Wild rebound with strong win over Stars

It’s going to be a short one tonight because, frankly, it’s late and I’m tired.

The Wild responded against the Dallas Stars and responded in a big way. They fell behind in the first period, after being outshot 11-5 (but not being outplayed) when Eric Nystrom repaid the Wild’s “betrayal” by putting the Stars up 1-0.

If we’ve learned anything about the Wild over this last stretch of games, it’s that when the going gets tough, they fold, right?

Not this time.

Minnesota fought back, this time, and Devin Setoguchi potted a power-play goal to tie the game.

The Wild continued to play good hockey but, again, the Stars got the upper hand with Phillip Larson scoring to put them up 2-1. After that, Darroll Powe manned up and answered the bell against Steve Ott, and everything changed.

Just over two minutes over that fight, Cal Clutterbuck potted his 12th goal of the season after a Dallas turnover and a missed check then, not even 20 seconds after that, Chad Rau scored his first NHL goal, banking the puck off of Brendan Morrow’s stick and past Kari Lehtonen and 59 seconds after Clutterbuck scored, Kyle Brodziak fired a one-timer past Lehtonen to put the Wild up 4-2 and they never looked back.

Dany Heatley capped it off in the third with a goal for his first three-point night since November 2010 and the Wild, all of a sudden, look like they remembered how they got to the top of the standings in the first place.

Some thoughts:

  • The entire defensive unit looked cohesive, once again. In fact, they looked better than they’ve looked in weeks. I don’t want to point my finger and say it was Zidlicky but, after the best defensive performance that the Wild have had in the past few weeks, it’s going to be hard to put him back in the line up. Stoner and Falk were both beasts, Prosser got an assist in his first game back with the team, Spurgeon played out of his mind, Schultz and Zanon were steady again. No one played their way out of the line up, so I don’t see number three coming back in.
  • Heatley played, in my opinion, his best game in a Wild uniform. A goal, two assists, three shots and, most of all, he wasn’t a liability and he was noticeable when he was on the ice. All of this after getting bumped down to the second line and playing with a couple of grinders in Brodziak and Johnson.
  • Harding looked sharp and, despite Backstrom’s record against the Avs, I don’t see Harding leaving the net after this one. No way Yeo changes anything after this one.

Three Stars

1)      Dany Heatley – A goal, two assists and, best of all, he wasn’t invisible.

2)      Chad Rau – Scored his first NHL goal.

3)      Justin Falk – Could be that he was the Wild’s best defenseman on Friday. He was physical, played great defense and had a great bounce back game after being scratched in Toronto.

The ball keeps rolling down hill; Wild lose to Leafs

Honestly, I don’t know what more to say than what has already been said by every other person covering the Wild out there.

For the first time this season, I truly feel like the Wild have nothing good that they can take away from last night’s loss to the Maple Leafs. In other games, they struggled and it was their struggles that really turned the game on its ear for them, but last night they just didn’t do anything right.

They were down 1-0 50 seconds in and 2-0 5:11 in on two plays that were easily avoidable. The defense was horrific, the offense was non-existent. In fact, I would venture that the Wild’s goaltending was the best part about their performance last night – and they gave up four goals.

To briefly defend that assertion, yes, Backstrom could have been better last night. At some point, he’s got to take it upon himself and make a big save to keep the Wild in the game when they’re playing bad. That said, the Wild simply cannot rely on him to do it all himself.

On the Leafs’ first goal, sure, Backstrom probably should have frozen the puck instead of playing it to the corner. But look at this picture:

Let’s break this down for a moment, shall we? (I know I said it would be brief. I lied.)

First, Backstrom directed the puck to the corner instead of freezing it. Mistake number one. Gotcha.

In the above picture, Lundin is chasing Lupul. Why? Because he got REALLY excited about the puck and over pursued. Wellman is standing, staring, presumably because he likes Lupul’s skates and wants to know where he got them. Zidlicky is actually doing what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s a bit high because of how the play developed, but he’s trusting that the center, Peters, is covering low (which he is) and playing the pass out to Kadri at that point in time. Peters is seeing the play develop and happens to be the only Wild player on the ice not looking at the puck and Heatley is doing…something…over by the hashmarks.

When the play develops, and watch this on NHL.com, because it is a truly spectacular display of what not to do in this situation. Lupul forces the issue, attacking the center of the ice. Wellman, Lundin and Zidlicky converge on him, Peters kind of, sort of makes an attempt to drift towards Kadri and Heatley just kind of stays where he is because, once Backstrom makes the save, he’ll be able to release and…Oops.

I could do this with all four Maple Leafs goals but I’ll spare all of you (and myself) the pain involved in it. Suffice it to say that yes, Backstrom wasn’t great, but the Wild’s defense was much, much worse.

So what’s the fix?

At this point, if I’m Mike Yeo, I’d recommend to Chuck Fletcher that every single player on the Wild’s roster be fair game for a trade and let your entire team know that this is what you’re recommending because this team needs a kick where the sun don’t shine.

Right now, they’re not exploding – they’re imploding. They’re frustrated and they’re no longer even keeping up the pretense that they’re playing within their system and they’re starting to turn on one another.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Fletcher knows something needs to change and he’s working hard to change it. As Mike Russo said, a trade is looking imminent. Something – anything – to wake this team up and give them some sort of spark.

I’m sure that many are hoping that the trade will involve a top-six forward *cough*Zach Parise*cough* coming to the Wild and, while I’d like to hope that is the case, I don’t see that happening unless Fletcher has some sort of assurance that Parise will sign a long-term extension with the Wild. Otherwise, giving up the prospects and picks it would take to get someone like Zach Parise wouldn’t be worth it.

You could look at Columbus (one of the few teams that may, legitimately, be out of the playoff race) but, if they go into “sell” mode, it’s going to be for prospects and picks and I don’t see the Wild giving up either to get someone like Vinny Prospal or Antoine Vermette, though either player may help the Wild this season.

I don’t want to speculate who the Wild might try to move because, really, I don’t know that there’s a player on their roster (other than the three that are on IR) that is safe. Moving a key piece like Heatley or Backstrom or Matt Cullen is a very high-risk move that could reap a high-reward, not necessarily just in the return, but in the fact that it might give the team that kick in the rear that they need.

I don’t know, though. If I had the answers, I’d be an NHL general manager. I don’t have the answers and, at this point, I’m really at a loss for any sort of solution.

Yes, the three players that are arguably the Wild’s three best players are hurt. There is most certainly that to take into account. But, at the same time, isn’t that why we picked up Heatley and Devin Setoguchi?

Players need to start stepping up. Heatley and Setoguchi have combined for 22 goals so far this season. If they were one person, that would get them in the top-ten for goal scoring. That’s just not good enough.

The Wild brought them in to score. They brought them in to change the mentality of the team and, instead, the team seems to have changed the mentality of the players.

I would be very surprised if a move isn’t made before Hockey Day in Minnesota on Saturday but, that’s not to say that I think Fletcher is going to make a knee-jerk reaction and make a trade just for the sake of making a trade. He’s learned from his mistakes in trading for Kobasew (which, in my opinion, still wasn’t a horrible trade) and Barker (which was a horrible trade). If there’s a good trade to be had, he’s going to make it.

But something has to give soon. Otherwise, we might be talking about how great it will be to see Yakupov play with Granlund next season (which, truth be told, would be pretty cool).

Wild struggle, drop another against Flames

You know, it’s getting harder and harder to write about this team.

Not because I don’t want to talk about a loss. I’ve got no problem doing that. Where the problem starts is when I come to what to write on a nightly basis, because I don’t want to sound like a broken record but, unfortunately, that’s what it’s become.

The Wild have absolutely no teeth on offense right now.

They came out on fire and, through the first eight minutes of the game looked like it could be another 9-0 tilt against the Flames. They were forechecking hard, they were supporting each other (every time someone went in hard on the forecheck, there was someone there to grab the puck that was knocked loose), they were getting pressure on Kiprusoff – they were doing everything that they had to do.

But after that eight minutes, it just went away and from then on out, it was just the Wild holding on and Niklas Backstrom keeping them in the game.

Unfortunately for the Wild, you can’t win every game with goaltending. You’ve got to score, and they continue to be unable to do that.

To Minnesota’s credit, they picked it up again after Dany Heatley broke the shutout with about six minutes to go in the game but, by that point, it was too little too late.

This is a team that has not only lost the identity that helped it get to the top of the NHL. This is a team that has lost its pride. You could tell that, when Vancouver scored the first goal a couple nights ago, it was over and you could tell the same on Saturday when the Flames scored.

A confident team – a team playing with pride and passion – can stop the bleeding. They can push and push and get that goal back. The Wild, right now, can’t. You could see the physical change in the way they were playing early on. They came out and worked their asses off early in the game and, after they were denied a few times in the first eight minutes, they just stopped.

I hate to say this, but they quit on Mike Yeo on Saturday night – something that they haven’t done all season long.

They came out and played his system to a T and, when it didn’t work, just stopped.

In fact, the lone player on the team that seemed to have any sort of passion or, for that matter, even seemed to care about the outcome of the game was Backstrom. It’s hard to blame Backs for any of the goals that were given up tonight. The first, Wellman turned the wrong way (rookie mistake) and the Flames cashed in on a net that was basically empty.

Things started to go downhill there, with Iginla getting his 500th career goal (I promise, not all of those have come against the Wild) on a pinball goal that went off both Zidlicky’s and Koivu’s skates before going in, then Glencross cashed in on the power play after the Wild went to the well one too many times.

Right now, something’s got to give. In my estimation, Fletcher is doing the right thing – he’s giving the roster that he has the opportunity to respond now that they are getting healthy. After Saturday’s game, though, he shouldn’t give them too much of a leash. Changes need to come and they need to be drastic to kick this team in the ass and get them back in gear, otherwise, talking about how the Wild are going to fit Nail Yakupov into the line up next season could be a real possibility.

Wild lose again, time for a change?

Well, regression or not, it’s undeniable that the Wild are on a losing streak – big time.

I’ve been sick as a dog lately, so I taped last night’s tilt to watch this morning and, I’ll be honest – I fast forwarded through a good part of the game. It’s not that the Wild played bad, per se, but they didn’t play well, either.

At the end of the day, the Wild fell 2-0 to the Canucks and have now been shutout in three straight showings by Roberto Luongo. In fact, in their recent skid of 0-5-1 on the road, the Wild have scored just four goals.

I’ll let that sink in.

Four goals in their last six road games.

This is a team that needs offensive help – big time.

Now, per ye olde Wild scribe, Mike Russo, Chuck Fletcher is reportedly talking trade right now and rightfully so. This team needs a kick in the ass. They’ve gone from one of the top teams in the league to barely holding on to a playoff spot and a large reason why has been their inability to score goals.

And, let’s be very clear with this. Where the Wild are struggling isn’t their secondary scoring. Of the four players on their team that are in double digits for goals, three of those four players are “secondary scorers.”

This isn’t a failing by the Wild’s role players. This is a failing with their top-tier scorers.

The fact that Devin Setoguchi has played 12 games fewer than Dany Heatley, yet has just four fewer goals is absolutely inexcusable. The fact that he has just one less goal than Mikko Koivu, despite eight fewer games is ridiculous.

We can talk about the system and the goaltending and the upgraded offense until we’re blue in the face – the bottom line is that the offense hasn’t looked upgraded one bit this season.

So, if the Wild are going to make a trade, it can’t be for a “fringe” top-six player. I would even go so far as to say that it can’t be for anyone less than a top-three player. That’s how dire the Wild’s situation is at the moment. They need something to spark them.

There are no lack of those players available right now, either.

Anaheim has basically put a “For Sale” sign on their entire roster (though, Bob Murray has said that, for a core player like Getzlaf, Perry or Ryan a core player would be expected in return), Rick Nash has said that he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause if it were in the best interest of the Blue Jackets’ franchise to move him (which, it very well could be), Tampa Bay is in need of both a goaltender and defensive help (which, with the emergence of Matt Hackett, the Wild have both to spare).

These aren’t rumors, this isn’t any inside information – this is just to say that top-tier help could be available for the right price and, at this point in time, it’s looking like whatever the price the Wild need to pay for talent like that is the right price.

The Ballad of Dany Heatley

I don’t think anyone can deny that Dany Heatley is having a down year. In fact, he’s had a down couple of years for the Wild sniper.

Currently, he’s on pace for 57 points and 25 goals. Respectable numbers for most but, for a former 100 point, 50 goal scorer, another disappointing season and, for a team that hasn’t been scoring goals, it is a pace that is fairly difficult to watch by the fans for a player who was expected to recapture his former point-per-game self.

This isn’t to say that Heatley can’t come on strong. In his last three games since Mikko Koivu returned from injury, he’s got four points. Averaging a point-per-game from here on out can still get him a pretty respectable (albeit down) season.

But why is this player, who was so determined to have a rebound season after struggling greatly in San Jose last season, stumbling out to this slow start again?

Well, first, you have to consider chemistry.

Especially now, with Devin Setoguchi out, Heatley is playing with players that aren’t that familiar to him. His chemistry with Koivu has been better as the season has progressed, but he’s still getting used to the way that his new linemates play the game.

Throw in the flux in the Wild’s line up (Heatley has had at least four different wings playing to the right of Mikko Koivu) due to injuries and you’ve got a pretty difficult situation for a player to pull together any sort of chemistry in.

If you look, when Heatley was playing with the Senators, or even in his first season with the Sharks, his linemates were static, for the most part. He was part of the team’s “Big 3,” with little to no turnover. In Ottawa, it was always certain who his linemates were going to be – Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson – and, in his first season in San Jose, it was the same case with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

With all of the injuries that the Wild have had to deal with this year, it hasn’t so much been the case.

Also, if you look at these situations, he has never been the lone goal scoring threat on the line. In Ottawa, he could always count on Alfie to draw a little attention from him and, in San Jose, he had Marleau to do the same.

In Minnesota, it’s been much easier for teams to isolate him and lock him down because, for the majority of the season, he’s been out on an island on the left wing. Teams seem content to give more space to the opposite wing than to Heatley.

The second contributing factor is the lack of pucks he’s firing at the net.

Heatley is only on pace for 235 shots this season, which would be the fourth lowest total of his career. He’s been struggling to find the back of the net, to boot, with a 10.7 percent shooting percentage (the lowest of his career). Now, most snipers are streaky folk, which means that the only cure for a down season is to get into a groove, and the only way he’s going to do that is to shoot the puck.

Consider, when he had his two 50 goal seasons in Ottawa, he fired 300 and 310 shots at net, respectively. During these seasons, Heatley had multiple goal droughts of four or five games.

Take the Sens’ Stanley Cup Final season, for example. Heatley had 310 shots and 50 goals that season. In games where Heatley didn’t have a goal, he averaged 3 shots per game. In games where he had at least one goal, though, he averaged 4.78 shots per game – almost 2 full shots more.

So, what does that mean?

Well, for one, in order to score more, Heatley has to shoot more. That’s the type of player he is and that’s how he’s going to find that groove and, make no mistake, he’s got to find that groove if he wants to rebound for the rest of this season.

And finally, the third reason why he’s struggling offensively this season is because of a new focus the defensive zone.

Heatley’s never necessarily been a defensive liability, but his focus has also been offense. In the last few seasons, especially last season in San Josewhen he was hurt, he’s put more of a focus on his own zone. It started last season, because, playing with a broken hand, that’s how he was going to help his team and it has continued into Mike Yeo’s system this season.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Defensive responsibility isn’t a bad thing. Heatley’s doing a great job supporting the defense as opposed to springing out of the defensive zone at the first opportunity. But, truthfully? I don’t know that there’s anyone who would be opposed to a touch less defensive responsibility if it led to a few more prime scoring opportunities for Heater.

Watching him play, it’s hard for me to say that Heatley’s lost a step. He looks like the same player he’s always been – just a bit more tentative at times. The last few games, however, the comfort level seems to be coming and it will come, it’s just going to take time. It also sounds like both Devin Setoguchi and Guillaume Latendresse could be close to returning from their respective injuries.

If that’s the case, hopefully that can bring some stability to the Wild’s line up and to their top line and hopefully, that can get Heatley into a comfortable situation and into that groove that he’s missing right now.

What’s ailing the Wild?

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat. The Wild are struggling, not regressing.

With three of their top six forwards on the shelf, and their only other potential top-six player in the AHL (Casey Wellman) also out, the Wild just don’t have the offensive pop that they need and it’s showing.

Minnesota has taken Mike Yeo’s mandate to shoot the puck to heart, but they just haven’t been burying the puck.

It just shows how important Mikko Koivu is to this team. Despite all of the people that pile on the captain (and I’ve certainly been one of them), it’s become apparent that he is the catalyst for this team.

During his absence, everyone that had been playing well just hasn’t been the same.

Kyle Brodziak looks exhausted, as does Cal Clutterbuck.

Dany Heatley has looked lost without Koivu as his pivot, and Matt Cullen looks out of place on the Wild’s top line.

In fact, Pierre-Marc Bouchard might be the only player that doesn’t look unbelievably uncomfortable without Koivu in the line up.

On defense, the addition of Marek Zidlicky back onto the blue line seems to have thrown off the chemistry that they had going, and they desperately need to get that back because their defense is going to be how they win games.

I want to be clear, though. This isn’t the Wild regressing to the mean, like a lot of people are going to think. The Wild have been thrown off because of these injuries. Now, they won’t use this as an excuse (which is a testament to how good of a coach Mike Yeo is), but the fact of the matter is that they are missing three key components to their offense. Name one team that’s not the Pittsburgh Penguins that could function under those conditions?

The Wild were teetering on the edge of falling off of their hot streak because of all of their injuries, and losing Koivu pushed them over the edge.

That said, they’ve got to find ways to win and they’re just not doing it right now. It may just be a couple day break, but I think that the Christmas break will do the Wild well, and hopefully all they’ll get for Christmas is a healthy team.

Check back later today for our gameday thread.

Gameday Thread: Wild look to slow down Jets

If this keeps up this way, the Wild are going to get a serious Rodney Dangerfield complex, because they just can’t get no respect

Ask any talking head or stat junkie and they’ll tell you that the Wild are one of the worst teams in the league – that is, if they recognize that they’re even part of the NHL.

The talking heads will tell you that the Wild play a passive, defensive style of hockey. That they can’t score goals, that the only reason that they’re winning is because they’re riding strong goaltending, then dismiss the Wild and move on talk for 60 minutes about the fact that Sidney Crosby is still hurt.

They’ll talk about the fact that the Wild are fifth in the league in goals-against (64) and laud how great of a job the Wild’s goaltenders have done winning them hockey games because the Wild are 22nd in the league in goals for per game (2.50).

They’ll ignore, however, that the Wild are actually in the top half of the league in total goals for with 79. They’ll also ignore that the Wild have the seventh best goal differential in the league at plus-15.

They’ll talk about the fact that the Wild don’t have a “go-to” type player. That Kyle Brodziak is leading the Wild in goals and that Dany Heatley isn’t the same player that he was back inOttawa(never mind the fact that Heatley has a point in each of his last six games and his shooting percentage has climbed back into double digits).

In fact, they’ll find every single reason why the Wild shouldn’t be winning hockey games, ignoring the fact that they still are winning hockey games.

The stat junkies will spout their metrics and their Corsi ratings. They’ll talk about how the Wild are terrible because they start more often than not in their own zone or that they’re defying logic because they play a lot of the game in their own zone.

They’ll tell us these things as if they’re revelations to those who watch Wild games on a regular basis when, in reality, we all know these things.

I don’t think any Wild fan is fooling themselves into thinking that the Wild are going to sustain this pace throughout the season. If they did, it would truly be a remarkable task because of the fact that their goalies are getting used and abused with the amount of shots they’re taking (Minnesota is 29th in the league in shots against per game).

But what is painfully obvious in every analysis of the Wild is that neither the talking heads nor the stat junkies are spending any appreciable time actually watching the Wild play.

Neither of these groups take into account the fact that the Wild underwent a significant makeover this off season.

Two of their key offensive components (Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi) are playing their first season alongside anyone other than themselves, while the Wild lost two other key components (Brent Burns and Martin Havlat) from their past teams.

What does that mean? Chemistry, of course.

On top of that, the Wild had to learn a brand new system (or, at least, those that didn’t play inHoustondid). That takes time. It takes time to get comfortable with the system and it takes time to stick with it when the going gets tough.

First, looking at the offensive components, Heatley and Mikko Koivu have combined for 13 points in the last six games. It looks a little like they’re starting to mesh, yeah?

Second, looking at the system and the coaching, over their last 15 games, the Wild are averaging 3.0 goals per game, a significant boost over their season average of 2.5. To give you an idea of the difference .5 goals per game makes,Ottawais currently tenth in the league with 2.93 goals per game. If the Wild had been on this pace since the start of the season, they would be tenth in the league in scoring.

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying, quite simply, that the Wild is improving with each game.

Yes, the statistical breakdown of the Minnesota Wild defies logic. Looking at just the stats, there’s no reason why the Wild should be as good as they are, but the Wild have won 12 of their last 15 games because they’re starting to get it. Their offense is coming around. They’re starting to understand what they need to do to be a winning hockey team.

These metrics and stats that everyone is talking about looks at the stats of their season as a whole, which is important to do, but is also skewed because of the fact that their offense has taken a while to get going. They had to learn one another and they had to learn the system. Now that both are happening, the Wild are coming around and are playing tremendously good hockey.

Now, is this all to say that I think the Wild are going to continue to play this way, win the Presidents’ Trophy and win the Stanley Cup?

No. I’m not going to be as bold as to suggest that.

What I will suggest, however, is that this team is not as bad as everyone seems to think. What I will say is that this is the real Minnesota Wild team, not the team that went 4-3-3 during October.

The offense, the shots, the time of possession – all of that will come with time. But right now, people need to get over their obsession with statistics, sit down and watch a Wild game and realize that, yes, this team is a good hockey team.

Lineup

There is, indeed, a Wild game tonight. Per Wild.com, here is their projected lineup:

Clutterbuck/Koivu/Heatley
Bouchard/Brodziak/Wellman
Johnson/Almond/Powe
Gillies/Staubitz/Latendresse

Schultz/Lundin
Spurgeon/Scandella
Stoner/Zanon

Backstrom is in the cage.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild keep it up? The Wild have played some tough games in the past week, or so, and I would call this game a “trap” game, so to speak. The Wild got to go home and sleep in their own beds on Sunday before heading up to Winnipeg. Cullen is out sick and Latendresse is back in. If there is any game that could see the Wild suffer a let down, it’s this one.

How effective will Latendresse be in his return? Don’t expect him to play a lot, but Latendresse will be back and I would imagine will see power play time, as well as a shift on the top line here and there. The last time G-Lat was “eased” into the line up, he looked pretty impressive in a 3-2 loss to the Ducks, playing a little over 13 minutes and taking three shots. I’d expect a similar game from him tonight, keeping it simple and getting his legs back.

Can the Wild get shots? The Wild have been consistently outshot by a large margin over the last few games, but it hasn’t mattered one bit. To keep winning, though, they’re going to eventually have to start shooting the puck more and playing more on the offensive end of the ice. The Jets might be a good place to start with that.

Can Heatley and Koivu keep it up? The Wild’s top offensive tandem has combined for 13 points in their last six games. Koivu has a four-game point streak going and Heatley’s sits at six currently. Minnesota needs them to keep it going if they’re to keep winning.

The puck drops tonight at 7:30 on FSN.

Wild steal win from Devils

If you were to ask me how the Wild keep winning, I honestly couldn’t tell you.

The Wild played a pretty poor game on Friday night, but still managed to sneak out a 4-2 win over a New Jersey Devils team that has been struggling of late, but is still a very good team.

Friday night, the Wild showed their ability to fight back and, boy did they ever. Minnesota responded to a quick goal by the Devils with a Dany Heatley goal just 20 seconds later (the goal was vintage Heatley, too). Just over three minutes later, Kyle Brodziak scored on a beautiful effort and not even two minutes after that, Casey Wellman re-directed a Matt Cullen shot past Martin Brodeur to give the Wild a two-goal lead and chase the future hall-of-famer from net.

The biggest news coming out of the game, however, was that Niklas Backstrom was injured during the first period. Josh Harding entered in relief and played a solid two periods, stopping all 22 shots he faced. Backstrom’s injury isn’t thought to be serious and it sounds like he’ll be on the road trip with the Wild, but they’ve called up Matt Hackett just to be safe.

Predictably, though, it was a sloppy game for the Wild. It was a one-game home stand, after a big shootout win, against a desperate Devils team and, if not for their great start, the Wild probably lose this game. They spent a good chunk of the game pinned in their own zone because of sloppy play in the neutral zone and poor execution, which is evidenced by their 16 total shots, but they got great goaltending and they never stopped working and battling, which Mike Yeo lauded after the game, saying “I love the work ethic and the attitude that our guys bring.”

But, the good news is that the Wild won. They’ve now won three straight since their two-game slump heading into their five-game road trip and things are very optimistic around the team right now.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild solve the Devils? I don’t know if you can say that they solved the Devils, but they certainly solved Brodeur. 3 goals on 4 shots. Ouch.

Can the Wild get on the board first? Nope but, once again, it didn’t matter. With as quickly as they responded to the Devils’ goal, though, they might as well have scored first.

Can Casey Wellman impress on the second line? He scored a goal, he brought speed and even a bit of a physical game and his goal was not only a key goal but it was the type of goal that the Wild are looking for more of – the dirty kind.

3 Stars

1)      Kyle Brodziak – Two goals, plus-two and five shots.
2)      Josh Harding – Stopped 22 of 22 shots and was dominant for the Wild.
3)      Zach Parise – A goal and an assist and eight shots.

We’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend!

Wild get big win over Preds

If there was ever a playoff series I want to see, it would have to be between the Wild and the Predators.

By the time the game was over, there was so much pent up animosity between the two teams, I’m surprised things didn’t boil over at the final horn (though there was never really a chance for it to).

It started at the end of the first period, with Francois Boullion poking and prodding at Dany Heatley and seemed to abate a bit until Mike Fisher blatantly speared Kyle Brodziak in a “sensitive” area.

Fisher’s excuse to Brodziak? It wasn’t intentional.

I watched the replay and there was nothing unintentional about it.

It really got going, though, late in the third when Cal Clutterbuck caught an unseen punch from Patric Hornqvist and went absolutely ballistic. In fact, he got a solid DDT from the ref in order to stop him from trying to tear Hornqvist limb from limb.

But the Wild came out and played a full game and played quite well for the duration. They seemed very disorganized in the offensive zone during the first two periods but, they spent most of that time in the offensive zone. In fact, the Preds were so pressed in their own zone that, when they got the puck, all they could do a lot of the time is chip it out and change.

That’s exactly what the Wild want.

They wore the Preds down and, were it not for Pekka Rinne, the game could have been a lot different. Like 5-2 or 6-2 different.

Rinne was brilliant all night long but, by the time the third period rolled around, the Wild had won the war of attrition. They finally played their game for the whole 60 minutes and it paid off for them.

And, speaking of which, I’m sold. I’m sold on the system, I’m sold on the coach and I’m sold that this team is actually a good team.

That’s right, I’ve said it. They’re a good team.

They’re not only getting bounces, but they’re creating bounces.

You hear coaches on teams that are down say a lot that they’ve got to create their own luck, and that’s true. Puck luck only takes you part of the way. The rest is up to the team to create and that’s what the Wild are doing. They’re putting themselves in the right positions to get those lucky bounces and things are starting to fall into place.

What else?

  • Dany Heatley looked like the Dany Heatley of old tonight. He broke a six-game goal drought with his third-period tally, he had four shots and he legitimately could have had a hat trick tonight if not for some solid goaltending by Pekka Rinne.
  • Koivu was dominant again tonight. He had two assists, three shots and he led the Wild in ice time.
  • Harding was dazzling once again, which keeps giving the Wild a great tandem. He’s 10-0-1 in his last 11 games at home (dating back to 2008).

Burning Questions

 Can the Wild avoid a letdown tonight? Boy, did they. They played great in all three zones tonight and were a dominant team.

Can the Wild’s weapons start firing? Their top line combined for three points. They definitely started.

Can the Wild’s second line get into the act again? Yes and no. Clutterbuck got a shortie and their second power play had the PP goal.

Three Stars

 1)      Mikko Koivu – 2 assists and dominating play all night long.
2)      Dany Heatley – 1 goal, great offensive play.
3)      Josh Harding – 23 of 25 saves, was dazzling all night long.

Gameday Thread: Preds smash into St. Paul

The Wild haven’t played a game since Saturday’s win over the St. Louis Blues, but one thing’s for sure. It was probably the most enjoyable three day break for the fans that they’ve had in quite some time.

Why?

Because the Wild were sitting atop the NHL for the entirety of it.

Now, we at Wild Nation aren’t counting our chickens before they’re hatched. There’s still 62 games to play. It doesn’t matter if the Wild are first in the NHL on November 23. It matters if the Wild are first in the NHL on April 7.

But it’s cool nonetheless.

Now, the Wild aren’t getting ahead of themselves. They’re not content with this accomplishment and they’re not going to rest on their laurels. In fact, Mike Yeo is saying all the right things, basically saying that the Wild aren’t satisfied with this (a paraphrase, of course). He’s saying what he’s supposed to, the players are saying what they’re supposed to. Everyone’s focused on moving forward.

That’s going to be important, because the Wild have a huge test coming up tonight in the Nashville Predators who, if you were wondering, are currently fifth in the West, just three points behind the Wild.

The Wild have won eight of their last ten, but they’ve also been playing against a bunch of teams that have been struggling. The two losses in their last ten were against the Kings and Sharks – two teams that have been playing quite well – so this is going to be a great test of where the Wild are at.

The good news is that they’re not only winning the games they’re supposed to be winning, but they’re also finding ways to win close games and they’re starting to expect to win close games and they’re starting to expect to win, period.

That’s good news, because that confidence is going to come in handy, especially as long as their top scorers aren’t scoring.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here’s the line up for tonight’s tilt:

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley (Koivu finally showed up on offense on Saturday. Now it’s time for Heatley and Setoguchi to follow suit. If I know anything about the Wild’s Captain, he’s not going to be satisfied with his performance against the Blues, and he’ll drive his linemates to be better too.)
Bouchard/Cullen/Clutterbuck (This line has really struggled without the presence of Latendresse or Setoguchi. Clutterbuck is a great player, but something just seems off when I watch these guys skate together.)
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson (I can’t really say much that hasn’t already been said about these three. They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and they’re really coming into their own as a solid checking line.)
Gillies-Peters-Staubitz (The Wild basically need these three to play eight to ten minutes of mistake-free hockey. They’ve been doing that recently.)

Schultz/Prosser (Nate Prosser is blossoming into a stud, right in front of our eyes. That is all.)
Scandella/Stoner (Marco Scandella is returning to the line up after missing a couple games with a concussion. Given how cautious the Wild have been returning people from concussions of late, I wouldn’t expect any setbacks, but keep an eye on him nonetheless.)
Spurgeon/Falk (Justin Falk has been unbelievably impressive this season. With how he’s playing, as well as the rest of the young defensemen, it’s going to be really hard to justify taking anyone out of this line up when Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin get healthy.)

Backstrom between the pipes.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild avoid a letdown tonight? The Wild have had great success against teams not in the top eight, but have struggled a bit against the conference’s top eight. This is going to be a huge test for the team, but one that I think they can definitely pass if they play their game.

Can the Wild’s weapons start firing? Dany Heatley is second on the team in points, but sports a sad looking 9.5% shooting percentage. Setoguchi’s is much better at 14.3% (it’s higher than his career average) but Koivu’s is at 6.5%. The Wild need these three to get into a groove, and the only way they’re going to do that is by shooting the puck.

Can the Wild’s second line get into the act again? The Wild’s second line has really looked lost at times with Clutterbuck on it. With Latendresse out indefinitely, they need to start getting some chemistry between the three.

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

Next Page »