Before Game 3, Minnesota coach Mike Yeo tasked Matt Cooke with being a difference-maker, so mission accomplished, I guess. Following his attempt to disintegrate Tyson Barrie’s kneecap, Cooke has been suspended for 7 games, which seems reasonable to me though I’ll confess to hoping for a heftier deterrent for a player who ends more seasons than the summer solstice. It could have been worse – he was headhunting Nathan MacKinnon earlier in the game – but if karma exists at all, that should remove him from the playoffs and his first five games in October.
For the Wild’s part, the incident overshadowed what was by all accounts a dominant win in which only a herculean effort from Semyon Varlamov prevented the floodgates from opening into a blowout. Yeo’s strategy worked – the Wild allowed Paul Stastny’s line free reign against their third line, and their scoring lines feasted on the poor depth of the Avalanche’s other units. The Avs’ overdependence on their top line was exposed harshly; a single off-game and the remaining forward lines were helpless to compensate. The third line of Marc-Andre Cliche, Maxime Talbot, and Cody McLeod played like Toronto Maple Leafs and even reliable Ryan O’Reilly was heavily outpossessed against Mikko Koivu’s unit.
Patrick Roy must now counter the Wild’s 5-on-5 adjustments with his own, but his essentially scoreless powerplay might be just as culpable so far. While the referees choked a few black-and-white calls that could have been decisive – Cooke certainly earned a major and match penalty for his knee-on-knee, Jonas Brodin committed a delay-of-game with about a minute in regulation – I don’t think the Avalanche could have taken advantage of calls there to begin with. (In the interest of faux objectivity, I should note that the grey area calls have been pretty tilted in the Avs’ favour. Still, Joel Quenneville has gone mad over less.)
The introduction of Joey Hishon the Magician to the power play unit could be a coup, and I’m incredibly thrilled to see him in the show. The most famous man from Stratford’s once-promising career has been marred by a concussion suffered in the Memorial Cup and further injury troubles, but his offensive peak is tremendous and he simply flat-out deserves to be here. It’ll be a special moment when he takes the ice. I just hope Nino Niederreiter doesn’t try to take his ankles out.
The Avalanche are still the better team, but Tyson Barrie’s puckmoving presence will be sorely missed and the bottom half of the roster will need to start making an impact. This squad doesn’t have a Bryan Bickell or Sean Bergenheim who can transform from a pumpkin into a scoring dynamo, but a Corsi ratio of over 15% for the third line would be a great start. As far as small mercies go, it’s very refreshing for Roy not to be promising retribution (this from the Ken Hitchcock school of coaching), and he’s wise to keep the team’s emotions in check – I’ll take Game 2’s run-and-gun play over Game 3’s hack-and-slash any day.
Going similarly understated is the poise and fantastic glove hand of rookie goaltender Darcy Kuemper. Varlamov is completely dialed into his game right now, but if Kuemper can close the goaltending gap, then things become tricky. Another limp-wristed effort from the Avalanche and his goalless streak goes from novelty to storyline, and that’s the last thing anybody wants.
In any case, as great as my distaste for the Wild may be right now, I will give them one piece of credit – at least they aren’t the Boston Bruins.