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 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!

Columbus downs Wild and the final Preseason Gameday Thread

Kyle Brodziak and Steve Mason

The Wild couldn't put it together for 60 minutes last night

Well, because of how late I’m getting to this, I’m going to combine the gamer and the gameday thread – especially since the kids and myself are all under the weather.

ANYwho…

Last night’s game was, simply, a typical Wild game. It’s clear that this team isn’t going to go anywhere until they can learn to play a full 60 minutes.

The Wild dominated for bookends again, but it typical Wild fashion, they pissed it down their legs (for lack of a better term) in the middle 20.

Guillaume Latendresse

The Tenderness was one of the Wild's bright spots last night

They came out on fire. They dominated much of the play the first period, outshooting the Jackets 16-7 and going up 1-0 on a goal by the Tenderness (that’s Guillaume Latendresse, for those not accustomed to the nickname). In a word, they were rolling.

But the proof of how the game is going to go lies in the middle 20 and, in this case, it was an unmitigated disaster.

They turned the puck over, they weren’t skating, they weren’t supporting each other on defense (which, to be honest, was really the only zone they were in for the bulk of the period). Basically, anything negative you could think that a team could do, the Wild did it and everything positive you could think that a team could do, the Wild didn’t do it.

To steal a catch phrase from Todd Richards’ playbook, they just didn’t compete.

The Jackets had tied the game 44 seconds into the period, then had grabbed the lead by 2:38 and Jeff Carter gave the Jackets a two-goal lead by the time the second period had ended.

The Wild rebounded slightly in the third, but it wasn’t enough to dig themselves out of the hole they dug themselves in to.

So, the bad was pretty much that the whole team just gave up defensively in the second period. But what was the good?

Well, the top two lines again looked great in the offensive zone. In fact, Kyle Brodziak looked right at home between Bouchard and Latendresse, which could give Mike Yeo pause about making Matt Cullen the outright second-line center.

Nick Johnson looked okay but, to be fair, he had a rough go of it getting to the arena so last night’s game could be a wash. Clutterbuck is out tonight, though, so Johnson will get another shot at proving he can stick with the squad.

Well, let’s move on to tonight’s game.

Here’s the roster per Wild.com:

The Wild’s final audition lineup will once again include Brett Bulmer, who will skate in his fifth preseason contest. The injured players - Matt CullenJared SpurgeonMike LundinDrew Bagnalland Cody Almond will not be seen until the regular season starts. Cal Clutterbuck will also sit out tonight with a sore groin:

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

Zanon-Scandella
Schultz-Falk
Zidlicky-Stoner

Backstrom and Harding

The fact that Clutterbuck is out is a positive for a couple of players – namely, Casey Wellman and Nick Johnson.

Cal Clutterbuck

Clutterbuck's injury opens the door for a couple players to impress

As I mentioned, Johnson had a rough go of it in last night’s game, but he also rode in a car from Pittsburgh to Columbus and played about 2 hours after he got to the arena. He’ll have full prep-time today, so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to show what he can do.

For Casey Wellman, this could be his make-or-break moment. He’s underwhelmed in his two games this preseason after missing the beginning of it with injury and he’s got to come out and show the Wild why they were so high on him when they signed him a couple seasons ago as an undrafted free agent.

In short, he needs to show that he’s capable of being a dynamic, offensive player at the NHL level like he was in the college level. He’s got to shoot the puck, he’s got to use his speed and he’s got to show the Wild something if he wants to make this squad. Right now, he’s going to really have to impress to stick in the NHL. That means, in short, he’s got to make something happen.

Tonight is also going to be a good look at whether or not this team can play a full game. Over the last 180 minutes of hockey, they’ve played roughly 80 solid minutes. That’s a little over one game. I understand having rough patches – every team has them – but this team needs to start working. They’ve got so much talent on this squad, if they just put a full 60 minute effort together every night, we could be talking about them contending for a playoff seed as opposed to dissecting why they’re giving away games.

They’ve got talented forwards, they’ve got talented defensemen and they’ve got talented goalies. But it’s pretty hard for any of them to show off their skills when the team is constantly hemmed in their own zone, making defensive errors and just not trying.

This is the end of the audition period for every single player on the roster, whether they’re certain to make the squad or not. The practice games end tonight, so the Wild need to get their heads on straight so that they’re ready to compete by the time October 8 rolls around.

The puck drops tonight at 7pm and will be streamed live on Wild.com and FoxSportsNorth.com.

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

Player Profile: Kyle Brodziak

Kyle Brodziak

Kyle Brodziak

Born – 5/25/1984
Position –
C
Ht –
6’2”
Wt –
209
Shoots –
Right

Brodziak has shown flashes of offensive ability with Minnesota

The Skinny
Brodziak had a career season last season for the second straight year with the franchise, tallying a career high 16 goals en route to a 37 point season, and he could be poised for another strong season this year too.

The biggest hurdle that Brodziak has in his way, however, is not having his chemistry partner, Martin Havlat, with him. Brodziak and Havlat had instant chemistry with one another and Brodziak’s gritty game complemented Havlat’s considerably not gritty game well.

Will he be able to be successful without his dynamic winger next to him?

I think he will, for a couple of reasons.

First, Brodziak will likely be playing alongside Cal Clutterbuck, and possibly a youngster like Colton Gillies or a player like Eric Nystrom – all players who have some offensive upside; maybe more than they have gotten to display in the past. Clutterbuck has shown that he has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer, while both Gillies and Nystrom have exhibited goal scoring ability, regardless of how snakebit they may have been at certain points in time.

Second, Brodziak is likely going to be slotted in on the second power play, unless Mike Yeo has different ideas.

We know that the first will probably involve some iteration of Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Pierre-Marc Bouchard or Matt Cullen running the point. That takes four of the Wild’s top-six and puts them on one line. Whichever of Bouchard or Cullen isn’t on the top power play will likely be running the point on the second unit, which would leave two forward slots open.

Power play time is going to be key to Brodziak's production this season

Brodziak will probably be one of those forwards.

Extra power play time means that he’ll have every opportunity to produce for the Wild and all Brodziak has done anytime he has been given an opportunity to impress, is impress.

This Season
Brodziak is going to be in competition for the second-line center job, but he might be best suited for the third-line role unless his chemistry with Guillaume Latendresse shines through.

Odds are, though, is that Brodziak will at least start the season in a checking-line role.

That might not necessarily be good for his production, but it’s definitely the role he’s best suited for at this juncture. There’s no one else on the team that plays that particular role better than Brodziak does and it’s the role his skill set is best suited for.

That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the one to fill the role on the second power play and that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get the opportunity to produce like he has in the past.

Prediction
Brodziak is seen as a third-line, role player by many buy he has a definite up side that can come out in the right circumstances. Will those circumstances come about this season, though? I think they could, if he can find chemistry with his line mates, but I’m skeptical as to whether or not he will be able to if he’s playing on the third line. I do think, however, that the power play time he’ll see will be invaluable to his production and I think that he’ll push Cullen for that second line role at some point.

My prediction for Kyle Brodziak this season is:

81 GP, 18 G, 20 A, 28 PTS

Catching Up – Trade Deadline, Blackhawks, Isles, Gillies and Rangers

Sorry about the lack of blogs over the last few days, but it’s been super crazy in Casa de Benzel. Anywho, a lot has gone on over the past few days for the Wild, so here’s three blogs shoved together into one gigantic mish mash of ideas bouncing around in my head.

The Trade Deadline
This has been beaten to death already, so I’m not going to dwell on it too long, but here’s my take on the Wild’s deadline.

First, was I disappointed that the team didn’t make a move for someone like Weiss or Penner? Yeah. I’m not going to lie, I was very disappointed.

BUT

I can totally understand why no move was made.

The asking prices at the deadline are starting to border on ridiculous. I mean, seriously. Is Dustin Penner really worth a top prospect and two picks? We’re talking about a guy who has scored more than 50 points once in his career.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

I’d rather see the Wild roll with what they’ve got than mortgage the farm to get a mediocre player (which is exactly what the Kings did).

If the Wild had a wealth of prospects in their system, maybe – but the fact remains that they don’t.

That’s the key to becoming a team that’s consistently good like the Red Wings. You build from within. Is it frustrating this season? Absolutely. We were one terrific scorer away from being a huge force.

But look at next season. You want offense? We’ve got Mikael Granlund coming in next season, not to mention Mikko Lehtonen, who has already expressed interest in coming over to play.

We’re starting to build from within, which is exactly why doing nothing of note at the trade deadline was a smart move from an organizational stand point. Besides, every single person that was complaining about the Wild doing nothing – I guarantee that each one of those people would be complaining if the Wild overpaid for a player like Penner also.

Blackhawks @ Wild
There’s not really much to say about this game that hasn’t already been said.

There was the obvious letdown from the Wild not doing anything at the deadline, but that doesn’t excuse the Wild’s lack of effort. They were just flat, flat, flat until Martin Havlat broke through in the third.

And then their power play came out and shot them in the foot (something that has been a growing trend in the past few weeks).

Looking at the game, the Wild were outmatched from the get-go, especially in their own zone. The ‘Hawks are a team that the Wild have a hard time hanging with when Minnesota is on but, when they’re not, it’s downright brutal.

The worst part was their last power play. You had the idea that something was going to go wrong as soon as the Wild drew that penalty. Their PP had been brutal all night long and their final PP was no different. They actually had some good looks on their final power play, but a brain fart by Pierre-Marc Bouchard that saw him sprawl out to try to keep the puck in the zone saw this one lead to the back breaking goal.

They just lacked jump in this one and, in a game where they were severely out-skilled, they needed that jump to have a shot.

Wild @ Islanders
This one was just abso-freaking-lutely brutal.

I mean, from top to bottom brutal.

No effort, no cohesion, no goaltending – nothing. There’s not much to say other than that.

Backstrom was awful, so was Brodziak and most of the Wild’s defense. But that’s not what’s being talked about. What’s being talked about is…

Trevor Gillies Hit
The game back after a nine-game suspension and Trevor Gillies goes out and does this.

You’ve all seen the hit by now, so I won’t belabor the point by embedding it, but I’m having a hard time with this simply because I find myself in agreement with Mike Milbury.

Trevor Gillies has absolutely no place being in this league. The guy is a glorified door man. How many times has he played more than six minutes this season?

Twice.

How many times has he played less than two?

15, including one game where he played nine seconds. Nine.

You can’t tell me this guy is on the team for any other reason than to hurt people, and that is absolutely despicable.

You can debate the two hits all you want. Sure, Clutterbuck’s hit was an illegal hit, but it wasn’t a suspendable hit, or even a hit that deserved a major. Gillies, on the other hand, came in elbow up and sandwiched Clutterbuck’s head between his elbow and the glass.

Should Clutterbuck have pulled up and maybe not finished his check for once? Probably. But that certainly doesn’t excuse what Gillies did. Especially not in the case of a guy who had just missed nine games for head hunting.

Yes, Clutterbuck runs around. Yes, some of his hits might even border on being a touch late. But the difference is that Clutterbuck has respect for the people that he’s hitting. Rarely will you see him lay a dirty hit on a player like he did in this instance, and even rarer will you see a player not get up because of one of his hits. He might be a nuisance to other teams, he might run around and yap, his hits might be a bit late occasionally, but he does not hit dirty, contrary to what many may think. He just hits hard.

There is absolutely no defense or excuse for what Gillies did. The guy is 6’3”, 227 and he is leaving his feet to check a guy that’s 5’11”, 213. Gillies has four inches and 16 pounds on Clutterbuck. He doesn’t need to leave his feet to lay a good, solid check on him. Yet he did. He left his feet, he raised his elbows and he targeted Clutterbuck’s head. Don’t give me any of this “no intent to injure” business. That’s about as large of an intent to injure as you can get.

Now, if he weren’t just coming off of a nine-game suspenson for doing the exact same thing, I’d say he should get maybe two or three games. But his nine-game suspension obviously didn’t take the first time around.

Maybe a 15-game suspension will.

Wild @ Rangers
Now that I’m off my soap box, here’s some quick thoughts on last night’s game against the Rags.

I only caught the first period live, the rest I had to catch on DVR, and I won’t lie; I was considering skipping the rest of the game after catching the first.

They looked awful. And by awful, I mean just as bad as they did against the Isles. They couldn’t get anything going, their legs weren’t there, they had no jump in our steps. They just looked plain bad.

But something happened between the first and second periods. Something must have been said by someone, whether it was one of the team’s elder statesmen or the coaching staff, I don’t know. But someone said something that lit a fire under the team.

Sure, they got outshot 17 to 8 and 16 to 8 in the second and third periods respectively, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The effort was there again. They were driving to the net, they were getting to the hard areas on the ice and they were creating chances and, once again, they proved you don’t need to take 40 shots to score three goals.

Heck, they didn’t even need 20.

The line of Brodziak, Havlat and Bouchard had a nice game and rebounded well from their stinker of a performance on Wednesday. The line combined for two goals and five points and, to be honest, I think we have our top line right there. Sure, Brodziak isn’t a top flight center, but he’s the type of center that I think players like Bouchard and Havlat need. Neither Butch nor Havlat are the most physical players on the planet, so they need a grinder on their line to help do the dirty work and that’s exactly what Brodziak excels at. (Incidentally, with this team playing so well, I’d almost say move Mittens off of the Koivu line when G-Lat comes back – give Bruno and Koivu a guy who can actually bury the puck on their line.)

Casey Wellman was great. He was exactly what the Wild needed. His speed created a lot of chances and he was in the right place at the right time for his beautiful goal to make it 2-1. He played just nine minutes, but he made an impact in those nine minutes.

Brent Burns and Nick Schultz were great on the blue line, as was Clayton Stoner. I continue to be impressed by the way the defense has turned around this season after their horrid performance last season. Sure, the Rangers got 40 shots, but the defense did a great job of clearing the shooting lanes so that Theodore could see the puck and clearing away any rebounds.

Speaking of Theodore, he really stole this game. It could have easily been 5-3 or 6-3 in a hurry, but because of Theo the Wild snuck out of that first period with just one goal against and regrouped in a big way. I love Backstrom, but I’d have a hard time going away from Theo after this one. If I’m Richards (and there’s likely a very good reason why I’m not him or in his position), I’d start Theo on Sunday against the Sabres. He’s the hot hand and, if nothing else, it could give Backs some motivation to go out and improve in his next outing.

That’s all I’ve got for this one. Because of the Sunday game, likely no game preview but I should have a gamer up.

Laterz!

Injury-Riddled Wild Can’t Solve Kings

Well, this is becoming quite the theme. The Wild played hard, but they just didn’t have the offense to get it done.

I’m going to keep this brief, because I’m working on our trade deadline primer that should be up sometime this evening or tomorrow morning, but this was a game that the effort was there for the Wild, but you can’t honestly say that they deserved better.

The Kings wanted it more. Plain and simple.

They forechecked harder, they played smarter, they simply did everything better than Minnesota, right down to hitting the net when they had the opportunity.

Last night, the Wild’s offense was downright putrid at times. They couldn’t get anything going and a large part of that was due to our line combinations.

Before I start on this, I’m not blaming Todd Richards in any way, shape or form for this (a shocker, I know). Quite simply, the discombobulated lines were not his fault. It’s the fact that our top two centers are out right now. The distinct lack of chemistry between Matt Cullen and Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen was painfully apparent last night, with that line getting a grand total of four shots on goal. That’s half of what Martin Havlat had on his own.

Meanwhile, John Madden fit in well with Havlat and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, but it was painfully obvious that he was not comfortable playing in an offensive capacity as opposed to a shut down role. Madden was, in a lot of cases, either out of position for what Havlat and Bouchard were doing or simply not expecting it. He battled, he fought hard, but he just wasn’t able to keep up offensively with either of Havlat or Bouchard and the line struggled for it.

It’s a distinct problem when the players through the first half of the game that were most noticeable offensively were Eric Nystrom and Cody Almond, but that was the case for most of the first thirty minutes.

That’s not a recipe for success and that, again, shows that we need to find some sort of depth at the center position.

The good news is that Brodziak will likely be back in the line up on Monday against the ‘Hawks. The bad news, though, is that the team is going to have to do without him for tonight’s game against Anaheim, so expect a type of game similar to what we saw last night.

But that’s enough of the negatives. Let’s look at some of the positives quickly.

Niklas Backstrom, again, was great. Despite giving up three goals, he kept the Wild in the game with some big saves and, were their offense clicking, could have gotten a win or at least a point out of the game.

Brent Burns was great last night, playing physical and he was in on the rush as much as any forward was. For a team that’s struggling offensively, the Wild need Burnsie to step up into the play as much as he can and it looks like that’s exactly what he’s being told by the coaching staff. If he can keep providing some offense from the blue line, it’s going to lighten the load for our beleaguered forward unit right now.

Nystrom also continues to be really good for the Wild. He seems to be playing with more confidence now that he’s finally broken through in the goal column and it’s showing in his game. He’s creating offensive chances now on the team’s checking line.

What else?

The Wild are now sixth in the West, dropping a spot behind L.A. after the loss, and are tied with four other teams at 70 points, and I wouldn’t look at that logjam being alleviated any time soon. This is going to be a race to the playoffs that takes years off of a coach’s life. It’s been hard for any team to gain any sort of separation over the other and it’s going to continue to be hard.

For example, tonight both Calgary and Minnesota are in action. L.A. moved up to sole ownership of fifth with 72 points, but if Calgary and Minnesota both win, there could be a three-way tie with 72 points and a three-way tie with 70 points. Conversely, if both teams lose, there will be six teams tied at 70 points.

The league wanted parity, and this is parity at its best.

There won’t be any gameday preview today, but the puck drops tonight at 9 p.m. and will be on Fox Sports North.

Enjoy your Friday and, if anything happens before tonight’s game we’ll be sure to let you know!

Gameday Thread – Game 61 – Wild @ Kings

I think we’ve finally established that this team is for real. You don’t get to fifth in the playoff race, regardless of how tight that race is, without being for real.

So here’s the catch, though. The Wild now have three games coming up, including back-to-back games tonight and tomorrow, all against teams within two points of them in the standings.

Oh yeah, and they won’t have Mikko Koivu or Kyle Brodziak for at least tonight’s game.

Tonight, the Wild take on the Los Angeles Kings, tomorrow they take on the Anaheim Ducks, then Monday they’re back home for the Chicago Blackhawks.

All within two points of them in the standings.

Suffice it to say that these next three games are big. Like, King Kong big.

* * * * *

NHL.com’s Game Preview

Russo’s Brodziak Update

Wild.com Gameday

LA Kings Insider Update

* * * * *

Persevere
The key to tonight’s game for the Wild is going to be perseverance. They’re down two centers, missing Kyle Brodziak and Mikko Koivu for tonight’s game. That’s two of their key penalty killers, two of their key offensive cogs and two of their key face off men.

John Madden and Matt Cullen? Prepare to get a lot of work in tonight.

Cody Almond and Jed Ortmeyer? Prepare to get a lot more work than you thought.

Basically, the Wild just have to make it through. They have to just keep on keeping on right now, because their little mini-road swing just got a heck of a lot harder.

This is a Wild team whose confidence is sky high right now and why shouldn’t it be? They’re 5-2-1 over their last eight games. They have a goaltender who is on top of his game and they’re playing some of the best hockey we’ve seen them play in quite a while.

But this latest problem is proof that something needs to give.

Lack of Depth
Brodziak’s absence has highlighted just how paper thin this roster is right now, especially up the middle.

While some teams are able to cope without their two of their top centermen, the Wild simply don’t have the organizational depth right now to do so. For all intents and purposes right now, Ortmeyer is a body. He’s a body with NHL experience, yes, but there’s no one in their right mind who thinks that he’s going to be able to replace what Brodziak brought to the table – especially over the last handful of games.

Tighten Up
So the Wild are going to need to tighten up.

It’s a tired adage of how you play a road game, but it’s effective nonetheless.

Minnesota cannot get into a track meet today. They can’t hope to have their offense beat the Kings – at least not in a wide-open, high scoring game.

Instead, they need to dig in, lock up that neutral zone and wait for their opportunity to strike. In other words, they need to ask themselves “What Would Jacques Do?”

That’s going to be the key to their success tonight. The Kings have too many offensive weapons for the Wild to go blow-for-blow with them and come out smelling like roses. The Wild, instead, needs to get down and dirty. They need to grind and grind and grind some more until the cracks in the Kings’ armor begins to show.

Then they counter-attack and capitalize on the Kings’ mistakes.

This is a difficult game, yes. But it’s also winnable if the Wild play a smart road game.

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

Wild Beat Ducks; Maybe Lose Koivu for Season

What a win that was. A costly win, but a win nonetheless.

I’m only going to focus on the game briefly, because I’m going to have another blog coming up about where the Wild is at without Mikko Koivu now, so let’s get to it.

The Wild played a terrific game last night against the Ducks, rebounding from a slow start that saw Corey Perry get a beautiful tip-in goal and turning it on to score five unanswered goals to turn away the Ducks 5-1.

Let’s see here. I don’t want to just run down the action, so here are some quick thoughts:

  • As I mentioned, the Wild will be without Koivu, who injured his hand blocking a shot in the first. Russo said that it sounds like it’s a finger injury, one bad enough that could require surgery, so it’s basically wait-and-see time for the Wild’s captain. According to Fletcher, an update won’t come until Monday at the earliest, so we can expect Mikko to be out for Sunday’s day game against Detroit at the very least.
  • How good was Kyle Brodziak last night? Brodziak was essentially filling in as the Wild’s number one center with Koivu out and played a good chunk of ice time and responded in a big way. All three of his points were on absolutely beautiful plays and Brodziak was on all night long. My personal favorite was his assist on Martin Havlat’s goal in the third period that was just a gorgeously executed touch pass back to Havlat who had fed the puck to Brodziak. I really can’t say enough good stuff about his game. He really answered the bell after being called upon to help fill the void left by Koivu’s absence.
  • I’ve really been impressed with Cam Barker lately. The last couple weeks, he’s been really engaged in the game both physically and mentally. He’s been physical, he’s been smart and he’s making the right plays at the right time and not really taking stupid penalties. Last night was more of the same and he’s making Todd Richards’ decision very hard about who to sit with Zidlicky back in the line up (though I’m guessing Spurgeon will draw the short straw for the time being.)
  • Backstrom looked back on his game again after giving up three goals on not too many shots against the Canucks. I don’t know what it is, but Backstrom seems to just have those games every once in a while and if that’s the price we have to pay to have him be as dazzling as he was last night, I’ll gladly take it.
  • You may not have noticed, but Pierre-Marc Bouchard has been really good lately. He’s doing all of the things that the Wild have expected him to do. He’s creating plays, he’s controlling the puck and he’s even shooting more often. It’s going to be a long road back before he’s as good as he was before his concussion, but he’s at least on the right track.

That’s it for the gamer. Stay tuned on the options for the Wild as they (possibly) go forward without Koivu.

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