Gameday Thread: Wild look to stop slump against Sharks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lineup

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

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

Schultz/Falk
Zidlicky/Zanon
Spurgeon/Stoner

Harding will be between the pipes.

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

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

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

Burning Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild struggle, drop another against Flames

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

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

The Wild have absolutely no teeth on offense right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild lose again, time for a change?

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

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

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

I’ll let that sink in.

Four goals in their last six road games.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Matt Kassian needs to stay in the lineup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ballad of Dany Heatley

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

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

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

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

Well, first, you have to consider chemistry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what does that mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild break skid; down Oilers

Now that is how you end a losing streak.

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Burning Questions

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

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

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

Three Stars

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

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

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

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

Gameday Thread: Wild look to end skid against Oilers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lineup

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

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

Shultz/Falk
Zidlicky/Zanon
Scandella/Prosser

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

Burning Questions

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

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

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

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

What’s ailing the Wild?

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat. The Wild are struggling, not regressing.

With three of their top six forwards on the shelf, and their only other potential top-six player in the AHL (Casey Wellman) also out, the Wild just don’t have the offensive pop that they need and it’s showing.

Minnesota has taken Mike Yeo’s mandate to shoot the puck to heart, but they just haven’t been burying the puck.

It just shows how important Mikko Koivu is to this team. Despite all of the people that pile on the captain (and I’ve certainly been one of them), it’s become apparent that he is the catalyst for this team.

During his absence, everyone that had been playing well just hasn’t been the same.

Kyle Brodziak looks exhausted, as does Cal Clutterbuck.

Dany Heatley has looked lost without Koivu as his pivot, and Matt Cullen looks out of place on the Wild’s top line.

In fact, Pierre-Marc Bouchard might be the only player that doesn’t look unbelievably uncomfortable without Koivu in the line up.

On defense, the addition of Marek Zidlicky back onto the blue line seems to have thrown off the chemistry that they had going, and they desperately need to get that back because their defense is going to be how they win games.

I want to be clear, though. This isn’t the Wild regressing to the mean, like a lot of people are going to think. The Wild have been thrown off because of these injuries. Now, they won’t use this as an excuse (which is a testament to how good of a coach Mike Yeo is), but the fact of the matter is that they are missing three key components to their offense. Name one team that’s not the Pittsburgh Penguins that could function under those conditions?

The Wild were teetering on the edge of falling off of their hot streak because of all of their injuries, and losing Koivu pushed them over the edge.

That said, they’ve got to find ways to win and they’re just not doing it right now. It may just be a couple day break, but I think that the Christmas break will do the Wild well, and hopefully all they’ll get for Christmas is a healthy team.

Check back later today for our gameday thread.

Koivu out; Should the Wild consider trading for a forward?

For those naysayers who have been waiting for the rails to come off of the Wild’s seemingly unstoppable train over the last few weeks, you might want to watch this coming stretch of games leading into Christmas – this could well be when it happens.

With the news that Mikko Koivu is now “day-to-day,” the Wild could be facing Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders without four of their top-six forwards, and one other who has been feeling in on the second line (Casey Wellman) severely handicapped with a wrist injury that has made his shot akin to a slow pitch softball pitch. {Ed. Note: That may be a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.}

So, right now, the Wild are left with Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley in their top-six.

Thankfully, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson have been putting up pretty decent numbers on their third line, but even so the lack of Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse and Devin Setoguchi leaves the team with a significant lack of both speed and skill as they’re heading into what could be the most crucial stretch of their season.

To give you an idea of what they’re looking at, here are the lines that Mike Russo posted from their Friday practice:

Clutterbuck/Cullen/Heatley
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson
Wellman/Almond/Staubitz/Gillies
Peters/Staubitz/Gillies

Obviously, they need to call up one more forward if none of their injured list can go (and it’s pretty doubtful that any of them will).

Russo speculated that it could be Jared Palmer that gets the call if the Wild are wanting skill (who has four goals and six assists in 26 games for the Aeros this season) or Jed Ortmeyer if they want some grit (five goals, six assists in 20 games). Either of those are possibilities, though it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jeff Taffe get the nod again, as he showed some pretty good chemistry with Dany Heatley in his two-game stint. Jon DiSalvatore (8 goals, 13 assists, 27 games) or Kris Foucault (6 goals, 6 assists, 25 games with a 20.6% shooting percentage) could be potential candidates as well, if the Wild are looking for skill, but Palmer had a very good camp for the Wild and stuck around quite a while, so he might be the natural choice.

Either way, it’s very clear that the Wild need to do something to help with their injured stable of forwards.

Now, I’m not speculating on anything that I’ve heard, nor do I think this is coming anytime soon, but might a trade be coming soon if these injury problems hold up?

Consider that the Wild currently have eight healthy, NHL defensemen on their roster (along with Nate Prosser and Kris Fredheim in the AHL). That gives the Wild flexibility in their roster decisions, and if they’re looking at the potential of spending a fair amount of time without four of their top-six forwards, doesn’t it lend credence to the idea that a trade might not necessarily be in the works, but might be a good idea?

Last game, Greg Zanon was a healthy scratch for the first time in a Wild sweater. Now, I’d be much more comfortable with the idea of moving Marek Zidlicky, but either of the “Z’s” have trade value – much more than any other of our defensemen (with the exception of Nick Schultz, who I don’t think Fletcher would even consider moving).

Both Zidlicky and Zanon could make for tempting pieces of a trade (especially Zanon, who is in the final year of his contract) and I don’t think that it’s outside of the realm of reason to consider moving either of them – especially with not knowing how long Guillaume Latendresse is going to be on the shelf for.

This is, again, baseless speculation. There’s no indication that the Wild are even calling around.

But if they start to slip with their top forwards out, they very well might need to consider it.

‘Hawks down Wild in shootout

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

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

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

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

Anyway, on to the Wild game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, not so fast.

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

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

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

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

Burning Questions

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

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

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

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

Three Stars

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

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

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

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