I feel like a broken record as I write this. A slow start once again cost the Minnesota Wild as the San Jose Sharks scored twice, early in the first period, en route to a 4-2 victory over Minnesota. The first goal came on a wrister by former Wild player Martin Havlat on a feed from ex-Wild player Brent Burns. Next the Wild took a pair of penalties 1:06 apart, going two men down and Dan Boyle quickly scored for the Sharks. That sums up the first 5 minutes 19 seconds of the game. The Sharks were 12-1-4 at the HP Pavilion coming into tonight’s game. They still have just a single loss in regulation on home ice, moving their home record to 13-1-4 and extending their winning streak to 6 games. The Wild just couldn’t get any momentum going except for a couple of shifts midway through the second when they scored 2 goals in 25 seconds to briefly tie the games at 2 apiece. Minnesota forward and former Shark, Torrey Mitchell summed it up saying, “They jumped on us early and we didn’t have a response.” That accurately describes the Wild in the first period of tonight’s game. The defense was sloppy, even the top pair of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. During the Sharks 5 on 3 power play in the 1st Suter was undressed by Dan Boyle who faked one way then skated right around the Minnesota defender going in all alone on Backstrom for an easy goal. The Wild just didn’t look ready to play physically or mentally as San Jose took command of the game from the drop of the puck. Minnesota came back and tried hard but the damage was done. It seemed that each time the Wild would gain some momentum a mistake would erase it before they could inflict any serious damage on the Sharks. After the game, during his rather brief post game comments, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was visibly disappointed with the games outcome saying, “It’s unfortunate. We played really hard, things didn’t quite go our way, especially early, but pour guys kept playing hard. It’s definitely disappointing but we have a game tomorrow and have to bounce back.” Minnesota has now lost two games in a row and their road record now stands at 8-9-1, 21-13-2 overall. They still hold on to 1st place in the Northwest Division and 3rd in the Western Conference with the Vancouver Canucks being idle tonight. Both teams are in action tomorrow.
The Wilds foward lines were scrambled to say the least, with Matt Cullen out with a lower body injury. That injury may be more serious than initially thought, with Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher saying Cullen could miss weeks, rather than days. Johan Larsson, who had been called up to take Cullen’s spot, was traded to Buffalo mid-day along with goalie Matt Hackett for Buffalo Sabres‘ Captain Jason Pominville. That left the Wild a man short in the forward department. So for the second time in as many games Nate Prosser was pressed into service as a wing on the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Mike Rupp. Tonight the Minnesota top line consisted of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and former Shark Torrey Mitchell. The second line consisted of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Charlie Coyle playing center and wing Cal Clutterbuck. Line three was Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak and Devin Setoguchi. Those are for sure not the lines we’ve been accustomed to as of late. One defensive pair changed as Justin Falk returned to action teamed with Tom Gilbert. The top pair of Suter and Brodin remain unchanged as did the pairing of Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner. I’d ecpect to see some shuffling of those 2nd and 3rd pairs as Stoner struggled all night long. He was whistled for 2 penalties, the first of which led to a 5 on 3 for San Jose and a goal. He later deflected a puck into his own net after a terrible sequence during which, Heatley failed to clear the zone then Spurgeon turned the puck over to Joe Thornton, whose shot Stoner knocked past Backstrom. Stoner also had repeated turnovers and bad passes throughout the night. There were defensive breakdowns uncharacteristic of the Wild time and time again that San Jose capitalized upon.
After a 1st period in which the Wild were out shot 10 to six, commited several turnovers and trailed badly in takeaways, there seemed to be a glimpse of hope. Midway through the 2nd period Zach Parise put a shot on net that Antti Niemi bobble briefly. Charlie Coyle was crashing the net and poked the short rebound in for the Wild’s first goal of the night cutting the Shar’s lead in half. Dany Heatley would tie the game just 25 seconds later as he spun around on a puck 30 feet out and fired it through a maze of legs past Niemi for the goal. The Wild seemed to have turned the momentum around and were buzzing around in the San Jose zone. That joy would end some 4 minutes later as Thornton took the Spurgeon turnover and got a shot off that Stoner deflected past Backstrom. At that point the air whooshed out of the Wild balloon. At the end of 2 periods the Sharks led 3-2 and were out shooting Minnesota21 to 11. This was the second game in a row that the Wild had registered single digit shots for the first and second periods.
The third period would see the Sharks score their second power play goal of the night. The would end going 2 for 5 with the man advantage. The Minnesota penalty kill that had been in the top 5 in the league has now dropped to 14th at 81.4%. San Jose did not record a penalty against until ex-Wild James Sheppard was whistled for hooking with just 53 seconds to play. The Wild would pull net minder Backstrom for an additional attacker several time in the last two minutes of play but to no avail as Niemi would slam the door on Minnesota’s shooters. The Wild managed to throw 18 shots at the San Jose goalie in the third period to end the game even at 33 each. Things took a nasty turn at the end of the game as a scrum ensued by the Sharks net. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dany Heatly got into a pushing and shoving match during which Vlasic gave Heatley a vicious two hand chop with his stick to Heatley’s arm that dropped the Wild star to the ice. After officials stepped in Heatley skated away in obvious pain holding his injured arm. The refs gave Heatley a 2 minute minor for roughing. Vlasic was assessed a 5 minute major for slashing and a game misconduct. You can be sure that Vlasic’s cheap shot will be reviewed by the NHL department of player safety. The Wild now head to L.A. and face the Kings tomorrow night in the 2nd of back to back games, the 7th set of back to backs on their schedule this season. GonePuckWild.com will be back with a game preview of Thursday nights action. Until then this is Scott Drain aggresively shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!!”