Gameday Thread: Heatley and Setoguchi return to San Jose

Full tuck? Really?

Well, the Wild are going for six in a row tonight, facing off against the San Jose Sharks in what is a highly anticipated game for both teams, as Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley are returning to San Jose and Brent Burns and Martin Havlat are facing off against the Wild for the first time since being traded this off season, and I’m not sure whether or not James Sheppard is going to get his first game of the season tonight, but Burns and Heatley will certainly be in the lineup.

Does anyone really think he was serious?

As was mentioned on Hockey Wilderness, Brent Burns made a comment to the San Jose Mercury News that every single person on the interwebz has jumped on:

“I’ve been watching how they’ve been doing, hoping that they would lose every game,” he continued. “You have to be competitive to reach this level and I’m a pretty intense guy. And when a team doesn’t want you, you sure don’t want them to go 82-0.”

And one more: “I have a lot of friends there and you want them to score six goals and lose.”

“But it doesn’t always work out,” he added. “Now it’s like an ex-girlfriend. You really don’t want her to get the white-picket fence and the great job. It’s like a good country song.”

Now, let’s be very clear here. Burnzie loved his time inMinnesotaand he was beloved by many (if not all) of the fans and surely by all of his teammates. In fact, the article goes on to talk about how much Burns liked living in Minnesota.

So, is this bulletin board material?

Probably not. This is just Burnzie being Burnzie.

On the other hand, all it takes is one person to say, “He was being a smartass to the media. Let’s take it to him so we can give it right back.”

Just sayin’.

Lineup

Minnesota is rolling out the same lineup we saw against the Flames, with the exception of Cal Clutterbuck back in. Per Wild.com, we’re likely to see the lines look like this (my thoughts in italics):

Latendresse/Koivu/Heatley (Has Latendresse really gotten this line going or what? It’s nice when everyone gets to play the role that

Latendresse has really helped the top line

they’re used to, and that’s what Latendresse allows everyone to do.)
Bouchard/Cullen/Setoguchi (Ditto to the KHL Line – Like that? I just made it up right here. – The addition of Setoguchi has made this a very dangerous line in transition because of their speed.)
Johnson/Brodziak/Clutterbuck (This line is probably one of the more fun checking lines to watch because, one, they all like to throw their weight around and two, they actually can score.)
Gillies/Powe/Staubitz (Staubitz again found himself stapled to the bench against the Flames, but Powe and Gillies each had pretty solid games, including Powe getting his first goal in a Wild sweater.)

Schultz/Zidlicky (I just can’t tell what it’s going to take to get Zidlicky going, but Schultz was a monster against the Flames. He shut Jarome down and he’s going to have to do the same tonight.)
Spurgeon/Scandella (Scandella continues to impress, but this pairing’s decision making needs to improve a bit for them to really start playing well. Poor decisions can lead to the Wild getting hemmed into their zone, which happened a bit against the Flames.)
Prosser/Falk (If they keep playing this way, I don’t know that Stoner, Zanon or Lundin will ever get into the line up.)

Backstrom is back in net, so we’ll see how he responds to his second straight start. He’s historically had a rough go of it against the Sharks, so this will be a big test for him.

Burning Questions

Can Backstrom keep riding the momentum from last game? A 41-save shutout can either lead to another impressive game or a big let down. Which will it be?

How do Heatley and Setoguchi perform coming back to San Jose? My guess is that one will be booed and the other will be given a warm welcome. Care to guess which?

Does Sheppard play for San Jose? It wouldn’t be a bad first game to slot him in for. If any player has the drive to play well in this one, it’s Shep.

Can the Wild stay out of the box? Minnesota was in seven times against the Flames, including a five-minute major. If they do that against San Jose, they’re in trouble.

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

Around the NHL: 8/2/11

There’s no shortage of news around the NHL the last few days, what with Alexander Frolov bringing up Sean Avery’s former racial intolerance, the 2011 class for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame being announced and Versus being re-branded as the NBC Sports Network, but those are just scratching the surface so let’s get to it.

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Sharks Extend Burns
Just a few weeks after Brent Burns was traded to the San Jose Sharks, the NHL’s Bay Area team extended Burnsie to the tune of 5 years and $28.8 million. Not a small deal, to be sure, for a player that is likely going to be a cornerstone of their defense for quite some time.

Now, I’ve got as many mixed feelings about this contract as I do about Burns.

Sharks fans should probably get used to this picture. They'll see it a lot.

If the Sharks get the Brent Burns of the ’07-’08 season that was both an offensive threat and a defensive stalwart, they got a heck of a deal. That season, Burns came into his own as an offensive defenseman and was one of the best two-way defensemen in the league. He was as aggressive in the offensive zone as he was reliable in his own zone and, at 22, he looked poised to become one of the premiere defensemen in the league.

Unfortunately, Burns never had the opportunity to build on that successful season as he struggled through two injury-riddled seasons.

Then last season, he found his offensive game again, tallying 17 goals and 46 points and, most nights, was the Wild’s most dynamic offensive player.

The downside, however, was that the defensive portion of his game had disappeared.

He wasn’t the reliable defensive player that he was back in the ’07-’08 season when he was paired with Keith Carney. Instead, he was a defensive liability in most situations, getting caught with his back to the play in his own zone, or not boxing out or pursuing the puck when he should have been playing his position.

In other words, he started being responsible for as many goals in his own zone as he was in the offensive zone.

So, that’s the reason that I have mixed feelings about this signing. Burns is definitely an elite offensive defenseman, but over the last few seasons his game has become largely one dimensional and his decision making has become very suspect. No longer is he a reliable player in his own zone – instead, he is a player that has become cringe-worthy when he’s in his own zone and, for me, that’s not worth $5 million per season.

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Isles Stadium Bid Rejected
On one hand, this is a very surprising development in what was becoming a very positive story for the New York Islanders.

The Lighthouse Project seemed to be gaining a great deal of momentum and it looked like it was a near certainty that the team would find itself looking at a new arena. Fans were hopeful, ownership was hopeful – it looked like it was going to be a sure thing.

On the other hand, though, one shouldn’t be surprised that voters wanted nothing to do with helping to fund an arena for a floundering sports franchise at this point in time.

With all the positive vibes that were surrounding the Lighthouse Project, it was largely overlooked that the United States was (and still is) embroiled in its most severe economic crisis in quite some time (and possibly ever). The buzz or the hype simply didn’t matter, at this point. The fact was that people were voting for a publically-funded arena for a franchise that has made the playoffs just four times since 1993 and hasn’t made it out of the first round since the ’92-’93 season.

The bottom line, unfortunately, was the bottom line. There was no way that taxpayers were going to put up their own money for a franchise that has cracked 90 points just three times in the last two decades.

It probably would have made a difference were the team a successful one but, at the end of the day, the team isn’t successful and the economic times are so uncertain that people just weren’t going to put up with funding a new arena.

It’s sad, it’s even more bad news for a franchise that has been wrought with bad news over the last handful of seasons – but it shouldn’t be unexpected.

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That’s all we have for today. It’s a bit shortened, but be checking back later tonight for a look at the ten most-anticipated games from this year’s Wild schedule!

Wild trade Burns to San Jose for Setoguchi and Coyle

As I write this, the Xcel Energy Center is still buzzing after the trade that was just announced.

The Minnesota Wild have traded Brent Burns and a 2012 2nd Round Pick to the San Jose Sharks for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and the 28th pick in this draft.

With all the speculation that the Wild could be going after Zach Parise or any other number of elite wingers, it was clear that the Wild wanted to do something to improve their forwards, and Setoguchi does just that.

Past that, the Wild get that blue-chip forward prospect that they are desperately lacking in Coyle.

This is certainly a risk. There’s no two ways around it.

Burns was the Wild’s best offensive threat on the blue line. He helped anchor their power play and he was easily one of the most dynamic players that they had. That being said, he was likely going to command a good chunk of change next season and the Wild likely didn’t want to pay him that or think he deserved that.

In Setoguchi, they get a pure goal scorer who happens to play right wing, a position they are very thin at. They get a player who can step in and contribute right now. Not a couple years down the road. Now.

Basically, long story short, I like this trade for Minnesota but it isn’t a surefire trade. It’s not a slam dunk, but it is a bold move by a franchise that desperately needs scoring.

Wild embarrassed by Vancouver

Well, to be honest, that was to be expected.

I don’t think there’s any team in the NHL that could be missing their leading scorer, two of their top-four defensemen and ice six rookies (including four rookie d-men) and expect to contend with the Vancouver Canucks.

To the Wild’s credit, they hung with the ‘Nucks a lot longer than I thought they would but in the end the new Wild Killer, Ryan Kesler, put away the Wild with a hat trick en route to scoring his 40th goal of the season.

There’s not much to say about the macro in this one. The Wild were out matched in every facet of the game by a team that is just far superior to them right now.

So, let’s take a look at the micro:

  • Colton Gillies looked really good in this one, in my opinion. He spent a lot of time skating on the wing on the Wild’s second line and created a few good chances to boot. I’ve got to say, I’m very impressed with the way he skates. He’s very fluid on the ice and skates a lot like Brent Burns (that’s a compliment, folks). One thing I do have to say about Gillies, though, is that I’d like to see him a little stronger on his skates. There’s one time in particular that I’m thinking of, on the power play, when he skated into the slot and just got dumped by a Vancouver defenseman with a solid check to his chest.
  • Russo made mention that Niklas Backstrom is just emotionally deflated right now, and I’d say that goes for the entire team. They just look like they don’t have it in them to fight back anymore. I hate to say it but, they’ve given up. That much is plain to see.
  • The Wild’s defense was just awful. In fact, the team’s best pairing was probably the rookie tandem of Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner. Greg Zanon looked alright, but Brent Burns, Justin Falk and Maxim Noreau just looked terrible. It might be acceptable for Falk and Noreau to have an off game, given their lack of NHL experience, but Burns looks like he’s devolving to Martin Skoula with each passing game. He’s consistently out of position and he looks like he’s pushing far too much to make things happen – which is commendable because no one else seems to be, but he’s consistently making mistakes while he’s pushing to make things happen.
  • This last stretch of games, where the Wild has lost 11 of 13, has shown a lot about what this team is made of – not a whole lot of heart. The Wild come out against St. Louis and beat the Blues in a shootout and follow that up with a game against Edmonton for their first winning streak since mid-February. But then they come out and just get dominated by playoff teams in three straight games. Where’s the drive? This team should be getting up for big games like those. They should be amped up to play against the best of the best to prove to everyone and themselves what they can do. Instead, they consistently come out flat in those games. Not the make up of a winner, at all. In fact, if you want to see some heart out of a Minnesota team before the beginning of next season, I’d recommend checking out the Frozen Four finals tomorrow night and watching Minnesota-Duluth.

Sorry about the downer of a post, but there’s not much you can say after last night’s loss. I’ll check back in after the weekend!

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!

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.

Gameday Thread – Game 51 – Wild @ Avs

Minnesota rolls into Denver today to face the Colorado Avalanche in what will be the fourth meeting between these two teams and, boy, is it a big one.

Just one point separates these two teams in the standings and these are two teams that, in Twitter terms, are “trending” much differently. Minnesota has been making a surge up the standings lately, sitting just four points back from the fourth spot after winning five of their last six during which they’ve given up more than two goals just once (in their lone loss to San Jose during that span).

Meanwhile, Colorado has won just four of their last ten games and has cooled off quite a bit of late after a very hot December.

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NHL.com Game Preview

That’s the only preview you get right now. I’ll add more down the line if I’m able to.

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So, what’s going to be the key to this game?

Well, first of all, this is going to be a game where players such as Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz play just as big of a role as Mikko Koivu and Martin Havlat. The first three games of this season series have been intensely physical games (just ask Chris Stewart’s hand) and I’d expect no different from tonight’s tilt.

Now, whether or not that benefits the Wild is highly debatable.

Minnesota has both struggled and excelled in physical games this year (kind of a microcosm for their season, wouldn’t you say?). There are times when the physical nature of the game really spurs this team to another level, but there are also times when a physical hockey game gives them fits.

There is cause for hope, however, as Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the Kings was a pretty physical affair that saw the Wild hunker down, play tighter and ultimately not get intimidated as they have been known to do under Todd Richards. Plainly put, that could be a fairly good indication that this team has found its identity – or at least knows where to find it when the going gets tough.

Regardless of how physical this game is, however, this is going to be a big test for the Wild. One of my biggest criticisms of the Richards’ regime is that the team is just not consistent. In fact, they’ve been consistently inconsistent ever since Richards took over as head coach. What they’ve found of late, however, is that consistency. They’ve been able to string wins together. The important part now is maintaining that and making sure that when losses come, and they will come, they don’t allow a single loss to snowball into a three or four game losing streak.

They’ve got a two-game winning streak going and, heading on a two-game road swing against teams close to them in the standings, need to keep it going. No overtimes, no three-point games – they need to come out strong and confident and put these teams away.

But that’s more of a macro view of this road trip. The micro view of tonight’s game is simply this – they need their best players to be their best players. Against the Colorado Avalanche this season, their three best players (Havlat, Koivu, Burns) have combined for four assists and a minus-four rating in three games. Minnesota needs these three to step it up and take over the game like they’re capable of doing. At any given time, they can be the three best players on the ice against any team, and Minnesota needs a big game from them tonight to keep this streak going and to keep making up ground.

Now, in nets tonight for the Wild will be Jose Theodore, which I’m not sure I agree with as Niklas Backstrom is typically very good against the Avs, but the rationale behind this is to get Theodore going again, and it’s hard to argue that. Both goalies have been great at different times and I understand the desire to get Theo playing again and having both goalies ready to go. But come on – Backs has been hot lately. I’m not talking about just solid – he’s been on fire, and he’s a second-half goalie. Let him play. Give Theo a couple spot starts here and there, but Backstrom is a goalie that plays better the more he plays and the more action he sees. Let him play!

The only reason I can see behind not starting Backs is that they want to drum up trade interest in Theodore which, as Fletcher has intimated to Russo, is apparently not the case. But, Theodore is arguably their best bargaining chip right now on the trade block, as he has had a spectacular season and as the Wild could afford to part with him because of the strong play of Anton Khudobin.

In any event, Theo is getting the start tonight and my agreement with that is going to do nothing to change that fact.

So, puck heads, what do you think? What are your thoughts on tonight’s game? Let’s hear them!

Finally, the puck drops tonight at 8 p.m. CST and will be televised on FS-North.

Updated:Havlat and Burns Selected by Team Lidstrom

This is only going to be a brief post, as I’m doing some prep work for our live blog tonight, but here you go:

UPDATE: The players have been selected for the different skill events. Martin Havlat will participate in the shooting accuracy and skills challenge relay events, while Brent Burns will participate in the hardest shot. Both players will participate in the elimination shootout.

I’ve got to admit, I was a bit nervous about the draft. With Ryan Kesler being an alternate captain on Team Staal, I was worried that I might be forced to pull for a team that had Ryan Kesler on it, and I wasn’t sure how okay I was with that.

But, alas, my worry was all for naught as Brent Burns and Martin Havlat were selected in back-to-back picks by Team Lidstrom, joining what is looking to be quite the dominant team in this year’s All-Star Game.

If you want to see the complete rosters, click here, otherwise check back here tonight for all the live blog fun. Tonight, I’ll be joined by J.P. Hoornstra again, as well as Ms. Conduct, so enjoy!

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.

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