Preseason Gameday Thread: @ Pittsburgh

The Wild try to keep their momentum going in Pittsburgh today.

The preseason 3-0 Wild have likely landed in Pittsburgh and are resting up for their 2 pm tilt today against the Pens and I don’t know that there has ever been this much optimism about this team in the preseason. Harding played a full game last night, the first line was as advertised, Yeo is growing on the fans, Backstrom pitched two shutout periods in St. Louis.

It’s just plain encouraging.

This won’t be a long, drawn out one because the kids are eating breakfast, so I want to get it done quick, but here’s the Wild roster (or at least part of it) per Russo for tonight’s game:

Backs will likely get the full game in Pittsburgh

I’ve got a partial lineup:

Guillaume Latendresse-Matt Cullen-Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Colton Gillies-Eric Nystrom-Jarod Palmer

Jeff Taffe-Warren Peters-Jed Ortmeyer

Jon DiSalvatore-David McIntyre-XXXXX

The 12th forward will be Carson McMillan, Brad Staubitz or Brett Bulmer

The defensemen will be:

Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon

Justin Falk-Jordan Hendry

Jeff Penner-XXXX

The sixth defenseman will be Kris Fredheim or Marco Scandella

The goalies will be Niklas Backstrom and Dennis Endras.

Wellman might get his first action of the preseason tonight

Casey Wellman was on the charter from Minneapolis, so if he’s ready to go, I’d guess he slots in at the 12th forward spot. If I had to guess, I’d say Scandella gets another chance to go also, especially with both Stoner and Spurgeon (the two whose job he’s competing to steal) playing.

Also, if what the Wild radio crew said last night is correct, look for Backs to play the whole game tonight.

Some questions to ponder:

Jarod Palmer is slotted in with Gillies and Nystrom. Could be a coincidence, but will he grab hold of the opportunity to prove he belongs?

If Wellman is healthy enough to go, which Wellman do we see? The difference maker he learned to be in Houston, or the nervous kid?

Backstrom had a great game against St. Louis. Can he keep it up against Pittsburgh?

Who comes out ahead in the defensive battle today? Will it be Stoner and Spurgeon, or will one of the players battling for a spot sneak in?

That’s all for me. The puck drops on the NHL Network at 2 pm today.

Spurgeon leads Wild to 4-3 win over Oilers

Spurgeon jockeys for position with Ryan Jones in front of the net

I don’t want to get your hopes up and say that this is an indication of how Jared Spurgeon’s season is going to be, but Tuesday’s game against Edmonton was certainly an encouraging sign.

Spurgeon put book ends on a game that saw the Wild let a three-goal lead slip through their fingers and potted the winning goal with just under two minutes to go in the game to give Minnesota their first exhibition win over an NHL team since the 2009-10 season.

Sure, it’s an exhibition game and it doesn’t mean much, but boy does it feel good.

I listened to the game on the radio, so I can’t speak to a ton of the game, but here’s what I noticed by listening:

Kassian and Hordichuk go toe-to-toe (or skate-to-skate)

  • The Latendresse/Cullen/Bouchard line was on point tonight. Some good scoring chances and a combined four points and plus-five on the night. Easily the Wild’s best line all night long, including an absolutely beautiful snipe by Pierre-Marc Bouchard (which I can say because I saw it on NHL On the Fly). Butch just picked his corner and went for it and Khabibulin never had a chance.
  • Harding was very good in his first game back. He played about 30 minutes, give or take, and stopped 14 of 15 shots. Even Mike Yeo thought so, calling Harding’s return and play “Unbelievable.” (Thanks to Russo for that quote from the big guy). The encouraging news? After a shaky start to the game, Hackett was just as good. He gave up two goals in his first six minutes in the game, but really settled down and helped keep the score even for the rest of the way.
  • The Wild are obviously still getting used to Yeo’s system, as evidenced by the second period. The first and third periods, the shots were 7-7 and 9-7 respectively, but the second period the shots were 17-5 in favor of Edmonton. Credit also has to go to Yeo for getting the team settled down after a horrible second period and getting them refocused. Again, an encouraging sign.
  • Matt Kassian, who I’m making no bones about my hopes that he makes the squad this season, came out with a brilliant display of pugilism. He absolutely hammered Darcy Hordichuk after Hordichuk took a run at Nate Prosser, then dropped Hordichuk with three big punches.
  • Jordan Hendry took a step back, in my opinion, but not a huge one. He played good hockey for two periods but had an abysmal second. I feel like he’ll get a couple more chances, but he’s got to play a steady game to make the squad.

As far as my questions go, let’s take a look, shall we?

David McIntyre braces for the face-off against Anton Lander

Will Josh Harding be the same goalie that we’re used to? Or will his string of injuries adversely affect him? Yes and no, respectively. Harding was rock solid in this one.

Will the line of Guillaume Latendresse, Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard be as dominant as they were during the scrimmages this past weekend? I wouldn’t necessarily call them dominant, but they were very, very good all night long. Exactly what the team wants from its second line.

How will the team’s youngsters fare (Jarod Palmer, Brett Bulmer, David McIntyre, Matthew Hackett)? Palmer had a goal, Bulmer annoyed everyone on the other team and Hackett rebounded from a rocky start to have a pretty good game. McIntyre wasn’t really noticeable, at least on the radio, but for a youngster that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. All-in-all, I thought the Wild’s youngsters had a pretty decent game.

Will Jordan Hendry continue to make a positive impression during his tryout? Yes and no. He had two pretty good periods, like I mentioned, but really had a rough second period. For a defenseman with over 100 games of NHL experience, that’s not the type of game that’s going to win you a contract. He’ll get some more opportunities, but he needs to rebound from this to make the squad in my opinion.

Can Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon grab a hold of that lightning in a bottle that saw them both have impressive seasons in their own rights last season? Yes. Both definitely did this. Stoner played his game. He was physical, he was in great position all night long and he blocked shots. Everything that would be asked of him. For Spurgeon, he was the team’s best d-man all night long and he looked dynamic on both sides of the puck.

That’s all for right now, but I may be back later today. It’s my daughter’s birthday, so we’re going to go do whatever it is that she wants to do. The Wild are back in action on Thursday against the Blues, so I’ll update you with their roster as soon as I have it.

Photos Courtesy of Getty Images

Pre-Season Gameday Thread: @ Edmonton

Well, there’s going to be a bit of a change to the gameday threads this season — namely, they’re going to be a lot shorter and a lot more for your discussion than anything else. I’ll be popping in now and again to chat with y’all but, for the most part, you can just discuss.

But, before I get to the gameday part, some pandering. Check out my first power rankings of the season at Hockey Primetime, right here.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, on to the game.

There are actually a fair amount of questions for tonight’s game that I think bear discussion:

Will Josh Harding be the same goalie that we’re used to? Or will his string of injuries adversely affect him?

Will the line of Guillaume Latendresse, Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard be as dominant as they were during the scrimmages this past weekend?

How will the team’s youngsters fare (Jarod Palmer, Brett Bulmer, David McIntyre, Matthew Hackett)?

Will Jordan Hendry continue to make a positive impression during his tryout?

Can Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon grab a hold of that lightning in a bottle that saw them both have impressive seasons in their own rights last season?

Feel free to discuss them here or on our Facebook page. I’ve got my fantasy draft tonight, so I’ll be back later tonight or tomorrow to take a look at these questions as well as have my first Fantasy column for you all. Enjoy tonight’s game!

Holy crap, the pre-season starts tomorrow (Line Combos)

Well, we all knew it was coming but this one really snuck up on me after my weekend of family (and wedding) fun. We have line combinations for the Wild’s first pre-season game on Tuesday.

Per Russo:

The roster Tuesday:

Fowards:

Guillaume Latendresse-Matt Cullen-Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck

Brett Bulmer-Warren Peters-Jed Ortmeyer

Matt Kassian-David McIntyre-Jarod Palmer

Defensemen

Jordan Hendry-Mike Lundin

Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon

Justin Falk-Nate Prosser

Extra, it appears: Tyler Cuma

Goalies:

Josh Harding, making his first start since his exhibition debut a year ago, and Matt Hackett will split the cage.

No big surprises here yet, but you do get a good idea of what Coach Mike Yeo is thinking for some line/d-pairing combinations.

Jordan Hendry earned a spot on Tuesday's roster

First of all, as Russo says, it was supposed to be Nick Schultz paired with Mike Lundin (top d-pairing, anyone?), but instead Jordan Hendry impressed so much on Saturday’s and Sunday’s scrimmages that he earned the spot.

Well, that’s definitely some encouraging news.

So, basically, the Wild are going with two of their NHL forward lines followed by two lines of players vying to make the squad and two NHL d-pairings followed by three players trying to make the squad.

That’s right, I said two NHL d-pairings.

I’ve maintained all along that the Wild would probably look to an NHL veteran to fill their seventh d-man spot, and Jordan Hendry will be that guy. Bank on it.

He doesn’t take ice time away from any prospects (unless the prospects just plain stink) and he’s a guy that is established enough in the NHL and plays a safe enough defensive game to push players like Clayton Stoner. The fact that he came out and impressed during this weekend’s scrimmages just proves it.

He might not get the lion’s share of ice time this season, but Hendry will be on the squad in some capacity.

Kassian might be a dark horse to make the squad.

Of the group playing on Tuesday, the two that I think will get a good, long look this camp will be Matt Kassian and Jed Ortmeyer.

While still a prospect, Kassian’s game doesn’t really have much growing to do. He’s a fighter, plain and simple. That’s his role and that’s where he excels. We’ve got a new coach with a similar, yet different philosophy than Richards. Brad Staubitz might not be who he wants to roll with in the enforcer role all the time, which opens the door for Kassian.

In Ortmeyer, you’ve got a proven NHL veteran. He’s a consummate pro and can fill that 13th or 14th forward spot with ease, slotting in whenever and wherever he’s needed. In essence, he’s like the utility man on a baseball team. Unsung, but always there when you need someone.

We’ll have a brief preview of the game up tonight or tomorrow, as well as our player profile of Darroll Powe.

Wild Invite D Jordan Hendry to Camp

The Wild very well might not be done this off season, but this move will have to wait until after training camp.

In an effort to shore up their blue line depth and possibly add a young, veteran, seventh defenseman, the Wild have invited former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman, Jordan Hendry, to training camp on a tryout contract.

Hendry has played 129 games over parts of the last four seasons and tallied four goals and 13 points over that span. His season was

Hendry will provide a solid option on the blue line.

cut short last season, however, after suffering an ACL tear to his knee following a check by Shane Doan.

Let’s be clear here, this isn’t a game-changing move. Hendry isn’t going to come in and bump Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, NickSchultz or Mike Lundin out of the top-four. He probably won’t even bump Clayton Stoner out of the fifth defensive spot.

What he’ll do, though, is push the team’s young d-men challenging for the sixth and seventh defensive spots (Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella) and see how they react under pressure for the job.

I’ve been saying that the Wild needed to pick up a defenseman with some experience to fill that seventh d-man spot and, I think Hendry does just that. He’s won a Stanley Cup, he’s played in well over 100 games in his career and there’s no doubt that he’s got an inside track towards winning a spot on the roster.

Were it not for his injury last season, I think Hendry might have been signed outright by the team. As it stands, though, the Wild are under no obligation to sign Hendry so they get a risk-free chance to evaluate how he has recovered from his injury.

If he’s recovered, I see Hendry being signed. The Wild need to allow their younger defensemen to develop and that’s not going to happen with either of them sitting in the press box for 40-50 games this season. The Wild need that veteran to be that seventh defenseman and Hendry is someone who is both experienced at that role and experienced in the NHL.

Around the NHL: 8/23/11

Sorry about the lack of posts the last few days. It was a bit of an extended weekend in preparation for a season where there won’t likely be many extended weekends.

Before we get into taking a trip around the NHL, we’ve got some housekeeping to take care of. First, starting around mid-September, the mailbag on Monday will be interspersed with a fantasy hockey blog (namely, one following the Wild Nation Hockey League). There will be some advice in there along the way, but a lot of it will be a chronicle of my quest for the Cup.

Second, there haven’t yet been any responses for the Wild Nation contest we’re having here. If you’re interested, make sure you get your submissions in soon, as the deadline is September 1.

And now, on to the NHL.

* * * * *

Top Free Agents Remain
The feeding frenzy that typically occurs over the first handful of days in free agency is long gone. For the most part, teams are happy with their rosters and are now looking ahead towards training camp, their rosters in place with maybe one or two spots open for roster battles amongst their youngsters.

So where does that leave players like Chris Campoli or Sergei Samsonov?

Unfortunately, it might mean a tryout contract or a stint in the KHL.

It’s strange that Campoli, a big ticket player at last season’s trade deadline, now finds himself on the outside looking in. Same with Samsonov, a skilled but highly streaky player, and veterans like Bryan McCabe of John Madden, but it’s starting to look like that’s the cost of doing business in the NHL these days.

{Authors Note: I’m leaving Teemu Selanne off this list because we all know that, if he plays again, it’s going to be for Anaheim.}

Fans of the other 29 teams shouldn't get their hopes up. He'll be a Duck.

Teams just simply aren’t looking for bargain bin veterans anymore. They’re not looking for a 36 or 37 year old who can come in and be a leader in their locker room and provide some experienced minutes as a third-pairing defenseman or a fourth-line forward.

By this point in the season, if they wanted that type of player, they’ve gotten them.

What teams are now looking for is youth and they’re looking within their own organizations to do it, because that’s how the NHL is trending these days.

Just look at this year’s free agency market and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The big spenders went after Brad Richards.

Don’t get me wrong. Brad Richards is a good player and he’ll undoubtedly be an invaluable one for both the Rangers and Marian Gaborik. But most looked at the free agent crop this season and decided that it just wasn’t worth the money.

That’s the view a lot of teams are taking these days.

Sure, the big ticket free agents are going to get theirs but, in these hard economic times, teams aren’t as willing to overpay for third-liners or for second and third-pairing defensemen as they once were.

Instead, they’re looking within their own organization to fill their holes and that’s become both a great thing and a bad thing for the NHL.

It’s great, in that it energizes the fans. Speaking as a fan, I can tell you that nothing is more excited than undiscovered potential.

When you get a free agent, you already have an idea of what they’re going to do with the team. In terms of the Wild, when they signed Matt Cullen, we knew he would get around 40 points, play on the point on the power play and play in a third-line role. When they signed Greg Zanon, we knew he would block shots and play great defense.

"Will Work for a Cup"

What we Wild fans didn’t know, last season, was that Clayton Stoner would emerge to be a terrific shut-down defenseman, or that Jared Spurgeon would get a call up to the big squad and just not let go of the role.

When you’ve got spots open for a roster battle, it’s electric and it makes for a great pre-season. The team showcases those players and you get to see a lot of players that you wouldn’t otherwise see a lot of. It’s just plain fun to watch.

On the downside, though, you’ve got players who still have some tread left on the tires relegated to the AHL or the KHL or other European leagues.

These established veterans are forced to search for tryout contracts where they have to impress ten times more than the rookies that they are competing with for these jobs because, let’s be honest, the rookies contracts are going to be cheaper.

That shift in culture is going to leave a lot of useful players like McCabe and Madden out in the cold. It’s even starting to take its toll on mid-range players like Samsonov and Campoli (the problem with those being that they may not be adjusting their contract demands to meet the stark reality that they might not be as valued as they think they are).

On the business side and the fan side, it’s a great thing. You don’t have to say to yourself quite as often, “Why the hell did we just spend $3 million on so and so.”

But there’s a human side to the equation too, and it’s leaving a lot of players who still have a lot left in them without jobs and that’s a hard pill to swallow.

* * * * *

Just one for today. I’ll be profiling Mikael Granlund tomorrow in our prospect profile (which will probably be up either tonight or later tomorrow night) and I’ll have some more pictures from the Octagon Camp for you tomorrow as well.

Also, starting next week, we’re going to start profiling our current roster, reacquainting you with the ones you know, familiarizing you with the ones you don’t and getting you amped for what’s looking to be an exciting season this year.

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!

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.

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.

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