Following Wild games, Managing Editor Glen Andresen will give the five takeaways that he'll remember from each contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 4-0 shutout against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
Three months from tonight, where the Wild was positioned isn’t going to mean tiddlywinks in the grand scheme. But if I’m a hockey player (I’m not), I’d much rather start the season’s second half in the top eight instead of the bottom seven. Thanks to another sterling performance on its East Coast roadie on Saturday night in a 4-0 blanking of the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s exactly where the Wild is.
If you’re counting, that’s a season-high four straight wins for the good guys who now sit tied for seventh, just three points behind fourth place Nashville. The Wild is now 21-15-5 with 45 points in the standings. That point total is the third highest 41-game total in club history behind 2002-03 (50) and 2007-08 (48), both playoff years.
You can say the Pens weren’t the same team without Sidney Crosby, who is out with a concussion, but with the way the Wild is playing right now, it’s tough to argue that would make a difference. I did feel a bit cheated in not getting to see Crosby play this season, but watching the Wild pick another team apart more than made up for it.
You know the story by now. In early October, Jose Theodore didn’t have a team. It seemed a little odd at the time that a guy who went 20-0-4 to close out the regular season didn’t have teams knocking on his door. When Josh Harding
went down with a knee injury, the Wild needed a backup goaltender, and somehow came away with a former MVP and a guy that had nearly 250 wins at the time…as a backup!
Now, Niklas Backstrom
is out with an injury, and Theodore has stepped in and been nothing short of scintillating. He’s started the last four games. He’s won all of them. And somehow, he’s gotten better in each. He finished the road trip allowing a total of two goals in three games. Tonight, he came up with repeated big saves, most notably two off the stick of the Burgh’s superstar by default, Evgeni Malkin.
Theodore is now 17-1-3 in his last 21 decisions against the Pens, who if you weren’t aware, have been one of the best teams in the League over the past four years. It was his fourth shutout of the Pens, and the first time the club has been blanked at its new arena, CONSOL Energy Place.
Now then, CONSOL Energy Place certainly lived up to the hype as one of the most spectacular arenas in the League. Not surprisingly, many of the elements that were used came from the design of our own hockey palace, Xcel Energy Center. But technology has changed in the last 10 years, and that’s apparent when you walk around the concourses of this place.
Interactive touch screens are all over the place. At one, you can scroll through a bunch of youth hockey jerseys and find out information on that organization. On another, you can get updated standings for all the high school teams in the Pittsburgh area.
Like the Prudential Center New Jersey, there are two bars that hover over the lower level sides, giving fans the feel of sitting in a bar/restaurant while still being able to be a part of the action. Without a doubt, the most unique feature is “Suite 66,” which is a private, glass-enclosed room that borders the walkway from the Penguins locker room to the bench. Inside are memorable photos and paraphernalia of Lemieux from momentous events throughout his career. From time to time, Lemieux and his entourage will use the suite, but it can be purchased on other nights for approximately one trillion dollars.
It was fitting that the four players who scored the Wild goals in the final game of the first half were some of the most deserving. Chuck Kobasew, who struggled early in the season and was shelved for almost a month with a groin injury, has caught fire and scored huge goals. That would include tonight’s game-winner. Martin Havlat, who carried the offensive load for much of November and December, got into double digits with a monster goal before the conclusion of the first. Cal Clutterbuck
, who could very well be the team’s MVP through the first half, picked up his third goal in three games by popping Marc-Andre Fleury’s water bottle in the air. And Kyle Brodziak
, who is probably the most unsung player on this team and has been outstanding all trip, was able to flip a backhand into an empty net in the third for a well-deserved goal to close out his trip.
Sometimes I think I miss Matt Cooke when he’s in the Eastern Conference. He’s kind of like that nightmare roommate you had, and after a few years apart, you start to think he or she wasn’t that bad. Then, you come into contact with them again and you realize within three minutes why you couldn’t stand them in the first place.
Bottom line is Cooke is an infuriating player to watch. I’m not even sure that he’s one of those guys that you hate when he’s an opponent, but you love as a teammate. To me, he just seems annoying, and of course, he’s dirty.
I didn’t have a problem with a clean hit he laid on Nick Schultz 20 seconds in that jarred the glass loose and caused a brief delay. I did have a problem with his hack to the back of Patrick O’Sullivan’s legs as Cooke skated to his bench and O’Sullivan skated toward the play, which was nowhere near him.
If you watched the final installment of the 24/7 series on HBO, you saw Cooke constantly whining to the refs about not getting calls. Then you see him pull stunts every game, and you just wish someone would deck him.