In early December, simply coming away from a game with one point would not satisfy most Minnesota Wild fans. Tonight, it felt like a victory.
Despite the early loss of team captain Mikko Koivu to an unspecified upper body injury and some inexcusable officiating, the Wild took the St. Louis Blues into a shootout where the Wild lost with a final score of 3-2.
There is certainly no love lost between these two clubs. Fans will recall just a few weeks ago when a matchup between the teams in St. Paul had penalty boxes bursting at the seams, with 11 players in the boxes at the same time. Tonight’s game may not have had such a mass exodus from the ice, but the penalty boxes seemed constantly occupied nonetheless.
Their offense may have been lacking, but the Wild’s physical presence was felt from the opening faceoff. For that matter, so was the Blues’. The first powerplay of the game went to the Wild, with two shots on goal in 4 minutes of having the man advantage. Justin Falk delivered a legal but crushing hit on Perron, Backes took offense and jumped Falk (Backes managed to rack up 19 PIM for that single incident).
Dave McIntyre scored his first NHL goal to put the Wild up 1-0 not long after the missed powerplay opportunity, Cullen and Powe for the assists. That lead would carry into the second period, and the after-school activities would continue as well.
It wasn’t long into the second 20 when Perron got a perfect rebound and caught Harding out of position to tie it up at 1 goal apiece.
The physical play continued throughout the period with solid body-banging play from both sides until the officials decided to suit up for the Blues. Following a missed call on a late hit by Reaves on Warren Peters, Brad Staubitz did his job and challenged Reaves. Reaves accepted, and a good tussle ensued. Read that again. Reaves accepted. Staubitz got an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct for challenging Reaves to a fight which Reaves accepted. Hmmm… Pietrangelo scored the goal on the PP, but I’m crediting it to the refs. #badzebra 2-1, Blues.
The Wild would tie it up shortly thereafter on a PP, with defenseman Jared Spurgeon (one of my favorite players, and the Wild’s top-performing D player this year IMO) putting through a beauty of a shot from the point. The period wasn’t over yet, however…
Near the end of the period, “official” Brad Meier managed to perform an anatomically incorrect yoga position by inserting his head all the way up his (cough cough) by giving Clayton Stoner a double minor after a slashing call. The slash was legit. The extra two minutes for lipping off were not. You’re a ref, not a whiny second grader, Meier. Just because a player says something on his way to the box doesn’t mean you need to take out your insecurities on the ice. #unlovedchild #insecurezebra The period ended with multiple Wild players telling Meier exactly what they thought of his job performance.
I have to wonder if the other officials or the league didn’t give Meier a similar performance review over the intermission, because what should have been a 4-minute PK for the Wild was almost entirely nullified by St. Louis penalties. T.J. Oshie went to the box first for tripping. Lundin then drew another penalty against Backes (Lundin drew the first one as well…he was a one-man PK out there). Powerplay ended, no scoring from either side.
Stoner drew another penalty (deserved) for a high stick. Harding came up with huge saves on the PK, and sick blocks from Falk and Spurgeon managed to deny the Blues for those 2 minutes. Zidlicky was the next player to exit the ice on an interference penalty that was necessary to prevent a top-notch scoring chance. Smart move by Zids. Once again Josh Harding came through and frustrated the Blues at every turn.
Polak then put the Wild on the advantage with a dirty hit on Powe (called charging, I’d say boarding). The Wild started showing the lack of Mikko Koivu and Pierre Marc Bouchard with only a lackluster effort. Score remained tied at 2-2. The buzzer not long after signaled the end of regulation.
Overtime turned into a goalie battle, with highlight reel saves from both Harding and Halak. Back and forth they went, and just when it seemed that the Wild had to crack, it was time for a shootout.
The shootout was short but not-so-sweet this time. Harding save, Cullen stopped, Shattenkirk beat Harding, Heatley stopped, Oshie never even got off a shot (ha-ha!), Setoguchi stopped on a must-score-to-stay-alive. Wild get one point.
The good: A solid physical effort from the entire team tonight. Effort like that wins hockey games.
The bad: Offense is still not shooting and not going north. Finishing the first period with only 4 SOG is nothing to be proud of, even if 25% of them went into the twine. Harding also had a career high 47 saves, which may have been great for him, but shows a lack of defense from the rest of the squad. Yes, there were lots of blocked shots tonight, but the Wild have to push shooters to the outside so the shots aren’t attempted in the first place.
The ugly: Koivu is hurt. He left the ice after a hit early on and never returned. It looked like an arm or shoulder, but it’s difficult to tell and the team isn’t talking under after he sees the doctors here in Minnesota. Koivu has proven himself to be a force of nature in terms of motivation, and his loss along with the continued absence of Bouchard does not bode well for the Wild.
The Wild have a little time off before going out east to face the Flyers and Maple Leafs this week. Hopefully they’ll use it to find ways to maintain the intensity and effort they showed tonight. Mike Yeo stated after the game that he was extremely pleased with the effort from his players, but after the last game against Chicago it would have been hard to get worse. Tonight was hopefully the first step to recovery.