Wild win second straight

What a sight Tuesday night was for the Wild.

Just a few days after the Wild put forth a great effort against the Dallas Stars, they went out and did it again on Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche.

It was exactly what the Wild were waiting for. A follow up performance to a solid game, and it was one heck of a follow up performance.

The Wild dominated for extended periods of time and really looked just like they did during their rise to the top of the NHL. The puck support was there, they worked their asses off, they pressured in the offensive zone. For the most part, it was a slam dunk for the Wild and a huge confidence booster for the Wild heading into the All-Star break.

The Wild fell behind early, again, on a sharp angle goal that Backstrom couldn’t get his glove up in time for but the Wild wouldn’t let themselves get down and fired off two goals in response to head into the intermission on top.

The second period saw former Wild player Chuck Kobasew tap in a goal that snuck past Backstrom to tie the game and the third saw Carson McMillan put the Wild on top for good.

What was best about McMillan’s goal is that, in the sequence leading up to it, the Wild were scrambling. They got pinned down in their own zone, having trouble gaining control of the puck and getting it out and, when they finally did, it looked as if they were going to get caught in the middle of a bad change.

McMillan had other ideas, though. He saw an opportunity, cut his change short and caught Shane O’Brien day dreaming with the puck. He got it free, came down and scored the game-winning goal.

That one goal could be what turns this season back around for Minnesota but, we’ll have to wait until after the All-Star break to see.

Some thoughts:

  • Backstrom looks to be struggling with his confidence. He just wasn’t there on either ofColorado’ goals. Maybe the win will help him get his mojo back but, truthfully, he looks shaken right now. It’s not that he was off his angles or anything like that – he was solid there. The problem is that he just doesn’t have any confidence that he’s going to stop the puck. Like I said, hopefully this gets some of his confidence back, because the Wild need him if they’re going to keep going.
  • It’s hard to believe, but it looks like Marek Zidlicky may have played his last game in a Wild uniform. He may have a chance to work his way back into the line up at some point, but if the Wild’s defensemen keep playing like they have the last two games, I don’t see Mike Yeo making any changes anytime soon.
  • Dany Heatley was great again forMinnesota, and he’s really gotten some chemistry going with Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson. Even when Koivu comes back, it’s going to be hard for Yeo to break up this line if they keep producing like this.

In any event, the Wild are off until next Tuesday. Pending any big moves, I’ll be back with coverage of the All-Star festivities on Thursday.

Wild rebound with strong win over Stars

It’s going to be a short one tonight because, frankly, it’s late and I’m tired.

The Wild responded against the Dallas Stars and responded in a big way. They fell behind in the first period, after being outshot 11-5 (but not being outplayed) when Eric Nystrom repaid the Wild’s “betrayal” by putting the Stars up 1-0.

If we’ve learned anything about the Wild over this last stretch of games, it’s that when the going gets tough, they fold, right?

Not this time.

Minnesota fought back, this time, and Devin Setoguchi potted a power-play goal to tie the game.

The Wild continued to play good hockey but, again, the Stars got the upper hand with Phillip Larson scoring to put them up 2-1. After that, Darroll Powe manned up and answered the bell against Steve Ott, and everything changed.

Just over two minutes over that fight, Cal Clutterbuck potted his 12th goal of the season after a Dallas turnover and a missed check then, not even 20 seconds after that, Chad Rau scored his first NHL goal, banking the puck off of Brendan Morrow’s stick and past Kari Lehtonen and 59 seconds after Clutterbuck scored, Kyle Brodziak fired a one-timer past Lehtonen to put the Wild up 4-2 and they never looked back.

Dany Heatley capped it off in the third with a goal for his first three-point night since November 2010 and the Wild, all of a sudden, look like they remembered how they got to the top of the standings in the first place.

Some thoughts:

  • The entire defensive unit looked cohesive, once again. In fact, they looked better than they’ve looked in weeks. I don’t want to point my finger and say it was Zidlicky but, after the best defensive performance that the Wild have had in the past few weeks, it’s going to be hard to put him back in the line up. Stoner and Falk were both beasts, Prosser got an assist in his first game back with the team, Spurgeon played out of his mind, Schultz and Zanon were steady again. No one played their way out of the line up, so I don’t see number three coming back in.
  • Heatley played, in my opinion, his best game in a Wild uniform. A goal, two assists, three shots and, most of all, he wasn’t a liability and he was noticeable when he was on the ice. All of this after getting bumped down to the second line and playing with a couple of grinders in Brodziak and Johnson.
  • Harding looked sharp and, despite Backstrom’s record against the Avs, I don’t see Harding leaving the net after this one. No way Yeo changes anything after this one.

Three Stars

1)      Dany Heatley – A goal, two assists and, best of all, he wasn’t invisible.

2)      Chad Rau – Scored his first NHL goal.

3)      Justin Falk – Could be that he was the Wild’s best defenseman on Friday. He was physical, played great defense and had a great bounce back game after being scratched in Toronto.

The ball keeps rolling down hill; Wild lose to Leafs

Honestly, I don’t know what more to say than what has already been said by every other person covering the Wild out there.

For the first time this season, I truly feel like the Wild have nothing good that they can take away from last night’s loss to the Maple Leafs. In other games, they struggled and it was their struggles that really turned the game on its ear for them, but last night they just didn’t do anything right.

They were down 1-0 50 seconds in and 2-0 5:11 in on two plays that were easily avoidable. The defense was horrific, the offense was non-existent. In fact, I would venture that the Wild’s goaltending was the best part about their performance last night – and they gave up four goals.

To briefly defend that assertion, yes, Backstrom could have been better last night. At some point, he’s got to take it upon himself and make a big save to keep the Wild in the game when they’re playing bad. That said, the Wild simply cannot rely on him to do it all himself.

On the Leafs’ first goal, sure, Backstrom probably should have frozen the puck instead of playing it to the corner. But look at this picture:

Let’s break this down for a moment, shall we? (I know I said it would be brief. I lied.)

First, Backstrom directed the puck to the corner instead of freezing it. Mistake number one. Gotcha.

In the above picture, Lundin is chasing Lupul. Why? Because he got REALLY excited about the puck and over pursued. Wellman is standing, staring, presumably because he likes Lupul’s skates and wants to know where he got them. Zidlicky is actually doing what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s a bit high because of how the play developed, but he’s trusting that the center, Peters, is covering low (which he is) and playing the pass out to Kadri at that point in time. Peters is seeing the play develop and happens to be the only Wild player on the ice not looking at the puck and Heatley is doing…something…over by the hashmarks.

When the play develops, and watch this on NHL.com, because it is a truly spectacular display of what not to do in this situation. Lupul forces the issue, attacking the center of the ice. Wellman, Lundin and Zidlicky converge on him, Peters kind of, sort of makes an attempt to drift towards Kadri and Heatley just kind of stays where he is because, once Backstrom makes the save, he’ll be able to release and…Oops.

I could do this with all four Maple Leafs goals but I’ll spare all of you (and myself) the pain involved in it. Suffice it to say that yes, Backstrom wasn’t great, but the Wild’s defense was much, much worse.

So what’s the fix?

At this point, if I’m Mike Yeo, I’d recommend to Chuck Fletcher that every single player on the Wild’s roster be fair game for a trade and let your entire team know that this is what you’re recommending because this team needs a kick where the sun don’t shine.

Right now, they’re not exploding – they’re imploding. They’re frustrated and they’re no longer even keeping up the pretense that they’re playing within their system and they’re starting to turn on one another.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Fletcher knows something needs to change and he’s working hard to change it. As Mike Russo said, a trade is looking imminent. Something – anything – to wake this team up and give them some sort of spark.

I’m sure that many are hoping that the trade will involve a top-six forward *cough*Zach Parise*cough* coming to the Wild and, while I’d like to hope that is the case, I don’t see that happening unless Fletcher has some sort of assurance that Parise will sign a long-term extension with the Wild. Otherwise, giving up the prospects and picks it would take to get someone like Zach Parise wouldn’t be worth it.

You could look at Columbus (one of the few teams that may, legitimately, be out of the playoff race) but, if they go into “sell” mode, it’s going to be for prospects and picks and I don’t see the Wild giving up either to get someone like Vinny Prospal or Antoine Vermette, though either player may help the Wild this season.

I don’t want to speculate who the Wild might try to move because, really, I don’t know that there’s a player on their roster (other than the three that are on IR) that is safe. Moving a key piece like Heatley or Backstrom or Matt Cullen is a very high-risk move that could reap a high-reward, not necessarily just in the return, but in the fact that it might give the team that kick in the rear that they need.

I don’t know, though. If I had the answers, I’d be an NHL general manager. I don’t have the answers and, at this point, I’m really at a loss for any sort of solution.

Yes, the three players that are arguably the Wild’s three best players are hurt. There is most certainly that to take into account. But, at the same time, isn’t that why we picked up Heatley and Devin Setoguchi?

Players need to start stepping up. Heatley and Setoguchi have combined for 22 goals so far this season. If they were one person, that would get them in the top-ten for goal scoring. That’s just not good enough.

The Wild brought them in to score. They brought them in to change the mentality of the team and, instead, the team seems to have changed the mentality of the players.

I would be very surprised if a move isn’t made before Hockey Day in Minnesota on Saturday but, that’s not to say that I think Fletcher is going to make a knee-jerk reaction and make a trade just for the sake of making a trade. He’s learned from his mistakes in trading for Kobasew (which, in my opinion, still wasn’t a horrible trade) and Barker (which was a horrible trade). If there’s a good trade to be had, he’s going to make it.

But something has to give soon. Otherwise, we might be talking about how great it will be to see Yakupov play with Granlund next season (which, truth be told, would be pretty cool).

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).

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.

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 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.

‘Hawks down Wild in shootout

First of all, watch this shootout goal from Patrick Kane and not say, “Are you effing serious?” I dare you. It’s impossible.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I didn’t do a write up on the game last night because I was too busy watching 24/7. Like, watched it three times too busy.

Would I have watched it three times had I not had to write a review for it? Probably not. But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself in the process. My review will be up on Hockey Primetime soon, and I’ll link you too it as soon as it is, but I’ll give you a preview to how awesome the first episode was.

Not gonna lie – that song is now on my iPod.

Anyway, on to the Wild game.

As has been their M.O. this season, the Wild came out glacially slow again and, thanks to some spectacular goaltending by Niklas Backstrom, were still tied at zero when the buzzer sounded. Considering how badly they were outshot (11-2), this was no small feat.

They then kept their M.O. going, falling behind 2-0 in just over a minute on two quick goals from the ‘Hawks. The first, Marian Hossa potted on the power play after catching the Wild scrambling and then looking (just about every single player had their back to the blue line) and the second saw a beautiful pass end up with Michael Frolik, who had a tap-in into the open net.

The Wild, though, didn’t stop. In fact, they just kept getting better as the night went on. They, once again, scored two very quick goals to tie the game up. The first was a very controversial call, in which one linesman called an icing and the other waived it off. The ‘Hawks learned the hard way that they have to keep playing until the whistle blows, because Colton Gillies came in hard on the forecheck with Steve Montador and John Scott playing the puck very relaxed, expecting the icing to be called. Gillies got the puck out to Kyle Brodziak who scored on an incensed Blackhawks team – and rightfully so. I’ll take that kind of blown call any day of the week but it was, indeed, a horribly blown call.

Matt Cullen pounded home a Cal Clutterbuck rebound just a short time later to tie the game and the Wild were buzzing.

Jonathan Toews buried a beautiful wrister in the third to put the ‘Hawks back up, but the Wild were not to be denied with Mikko Koivu tying the game with a blistering one-timer on a beautiful play by Cal Clutterbuck.

Overtime was uneventful, in terms of goals, but was a tremendous pace and highly entertaining to watch and, seriously. Tell me that a 10 minute overtime of that pace wouldn’t end in a non-shootout win? If the league wants to minimize the impact of the shootout, that’s the way to go.

On to the shootout, where Jonathan Toews scored a typical shootout goal on Backstrom (five hole) and Patrick Kane made about a bazillion and two dekes before potting a shootout goal that, quite frankly, made Backstrom look silly.

So, how does this match up? Is this the Wild regressing? They’ve lost two straight, it obviously must mean that they are, right?

Well, not so fast.

Yeah, the Wild lost two tough, hard fought games. They didn’t find a way to win, when they needed to.

They ran into a hot Ondrej Pavelec, hell bent on rebounding from his seven-goal disaster against the Red Wings and, stuck with a team that about 99-percent of the pundits around the league would say is unequivocally better than the Wild, losing in the skills competition on a shootout goal that, quite honestly, bordered on the ridiculous.

This team isn’t regressing. This is a team that is coming together that has lost a couple tough hockey games in which they’ve played quite well.

The Wild play again on Saturday against the New York Islanders and you can bet they’ll be one hungry team.

Burning Questions

How do the Wild respond to a tough loss? They responded well, despite looking tired in the first period. They lost, yeah, but it was a hard-fought game that took the shootout for Chicago to win.

Can Guillaume Latendresse rebound? He ended up leaving the game with post-concussion symptoms. I was concerned that this would happen when he was rushed back into action, and it did.

Will Marek Zidlicky play and, if so, will he be useful? He didn’t look terrible, but he didn’t look great either. He had a few good looks, but one has to wonder if those good looks were worth scratching the puck magnet, Greg Zanon, against the Blackhawks.

How will Backstrom look in his second game in two nights? He looked good. None of the regulation goals could be pinned on him and, honestly, Backstrom didn’t lose the shootout; Kane won it.

Three Stars

1)      Cal Clutterbuck – Two assists, including the game-tying one on a delayed penalty and a gorgeous pass.

2)      Jonathan Toews – Great game. Goal and an assist, a shootout goal and was a force all night long.

3)      Mikko Koivu – Game-tying goal, +1, six shots.

Wild steal win from Devils

If you were to ask me how the Wild keep winning, I honestly couldn’t tell you.

The Wild played a pretty poor game on Friday night, but still managed to sneak out a 4-2 win over a New Jersey Devils team that has been struggling of late, but is still a very good team.

Friday night, the Wild showed their ability to fight back and, boy did they ever. Minnesota responded to a quick goal by the Devils with a Dany Heatley goal just 20 seconds later (the goal was vintage Heatley, too). Just over three minutes later, Kyle Brodziak scored on a beautiful effort and not even two minutes after that, Casey Wellman re-directed a Matt Cullen shot past Martin Brodeur to give the Wild a two-goal lead and chase the future hall-of-famer from net.

The biggest news coming out of the game, however, was that Niklas Backstrom was injured during the first period. Josh Harding entered in relief and played a solid two periods, stopping all 22 shots he faced. Backstrom’s injury isn’t thought to be serious and it sounds like he’ll be on the road trip with the Wild, but they’ve called up Matt Hackett just to be safe.

Predictably, though, it was a sloppy game for the Wild. It was a one-game home stand, after a big shootout win, against a desperate Devils team and, if not for their great start, the Wild probably lose this game. They spent a good chunk of the game pinned in their own zone because of sloppy play in the neutral zone and poor execution, which is evidenced by their 16 total shots, but they got great goaltending and they never stopped working and battling, which Mike Yeo lauded after the game, saying “I love the work ethic and the attitude that our guys bring.”

But, the good news is that the Wild won. They’ve now won three straight since their two-game slump heading into their five-game road trip and things are very optimistic around the team right now.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild solve the Devils? I don’t know if you can say that they solved the Devils, but they certainly solved Brodeur. 3 goals on 4 shots. Ouch.

Can the Wild get on the board first? Nope but, once again, it didn’t matter. With as quickly as they responded to the Devils’ goal, though, they might as well have scored first.

Can Casey Wellman impress on the second line? He scored a goal, he brought speed and even a bit of a physical game and his goal was not only a key goal but it was the type of goal that the Wild are looking for more of – the dirty kind.

3 Stars

1)      Kyle Brodziak – Two goals, plus-two and five shots.
2)      Josh Harding – Stopped 22 of 22 shots and was dominant for the Wild.
3)      Zach Parise – A goal and an assist and eight shots.

We’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend!

Wild rebound to down Lightning

Now that’s how you respond from a couple of down games.

After two pretty lousy games over the weekend, the Minnesota Wild came out on Monday and won a very impressive game over a very talented Tampa Bay Lightning team.

The Wild, as has been their M.O. this season, came out of the gates slow (though I think it was less of them coming out slow and more of the Lightning coming out like a bat out of hell), but rebounded with two incredibly solid periods of play to break their two-game losing streak and head into their 20 of 29 on the road on a high note.

Minnesota did exactly what had made them so successful for the first quarter of the season. They battled. When they got down in the second period (by the way, what an absolute laser by Steven Stamkos on that shot), the Wild didn’t just fight back – they fought back with an energy that I’ve never seen from a Minnesota Wild squad.

They didn’t just respond to the adversity; they thrived under it.

Cal Clutterbuck evened the score with a shorthanded goal shortly after Stamkos’s tally and that’s when the Wild really got going. That goal turned the tide of the game and, from that point on the Wild played like a boulder rolling downhill. They just kept pressuring the Lightning and the Lightning kept making mistakes.

With under five minutes left in the second, Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored what would stand up as the winning goal with a howitzer of a one-timer from right faceoff circle that, like Clutterbuck’s goal, was caused by a Lightning mishap. It would stand up as the game-winner and Mikko Koivu would put up the insurance tally with an empty-net goal late in the game.

The biggest story of the game, though, was the play of Niklas Backstrom.

Just one night after being pulled in the first period after giving up three goals on eight shots, Backstrom responded and responded big. He set the tone for the Wild’s game with his battle-level, fighting back after his terrible (and justifiably so, read Russo’s post if you want the whole story, but he’s not a robot) performance against the Flames and fought all night long, making some amazing saves to keep the Lightning off the board.

Overall, a great win for the Wild, especially heading into a very tough stretch that will see them on the road quite often.

Let’s see, what else…

  • Pierre-Marc Bouchard was absolutely spectacular on Monday. In fact, his whole line was solid, but Bouchard seemed to be right in the middle of everything. He was making play after play and he was the offensive force that the Wild need.
  • Clutterbuck was also terrific for the Wild. He was great in every zone and he was the Wild’s steadiest player all night long. He was even chirping Martin St. Louis, which I suppose is a bit like playing with fire.
  • The Wild’s fourth line was great. Both Wellman and McIntyre were buzzing all night long and, despite not finding themselves on the scoresheet, brought the “little bit of life” that Mike Yeo wanted them to.
  • I’ve never seen a player have so many scoring chances and such bad luck as Kyle Brodziak in the second period. He had two breakaways, he rung one off the post on one and got stoned on two shots on the other. He had a shot at an open net blocked by Stamkos and he just couldn’t buy a goal.

Burning Questions

How will Lundin and Zanon slot back into the line up? Quite well, actually. Both Lundin and Zanon looked terrific and they didn’t look like they had much rust at all.

How will Lundin and Zanon slot back into the line up? I’d say so, in a huge way.

Can the Wild find goals? They didn’t find much, but the players that needed to play well for Minnesota played very well. Dany Heatley still struggled, but the rest of the players picked up the slack.

Can the defense buckle down? The additions of Lundin and Zanon definitely helped and the Wild’s defense looked back to normal.

3 Stars

1)      Niklas Backstrom – Backs stopped 32 of 33 shots and that one that he let in was an absolute laser that I’m not sure any goalie in the league would have stopped.

2)      Pierre-Marc Bouchard – Butch was spectacular. He scored a goal and he was the wild’s best offensive player all night long.

3)      Cal Clutterbuck – See Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Clutterbuck was great for the Wild.

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