Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Latendresse Second To No One vs. Penguins

With the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin—and even Jordan Staal—in the lineup, the tendency would be to expect one of them to be the most dominant player on the ice in any given Pittsburgh Penguins game. You certainly wouldn’t anticipate a 22-year-old second-round draft pick—given up on by the team which selected him—to outshine the star-studded trio in a head-to-head matchup.

But that’s exactly what occurred on Monday night at Xcel Energy Center as Guillaume Latendresse registered a goal and three assists to lead the Wild to a 4-3 victory and a season sweep of the Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins.

Wild/Penguins Game Highlights

Latendresse, acquired by Minnesota from the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 23 in exchange for one of the decade’s biggest first-round busts (Benoit Pouliot), has taken the Wild and the Xcel Energy Center faithful by storm.

The trade has since proved to be Wild GM Chuck Fletcher’s shrewdest move to date from a roster perspective. Martin Havlat was thought to be that player but he has struggled to find his groove here until lately. Havlat’s recent jump in production can be traced—not coincidentally—to his insertion on a line with center Kyle Brodziak and, yes, Guillaume Latendresse.

Since his arrival in Minnesota, Latendresse has 15 (10-5=15) points in 21 games after only registering three points (2-1=3) in 23 games with Montreal, the team which drafted him in the second round (45th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

Latendresse speaks to WCCO radio's Tom Reid post-game

The Wild is now 15-6-0 with Latendresse in the lineup and 8-1-0 when he registers at least one point. If he continues to resurrect his career the way he has, he could (and should) begin to rival Derek Boogaard on the popularity scale. I’ll never understand the Boogaard fascination, but that’s for another blog.

The 6-2, 230 pound native of Saint Catherine, Quebec has been excelling at both ends of the ice. He’s a relentless forechecker and backchecker, can grind along the boards with the best of them, demonstrates remarkable anticipation in the neutral zone, and simply finds a way to get the puck on his stick. Oh and, by the way, the kid can rack up points too. Take that (Montreal Head Coach) Jacques Martin!!! And thanks for taking Pouliot too.

Latendresse, a power forward, was selected in the first round (second overall) of the 2003 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) draft by the Drummondville Volitgeurs, just one spot behind the player he bested on Monday. . . . Sidney Crosby who, oh by the way, potted two goals of his own to go with one assist in the contest.

Latendresse admits the two have taken very different career paths but, since becoming unshackled from the intense fan and media scrutiny attached to every highly-touted French-Canadian player in Montreal, he has flourished in Minnesota.

Relegated to fourth-line duty with the Canadiens, Latendresse has experienced a dramatic increase in ice time and special teams play while profiting from Head Coach Todd Richards’ attacking style of play. His coach, his teammates, and Wild fans have been reaping the benefits for nearly two months. The question remaining to be answered is: Will it last?

My prediction is yes.

On a personal note, my friend John Dow suffered a heart attack back in October while playing a hockey game at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, MN but was revived by Dr. Evan Domeyer who happened to be on site preparing to play at another of the facility's eight total rinks. The two were honored Monday night prior to the Pittsburgh game and both took part in the traditional pre-game ritual of leading the fans in the "Let's...Play...Hockey" chant. Below is the video of that announcement.

And here's the KARE 11 story on the original incident...

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