Wild fall again, this time to Philly

There’s no delicate way to say this, so I’m just going to come out and say it. This team is done unless something drastic happens soon.

Sure, they’re still in a playoff spot as of now, and they could very well stay there but things aren’t looking good.

This team is beyond fragile. It’s beyond fractured or fragmented – whatever you want to call it. This team is flat out broke right now. Mike Yeo has the answers, that much is clear. He keeps preaching them and preaching them, but the team either isn’t listening or isn’t caring.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t an indictment of Yeo. I’m perfectly confident that he’s the right man for the job. He’s not at a loss for words. He’s not at a loss for answers. He knows how the team can fix this. Now it’s just up to the team to do so. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now.

As Mike Russo said in his blog, this team is defeated and has lost its discipline. They’re sloppy on line changes, they’re not supporting the puck anymore, their forecheck often looks disjointed, they’re taking horrible penalties (Cal Clutterbuck had four in tonight’s game, alone) and they’re just crumbling at the slightest sign of adversity – something they never did, even before they surged to the top of the NHL.

With Koivu, Bouchard and Latendresse out, I just don’t see any end in sight for this team. They have such a lack of offensive fire power right now and just lack the ability to finish when they do get chances.

Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi are invisible, Matt Cullen and Kyle Brodziak are trying to do too much, the defense that played so well earlier in the season is looking disjointed and, quite frankly, lost – it’s just a mess. One bad thing turns into another and it just snowballs and the Wild just can’t recover.

At this point, I’m on board with what Russo thinks about a trade. At this point, I’m of the mind that a big shake up a) won’t make a huge difference in the team’s on-ice play and b) might actually fragment their locker room even further.

At this point, it’s up to the players that are in the locker room to fix this, without their three best offensive players (including their captain) and three of their leaders.

It’s getting bad and there’s a good chance it might get worse because it gets better.

The Wild are back in action on Thursday in Toronto and we’ll be back then (and before with any breaking news).

Gameday Thread: Koivu nominated to first ASG

It’s amazing that Mikko Koivu hasn’t been named to an All Star roster before, especially with how important he has been to the Minnesota Wild over the last few seasons, but the NHL rectified that problem on Thursday by naming Koivu to its 42 man roster for the All Star game on January 29.

Koviu, who has nine goals and 33 points in 29 games this season, may or may not have been snubbed last season when it came time to pick the team, but he certainly made it this year, rebounding nicely after a slow start to the season.

Koivu likely won’t take any credit for this, as he’s a typical captain and is all about the team, but he’s more than deserving of this honor to represent the Wild in the game.

To put this in perspective, let’s look at how quietly Koivu has had a great career through its first seven years.

He’s second on the Wild’s all-time scoring list, with 350 points. He’s first in assists, with 245, third in goals, with 105, fourth in plus/minus, with plus-23 and fifth in games played with 472.

Additionally, his 26 shootout goals are sixth in NHL history.

I was amazed that, in the few previews I saw for the All-Star roster, Koivu wasn’t included on any. Puck Daddy had Dany Heatley as the Wild’s representative (which, I will admit, would have had a certain “fun” factor to it, especially if he were chosen for a team with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson), while NHL.com had chosen Nick Johnson to represent the Wild as part of the rookie teams (while I applaud the nod to Johnson and the solid season he’s having, I think it would have been a pretty huge snub to choose him over Koivu, or even Heatley or Josh Harding).

In any event, Koivu knows that the Wild have a huge game tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks, so he’s likely not going to dwell on the All Star nomination, and neither should we.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here are the lineups:

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley
Clutterbuck/Cullen/Wellman
Johnson/Brodziak/Powe
McIntyre/Peters/Staubitz

Schultz/Falk
Zanon/Zidlicky
Stoner/Spurgeon

Harding has earned himself another go in net and Matt Hackett will be his back up, as Niklas Backstrom is fighting an illness.

Burning Questions

Will Koivu respond to his All Star bid with an All Star game? While deserving, Koivu earned the nod over players like Scott Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr and Nicklas Backstrom (who is, admittedly, hurt). There are likely going to be naysayers and nothing is better for motivation than someone saying you’re not good enough.

Can the Wild build on their big win over the Sharks? The Wild came out strong and played great against San Jose. Can they build on that momentum and keep it going against another good team in the Blackhawks?

Will Devin Setoguchi respond? Setoguchi was scratched last game for missing a team meeting. Mike Yeo said that he expects a big response from him tonight. We’ll see if we get it.

Will Josh Harding steal the starting job? Alright, it might not be stealing it totally, but Harding played well enough against the Sharks to get another start in the cage. Another good game could cement the spot as his until his play falls off.

The puck drops tonight at 7:30 and will be on Fox Sports North.

Wild down Sharks in a shootout

Well, the Wild did it. They won against a good team and, with the exception of the last few minutes of the game, played a very good game.

Of course, the last few minutes of the game almost saw the wheels come off entirely and the Wild skated through overtime by the skin of their teeth to get to the shootout and then got the win off of goals from Matt Cullen and Mikko Koivu and two good saves by Josh .

According to many people, the buzz word of the day today for Mike Yeo was “fight.”

He wasn’t talking about dropping the mitts (though the Wild came very close a couple times). Instead, he was talking about pushing back. Fighting for the win.

In other words, showing a little passion.

The Wild got a lead early in the game with Cal Clutterbuck sniping a horribly positioned Antti Niemi (I’m not a goalie and even I could tell you he was way too far back in his crease) and the Wild used that momentum to keep the pressure on the Sharks for most of the first period.

A very poor decision by Kyle Brodziak (though it was one heck of a two-hand to Joe Thornton’s boot) got the Wild two-men down with just a few minutes left in the first period and the Sharks capitalized with a Dan Boyle shot that got through a screen and past Josh Harding.

Warren Peters scored the lone goal in the second, crashing the net and seeing the puck carom into the net off of him and past Niemi. Just a few moments later, it was almost 3-1 as Matt Cullen hit the post and Casey Wellman then put in the rebound which was lying on Antti Niemi’s breezers, but the ref blew the whistle to stop play right as Wellman was getting his stick on it. It might have been an early whistle, but it was the type of play that might have broken the Wild in the past few games – but not in this one. The Wild kept pushing, even after the unfortunate break and…

…Nick Johnson made it 3-1 in the third with another beautiful snipe on a horribly positioned Niemi. In fact it was almost identical to the shot that Clutterbuck took on Niemi.

The Sharks didn’t have an ounce of quit in them, though, and fought back to make it 3-2 with a gorgeous deflection from Benn Ferriero that Josh Harding didn’t even see (evidenced by the fact that he was standing straight up when the puck went past him) and they put the pressure back on the Wild.

The difference between the Wild, tonight, and the Wild over the last handful of games was that they didn’t give up. In fact, they pushed back and fought as if their lives depended on it (and, for some, their lives with the Minnesota Wild very well might have). They fought and, just under four minutes later, Casey Wellman Matt Cullen put the Wild back up by two, driving to the net, getting the shot on and then being fortunate enough to have a Casey Wellman shot deflect off of his leg on the way in.

Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau had something to say about the Wild’s win, though, tallying goals 22 seconds apart to tie the game at four with time winding down.

And that’s where you could feel the wheels start to come off.

The Wild’s confidence was shaken. They started to doubt again. Had there been any more time left on the clock, they very well might have fallen. But they hung on and got the game to the shootout, where they were finally able to put it away.

Some Thoughts

  • Cool story about Cal Clutterbuck’s goal. Clutterbuck spoke to Jack Jablonski before the game and promised him he would score for him. It’s not Babe Ruth, calling his shot, but it’s cool nonetheless.
  • Devin Setoguchi was a healthy scratch for having a little too much fun on Monday night with his old teammates and missing a team meeting Tuesday morning. I get that he’s young, but he’s got to be smarter than that. According to Yeo, he’ll get a fresh slate on Wednesday, but what he did damaged both his teammates’ and his coach’s trust in him. He’s going to have to work to get that back.
  • Casey Wellman looked spectacular for most of the game. I’d say that, for a good chunk of it, he was the best Wild player out there. He had two assists and looked very much at home on the Wild’s second line. He finally is starting to look like he belongs in the NHL.
  • Josh Harding looked solid. I’d have a hard time pinning any of the Sharks’ goals specifically on him. Now, I’m a huge Backstrom supporter, but I think Harding has earned the chance to run with the ball a bit and see if he can help the Wild get hot again.
  • Huge, huge win for the Wild. If they lose, they’re in ninth place, just three points from 12th. With the win, they’re in seventh place, three points ahead of the ninth place team. They’re also just three points out of fifth and seven out of first with a lot of hockey left to play.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild score? Four goals in regulation, plus two more in the shootout. I’d say that, at least for one game, they found their scoring touch again.

Can the Wild play with trust in their teammates and their system? They did. They were supporting the puck all over the ice and they played within their system quite well for the majority of the game. They had a relapse towards the end of the third and in overtime, but they were still able to come away with the important thing – two points.

Can Josh Harding have another stellar night? Stellar? That’s debatable. But good? Yes. If I’m Mike Yeo, I give him another shot on Thursday in Chicago.

Can the Wild stay healthy? So far, it seems like they did.

Will the Wild make Matt Cullen’s 1,000th game a memorable one? A win, a goal for Cullen and a shootout goal for Cullen. I’d say it was pretty memorable.

3 Stars

1)      Matt Cullen – His 1,000th game saw him pot a goal, the game-winning shootout goal and have a solid, solid game.

2)      Dan Boyle – A goal and two assists, plus a dynamic performance all around.

3)      Casey Wellman – Two assists and a terrific game all around.

Gameday Thread: Wild look to stop slump against Sharks

Well, I suppose if you’re going to play the injury card, you might as well do it right.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard has officially been shut down, suffering a concussion that seems to have been sustained during Zach Bogosian’s “clean” hit last month in Winnipeg.

Now, we’re not going to debate whether or not Bogosian’s hit was clean and should have been suspendable. See the above quotes to get our views on that. We are, however, going to talk about how this latest injury affects the team.

First of all, kudos to the Wild for not using their injury problems as an excuse – they could easily point to the injuries and try to excuse their poor play because of it and they’re not.

So they’ve got that going for them, which is good.

Now, on the surface, this should be a catastrophic injury for the Wild. Bouchard is their fourth leading scorer and is one of the keys to their power play. His playmaking ability is among the best in the league, when he’s healthy, and he’s a huge cog in this offense.

That, coupled with the continued absence of Guillaume Latendresse should spell doom for the Wild’s second line.

The injuries are the bad news and, make no mistake about it, it’s terrible news both for Bouchard (who missed more than a year with a concussion) and the Wild.

The good news, though, is that the Wild have players who can step in and fill in the blanks.

Matt Cullen is still centering the second line, so that gives at least some semblance of cohesion. Cal Clutterbuck has played great on both the first and second lines this season and Casey Wellman, who has seen time with Matt Cullen on the second line, has played very well this season.

Something’s got to give. Something’s got to spark this team that has looked listless for nearly a month now. Something has to give this team some sign of life. All there is left to do for fans is to hope that this latest development is it.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here are the projected line combinations:

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley
Wellman/Cullen/McIntyre
Johnson/Brodziak/Clutterbuck
Powe/Peters/Gillies/Staubitz

Schultz/Falk
Zidlicky/Zanon
Spurgeon/Stoner

Harding will be between the pipes.

Now, those are the line combos that Wild.com projects, and they very well might start the game that way. I’m going to take my opportunity to play armchair coach here, though, and give my line combos and my reasoning behind them.

Clutterbuck/Koivu/Heatley – Koivu and Heatley have played better this season when they’ve had a physical presence on the line with them. That’s not a knock against Setoguchi, but having that physical player allows both Koivu and Heatley to play their natural game.
Wellman/Cullen/Setoguchi – The thing that Wellman has excelled at this season has been getting “dirty” goals around the net. Wellman can go to the net, allowing Cullen and Setoguchi to fire the puck towards the opposing goalie and giving the Wild the opportunity for some gritty goals.
Johnson/Brodziak/Powe – Not much here. These three have played together for stretches this season and have been a great checking line and energy line. It’s a natural fit for a third line.
Gillies/Peters/McIntyre – It might lack the toughness that Staubitz brings but, let’s be honest, the Sharks aren’t necessarily a team that you’re going to need an enforcer against. They’re last in the league in hitting by a good clip and they don’t have a true enforcer on their roster either. I’d go with speed and a little more offensive upside for a fourth line on a team that needs scoring.

So there you have it. That’s what I would do at forward.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild score? They’ve been abysmal offensively during their slump and they would seem due to break out in a big way. But in order to do that, they need to answer the next question.

Can the Wild play with trust in their teammates and their system? The biggest reason that the Wild have slumped is that they’ve gotten away from what made them successful in the first place. Their teamwork and playing within their system. If they can get back to that, they can get back in the win column.

Can Josh Harding have another stellar night? Harding is quickly sneaking up on Niklas Backstrom and making a case for being the Wild’s starter. At some point, Yeo is going to have to ride the hot hand but, first, Harding needs to prove that he can win a game and not just play outstanding.

Can the Wild stay healthy? It seems strange to say that the Wild are, once again, having injury problems this season. It’s not the reason why they’re struggling, but it’s a huge contributing factor. Every game, it seems, a new injury pops up and it would be huge to just let San Jose leave town with the Wild healthy.

Will the Wild make Matt Cullen’s 1,000th game a memorable one? Enough said.

The puck drops tonight at 6:30 pm and will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network (or the Network Formerly Known as Versus).

Wild struggle, drop another against Flames

You know, it’s getting harder and harder to write about this team.

Not because I don’t want to talk about a loss. I’ve got no problem doing that. Where the problem starts is when I come to what to write on a nightly basis, because I don’t want to sound like a broken record but, unfortunately, that’s what it’s become.

The Wild have absolutely no teeth on offense right now.

They came out on fire and, through the first eight minutes of the game looked like it could be another 9-0 tilt against the Flames. They were forechecking hard, they were supporting each other (every time someone went in hard on the forecheck, there was someone there to grab the puck that was knocked loose), they were getting pressure on Kiprusoff – they were doing everything that they had to do.

But after that eight minutes, it just went away and from then on out, it was just the Wild holding on and Niklas Backstrom keeping them in the game.

Unfortunately for the Wild, you can’t win every game with goaltending. You’ve got to score, and they continue to be unable to do that.

To Minnesota’s credit, they picked it up again after Dany Heatley broke the shutout with about six minutes to go in the game but, by that point, it was too little too late.

This is a team that has not only lost the identity that helped it get to the top of the NHL. This is a team that has lost its pride. You could tell that, when Vancouver scored the first goal a couple nights ago, it was over and you could tell the same on Saturday when the Flames scored.

A confident team – a team playing with pride and passion – can stop the bleeding. They can push and push and get that goal back. The Wild, right now, can’t. You could see the physical change in the way they were playing early on. They came out and worked their asses off early in the game and, after they were denied a few times in the first eight minutes, they just stopped.

I hate to say this, but they quit on Mike Yeo on Saturday night – something that they haven’t done all season long.

They came out and played his system to a T and, when it didn’t work, just stopped.

In fact, the lone player on the team that seemed to have any sort of passion or, for that matter, even seemed to care about the outcome of the game was Backstrom. It’s hard to blame Backs for any of the goals that were given up tonight. The first, Wellman turned the wrong way (rookie mistake) and the Flames cashed in on a net that was basically empty.

Things started to go downhill there, with Iginla getting his 500th career goal (I promise, not all of those have come against the Wild) on a pinball goal that went off both Zidlicky’s and Koivu’s skates before going in, then Glencross cashed in on the power play after the Wild went to the well one too many times.

Right now, something’s got to give. In my estimation, Fletcher is doing the right thing – he’s giving the roster that he has the opportunity to respond now that they are getting healthy. After Saturday’s game, though, he shouldn’t give them too much of a leash. Changes need to come and they need to be drastic to kick this team in the ass and get them back in gear, otherwise, talking about how the Wild are going to fit Nail Yakupov into the line up next season could be a real possibility.

Wild lose again, time for a change?

Well, regression or not, it’s undeniable that the Wild are on a losing streak – big time.

I’ve been sick as a dog lately, so I taped last night’s tilt to watch this morning and, I’ll be honest – I fast forwarded through a good part of the game. It’s not that the Wild played bad, per se, but they didn’t play well, either.

At the end of the day, the Wild fell 2-0 to the Canucks and have now been shutout in three straight showings by Roberto Luongo. In fact, in their recent skid of 0-5-1 on the road, the Wild have scored just four goals.

I’ll let that sink in.

Four goals in their last six road games.

This is a team that needs offensive help – big time.

Now, per ye olde Wild scribe, Mike Russo, Chuck Fletcher is reportedly talking trade right now and rightfully so. This team needs a kick in the ass. They’ve gone from one of the top teams in the league to barely holding on to a playoff spot and a large reason why has been their inability to score goals.

And, let’s be very clear with this. Where the Wild are struggling isn’t their secondary scoring. Of the four players on their team that are in double digits for goals, three of those four players are “secondary scorers.”

This isn’t a failing by the Wild’s role players. This is a failing with their top-tier scorers.

The fact that Devin Setoguchi has played 12 games fewer than Dany Heatley, yet has just four fewer goals is absolutely inexcusable. The fact that he has just one less goal than Mikko Koivu, despite eight fewer games is ridiculous.

We can talk about the system and the goaltending and the upgraded offense until we’re blue in the face – the bottom line is that the offense hasn’t looked upgraded one bit this season.

So, if the Wild are going to make a trade, it can’t be for a “fringe” top-six player. I would even go so far as to say that it can’t be for anyone less than a top-three player. That’s how dire the Wild’s situation is at the moment. They need something to spark them.

There are no lack of those players available right now, either.

Anaheim has basically put a “For Sale” sign on their entire roster (though, Bob Murray has said that, for a core player like Getzlaf, Perry or Ryan a core player would be expected in return), Rick Nash has said that he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause if it were in the best interest of the Blue Jackets’ franchise to move him (which, it very well could be), Tampa Bay is in need of both a goaltender and defensive help (which, with the emergence of Matt Hackett, the Wild have both to spare).

These aren’t rumors, this isn’t any inside information – this is just to say that top-tier help could be available for the right price and, at this point in time, it’s looking like whatever the price the Wild need to pay for talent like that is the right price.

Why Matt Kassian needs to stay in the lineup

Last night, against the Oilers, Matt Kassian was on the ice for 2:12, in the penalty box for 20 minutes and ended up as the first star.

On the surface, that’s an absolutely ridiculous stat line to end up as a first star. But, in those 2 minutes and 12 seconds, though, Kassian had as much of an impact on the outcome of the game, if not more, than the majority of his teammates.

The score was 3-1 when Kassian opted to drop the gloves with Darcy Hordichuk. On the surface, for Kassian, it’s a horrible fight to take. You’re an NHL rookie, your team has a 3-1 lead (with the two goal lead, generally, being thought of as the worst lead in hockey) and you’re facing off against a veteran NHL enforcer in Hordichuk. To boot, at this point, the Wild were dominating the Oilers. They had scored three straight goals and were rolling.

Kassian, though, saw the opportunity to turn the screws on the Oilers a little more and he took it to the tune of a dominating victory over Hordichuk.

Any momentum Edmonton might have gained from the fight was, for all intents and purposes, gone.

Now, to the Oilers’ credit, they responded quite well and were able to stem the Wild’s momentum a bit, scoring just a few minutes later, but it certainly wasn’t from anything Kassian did.

At the start of the third period, the situation was the same and, again Kassian dropped the gloves and exerted his dominance over Hordichuk once more.

Again, nothing came from the momentum gained, but it again took a situation that would have given the Oilers a lot of wind in their sails and pushed the advantage back to the Wild.

What’s more, the line of Kassian, Warren Peters and Brad Staubitz may not have done much on paper, but their presence undoubtedly kept Edmonton’s dirtier players (we’re looking at you, Theo Peckham and Ben Eager) at bay, which leads me to wonder – should this line be a staple for the Wild going forward? More to the point, should Matt Kassian become a staple for the Wild going forward?

No one’s ever going to mistake Kassian for a scorer. His career high in points is 18 in his final season in the WHL. But Kassian gives the Wild an added level of protection for their stars.

On top of that, having a line like Kassian, Peters and Staubitz gives the Wild the option to send out a line that can just flat out hit – something that they don’t necessarily have, otherwise, and also something that can change the momentum of a game in a heartbeat.

It’s for that reason that, at least until the Wild are fully healthy, Kassian needs to stay in the line up. He brings an intensity and an edge that others (even Staubitz) on the Wild roster simply don’t have.

So, a note to Mike Yeo. Keep playing Matt Kassian his two minutes per night. You’ll be pleased at the results.

The Ballad of Dany Heatley

I don’t think anyone can deny that Dany Heatley is having a down year. In fact, he’s had a down couple of years for the Wild sniper.

Currently, he’s on pace for 57 points and 25 goals. Respectable numbers for most but, for a former 100 point, 50 goal scorer, another disappointing season and, for a team that hasn’t been scoring goals, it is a pace that is fairly difficult to watch by the fans for a player who was expected to recapture his former point-per-game self.

This isn’t to say that Heatley can’t come on strong. In his last three games since Mikko Koivu returned from injury, he’s got four points. Averaging a point-per-game from here on out can still get him a pretty respectable (albeit down) season.

But why is this player, who was so determined to have a rebound season after struggling greatly in San Jose last season, stumbling out to this slow start again?

Well, first, you have to consider chemistry.

Especially now, with Devin Setoguchi out, Heatley is playing with players that aren’t that familiar to him. His chemistry with Koivu has been better as the season has progressed, but he’s still getting used to the way that his new linemates play the game.

Throw in the flux in the Wild’s line up (Heatley has had at least four different wings playing to the right of Mikko Koivu) due to injuries and you’ve got a pretty difficult situation for a player to pull together any sort of chemistry in.

If you look, when Heatley was playing with the Senators, or even in his first season with the Sharks, his linemates were static, for the most part. He was part of the team’s “Big 3,” with little to no turnover. In Ottawa, it was always certain who his linemates were going to be – Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson – and, in his first season in San Jose, it was the same case with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

With all of the injuries that the Wild have had to deal with this year, it hasn’t so much been the case.

Also, if you look at these situations, he has never been the lone goal scoring threat on the line. In Ottawa, he could always count on Alfie to draw a little attention from him and, in San Jose, he had Marleau to do the same.

In Minnesota, it’s been much easier for teams to isolate him and lock him down because, for the majority of the season, he’s been out on an island on the left wing. Teams seem content to give more space to the opposite wing than to Heatley.

The second contributing factor is the lack of pucks he’s firing at the net.

Heatley is only on pace for 235 shots this season, which would be the fourth lowest total of his career. He’s been struggling to find the back of the net, to boot, with a 10.7 percent shooting percentage (the lowest of his career). Now, most snipers are streaky folk, which means that the only cure for a down season is to get into a groove, and the only way he’s going to do that is to shoot the puck.

Consider, when he had his two 50 goal seasons in Ottawa, he fired 300 and 310 shots at net, respectively. During these seasons, Heatley had multiple goal droughts of four or five games.

Take the Sens’ Stanley Cup Final season, for example. Heatley had 310 shots and 50 goals that season. In games where Heatley didn’t have a goal, he averaged 3 shots per game. In games where he had at least one goal, though, he averaged 4.78 shots per game – almost 2 full shots more.

So, what does that mean?

Well, for one, in order to score more, Heatley has to shoot more. That’s the type of player he is and that’s how he’s going to find that groove and, make no mistake, he’s got to find that groove if he wants to rebound for the rest of this season.

And finally, the third reason why he’s struggling offensively this season is because of a new focus the defensive zone.

Heatley’s never necessarily been a defensive liability, but his focus has also been offense. In the last few seasons, especially last season in San Josewhen he was hurt, he’s put more of a focus on his own zone. It started last season, because, playing with a broken hand, that’s how he was going to help his team and it has continued into Mike Yeo’s system this season.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Defensive responsibility isn’t a bad thing. Heatley’s doing a great job supporting the defense as opposed to springing out of the defensive zone at the first opportunity. But, truthfully? I don’t know that there’s anyone who would be opposed to a touch less defensive responsibility if it led to a few more prime scoring opportunities for Heater.

Watching him play, it’s hard for me to say that Heatley’s lost a step. He looks like the same player he’s always been – just a bit more tentative at times. The last few games, however, the comfort level seems to be coming and it will come, it’s just going to take time. It also sounds like both Devin Setoguchi and Guillaume Latendresse could be close to returning from their respective injuries.

If that’s the case, hopefully that can bring some stability to the Wild’s line up and to their top line and hopefully, that can get Heatley into a comfortable situation and into that groove that he’s missing right now.

Wild break skid; down Oilers

Now that is how you end a losing streak.

For those of you who missed the game, find a way to watch it, because words just can’t describe 1) how good of a game it actually was, regardless of the outcome and 2) just how good the Wild looked for the majority of the game.

Did the Wild look a bit sloppy at points? Yes. Especially during the Oilers push to tie the game in the last ten minutes of the third period – they looked extremely sloppy, during this time. But that shouldn’t diminish from the fact that the Wild ended their losing streak, put together their second straight good game and, this time, actually put pucks past the other team’s goalie.

Basically, I don’t know that this is a sign that the Wild are back on track, but it’s certainly a good start. The next part is backing this game up with another good game and another win against the Coyotes.

Some thoughts:

-          Jarod Palmer followed up a rough first period with a brilliant second, scoring his first career NHL goal and getting some good looks to boot. It was nice to see Palmer score in the second, mostly because of how rough his first shift of the game was. He got absolutely schooled by Taylor Hall on the back check for Edmonton’s first goal (he rode him in, but didn’t tie him up) and barely saw the ice for the rest of the period.

-          Marek Zidlicky finally looked useful for the first time this season. He was a plus-3, he was dynamic and he made good decisions with the puck, not to mention his three assists.

-          How about Matt Kassian? The Wild brought him in so as to not get pushed around, and he ended up pushing the Oilers around. 2:12 in ice time and 20 penalty minutes. If that’s what he’s going to bring every night, he’s someone I’d like to see on the Wild’s bench more often.

-          How about Backstrom? Not only was he spectacular in net, making some huge saves, but he was pretty feisty too. First, he showed his pimp hand to Ryan Jones, then ended the game with a cross check to the back of Ryan Smyth’s head. He would have made Dwayne Roloson proud.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild return to dominance over the Oilers? With the exception of a few minutes in the third, the Wild controlled play and kept the Oilers pinned in their own zone. Plus, they won, so there’s that too.

Can the Wild keep up the momentum from their “moral victory?” They definitely did. They came out on fire and, despite the early goal, continued playing the way that they did against the Preds. Only, this time, they won.

Will Dany Heatley finally show up? Yes and no. He got a goal (though it just trickled over the line), and now has three in his last four games. We’re still waiting on his breakout game, but consistency is a good start.

Three Stars

1)      Niklas Backstrom – Man, did he have to be good. He made a handful of huge saves and he was pretty darn feisty while doing it.

2)      Marek Zidlicky – Three assists and he was the type of player that the Wild need him to be.

3)      Jarod Palmer – His first NHL goal and a pretty solid performance, all around.

Honorable Mention: Matt Kassian. Just for having ten times more penalty minutes than he did ice time.

Gameday Thread: Wild look to end skid against Oilers

Well, we’re back after an extended winter break to recharge and spend some time with family. Unfortunately, the Wild haven’t yet returned from their winter break yet.

They painted the loss with the “moral victory” brush after the game, and you can see why. They dominated play for a lot of the game. They forechecked hard, they got the puck deep, they played physical – they held the momentum for most of the game. They supported the puck well, they kept the Preds deep in their zone for extended periods of time. They did everything they had to do to win, except score.

Well, that’s not entirely true. They did score once.

Everyone talks about how poorly the Wild are playing and, to some extent, they are, but the bottom line is just that they’re not putting the puck in the net. During their eight-game slide, they’ve scored more than once in a game just twice.

Last night was a terrific example of the difficulty that they’re having putting the puck in the net.

They got the shots they needed, but for some reason or another they just couldn’t get them past Pekka Rinne, who stoned them solid all night long.

Sure, you can blame it on the fact that Guillaume Latendresse, Devin Setoguchi and Casey Wellman (all big parts of the team starting to get it together) are out, but the fact is that this team has more than enough fire power to get the job done – they’re just not.

So, yes, last night was a moral victory because they played well and stuck to their gameplan. You’ll hear the “we’ll win more than we lose if we play like that” line, but the fact is that the Wild have lost eight straight now. The good news is that they have a game tonight against the Edmonton Oilers, whom they have played quite well against of late (despite losing their last outing).

So, let’s take a look at tonight’s tilt, shall we?

Lineup

Matt Kassian was called up and should get the call to go tonight. Per Wild.com, here are the predicted lines:

Clutterbuck/Koivu/Heatley
Palmer/Cullen/Bouchard
Johnson/Brodziak/Powe
Kassian/Peters/Staubitz

Shultz/Falk
Zidlicky/Zanon
Scandella/Prosser

Backstrom is 15-0-0 with a 1.19 GAA against the Oilers at the X in his career. He’ll probably get the nod tonight.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild return to dominance over the Oilers? They lost their first game againstEdmontonin quite some time during this skid. It would be a fair amount of poetic justice, if the Wild could end their skid against the Oilers.

Can the Wild keep up the momentum from their “moral victory?” The Wild did play well last night, but didn’t get the win. If they play that well again, though, there’s a good chance they might be on the other side of things.

Will Dany Heatley finally show up? The Wild’s sniper has yet to have a multi-goal game this season and has scored just twice in his last eight games. For the Wild’s offense to get going, they’ll need Heatley to do the same.

The game starts at 7 pm tonight and will be on FSN.

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