Game #52: Minnesota Wild vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Saturday January 23rd, 7:00PM CST @ Xcel Energy Center on Hockey Day in Minnesota
Minnesota Wild (24-23-4) 52pts 4th Northwest
2.69 Goals For per Game (15th in the NHL)
2.94 Goals Against per Game (22nd in the NHL)
17.4% Power Play (18th in the NHL)
82.4% Penalty Kill (12th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 14G 31A = 45pts
2. #15 Andrew Brunette ~ 14G 24A = 38pts
3. #14 Martin Havlat ~ 9G 25A = 34pts
4. #3 Marek Zidlicky ~ 4G 27A = 31pts
5. #25 Eric Belanger ~ 12G 18A = 30pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #24 Derek Boogaard ~ 74 PIM’s
2. #34 Shane Hnidy ~ 60 PIM’s
3. #36 John Scott ~ 55 PIM’s
1. #32 Niklas Backstrom (21-16-4) 2.76GAA .901%SP
2. #37 Josh Harding (3-7-0) 2.95GAA .898%SP
Pierre-Marc Bouchard – concussion
Chuck Kobasew – MCL/ACL knee
Clayton Stoner – Groin
Josh Harding – Hip
Columbus Blue Jackets (20-24-9) 49pts 5th Central
2.60 Goals For per Game (21st in the NHL)
3.17 Goals Against per Game (26th in the NHL)
20.8% Power Play (7th in the NHL)
81.6% Penalty Kill (15th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #61 Rick Nash ~ 23G 24A = 47pts
2. #20 Kristian Huselius ~ 15G 26A = 41pts
3. #50 Antoine Vermette ~ 15G 24A = 39pts
4. #18 R.J. Umberger ~ 18G 18A = 36pts
5. #93 Jakub Voracek ~ 8G 20A = 28pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #40 Jared Boll ~ 111 PIM’s
2. #15 Derek Dorsett ~ 62 PIM’s
3. #22 Mike Commodore ~ 42 PIM’s
1. #1 Steve Mason (12-16-6) 3.28GAA .892%SP
2. #32 Mathieu Garon (8-8-3) 2.80GAA .904%SP
Marc Methot – illness
Rostislav Kelsla – torn groin
January 23rd, the long awaited day known as Hockey Day In Minnesota, the State of Hockey’s outstanding celebration of the passion for the game that makes the state unique in the United States. Despite what pundits like Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Sid Hartman has to say that Basketball is bigger than hockey, our state’s basketball notability is dwarfed in comparison to hockey. Writers like Sid will unfortunately never understand how prevalent the hockey culture is in Minnesota and it is the Minnesota Wild that get to be the main event of this all-day hockey showcase. For those of you who are unaware of this great event, Hockey Day in Minnesota is a 21-hour celebration of hockey on Fox Sports Net North. It has always featured a few outdoor high school hockey games, where for many Minnesotans like myself first learned to skate and play the game. This year the FSN-North crew travels up to Hermantown, Minnesota for three high school contests including an intriguing Class 1A Hermantown vs. Class 2A Eden Prairie matchup which hearkens back to the old days of the one-level High School State Tournament. This is the 3rd year FSN-North has produced this event and here is the schedule for the entire day.
9-10AM – Hockey Day in Minnesota
10-12PM – (High School Boys Hockey) Hopkins vs. Duluth Marshall
12-1:15PM – Hockey Day in Minnesota
1:15-3:15 – (High School Boys Hockey) Eden Prarie vs. Hermantown
3:15-5:00PM – Hockey Day in Minnesota
5:00-7:30PM – (WCHA Men’s Hockey) Minnesota vs. St. Cloud State
8:00-11:00PM – (NHL Hockey) Minnesota Wild vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
11:00-1:15AM – (Girls High School Hockey) Hermantown vs. Duluth
So with this celebration of hockey creating a sense of euphoria amongst die-hard hockey fans like myself, it ignores that there are some crucially important games to be played. It is a huge weekend for the Golden Gophers Men’s hockey team as they battle against in-state rival St. Cloud State. The Gophers seemed to take their season back with an impressive tie and win over North Dakota last weekend. St. Cloud State is in a tie for 4th place in the WCHA with Wisconsin, and hopes to take a step closer to a top 3 spot in the league, while Minnesota hopes to step into St. Cloud’s place and gain an edge in a tiebreaker.
Meanwhile, for the Minnesota Wild, with the team’s playoff hopes fading with 4 straight losses and now sitting in 12th in the Western Conference the Wild can ill-afford too many more losses. The Wild have confounded its fans with the way the offense only seems to arrive in the 3rd period after they’ve trailed by two or more goals. The comebacks make the games appear entertaining but coming up short after another 3rd period surge, its beginning to get old and worse its really starting to kill the team in the standings. If you don’t turn a loss with a win to a comeback, all the Wild are doing is adding window dressing to what are painful losses. The Wild coaching staff does not seem to have any answers and Head Coach Todd Richards has noted all the different strategies he has tried in order to get the team to give a better effort during the beginning of games. Obviously, it hasn’t worked, and the team has been a ‘tease’ far too many times but the substance (i.e. wins) is lacking. Perhaps Todd Richards can attempt to convince the players the 1st and 2nd periods of the hockey games are the 3rd and the team is trailing by two at the start so they can start a game with a fire lit under their keisters enough to be skating with purpose and being assertive offensively and physically.
Brent Burns has returned to the lineup and provided good minutes to the Wild and in his first game back he appeared to have simplified his game and was not making the risky plays that plagued him early in the season. Hopefully he keeps his safe and steady play for the rest of the season, because the Wild certainly could use his ability to move the puck as well as his big shot from the point not to mention reducing the minutes Shane Hnidy and John Scott play. At this point, that can only be a good thing. It has been noticeable that Kim Johnsson has been taking more chances to be involved offensively and while it has not yielded a lot of points it has helped force teams to take him more into account in the offensive zone.
Offensively speaking the Wild’s 2nd line of Martin Havlat, Kyle Brodziak and Guillaume Latendresse have officially taken over as Minnesota’s main offensive threat. While the top line of Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen still have more points amongst its 3 members this line is not creating as many scoring chances as the 2nd unit and has found itself playing a secondary role. Owen Nolan and Eric Belanger are the only players not on the Wild’s top 6 that have managed to show any consistency in the offensive zone. Cal Clutterbuck must find more ways to be involved and he will have to be physical against a speedy Columbus attack.
The Blue Jackets are still in the midst of a very disappointing season, sitting in 14th with a team they felt was poised to build on its first playoff appearance last season but its x-factor from last season, the strong play of youngster Steve Mason between the pipes was vastly different than last year. Mason was amongst the league’s best, but this year has been woefully inconsistent and a major reason the Blue Jackets have given up an average of 3.17 goals against average. Rick Nash still carries most of the offensive load and he’s still one of the elite power forwards in the NHL, and cannot be ignored as the two-way player he’s become under the tuteledge of Blue Jackets Head Coach Ken Hitchcock. Yet Columbus has some solid supporting talent in Kristian Huselius, former Ohio State star R.J. Umberger and youngsters Jakub Voracek and Derrick Brassard as well as the red hot Raffi Torres who has provided energy and timely goal scoring. The Blue Jackets are 5-5 in their last 10 games, and like the Wild have struggled to find consistency.
Minnesota typically has performed well against the Blue Jackets at the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center, but without question the Wild must find a way to win this game. The Wild have a tremendous opportunity to climb the ladder by earning points against a team behind them in the standings and help really add an exclamation point on what is the ultimate hockey day in Minnesota that is not the start of the Boys High School Hockey Tournament. So which team will show up; the team that plays well in the 3rd or the team that struggles at the start and hopes to pull off a dramatic comeback? We shall see.