So, What Now? Potential Wild Line Pairings

So, now that the Wild have landed the “big fish,” (not to mention a couple other parts), it stands to reason that they’re probably going to be pretty quiet for the rest of the off season (barring trades, but we won’t speculate on that). What we will speculate on, however, is how the Wild will line up when the puck drops next season. So let’s take a look, shall we?

Forwards (12)

Zach Parise, Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Kyle Brodziak, Torrey Mitchell, Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, Zenon Konopka, Matt Kassian

Roster Hopefuls: Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Brett Bulmer, Charlie Coyle, Stephane Veilleux, Jake Dowell

Defense (7)

Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon, Justin Falk

Roster Hopefuls: Jonas Brodin, Tyler Cuma, Steve Kampfer, Chay Genoway, Matt Dumba

So, looking at the roster, here are my thoughts:

Forwards

The Wild are pretty stocked at forward, which will make it pretty difficult for the young up-and-comers to make an impact right away. Of the 12 forwards already under contract, it would be a big surprise to me to see any of the Wild’s youngsters make the opening day roster if they’re not going to play big minutes. That’s no longer the way of the Wild. Instead, look for those that don’t make the opening day squad go down to Houston to play big minutes down there.

On the surface, the signing of Konopka means that Kassian is now a spare part, which is unbelievably disappointing, as he certainly quickly became a fan favorite. He’ll likely be a healthy scratch for a good chunk of the games if he’s on the opening day squad, with Mikael Granlund likely getting the nod over him.

That would mean that, more than likely, Granlund would find himself in the top-six when the season starts, with lines looking something like this:

Parise/Koivu/Heatley
Bouchard/Granlund/Setoguchi
Cullen/Brodziak/Clutterbuck
Mitchell/Konopka/Powe

Now, these are obviously very tentative groups. While I think the Wild are done in free agency, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see them take a shot at making a trade to try to free up some roster spots. Like I said, though, I won’t speculate as to who right now.

Defense

The defense is where it gets kind of dicey. The Wild now have seven defensemen, all capable of playing a regular shift, and a few on the fence that will be looking to prove that they’re ready to.

With Suter, though, it would seem that the Wild’s top-seven are pretty much set. I could see them carrying an eighth if they find a veteran capable of filling that role but, as it stands now, I would expect that the two that would be swapping time the most would be Clayton Stoner and Justin Falk, as they play similar games. Here is what I would expect the d-pairings to look like next season, barring any more moves:

Suter/Gilbert
Scandella/Spurgeon
Prosser/Falk/Stoner

It wouldn’t surprise me, however, to see Spurgeon playing regular shifts with the third pairing and have Prosser bump up to play with Scandella, just because of the fact that Spurgeon will be playing regular power play shifts. Scandella has been, however, his typical partner, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

In Which Free Agency Frenzy Begins

Christmas in July is officially upon us. The Wild are expected to be unbelievably busy this off season, going for their home run (Parise and/or Suter) and also filling out their depth.

Some deals have already gone down, which I’ll talk about in a bit, but I want to first address something that happened this morning that has drawn the Wild a bit of ridicule.

The Minnesota Wild reported on their Twitter account that they put in offers on both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. This immediately led to the typical outcry on Twitter of people both lauding the move and ridiculing it but, in my mind, this is a brilliant move by the Wild.

Why, you may ask?

The Wild don’t have much to pitch both Suter and Parise. They’ve missed the playoffs for the past few seasons, they’ve been stuck in a rebuild for, seemingly, that entire time and they’ve got some gaping holes in their organization because of the draft mismanagement of the previous managerial regime. They’ve got a dearth of youngsters that are coming in that they’re hoping will work out, but there’s nothing concrete. So they can pitch the players on the perspective of future success. But what else do they have?

The fans.

The Wild’s fans are some of the most knowledgeable and passionate of any franchise in the NHL. Even when attendance is waning during the team’s down years, the building is still packed. The Wild’s players are revered around the Twin Cities and that’s exactly why the Wild’s decision to offer up the information that they put in offers to both is a great idea.

Why?

All they have to do is point to Twitter to show the players the reactions of the fans. Could they pitch it without? Absolutely. Both Suter and Parise have played at the Xcel Energy Center. They’ve experienced the Wild’s fans firsthand. Both also played in the WCHA and have experienced the phenomenon that is hockey in Minnesota. But now they can point to Twitter and say, “See? This is the response you’re getting. This is what you will mean to this franchise.”

We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the gambit works out, but if it does, it could be the home run that the Wild desperately needs.

Wild Desperate for Free Agency Home Run

As I just mentioned, the Wild needs a home run in free agency.

Last season, they needed a home run with a coach and took a flyer on Mike Yeo, who proved to be exactly the coach that the team needed.

A few seasons prior, the Wild also needed a home run in free agency, and they got what appeared to be that with Matt Cullen, Martin Havlat and Greg Zanon.

Now they’re in a similar situation and there’s nothing to indicate that they might not be hitting a similar home run this season.

Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher has come through in the clutch for the franchise when he’s needed to. He moved Brent Burns (who, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be on the way out in Minnesota anyway) and Havlat for some big pieces last season. He brought in Guillaume Latendresse who, despite having moved on from Minnesota, became a quick fan favorite.

Will Fletch hit a homerun today, though? I doubt it.

This isn’t to say that he’s not going to, but on July 1? With the amount of offers that these players are likely receiving, I highly doubt that a decision will be made today unless there’s one obvious choice.

At the end of the day, Parise and/or Suter may very well end up in Minnesota, but it could lead to a restless night for Wild fans, as the likelihood it is settled today looks slim.

Wild Sign a Pair

So far in free agency, the Wild have already made a couple of moves, signing forwards Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell to contracts.

First, let’s look at Konopka. He adds toughness to a Minnesota team that already has Darroll Powe,Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Kassian up front. With Konopka, who signed for two-years and a $925K AAV over that time, that is a scary line up of hitters.

He’s not going to score a ton of goals, and the Wild don’t expect him to. He’s going to protect the Wild’s best players, along with Kassian (who was signed earlier in the week to a one-way deal).

On the surface, Konopka seems to be a solid fit for the team’s fourth line and will provide the Wild that toughness that they wanted.

Next, let’s take a look at Torrey Mitchell.

Mitchell is fast, he’s physical and he can chip in a bit offensively – something that seems to be becoming the “mold” for the Wild’s third-line forwards.

Signed for three years and a total of $1.9M, Mitchell will be a solid fit on the third line with the likes of Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak – again, a line that I wouldn’t willingly drop my head against if I’m the Wild’s opponents.

Keep it tuned here, as we’ll be back with updates periodically, but that’s all for now.

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.

UPDATED: Wild demote two, recall four

You know that something that I keep saying has to give?

Well, the Wild have sent down Casey Wellman and David McIntyre to the AHL, per Kent Youngblood via Twitter.

So, basically, something’s changing whether it’s someone coming in from the outside or someone coming up from Houston and, while someone coming up from the AHL might not necessarily be as noteworthy as someone coming in from elsewhere, a change is a change and the Wild are certainly a team in desperate need of just that right now.

After storming out of the gates, Wellman has looked lost the last few games and McIntyre, while he’s had good moments, has really looked like an AHLer playing against NHLers.

So, is this a precursor to a bigger move?

I’d like to think so but, truthfully, it’s hard to tell until something has happened. Keep it here and we’ll have updates for you as the situation warrants.

UPDATE: Per Kent Youngblood, Matt Kassian, Jed Ortmeyer, Chad Rau and Nate Prosser are all on their way up from Houston.

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).

Gameday Thread: Koivu nominated to first ASG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here are the lineups:

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

Schultz/Falk
Zanon/Zidlicky
Stoner/Spurgeon

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

Burning Questions

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

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

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

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

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

Wild down Sharks in a shootout

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

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

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

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

In other words, showing a little passion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts

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

Burning Questions

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

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

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

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

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

3 Stars

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

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

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

Gameday Thread: Wild look to stop slump against Sharks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lineup

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

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

Schultz/Falk
Zidlicky/Zanon
Spurgeon/Stoner

Harding will be between the pipes.

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

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

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

Burning Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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