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.

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).

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.

Gameday Thread: Wild look to rebound against Blackhawks

I know I tweeted no gameday thread but, I had a little time, so I thought I’d throw together a brief one for you.

Now, I’m not going to talk at length here before getting down to the nitty gritty, but I do want to address Zach Bogosian’s hit on Pierre-Marc Bouchard quickly before we get to the game stuff.

For those of you who missed it, here it is:

Now, I can abide by the league’s decision not to suspend Bogosian. I don’t agree with it, but I can live with it. Looking at the hit, Bouchard did turn away from Bogosian (despite the fact that he was turning to play the puck, which is apparently frowned upon in this establishment, but we’ll overlook that) before the hit happened.

So, basically, the league said that it falls on Bouchard to protect himself in that situation as opposed to playing the puck. I don’t agree with it, I don’t like it, but what I also don’t like is that the league decided not to even fine Bogosian.

Consider that Mats Zuccarello got a $2,500 fine for this boarding call:

This one is a bit worse, yes?

I’m not going to belabor the point here, so I’ll just lay it out for you here. I disagree with the league’s ruling for the following reasons. Bogosian crosschecked Bouchard in the back, dangerously close to the boards. Bouchard turned away from the hit, but it was to play the puck in an offensive situation, not to attempt to draw a penalty, nor does he ever fully face the boards upon turning. If you watch, he turns enough to get his stick on the puck. Bogosian had time to pull up and pin Bouchard to the boards. Instead, he opted to cross check him square in the back.

Like I said – I can live with the NHL’s decision not to suspend Bogosian, because I don’t believe that it was his intent to injure Bouchard, but to not even fine him is absolutely ridiculous in this situation.

Anywho, on to today’s game.

Lineup

Both Cullen and Bouchard are game-time decisions, but judging by the fact that Butch has a freshly (as in last night) broken nose, I’d be surprised if he goes. Here’s the projected line up per Wild.com:

Clutterbuck/Koivu/Heatley
Latendresse/Cullen/Wellman
Johnson/Brodziak/Powe
Gillies/Almond/Staubitz

Schultz/Lundin
Spurgeon/Scandella
Stoner/Zanon

Backstrom in nets.

Burning Questions

How do the Wild respond to a tough loss? If we know anything about this Wild team, it’s that they typically respond well to adversity and to a tough loss. This could be the toughest game they’ve played in a while, but it’s going to be on home ice, in front of a sold out arena (it feels great to write that again). The hallmark of a good team is that they don’t let a loss derail their momentum. The Wild need to do that tonight.

Can Guillaume Latendresse rebound? Despite his goal, Mike Yeo wasn’t pleased with Latendresse’s game last night. To be fair to G-Lat, he hasn’t played with the squad for a while, so he’s not at the same place as everyone else in terms of the Wild’s system. His puck support last night left a lot to be desired (he left the zone very early) and he didn’t look like he was fitting in for a lot of it. That will change as he gets more comfortable with the system, but he’s got to play catch up, and quick, with Pierre-Marc Bouchard potentially out.

Will Marek Zidlicky play and, if so, will he be useful? To say that Zidlicky has had a subpar season so far this year would be an understatement of huge proportions. If he plays, odds are Clayton Stoner will find himself as the odd man out, which leaves the Wild with a big, gritty hole on their blue line. Zidlicky has made poor decisions with the puck and has not played up to his potential this season and, because of that, the Wild have had struggles when he’s on the ice. If he plays, that needs to change. He needs to make good decisions with the puck, he needs to support his d-partner (likely Greg Zanon) and he needs to shoot the effing puck.

How will Backstrom look in his second game in two nights? Backs wasn’t unbelievably busy against the Jets (at least, not as busy as Ondrej Pavelec was), and that might be a good thing for tonight’s tilt against the ‘Hawks. Historically, he hasn’t been the best againstChicago, but he’s going to need to come up big tonight for the Wild to rebound.

The puck drops at 6:30 pm and the game will be on Versus.

Gameday Thread: Wild look to slow down Jets

If this keeps up this way, the Wild are going to get a serious Rodney Dangerfield complex, because they just can’t get no respect

Ask any talking head or stat junkie and they’ll tell you that the Wild are one of the worst teams in the league – that is, if they recognize that they’re even part of the NHL.

The talking heads will tell you that the Wild play a passive, defensive style of hockey. That they can’t score goals, that the only reason that they’re winning is because they’re riding strong goaltending, then dismiss the Wild and move on talk for 60 minutes about the fact that Sidney Crosby is still hurt.

They’ll talk about the fact that the Wild are fifth in the league in goals-against (64) and laud how great of a job the Wild’s goaltenders have done winning them hockey games because the Wild are 22nd in the league in goals for per game (2.50).

They’ll ignore, however, that the Wild are actually in the top half of the league in total goals for with 79. They’ll also ignore that the Wild have the seventh best goal differential in the league at plus-15.

They’ll talk about the fact that the Wild don’t have a “go-to” type player. That Kyle Brodziak is leading the Wild in goals and that Dany Heatley isn’t the same player that he was back inOttawa(never mind the fact that Heatley has a point in each of his last six games and his shooting percentage has climbed back into double digits).

In fact, they’ll find every single reason why the Wild shouldn’t be winning hockey games, ignoring the fact that they still are winning hockey games.

The stat junkies will spout their metrics and their Corsi ratings. They’ll talk about how the Wild are terrible because they start more often than not in their own zone or that they’re defying logic because they play a lot of the game in their own zone.

They’ll tell us these things as if they’re revelations to those who watch Wild games on a regular basis when, in reality, we all know these things.

I don’t think any Wild fan is fooling themselves into thinking that the Wild are going to sustain this pace throughout the season. If they did, it would truly be a remarkable task because of the fact that their goalies are getting used and abused with the amount of shots they’re taking (Minnesota is 29th in the league in shots against per game).

But what is painfully obvious in every analysis of the Wild is that neither the talking heads nor the stat junkies are spending any appreciable time actually watching the Wild play.

Neither of these groups take into account the fact that the Wild underwent a significant makeover this off season.

Two of their key offensive components (Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi) are playing their first season alongside anyone other than themselves, while the Wild lost two other key components (Brent Burns and Martin Havlat) from their past teams.

What does that mean? Chemistry, of course.

On top of that, the Wild had to learn a brand new system (or, at least, those that didn’t play inHoustondid). That takes time. It takes time to get comfortable with the system and it takes time to stick with it when the going gets tough.

First, looking at the offensive components, Heatley and Mikko Koivu have combined for 13 points in the last six games. It looks a little like they’re starting to mesh, yeah?

Second, looking at the system and the coaching, over their last 15 games, the Wild are averaging 3.0 goals per game, a significant boost over their season average of 2.5. To give you an idea of the difference .5 goals per game makes,Ottawais currently tenth in the league with 2.93 goals per game. If the Wild had been on this pace since the start of the season, they would be tenth in the league in scoring.

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying, quite simply, that the Wild is improving with each game.

Yes, the statistical breakdown of the Minnesota Wild defies logic. Looking at just the stats, there’s no reason why the Wild should be as good as they are, but the Wild have won 12 of their last 15 games because they’re starting to get it. Their offense is coming around. They’re starting to understand what they need to do to be a winning hockey team.

These metrics and stats that everyone is talking about looks at the stats of their season as a whole, which is important to do, but is also skewed because of the fact that their offense has taken a while to get going. They had to learn one another and they had to learn the system. Now that both are happening, the Wild are coming around and are playing tremendously good hockey.

Now, is this all to say that I think the Wild are going to continue to play this way, win the Presidents’ Trophy and win the Stanley Cup?

No. I’m not going to be as bold as to suggest that.

What I will suggest, however, is that this team is not as bad as everyone seems to think. What I will say is that this is the real Minnesota Wild team, not the team that went 4-3-3 during October.

The offense, the shots, the time of possession – all of that will come with time. But right now, people need to get over their obsession with statistics, sit down and watch a Wild game and realize that, yes, this team is a good hockey team.

Lineup

There is, indeed, a Wild game tonight. Per Wild.com, here is their projected lineup:

Clutterbuck/Koivu/Heatley
Bouchard/Brodziak/Wellman
Johnson/Almond/Powe
Gillies/Staubitz/Latendresse

Schultz/Lundin
Spurgeon/Scandella
Stoner/Zanon

Backstrom is in the cage.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild keep it up? The Wild have played some tough games in the past week, or so, and I would call this game a “trap” game, so to speak. The Wild got to go home and sleep in their own beds on Sunday before heading up to Winnipeg. Cullen is out sick and Latendresse is back in. If there is any game that could see the Wild suffer a let down, it’s this one.

How effective will Latendresse be in his return? Don’t expect him to play a lot, but Latendresse will be back and I would imagine will see power play time, as well as a shift on the top line here and there. The last time G-Lat was “eased” into the line up, he looked pretty impressive in a 3-2 loss to the Ducks, playing a little over 13 minutes and taking three shots. I’d expect a similar game from him tonight, keeping it simple and getting his legs back.

Can the Wild get shots? The Wild have been consistently outshot by a large margin over the last few games, but it hasn’t mattered one bit. To keep winning, though, they’re going to eventually have to start shooting the puck more and playing more on the offensive end of the ice. The Jets might be a good place to start with that.

Can Heatley and Koivu keep it up? The Wild’s top offensive tandem has combined for 13 points in their last six games. Koivu has a four-game point streak going and Heatley’s sits at six currently. Minnesota needs them to keep it going if they’re to keep winning.

The puck drops tonight at 7:30 on FSN.

Gameday Thread: Wild head to the Sharktank

The Wild are going to have a big test on their plate tonight, as Casey Wellman is going to return to his old stomping grounds for the first time with the Wild and he’s been on quite a roll.

Wellman is looking for the longest point streak of his career as he comes into San Jose and is looking very much at home on the Wild’s second line. He’s exhibiting the speed that the Wild saw when they signed him as an undrafted free agent three seasons ago and he’s now showing that he’s got the confidence in himself and in his shot to get the job done and he’s getting the job done in a big way.

On Sunday, against the Ducks, Wellman tallied the first multi-point game of his career and looked every bit the player that the Wild envisioned him being. In fact, the chemistry he’s starting to gain with Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen, quite honestly, reminds me of the chemistry that Guillaume Latendresse had with Martin Havlat a couple seasons ago.

But, what Wellman has done is much more important to the team than some comparison. Wellman is providing the team with a legitimate top-six in the absence of Latendresse.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Cal Clutterbuck, but he’s best suited in a role on a checking line, where his offensive abilities are an added bonus as opposed to the expectation. He’s best when he’s able to throw his weight around with abandon and, on the top two lines, he’s not really paired with players that are suited to support that type of game.

That’s not to say that they’re not able to – just that they’re at their best when they’re not having to cover for a guy coming out of position to make a big hit from time to time.

Wellman’s emergence isn’t a surefire thing (even Benoit Pouliot showed flashes of brilliance), but he’s showing some encouraging signs and, if he continues to play this way, it’s going to be very difficult for Mike Yeo to take him out of the line up.

Now, when Latendresse is ready to come back, that’s going to have to be a bridge Yeo crosses when it happens (Setoguchi still isn’t impressing on the first line, in my opinion, and Latendresse was on fire when teamed up with Heatley and Koivu), but Wellman needs to make that decision as hard for Yeo as possible because, if he does, that’s just good for the team.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here is the lineup and it looks to be more of the same:

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley
Bouchard/Cullen/Wellman
Johnson/Brodziak/Clutterbuck
Powe/Almond/Staubitz

Schultz/Lundin
Spurgeon/Scandella
Stoner/Zanon

Harding is between the pipes.

Burning Questions

Can Wellman keep it going? That’s the big one that is on most people’s minds. Wellman has been stellar in his last two games and is looking like he could be the real deal. The Wild have struggled against the Sharks lately, so another big game would be a huge help.

Can Minnesota put pressure on the Sharks? San Jose is at their best when they’re attacking and taking it to their opposition. Likewise, Minnesota is also at their best when they’re taking it to their opposition. One of them isn’t going to get to stick to their gameplan and, when the Wild haven’t been able to against the Sharks, they’ve struggled – a lot.

Will the former players strike against their teams? Heatley, Setoguchi, Burns and Havlat were all kept off the board against their former teams in the last meeting. Will that continue?

The puck drops tonight at 9:30 pm on Fox Sports North. Enjoy!

Gameday Thread: Wild look to keep it going against Devils

The Wild are off to their best start in franchise history, and there’s one big reason why.

Mike Yeo.

As was mentioned on Sports Illustrated’s Red Light Blog, the Wild’s biggest asset this season has been their system – when they stick to it, it works. But just as big as that has been the guy that’s gotten them to do what the great Jacques Lemaire couldn’t do in his last season with the Wild and what Todd Richards couldn’t do in two seasons with the Wild – gotten them to buy in.

You won’t hear a bad word about Jacques Lemaire ever come from my mouth, but he did lose the locker room in his last season with the team, and the locker room remained lost through two years with Todd Richards.

Yeo, on the other hand, has found it.

The system in question? Well, it’s quite similar to the one that the Pittsburgh Penguins run and it basically boils down to getting the puck in deep, forechecking hard and pinning their opponent deep in their own zone for extended periods of time.

In their own zone, it’s much like Lemaire’s system, meaning that the intent is to keep the puck to the outside and not give up second chances, or at least limit them quite a bit.

Now, to say that the Wild have done it with similar success as the Pens just wouldn’t be true. The Wild still have a long way to go to reach Penguin-ian levels in regards to how they play the game.

The system, however, works. You can tell that it works because, when the Wild stick to it, they have success.

Take the game against the Lightning. The Bolts got on the board first, but the Wild stuck to what they wanted to do. They got the puck deep, they forechecked hard and they forced the Lightning into mistakes, two of which ultimately led to goals.

Minnesotastill has a way to go, though. They’re far from being perfect.

Yeo (and many others) wants to see the team shoot more. The Wild are averaging 26.2 shots per game. That’s good for 27th in the league. They’re also giving up 31.3 shots per game, which is good for 25th in the league.

In short, they’re not yet proficient at the system. They’re not spending as much time in their own zone as they’d like and they’re not shooting the puck as much as they would like.

So, that’s both good news and bad news. The bad news is that the Wild aren’t yet where they need to be in terms of their ability to do what Mike Yeo wants them to do. They’re still trying to be too cute with the puck and still trying to find the perfect shot before pulling the trigger, rather than getting the puck towards the net and getting some dirty goals. The good news, though, is that they’re not where they want to be with their system yet, but they’re still first in the Western Conference and second in the league only to, ironically enough, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Lineup

The Minnesota Wild’s Twitter account has confirmed that Cal Clutterbuck will be out tonight and that Darroll Powe will be in, while Niklas Backstrom will be back in the cage. Casey Wellman skated on the second line in practice yesterday, so this is my best guess at what the line combos will be tonight:

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

Schultz/Lundin
Zanon/Stoner
Scandella/Spurgeon

Backstrom

Burning Questions

Can the Wild solve the Devils? Marty Brodeur is 7-1-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average against the Wild in his career. If any goalie has consistently owned the Wild, it’s been him. The Wild is struggling to score this season, so if there’s any perfect storm for Brodeur, it’s tonight’s game. The Wild need to avoid that.

Can the Wild get on the board first? When they do, they’re 6-1-3, compared to 9-6-0 when getting scored on first. The Devils, meanwhile, are 5-7-0 when their opponent scores first compared to 7-3-1 when scoring first. As much as I like comeback wins, a pole-to-pole win would be nice every once in a while.

Can Casey Wellman impress on the second line? Wellman has been an enigmatic prospect for the Wild. Not in the James Sheppard sense, but in the sense that he’ll dominate down in Houston, then come up to the NHL and seemingly forget what made him get his call up. He looked good in his first game of the season against the Lightning. Can he take advantage of his opportunity tonight?

The puck drops at 7 pm on FSN. Enjoy!

Gameday Thread: Wild look to rebound against Bolts

So, if you’re like me, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I insulated myself from the Wild this weekend, due to the holiday part of it, and after perusing the reading materials on the interwebz, I’m glad I did. It sounds like it was a brutal last couple of games.

Mike Yeo is always about the response, so I would expect the team to respond in a big way tonight especially with both Mike Lundin and Greg Zanon returning to the line up forMinnesota. In addition to the return of the two veterans, the Wild have recalled Casey Wellman and David McIntyre from Houston and Warren Peters and Nate Prosser have been returned to the AHL.

The insertion of Lundin and Zanon should provide a little veteran punch on their young blue line, whose inexperience has started to shine through over the last few games, and the youthful exuberance of Wellman and McIntyre should provide some scoring pop on the fourth line, or so the Wild hope.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here are the probable lines:

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

Schultz/Lundin
Zanon/Stoner
Scandella/Spurgeon

Backstrom between the pipes.

Burning Questions

How will Lundin and Zanon slot back into the line up? Both Lundin and Zanon have been out for extended periods of time (in Lundin’s case, this is his Wild debut). Backstrom came back against the Flames after a few games off and was extremely rusty, will Zanon and Lundin be the same?

Will Backstrom rebound? Backs is typically stellar the game after being pulled, and that looks to be what Mike Yeo is banking on here. As a father of two, I’m surprised Backstrom was slated in to start against the Flames simply because it takes a few days to get re-adjusted after you have a kid. Backstrom understandably looked rusty against the Flames. I wouldn’t expect that again.

Can the Wild find goals? Setoguchi will be back on the second line, where he had some great chemistry with Bouchard and Cullen. The down side is that Clutterbuck will be back on the top line, where he’s had some opportunities, but the chemistry just wasn’t there. With Guillaume Latendresse still out, the Wild need Clutterbuck to step it up. Also, they’re going to expect a lot from McIntyre and Wellman on the fourth line, hoping for some offense to be generated there.

Can the defense buckle down? The Wild’s defense has been abysmal the last two games. Against Stamkos and the Lightning, they can’t be at anything less than their absolute best.

The puck drops at 7 pm and will be broadcast on Versus.

Gameday Thread: Preds smash into St. Paul

The Wild haven’t played a game since Saturday’s win over the St. Louis Blues, but one thing’s for sure. It was probably the most enjoyable three day break for the fans that they’ve had in quite some time.

Why?

Because the Wild were sitting atop the NHL for the entirety of it.

Now, we at Wild Nation aren’t counting our chickens before they’re hatched. There’s still 62 games to play. It doesn’t matter if the Wild are first in the NHL on November 23. It matters if the Wild are first in the NHL on April 7.

But it’s cool nonetheless.

Now, the Wild aren’t getting ahead of themselves. They’re not content with this accomplishment and they’re not going to rest on their laurels. In fact, Mike Yeo is saying all the right things, basically saying that the Wild aren’t satisfied with this (a paraphrase, of course). He’s saying what he’s supposed to, the players are saying what they’re supposed to. Everyone’s focused on moving forward.

That’s going to be important, because the Wild have a huge test coming up tonight in the Nashville Predators who, if you were wondering, are currently fifth in the West, just three points behind the Wild.

The Wild have won eight of their last ten, but they’ve also been playing against a bunch of teams that have been struggling. The two losses in their last ten were against the Kings and Sharks – two teams that have been playing quite well – so this is going to be a great test of where the Wild are at.

The good news is that they’re not only winning the games they’re supposed to be winning, but they’re also finding ways to win close games and they’re starting to expect to win close games and they’re starting to expect to win, period.

That’s good news, because that confidence is going to come in handy, especially as long as their top scorers aren’t scoring.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here’s the line up for tonight’s tilt:

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley (Koivu finally showed up on offense on Saturday. Now it’s time for Heatley and Setoguchi to follow suit. If I know anything about the Wild’s Captain, he’s not going to be satisfied with his performance against the Blues, and he’ll drive his linemates to be better too.)
Bouchard/Cullen/Clutterbuck (This line has really struggled without the presence of Latendresse or Setoguchi. Clutterbuck is a great player, but something just seems off when I watch these guys skate together.)
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson (I can’t really say much that hasn’t already been said about these three. They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and they’re really coming into their own as a solid checking line.)
Gillies-Peters-Staubitz (The Wild basically need these three to play eight to ten minutes of mistake-free hockey. They’ve been doing that recently.)

Schultz/Prosser (Nate Prosser is blossoming into a stud, right in front of our eyes. That is all.)
Scandella/Stoner (Marco Scandella is returning to the line up after missing a couple games with a concussion. Given how cautious the Wild have been returning people from concussions of late, I wouldn’t expect any setbacks, but keep an eye on him nonetheless.)
Spurgeon/Falk (Justin Falk has been unbelievably impressive this season. With how he’s playing, as well as the rest of the young defensemen, it’s going to be really hard to justify taking anyone out of this line up when Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin get healthy.)

Backstrom between the pipes.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild avoid a letdown tonight? The Wild have had great success against teams not in the top eight, but have struggled a bit against the conference’s top eight. This is going to be a huge test for the team, but one that I think they can definitely pass if they play their game.

Can the Wild’s weapons start firing? Dany Heatley is second on the team in points, but sports a sad looking 9.5% shooting percentage. Setoguchi’s is much better at 14.3% (it’s higher than his career average) but Koivu’s is at 6.5%. The Wild need these three to get into a groove, and the only way they’re going to do that is by shooting the puck.

Can the Wild’s second line get into the act again? The Wild’s second line has really looked lost at times with Clutterbuck on it. With Latendresse out indefinitely, they need to start getting some chemistry between the three.

The puck drops tonight at 7 pm and will be televised on FSN. Enjoy!

Gameday Thread: Here come the Avs

The Wild have a couple big announcements for their blue line heading into today’s game.

First, congratulations to Nick Schultz, who will play in his 700th NHL game tonight. To put that in perspective, the total number of games for the Wild’s other blueliners after tonight’s game will be 202.

Schultz has been a rock on the blue line for the Wild since playing 52 games for the Wild as a 19-year-old and has been one of the steadiest defensemen in the league since that time. It’s pretty much that he’s going to play 70-plus games in the season and that he’s going to be playing against team’s top lines more often than not.

The latter part of that is one reason why it is such a testament to Schultz that he is a career plus-19 and that he’s only had three minus seasons in his career.

He doesn’t create many goals (his career high in points is 20), but he’s not going to make it easy for other teams to score many goals (though, I must say that he’s probably deflected more goals into the Wild net than any other player in team history – again, a testament to his positioning, because he’s right where he needs to be).

On a personal note, Schultz has long been one of my favorite Wild defensemen, so congratulations Nick. Here’s me hoping for another 700 games with number 55 wearing Iron Range Red!

Second, congratulations to Kris Fredheim, who the Wild signed to an NHL contract today and who will play in his first NHL game today.

For those of you who don’t know much about Fredheim (and I don’t blame you, because I knew next to nothing about him until today), here’s a little scouting report from Houston Beat Writer extraordinaire and contributor to the blog, Ms. Conduct:

He’s a good, solid, stay-at-home defenseman that you really just never have to worry or think too much about. I almost never even notice him with the Aeros, which I think is a good thing in a stay at home d-man. Nothing flashy or too aggressive about his game. He just does things the right way and sort of flies under the radar as a result.

He’s got good size and good speed and good positioning, so I don’t see him having much trouble adapting to the NHL, though he’ll take a bit to get used to the speed, I’d wager. But he’ll be fine. The best part is that Yeo knows him and his strengths and weaknesses, so he’ll put him in a position to succeed.

So, there you have it. If this season has done anything for the Wild, so far, it’s shown the defensive depth that the organization has, so I don’t think there’s any cause for concern with Fredheim slotting into the line up tonight.

Anyway, congratulations to Schultz and Fredheim. Now let’s go buy some bubble wrap for the Wild’s d-men.

Lineup

Here is the probable line up, per Wild.com (again, with my thoughts intersperced):

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley (God, how I just want these three to do something. Anything. Just play like they’re capable of playing. That’s all I ask. Maybe a couple goals too. But that’s really all I ask.)
Bouchard/Cullen/Clutterbuck (As you’ll see below, I think Wellman will end up on this line at some point. Clutterbuck is good, but he’s a checker first and a scorer second. The Wild need someone with a scorer’s mentality on this line.)
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson (This line has been one of the Wild’s best liens over the past few weeks. They’ve just been flat out on point.)
Gillies/Peters/Wellman (See my thoughts on this one below.)

Wellman was recalled again today (after getting demoted yesterday), so I’d guess he’ll get slotted into the line up tonight as Wild.com was speculating. He’ll likely start on the fourth line, but given that the organization has said time and time again that Wellman is the type of player that needs to be in the top-six to succeed, I’d guess he’ll find his way up to the second or even first line at some point during the evening.

Schultz/Prosser (It really says a lot about Prosser that they’d be slotting him in on the top pairing next to Schultz.)
Stoner/Fredheim (Once again, Stoner has come back and been a stud. That’s a great partner for a player in his first NHL game to skate next to.)
Spurgeon/Falk (Two of the Wild’s brightest young defensemen skating next to one another? Should be good to watch.)

Having allowed just four goals in his last two games and with a 17-4-2 record against Colorado, Backstrom will be in the cage.

Burning Questions

Can Casey Wellman contribute at the NHL level? Wellman was sent toHoustonat the beginning of the season under instructions to dominate. He’s done that, but can those skills translate to the NHL level? Mike Yeo seems to think so. Most of Wellman’s goals this season have been “NHL” goals, meaning they’re goals that would have been scored in the NHL as well. If that’s the case, he could finally be ready.

Can the Wild’s young defense keep stepping up? With Zidlicky out,Minnesotahas just one player on their blue line tonight that’s played in a full NHL season. So far, their young blue line has been one of the big reasons that Minnesota has been as good as they have been. The Wild need that trend to continue tonight.

Can the top line finally put together a full, solid game? Heatley, Koivu and Setoguchi are together again thanks to an injury to Guillaume Latendresse. They absolutely dominated in the pre-season. The Wild need them to do that again, and quick.

Can the Wild avoid the hometown blues? The first game back after an extended road trip is typically a tough one. Can the Wild come out strong and avoid that? Coming back home from the Eastern Time Zone should help, but they’ve got to come out strong tonight.

The puck drops tonight at 7 pm and will be on FSN.

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