner. Sure, his "fight" with Ryan Stone was nice (that was a whooping), but more importantly, the kid shows what can happen with proper AHL seasoning. He's poised, makes smart plays, gets into the offense when he sees a chance, but always gets back to play his role. It's nice to see Chuck Fletcher and Todd Richards fixing the Colton Gillies issue by leaving him in Houston. Hopefully he can learn what guys like Stoner and Earl have learned with their time in the AHL. Too bad James Sheppard is stuck paying for the sins of Doug Risebrough.
A couple negatives tonight though:
Shoot the puck. Sure, it makes me sound like the drunk idiot yelling SHOOT every time their on the power play, but seriously, they were passing the puck around the Oilers like they were facing a squirts team, then when they actually took a shot, the Oilers had gotten back into position. The Wild were almost always two or three passes past when they should've shot. I'd like to see the number of shots the Wild have had blocked in comparison with the rest of the league. I think it would be telling.
- The power play in general. Yeah, they got a goal, but they spend so much time chasing the puck in their own end because of blocked shots and deflected passes that they have a hard time getting into a rhythm.
- FSN's crew. Guys, his name is lah-TAWN-dress, not lah-TAHN-DRESS. Bob Kurtz gets it right, just ask him.
- The officiating crew. Robert Nilsson slashes Havlat all the way down the ice, Havlat gives him a shot back, Nilsson loses it, then Steve Staios jumps in and takes a couple shots at Marty and the calls go to Nilsson and Havlat? Then on the next stoppage Clutterbuck hits Shawn Horcoff at the whistle, Dustin Penner takes a shot at Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak pulls Penner off, but both Clutterbuck and Brodziak go and Penner stays out of the box even though he pushed a ref? Really? This is ridiculous. Then again, it's the same league that didn't suspend Sheldon Souray for punching Craig Weller with a cast last season, so go figure. Oh, speaking of which, Sheldon Souray drops gloves with Owen Nolan? Really? That's just pathetic.
Please read the game recap over at The Copper & Blue
Hockey Wilderness Three
Questions to Answer
- Can the Wild get back on track by beating a team below them in the standings? Yes. From the opening drop, there wasn't a question as to who was going to win. This game was complete domination, even when it was 1-1.
- With the flu going around the locker room, is chicken soup on the menu for the pre-game meal? The team looked relatively healthy tonight. They had much more energy than they did against Colorado.
- Will Niklas Backstrom get back on his game, or are we seeing a long-term problem? Well, the goal was on a huge rebound, and he had three or four other big ones, but he stuffed Patrick O'Sullivan on the breakaway in the third period and looked more comfortable than he did in the previous two games.
Derek Boogaard has been on the verge of scoring all year, will tonight bring a Christmas miracle for #24? I thought he had it tonight, but the puck just trickled off his stick wide of the goal mouth.
- Will snowmaggedon and the weather terrorists end the Wild's sell-out streak? 18,250. Guess it remains.