The ball keeps rolling down hill; Wild lose to Leafs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s the fix?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild break skid; down Oilers

Now that is how you end a losing streak.

For those of you who missed the game, find a way to watch it, because words just can’t describe 1) how good of a game it actually was, regardless of the outcome and 2) just how good the Wild looked for the majority of the game.

Did the Wild look a bit sloppy at points? Yes. Especially during the Oilers push to tie the game in the last ten minutes of the third period – they looked extremely sloppy, during this time. But that shouldn’t diminish from the fact that the Wild ended their losing streak, put together their second straight good game and, this time, actually put pucks past the other team’s goalie.

Basically, I don’t know that this is a sign that the Wild are back on track, but it’s certainly a good start. The next part is backing this game up with another good game and another win against the Coyotes.

Some thoughts:

-          Jarod Palmer followed up a rough first period with a brilliant second, scoring his first career NHL goal and getting some good looks to boot. It was nice to see Palmer score in the second, mostly because of how rough his first shift of the game was. He got absolutely schooled by Taylor Hall on the back check for Edmonton’s first goal (he rode him in, but didn’t tie him up) and barely saw the ice for the rest of the period.

-          Marek Zidlicky finally looked useful for the first time this season. He was a plus-3, he was dynamic and he made good decisions with the puck, not to mention his three assists.

-          How about Matt Kassian? The Wild brought him in so as to not get pushed around, and he ended up pushing the Oilers around. 2:12 in ice time and 20 penalty minutes. If that’s what he’s going to bring every night, he’s someone I’d like to see on the Wild’s bench more often.

-          How about Backstrom? Not only was he spectacular in net, making some huge saves, but he was pretty feisty too. First, he showed his pimp hand to Ryan Jones, then ended the game with a cross check to the back of Ryan Smyth’s head. He would have made Dwayne Roloson proud.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild return to dominance over the Oilers? With the exception of a few minutes in the third, the Wild controlled play and kept the Oilers pinned in their own zone. Plus, they won, so there’s that too.

Can the Wild keep up the momentum from their “moral victory?” They definitely did. They came out on fire and, despite the early goal, continued playing the way that they did against the Preds. Only, this time, they won.

Will Dany Heatley finally show up? Yes and no. He got a goal (though it just trickled over the line), and now has three in his last four games. We’re still waiting on his breakout game, but consistency is a good start.

Three Stars

1)      Niklas Backstrom – Man, did he have to be good. He made a handful of huge saves and he was pretty darn feisty while doing it.

2)      Marek Zidlicky – Three assists and he was the type of player that the Wild need him to be.

3)      Jarod Palmer – His first NHL goal and a pretty solid performance, all around.

Honorable Mention: Matt Kassian. Just for having ten times more penalty minutes than he did ice time.

What’s ailing the Wild?

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Brodziak looks exhausted, as does Cal Clutterbuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check back later today for our gameday thread.

Koivu out; Should the Wild consider trading for a forward?

For those naysayers who have been waiting for the rails to come off of the Wild’s seemingly unstoppable train over the last few weeks, you might want to watch this coming stretch of games leading into Christmas – this could well be when it happens.

With the news that Mikko Koivu is now “day-to-day,” the Wild could be facing Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders without four of their top-six forwards, and one other who has been feeling in on the second line (Casey Wellman) severely handicapped with a wrist injury that has made his shot akin to a slow pitch softball pitch. {Ed. Note: That may be a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.}

So, right now, the Wild are left with Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley in their top-six.

Thankfully, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson have been putting up pretty decent numbers on their third line, but even so the lack of Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse and Devin Setoguchi leaves the team with a significant lack of both speed and skill as they’re heading into what could be the most crucial stretch of their season.

To give you an idea of what they’re looking at, here are the lines that Mike Russo posted from their Friday practice:

Clutterbuck/Cullen/Heatley
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson
Wellman/Almond/Staubitz/Gillies
Peters/Staubitz/Gillies

Obviously, they need to call up one more forward if none of their injured list can go (and it’s pretty doubtful that any of them will).

Russo speculated that it could be Jared Palmer that gets the call if the Wild are wanting skill (who has four goals and six assists in 26 games for the Aeros this season) or Jed Ortmeyer if they want some grit (five goals, six assists in 20 games). Either of those are possibilities, though it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jeff Taffe get the nod again, as he showed some pretty good chemistry with Dany Heatley in his two-game stint. Jon DiSalvatore (8 goals, 13 assists, 27 games) or Kris Foucault (6 goals, 6 assists, 25 games with a 20.6% shooting percentage) could be potential candidates as well, if the Wild are looking for skill, but Palmer had a very good camp for the Wild and stuck around quite a while, so he might be the natural choice.

Either way, it’s very clear that the Wild need to do something to help with their injured stable of forwards.

Now, I’m not speculating on anything that I’ve heard, nor do I think this is coming anytime soon, but might a trade be coming soon if these injury problems hold up?

Consider that the Wild currently have eight healthy, NHL defensemen on their roster (along with Nate Prosser and Kris Fredheim in the AHL). That gives the Wild flexibility in their roster decisions, and if they’re looking at the potential of spending a fair amount of time without four of their top-six forwards, doesn’t it lend credence to the idea that a trade might not necessarily be in the works, but might be a good idea?

Last game, Greg Zanon was a healthy scratch for the first time in a Wild sweater. Now, I’d be much more comfortable with the idea of moving Marek Zidlicky, but either of the “Z’s” have trade value – much more than any other of our defensemen (with the exception of Nick Schultz, who I don’t think Fletcher would even consider moving).

Both Zidlicky and Zanon could make for tempting pieces of a trade (especially Zanon, who is in the final year of his contract) and I don’t think that it’s outside of the realm of reason to consider moving either of them – especially with not knowing how long Guillaume Latendresse is going to be on the shelf for.

This is, again, baseless speculation. There’s no indication that the Wild are even calling around.

But if they start to slip with their top forwards out, they very well might need to consider it.

Gameday Thread: Wild look to rebound against Blackhawks

I know I tweeted no gameday thread but, I had a little time, so I thought I’d throw together a brief one for you.

Now, I’m not going to talk at length here before getting down to the nitty gritty, but I do want to address Zach Bogosian’s hit on Pierre-Marc Bouchard quickly before we get to the game stuff.

For those of you who missed it, here it is:

Now, I can abide by the league’s decision not to suspend Bogosian. I don’t agree with it, but I can live with it. Looking at the hit, Bouchard did turn away from Bogosian (despite the fact that he was turning to play the puck, which is apparently frowned upon in this establishment, but we’ll overlook that) before the hit happened.

So, basically, the league said that it falls on Bouchard to protect himself in that situation as opposed to playing the puck. I don’t agree with it, I don’t like it, but what I also don’t like is that the league decided not to even fine Bogosian.

Consider that Mats Zuccarello got a $2,500 fine for this boarding call:

This one is a bit worse, yes?

I’m not going to belabor the point here, so I’ll just lay it out for you here. I disagree with the league’s ruling for the following reasons. Bogosian crosschecked Bouchard in the back, dangerously close to the boards. Bouchard turned away from the hit, but it was to play the puck in an offensive situation, not to attempt to draw a penalty, nor does he ever fully face the boards upon turning. If you watch, he turns enough to get his stick on the puck. Bogosian had time to pull up and pin Bouchard to the boards. Instead, he opted to cross check him square in the back.

Like I said – I can live with the NHL’s decision not to suspend Bogosian, because I don’t believe that it was his intent to injure Bouchard, but to not even fine him is absolutely ridiculous in this situation.

Anywho, on to today’s game.

Lineup

Both Cullen and Bouchard are game-time decisions, but judging by the fact that Butch has a freshly (as in last night) broken nose, I’d be surprised if he goes. Here’s the projected line up per Wild.com:

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

Schultz/Lundin
Spurgeon/Scandella
Stoner/Zanon

Backstrom in nets.

Burning Questions

How do the Wild respond to a tough loss? If we know anything about this Wild team, it’s that they typically respond well to adversity and to a tough loss. This could be the toughest game they’ve played in a while, but it’s going to be on home ice, in front of a sold out arena (it feels great to write that again). The hallmark of a good team is that they don’t let a loss derail their momentum. The Wild need to do that tonight.

Can Guillaume Latendresse rebound? Despite his goal, Mike Yeo wasn’t pleased with Latendresse’s game last night. To be fair to G-Lat, he hasn’t played with the squad for a while, so he’s not at the same place as everyone else in terms of the Wild’s system. His puck support last night left a lot to be desired (he left the zone very early) and he didn’t look like he was fitting in for a lot of it. That will change as he gets more comfortable with the system, but he’s got to play catch up, and quick, with Pierre-Marc Bouchard potentially out.

Will Marek Zidlicky play and, if so, will he be useful? To say that Zidlicky has had a subpar season so far this year would be an understatement of huge proportions. If he plays, odds are Clayton Stoner will find himself as the odd man out, which leaves the Wild with a big, gritty hole on their blue line. Zidlicky has made poor decisions with the puck and has not played up to his potential this season and, because of that, the Wild have had struggles when he’s on the ice. If he plays, that needs to change. He needs to make good decisions with the puck, he needs to support his d-partner (likely Greg Zanon) and he needs to shoot the effing puck.

How will Backstrom look in his second game in two nights? Backs wasn’t unbelievably busy against the Jets (at least, not as busy as Ondrej Pavelec was), and that might be a good thing for tonight’s tilt against the ‘Hawks. Historically, he hasn’t been the best againstChicago, but he’s going to need to come up big tonight for the Wild to rebound.

The puck drops at 6:30 pm and the game will be on Versus.

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!

Player Profile: Marek Zidlicky

Marek Zidlicky

 

Marek Zidlicky

Marek Zidlicky

Born – 2/3/1977
Position – D
Ht – 5’11”
Wt – 190
Shoots – Right

Marek Zidlicky

The Wild will need Zidlicky to be a reliable puck-mover this season

The Skinny
With the departure of Brent Burns, Zidlicky is going to be looked at to be the Wild’s big offensive defenseman this season on the blueline. The underlying question, though, is going to be can he fill Burns’ big skates?

The Wild have a great offensive unit, but that’s not going to mean much if they can’t get the puck moving towards the offensive zone, and that’s where Zidlicky is going to be vitally important.

Say what you will about Kim Johnsson, but the Wild haven’t really had a reliable breakout passer since they traded Johnsson, and that’s exactly what Zidlicky is going to have to be. In seasons past, Zidlicky has been passable at the job, struggling at times while making tremendous breakouts other times, but the Wild need him to be steady back there this season.

What’s more is that Zidlicky is the team’s elder statesman at the ripe old age of 34, so he’s also going to be one of the people in the locker room that their young defensemen like Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon look to for guidance and for help. It’s a big responsibility to shoulder, but Zidlicky’s been around a bit – it’s a responsibility that he can take on.

On the ice, Zidlicky is going to be the man on the power play for the Wild. He’ll be manning the point on the first unit alongside Pierre-Marc Bouchard (or whoever cycles back there). In Mike Yeo’s system, Zidlicky is going to be looked at to fire his big shot from the point. He’s going to be the catalyst that gets everything going down low because he’s going to be the one causing the rebounds. He’s also going to, most times, be the lone point man with the four forwards cycling down low and on the half boards.

That’s where Zidlicky is going to earn his weight’s worth of gold (or goals, depending on how you want to look at it). A solid power play always starts with solid play from the point, and that’s something that he’s going to need to bring every night for the Wild to succeed with the man advantage.

On the other side of the puck (you know, the defensive side), Zidlicky is going to be counted on to be passable.

Look, he’s not here for his defensive acumen. He’s only been a “plus” player twice in his career, and I really don’t expect that to become a third time, but that’s not his value to the team. All he has to do is play mistake free. He doesn’t need to blow anyone away with his tremendous defensive plays. He just needs to not screw up and help the Wild transition to offense.

This Season

Marek Zidlicky

Zidlicky's value isn't in his defensive play


Zidlicky, this season, is likely to be on one of the Wild’s top-two pairings depending on how Yeo rolls them out. I would expect to see him paired with a steadier defenseman like Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz or, when he gets healthy, Mike Lundin. Zidlicky is going to pinch in and take chances, and a steady partner like either of those three would benefit him greatly.

Last season, Zidlicky’s time on the ice was cut short by injuries, as he played in just 46 games. Plain and simple, the Wild need him healthy and he needs to be fully healthy to be productive. Zidlicky is a gamer, though. Unless he’s shutdown by the coaching staff, he’ll play, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him get some maintenance days here and there to prevent him from going on the shelf.

Either way, he’s got to be in the line up for the Wild to have a successful season this year, and I would look at him being in the ice to start most games next to Greg Zanon.

Prediction
Last season Zidlicky got 24 points in 46 games. A pretty decent pace for a defenseman. Look for that trend to continue this season, as Zidlicky is going to be the Wild’s main offensive option from their blue line and is going to get a bulk of the time manning the point on the power play.

My prediction for Marek Zidlicky this season is:

75 GP, 13 G, 41 A, -5

Photos Courtesy of Getty Images

Preseason Gameday Thread: vs. Columbus

Minnesota/Columbus has started to turn into a pretty fierce rivalry of late.

So we’ll combine the roster and the game day threads again today, since I’m pressed for time again, but here it is. Wild fans finally get to see the line they’ve been waiting to see tonight, against Columbus.

Per Wild.com:

Devin SetoguchiMikko KoivuDany Heatley
Darroll PoweKyle BrodziakCal Clutterbuck
Kris Foucault – Zack PhillipsBrett Bulmer
David McIntyreChad RauBrad Staubitz

Chay Genoway – Kris Fredheim
Greg ZanonMarek Zidlicky
Marco ScandellaNate Prosser

Josh Harding will start in goal with Darcy Kuemper serving as the backup.

So, we’ll see the first and third lines in action tonight (just like Russo promised), but we’re also going to get to see the Foucault/Phillips/Bulmer line again. It looks like they might have done enough to make Mike Yeo want a second look at them, which is very encouraging.

No real surprises otherwise. Eden Prairie native Chad Rau gets his first action of the preseason, as does Kris Fredheim and Darcy

Minnesota will look to keep their momentum going

Kuemper.

No inside information here, but it looks to me like Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser might be the front runners for the extra defensive spot as they get the nod again. It will be interesting to see how they respond, especially since they likely won’t be seeing the ice time they did last game with Zanon and Zidlicky in the line up.

For comparison’s sake, here’s the Jackets’ roster, again per Wild.com:

Forwards: Jeff Carter, Maksim Mayorov, Vinny Prospal, Derek MacKenzie, Ryan Russell, Cody Bass, Cam Atkinson, Nick Drazenovic, Oliver Gabriel, Antoine Vermette, Rick Nash, Adam Payerl

Defensemen: Radek Martinek, Aaron Johnson, Kris Russell, James Wisniewski, Dalton Prout, Fedor Tyutin, Anton Blomqvist, Steve Delisle

Goaltenders: Curtis Sanford and Allen York

Some questions to ponder and discuss for tonight’s game:

How will Yeo’s chemistry experiment go with the de facto first line of the team? Will Setoguchi, Heatley and Koivu mesh well?

Foucault, Phillips and Bulmer are all getting another look. Will they impress again?

How much will Harding play? Will he get the full two periods tonight to see where his knee is at?

Scandella, Prosser and Chay Genoway are all getting another look. How will they fare?

Can the Wild finally put everything together and outshoot their opponent now that they have their big firepower in the line up?

Can the Wild contain the Jackets’ big line of Prospal/Nash/Carter?

Wild.com will have live in-game commentary and you can listen to the game here. The puck drops at 7pm from the Xcel Energy Center.

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.

In Lieu of a Gameday Thread – Some Quick Hits

No gameday thread today. I got super busy, so I’m just going to throw up a few quick hits for you.

  • Marek Zidlicky is a gametime decision and that likely means that Z will be on the ice tonight and the Wild will likely skate 7 d-men. If that’s the case, what forward to you lose? Brad Staubitz? His type of game is exactly what you need against a rough and tumble team like the Ducks. Eric Nystrom? He might be the most likely candidate behind Staubitz but, again, he’s the kind of guy you want on the ice in what is going to be a physically intense game. I get that Z wants to come back to help the team, but I’d have to say that Sunday’s game against Detroit is the better option for a player who is returning from a severe separated shoulder and hasn’t taken any game contact for quite some time. We’ll see if Z hits the ice tonight though.
  • Big, big trade news. One from a Northwest foe and a couple from the Bruins (including one Minnesota boy). First, the Northwest foe. In a swap of goalies, the Avs sent embattled goalie Craig Anderson to the Sens for Brian Elliott. On the surface, this isn’t that big of a trade, but it potentially could be huge for the Sens. Anderson is likely a goalie they were going to target in free agency if he was available and now they essentially have a 25 game audition for him, plus exclusive negotiating rights. If they like what they see in Anderson, they could push ahead their rebuild early. If they don’t, well, they’re in the same place they were with Elliott.
  • Next, Tomas Kaberle finally got dealt. Thank God. We don’t have to listen to the rumors anymore. Brian Burke sent him to the Leafs’ division rival Boston Bruins for a first in 2011, prospect Joe Colborne and a conditional pick. The Bruins also moved Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart to the Thrashers for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. Now, the Kaberle trade is quite shortsighted, but it means two things. First, Boston is content with keeping what will likely be a top-eight draft pick in Toronto’s first from this season and two, they like what they see with this team and are set on making a serious Cup push. Kaberle gives them a bona fide puck-moving defenseman that they have lacked and, quite honestly, gives them one of the better d-men in the league. They then swapped a couple of players for Peverley and Valabik and, quite honestly, made out like bandits on that one. I love Peverley’s game and he’s much more of an offensive threat than Wheeler was. Slotting him in with any of the Bruins’ top two lines makes them immediately more dangerous. Valabik and Stuart really are just a swap, but Valabik is a big guy who can play very physical hockey when he needs to.
  • Back to the Wild. How big is tonight’s game? Minnesota is just three points behind Anaheim for the sixth spot. Dallas, LA and Calgary are all idle today. Minnesota wins this one and they’re just one point out. The problem is that they’re slowly losing their games in hand, which was their biggest advantage to this point. So, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this one’s a must-win.
  • Finally, a quick plug. Be sure to check out our friends at Stadium Journey. If you’re going to a game anywhere in the NHL (or in an other league, for that matter), they’re an invaluable resource and besides, they’re good people. Check out the review that I wrote for them on the Xcel Energy Center, as well as Drew Cieszynski’s review of the Rabobank Arena, home of the Wild’s ECHL affiliate Bakersfield Condors.
  • Okay, I lied. Now finally, one more quick plug. Be sure to check in on Sunday as we’re going to be hosting a live blog/chat for the Heritage Classic with our parent site, Hockey Primetime. Join myself, J.P. Hoornstra, Denis Gorman and Justin Bourne as we babble on about hockey while the Flames and Habs go at it. We’ll have the West Coast, Midwest and East Coast covered with the correspondents, so bring your questions too and we’ll gladly opine on them!

The puck drops tonight at 7 p.m. CST and is televised on Fox Sports North.

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