Around the NHL: 8/9/11

We’re taking our Tuesday look around the NHL and there are a few notable stories out there, so let’s get it going!

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Sean Avery Arrested

I like to think this is how the incident with the police went down...

Sean Avery was arrested last week for battery against a peace officer and the collective opinion towards the incident seemed to be shocked, but not surprised.

Basically, what happened is that the police showed up on a noise complaint, which seemed to be resolved. They showed up again three hours later, at which point Avery shoved an officer and was subsequently arrested.

Now, this is the latest in many Sean Avery incidents, but by far one of the most bizarre.

This is really Avery’s first notable incident off ice (or, at least, away from the rink), so it’s interesting in that it’s the first time that he’s been in any notable trouble with the law. But what’s even more interesting is that is had been a while since Avery had even been in the news for his on-ice antics.

I don’t want to say that he’d been reformed, but he was keeping it under control at least.

The biggest question on people’s minds after this incident also is how does this affect his standing with the New York Rangers.

Now, I really don’t think that this is as big of a deal as people are making it out to be. Yeah, he shoved a police officer and he was arrested (as he should have been), but it’s not like he’s the first NHL player to get into legal trouble during the off season. The big hubbub over this is that, wait for it, he’s Sean Avery.

He’s got just one year left on his contract with a team that seemingly loves him in a city that he loves. I don’t think that this affects his standing with the Rangers in the least. It’s his first off-ice run in with the law and, unless the league imposes some sort of suspension

Carlyle will be behind the bench for a few more years

(which I doubt it will), I don’t see him missing any time this season because of the incident.

Ducks Extend Carlyle
It seems that Randy Carlyle will be behind the Ducks’ bench for another couple of seasons, signing an extension that will keep himwith the organization through the 2013-14 season, in a move that I really like for the organization.

He’s the coach you think of when you think of the Anaheim Ducks and that’s just how it should remain. He’s helped them go from a team that was a bit of a joke to a team that almost always enters the discussion when you start talking about Stanley Cup contention.

Now, Carlyle’s new contract doesn’t guarantee Anaheim a spot in the playoffs for the next few seasons, but it does guarantee that they’re going to be an unbelievably hard team to play against once again.

Scoreboard Watching: 3/11/11

Last night was about as bad as it could have gotten for the Wild.

Not only did they play an absolutely horrible game, losing 4-0 to the Nashville Predators, but the team they were chasing, the Phoenix Coytes, won also.

I’ll keep it short and sweet today, so here’s what today’s action looks like.

4) Chicago Blackhawks (37-24-7) – 81 pts – 14 games remaining – Idle

5) Phoenix Coyotes (35-23-11) – 81 pts – 13 games remaining – Idle

6) Calgary Flames (36-25-9) – 81 pts – 12 games remaining – Idle

7) Dallas Stars (36-23-8 ) – 80 pts – 15 games remaining – vs. Minnesota

8 ) Los Angeles Kings (37-25-5) – 79 pts – 15 games remaining – @ Columbus

9) Nashville Predators (34-24-10) – 78 pts – 14 games remaining – Idle

10) Anaheim Ducks (36-26-5) – 77 pts – 15 games remaining – @ Colorado

11) Minnesota Wild (35-26-7) – 77 pts – 14 games remaining – @ Dallas

There you have it. Jose Theodore will be in nets for Minnesota tonight in Dallas, where they haven’t won in this side of forever, in a must win for the Wild. If the Wild lose tonight and Los Angeles and Anaheim both win, we could very easily be looking at the downward spiral of the Wild’s playoff hopes.

Scoreboard Watching: 3/10/11

There’s no use sugar coating it. Last night was a rough night for the Wild’s playoff hopes.

Every single team that was in the Wild’s playoff picture that played got at least one point.

Chicago? Lost to Tampa in the shootout.

Calgary? Beat Dallas in the shootout.

Dallas? Got a loser point.

Los Angeles? Beat the Red Wings.

Anaheim? Beat the Rangers.

The good news is, though, that the Wild have the chance to make up some ground on someone tonight against Nashville. Let’s take a look, shall we?

4) Chicago Blackhawks (37-24-7) – 81 pts – 14 games remaining – Idle

5) Calgary Flames (36-24-9) – 81 pts – 13 games remaining – @ Phoenix Coyotes

6) Dallas Stars (36-23-8 ) – 80 pts – 15 games remaining – Idle

7) Los Angeles Kings (37-25-5) – 79 pts – 15 games remaining – Idle

8 ) Phoenix Coyotes (34-23-11) – 79 pts – 14 games remaining – vs. Calgary Flames

9) Minnesota Wild (35-25-7) – 77 pts – 15 games remaining – @ Nashville Predators

10) Anaheim Ducks (36-26-5) – 77 pts – 15 games remaining – Idle

11) Nashville Predators (33-24-10) – 76 pts – 15 games remaining – vs. Minnesota Wild

As you can see, there’s a lot at stake in the two games between the four teams in this playoff picture right now. In my opinion, the best case scenario tonight would be a Minnesota regulation win and a Calgary regulation win.

The Wild need to be in the playoff picture and, to do so, they need to catch Phoenix. It’s a cliché, but the Wild just need to take it one game at a time and worry about catching the team right in front of them.

Right now, according to Hockey Reference’s playoff probability report, 94 points will be the cutoff for the playoffs, so we can assume that, to be safe, the Wild will need 95. That’s 18 points in their next fifteen games. 9 wins. Will it be difficult? Sure. But it’s well within reach.

Like last night, stop back for the updated games. But, enjoy tonight’s action!

Scoreboard Watching: 3/9/11

Welcome to our newest feature on Wild Nation – Scoreboard Watching.

With the Wild in the midst of one of the tightest playoff races we’ve ever seen, we’re going to be keeping track daily of the teams that the Wild are chasing and that are chasing the Wild. Pretty simple, eh?

Let’s get started.

4) Chicago Blackhawks – (37-24-6) – 80 pts – @ Tampa Bay Lightning

1 2 3 OT

SO

F
Blackhawks 1 1 1

0

0 (0-3) 3
Lightning 2 1 0

0

1 (1-3) 4

Goal Scorers
Chicago:
Kane (16:43, 1st), Sharp (9:39, 2nd), Toews (3:30, 3rd)
Tampa Bay: Stamkos (11:07, 1st), St. Louis (19:44, 1st), Purcell (1:20, 2nd), St. Louis (SO)

Goalies
Chicago: Crawford (27-30)
Tampa Bay: Roloson (28-31)

5) Dallas Stars – (36-23-7) – 79 pts – vs. Calgary Flames

1 2 3 OT

SO

F
Flames 3 0 0

0

1 (2-3) 4
Stars 1 1 1

0

0 (1-3) 3

Goal Scorers
Calgary:
Bourque (10:26, 1st), Kostopoulos (11:28, 1st), Babchuk (13:41, 1st), Glencross (SO)
Dallas: Benn (PPG, 18:28, 1st), Ribiero (5:12, 2nd), Vincour (5:39, 3rd)

Goalies
Calgary:
Kiprusoff (31-34)
Dallas: Lehtonen (31-34)

6) Phoenix Coyotes – (34-23-11) – 79 pts – Idle

7) Calgary Flames – (35-34-9) – 79 pts – @ Dallas Stars

8 ) Los Angeles Kings – (36-25-5) – 77 pts – @ Detroit Red Wings

1 2 3 F
Kings 0 2 0 2
Red Wings 1 0 0 1

Goal Scorers
Los Angeles:
Kopitar (7:50, 2nd), Brown (14:43, 2nd)
Detroit: Helm (5:57, 1st)

Goalies
Los Angeles:
Quick (28-29)
Detroit: Howard (24-26)

9) Minnesota Wild – (35-25-7) – 77 pts – Idle

10) Nashville Predators – (33-24-10) – 76 pts – Idle

11) Anaheim Ducks – (35-26-8) – 75 pts – vs. N.Y. Rangers

1
2
3 F
Rangers 1 0 1 2
Ducks 3 0 2 5

Goal Scorers
New York:
Dubinsky (3:30, 1st), Gaborik (PPG, 5:31, 3rd)
Anaheim: Perry (7:34, 1st), Visnovsky (9:19, 1st), Visnovsky (19:19, 1st), Ryan (2:19, 3rd), Perry (14:36, 3rd)

Goalies
New York:
Lundqvist (28-33)
Anaheim: Ellis (30-32)

That’s what we have going on tonight. Check back occasionally throughout the night for your one-shop stop for the Wild’s playoff picture tonight, complete with a box score and how the outcome of the game affects the Wild.

Gameday Thread – Game 61 – Wild @ Kings

I think we’ve finally established that this team is for real. You don’t get to fifth in the playoff race, regardless of how tight that race is, without being for real.

So here’s the catch, though. The Wild now have three games coming up, including back-to-back games tonight and tomorrow, all against teams within two points of them in the standings.

Oh yeah, and they won’t have Mikko Koivu or Kyle Brodziak for at least tonight’s game.

Tonight, the Wild take on the Los Angeles Kings, tomorrow they take on the Anaheim Ducks, then Monday they’re back home for the Chicago Blackhawks.

All within two points of them in the standings.

Suffice it to say that these next three games are big. Like, King Kong big.

* * * * *

NHL.com’s Game Preview

Russo’s Brodziak Update

Wild.com Gameday

LA Kings Insider Update

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Persevere
The key to tonight’s game for the Wild is going to be perseverance. They’re down two centers, missing Kyle Brodziak and Mikko Koivu for tonight’s game. That’s two of their key penalty killers, two of their key offensive cogs and two of their key face off men.

John Madden and Matt Cullen? Prepare to get a lot of work in tonight.

Cody Almond and Jed Ortmeyer? Prepare to get a lot more work than you thought.

Basically, the Wild just have to make it through. They have to just keep on keeping on right now, because their little mini-road swing just got a heck of a lot harder.

This is a Wild team whose confidence is sky high right now and why shouldn’t it be? They’re 5-2-1 over their last eight games. They have a goaltender who is on top of his game and they’re playing some of the best hockey we’ve seen them play in quite a while.

But this latest problem is proof that something needs to give.

Lack of Depth
Brodziak’s absence has highlighted just how paper thin this roster is right now, especially up the middle.

While some teams are able to cope without their two of their top centermen, the Wild simply don’t have the organizational depth right now to do so. For all intents and purposes right now, Ortmeyer is a body. He’s a body with NHL experience, yes, but there’s no one in their right mind who thinks that he’s going to be able to replace what Brodziak brought to the table – especially over the last handful of games.

Tighten Up
So the Wild are going to need to tighten up.

It’s a tired adage of how you play a road game, but it’s effective nonetheless.

Minnesota cannot get into a track meet today. They can’t hope to have their offense beat the Kings – at least not in a wide-open, high scoring game.

Instead, they need to dig in, lock up that neutral zone and wait for their opportunity to strike. In other words, they need to ask themselves “What Would Jacques Do?”

That’s going to be the key to their success tonight. The Kings have too many offensive weapons for the Wild to go blow-for-blow with them and come out smelling like roses. The Wild, instead, needs to get down and dirty. They need to grind and grind and grind some more until the cracks in the Kings’ armor begins to show.

Then they counter-attack and capitalize on the Kings’ mistakes.

This is a difficult game, yes. But it’s also winnable if the Wild play a smart road game.

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

Wild Beat Ducks; Maybe Lose Koivu for Season

What a win that was. A costly win, but a win nonetheless.

I’m only going to focus on the game briefly, because I’m going to have another blog coming up about where the Wild is at without Mikko Koivu now, so let’s get to it.

The Wild played a terrific game last night against the Ducks, rebounding from a slow start that saw Corey Perry get a beautiful tip-in goal and turning it on to score five unanswered goals to turn away the Ducks 5-1.

Let’s see here. I don’t want to just run down the action, so here are some quick thoughts:

  • As I mentioned, the Wild will be without Koivu, who injured his hand blocking a shot in the first. Russo said that it sounds like it’s a finger injury, one bad enough that could require surgery, so it’s basically wait-and-see time for the Wild’s captain. According to Fletcher, an update won’t come until Monday at the earliest, so we can expect Mikko to be out for Sunday’s day game against Detroit at the very least.
  • How good was Kyle Brodziak last night? Brodziak was essentially filling in as the Wild’s number one center with Koivu out and played a good chunk of ice time and responded in a big way. All three of his points were on absolutely beautiful plays and Brodziak was on all night long. My personal favorite was his assist on Martin Havlat’s goal in the third period that was just a gorgeously executed touch pass back to Havlat who had fed the puck to Brodziak. I really can’t say enough good stuff about his game. He really answered the bell after being called upon to help fill the void left by Koivu’s absence.
  • I’ve really been impressed with Cam Barker lately. The last couple weeks, he’s been really engaged in the game both physically and mentally. He’s been physical, he’s been smart and he’s making the right plays at the right time and not really taking stupid penalties. Last night was more of the same and he’s making Todd Richards’ decision very hard about who to sit with Zidlicky back in the line up (though I’m guessing Spurgeon will draw the short straw for the time being.)
  • Backstrom looked back on his game again after giving up three goals on not too many shots against the Canucks. I don’t know what it is, but Backstrom seems to just have those games every once in a while and if that’s the price we have to pay to have him be as dazzling as he was last night, I’ll gladly take it.
  • You may not have noticed, but Pierre-Marc Bouchard has been really good lately. He’s doing all of the things that the Wild have expected him to do. He’s creating plays, he’s controlling the puck and he’s even shooting more often. It’s going to be a long road back before he’s as good as he was before his concussion, but he’s at least on the right track.

That’s it for the gamer. Stay tuned on the options for the Wild as they (possibly) go forward without Koivu.

In Lieu of a Gameday Thread – Some Quick Hits

No gameday thread today. I got super busy, so I’m just going to throw up a few quick hits for you.

  • Marek Zidlicky is a gametime decision and that likely means that Z will be on the ice tonight and the Wild will likely skate 7 d-men. If that’s the case, what forward to you lose? Brad Staubitz? His type of game is exactly what you need against a rough and tumble team like the Ducks. Eric Nystrom? He might be the most likely candidate behind Staubitz but, again, he’s the kind of guy you want on the ice in what is going to be a physically intense game. I get that Z wants to come back to help the team, but I’d have to say that Sunday’s game against Detroit is the better option for a player who is returning from a severe separated shoulder and hasn’t taken any game contact for quite some time. We’ll see if Z hits the ice tonight though.
  • Big, big trade news. One from a Northwest foe and a couple from the Bruins (including one Minnesota boy). First, the Northwest foe. In a swap of goalies, the Avs sent embattled goalie Craig Anderson to the Sens for Brian Elliott. On the surface, this isn’t that big of a trade, but it potentially could be huge for the Sens. Anderson is likely a goalie they were going to target in free agency if he was available and now they essentially have a 25 game audition for him, plus exclusive negotiating rights. If they like what they see in Anderson, they could push ahead their rebuild early. If they don’t, well, they’re in the same place they were with Elliott.
  • Next, Tomas Kaberle finally got dealt. Thank God. We don’t have to listen to the rumors anymore. Brian Burke sent him to the Leafs’ division rival Boston Bruins for a first in 2011, prospect Joe Colborne and a conditional pick. The Bruins also moved Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart to the Thrashers for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. Now, the Kaberle trade is quite shortsighted, but it means two things. First, Boston is content with keeping what will likely be a top-eight draft pick in Toronto’s first from this season and two, they like what they see with this team and are set on making a serious Cup push. Kaberle gives them a bona fide puck-moving defenseman that they have lacked and, quite honestly, gives them one of the better d-men in the league. They then swapped a couple of players for Peverley and Valabik and, quite honestly, made out like bandits on that one. I love Peverley’s game and he’s much more of an offensive threat than Wheeler was. Slotting him in with any of the Bruins’ top two lines makes them immediately more dangerous. Valabik and Stuart really are just a swap, but Valabik is a big guy who can play very physical hockey when he needs to.
  • Back to the Wild. How big is tonight’s game? Minnesota is just three points behind Anaheim for the sixth spot. Dallas, LA and Calgary are all idle today. Minnesota wins this one and they’re just one point out. The problem is that they’re slowly losing their games in hand, which was their biggest advantage to this point. So, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this one’s a must-win.
  • Finally, a quick plug. Be sure to check out our friends at Stadium Journey. If you’re going to a game anywhere in the NHL (or in an other league, for that matter), they’re an invaluable resource and besides, they’re good people. Check out the review that I wrote for them on the Xcel Energy Center, as well as Drew Cieszynski’s review of the Rabobank Arena, home of the Wild’s ECHL affiliate Bakersfield Condors.
  • Okay, I lied. Now finally, one more quick plug. Be sure to check in on Sunday as we’re going to be hosting a live blog/chat for the Heritage Classic with our parent site, Hockey Primetime. Join myself, J.P. Hoornstra, Denis Gorman and Justin Bourne as we babble on about hockey while the Flames and Habs go at it. We’ll have the West Coast, Midwest and East Coast covered with the correspondents, so bring your questions too and we’ll gladly opine on them!

The puck drops tonight at 7 p.m. CST and is televised on Fox Sports North.

Gameday Thread – Game 34 – Wild @ Habs

Well, well, well.  Look who’s back in Montreal. 

That’s right, Wild Nation faithful.  Guillaume Latendresse is returning to Montreal tonight to help the Wild dispatch his former team. 

While the game will likely be much more than just G-Lat versus the Montreal Canadiens, it is certainly a storyline that bears observation. 

Since arriving in Minnesota, Latendresse has been nothing short of marvelous.  He has played with a physical edge, he has shown a tireless work ethic and he has produced.  Since arriving in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, G-Lat has notched three goals and an assist in 10 games, not to mention a shootout goal against the Anaheim Ducks. 

The bottom line is that, suddenly he has had the weight of the world lifted off of his shoulders — and it shows.

But tonight the young power forward heads home again, hoping to rub some salt in the wound against his former team. 

Lineups
While I have not heard anything of yet regarding the Wild’s lineup for tonight’s game, I can’t imagine much changing for tonight’s game, though Andrew Ebbett has traveled with the team and may see action in either tonight’s or Saturday’s game.  Were I setting the lineups, though, here’s what it would look like:

Brunette-Koivu-Miettinen
Latendresse-Brodziak-Havlat
Kobasew-Belanger-Clutterbuck
Earl-Ebbett-Sheppard

This is a quick, undersized lineup that the Wild are facing tonight and it is a lineup that has a wealth of skill on it.  The biggest mistake the Wild could make, in my opinion, would be to put Derek Boogaard on the ice tonight.  Boogaard has not been able to catch a break over the last few games and, against Vancouver especially, his reputation has worked against him.  In a game that will likely be up tempo, it will be important for the Wild to put their best foot forward, so to speak.

Zidlicky-Zanon
Schultz-Johnsson
Hnidy-Stoner

There aren’t many changes here, but I’ll be honest — I want to see what Clayton Stoner can do.  He was called up just before the road trip and he’s played very, very well in Houston so far this season.  The likelihood that John Scott would play anymore than 10-12 minutes in this game is very small, so I don’t see the harm in giving Stoner a shot and getting him in his first NHL action.

Backstrom

‘Nuff said.

What to Watch For
I already mentioned the return of Latendresse to Montreal, but to me, this is one of the less intriguing storylines of the evening. 

What is more intriguing is the match up between two teams that are seemingly on opposite ends of the spectrum.  The Wild are coming off of a hard-fought win against the Columbus Blue Jackets and have lost just two games in their last 10.  The Habs, on the other hand, have struggled mightily as of late, losing four straight and just three of their last 10 games. 

The biggest thing to watch in this game will be special teams, however.  The Wild’s powerplay that started out so strong this season has faltered, with the team going zero for their last 19 opportunities with the man advantage.  Against a strong penalty killing team in the Habs, that isn’t going to be an easy stat to change.  Montreal sits at an 84% penalty kill, good for 8th in the NHL. 

The Wild is a surging team, however.  Their play has been much improved from their 3-9-0 start and they are slowly clawing their way back up the standings.  As it stands today, they are just four points from the 8th place Detroit Red Wings and three behind the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks. 

A successful road swing in Eastern Canada could go a long way towards pushing farther up the standings. 

Keys to the Game
How will G-Lat respond? 

The line of Latendresse, Brodziak and Havlat have been absolutely scintillating over the last couple games.  Havlat has six points in three games and has had a hand in six of the team’s last seven goals.  He has finally found linemates that he has chemistry with and the line is clicking. 

But, the pressure of Montreal had gotten to Latendresse before.  Will it get to him again tonight? 

I, for one, don’t think so. 

In Montreal, he was cast out to the fourth line.  His minutes cut and his confidence was shattered.  He has said himself that the fact that Richards thinks enough of him to play him consistently has helped and right now his confidence has got to be sky high. 

With a coach that trusts him enough to play him and is willing to give him every opportunity to succeed, G-Lat is starting to come into his own and is starting to apply everything that he has learned in his young career. 

The Wild also need to continue their trend of shooting, shooting and shooting some more. 

In games that they outshoot their opponents in, the Wild are 9-5-2 this season, compared to the Habs record of 8-11-2 when being outshot.  Minnesota needs to keep Carey Price busy all night long.  While Price is certainly a solid tender, he has not shown the elite level of play that he showed during his rookie season consistently and getting into his head will be paramount for the Wild’s success. 

The puck drops tonight from the Bell Centre at 6 pm CST and is televised on Fox Sports.

Gameday Thread – Game 28 – Ducks @ Wild

The good news has been few and far between this season for the Wild; however, they will try to make it four wins in a row tonight as the Anaheim Ducks roll into town for the third meeting between the two teams. 

Each team has won on their home ice thus far in the season series, with the Wild taking the first game in dramatic fashion, coming from three goals behind in the third period to win the game in overtime and the Ducks returning the favor with a 3-2 victory in Anaheim just eight days later.     

The Water Fowl are just one point behind the Wild in the Western Conference standings, but have dropped their last two games and have struggled for most of this season. 

Part of those struggles have been because of their goaltending.  The usually spectacular tandem of Jonas Hiller and Jean-Sebastian Giguere have both been putting up pedestrian numbers this season—Giguere with a .918 save percentage and a 2.61 goals-against average and Hiller with .909 and 3.09 respectively. 

The Wild, meanwhile, are riding a three game winning streak and are 4-0-1 in their last five games, with their current winning ways pulling them to a 12-12-3 record after starting the season 3-9-0. 

A large part of the Wild’s new winning ways is the fresh lease on life that new acquisitions Andrew Ebbett and Guillaume Latendresse have.  Ebbett and G-Lat were both castoffs from their prior teams and have found stability with the Wild, each playing a humungous part in the team’s five-game point streak.  On top of that, captain Mikko Koivu has five points in his last three games. 

Probable Lineup(s)
While I have no information for the Ducklings, the Wild should be rolling the same offensive lines as they did against Nashville: 

Brunette-Koivu-Miettinen
Nolan-Belanger-Kobasew
Latendresse-Brodziak-Clutterbuck
Havlat-Ebbett-Boogaard 

The fact that Martin Havlat has been shifted to the team’s fourth line speaks to just how well this team is playing right now.  If he wants to move up, he’s going to need to start showing something to the coaching staff.  His assist in Wednesday’s game is a good start, but he needs to start showing that he can be the Martin Havlat that led the Blackhawks in points despite playing second-line minutes last season before he can expect to start being shifted up the lineup again. 

On defense, the Wild will again look much the same with the exception of John Scott being shifted in for Jamie Sifers against a big, physical team of Duckies. 

Zanon-Zidlicky
Schultz-Johnsson
Hnidy-Scott 

That Zanon and Zidlicky are the team’s first defensive pairing speaks to just how well these two are playing right now.  Despite his blunder in the first period against Nashville, which led to a Jason Arnott goal, Zidlicky is playing some of the best hockey of his career right now.  He’s becoming more responsible on defense, along with being encouraged to jump up into the play on offense.  He still has one of the best shots on the Wild and is now feeling comfortable enough to be able to pinch up to use it, but still be able to maintain his defensive responsibilities. 

In nets, it looks like we’ll be seeing Niklas Backstrom again, thought it wouldn’t surprise me if the team opted for Harding as a late switch. 

What to Watch For
Keep an eye out for Corey Perry in this one.  Perry is always dangerous but should be even more so tonight as he will be looking to get back on the scoresheet after having his 19-game point streak snapped last night against Dallas. 

Despite being shutout in the game last night, Perry has 12 points in his last ten games. 

The Quackers will need Perry in this one, as they have dropped seven straight on the road and I would just like to mention that, by pointing that seemingly inane statistic out, I have just doomed the Wild to a night of failure. 

Also, keep an eye out for the Wild’s special teams—most notably, if you can spot them. 

The Wild’s powerplay started out strong this season, but with the losses of Brent Burns, Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, as well as absences from Martin Havlat and Antti Miettinen, their powerplay has fizzled as of late, dropping to 19.3%. 

The Mallards are an aggressive team and prone to taking penalties, so don’t be surprised if the Wild’s powerplay unit gets their fair share of action in tonight’s game. 

Hopefully, however, that is a good thing for the Wild. 

Keys to the Game
The Wild need to stay out of the box. 

Against a team as aggressive as the Web-Footed Birds (give me a break…I’m running out of fresh names to call the Ducks) are, it is easy to let yourself fall into the same trap and take retaliation penalties.  The Wild need to avoid this at all costs. 

More penalties means more time that the Wild can expect to see the unit of Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan and the less time they spend on the ice, the better for the Wild. 

Injuries will also play a part. 

The Ducks are missing Teemu Selanne, Kyle Calder, Joffrey Lupul and Ryan Carter, while the Wild are still missing Burns, Bouchard and Sykora. 

My Predictions
And now I’ll make a few predictions destined to be very, very far from the mark. 

First, the Wild will continue their win streak with a 4-3 victory (strike number two against the team in this blog alone). 

Second, the newcomers will continue their strong play.  Both Latendresse and Ebbett have provided some much needed scoring punch to the lineup and will continue to do so. 

Third, Martin Havlat will start getting back on track.  I know this one might be a stretch but, come on…The guy’s due.

There you have it, folks.  My extremely unscientific and possibly biased view of tonight’s game. 

The puck drops at the X tonight at 7 pm CST.

Wild Newcomers Are Starting to Pay Dividends

Right now, it’s looking like Chuck Fletcher might deserve to be locked away for robbery. 

Why, you ask? 

Because, at this point, that’s what his additions of Chuck Kobasew, Guillaume Latendresse and Andrew Ebbett look like. 

Okay.  So maybe I’m going a touch strong on the hyperbole, but you can’t deny that the Wild’s newcomers have given the team quite the boost in the last few games. 

Chuck Kobasew? 

Well, the man with an uncanny resemblance to Brad Pitt got off to a slow start for the Wild with just a goal and two assists in his first nine games, not to mention a minus-2 rating.  Since returning from his injury, however, Kobasew has three goals, all of which came as a hat-trick in the Wild’s post-turkey day feast against the Colorado Avalanche, a minus-1 rating and 15 shots.  15 shots in just four games, from a checker? 

That sounds like someone who’s making a difference to me. 

Then you’ve got G-Lat.  Dubbed as such by Wild.com scribe Glen Andresen, I’ve decided to adopt the nickname for my own purposes because, quite honestly, just thinking about typing his name gives me carpal tunnel syndrome. 

G-Lat was cast off from Montreal after tallying two goals and an assist in 23 games, including a minus-4 rating.  For Minnesota?  He’s equaled that output in just three games, with a plus-1 rating. 

Not only that, but G-Lat has seemingly transformed from a lazy, uninspired shadow of a power forward to the energetic, physical mountain of a man that he was billed as coming into Montreal his rookie season.  Not only that, but somewhere on the road between here and Montreal, he learned how to play defense. 

And then there’s Andrew Ebbett.  Mighty Mouse himself. 

Proving that it is indeed possible to be smaller than Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Ebbett has provided an instant offensive spark to whatever line he’s been put on.  

In his first game for the Wild, against Boston?  Game-tying goal. 

In the second of back-to-back games against Colorado?  Game-winning shootout goal. 

In Wednesday’s game against Nashville?  Game-winning overtime goal. 

Now that’s what I call coming through in the clutch. 

Now I know what a lot of you are thinking.  

For Kobasew, it was likely an aberration, right? 

But consider that he has scored 20+ goals in three of the last four seasons.  You simply just don’t forget how to score just because you come to a new team.  He is capable of putting up goals—it’s just a matter of finding players that he meshes with. 

For G-Lat, he’s just trying to impress his new team. 

Maybe.  I’m still going to hold my judgment on this one until his body of work is a little bigger.  But honestly, everyone knew that he had talent.  Everyone knew that he was capable of being a solid player in this league. 

Consider his circumstances in Montreal.  A Quebecois player, playing in Montreal?  It takes a special kind of good to be able to withstand the pressure that comes with that.  It takes a Maurice Richard-type of talent to be able to withstand that and, no matter how good G-Lat might be for Minnesota, no one will ever mistake him for The Rocket. 

So maybe, just maybe he’s playing this way because the pressure is no longer on.  His every move isn’t going to be critiqued in Minnesota (just every other move).  Maybe, now that he’s free of the expectations that come along with a French-Canadian player in Montreal, he’ll emerge into the player he is capable of being. 

But again, I’m going to hold my judgment until he has a larger body of work. 

As for Ebbett? 

Honestly, I can’t find any reason why anyone should be weary of his performance.  Despite his size, the man has put up points at every single level.  His last season at the University of Michigan?  14 goals, 42 points in 41 games.  His last full season in the AHL?  18 goals, 72 poitns in 74 games.  His first season with the Ducks?  8 goals, 32 points in 48 games. 

He’s capable of scoring and, honestly, has seemed to be a cap casualty in both Anaheim and Chicago this season.  But if he keeps playing this way, there’s no way he’s going to be one in Minnesota. 

But to be honest, the biggest contribution that these players have brought to the team isn’t necessarily on the ice. 

Yes, they’re helping the Wild win games.  But what their additions have done is juiced the locker room, so to speak. 

The Wild are 4-0-1 in their last five games and are playing their best hockey of the season.  The energy that is flowing through this locker room right now is absolutely amazing. 

The additions do two things. 

First, it shows players in the locker room that they need to perform, otherwise they might be on their way out. 

I can tell you that I was quite surprised when I pulled up TSN’s website and saw the article saying that Pouliot had been shipped off to Montreal. 

Pouliot was playing the best hockey of his career and was starting to show signs of improvement on the ice.  But it wasn’t enough for Fletcher.  He saw an opportunity and took it and now Benny Pooh is a Canadien. 

Second, it forces players to actually earn their jobs. 

In Wednesday’s game, James Sheppard was scratched and not necessarily because of his play.  Sheppard has been a force in the last couple games since he’s been slid over to the wing, but the Wild simply do not have the room for him in their lineup—especially not if they feel that it is necessary to skate Derek Boogaard. 

The Wild have a full roster right now, and still have Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard on the IR.  When those two players get healthy, who knows what’s going to happen. 

Players are certainly going to have to start earning their keep. 

Players like Sheppard and Boogaard, whose spots on the roster were once assured?  They might not be any more.  Or players like Martin Havlat who have been under-performing?  They might not be assured a spot in the lineup on a nightly basis anymore. 

The bottom line is that Chuck Fletcher is putting his stamp on this team and it’s already starting to pay dividends.  As it stands now, not only are the Wild out of the cellar in the division and the conference—they’re just six points back from the seventh seed in the playoffs. 

What this has done is sent a shot across the bow of all of the Nervous Nellies in the State of Hockey.  It’s sent a message to all of the fans deriding Fletcher, claiming that he hasn’t done a good enough job of setting the team up for success. 

It’s told them one thing: Patience is a virtue.

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