Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 7-2 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins:
Late in the third period, with the Minnesota Wild trailing, 6-1, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker converged on the Pittsburgh Penguins net. Pittsburgh’s goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury lost track of the puck and was scrambling, but out of position. The biscuit was bouncing around the crease, a mere inches from the goal line, net wide open, with all three Wild forwards desperately trying to finish the play. Niederreiter got his stick on it with a second effort as he fell to the ice, but the puck went across the crease between the post and Fleury, and out the other side. The play was a microcosm for the entire game, as the Wild just couldn’t capitalize on its chances, while the Pens lopsidedly finished on seven of theirs.
Pens forward Zach Sill played in 47 National Hockey League games before the night (20 last season) without tallying a point. Of course the way things have been going for Minnesota, he earned his first-career point on the first goal of the game…
The Wild got off to a good start to the game, controlling the play for the first five minutes. However, the club couldn’t crack the scoreboard and then the Pens tallied the game’s first goal as Sill knocked a rebound to Marcel Goc at the 6:16 mark of the first period. The Wild was down and chasing for the rest of the game.
For any team that’s struggling, any form of positivity can quickly deflate like a punctured tire when the first bounce doesn’t go your way. You finally think things are going to take a turn for the better and then something bad happens and the here-we-go-again thoughts start to creep in like a nightmare. It’s like being thrown in quicksand with cement blocks tied to your feet; the more desperate you want to get free and begin to struggle for it, the worse the situation seems to become. There are no answers to why or how it happens, but the Wild can only get out of it with effort and resolve. It will have a chance on Thursday night in Buffalo and should look forward to the opportunity to break the out of the cement shoes and shimmy out of the morass that its in.
Goaltenders are creatures of habit and notoriously stick to their routines like scotch tape on flypaper. Fleury has a ritual that I’ve never seen from a starting goaltender (actually forgot about seeing, but we’ll get to that in a moment). When a team is wrapping up warmups, they play “last puck,” a game where skaters go all-against the goaltender until they score. Typically, it’s the night’s backup netminder who takes the shots. The Star Tribune’s Michael Russo noticed that Fleury was in goal for the last puck. Prior to the game, Fleury was announced the starting netminder, so imagine our surprise to see him taking shots until the end of warmups. Apparently, it is part of Fleury’s pregame routine and always takes the last puck.
The Pens feel that their netminder was snubbed from the NHL’s All-Star Game. Coming into tonight’s contest, he ranked first in shutouts (6), fifth in wins (21), sixth in goals-against (2.16) and eighth in save percentage (.926). Tonight, he earned his first-ever win against Minnesota and has victories against all 29 NHL teams.
Tonight was my first time traveling to Pittsburgh for a game as the Managing Editor of Wild.com (I covered the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in the Steel City). The area will always trigger memories of two of my best weeks as a hockey player, attending Penguins training camp before the start of the 2005-06 season and even getting into a preseason game against the Washington Capitals.
It was the season following the NHL lockout and Penguins great and owner, Mario Lemieux, came out of retirement, skated in the camp and played in 26 regular season games before hanging up his skates for good. The thrill of his year was probably being placed on my training camp team and passing me the puck. I vividly remember one drill, where we’d have to skate around the faceoff dot in the neutral zone and receive a pass from the other line at the opposite blue line. I was up and looked across and saw the boss at the front of the line and remember thinking, “Don’t mess this up.” I turned around the dot and looked over my shoulder for the puck only I didn’t see it because it hit my tape and I somehow caught the pass. That’s the beauty of Lemieux, he was so good that he elevated everyone one else, including myself for two weeks, around him.
As a youngster, I watched Lemieux at his peak in the late 80s and early 90s, so meeting him and skating on the same ice was a thrill. In fact, I don’t even think I introduced myself when I shook his hand—which looking back is kind of embarrassing. I’m sure he remembers the experience as much as me.
After the Pens’ morning skate, Russo tweeted that Sidney Crosby spoke to the media for at least half an hour following practice. Love him or hate him, he’s the face of the NHL and quizzed by the media like he’s testifying in court.
The year I attended Pens’ camp was also Crosby’s rookie season and was only four stalls away from him in the locker room, so I know all about the media scrum surrounding the forward each and every day. After practice, I’d stay and shoot pucks or work on stickhandling. When I’d enter the dressing room, there was a media swarm that was about three rows deep around his stall. Instead of trying to elbow my way into my stall, I’d grab a bagel and coffee and watch the morning SportsCenter.