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).

Gameday Thread – Game 28 – Ducks @ Wild

The good news has been few and far between this season for the Wild; however, they will try to make it four wins in a row tonight as the Anaheim Ducks roll into town for the third meeting between the two teams. 

Each team has won on their home ice thus far in the season series, with the Wild taking the first game in dramatic fashion, coming from three goals behind in the third period to win the game in overtime and the Ducks returning the favor with a 3-2 victory in Anaheim just eight days later.     

The Water Fowl are just one point behind the Wild in the Western Conference standings, but have dropped their last two games and have struggled for most of this season. 

Part of those struggles have been because of their goaltending.  The usually spectacular tandem of Jonas Hiller and Jean-Sebastian Giguere have both been putting up pedestrian numbers this season—Giguere with a .918 save percentage and a 2.61 goals-against average and Hiller with .909 and 3.09 respectively. 

The Wild, meanwhile, are riding a three game winning streak and are 4-0-1 in their last five games, with their current winning ways pulling them to a 12-12-3 record after starting the season 3-9-0. 

A large part of the Wild’s new winning ways is the fresh lease on life that new acquisitions Andrew Ebbett and Guillaume Latendresse have.  Ebbett and G-Lat were both castoffs from their prior teams and have found stability with the Wild, each playing a humungous part in the team’s five-game point streak.  On top of that, captain Mikko Koivu has five points in his last three games. 

Probable Lineup(s)
While I have no information for the Ducklings, the Wild should be rolling the same offensive lines as they did against Nashville: 

Brunette-Koivu-Miettinen
Nolan-Belanger-Kobasew
Latendresse-Brodziak-Clutterbuck
Havlat-Ebbett-Boogaard 

The fact that Martin Havlat has been shifted to the team’s fourth line speaks to just how well this team is playing right now.  If he wants to move up, he’s going to need to start showing something to the coaching staff.  His assist in Wednesday’s game is a good start, but he needs to start showing that he can be the Martin Havlat that led the Blackhawks in points despite playing second-line minutes last season before he can expect to start being shifted up the lineup again. 

On defense, the Wild will again look much the same with the exception of John Scott being shifted in for Jamie Sifers against a big, physical team of Duckies. 

Zanon-Zidlicky
Schultz-Johnsson
Hnidy-Scott 

That Zanon and Zidlicky are the team’s first defensive pairing speaks to just how well these two are playing right now.  Despite his blunder in the first period against Nashville, which led to a Jason Arnott goal, Zidlicky is playing some of the best hockey of his career right now.  He’s becoming more responsible on defense, along with being encouraged to jump up into the play on offense.  He still has one of the best shots on the Wild and is now feeling comfortable enough to be able to pinch up to use it, but still be able to maintain his defensive responsibilities. 

In nets, it looks like we’ll be seeing Niklas Backstrom again, thought it wouldn’t surprise me if the team opted for Harding as a late switch. 

What to Watch For
Keep an eye out for Corey Perry in this one.  Perry is always dangerous but should be even more so tonight as he will be looking to get back on the scoresheet after having his 19-game point streak snapped last night against Dallas. 

Despite being shutout in the game last night, Perry has 12 points in his last ten games. 

The Quackers will need Perry in this one, as they have dropped seven straight on the road and I would just like to mention that, by pointing that seemingly inane statistic out, I have just doomed the Wild to a night of failure. 

Also, keep an eye out for the Wild’s special teams—most notably, if you can spot them. 

The Wild’s powerplay started out strong this season, but with the losses of Brent Burns, Petr Sykora and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, as well as absences from Martin Havlat and Antti Miettinen, their powerplay has fizzled as of late, dropping to 19.3%. 

The Mallards are an aggressive team and prone to taking penalties, so don’t be surprised if the Wild’s powerplay unit gets their fair share of action in tonight’s game. 

Hopefully, however, that is a good thing for the Wild. 

Keys to the Game
The Wild need to stay out of the box. 

Against a team as aggressive as the Web-Footed Birds (give me a break…I’m running out of fresh names to call the Ducks) are, it is easy to let yourself fall into the same trap and take retaliation penalties.  The Wild need to avoid this at all costs. 

More penalties means more time that the Wild can expect to see the unit of Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan and the less time they spend on the ice, the better for the Wild. 

Injuries will also play a part. 

The Ducks are missing Teemu Selanne, Kyle Calder, Joffrey Lupul and Ryan Carter, while the Wild are still missing Burns, Bouchard and Sykora. 

My Predictions
And now I’ll make a few predictions destined to be very, very far from the mark. 

First, the Wild will continue their win streak with a 4-3 victory (strike number two against the team in this blog alone). 

Second, the newcomers will continue their strong play.  Both Latendresse and Ebbett have provided some much needed scoring punch to the lineup and will continue to do so. 

Third, Martin Havlat will start getting back on track.  I know this one might be a stretch but, come on…The guy’s due.

There you have it, folks.  My extremely unscientific and possibly biased view of tonight’s game. 

The puck drops at the X tonight at 7 pm CST.

Game Recap: Wild 4 Ducks 3

The end result definitely made what it took to get there bearable. 

But just barely. 

After two periods of some of the sloppiest hockey I’ve ever seen the Wild play, the team rebounded and in a big way. 

During the first two periods, the Wild’s play was absolutely atrocious.  They were giving away odd man rushes like candy on Halloween, to the point where they actually gave up a 4-on-1 at one point.  In fact, the only reason that the fans in the X had to cheer during the first 40 minutes of the game was when the result of the Twins game trickled down. 

But then big John Scott stepped onto the ice in the third. 

Scott was determined to stay with the team, no matter what, this season so he took boxing lessons with Derek Boogaard over the off season and man did it show.  Say what you want about fighting’s place in the game, but this fight was one of the ones that actually had a purpose. 

Scott started and ended the fight with a big right hand and the end result was pugilism specialist George Parros looking up at the rafters, wondering what train just hit him. 

The end result for the Wild?  A spark of energy that the team hadn’t had all game long. 

Suddenly, it just clicked.  It was one of those moments when, all of a sudden, you could see everything just make sense to the team.  After two periods of playing tentative, sloppy hockey, suddenly the team was loose, they were going out and actually just playing hockey instead of worrying about who needed to be where. 

It started after Joffrey Lupul went off for hooking.  Just over a minute into the powerplay, Mikko Koivu got the Wild on the board, and the team took off.  Just under six minutes after that Petr Sykora notched his first goal in a Wild sweater and the crowd began to stir — there was something special in the works.  Then, when Ryan Whitney went off for tackling holding, the X began buzzing.  Could we be seeing yet another spectacular finish to a Minnesota sports game? 

Eric Belanger would give the fans their answer just over a minute in as he beat J.S. Giguere on a goal that you could barely tell made it in the net it came out so quickly. 

So, why not.  Let’s go to overtime. 

It didn’t take the Wild long in OT, as Kyle Brodziak took a page from the Cal Clutterbuck notebook and goaded James Wisniewski into taking a penalty after the whistle.

Petr Sykora scored his first goal in a Wild sweater on Tuesday.

Petr Sykora scored his first goal in a Wild sweater on Tuesday.

That set up Andrew Brunette, who knows a thing or two about game winners, to be the star of the night and cap the team’s comeback with a goal on the powerplay 3:02 into OT. 

“Backs” to Basics
Despite what the stats indicate, Niklas Backstrom played a relatively solid game.  All three goals were a direct result of a defensive lapse by the team and only one of those three goals Backstrom had any sort of chance on. 

Don’t let the stat sheet fool you.  Backstrom is a top flight goalie.  But your goalie can only do so much. 

On Lupul’s goal, there is absolutely no reason why Lupul should have been standing, untouched, in front of the team’s net.  The result?  An easy tip in for the young sniper. 

On Artyukhin’s, it was a significant lack of back checking that resulted in the Russian forward being wiiiiiiiide open in the slot with an empty net in front of him.  The extra “I’s” are to emphasize just how open Artyukhin was.  Let’s just say that my one year old daughter could have buried that shot with no problem. 

On Koivu’s goal, the only one that Backstrom had any chance on, he was left untouched in the slot.  Give any NHL player that much time in the slot (except for maybe Derek Boogaard) and they’ll kill you. 

The bottom line is that the Wild have a world class goalie behind them, but they need to give him the chance to make the save.  On only one of the Ducks’ three goals, Backstrom had that chance and, on that one, Koivu had to bounce it off the pipe to get the goal. 

Rivalry Renewed
I’d equate this game to the first time you see an ex-girlfriend in a few years.  You start out amicably, but by the end of the night, you remember why the two of you broke up. 

This was a lot like that. 

The teams started out relatively calmly.  There was some physical play, but nothing that wasn’t to be expected. 

But by the end of the second period, these two teams looked to be back to flat out hating each other again.  Even to the point where the two teams were looking to extend the extra curricular activities after the game had ended. 

I’d tune in the next time these two teams face off on the 14th

Time to Shine
Here’s the deal, and I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this. 

When he wasn’t trying to avoid rogue goalies last night, Benoit Pouliot actually looked pretty good. 

He didn’t get onto the score sheet and he didn’t play a big role in the game with only 5:11 in ice time, but one thing is for sure.  In that 5:11 that he was on the ice, you noticed him — and not in a bad way either. 

He was throwing his weight around and he honestly seemed to be buying into the checking role that he was playing. 

In fact, watching from up above, I got the sense that people might just think that he’s not trying hard out there because he just skates so darn effortlessly.  The man looks like he’s actually skating above the ice instead of on it. 

With Bouchard out indefinitely with an injury and the team not calling up any more forwards as of yet, Pouliot has a golden chance that he needs to seize. 

Bottom line, he needs to make it impossible for Richards to remove him from the line up — something that I think he is more than capable of. 

Flipping and Flopping
It became painfully obvious in the third period that Richards may have to re-think his line combinations. 

First, Havlat and Sykora looked like two peas in a pod playing together.  As much as I love having Bruno on Koivu’s wing, putting Koivu between Havlat and Sykora would give us a bona fide scoring line. 

Brunette has proven that he can play with nearly anybody, so why not put him on a line with Sheppard and Miettinen (of whom Bruno has already displayed a fair amount of chemistry with)? 

It would give the team a great, gritty, second line with Nolan, Belanger and Clutterbuck and it would also give the team three lines that could be fairly dangerous. 

3 Stars

  1. John Scott - No goals, no assists, 5 PIM.  Scottie was the reason for the turn around.  His fight against Parros energized the crowd and energized the team.
  2. Andrew Brunette - Bruno managed to turn what was a pretty bleh performance into a pretty good one with his overtime winner.  How does the saying go?  Winning heals all wounds?
  3. Martin Havlat - Havlat was all over the place, assisting on the first three Wild goals.  He looks like he’s getting comfortable with the system, so it’s only a matter of time now.

Coming Up…
Check back here tomorrow for our pregame report for the team’s game against the LA Kings and be sure to check Hockey Primetime for my Central Division Notebook tomorrow!