By Michael Russo
Benoit Pouliot was viciously attacked Friday night with 12 seconds left in a game against the Hartford Wolfpack.
Wanting no part of a fight with Rangers draft pick Dane Byers, Pouliot turtled to the ice after being punched a number of times. Finally, Byers lifted Pouliot by the neck and slammed him face-first into the ice.
Pouliot’s face was a mess, but he may play against Rochester today with a cage. Amazingly, Byers wasn’t suspended because he played the next night against San Antonio.
But you know who should be suspended? Linesman Sean Finn. Check out the incompetent officiating by Finn as he failed to intervene with Byers over top Pouliot and Pouliot on the ice.
Byers in the Hartford Courant: “It was an emotional game, and I let my emotions gets the best of me. I didn’t mean to slam his head into the ice. I just wanted him to get up.”
Postgame comments: Bizarre, but I updated this pregame with the lineups, but I must not have hit save.
I’m sure you figured out who played by now.
I don’t know what to make of this game. Colorado’s down 3-zilch with 14:44 left in the third to Dallas so by the end of the night, the Wild could be tops again in the Northwest by one point on Calgary and Colorado.
But the Flames have two games in hand. Vancouver, in eighth with 78 points, has two games in hand. Nashville, in ninth with 78 points, lost tonight and has played 70 games like the Wild.
So the Wild may be first at the end of tonight, but where will it be when its next plays, Thursday, against the East’s No. 1 team, New Jersey?
They still have lost 8 of 11 with the 3 wins against bad teams. They have scored two goals or fewer in 9 of their last 11.
San Jose, which has given up the second-fewest goals in the West, is a frustrating team to play against. As I’ve written many times this season, the Sharks often won’t even chase you around their own zone. They just pack the front of the net and block shots with waves of players.
The Wild had 16 shots blocked tonight and had no shots on goal in the first 13 minutes of the third period. But as player after player, and Jacques Lemaire, pointed out after the game, the effort was there. They just couldn’t penetrate.
Ironically, it was another blocked shot by Marc-Edouard Vlasic that ended up in his net for Brian Rolston’s miraculous tying goal with 28.8 seconds left.
Of course, Patrick Marleau covered up for his goalie and saved the day to rob Marian Gaborik of a sure goal late in OT, and then Marleau won it in a shootout for San Jose’s record ninth win in a row.
I’ve never heard this arena quieter than tonight. There was just no energy throughout, and finally the game-ops people had to artificially create life by sparking the crowd with motivational music late.
But it was that dead, thanks the life being sucked out on a fluky, deflected goal 46 ticks in by Milan Michalek. And then there was the questionable penalty shot (in the Wild’s eyes, see Monday’s notebook) awarded to Tomas Plihal late in the period that resulted in a 2-0 Sharks lead.
Lemaire was so incensed, he brought the rule book out at the start of the second to show referee Justin St. Pierre. Carney hooked Plihal from behind, but the rook still got a clean shot off.
The rule book states that the shooter must be “denied a reasonable chance to score,” but leave it to the NHL to throw in this caveat in parentheses to just cloud things up – ”the fact that he got a shot off does not automatically eliminate this play from the penalty shot consideration criteria. If the foul was from behind and he was denied a more reasonable scoring opportunity due to the foul, then the penalty shot should be awarded).
So, in other words, to let itself off the hook always, the league adds a caveat to always make this a judgment call. Makes sense to me.
Couple other things:
Jacques gave Mark Parrish 15:10 of ice time, which is a lot more than 7, 8 and 9 minutes — which were his three ranges before he was scratched in Atlanta for the first time since his rookie year. Still, Lemaire said Parrish’s game tailed off late.
Keith Carney was responsible for the penalty shot, and also put it on another player’s stick in the first period. He’s done that a couple times lately. We asked Jacques about it, and Lemaire jumped to his defense.
Niklas Backstrom again is a shootout disaster. He gave up two goals on three shots and has the NHL’s lowest career shootout save percentage at .489 (23 saves on 47 attempts).
Remember, Manny Fernandez was a shootout master and at one point last season, GM Doug Risebrough said if games were critical, maybe Jacques Lemaire should insert Fernandez from the bench. Could this be something to consider with Josh Harding?
I just got one emailer who felt that way. I think it’s a two-pronged risk — 1) injury to Harding; 2) humiliating Backstrom, and the Wild need a level-headed, confident Backstrom.
Lastly, Eric Belanger has a broken right big toe. No timetable will be given until the swelling goes down, but I wouldn’t expect a timetable at all. The Wild is sour with how often I recycled the “about a week” prognosis on Mikko Koivu’s broken leg.
Wild has an optional off-ice workout tomorrow. They’re not practicing again until Tuesday. Good night.