Wild win second straight

What a sight Tuesday night was for the Wild.

Just a few days after the Wild put forth a great effort against the Dallas Stars, they went out and did it again on Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche.

It was exactly what the Wild were waiting for. A follow up performance to a solid game, and it was one heck of a follow up performance.

The Wild dominated for extended periods of time and really looked just like they did during their rise to the top of the NHL. The puck support was there, they worked their asses off, they pressured in the offensive zone. For the most part, it was a slam dunk for the Wild and a huge confidence booster for the Wild heading into the All-Star break.

The Wild fell behind early, again, on a sharp angle goal that Backstrom couldn’t get his glove up in time for but the Wild wouldn’t let themselves get down and fired off two goals in response to head into the intermission on top.

The second period saw former Wild player Chuck Kobasew tap in a goal that snuck past Backstrom to tie the game and the third saw Carson McMillan put the Wild on top for good.

What was best about McMillan’s goal is that, in the sequence leading up to it, the Wild were scrambling. They got pinned down in their own zone, having trouble gaining control of the puck and getting it out and, when they finally did, it looked as if they were going to get caught in the middle of a bad change.

McMillan had other ideas, though. He saw an opportunity, cut his change short and caught Shane O’Brien day dreaming with the puck. He got it free, came down and scored the game-winning goal.

That one goal could be what turns this season back around for Minnesota but, we’ll have to wait until after the All-Star break to see.

Some thoughts:

  • Backstrom looks to be struggling with his confidence. He just wasn’t there on either ofColorado’ goals. Maybe the win will help him get his mojo back but, truthfully, he looks shaken right now. It’s not that he was off his angles or anything like that – he was solid there. The problem is that he just doesn’t have any confidence that he’s going to stop the puck. Like I said, hopefully this gets some of his confidence back, because the Wild need him if they’re going to keep going.
  • It’s hard to believe, but it looks like Marek Zidlicky may have played his last game in a Wild uniform. He may have a chance to work his way back into the line up at some point, but if the Wild’s defensemen keep playing like they have the last two games, I don’t see Mike Yeo making any changes anytime soon.
  • Dany Heatley was great again forMinnesota, and he’s really gotten some chemistry going with Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson. Even when Koivu comes back, it’s going to be hard for Yeo to break up this line if they keep producing like this.

In any event, the Wild are off until next Tuesday. Pending any big moves, I’ll be back with coverage of the All-Star festivities on Thursday.

Gameday Thread: Here come the Avs

The Wild have a couple big announcements for their blue line heading into today’s game.

First, congratulations to Nick Schultz, who will play in his 700th NHL game tonight. To put that in perspective, the total number of games for the Wild’s other blueliners after tonight’s game will be 202.

Schultz has been a rock on the blue line for the Wild since playing 52 games for the Wild as a 19-year-old and has been one of the steadiest defensemen in the league since that time. It’s pretty much that he’s going to play 70-plus games in the season and that he’s going to be playing against team’s top lines more often than not.

The latter part of that is one reason why it is such a testament to Schultz that he is a career plus-19 and that he’s only had three minus seasons in his career.

He doesn’t create many goals (his career high in points is 20), but he’s not going to make it easy for other teams to score many goals (though, I must say that he’s probably deflected more goals into the Wild net than any other player in team history – again, a testament to his positioning, because he’s right where he needs to be).

On a personal note, Schultz has long been one of my favorite Wild defensemen, so congratulations Nick. Here’s me hoping for another 700 games with number 55 wearing Iron Range Red!

Second, congratulations to Kris Fredheim, who the Wild signed to an NHL contract today and who will play in his first NHL game today.

For those of you who don’t know much about Fredheim (and I don’t blame you, because I knew next to nothing about him until today), here’s a little scouting report from Houston Beat Writer extraordinaire and contributor to the blog, Ms. Conduct:

He’s a good, solid, stay-at-home defenseman that you really just never have to worry or think too much about. I almost never even notice him with the Aeros, which I think is a good thing in a stay at home d-man. Nothing flashy or too aggressive about his game. He just does things the right way and sort of flies under the radar as a result.

He’s got good size and good speed and good positioning, so I don’t see him having much trouble adapting to the NHL, though he’ll take a bit to get used to the speed, I’d wager. But he’ll be fine. The best part is that Yeo knows him and his strengths and weaknesses, so he’ll put him in a position to succeed.

So, there you have it. If this season has done anything for the Wild, so far, it’s shown the defensive depth that the organization has, so I don’t think there’s any cause for concern with Fredheim slotting into the line up tonight.

Anyway, congratulations to Schultz and Fredheim. Now let’s go buy some bubble wrap for the Wild’s d-men.

Lineup

Here is the probable line up, per Wild.com (again, with my thoughts intersperced):

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley (God, how I just want these three to do something. Anything. Just play like they’re capable of playing. That’s all I ask. Maybe a couple goals too. But that’s really all I ask.)
Bouchard/Cullen/Clutterbuck (As you’ll see below, I think Wellman will end up on this line at some point. Clutterbuck is good, but he’s a checker first and a scorer second. The Wild need someone with a scorer’s mentality on this line.)
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson (This line has been one of the Wild’s best liens over the past few weeks. They’ve just been flat out on point.)
Gillies/Peters/Wellman (See my thoughts on this one below.)

Wellman was recalled again today (after getting demoted yesterday), so I’d guess he’ll get slotted into the line up tonight as Wild.com was speculating. He’ll likely start on the fourth line, but given that the organization has said time and time again that Wellman is the type of player that needs to be in the top-six to succeed, I’d guess he’ll find his way up to the second or even first line at some point during the evening.

Schultz/Prosser (It really says a lot about Prosser that they’d be slotting him in on the top pairing next to Schultz.)
Stoner/Fredheim (Once again, Stoner has come back and been a stud. That’s a great partner for a player in his first NHL game to skate next to.)
Spurgeon/Falk (Two of the Wild’s brightest young defensemen skating next to one another? Should be good to watch.)

Having allowed just four goals in his last two games and with a 17-4-2 record against Colorado, Backstrom will be in the cage.

Burning Questions

Can Casey Wellman contribute at the NHL level? Wellman was sent toHoustonat the beginning of the season under instructions to dominate. He’s done that, but can those skills translate to the NHL level? Mike Yeo seems to think so. Most of Wellman’s goals this season have been “NHL” goals, meaning they’re goals that would have been scored in the NHL as well. If that’s the case, he could finally be ready.

Can the Wild’s young defense keep stepping up? With Zidlicky out,Minnesotahas just one player on their blue line tonight that’s played in a full NHL season. So far, their young blue line has been one of the big reasons that Minnesota has been as good as they have been. The Wild need that trend to continue tonight.

Can the top line finally put together a full, solid game? Heatley, Koivu and Setoguchi are together again thanks to an injury to Guillaume Latendresse. They absolutely dominated in the pre-season. The Wild need them to do that again, and quick.

Can the Wild avoid the hometown blues? The first game back after an extended road trip is typically a tough one. Can the Wild come out strong and avoid that? Coming back home from the Eastern Time Zone should help, but they’ve got to come out strong tonight.

The puck drops tonight at 7 pm and will be on FSN.

What to watch on the Wild’s day off: Maple Leafs v. Avalanche

Two surprise teams face off tonight

The Wild have an off day before the Pens come into town on Tuesday, so it’s time once again for some suggested viewing during the Wild’s day off. The game for tonight is:

Toronto v. Colorado

Weeee! I scored!

Why: Both Toronto and Colorado have shot out to surprise starts and are atop their respective divisions. For Toronto, they’re undefeated at the friendly confines of the Air Canada Center and, for Colorado, they’ve yet to lose away from home after losing their first game at the Pepsi Center. Colorado’s offense has been out in force, scoring 17 goals in five games whileToronto’s defense has been the talk of the town, giving up just seven goals in three games. That’s not to say, though, that Toronto’s offense is a slouch, with Phil Kessel helping pace the NHL right now with eight points.

When: The puck drops tonight at 6 pm CST and is televised on Versus.

What to Watch For: Semyon Varlamov has been an absolute monster in net for the Avs. He’s faced 144 shots in just four games and has yet to face less than 30 shots in a contest. Now, the Avs defense needs to protect him quite a bit more, but Varlamov is certainly playing with the proverbial chip on his shoulder after being moved from Washington this off season and the Avs front office are looking like geniuses for picking him up.

What Else: I mentioned that Kessel has eight points in his first three games, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Joffrey Lupul. Lupul has five points in three games and is one of the big reasons why Kessel is buzzing as much as he is. ForColorado, keep an eye on Gabriel Landeskog, who has two goals and an assist so far this season.

State of Hockey Connections: Phil the Thrill starred for the Golden Gophers for a season before making the jump to the pros. Jake Gardiner hails from Deephaven and was a star at Minnetonka High School before going and plying his trade at theUniversity of Wisconsin for three seasons. Chuck Kobasew played 105 games in a Wild uniform and both Peter Mueller and Erik Johnson hail from Bloomington.

Fun Fact: At 35, Milan Hejduk will be the elder statesman in this game and one of five players that are 30 or older. J.S. Giguere (34) and Jan Hejda (33) are the over-30s forColorado and John-Michael Liles (30) and Tim Connolly (30) represent the 30-plus crowd for Toronto.