Mike Doyle's Five Takeaways at Calgary
Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 1:17 AM / Features
By Mike Doyle - Managing Editor
The Wild has hit its roughest stretch of the season, but with an 82-game schedule, every team has dips during the year. “You go around the league and there are some pretty good teams that have had some spouts like this,” Head Coach Mike Yeo said after the game. You can blame injuries, the fatigue from travel or just plain bad luck, but the first year coach hasn’t. Despite the injuries and playing eight of its last 11 games on the road, the Wild is still atop the Northwest Division and, aside from last night, has been in every contest during its five-game winless stretch.
I don’t care if you’re a blind optimist or an eternal pessimist, the Wild’s ability to keep games close, no matter who is in the lineup, has been impressive. With the way that Yeo has this team battling it's only a matter of time before the team rights the ship. So don’t jump off Wild fans.
Yeo also said he liked the fight the Wild showed tonight. While I don’t think he was taking about the actual fights between Brad Staubitz vs. Tim Jackman and Clayton Stoner vs. Tom Kostopoulos, the fisticuffs showed the intensity of this inner-division rivalry. In the third period, the typically restrained Matt Cullen got into it with Mikael Backlund, and looked like they were going to go a round. However, cooler heads prevailed. Even though I think Cullen would have owned Backlund (St. Cloud State boys can throw down) it wouldn’t have been a good trade of five minutes for the Wild considering Backlund has three points on the year.
Realignment is a good thing and it makes a lot of sense, but I’ll miss the enmity that has built up between Minnesota and Calgary over the years. Every time the Wild plays a Northwest Division team, the bad blood oozes to the surface. This was the third of six games between the Wild and Flames this season. if you’re like me and enjoy intense, physical hockey, you’ll have January 7 marked on your calendar when the Wild returns to Calgary.
One thing that Minnesota won’t miss about the Flames rivalry is Jerome Iginla. Coming into the game, Iginla was the all-time leader against the Wild in games played (63), points (59), goals (32), game winning goals (8) and shots (206), is second in PPG (10) and fourth with a plus-17 rating. Tonight, he extended those totals with an assist on the Flames’ first period goal and broke the tie in the second period, which turned out to be another game winner.
The Flames captain is gritty, plays the game the right way and is closing in on 500 career goals. He is a great leader and fun to watch, except for when he plays the Wild. I don't want to wish any ill will on the guy, but it would be nice if he couldn’t make his next trip to the State of Hockey; maybe he could miss the trip for something positive like the birth of a child or a windfall in the lottery.
With the rash of injuries this season, it was good to get two players back and healthy into the lineup. Justin Falk probably could’ve played sooner, but with the blue line finally full strength, the team didn’t want to rush the young D-man back into the mix. Midway through the second period, Falk used his large frame to take on two Flames players in the corner and win the battle for a loose puck. Falk was instrumental in the team’s early success and will be important piece as the team moves into the latter stages of the season.
Technically, Josh Harding wasn’t coming off an injury tonight, but the netminder hadn’t played since December 6 in San Jose when he left the game early with an upper body injury. Harding should be up for comeback player of the year, and in his return to the Wild crease he was solid making 28 saves. But he had some help…
If the posts are the goalies best friends, Harding probably considers his defensemen family. The Wild defenders are becoming notorious for blocking shots and today was no different. The biggest save from the blue liners came from its smallest in stature, Jared Spurgeon. With the Flames on the power play at the end of the first period, Spurgeon made a butterfly save that would have made Patrick Roy proud. Iginla was open in front of the net after a shot and a scramble. He pulled the puck to his forehand for, what he thought, a sure goal. Out of nowhere Spurgeon slides across the crease like Bruce Springsteen on stage during his halftime performance at Super Bowl XLIII. I think there is a new Boss in Minnesota.