The Minnesota Wild simply ran into a better team tonight. The Chicago Blackhawks are better offensively, defensively and on special teams.
The Wild only had 20 shots on goal but gave up 33, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky and Petr Sykora were all a -2, only Martin Havlat and Clayton Stoner were a +1 tonight, Josh Harding's GAA increased to 3.47.
Tonight just didn't go the Wild's way. Last game against the Blackhawks was a closer affair, but that was when Chicago was without Olympians Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa. Tonight we saw what happens against a full operational battle-station. The Wild got the first goal from Guillaume Latendresse with assists to Kyle Brodziak and Martin Havlat (can I say again how much I love the Lats-Marty pairing?), but after that, they quickly resembled the planet of Alderaan against the Death Star. John Madden opened scoring for the home team 2:30 later, and the Hawks never looked back. Marian Hossa led the way for the Blackhawks with two goals.
Shots in the first period were 11-5 in favor of the Chicago, then 10-7 in the second and 12-8 in the third. In a sport where the number of shots don't always tell the story, this time they did. The Wild had decent scoring chances in the first period, but too many shots were blocked or missed the target entirely. That problem seems to be one that has plagued the Wild since the inception of the franchise. I'd love to see numbers on shots the Wild have had blocked versus shots that they have blocked.
The Wild have now lost four games in a row, and with Calgary, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Vancouver coming up on this homestand, it could very easily stretch to seven or eight. If that's the case, look for the team to fall periously close to being out of the race and to start shopping guys like Brunette, Sykora and Nolan.
But frankly, tonight's loss to Chicago doesn't matter because:
USA! USA! USA!
Congratulations to Team USA, 2010 IIHF World Junior Championships Gold Medal Winners!
It's been five years, and both games against Team Canada were nail-biters, losing in the opening round on New Year's Eve in the shootout and tonight in overtime both after giving up a 2-goal lead late, but the boys from the Red, White and Blue did American hockey fans proud tonight, hanging on and winning the gold medal in overtime on the bitterly cold, windswept prairie of Saskatoon. Now, let's hope the American Olympians can repeat the performance in Vancouver. Read the story on the winning performance over at TSN.
- Can the Wild make their fathers proud and get a win over the best team in the NHL? Nope. Massive disappointment in being outworked and outplayed all night.
- MIkko Koivu is on a six-game point streak, can he make it seven? The streak has ended.
- With Martin Havlat finally finding his game, can he stick it to his former squad with a few points? He did get the assist on Guillaume Latendresse's goal. I love that line.
- Looks like Owen Nolan is out tonight. Can James Sheppard brush off the rust and get into the game, or will he find himself on the fourth line and Petr Sykora or Martin Havlat stepping up to the second? 12:23, one shot. The kid just can't cut it. Risebrough ruined him.
- Josh Harding is getting the start tonight. Is he going to find the winning touch? Oy. He's just not helping the franchise at all right now.
- Can I say this without being shredded? I love the Chicago Blackhawks. They are everything that is good about a rebuilding program. Now ... if only they can keep this team together. I don't see how that's going to be possible considering they have a $60.6M cap hit in 2010-2011 with only 16 players under contract (11 forwards, 5 defensemen, 1 goaltender). How will they work this out? Who will they move? I think tonight showed why this is the franchise to mimic.