Gameday Thread: Koivu nominated to first ASG

It’s amazing that Mikko Koivu hasn’t been named to an All Star roster before, especially with how important he has been to the Minnesota Wild over the last few seasons, but the NHL rectified that problem on Thursday by naming Koivu to its 42 man roster for the All Star game on January 29.

Koviu, who has nine goals and 33 points in 29 games this season, may or may not have been snubbed last season when it came time to pick the team, but he certainly made it this year, rebounding nicely after a slow start to the season.

Koivu likely won’t take any credit for this, as he’s a typical captain and is all about the team, but he’s more than deserving of this honor to represent the Wild in the game.

To put this in perspective, let’s look at how quietly Koivu has had a great career through its first seven years.

He’s second on the Wild’s all-time scoring list, with 350 points. He’s first in assists, with 245, third in goals, with 105, fourth in plus/minus, with plus-23 and fifth in games played with 472.

Additionally, his 26 shootout goals are sixth in NHL history.

I was amazed that, in the few previews I saw for the All-Star roster, Koivu wasn’t included on any. Puck Daddy had Dany Heatley as the Wild’s representative (which, I will admit, would have had a certain “fun” factor to it, especially if he were chosen for a team with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson), while NHL.com had chosen Nick Johnson to represent the Wild as part of the rookie teams (while I applaud the nod to Johnson and the solid season he’s having, I think it would have been a pretty huge snub to choose him over Koivu, or even Heatley or Josh Harding).

In any event, Koivu knows that the Wild have a huge game tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks, so he’s likely not going to dwell on the All Star nomination, and neither should we.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here are the lineups:

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley
Clutterbuck/Cullen/Wellman
Johnson/Brodziak/Powe
McIntyre/Peters/Staubitz

Schultz/Falk
Zanon/Zidlicky
Stoner/Spurgeon

Harding has earned himself another go in net and Matt Hackett will be his back up, as Niklas Backstrom is fighting an illness.

Burning Questions

Will Koivu respond to his All Star bid with an All Star game? While deserving, Koivu earned the nod over players like Scott Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr and Nicklas Backstrom (who is, admittedly, hurt). There are likely going to be naysayers and nothing is better for motivation than someone saying you’re not good enough.

Can the Wild build on their big win over the Sharks? The Wild came out strong and played great against San Jose. Can they build on that momentum and keep it going against another good team in the Blackhawks?

Will Devin Setoguchi respond? Setoguchi was scratched last game for missing a team meeting. Mike Yeo said that he expects a big response from him tonight. We’ll see if we get it.

Will Josh Harding steal the starting job? Alright, it might not be stealing it totally, but Harding played well enough against the Sharks to get another start in the cage. Another good game could cement the spot as his until his play falls off.

The puck drops tonight at 7:30 and will be on Fox Sports North.

Wild down Sharks in a shootout

Well, the Wild did it. They won against a good team and, with the exception of the last few minutes of the game, played a very good game.

Of course, the last few minutes of the game almost saw the wheels come off entirely and the Wild skated through overtime by the skin of their teeth to get to the shootout and then got the win off of goals from Matt Cullen and Mikko Koivu and two good saves by Josh .

According to many people, the buzz word of the day today for Mike Yeo was “fight.”

He wasn’t talking about dropping the mitts (though the Wild came very close a couple times). Instead, he was talking about pushing back. Fighting for the win.

In other words, showing a little passion.

The Wild got a lead early in the game with Cal Clutterbuck sniping a horribly positioned Antti Niemi (I’m not a goalie and even I could tell you he was way too far back in his crease) and the Wild used that momentum to keep the pressure on the Sharks for most of the first period.

A very poor decision by Kyle Brodziak (though it was one heck of a two-hand to Joe Thornton’s boot) got the Wild two-men down with just a few minutes left in the first period and the Sharks capitalized with a Dan Boyle shot that got through a screen and past Josh Harding.

Warren Peters scored the lone goal in the second, crashing the net and seeing the puck carom into the net off of him and past Niemi. Just a few moments later, it was almost 3-1 as Matt Cullen hit the post and Casey Wellman then put in the rebound which was lying on Antti Niemi’s breezers, but the ref blew the whistle to stop play right as Wellman was getting his stick on it. It might have been an early whistle, but it was the type of play that might have broken the Wild in the past few games – but not in this one. The Wild kept pushing, even after the unfortunate break and…

…Nick Johnson made it 3-1 in the third with another beautiful snipe on a horribly positioned Niemi. In fact it was almost identical to the shot that Clutterbuck took on Niemi.

The Sharks didn’t have an ounce of quit in them, though, and fought back to make it 3-2 with a gorgeous deflection from Benn Ferriero that Josh Harding didn’t even see (evidenced by the fact that he was standing straight up when the puck went past him) and they put the pressure back on the Wild.

The difference between the Wild, tonight, and the Wild over the last handful of games was that they didn’t give up. In fact, they pushed back and fought as if their lives depended on it (and, for some, their lives with the Minnesota Wild very well might have). They fought and, just under four minutes later, Casey Wellman Matt Cullen put the Wild back up by two, driving to the net, getting the shot on and then being fortunate enough to have a Casey Wellman shot deflect off of his leg on the way in.

Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau had something to say about the Wild’s win, though, tallying goals 22 seconds apart to tie the game at four with time winding down.

And that’s where you could feel the wheels start to come off.

The Wild’s confidence was shaken. They started to doubt again. Had there been any more time left on the clock, they very well might have fallen. But they hung on and got the game to the shootout, where they were finally able to put it away.

Some Thoughts

  • Cool story about Cal Clutterbuck’s goal. Clutterbuck spoke to Jack Jablonski before the game and promised him he would score for him. It’s not Babe Ruth, calling his shot, but it’s cool nonetheless.
  • Devin Setoguchi was a healthy scratch for having a little too much fun on Monday night with his old teammates and missing a team meeting Tuesday morning. I get that he’s young, but he’s got to be smarter than that. According to Yeo, he’ll get a fresh slate on Wednesday, but what he did damaged both his teammates’ and his coach’s trust in him. He’s going to have to work to get that back.
  • Casey Wellman looked spectacular for most of the game. I’d say that, for a good chunk of it, he was the best Wild player out there. He had two assists and looked very much at home on the Wild’s second line. He finally is starting to look like he belongs in the NHL.
  • Josh Harding looked solid. I’d have a hard time pinning any of the Sharks’ goals specifically on him. Now, I’m a huge Backstrom supporter, but I think Harding has earned the chance to run with the ball a bit and see if he can help the Wild get hot again.
  • Huge, huge win for the Wild. If they lose, they’re in ninth place, just three points from 12th. With the win, they’re in seventh place, three points ahead of the ninth place team. They’re also just three points out of fifth and seven out of first with a lot of hockey left to play.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild score? Four goals in regulation, plus two more in the shootout. I’d say that, at least for one game, they found their scoring touch again.

Can the Wild play with trust in their teammates and their system? They did. They were supporting the puck all over the ice and they played within their system quite well for the majority of the game. They had a relapse towards the end of the third and in overtime, but they were still able to come away with the important thing – two points.

Can Josh Harding have another stellar night? Stellar? That’s debatable. But good? Yes. If I’m Mike Yeo, I give him another shot on Thursday in Chicago.

Can the Wild stay healthy? So far, it seems like they did.

Will the Wild make Matt Cullen’s 1,000th game a memorable one? A win, a goal for Cullen and a shootout goal for Cullen. I’d say it was pretty memorable.

3 Stars

1)      Matt Cullen – His 1,000th game saw him pot a goal, the game-winning shootout goal and have a solid, solid game.

2)      Dan Boyle – A goal and two assists, plus a dynamic performance all around.

3)      Casey Wellman – Two assists and a terrific game all around.

Gameday Thread: Wild look to stop slump against Sharks

Well, I suppose if you’re going to play the injury card, you might as well do it right.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard has officially been shut down, suffering a concussion that seems to have been sustained during Zach Bogosian’s “clean” hit last month in Winnipeg.

Now, we’re not going to debate whether or not Bogosian’s hit was clean and should have been suspendable. See the above quotes to get our views on that. We are, however, going to talk about how this latest injury affects the team.

First of all, kudos to the Wild for not using their injury problems as an excuse – they could easily point to the injuries and try to excuse their poor play because of it and they’re not.

So they’ve got that going for them, which is good.

Now, on the surface, this should be a catastrophic injury for the Wild. Bouchard is their fourth leading scorer and is one of the keys to their power play. His playmaking ability is among the best in the league, when he’s healthy, and he’s a huge cog in this offense.

That, coupled with the continued absence of Guillaume Latendresse should spell doom for the Wild’s second line.

The injuries are the bad news and, make no mistake about it, it’s terrible news both for Bouchard (who missed more than a year with a concussion) and the Wild.

The good news, though, is that the Wild have players who can step in and fill in the blanks.

Matt Cullen is still centering the second line, so that gives at least some semblance of cohesion. Cal Clutterbuck has played great on both the first and second lines this season and Casey Wellman, who has seen time with Matt Cullen on the second line, has played very well this season.

Something’s got to give. Something’s got to spark this team that has looked listless for nearly a month now. Something has to give this team some sign of life. All there is left to do for fans is to hope that this latest development is it.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here are the projected line combinations:

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley
Wellman/Cullen/McIntyre
Johnson/Brodziak/Clutterbuck
Powe/Peters/Gillies/Staubitz

Schultz/Falk
Zidlicky/Zanon
Spurgeon/Stoner

Harding will be between the pipes.

Now, those are the line combos that Wild.com projects, and they very well might start the game that way. I’m going to take my opportunity to play armchair coach here, though, and give my line combos and my reasoning behind them.

Clutterbuck/Koivu/Heatley – Koivu and Heatley have played better this season when they’ve had a physical presence on the line with them. That’s not a knock against Setoguchi, but having that physical player allows both Koivu and Heatley to play their natural game.
Wellman/Cullen/Setoguchi – The thing that Wellman has excelled at this season has been getting “dirty” goals around the net. Wellman can go to the net, allowing Cullen and Setoguchi to fire the puck towards the opposing goalie and giving the Wild the opportunity for some gritty goals.
Johnson/Brodziak/Powe – Not much here. These three have played together for stretches this season and have been a great checking line and energy line. It’s a natural fit for a third line.
Gillies/Peters/McIntyre – It might lack the toughness that Staubitz brings but, let’s be honest, the Sharks aren’t necessarily a team that you’re going to need an enforcer against. They’re last in the league in hitting by a good clip and they don’t have a true enforcer on their roster either. I’d go with speed and a little more offensive upside for a fourth line on a team that needs scoring.

So there you have it. That’s what I would do at forward.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild score? They’ve been abysmal offensively during their slump and they would seem due to break out in a big way. But in order to do that, they need to answer the next question.

Can the Wild play with trust in their teammates and their system? The biggest reason that the Wild have slumped is that they’ve gotten away from what made them successful in the first place. Their teamwork and playing within their system. If they can get back to that, they can get back in the win column.

Can Josh Harding have another stellar night? Harding is quickly sneaking up on Niklas Backstrom and making a case for being the Wild’s starter. At some point, Yeo is going to have to ride the hot hand but, first, Harding needs to prove that he can win a game and not just play outstanding.

Can the Wild stay healthy? It seems strange to say that the Wild are, once again, having injury problems this season. It’s not the reason why they’re struggling, but it’s a huge contributing factor. Every game, it seems, a new injury pops up and it would be huge to just let San Jose leave town with the Wild healthy.

Will the Wild make Matt Cullen’s 1,000th game a memorable one? Enough said.

The puck drops tonight at 6:30 pm and will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network (or the Network Formerly Known as Versus).

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.

Backstrom’s return to the net causes a goalie conundrum

It’s a tough decision as a coach when you’re balancing two players that play the same position that are playing well. In a lot of sports, with a lot of positions, you can mitigate those decisions by putting one of the players in a different spot. In basketball, it’s easy to swap backcourt players around like they’re trading cards. In baseball, it’s a little more difficult, but there are positions that you can easily transition from as the skill set is a lot of the same (second to short, third to first, anywhere in the outfield). Even in hockey, you can swap players to their off wings or even put a center on a wing if you want to get a certain combination out on the ice at the same time.

He's been okay this year, yeah?

With goaltending, though, you just can’t do it. Apart from the logistical difficulties of having two players in the crease at the same time (though, sometimes, it seems like certain goalies are as big as two goalies *cough*Lundqvist*cough*) there are, you know, rules against that sort of thing.

And that becomes the problem when you get into the practice of “riding the hot hand” like the Wild have done.

Mike Yeo is making no bones about the fact that Josh Harding hasn’t supplanted Niklas Backstrom as the team’s starter. He knows full well that he doesn’t want either goalie sitting for two or three weeks at a time between starts and, if anything, Harding’s solid play so far this season just means that we’ll likely see him for about 30-35 games (unless Backstrom gets injured or his play falls off).

Because Yeo has been riding the hot hand, so to speak, he has inadvertently put a lot of pressure on the team heading into Calgary.

Backstrom’s going to be back in the cage for tonight’s tilt against the Flames due, partly because of his recent dominance against Calgary and partly because Yeo wants to work him back in. With the way that Harding has been playing, this could easily be one of the most important games of Backstrom’s career (and that’s only partly hyperbolic).

I want to make this crystal clear. I don’t think that it is Yeo’s intent to put Backstrom in this type of a situation. Harding has clearly been the hot hand and, when a goalie’s that hot, you don’t go away from them.

But that’s part of the problem. Harding’s got the hot hand and, as is the case with the back up quarterback in football, the back up goalie

It's going to be up to Backstrom to respond tonight.

is the most popular player on most teams. Harding has cemented the notion in many fans’ minds that he’s the best option in net (and, of that topic, I’m going to reserve my opinion for a while) with his strong play. Anything less than an absolutely perfect, dazzling game from Backstrom tonight and the peanut gallery is going to be chiming in.

But that’s professional sports. That is how you determine whether or not a player is great or just good. When the going gets tough, the great players respond and that is what Backstrom is going to be expected to do tonight.

And if there’s anyone who can respond to that sort of pressure and keep his cool through it all, it’s Backs.

{Author’s Note: Sorry for my long absence. I’ll be back later this afternoon with a gameday thread and I’ll be back tomorrow with that long-awaited schedule for the season.}

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Wild shock Wings in overtime

I’ve been waiting for a few games this season to say this in a good way but, tonight, the Wild got what it deserved.

After a shaky first period, they came out and played with the Wings in the second and third. They didn’t dominate play, but they didn’t look outmatched either.

In the second and third period, what they looked like was a team that was finally understanding their system and finally understanding what it was that they have to do to win.

It still wasn’t a complete game, but the Wild’s penalty kill was effective and their power play wasn’t a momentum killer like it has been in past games (though it still wasn’t perfect, or good for that matter). Basically, it was the best game that they’ve played within the system so far this season (in my opinion, anyway).

It wasn’t perfect, but it was darn sure a start.

There are still a lot of things that need to be fixed.Minnesota’s power play is still horrendous. They seem to be allergic to shooting the puck when they have the lanes and, instead, hold onto the puck and try to find the perfect play.

The Wild also need to stop taking freaking penalties late in the game. Honestly, there’s rarely a good penalty to take, but with five minutes left in a one-goal game? That’s the kind of thing that just kills a comeback.

So, with no burning questions for tonight’s game, I’m just going to throw out a few random thoughts at you:

  • The power play continues to be a troubling part of the Wild’s game and a big part of that is their play from the point. Their defensemen aren’t getting shots through, they’re forcing the issue (not in a good way) when they try to be aggressive and when they’re not forcing the issue and trying to be aggressive, they’re just playing pitch and catch between two players and not getting anything towards net. So, basically, they’re either trying to pretend to be aggressive, or being too passive. Either way, that’s bad news for the Wild’s power play.
  • My God Josh Harding was great tonight. That’s three straight games where Harding has absolutely stood on his head and kept the Wild in the game. You all know that I am a HUGE Niklas Backstrom supporter, and I’m always going to be. But, right now, Harding is making the decision to go back to Backs in the cage a very, very difficult one. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s a goalie controversy inMinnesotayet, but Hards is doing his best to create one.
  • How good has Justin Falk looked? He’s been an absolute beast on the blue line for the Wild, and it was evidenced tonight by the fact that Falk was on the ice with the goalie pulled and the Wild pushing for the tying goal. He’s positionally sound, he’s physical and he’s showing that he actually has a bit of offensive acumen at times too.
  • On the same token, how bad has Marek Zidlicky continued to look. He’s a complete liability defensively (like usual), only he’s not getting the production to make up for that. He’s the Wild’s power play quarterback, the Wild had eight power plays and Zidlicky had zero shots on goal. That says it all. It’s getting to the point that, when Stoner and/or Zanon are healthy, Zidlicky may find himself the odd man out (and should, in my opinion).

The Wild are off until Thursday, when they face off against the Canucks. Laterz!

Wings down Wild 3-2 in OT

It was all within our control.

That’s what Mike Yeo had to say to the media after this game, and he was completely correct in saying that. The Wild were their own worst enemy in this one.

They got out to a 2-0 lead, scoring two quick goals (one to end the first and one to open the second), then, in typical Wild fashion, decided that they had done enough and just stopped executing the way they had been.

Halfway through the second period, the Wild were actually outplayingDetroitdespite the disparity in shots, and everything looked like it was coming up roses in Josh Harding’s first start since March of 2010. The Wild just couldn’t keep it together and, after all of their play in their own zone, they were just exhausted by the time the third period rolled around.

Despite being outshot by a large margin in the first, the Wild were controlling the tempo and got on the board with Greg Zanon’s one-time goal with 11.3 seconds left in the first.

Minnesota came out guns blazing in the second and, just 16 seconds in, Cal Clutterbuck gave them a 2-0 lead after a strong forecheck by Colton Gillies caused a turnover and Gillies fed Clutterbuck out front of the net for a one-timer.

That was all Minnesota would get in the middle frame, as it would quickly turn into your typical second period lull.

Josh Harding was the only thing keeping the Wild ahead (well, him and some solid defense by the blueliners), and the Wings finally broke through with 47.7 seconds left in the period with a goal from Ian White.

The Wings struck again 3:46 into the third with a tally by Jiri Hudler to tie the game and, at the end of the period, the Wild were feeling lucky to have escaped the game with a point.

Overtime started with a strong effort from the wild, but quickly turned into the Detroit show again and, with time running out Johan Franzen potted the game winner, sending the Wild home disappointed.

So, some thoughts:

  • The Wild truly did look like the better team through part of the second period. They weren’t getting shots, but they were grinding Detroit down and were controlling the tempo of the game. One they got up by two, though, they took their foot off the gas and by the time they realized it, it was too late.
  • Guillaume Latendresse looked good once again. He was held to one shot but, then again, so was most everyone else. Latendresse got his fourth assist in five games and he looks more engaged than I’ve seen him look since being inMinnesota. In other words, I think someone wants to stay here a while.
  • I’ll be honest, with the way that Colton Gillies is starting to play, I don’t see Brett Bulmer sticking with the squad past his nine games. Bulmer played just over eight minutes in tonight’s game and I think he benefits more from playing more minutes in juniors than eight to ten in the NHL, especially with players like Matt Kassian and Nick Johnson scratched who are more than capable of filling in the slot where Bulmer is playing.
  • Josh Harding was absolutely unbelievable tonight. The entire locker room should be apologizing to him for this one, because he deserved ten times better than this and you could tell that everyone knew it. Every shot they showed after the end of the game was telling – especially the one of Harding kneeling on the ice, looking like he was near tears.

Burning Answers

How will Harding look tonight? Harding made 38 saves and was the reason that the Wild got a point out of this one. There’s absolutely no question that he looked like he was back to form.

Can the Wild’s role players pick it up? They did. The problem was that no one else came with them. The Wild had 14 shots, and their bottom six accounted for six of those.

Will Matt Cullen’s hot streak continue? Cullen didn’t look that great tonight but, in fairness, neither did anyone else.

Can the Wild’s special teams be special? Minnesota was 0-for-1 with the man advantage and 1-for-3 short handed. The problem was that one was the winning goal.

Three Stars

1)      Josh Harding – Hards was fantastic tonight in defeat. He stopped 38 shots and, again, was the reason the Wild picked up a point.

2)      Johan Franzen – The Mule tallied a goal and an assist and was the Wing that notched the game-winner.

3)      Cal Clutterbuck – Clutterbuck scored the Wild’s second goal and led the team with three shots.

That’s all for tonight. We’ll be back tomorrow with our in season schedule.

Preseason Gameday Thread: @ Columbus

Columbus and Minnesota face off for the second time this preseason

Well, it’s just a couple hours until the drop of the puck and the Wild are looking to improve upon their performance on Tuesday against the Blues.

I didn’t do a gamer due to illness and, if you didn’t see the game, basically what happened was that the Wild jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but then just took their foot off the gas and started making mistakes in their own zone and, well, gave up three straight goals to lose 4-3.

Minnesota wants to rebound from a rough last two games

This team is showing a lot of positives right now, so it’s not all bad, but the Wild have got to start making good decisions with the puck. It doesn’t matter if you can get out to a two or three goal lead like the Wild were able to if you’re just going to turn the puck over and give away your advantage.

As Yeo said, the Wild need to “learn what the right play is.”

Now, I don’t want to editorialize too much here, but I’m going to go ahead and translate this into, basically the Wild need to unlearn everything they learned under Todd Richards.

Richards had them pushing the tempo so much that, many times they would make mistakes with the puck because they would be rushing to get up ice.

They need to unlearn that and start learning that, sometimes, the best play is to just move the puck laterally or backwards so you can get a better angle for your passes.

Anyway, the Wild will attempt to execute this tonight against Columbus.

Tonight’s line up per Wild.com:

The Wild will essentially use the same lineup that saw the ice against St. Louison Tuesday. Nate Prosser will be the extra defenseman:

Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley
Latendresse-Brodziak-Bouchard
Bulmer-Powe-Clutterbuck
Gillies-Nystrom-Wellman

Zanon-Scandella
Schultz-Falk
Zidlicky-Stoner

Backstrom and Harding

It should also be noted that the Wild claimed forward Nick Johnson off of waivers from Pittsburgh, so it’s completely possible that Johnson gets slotted in somewhere tonight if he makes it to Columbus on time which, according to Assistant GM Brent Flahr is about 50-50.

In any event, the Wild is closing out the preseason with back-to-back games against Columbus tonight and, tomorrow, at home against

Look for the Wild to simplify their game this time around

Edmonton, so either way we’ll get to see Harding at least once more this preseason.

A big thing to watch for tonight is the playoff Brett Bulmer and Casey Wellman.

Bulmer impressed last game, scoring his first goal in a Wild uniform, while Wellman underwhelmed to the point that he was limited to just 12 minutes in ice time despite being slotted in between Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse.

With Cullen out and Staubitz suspended, both have tremendous opportunities to show what they can do. If they can impress, we very well might see them on the opening day roster. If they don’t? I hearHoustonis nice this time of year (or, in Bulmer’s case,Kelowna).

Tonight is also a big opportunity for Brodziak to prove that he should be the team’s second-line center. Essentially, whoever is in the spot this season is just a temporary solution until Mikael Granlund comes over next season, but the Wild need someone in the interim, and Brodziak could provide that if he can find the same chemistry with Latendresse and Bouchard that he had with Latendresse and Havlat last season.

The puck drops tonight at 6pm CST and will be streamed live on Wild.com and FoxSportsNorth.com.

Photos Courtesy of Getty Images

Heatley scores twice; Wild win in OT

Heatley and Koivu led the way on Friday

Wow. What a thriller and what a debut for the Wild’s shiny new first line.

Both Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley had three points (Koivu three assists and Heatley two goals and an assist) and Devin Setoguchi had two points (a goal and an assist) to lead the Wild to a 4-3 overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in an affair that became highly spirited thanks to a checking from behind major and misconduct by Brad Staubitz.

Things boiled over at the end of regulation when Cal Clutterbuck leveled Fedor Tyutin with a clean check that led to retaliatory

This looks fair, no?

penalties by James Wisniewski and Cody Bass that gave the Wild a power play heading into overtime, where Heatley tipped home the game winner.

So, here are some of my thoughts on the game:

  • I wouldn’t be surprised to see a suspension heading Brad Staubitz’s way after that hit on Cody Bass. Bass was okay, but you just can’t do that and Staubitz should have known better.
  • How about that debut of the first line? If this is any indication, we could be looking at big years for all three. Heatley was a force all over the ice, and his hockey sense and Koivu’s meshed really well, which sounds odd but they worked very well with one another.
  • I liked what I saw from Phillips, Foucault and Bulmer too. All three worked their rear ends off, which helped contribute to the Wild’s first goal.
  • Scandella had a rough game, though he wasn’t downright bad. He made a few rookie mistakes out there, a couple of which led to turnovers. Overall, though, the defense was pretty solid once again save for a couple instances.
  • Harding looked good, if a bit tentative at times. It sounds strange, but in a game where he gave up three goals, there really wasn’t anything you could definitively say he could have done better.

Heatley was the star of the game

And what of my pre-game questions?

How will Yeo’s chemistry experiment go with the de facto first line of the team? Will Setoguchi, Heatley and Koivu mesh well? A combined three goals and five assists say a resounding yes.

Foucault, Phillips and Bulmer are all getting another look. Will they impress again? Again, the answer would be less despite not a whole lot of ice time. Phillips and Foucault each had a point and the line had four shots on goal. All-in-all, a good day at the office.

How much will Harding play? Will he get the full two periods tonight to see where his knee is at? Well, I was definitely off. He played the whole schabang and he looked pretty good doing so.

Scandella, Prosser and Chay Genoway are all getting another look. How will they fare? For the most part, they were good. I would say Prosser had the best game of the three, but all three were solid overall.

Can the Wild finally put everything together and outshoot their opponent now that they have their big firepower in the line up? Not yet. Maybe with a full line up?

Can the Wild contain the Jackets’ big line of Prospal/Nash/Carter? Two assists for Carter were all that got tallied, so I’d say they did the job.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back tomorrow with a brief gameday thread for the afternoon game from Pittsburgh.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

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