Mike Doyle's Five Takeaways at Columbus
The Wild played bend don’t break hockey in its comeback win against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight. After spotting the Jackets a two-goal lead in the first, the Wild dug deep in its fifth game of a five-game road trip, coming back with four straight goals and showing the type of resiliency that fans love to see in a hockey club.
Columbus played like a desperate team, and with only three wins on the year that’s what you’d expect. The Blue Jackets managed 45 shots but Niklas Backstrom – who was stellar on the road trip – turned away 43 of them. With the Wild already winning two games on the road trip prior to tonight, the team had a chance to take the easy way out, pack it up and head back to Saint Paul for a lengthy home stand. But Minnesota showed what type of team it is becoming: A character filled squad that does what it takes, under any circumstance, to win games.
A big reason the Wild is in first place in the Northwest Division has been the play of its goaltending dynamic duo. Week-to-week Backstrom and Josh Harding look like they are swapping the title of “Starting Goaltender” back and forth like bank tellers exchanging cash. In four (and a half) games, Backstrom allowed only eight goals while piling up 163 saves. Has the NHL ever had the opportunity to give the First Star of the Week, in back-to-back weeks, to different goalies on the same team? Well, if not, this is the perfect opportunity for the NHL. I know it’s hard to fathom that this scenario could ever arise, but it just did. Do the right thing NHL and give Backstrom the award.
Nearly a month ago, Head Coach Mike Yeo started talking about how the Wild needs to score dirty goals. Well, tonight the team scored two the grimy way. Not only was the team able to capitalize on dirty goals, but that they created several chances by crashing the blue paint. It seemed as though every time Minnesota had a shot on goal, there was at least one player in the face of Columbus goaltender Steve Mason or flying through the crease.
Matt Cullen scored his eight goal, banging home a rebound that started as a Jared Spurgeon one-timer from the point. Kyle Brodziak was parked in front of Mason and the puck caromed off his back to Cullen who put home a backhander. Nick Johnson scored 20 seconds later after he and Darroll Powe combined for three straight shots. On all three of the shots, Johnson and Powe outworked a Blue Jacket player to keep the play alive. On both goals, the Wild players were battling and outworking their opponent and were rewarded. Speaking of players who are getting rewarded for their hard work…
Is there a line that is more fun to watch around the league right now than the Johnson, Powe and Brodziak trio? I know Glen Andresen wrote about their effort in his Five Takeaways against the Ducks, but they were so good on this road trip they could’ve had an entire ‘Five Takes’ session devoted to their play. They have more energy than an eight-year-old after eating a bar of chocolate. Imagine yourself as a defender playing against this line. You get past the first forechecker (I won’t identify any of trio because, in this example, they are pretty much interchangeable) and you think you’re in the clear. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a second forechecker is on you. Meanwhile, the first one has stopped on a dime and is in pursuit like that eight-year-old looking for a second bar of chocolate. Relentless.
The Wild’s ‘checking line’ looked more like a scoring line on the Wild’s roadie. Since leaving the State of Hockey, the three 'checkers' combined for five goals and six assists, all while being cogs on the Wild’s penalty kill. They all have Nov. 30 circled on the calendar, after a six game home stand, when the Wild hit the road again in Edmonton.
I don’t want to write this next Takeaway. Please. It has happened far too often this year. Please don’t make me do it. Another Wild player didn’t finish the game. This time Marek Zidlicky left the game after a Derek Dorsett hit. Dorsett caught Zidlicky reaching for the puck in the Wild’s defensive zone and from the moment contact was made it didn’t look good. After the game, Yeo said Zidlicky ‘had his bell rung’ and we will have to wait and see exactly what that means.
With Zidlicky sidelined, the Wild’s D-corp. again stepped up. With a five-man rotation, the Wild blue liners shut down the Jackets’ top line of Rick Nash, R.J. Umburger and Jeff Carter. Sure, the line had a couple of good scoring chances, but when they did, Jared Spurgeon was diving through the air to knock down pucks and saving goals. There is nothing good about losing players to injury, but there is a silver lining in this horrible stretch. For the Wild, when a D-man goes down, it is no longer, “Where are we going to find someone to take (injured player’s) place?” It is, “Whose turn is it to step up?” Pre-season prognosticators said the Wild’s weakness was going to be on the blue line. Those predictions are looking a lot like Harold Camping’s rapture prophesies.