This has been a very busy day for the Minnesota Wild, even before the puck dropped against the Vancouver Canucks this evening. Josh Harding reported feeling “off” due to medications he is on for his multiple sclerosis. That resulted in Darcy Kuemper getting the call up from Houston and starting in net for the Wild. Jared Spurgeon returned from IR and was paired with Justin Falk on the blueline, a pair that Head Coach Mike Yeo termed the “Twin Towers”. Falk is 6’5″ while Spurgeon is generously listed at 5’9″. Matt Kassian has been place on waivers to open a roster spot for Spurgeon. As of game time, he had not been claimed. We’ll find out if he clears waivers, and heads to Houston, Thursday at 11:00 am. All of these roster moves resulted in Nate Prosser and Pierre-Marc Bouchard as the team’s healthy scratches.
The story of the game was, once again, missed chances for the Minnesota Wild. Vancouver ran their winning streak to 11 straight against Minnesota at Rogers Arena. The Wild haven’t won in Vancouver since January of 2009. Once again, for the 6th straight game, Minnesota managed only a single goal. Offensively, the Wild had many quality chances, only one of which resulted in a goal. Devin Setoguchi scored a beauty at the 13:03 mark of the second period to bring the Wild to within one. While on the power play, Mikael Granlund won a battle on the wall, slid the puck to Cullen who dished to Setoguchi. ”Seto”, moving left to right, pulled the puck from backhand to forehand, snapping the puck high into the upper right corner to beat netminder Roberto Luongo. That brings Setoguchi to 200 points in his NHL career–105 goals and 95 assists. The goal also ended Luongo’s home shutout streak against the Wild at 218:48–almost 11 scoreless periods.
Darcy Kuemper got the start, wearing #35, for Minnesota. The rookie goaltender allowed a pair of goals on 30 shots in his NHL debut. He look confident throughout the night, with no major mistakes. Kevin Bieksa opened the scoring at 11:36 for Vancouver with his third of the season, a slap shot on a feed from Zack Kassian and Dan Hamhuis. That was all the scoring in the first. The Wild had several chances, but no goals, on five shots during two full power plays. Shots on goal favored the Canucks by a slim 13-12 margin. The Minnesota players looked strong throughout the game, despite playing in the second game of a back-to-back and their third in four nights.
The Canucks added a second goal by Jannik Hansen 9:03 into the second period. The Wild were caught chasing the puck on the play when former Minnesota Gopher Keith Ballard came out of a scrum on the wall with the puck, moved it to Mason Raymond, who hit Hansen with a pass. Hansen made one quick move and beat Kuemper up high. The Wild had a bad stretch to start the second, going ever 10 minutes without a shot on goal. Matt Cullen finally put one on net at the 10:18 mark. It seems like Minnesota has a stretch like this every game of late. Despite only registering four shots on goal for the period, the Wild did close the gap to 2-1 on Setoguchi’s power play goal. Toward the end of the period, Head Coach Mike Yeo tried to spark some more offense by moving Dany Heatley back to the top line with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, however, the top line was held scoreless yet again. Rookie Charlie Coyle moved to the line with Mikael Granlund and Devin Setoguchi. The changes were to no avail, as the Wild would not score again.
Defensively, the return of Jared Spurgeon to the lineup–after missing nine games–helped bring some fresh legs to the team. He registered three shots on goal , blocked a pair of shots while skating 19:10. His partner, Justin Falk, had just 11:33 in ice time on the night. The top “D” pairing of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin again were solid throughout the game playing 25:32 and 21:49 respectively.
After the game, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was positive, as he talked about the lack of goals, “It’s gonna come, I know that. If we keep playing like that, it’ll come.” As for the third period, in which Minnesota dominated but couldn’t score, Yeo said, “We played the period the way we needed to play it. We did everything except finish.” Mikael Granlund had one of his best games to date, playing physically, winning puck battles and putting up an assist in 12:59 of ice time. Coach Yeo said of Granlund, “I was very impressed with his game”. Another positive tonight was holding the Sedin twins off the score sheet. Before the game, Wild D-man Suter said about the twins, “Keeping it simple. Can’t afford to turn the puck over against these guys”, ” Keep ‘em off the power play, they seem to make a lot of hay on the power play.” That is exactly what Minnesota did, giving Vancouver only two power play chance on the night. As I mentioned earlier, the difference, once again, was the inability of the Wild to score on the numerous chances they generated. Fatigue did not seem to be a factor, nor did injuries. Minnesota remains confident that the goals will come, as long as they stick to their system and keep creating offensively. I just hope that happens sooner rather than later!
The Wild now return home on Wednesday for two games to wrap up the week. The Colorado Avalanche come to town on Valentine’s Day Thursday, while the Detroit Red Wings invade the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday, which just so happens to be Hockey Day In America. In between tonight and Thursday, the boys will have a chance to rest up a bit before the Team Of 18,000 arrives to cheer them on against the Avs. Gone Puck Wild will have full coverage of both games, starting with Thursday morning’s game preview. Until then, Wild fans, keep the faith; the goals will come, the goals will come.