Catching Up – Trade Deadline, Blackhawks, Isles, Gillies and Rangers

Sorry about the lack of blogs over the last few days, but it’s been super crazy in Casa de Benzel. Anywho, a lot has gone on over the past few days for the Wild, so here’s three blogs shoved together into one gigantic mish mash of ideas bouncing around in my head.

The Trade Deadline
This has been beaten to death already, so I’m not going to dwell on it too long, but here’s my take on the Wild’s deadline.

First, was I disappointed that the team didn’t make a move for someone like Weiss or Penner? Yeah. I’m not going to lie, I was very disappointed.

BUT

I can totally understand why no move was made.

The asking prices at the deadline are starting to border on ridiculous. I mean, seriously. Is Dustin Penner really worth a top prospect and two picks? We’re talking about a guy who has scored more than 50 points once in his career.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

I’d rather see the Wild roll with what they’ve got than mortgage the farm to get a mediocre player (which is exactly what the Kings did).

If the Wild had a wealth of prospects in their system, maybe – but the fact remains that they don’t.

That’s the key to becoming a team that’s consistently good like the Red Wings. You build from within. Is it frustrating this season? Absolutely. We were one terrific scorer away from being a huge force.

But look at next season. You want offense? We’ve got Mikael Granlund coming in next season, not to mention Mikko Lehtonen, who has already expressed interest in coming over to play.

We’re starting to build from within, which is exactly why doing nothing of note at the trade deadline was a smart move from an organizational stand point. Besides, every single person that was complaining about the Wild doing nothing – I guarantee that each one of those people would be complaining if the Wild overpaid for a player like Penner also.

Blackhawks @ Wild
There’s not really much to say about this game that hasn’t already been said.

There was the obvious letdown from the Wild not doing anything at the deadline, but that doesn’t excuse the Wild’s lack of effort. They were just flat, flat, flat until Martin Havlat broke through in the third.

And then their power play came out and shot them in the foot (something that has been a growing trend in the past few weeks).

Looking at the game, the Wild were outmatched from the get-go, especially in their own zone. The ‘Hawks are a team that the Wild have a hard time hanging with when Minnesota is on but, when they’re not, it’s downright brutal.

The worst part was their last power play. You had the idea that something was going to go wrong as soon as the Wild drew that penalty. Their PP had been brutal all night long and their final PP was no different. They actually had some good looks on their final power play, but a brain fart by Pierre-Marc Bouchard that saw him sprawl out to try to keep the puck in the zone saw this one lead to the back breaking goal.

They just lacked jump in this one and, in a game where they were severely out-skilled, they needed that jump to have a shot.

Wild @ Islanders
This one was just abso-freaking-lutely brutal.

I mean, from top to bottom brutal.

No effort, no cohesion, no goaltending – nothing. There’s not much to say other than that.

Backstrom was awful, so was Brodziak and most of the Wild’s defense. But that’s not what’s being talked about. What’s being talked about is…

Trevor Gillies Hit
The game back after a nine-game suspension and Trevor Gillies goes out and does this.

You’ve all seen the hit by now, so I won’t belabor the point by embedding it, but I’m having a hard time with this simply because I find myself in agreement with Mike Milbury.

Trevor Gillies has absolutely no place being in this league. The guy is a glorified door man. How many times has he played more than six minutes this season?

Twice.

How many times has he played less than two?

15, including one game where he played nine seconds. Nine.

You can’t tell me this guy is on the team for any other reason than to hurt people, and that is absolutely despicable.

You can debate the two hits all you want. Sure, Clutterbuck’s hit was an illegal hit, but it wasn’t a suspendable hit, or even a hit that deserved a major. Gillies, on the other hand, came in elbow up and sandwiched Clutterbuck’s head between his elbow and the glass.

Should Clutterbuck have pulled up and maybe not finished his check for once? Probably. But that certainly doesn’t excuse what Gillies did. Especially not in the case of a guy who had just missed nine games for head hunting.

Yes, Clutterbuck runs around. Yes, some of his hits might even border on being a touch late. But the difference is that Clutterbuck has respect for the people that he’s hitting. Rarely will you see him lay a dirty hit on a player like he did in this instance, and even rarer will you see a player not get up because of one of his hits. He might be a nuisance to other teams, he might run around and yap, his hits might be a bit late occasionally, but he does not hit dirty, contrary to what many may think. He just hits hard.

There is absolutely no defense or excuse for what Gillies did. The guy is 6’3”, 227 and he is leaving his feet to check a guy that’s 5’11”, 213. Gillies has four inches and 16 pounds on Clutterbuck. He doesn’t need to leave his feet to lay a good, solid check on him. Yet he did. He left his feet, he raised his elbows and he targeted Clutterbuck’s head. Don’t give me any of this “no intent to injure” business. That’s about as large of an intent to injure as you can get.

Now, if he weren’t just coming off of a nine-game suspenson for doing the exact same thing, I’d say he should get maybe two or three games. But his nine-game suspension obviously didn’t take the first time around.

Maybe a 15-game suspension will.

Wild @ Rangers
Now that I’m off my soap box, here’s some quick thoughts on last night’s game against the Rags.

I only caught the first period live, the rest I had to catch on DVR, and I won’t lie; I was considering skipping the rest of the game after catching the first.

They looked awful. And by awful, I mean just as bad as they did against the Isles. They couldn’t get anything going, their legs weren’t there, they had no jump in our steps. They just looked plain bad.

But something happened between the first and second periods. Something must have been said by someone, whether it was one of the team’s elder statesmen or the coaching staff, I don’t know. But someone said something that lit a fire under the team.

Sure, they got outshot 17 to 8 and 16 to 8 in the second and third periods respectively, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The effort was there again. They were driving to the net, they were getting to the hard areas on the ice and they were creating chances and, once again, they proved you don’t need to take 40 shots to score three goals.

Heck, they didn’t even need 20.

The line of Brodziak, Havlat and Bouchard had a nice game and rebounded well from their stinker of a performance on Wednesday. The line combined for two goals and five points and, to be honest, I think we have our top line right there. Sure, Brodziak isn’t a top flight center, but he’s the type of center that I think players like Bouchard and Havlat need. Neither Butch nor Havlat are the most physical players on the planet, so they need a grinder on their line to help do the dirty work and that’s exactly what Brodziak excels at. (Incidentally, with this team playing so well, I’d almost say move Mittens off of the Koivu line when G-Lat comes back – give Bruno and Koivu a guy who can actually bury the puck on their line.)

Casey Wellman was great. He was exactly what the Wild needed. His speed created a lot of chances and he was in the right place at the right time for his beautiful goal to make it 2-1. He played just nine minutes, but he made an impact in those nine minutes.

Brent Burns and Nick Schultz were great on the blue line, as was Clayton Stoner. I continue to be impressed by the way the defense has turned around this season after their horrid performance last season. Sure, the Rangers got 40 shots, but the defense did a great job of clearing the shooting lanes so that Theodore could see the puck and clearing away any rebounds.

Speaking of Theodore, he really stole this game. It could have easily been 5-3 or 6-3 in a hurry, but because of Theo the Wild snuck out of that first period with just one goal against and regrouped in a big way. I love Backstrom, but I’d have a hard time going away from Theo after this one. If I’m Richards (and there’s likely a very good reason why I’m not him or in his position), I’d start Theo on Sunday against the Sabres. He’s the hot hand and, if nothing else, it could give Backs some motivation to go out and improve in his next outing.

That’s all I’ve got for this one. Because of the Sunday game, likely no game preview but I should have a gamer up.

Laterz!

Injury-Riddled Wild Can’t Solve Kings

Well, this is becoming quite the theme. The Wild played hard, but they just didn’t have the offense to get it done.

I’m going to keep this brief, because I’m working on our trade deadline primer that should be up sometime this evening or tomorrow morning, but this was a game that the effort was there for the Wild, but you can’t honestly say that they deserved better.

The Kings wanted it more. Plain and simple.

They forechecked harder, they played smarter, they simply did everything better than Minnesota, right down to hitting the net when they had the opportunity.

Last night, the Wild’s offense was downright putrid at times. They couldn’t get anything going and a large part of that was due to our line combinations.

Before I start on this, I’m not blaming Todd Richards in any way, shape or form for this (a shocker, I know). Quite simply, the discombobulated lines were not his fault. It’s the fact that our top two centers are out right now. The distinct lack of chemistry between Matt Cullen and Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen was painfully apparent last night, with that line getting a grand total of four shots on goal. That’s half of what Martin Havlat had on his own.

Meanwhile, John Madden fit in well with Havlat and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, but it was painfully obvious that he was not comfortable playing in an offensive capacity as opposed to a shut down role. Madden was, in a lot of cases, either out of position for what Havlat and Bouchard were doing or simply not expecting it. He battled, he fought hard, but he just wasn’t able to keep up offensively with either of Havlat or Bouchard and the line struggled for it.

It’s a distinct problem when the players through the first half of the game that were most noticeable offensively were Eric Nystrom and Cody Almond, but that was the case for most of the first thirty minutes.

That’s not a recipe for success and that, again, shows that we need to find some sort of depth at the center position.

The good news is that Brodziak will likely be back in the line up on Monday against the ‘Hawks. The bad news, though, is that the team is going to have to do without him for tonight’s game against Anaheim, so expect a type of game similar to what we saw last night.

But that’s enough of the negatives. Let’s look at some of the positives quickly.

Niklas Backstrom, again, was great. Despite giving up three goals, he kept the Wild in the game with some big saves and, were their offense clicking, could have gotten a win or at least a point out of the game.

Brent Burns was great last night, playing physical and he was in on the rush as much as any forward was. For a team that’s struggling offensively, the Wild need Burnsie to step up into the play as much as he can and it looks like that’s exactly what he’s being told by the coaching staff. If he can keep providing some offense from the blue line, it’s going to lighten the load for our beleaguered forward unit right now.

Nystrom also continues to be really good for the Wild. He seems to be playing with more confidence now that he’s finally broken through in the goal column and it’s showing in his game. He’s creating offensive chances now on the team’s checking line.

What else?

The Wild are now sixth in the West, dropping a spot behind L.A. after the loss, and are tied with four other teams at 70 points, and I wouldn’t look at that logjam being alleviated any time soon. This is going to be a race to the playoffs that takes years off of a coach’s life. It’s been hard for any team to gain any sort of separation over the other and it’s going to continue to be hard.

For example, tonight both Calgary and Minnesota are in action. L.A. moved up to sole ownership of fifth with 72 points, but if Calgary and Minnesota both win, there could be a three-way tie with 72 points and a three-way tie with 70 points. Conversely, if both teams lose, there will be six teams tied at 70 points.

The league wanted parity, and this is parity at its best.

There won’t be any gameday preview today, but the puck drops tonight at 9 p.m. and will be on Fox Sports North.

Enjoy your Friday and, if anything happens before tonight’s game we’ll be sure to let you know!

Wild Lose Koivu; Replacement Comes With No Easy Answers

Well, here we are. The one player that the Wild couldn’t afford to lose and they’ve gone ahead and lost him.

From what I understand, Minnesota’s captain was hit in the hand while blocking a shot in last night’s 5-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks and injured his finger – bad. Like might need surgery bad.

I won’t lie, this is a catastrophe for the Wild. Not only was Koivu their captain, their heart and soul leader in the locker room, but he’s also the number one center on a team without a solid number two.

Maybe, in the best case scenario, Matt Cullen or Pierre-Marc Bouchard could step up and fill the void, but would they be able to bring to the first line what Koivu could? They’re the best internal scenarios, and even then they’re not the greatest options.

I may be preaching to the choir here, but the Wild now need to make a trade before the deadline if Koivu is going to be out for an extended period of time.

But who do they go after? The West is so freaking tight right now, who could the Wild realistically make a trade with?

They could maybe target Koivu the other or Todd Marchant from Anaheim, but Anaheim is just one point ahead of the Wild in the standings. Do you think they’re going to help Minnesota out?

The same goes for Calgary, L.A. and Dallas. All teams that the Wild are chasing in the standings. Even San Jose and Nashville probably aren’t realistic possibilities. Neither are Phoenix, Vancouver or Detroit.

If the bottom falls out on Chicago or Columbus, they might consider a trade, same goes with St. Louis. The most likely options are Colorado or Edmonton, but there aren’t really any players on either team that would fit the bill that wouldn’t be part of the team’s rebuilding efforts.

The bottom line is, if the Wild want to make a move anywhere it’s going to be in the East.

But who?

Buffalo? Maybe Tim Connolly fits the bill, but with the Sabres making a playoff push there’s a good chance they’ll want Connolly to be at the center of that.

Florida? Stephen Weiss would be a good move for the Wild, but he hasn’t shown any indication that he wants out of Florida and he has a NMC.

Toronto? They could maybe get Mikhail Grabovski, but I doubt he’ll come cheap. Same with Clarke MacArthur.

The bottom line is that the Wild are going to need to pony up something good in order to get something good. They may even need to overpay. Likely a roster player, a prospect and/or a pick. But who do they move?

Andrew Brunette? Not likely. While he might have the most value, there’s no way that he’s going to be moved. He’s too valuable to the team.

John Madden? He’s got experience and he could be valuable to a team making a playoff push, meaning he’s likely going to be too valuable for the Wild to give up.

There’s been rumblings of Martin Havlat being moved, but that’s just not going to happen. NMC not withstanding, Havlat is the Wild’s biggest offensive threat. He won’t go anywhere.

No, the best players the Wild have to be moved that they’ll consider moving at this point are likely Cam Barker and Antti Miettinen. While both have value to the team at this point, both are essentially replaceable.

Basically, the pickings are slim and the players we would be able to give up are even slimmer, but the Wild need to make some sort of move in order to keep up with the Western Conference.

Minnesota’s Lack of Scoring Cause for Concern

I apologize for no gamer from last night’s game, but I did some thinking about it and decided that this was the route to go instead.

Hockey Wilderness posted something a couple days ago about whether or not the Wild are the real deal. This was before the Wild’s two “shoulda, coulda, woulda” losses.

Before these two losses, I was definitely on the side of the fence that was saying that the Wild are the real deal. They were on a tear. They were scoring, they were playing great defense and they were receiving great goaltending. Plain and simple, they looked like the real deal.

But these two losses really pinpointed the team’s biggest weakness – the weakness that was supposed to become their strength under Todd Richards; their offense.

The Wild simply don’t have the goal scorers to compete on a nightly basis. Sure, they’ll have a player that gets hot every now and again. Lately it’s been Cal Clutterbuck. But the team’s scoring is extremely balanced – mostly by necessity.

Without Guillaume Latendresse, the Wild really don’t have a bona fide finisher.

Think about it. They have a lot of players that can finish, but none that are willing to tailor their game to make that their purpose.

Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard. These are all players that have the potential to be 30-plus goal scorers if they put their minds to it. Instead, they are all playmakers by design. They distribute rather than finish. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not riding any of these four players. They’re four of the most offensively gifted players on the squad.

But…

When you have four extremely talented playmakers like this, you’ve got to have someone for them to get the puck to. Right now, do they have anyone that fits that bill? I’d say they don’t.

Antti Miettinen? He works hard, he can chip in goals here and there, but he guy isn’t a first line player. He’s a checker that has some offensive upside. He’s the guy who you could be happy to chip in 15-20 goals in a season, not the guy to shoulder the load.

Cal Clutterbuck? He’s the same as Miettinen. He’s a great player, he’s a great checker and penalty killer, but the fact that he’s leading the team in goals is a huge problem for the Wild.

Mikko Koivu? He could most certainly fit the bill, but he’s unwilling to sacrifice anything from the defensive end to add to the offensive end of the ice. He’s a great player and a great leader and his game is to be that two-way forward, much like Mike Richards.

The only player that the Wild have currently that is, or could be considered, a bona fide goal scorer is Guillaume Latendresse, whom I would be very surprised to see back in the line up any time soon, let alone as effective as he was last season or even at the beginning of this season.

So Minnesota needs to go out and do something, anything to get some sort of scoring pop because it’s getting to the point of the season where all of the excuses in the world don’t matter anymore.

The whole “we deserved better” speech is getting old. The bottom line is, despite all of the Wild’s efforts over the last two games, they didn’t deserve better because they can’t put the puck in the net.

The Wild outshot the Blackhawks 17-10 in the first period on Wednesday, yet had a 1-0 deficit to show for it and just a period before that outshot the Canucks 13-1 with nothing to show for it but an empty net goal by Vancouver.

The bottom line is all of the hard work in the world isn’t going to mean a thing if, at the end of the day, the Wild aren’t able to convert on the opportunities that they’re creating with it and that is a problem the team is most certainly going to have to address.

Wild Down Blues 3-1

Like I said yesterday, can you imagine if these two teams got together in a playoff series?

Three fights, including one bloody one where Clayton Stoner established himself as one tough hombre, taking down the infamous David Backes at the end of the game, a butt load of hits and some pretty nice goals to boot were the story in this one as the Wild skated away with a 3-1 victory, looking very, very impressive in the process.

Minnesota has won nine of their last 11 games, 13 games since Jan. 2 and has outscored their opponents 34-18 during that time. If you’re not starting to get at least a little excited about the way this team is playing lately, you don’t have a pulse.

Tonight, Minnesota came out and dominated the game in every facet with the exception of maybe five or six minutes in the second period, and even then they weathered the storm quite well.

Cal Clutterbuck opened up the scoring in the first period with a change up that snuck through Jaroslav Halak’s five hole just as the Wild’s power play was expiring. Next up was Antti Miettinen in the second, flipping the puck past Halak on the power play off of a beautiful pass from Andrew Brunette. Next was Brodziak on a four-on-four that was the last shot that Halak faced on the night. Finally, Patrik Berglund scored a beautiful goal on the power play for the Blues to round out the scoring.

The Wild truly were dominant in this one and, in a playoff atmosphere, they were something to behold. With Vancouver coming up on Tuesday, they’ve got a great deal of momentum and look like they’ve finally figured this out.

Here are some of my thoughts from tonight’s game:

  • Cal Clutterbuck had probably one of his best games of the year. He threw his body around (as always) and was a force in every zone and he continues to grow offensively. His hits were the most impressive thing about his game, however. He threw his body around tonight like I haven’t seen from him in a long time. It left even T.J. Oshie impressed after an especially thunderous hit in the corner that even left Oshie commenting on how much the hit hurt on the bench, if you could read his lips that is.
  • Clayton Stoner and Greg Zanon continue to be one of the better defensive pairings the Wild has had in quite some time. The two compliment each other surprisingly well and Zanon’s experience has really started to rub off on young Mr. Stoner. Stoner was physical, he was smart with the puck and he even made some plays offensively as well. If he keeps going this way, he and Jared Spurgeon are going to make Fletcher make some hard decisions here over the next few months.
  • Koivu was probably about as dominant as he could be without scoring a single point. He controlled the puck and forechecked like a mad man and, again, was physical. There’s a reason this guy is the captain of the team and games like this just prove it even more.
  • If the Wild make the post season, it’s going to be on Niklas Backstrom’s back. Regardless of how good this team is playing, Backstrom is the end-all be-all in terms of whether or not they win and he’s on one of the more dominating stretches I’ve ever seen him be on, let alone a Wild goalie. Since returning from injury, Backs has given up just ten goals in his last seven games, including two shutouts. He’s got to be the man if the Wild want the make the playoffs and he was just that again tonight.

Minnesota Downs St. Louis in Shootout

I just can’t help it. I just can’t help shaking this feeling that we’re witness to something special right now.

Tonight, the Wild won yet another game that they really had no place winning. They never had a lead, up until the fourth round of the shootout, but they just didn’t give up – something that is a trait the team is going to need going forward.

Where to start with this one. Other than Jose Theodore not looking his best (especially in the shootout – I’ve got some opinions on that one, but they’re a bit too strong to share on this forum), the Wild looked good once again. Once again, Martin Havlat looked good. Brent Burns was solid, Brodziak is looking better and better (I can’t imagine what he’s going to look like when he gets someone on his line that can actually bury the puck) and Andrew Brunette continues to look like he could be the team MVP. Oh yeah, and Cal Clutterbuck continues to score.

Here are some of my thoughts on the game:

  • Pierre-Marc Bouchard keeps looking better and better. He didn’t make it on the score sheet tonight, but he’s looking more comfortable out on the ice with and without the puck. It might not be this season, but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that next season he’s going to take off.
  • Brodziak has three points in his last four games. Seriously, can you imagine what he would be doing if he had players on his line that could score? Don’t give me any answers about Havlat leading the team in goals either. If Guillaume Latendresse can come back with anywhere close to the form he showed at the beginning of the season, the Wild might have a 1A and 1B situation with their top two lines.
  • Jose Theodore continues to drive me absolutely insane between the pipes. There are times he looks really dialed in and there are times when he looks absolutely listless and these times can come within ten seconds of one another. I understand that Richards thinks that the Wild need two goalies playing in order to succeed and, in some regards, that’s correct. But the Wild won’t be able to go far at all if they have to keep playing games like this, which is why they need to roll with Backstrom as much as possible.
  • I loved the Wild’s tenacity tonight. Four times they fell behind tonight and all but the final time they tied the game back up in less than six minutes. This isn’t the old Wild team that would fall behind and pack it in. This is a team that is confident in itself – confident enough that they re-double their efforts after falling behind.
  • Tomorrow night’s game is just going to be flat out nasty. 29 hits to 26 in favor of Minnesota tonight and neither team is going to have the time to forget this tilt. I wouldn’t go so far as to predict 350 penalty minutes, but it could be an exciting one to watch.

That’s all for this one, but check back tomorrow for our thoughts on tomorrow night’s game.

Wild Down L.A. 1-0 in Shootout

Wow. What a game.

First and foremost, how great was Backstrom tonight? He literally saved the game at least five times that I counted, and that wasn’t counting his absolutely astounding skate save on Jack Johnson in the shootout. He stole this one from the Kings, tonight, and deserves every bit of praise he gets for this shutout.

The Wild, in this one, were good but not great. They played good enough not to lose the game, but didn’t play good enough to win (hence the shootout win). They came out of the gates looking pretty flat, but rebounded towards the end of the first period and kept the surge going for the rest of the game and, all things told, played what was one of their most consistent games of the season – they just didn’t have “the let down.”

It genuinely looked like the break did them good.

Here are some of my thoughts on the game:

  • I really can’t say enough about Backs. He looked truly amazing tonight – much like his Vezina-finalist self. If the Wild are going to get into the playoffs, it’s going to be in large part due to the play of their goaltenders and tonight was a very good start.
  • Andrew Brunette played in his 1,000th career game and, if you didn’t know it by the time the game was over you weren’t paying attention. I think it was mentioned at least five times by the end of the first period. All kidding aside, though, congratulations to Bruno on a great career so far.
  • There’s no way the Wild win this game without their defense. The Kings were credited with 27 shots on goal, they missed the net 16 times and had 25 attempts blocked. Twenty-five. To give you an idea of the magnitude of that, that’s 68 shots that the Kings fired towards the net. Even if they just hit the net on the 16 shots they missed with, this is an entirely different game.
  • Martin Havlat’s average shift time was 1:01. Now, I’m going to chalk that up to power play time and his enormously long shift in overtime, but still – 1:01? That’s a good nine seconds longer than the closest player on the Wild and seven seconds longer than the closest player in the game. Seriously, Marty. Shorten your shifts!
  • The eight minutes in penalty minutes of this game hid just how physical the game actually was. There were some good, clean hits being thrown around. Besides, it was a welcome change to the march to the box that had been typical for the Wild lately.
  • With the way he’s been playing, it’s only a matter of time before Jared Spurgeon gets himself a goal. He looked great once again tonight and his play as well as the strong play of Clayton Stoner and Marco Scandella are making the Wild’s blue line awfully crowded in a hurry and might be making some players on the blue line expendable.
  • I’m really impressed with the way that Pierre-Marc Bouchard has been handling things since his return. He’s being slotted in on just about every line but the top one in order to get him ice time and he’s not only not complaining, but filling in every single role that could be asked of him. He’s still working his way back from his horrible concussion, but every game that passes you can see that he’s slowly getting more and more comfortable on the ice and he’s slowly starting to return to his old self.
  • The one complaint I have about this game tonight is that the Wild were absolutely putrid in the faceoff circle. Just 35 percent of the draws went the Wild’s way. That’s terrible and that has to be better if the Wild are going to be a contender this season.

Wild Stomp Flames; Backs Gets Shutout in Return

Well, as they say about the best laid plans, I had plans to have a nice write up about the game tonight…Buuuuuuuuuut…Yeah. We’ll just say that I just decided to give you my game notes instead. Enjoy and feel free to leave your comments on tonight’s game!

  • Great effort by Brodziak on Havlat’s first period goal. No one but Havlat expected that puck to be coming to him and he just picked his spot and buried the puck past Kipper.
  • How in the world was Brunette able to just camp in front of Kipper? There wasn’t a defenseman within a stick’s reach of him. You can’t have that, especially not short handed.
  • Jared Spurgeon has been great in the last couple games. He’s making smart plays and he’s coming out of tough areas on the ice with the puck. He’s also got a great first pass out of the zone – something the Wild have sorely missed about not having Kim Johnsson in the line up.
  • 200 games played for Cal Clutterbuck and 869 hits. Really? That’s absolutely ridiculous, especially for a player who isn’t the biggest player on the ice. It’s no wonder why he’s such a popular player.
  • 471 straight games by Jay Bouwmeester. I wonder what Michael Peca would have to say about that?
  • Unbelievably dangerous hit by Curtis Glencross on Clayton Stoner. Glencross got five for it and, honestly, Stoner’s lucky that he was able to turn his head to the side. Bush league hit by Glencross that, honestly, should be looked at by the league. You shouldn’t need any sort of reminder not to hit a player in the back in that sort of position.
  • Maybe it’s a little cynical of me, but it isn’t really heartening that our second power-play unit has Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck on it.
  • The Wild had a five-minute power play that had a lot of pressure in the Calgary zone, but just couldn’t get anything going. That could easily be a shift in the momentum for the game.
  • How much confidence does Richards have in Stoner and Zanon right now? They were matched up against Hall’s line in Edmonton and now they’re matched up against Iginla in Calgary. Great play by these two.
  • Minnesota’s penalty kill looks good so far. We’re keeping players to the perimeter and, when we’re not able to, we’re clearing the puck away to the corner or down the ice.
  • Cam Barker looks like he’s making the most of being inserted back into the line up. He’s not making stupid plays and his footwork is a lot better than it has looked in the past. He’s playing physical, he’s playing well positionally. Everything the Wild wanted from him.
  • Great play by Jared Spurgeon to start the play that ultimately had Madden score. He won’t get an assist on that one, but his rush was what opened up the ice to give Madden the opening to score.
  • It’s a nice luxury when you have two defensive pairings that you can count on to play big minutes against teams’ top lines. Both Stoner and Zanon and Schultz and Burns have been called on to play against the Flames’ top line and both pairings have done a great job of it.
  • I don’t even know that Clutterbuck could believe that he scored his goal. He beat Kipper short side, over his blocker from the boards. So, yeah, it’s safe to say that he’s got a bit of an accurate shot.
  • Flames pressuring in the third and the Wild look like they’re scrambling a bit. Half the period is over, but the Wild need to be careful not to sit back on their heels and watch their 4-0 lead.
  • What an effort by Chuck Kobasew, diving backwards to slap the puck past Kipper as he sprawled to stop it. Yet another strong effort by a player on the Wild – something that’s really been emblematic of this team in this game.
  • Havlat is just a master at stick handling in traffic. It’s absolutely ridiculous what he can do with the puck with players around, going over, under, through – everything he can to get the puck to the net.
  • Great passing on Havlat’s second goal of the night. A beautiful tic-tac-toe play with a no-look pass from Cal Clutterbuck to Martin Havlat for Havlat’s 200th career goal and you’ve got to admire the way this line is meshing, especially in the absence of Havlat’s normal partner in crime, Guillaume Latendresse.
  • There looks to be absolutely no pride by the Flames in this one. They just look like they’ve given up and packed it in after a pretty terrible performance by the team in the last half of the game.
  • Great game by Niklas Backstrom, who gets a shutout in his first game back from injury. Absolutely terrific, doing exactly what Niklas Backstrom is expected to do – be a nice, stabilizing, calming factor in net.
  • Havlat and Brodziak both had three point nights and that entire line looked great. It’s going to be hard to break them up when Latendresse gets healthy again.
  • Minnesota has scored at least four in its last three games, out scoring their opponents 14-1 during that time. Not too shabby. There might be some hope for this team yet.

Walsh Creates Drama; Could It Be A Good Thing?

Well, it’s out there. It’s been said and can’t be unsaid.

Once again, Agent Allan Walsh has begun chirping at the Minnesota Wild for their use of one of his players. We all remember last season, his infamous comments regarding Petr Sykora in a situation that, to be honest, I agreed with him in.

Well, if you haven’t heard by now, Walsh reached out to Mike Russo via e-mail with his opinion of Havlat’s playing time in Minnesota now.

“When Chuck reached out to Marty Havlat two summers ago after he led Chicago to the conference finals while leading the team in points in the regular season and playoffs, he shared a vision of building an up-tempo offensive team with Marty as a pillar to this strategy,” Walsh said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. “That’s why he signed with the Wild.

“Since that time, Marty has been used in a purely secondary role. Look at this season, he’s played four straight games at about 14 minutes of ice time, he’s used on the second power-play unit, he sits for long stretches, he’s not used in the shootouts. At a certain point in time, one has to ask, ‘Why is he here?’ One has to ask, ‘Why pay this guy $30 million to not play?’

“It’s like we are in a time warp and the coach has totally ignored or chooses to ignore what Marty has done offensively over the course of his entire career. People say the Wild don’t have a star player. The Wild have a dynamic offensive player right under their nose and yet choose not to use him to their advantage. Look around the league, what other team has a player like Marty Havlat wilting on the vine like this?”

Now, General Manager had a good rebuttal of this in Russo’s article (click on the link above to read all of it) and Hockey Wilderness has a good look at the ensuing drama, as well as a good look at Havlat’s playing time this season and, as Reynolds points out in his article, Walsh doesn’t really seem to have a leg to stand on when it comes to complaining about Havlat’s ice time.

Let’s see here (italics are my thoughts):

  • 16:53 average time on ice (Ninth on the team, fourth among forwards) – Only behind Koivu, Cullen and Miettinen – in other words, only behind the team’s two leading scorers and their number one center’s favorite weapon. Check.
  • 20.5 shifts per game (Fifth among forwards) – I’d be willing to bet if we didn’t take so many effing penalties, this would probably even itself out and he would sneak a little higher up the list.
  • average shift length is 49 seconds (#1) – So wait, he’s staying on the ice the longest?
  • 14:16 Even Strength TOI /G (1st among forwards) – And getting the most ice time at even strength?
  • 2:31 PP TOI / G (Fifth among forwards) – Okay, so he’s on our second PP unit, but with a PP that’s been one of, if not the best in the league so can we agree that it MIGHT be a good idea not to mix things up too much there?

So, basically, Walsh is complaining about what now?

That Havlat isn’t on the team’s top powerplay? Or not on the team’s top line?

Okay, that I can deal with. Havlat IS a top-line winger, that’s for sure. But the problem is that Koivu simply has so much chemistry with winger Antti Miettinen and enjoys playing with his countryman so much that it’s hard to separate that line.

But therein lies the rub.

Koivu loves playing with Bruno and Mittens, but Koivu playing with Bruno and Mittens…Just. Isn’t. Working.

You don’t believe me? Look at the stats.

The line has combined for a total of six goals this season but, through eight games, Koivu is the only player that is averaging at least a point-per-game. Now, I don’t expect that the line average that, but wouldn’t you expect that, through eight games, a line with that much chemistry might hit a bit of a hot spot?

But they haven’t yet.

It’s time for Richards to shuffle the deck and, though I might not necessarily agree with all of Walsh’s “woe is Marty” sentiment, this might be a catalyst to do just that.

Antti Miettinen is leading the team in shots – 27 total – and he has just two goals in those 27 shots. Something needs to be done about that. This line has rolled too long with moderate success – it’s time to get a line out there that will have some real success.

Now, if that means sliding Havlat up to Koivu’s right wing? Let’s try it.

Maybe a Latendresse-Koivu-Havlat trio? Why not?

This is a team that is not finding its game under the current layout. This is a team that is floundering early in the season, settling into mediocrity, and Richards has not done a single thing to remedy that.

In my time spent coaching, one of the things that was always most important to me to push my players to success was to get them out of their comfort zone – to force them out of their comfort zone. Richards, simply, hasn’t done that unless you count the infamous “bag skate” as doing so.

These lines have become comfortable things with our top-six and it hasn’t been working. It’s time for change.

Maybe Walsh’s e-mail was nothing more than a cranky player agent picking on his new favorite target. In all honesty, that’s what it looks like to me. But, you know what? If this can light a fire under Richards’ rear end to make a change that could better the team? If this can make Richards stand up and take notice that, “Hey, what I’m doing might not be working out the best?”

Well than I say, “Good on you, Alan.” Because he’ll have been able to do something that almost an entire season’s worth of the Wild playing subpar hockey under Todd Richards has not been able to do – to do something to get the team out of the realm of the mediocre.

Wild Set Franchise Record; Down Edmonton

Don’t fret. If you didn’t catch last night’s game, it wasn’t any franchise record you’d like to see. The team took ten minor penalties last night, tying a record set back in the early years of the organization.

To take five penalties in a single game is considered to be a fairly bad game, but to take ten? Absolutely ridiculous.

Yet that’s exactly what the Wild did last night, facing off against the Edmonton Oilers.

Time and time and time again was the team’s parade to the penalty box; a lot of which were for penalties of the lazy kind.

Thank God for a strong first period, otherwise this game could have been looking much different by the end of the night.

Kyle Brodziak had two early goals and Guillaume Latendresse capped off the scoring to give the Wild a 3-1 lead heading into the first intermission and it was a lead that they would be glad to have by the time it was all said and done.

What was heartening, though, was the play of Niklas Backstrom in nets. Of the 36 shots that he saw, Backstrom had to face 27 of them in the final two periods as the Wild was drastically out played and out hustled by the hungry Oilers.

Backs stood on his head, though, and provided not only exactly what the Wild needed, but exactly what he needed as well – a win in Edmonton.

Random Thoughts

  • I’ll be honest, I was surprised that the Wild held on to win last night. It was a very poor performance by the team, yet still they came out on top. These are the types of games that the Wild are going to need to gut out a win during on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. If they want to continue to have success on the road, though, they need to have a better effort than last night.
  • The ice time in last night’s game tells the story of it all. 11 minutes for Andrew Brunette? 13 for Guillaume Latendresse? Both are players who don’t play on the penalty kill. The Wild took lazy and stupid penalties and, despite the disparity (yes, there could have been one or two more called on Edmonton) the Wild deserved every penalty they got. The worst part was that most of the penalties were due to the fact that the Wild just simply weren’t moving their feet. They were playing lazy and getting caught using their sticks more often than they should have.
  • How good has Latendresse been in these last few games? Since being re-united with Martin Havlat and playing on the team’s second line, Latendresse has been one of the Wild’s best players, getting a goal and an assist in both last night’s game and Tuesday’s tilt against Vancouver. This is good news, indeed, for a Wild team that desperately needs him to be the same player that he was last season. So far, he seems to be returning to form quite nicely.
  • Theo Peckham is quickly working his way up my sport-hate list. I’m sure that’s his role on the team, but I continue to be unimpressed with the way he plays the game. It’s much too close to Matt Cooke for me. He plays with a reckless edge that doesn’t show any respect for the players he plays against and, oftentimes, this leads to dangerous hits and situations on the ice. I’ll say this – at some point this season, we’ll be talking about Peckham in the same vain as Matt Cooke.
  • Man, did Taylor Hall look good or what last night? I don’t know if it was hi demotion to the third line that lit a fire under him or what, but he came out like gangbusters. He only had two shots on goal last night, but he fired a total of 11 Backstrom’s way. Six that missed the net and three that were blocked.
  • I’m guessing there was a reason why Ryan Jones, Zack Stortini and Colin Fraser didn’t see a whole lot of ice time last night. Fraser? Minus-two in 3:40 of ice time. Jones? Minus-two in 1:03. Stortini? Minus-two in 58 seconds. Something tells me that there’s going to be a special place in practice for these there today.
  • Burnsie continues his resurgence this season with another two-point night. He now has five points in six games and three of these are goals. Granted, last night’s was an empty-netter, but it proved one thing to me – I wouldn’t dare play pool against the guy.

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