Gameday Thread: Heatley and Setoguchi return to San Jose

Full tuck? Really?

Well, the Wild are going for six in a row tonight, facing off against the San Jose Sharks in what is a highly anticipated game for both teams, as Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley are returning to San Jose and Brent Burns and Martin Havlat are facing off against the Wild for the first time since being traded this off season, and I’m not sure whether or not James Sheppard is going to get his first game of the season tonight, but Burns and Heatley will certainly be in the lineup.

Does anyone really think he was serious?

As was mentioned on Hockey Wilderness, Brent Burns made a comment to the San Jose Mercury News that every single person on the interwebz has jumped on:

“I’ve been watching how they’ve been doing, hoping that they would lose every game,” he continued. “You have to be competitive to reach this level and I’m a pretty intense guy. And when a team doesn’t want you, you sure don’t want them to go 82-0.”

And one more: “I have a lot of friends there and you want them to score six goals and lose.”

“But it doesn’t always work out,” he added. “Now it’s like an ex-girlfriend. You really don’t want her to get the white-picket fence and the great job. It’s like a good country song.”

Now, let’s be very clear here. Burnzie loved his time inMinnesotaand he was beloved by many (if not all) of the fans and surely by all of his teammates. In fact, the article goes on to talk about how much Burns liked living in Minnesota.

So, is this bulletin board material?

Probably not. This is just Burnzie being Burnzie.

On the other hand, all it takes is one person to say, “He was being a smartass to the media. Let’s take it to him so we can give it right back.”

Just sayin’.

Lineup

Minnesota is rolling out the same lineup we saw against the Flames, with the exception of Cal Clutterbuck back in. Per Wild.com, we’re likely to see the lines look like this (my thoughts in italics):

Latendresse/Koivu/Heatley (Has Latendresse really gotten this line going or what? It’s nice when everyone gets to play the role that

Latendresse has really helped the top line

they’re used to, and that’s what Latendresse allows everyone to do.)
Bouchard/Cullen/Setoguchi (Ditto to the KHL Line – Like that? I just made it up right here. – The addition of Setoguchi has made this a very dangerous line in transition because of their speed.)
Johnson/Brodziak/Clutterbuck (This line is probably one of the more fun checking lines to watch because, one, they all like to throw their weight around and two, they actually can score.)
Gillies/Powe/Staubitz (Staubitz again found himself stapled to the bench against the Flames, but Powe and Gillies each had pretty solid games, including Powe getting his first goal in a Wild sweater.)

Schultz/Zidlicky (I just can’t tell what it’s going to take to get Zidlicky going, but Schultz was a monster against the Flames. He shut Jarome down and he’s going to have to do the same tonight.)
Spurgeon/Scandella (Scandella continues to impress, but this pairing’s decision making needs to improve a bit for them to really start playing well. Poor decisions can lead to the Wild getting hemmed into their zone, which happened a bit against the Flames.)
Prosser/Falk (If they keep playing this way, I don’t know that Stoner, Zanon or Lundin will ever get into the line up.)

Backstrom is back in net, so we’ll see how he responds to his second straight start. He’s historically had a rough go of it against the Sharks, so this will be a big test for him.

Burning Questions

Can Backstrom keep riding the momentum from last game? A 41-save shutout can either lead to another impressive game or a big let down. Which will it be?

How do Heatley and Setoguchi perform coming back to San Jose? My guess is that one will be booed and the other will be given a warm welcome. Care to guess which?

Does Sheppard play for San Jose? It wouldn’t be a bad first game to slot him in for. If any player has the drive to play well in this one, it’s Shep.

Can the Wild stay out of the box? Minnesota was in seven times against the Flames, including a five-minute major. If they do that against San Jose, they’re in trouble.

The puck drops tonight at 9:30 and is televised on Fox Sports North.

Gameday Thread: Wild rolls into Calgary

The Wild need to keep the momentum going tonight

So the Wild are rolling into Calgary tonight for the first of six meetings between these two teams, and there’s a lot to take into account heading into the game.

As I mentioned earlier, Niklas Backstrom’s insertion into the line up tonight has left the Wild with a bit of a conundrum in net, and I feel like I should clarify that a little bit.

Backstrom needs to perform tonight to keep pace with Harding

First, I don’t think there’s a goalie controversy. Backstrom is still the starter, Harding is still the back up and Backstrom hasn’t been playing bad hockey. The fact of the matter is, though that, it’s moved from a 1 and 2 situation to a 1A and 1B situation. There is no de facto starter anymore. It’s whoever is playing the best at the time.

What this basically boils down to is a good, old fashioned, competition. My point earlier was that Backstrom needs to perform tonight. He needs to have a good game and he needs to give Mike Yeo pause about taking him out of the net, just like Harding did.

The Wild is playing very good hockey right now. They’re on a four-game winning streak and, in their last seven games, they’re 5-1-1 and they’ve give up just ten goals over that span.

They might not always be playing good hockey, but they’re doing what good hockey teams do – they’re finding a way to win. That begins and ends with the man in the crease, and that is exactly why Backstrom needs to respond tonight.

If Backstrom responds tonight, I’d imagine he’ll likely get another look in San Jose. If he doesn’t, well, he’s just making it that much easier for Yeo to put Harding back in nets.

The reason the Wild need their goaltender to be so good is, quite simply, because they’re not scoring goals.

They’ve scored more than two goals just three times in 13 games. There’s been some encouraging signs in the last two games (like, you know, shooting the puck) but this team has too much offensive firepower to NOT score goals.

Just look at their roster.

They’ve got six players on their team that are legitimate 20 goal threats (seven, if you consider Clutterbuck one) and, of those six, four

Latendresse is one of the Wild's key offensive players

of those could be considered legitimate 30 goal threats.

That’s a lot of offense, especially when you consider that last year’s Stanley Cup Champions had just one 30 goal scorer and four 20 goal scorers and the runners up had two 40 goal scorers and just one other 20 goal scorer. The year before? One 30 goal scorer and five more with 20 were on the Blackhawks and the Flyers had two 30 goal scorers and just one other 20 goal scorer.

If the Wild can pull all of this together, they could be a very dangerous team, especially the way that their young defense is playing and that both of their goalies are playing. If they can’t? That’s a lot to ask of your goaltenders, no matter who they are.

Lineup

Tonight, the Wild will likely ice the same line up that we’ve seen over their four-game winning streak. They’ve called up Warren Peters, but he’ll only get the nod if Cal Clutterbuck (who is a gametime decision) can’t go. My two cents on this, though, is that if Clutterbuck skates for warm ups, he’s in the game.

I do want to say a little about the lines, though, so I’ll throw in my two cents on them as well.

Latendresse/Koivu/Heatley (This line has been absolutely lights out. I love the strength that they have and they’re actually getting to the dirty areas on the ice too.)
Bouchard/Cullen/Setoguchi (They can skate with anyone in the league, and maybe skate circles around anyone in the league. Their speed is really opening up opportunities for them.)
Johnson/Brodziak/Clutterbuck (The Wild knew what they had in Brodziak and Clutterbuck, but Johnson has been an absolute revelation. He’s been one of the best players on the ice for Minnesota in every game he’s played and that’s not taking anything away from Minnesota’s other players.)
Gillies/Powe/Staubitz (The one line I’m really not pleased with. I know that they’re a defensive unit, but I expected a lot more from Powe and Gillies this season. Or, at least, I expected them to look better than they have.)

Schultz/Zidlicky (They’re getting better. You know what you’re getting with Schultz, and I think that will help Zidlicky find his game.)
Spurgeon/Scandella (Spurgeon still doesn’t look as good as he did last season, but the pairing is still very good. Scandella is going to be a fixture on the Wild’s blue line for years. He’s that good.)
Prosser/Falk (Probably the most unexpected, as they’re both injury fill-ins. They look great. They’re mobile, they’re strong and they haven’t been making mistakes.

Like I mentioned, Backstrom will be in net and Harding will have the gate tonight.

Heatley is key to the Wild "playing their game"

Burning Questions

Will Backstrom respond? He’s been on the bench now for almost two weeks. Is there going to be any rust? Is he going to look listless, or will he look like a man fighting to keep his job? All of these are questions that Backstrom needs to answer with tonight’s performance.

Can Minnesota play their game? It sounds strange to say it, but Minnesota’s game is puck possession and getting shots. They showed that they can be very successful at that against the Canucks and, against the Blues, the shots didn’t necessarily come (hey, we’re not going to get 45 every night), but the pressure did. Shots score goals and they create offense. The Wild are starting to get this, but they need to keep digging and keep playing their game.

Can the Wild get it done on the road? Minnesota is 5-2-1 at home and 2-1-2 on the road. With a pivotal 5-game road trip underway, they need to show that they’re capable of winning on the road as well and, more importantly, closing out games on the road.

Can the top line keep it up? The insertion of Guillaume Latendresse onto the Wild’s top line has done wonders for them (as has the insertion of Devin Setoguchi onto the second line). Latendresse has two goals in his last two games and is starting to come alive and the Wild need that to continue.

The puck drops tonight at 8:30 and will be on Fox Sports North. See you after!

Photos Courtesy of Getty Images

Unbelievably brief Gameday Thread: vs. Vancouver

Well, I won’t be able to watch the game tonight, so the least I can do is give you a little gameday thread, right?

The Wild are coming off of their miraculous win over the Red Wings on Tuesday and it doesn’t get any easier for them, as they’ll face off against their rival Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver is rolling into town off of a commanding win over the Calgary Flames and they’ll be looking to keep the momentum going against the Wild.

So, who’s going to be going for the Wild tonight?

Per Wild.com, here are the Wild’s Probable Line Combos tonight:

Latendresse/Koivu/Heatley
Bouchard/Cullen/Setoguchi
Johnson/Brodziak/Clutterbuck
Gillies/Powe/Staubitz

Schultz/Zidlicky
Spurgeon/Scandella
Prosser/Falk

Josh Harding will be net for the Wild and Cory Schneider for the Canucks.

Lunchtime is almost over for the kids, so let’s just get to the burning questions.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild win in regulation? Getting come from behind victories is great, as is stealing points, but the Wild need to start getting the job done in regulation and stop giving away so many points.

Will Yeo’s tinkering get the first two lines going? Tuesday was a good start, as each Setoguchi and Koivu had a goal and an assist and I think having Latendresse on that top line will help both Koivu and Heatley play their game.

Can Harding keep up his hot streak? Harding is 0-3-0 against the Canucks with a 4.37 GAA and a .843 save percentage. He’s been playing out of his mind lately, though, so he’s got that going for him.

The puck drops at 7 pm on FSN. Enjoy the game!

Gameday Thread: vs. Anaheim

Well, it’s been a nice break for a few days (because, let’s be honest, I don’t have press credentials so there’s really not much for me to write on extended breaks, eh?), but it’s back to business both for myself and for the Minnesota Wild.

Minnesota is going to be heading into their tilt with the Ducks tonight with an interesting line up, as was reported by Mike Russo earlier.

Basically, Latendresse is ready to return, but Mike Yeo isn’t ready to put him back on the team’s second line. Which is fine, right? Because Latendresse has some pretty wicked chemistry with Kyle Brodziak. Only, Yeo isn’t willing to break up the team’s third line of Brodziak, Brett Bulmer and Nick Johnson. Okay, I get that. They were arguably the Wild’s best line against the Canucks. So, that means that Latendresse is going to be slotted in on Mikko Koivu’s other wing on the first line, to give them a solid net presence, right?

Not so much.

That’s right, the player that is tied for the team lead in points is going to be on the fourth line with Darrol Powe and Colton Gillies.

Yeo’s reasoning was that he’s “just not big” on a player returning to the line up after one practice after a week off from practice. Now, that’s understandable to an extent, but when the player is one that has consistently been one of, if not your best player all season long? Well, that’s not necessarily a decision I can get behind.

I really, really don’t like this decision, especially on a team that has been struggling to score goals. I understand that he wants to see the combinations of our top two lines and not breaking up our solid checking line, but I just don’t think this is a move that benefits the team.

Hopefully I’m wrong, but I just don’t see how this works out well.

Also, both Brad Staubitz and Matt Kassian will be scratched tonight against what is typically a physical Ducks team. This tells you a lot about the make up of the Wild’s roster right now.

Basically, the Wild are holding out their two fighters (and two players that really play with a physical edge) against a team that has been notorious for pushing the Wild around in the past. Basically, what Yeo is telling his team is that they don’t need to have enforcers in the line up to play a physical game – and I love it.

Enforcers aren’t a requirement, and we’ve seen so far that the Wild have a lot of players willing to step up to the plate (Clayton Stoner, for one). I think this could work out very well for the Wild, especially if they can consistently roll out four lines and three defensive pairings. So, we’ll see how things go in tonight’s tilt, but those are my opinions on the personnel decisions that the team has made regarding tonight’s game.

Keys to the Game

  • Special Teams. It sounds a lot better if you say this repeatedly to a broken record, because that’s really what it’s starting to feel like. Minnesota’s special teams have not only been horrid this season, but in most cases they’ve been a momentum killer too. A cure all for an opposing team, if the Wild are buzzing, has been to take a penalty. That has to change.
  • Winning the Small Battles. One thing that the Ducks have been very good at in the past is winning the small battles – doing the small things that makes a team great. Tonight, though, the Wild need to win battles that they haven’t been winning, and the faceoff circle is a great example of that. At 48.1 %, the Wild have been losing draws more often than not and, a lot of times that includes draws in the offensive zone.
  • Don’t Be Pushed Around. The Wild can’t be pushed around. Period. When the Ducks have been successful against Minnesota in the past, it’s because they’ve been able to physically dominate the Wild. With two of their more physical players scratched, the Wild need to bring the physical game to the Ducks and not the other way around.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild close out a game? The Wild have blown a lot of leads so far this young season and they need to learn how to seal the deal. The first step in doing that is to score the puck.

Will Guillaume Latendresse be successful on the fourth line? I don’t think it’s a permanent situation, but he’s going to have to earn his ice time in tonight’s game.

Can the Wild outshoot Anaheim? The Wild are still struggling to grasp Yeo’s shoot first mentality. A big part of their gameplan is dominating the offensive zone, and part of that involves getting shots on goal.

Cal Clutterbuck on the first line? Will he succeed? I have my reservations about this, but Clutterbuck will skate with Heatley and Koivu tonight, at least to start with. This frees Heatley up to shoot rather than go to the front of the net, but will Clutterbuck be effective in that role? I’m inclined to think that we might see a swap between Clutterbuck and Latendresse at some point, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Can Cullen get back on the scoresheet? Just like last season, Cullen got off to a blistering start and has come back to earth quickly. The Wild need him scoring if they’re going to win.

The puck drops tonight at 7 pm on FSN. Enjoy the game!

Gameday Thread: @ Vancouver

This could be a tough one for the Wild. Mikko Koivu, Greg Zanon and Guillaume Latendresse are all questionable for the game tonight, all for various injuries.

Koivu, obviously, is because of the stitches he received after catching Dany Heatley’s skate in his face. Zanon is because of a groin injury and Latendresse is because he aggravated his left hip (the surgically repaired one).

If I were a betting man, I’d say that Koivu will be in and Zanon will be out (which means that Justin Falk will get his first action of the season). As for Latendresse, I’d imagine it will be a game time decision. He had surgery on the hip in question during the off season, so he’s likely going to be cautious with it, but I can’t imagine that he won’t go unless the pain is pretty debilitating.

It will be interesting to see the line up decision if Latendresse can’t go, though. Do the Wild dress Nick Johnson for a little more skill? Or Matt Kassian for a little more toughness?

Either way, the tilts with Vancouver are always highly spirited, so we can expect more of the same today.

Keys to the Game

  • Special Teams. I feel like a broken record here, but the Wild’s special teams have been absolutely horrific lately. In Edmonton, their power play wasn’t the momentum killer that it has been this season and their PK looked pretty good, but they’ve got to maintain that. They need a goal on the power play like the Cookie Monster needs a cookie – that’s bad, folks.
  • Come Out Strong. The Wild can get away with slow starts against the likes of Edmonton, but a slow start today will doom them. As Mike Yeo said, “We can’t just come out and test the waters.” Gametime in the NHL is a sink-or-swim scenario. The Wild just need to jump in the deep end and hope they can swim.
  • Put the Puck in the Net. It seems elementary, but there’s no reason that this line up should be struggling to score. The top line alone should be lights out but, as of yet, they haven’t. The scoring chances are there, the Wild just need to start burying the puck.
  • Stay Away From the Funny Stuff. With players like Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows, the Canucks have the ability to annoy people into slews of penalties. Especially with their special teams struggling, the Wild need to stay away from that. Play hard, hit hard and avoid the extracurricular junk.

Burning Questions

Who starts in net for the Wild? This is a big game for the team and Backstrom is coming off of a strong, strong start inEdmonton. Given that the Canucks are starting Schneider today, it’s going to be a game time decision inVancouver, but it might just be Harding getting the nod since the Wild will be facing a back up.

How healthy will the Wild be? Koivu, Zanon and Latendresse are all gametime decisions. If any of the three are out, the Wild have a rough go of it. If all three are out? Yikes.

Can Heatley keep it going? Heater got on the board with a timely goal inEdmonton. Can he use that momentum to get on track this season? We’ve got to hope.

Can the defense contain Vancouver? The Sedins, Mikael Samuelsson, Kesler, Burrows, Higgins. The Canucks can hurt you so many different ways, it’s going to be a task for the Wild’s defensemen to keep them under wraps.

The puck drops today at 3 pm on FSN and the NHL Network.

Gameday Thread: @ Edmonton

Minnesotarolls intoEdmontontonight and the Wild are looking for a much needed boost after two straight lackluster performances against the Red Wings and Penguins.

The Wild’s struggles have left Head Coach Mike Yeo searching for chemistry, as he started switching up the Wild’s lines late in the Pittsburgh game, hoping for some spark to ignite the team’s three top players. It didn’t work in that game, but one has to wonder if Yeo is going to keep switching it up or if he will go back to the big-three on one line again.

In my opinion, Yeo should continue to mix it up. Having all of your big guns on one line typically only works if it’s the right combination of players and styles (see:Anaheim’s line of Ryan, Perry and Getzlaf) and even then it takes time for chemistry to develop. Yeo has not been happy with how his first line has been meshing with one another and he’s decided to mix it up to the tune of the line combinations that I thought he might initially go with this season.

Towards the end of the Pens game, Yeo moved Pierre-Marc Bouchard up to the first line to play with Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu and I love that move for a number of reasons.

First of all, Heatley’s main priority while on the ice should be getting the puck at the net. With Setoguchi on his opposite wing, it seemed as if Heatley felt like he had to help distribute the puck too, often looking for Setoguchi rather than taking the shot himself. The couple times they hooked up, it was a sight to see (Setoguchi has got to have one of the best one-timers in the NHL) but more often than not it didn’t work out.

Second, pulling Setoguchi back to the second line takes some of the defensive pressure off of him. He was often facing teams’ second or even third defensive pairings in San Jose. On the top line, he was drawing teams’ top pairings every time – something that he was unaccustomed to. Back on the second line, especially with Cullen and Latendresse, Setoguchi won’t necessarily the the focal point of defensemen, nor will he draw the assignment to go to the front of the net (that’s what G-Lat is there for) so he’ll be free to sneak into the slot and fire off those one-timers.

Finally, Bouchard has gotten kind of lost on the second line. Granted, he did miss two games because of that suspension, but on a whole he hasn’t been that noticeable. Bumping him up to the first line does a couple things for him. First, he had great chemistry towards the end of last season with Koivu. That chemistry will benefit both he and the Wild’s captain. Second, it’s another playmaker to feed the puck to Heatley. Bouchard is an absolute master with the puck and he makes passes that I’ve not seen many people be able to make. With Heatley on his other wing, all he’s got to do is get the puck to Heater in a good position and he’ll do something with it.

Now, it sounds like Yeo will go back to the Big Three being on one line to start the game, but don’t be surprised in the least if he pulls the string and brings Bouchard up to that top line very quickly if things don’t go the way he wants them to early.

Typically, the Oilers have been the medicine that an ailing Wild team needs withMinnesotawinning its last eight contests against the Oilers. Will that continue tonight? Time will tell.

Keys to the Game

  • Special Teams. I’ve been preaching this the last few games now and it continues.Minnesota’s special teams have got to be better. They gave up both a power-play goal and a short-handed goal on Tuesday and that just can’t happen.
  • The Big Three. The Wild now have their own Big Three in Koivu, Heatley and Setoguchi. These three have to get going early. They were buzzing and got the results in the first game of the season. Games two through four they were buzzing, even if the results weren’t coming, but games five and six they were near invisible for most of the game. The Wild brought in Heatley and Setoguchi to be difference makers and they need to do just that.
  • No Turnovers. The Wild were so dominant in their 2-1 shootout victory overEdmonton because the Oilers were turning the puck over. Conversely, the Wild were so lifeless against the Red Wings and Penguins because they kept turning the puck over. Minnesota needs to make smart decisions with the puck in all three zones, but especially around their own zone. Two of Pittsburgh’s four goals were direct results of turnovers in or near their own zone, and that has to change.
  • Goaltending. Backstrom laid a bit of an egg against the Pens. Not that he had much help, but he still just couldn’t make the big save when he needed to and fanned on a couple of saves he probably should have had. It sounds like he’ll be in the cage tonight against Edmonton and it’s a building he’s typically struggled in. He’s got to be better tonight.

Burning Questions

Can Guillaume Latendresse continue his strong start? G-Lat has jumped out to a great start this season and tallied his first goal of the season on Tuesday against the Pens. If Latendresse has taught us anything in his time with the Wild, it’s that he scores goals in bunches. He’s got his first goal and a three-game point streak going. I’d expect another more from him tonight.

Can the first line buzz again? The last two games, Koivu, Heatley and Setoguchi (we need a name for this line, seriously) have been near invisible on the ice. That needs to change and quick.

Can the Wild come out of the gates strong? The last few games, the Wild have played good hockey in the second period (their usual Achilles’ heel), but stumbled out of the gates. So far this season, the team that has scored first has won over 80% of the games. That means the Wild needs to score first.

The puck drops tonight at 8:30 pm and is televised on FSN.

Gameday Thread: vs. Penguins

Well, the Wild are catching quite a break for tonight’s tilt against the Pens. No Malkin, no Crosby, no Orpik and now, no Letang due to a boarding call on Alex Burmistrov.

Now, I’ll be honest. I’ve watched a couple times and it felt to me like Burmistrov put himself in a bad position but, the bar has been set. Whether I agree with the suspension or not (I really don’t think that it deserved a suspension), it happened and now is something the Pens have to deal with.

For the Wild, it’s unbelievable news. The Wild now get the Pens without their two best players and their two best defensemen. I’m sure they’re not complaining.

For the Wild, they have a chance to grab an important two points from a good team that’s missing some key players. In other words, they have got to take advantage of this.

They stole a point against the Red Wings (and by stole, I mean Italian Job-type stole). That’s great that they hung on to get that point, but they’re going to need a better effort tonight regardless of who the Pens skate.

On the topic of who the Wild will skate, though, it looks like we’ll see the same line up that we did against the Red Wings with the exception of Niklas Backstrom getting back in between the pipes.

So, we’re going to see the same lineup that laid an egg against the Red Wings so, what exactly do the Wild have to do to win this one tonight?

Keys to the Game

  • Shoot the Puck. The Wild are still trying to adopt Mike Yeo’s “shoot first” mentality, and there have been some growing pains. So far this season, the Wild are averaging just under 25 shots per game while giving up just over 30.
  • Puck Possession. In order for the first to change, the Wild need to be able to possess the puck. That doesn’t necessarily mean skating around, holding it, but they need to keep it in the offensive zone. The more time they spend in their own zone, the more worn downPittsburgh will get and the fresher the Wild will stay.
  • Get on the Board Early. The Wild are likely going to be seeing Brent Johnson in net, as Marc-Andre Fleury played last night inWinnipeg, but that doesn’t mean they’re seeing a slouch. Johnson has yet to win a game, but has taken it to overtime both times and still has a GAA under two. If the Wild can get on the board early, that immediately puts the Pens behind the eight ball. If not, the Wild might be heading to another drawn out battle.
  • Get Physical. If the Wild can set the tone of the game early, it allows them to control it and the tone that the Wild will want is physical. Both of these teams like to hit, and the Wild needs to be on the initiating end of this to succeed.

Burning Questions

 Can the Wild control play instead of the other way around? Against Detroit, they couldn’t get out of their own zone to save their lives. They need to spend much less time in their own zone tonight.

Will the Wild take advantage of the Pens’ lack of manpower? Without Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Orpik, the Pens are missing their best players. Minnesota has got to take advantage of that.

Can Backstrom continue his strong season so far? Even without Malkin and Crosby, the Pens still have a ton of firepower. Backstrom is going to have to have another strong night for the Wild to win.

Can the special teams be special? Again, the Wild’s special teams are struggling this season. They need to pick up the play a man down and with the man advantage to win this one.

The puck drops at 6:30 pm and the game is televised for all to see on Versus. Enjoy!

Gameday thread: vs. Detroit

I know it’s early, but the Northwest is just complete and utter chaos right now. Human sacrifice, cats and dogs living in harmony…Mass hysteria!

What I’m talking about of course, is the fact that Colorado and Minnesota, picked by many to be the two bottom dwellers, are the top two teams in the division while the teams most thought would be atop the division have struggled.

To date, the Wild’s opponents have had a combined record of 4-7-2. Not necessarily a tough schedule to start the season. Tonight, though, we’ll see if the wild can hang with one of the NHL’s elite. The Red Wings are perfect through three games and have allowed just three goals in their three games, compared to 10 scored. That’s just a little better than who they’ve played so far.

So, who is going to be in the line up for this first test among the NHL’s elite? Here’s Wild.com:

Unless Latendresse is held out of the lineup, the forward lines should remain the same as on Thursday:

Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley
Bouchard-Cullen-Latendresse
Gillies-Brodziak-Clutterbuck
Bulmer-Powe-Staubitz

The defensive pairings will remain unchanged:

Zanon-Zidlicky
Schultz-Scandella
Stoner-Spurgeon

Harding makes his season debut tonight.

The big key here is going to be Josh Harding, who is making his first regular season start since the 2009-10 season, and its going to be a big test for him.

He’s had success against the Wings in the past, so that’s the rationale in starting him over Backstrom tonight. That, and he had to get a start sooner or later.

Burning Questions

How will Harding look tonight? Will he be tentative and nervous, or will he show the confidence he’s shown in the past?

Can the Wild’s role players pick it up? Their bottom six forwards have just two points so far this season, and they’ll need to pick it up for the Wild to be successful tonight.

Will Matt Cullen’s hot streak continue? He’s looked great alongside Bouchard and Latendresse so far. Can he keep it up?

Can the Wild’s special teams be special? So far this season, they’ve been mediocre. Can they step it up?

That’s all for me. The puck drops at 7 pm CST tonight from the Xcel Energy Center.

Game #1 Gameday Thread: vs. Columbus

Well, after a long off season of waiting, it’s finally here. The Wild are going to skate out with their new-look roster in a game that actually matters for the first time and its an exciting thing.

We’ll be live-blogging the game tonight old school style (no CoveritLive!), so we’ll keep this one short and sweet for now and we’ll update it if anything comes up during the day.

But, here are the projected lines for tonight per Russo:

Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley
Latendresse-Cullen-Bouchard
Clutterbuck-Brodziak-Bulmer
Gillies-Powe-Johnson (Kassian)

Scandella-Schultz
Zanon-Zidlicky
Stoner-Spurgeon

Backstrom

So, no real surprises here.

Honestly, given the recent history between these two clubs, I’d expect Kassian to be slotted in on Powe’s wing instead of Johnson. No insider info – this is just based off of the last few meetings, where things have gotten a bit heated and I’d imagine that Mike Yeo would want a little protection for his top guys.

What to Watch For: The big thing to watch for this evening is going to be the Wild’s execution of their system. On Saturday, Yeo said that he was confident in the team’s ability to run the system and run it well.

Now, running the system is all well and good, but the true test is going to come if the Wild get a lead. Will they break down? Will they stop pressuring?

That’s going to be the true test of this system.

Alright, so the puck drops tonight at 7 pm CST on Fox Sports North, so let’s give you a few questions to mull over while we wait.

Will the Wild play a full 60?

Can the first line (we need a name for them) keep their momentum?

Will the defense rebound after a handful of subpar efforts to end the preseason?

Brett Bulmer will get a lot of ice time tonight. Will he look out of place?

Alright all, as I said, we’ll be back with a live blog tonight so, until then, enjoy the weather and get ready for some hockey.

Columbus downs Wild and the final Preseason Gameday Thread

Kyle Brodziak and Steve Mason

The Wild couldn't put it together for 60 minutes last night

Well, because of how late I’m getting to this, I’m going to combine the gamer and the gameday thread – especially since the kids and myself are all under the weather.

ANYwho…

Last night’s game was, simply, a typical Wild game. It’s clear that this team isn’t going to go anywhere until they can learn to play a full 60 minutes.

The Wild dominated for bookends again, but it typical Wild fashion, they pissed it down their legs (for lack of a better term) in the middle 20.

Guillaume Latendresse

The Tenderness was one of the Wild's bright spots last night

They came out on fire. They dominated much of the play the first period, outshooting the Jackets 16-7 and going up 1-0 on a goal by the Tenderness (that’s Guillaume Latendresse, for those not accustomed to the nickname). In a word, they were rolling.

But the proof of how the game is going to go lies in the middle 20 and, in this case, it was an unmitigated disaster.

They turned the puck over, they weren’t skating, they weren’t supporting each other on defense (which, to be honest, was really the only zone they were in for the bulk of the period). Basically, anything negative you could think that a team could do, the Wild did it and everything positive you could think that a team could do, the Wild didn’t do it.

To steal a catch phrase from Todd Richards’ playbook, they just didn’t compete.

The Jackets had tied the game 44 seconds into the period, then had grabbed the lead by 2:38 and Jeff Carter gave the Jackets a two-goal lead by the time the second period had ended.

The Wild rebounded slightly in the third, but it wasn’t enough to dig themselves out of the hole they dug themselves in to.

So, the bad was pretty much that the whole team just gave up defensively in the second period. But what was the good?

Well, the top two lines again looked great in the offensive zone. In fact, Kyle Brodziak looked right at home between Bouchard and Latendresse, which could give Mike Yeo pause about making Matt Cullen the outright second-line center.

Nick Johnson looked okay but, to be fair, he had a rough go of it getting to the arena so last night’s game could be a wash. Clutterbuck is out tonight, though, so Johnson will get another shot at proving he can stick with the squad.

Well, let’s move on to tonight’s game.

Here’s the roster per Wild.com:

The Wild’s final audition lineup will once again include Brett Bulmer, who will skate in his fifth preseason contest. The injured players - Matt CullenJared SpurgeonMike LundinDrew Bagnalland Cody Almond will not be seen until the regular season starts. Cal Clutterbuck will also sit out tonight with a sore groin:

Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley
Latendresse-Brodziak-Bouchard
Johnson-Powe-Wellman
Gillies-Nystrom-Bulmer

Zanon-Scandella
Schultz-Falk
Zidlicky-Stoner

Backstrom and Harding

The fact that Clutterbuck is out is a positive for a couple of players – namely, Casey Wellman and Nick Johnson.

Cal Clutterbuck

Clutterbuck's injury opens the door for a couple players to impress

As I mentioned, Johnson had a rough go of it in last night’s game, but he also rode in a car from Pittsburgh to Columbus and played about 2 hours after he got to the arena. He’ll have full prep-time today, so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to show what he can do.

For Casey Wellman, this could be his make-or-break moment. He’s underwhelmed in his two games this preseason after missing the beginning of it with injury and he’s got to come out and show the Wild why they were so high on him when they signed him a couple seasons ago as an undrafted free agent.

In short, he needs to show that he’s capable of being a dynamic, offensive player at the NHL level like he was in the college level. He’s got to shoot the puck, he’s got to use his speed and he’s got to show the Wild something if he wants to make this squad. Right now, he’s going to really have to impress to stick in the NHL. That means, in short, he’s got to make something happen.

Tonight is also going to be a good look at whether or not this team can play a full game. Over the last 180 minutes of hockey, they’ve played roughly 80 solid minutes. That’s a little over one game. I understand having rough patches – every team has them – but this team needs to start working. They’ve got so much talent on this squad, if they just put a full 60 minute effort together every night, we could be talking about them contending for a playoff seed as opposed to dissecting why they’re giving away games.

They’ve got talented forwards, they’ve got talented defensemen and they’ve got talented goalies. But it’s pretty hard for any of them to show off their skills when the team is constantly hemmed in their own zone, making defensive errors and just not trying.

This is the end of the audition period for every single player on the roster, whether they’re certain to make the squad or not. The practice games end tonight, so the Wild need to get their heads on straight so that they’re ready to compete by the time October 8 rolls around.

The puck drops tonight at 7pm and will be streamed live on Wild.com and FoxSportsNorth.com.

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