Gameday Thread: Heatley and Setoguchi return to San Jose

Full tuck? Really?

Well, the Wild are going for six in a row tonight, facing off against the San Jose Sharks in what is a highly anticipated game for both teams, as Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley are returning to San Jose and Brent Burns and Martin Havlat are facing off against the Wild for the first time since being traded this off season, and I’m not sure whether or not James Sheppard is going to get his first game of the season tonight, but Burns and Heatley will certainly be in the lineup.

Does anyone really think he was serious?

As was mentioned on Hockey Wilderness, Brent Burns made a comment to the San Jose Mercury News that every single person on the interwebz has jumped on:

“I’ve been watching how they’ve been doing, hoping that they would lose every game,” he continued. “You have to be competitive to reach this level and I’m a pretty intense guy. And when a team doesn’t want you, you sure don’t want them to go 82-0.”

And one more: “I have a lot of friends there and you want them to score six goals and lose.”

“But it doesn’t always work out,” he added. “Now it’s like an ex-girlfriend. You really don’t want her to get the white-picket fence and the great job. It’s like a good country song.”

Now, let’s be very clear here. Burnzie loved his time inMinnesotaand he was beloved by many (if not all) of the fans and surely by all of his teammates. In fact, the article goes on to talk about how much Burns liked living in Minnesota.

So, is this bulletin board material?

Probably not. This is just Burnzie being Burnzie.

On the other hand, all it takes is one person to say, “He was being a smartass to the media. Let’s take it to him so we can give it right back.”

Just sayin’.

Lineup

Minnesota is rolling out the same lineup we saw against the Flames, with the exception of Cal Clutterbuck back in. Per Wild.com, we’re likely to see the lines look like this (my thoughts in italics):

Latendresse/Koivu/Heatley (Has Latendresse really gotten this line going or what? It’s nice when everyone gets to play the role that

Latendresse has really helped the top line

they’re used to, and that’s what Latendresse allows everyone to do.)
Bouchard/Cullen/Setoguchi (Ditto to the KHL Line – Like that? I just made it up right here. – The addition of Setoguchi has made this a very dangerous line in transition because of their speed.)
Johnson/Brodziak/Clutterbuck (This line is probably one of the more fun checking lines to watch because, one, they all like to throw their weight around and two, they actually can score.)
Gillies/Powe/Staubitz (Staubitz again found himself stapled to the bench against the Flames, but Powe and Gillies each had pretty solid games, including Powe getting his first goal in a Wild sweater.)

Schultz/Zidlicky (I just can’t tell what it’s going to take to get Zidlicky going, but Schultz was a monster against the Flames. He shut Jarome down and he’s going to have to do the same tonight.)
Spurgeon/Scandella (Scandella continues to impress, but this pairing’s decision making needs to improve a bit for them to really start playing well. Poor decisions can lead to the Wild getting hemmed into their zone, which happened a bit against the Flames.)
Prosser/Falk (If they keep playing this way, I don’t know that Stoner, Zanon or Lundin will ever get into the line up.)

Backstrom is back in net, so we’ll see how he responds to his second straight start. He’s historically had a rough go of it against the Sharks, so this will be a big test for him.

Burning Questions

Can Backstrom keep riding the momentum from last game? A 41-save shutout can either lead to another impressive game or a big let down. Which will it be?

How do Heatley and Setoguchi perform coming back to San Jose? My guess is that one will be booed and the other will be given a warm welcome. Care to guess which?

Does Sheppard play for San Jose? It wouldn’t be a bad first game to slot him in for. If any player has the drive to play well in this one, it’s Shep.

Can the Wild stay out of the box? Minnesota was in seven times against the Flames, including a five-minute major. If they do that against San Jose, they’re in trouble.

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

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

Wild trade Havlat to Sharks for Heatley; Our thoughts

Well, this has been an exciting off season so far, and the Wild hasn’t even gone after any free agents (Jeff Taffe aside).

In two trades, the Wild have significantly upgraded their forward unit, first adding Devin Setoguchi in the trade at the draft, then adding Dany Heatley just a couple days ago in a player-for-player swap, sending Martin Havlat the other way.

I’ve already weighed in on the trade for Setoguci (hint: I really liked it), but I just wanted to throw a few thoughts out there in regards to the Heatley trade.

First of all, the trade seems to me to be a win-win for both teams. Both the Wild and the Sharks get players that, for all intents and purposes, seemed to need a change of scenery. Havlat was obviously not fitting in well in Minnesota on the ice (hence why his agent was complaining about his apparent lack of ice time) and there have long been rumors that he wasn’t fitting in off the ice either.

Heatley, on the other hand, was becoming a maligned player in San Jose after his poor season and poor post season in which he reportedly played through significant injuries in both.

In short, they both needed a change and both got it.

I’m going to leave the commentary of the Sharks receiving Heatley to those who cover the Sharks but, for the Wild, this is a huge trade.

It is very apparent that Chuck Fletcher is directing this team towards a shoot-first mentality, with the addition of Setoguchi and now of Heatley. Minnesota had a single player with 200-plus shots last season and just one the season before. Last season, they averaged a paltry 26.2 shots per game.

Quite simply, they need more offense – specifically, more shooters.

That is exactly what Heatley is. For the first time since Marian Gaborik, the Wild have a player that is a true sniper. In fact, for the first time since the Wild featured Gaborik and Brian Rolston, this is the first time that the Wild have had two shoot-first players on their squad.

Any way you cut it, this trade is looking like a big win for the franchise, regardless of any off-ice problems Heatley might bring with him (which, according to Setoguchi, is none – he was always well-liked in the San Jose locker room).

But, as much as a positive as this trade is, it does once again bring up the ever glaring hole in the Wild’s roster – the number two center slot.

For a couple seasons it was solved because of the chemistry that Kyle Brodziak had with Havlat, but I think that we can all agree that Brodziak is not a number two center.

For now, it seems like that role may be populated by Matt Cullen. Definitely an upgrade, but certainly not the player you’d like to see playing the pivot between Latendresse and Bouchard/Setoguchi.

It’s an experiment you’ll likely see during training camp, but one that I’m not too wild about the possibilities of.

What I do think warrants a look during camp, however, is Casey Wellman as the pivot on the second line. The common thought is that Wellman is the type of player who you need on the top two lines in order for him to succeed and this is an opportunity for the Wild to do just that.

While expectations are starting to increase for this team, it’s quite clear that there is a gaping hole in the middle of their line up. This could be a prime opportunity for Wellman to step up and show his potential.

But, that’s for a different time. For now, let’s just enjoy the fact that the Wild are just a few weeks into the NHL’s off season and they’re already a much more dangerous team than they were when the season ended.

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!

Wild Down Oilers…Again

Well, so far the Wild have decided “No Koivu? No problem.”

Granted, offense is coming much, much harder and their power play looks a bit disconnected, but this team is determined.

Last night in St. Paul, the Wild came out and put on yet another terrific performance, this time downing the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 in what is becoming quite a heated rivalry between the two squads.

I’ll save you the bland rundown of what happened, but here are my thoughts on last night’s game:

  • Jared Spurgeon finally got rewarded for all of his hard work and terrific play, scoring his first career goal. Let me tell you, this kid is going to be a good defenseman in the NHL for a long, long time. I love his positional game, I love his defensive game, but the fact that he has that vision to make that first breakout pass in a way that the Wild have struggled with ever since they traded Kim Johnsson. After all of their searching for a puck-moving defenseman, after all of their attempts at trades and signings, they found one that was within their own organization. That, above everything else, bodes well for the Wild. I know, I know. It’s hard to believe, but they actually filled a pressing need from within their organization. Guess what? For all of you people whining that Chuck Fletcher hasn’t done enough to improve the organization, start drinking the Kool Aid because it’s working. It’s not going to be a quick fix. It might even be four or five years before they Wild have the type of organizational depth that they aspire to, but they’re heading in the right direction.
  • Pierre-Marc Bouchard was terrific last night. I know I sound like a broken record, but he looks more and more like his old self with each game. He’s gotten some sick chemistry with Martin Havlat that could prove interesting once Guillaume Latendresse returns to action. A line with three players with that sort of chemistry? That could be a scary good line for Minnesota.
  • There was enough good last night that I feel the need to point out one of the things that really is bothering me about this team. I’ve mentioned it before, but this game could honestly have been (and should have been) about 6-1 or 7-1 with all of Minnesota’s missed chances. The reason why this team is having such a hard time scoring, with all of the offensive chances that the get from game-to-game is simply because they don’t have that offensive juggernaut of a player that can pick up a loose puck and bury it. Yes, Latendresse is hurt and he is arguably their best goal scorer. But they’re going to need more than just him if they want to compete against the top teams in the West. The difference between Detroit and Edmonton was clear last night. You can afford to not convert on these scoring chances against a team like Edmonton and still get two points. But miss scoring chances like we did against Detroit and you wind up with a loss.
  • Martin Havlat was again very good for the Wild and, frankly, I’m starting to get a little sick of some of the criticism surrounding the dynamic winger. I was speaking with a friend of mine the other day and the guy made mention that he wished Havlat would do more to get engaged in the game. At first glance, sure. Every player can look a little listless from time to time. Everyone has their off games, so I made mention of that – that the game he was watching, Havlat just was having an off game. But that wasn’t what he was talking about. He went on to say how Havlat was a 100-point talent playing 70-point hockey. How Havlat doesn’t get involved in any of the physical stuff on the ice. He doesn’t go hard into corners after the puck, he doesn’t block shots etc.

First of all, is Havlat a 100-point talent playing 70-point hockey? Maybe. But you also have to consider the players around him. Havlat is a playmaker, plain and simple. He feeds off of the players on his line and, for a lot of this season, he’s been playing with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck – neither of whom are known for their offense. So yeah, maybe he’s having a mediocre season this year, but how much of that is due to who he’s been playing with?

Next, the fact that Havlat doesn’t play the physical brand of hockey that my friend (and many others from what I’ve gathered) would like. Okay. So you want our leading scorer taking chances on laying hits on people, taking himself out of opportunities where he can get the puck and putting himself in harm’s way in terms of injuries? That sure makes a lot of sense. The physical part isn’t part of Havlat’s game. That’s not to say that he shouldn’t be a little more physical from time to time. There are times when he looks soft, sure. But I’d rather have him look like that and be in position to get the puck when it comes loose than go barreling into players willy nilly.

Then there’s the final part, about how Havlat doesn’t do the “little things” like go hard into corners or block shots and so on. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but having your $6 million player whom you pay to create offense getting in the way of a 100 mph slap shot on a regular basis seems kind of stupid, don’t you think? There’s a reason Havlat isn’t on the team’s penalty kill on a regular basis. Going hard into the corners, blocking shots, that stuff isn’t his role. His role is to be in a position to get the puck once we come out of those hard areas with it, or once it ricochets off of a defender’s shin pad. If Havlat is going hard into the corner after a puck, or blocking a shot, there is a significant problem with either his linemates or the defensemen because that is not what he’s supposed to be doing on the ice. That’s not to say that he shouldn’t be pursuing the puck, or trying to prevent goals, but he’s more useful to the Wild being in position to collect the puck after these things than being right in the center of things doing them.

  • Finally, there’s Niklas Backstrom. I know I probably sound like a broken record, but if the Wild make the playoffs it’s on his shoulders and, right now, his shoulders are as wide as the rink is long. If Backstrom is not getting any sort of Vezina consideration for the season that he’s having right now, it’s an absolute crime. He’s been one of the best goalies in the league all season long. He has had his share of stinkers, but he has also lost seven games in which he’s given up two or less goals this season. Seven! He’s made less than 90 percent of his saves just nine times in 37 games and has had to stop 35-plus shots eight times. He’s on, folks, and when he’s on there aren’t many in the game that are better than him. He’s given up just three goals in his last three games and the Wild are going to need to ride him for the rest of this season.

That’s that for this one. I’ll be back on Thursday with the gameday preview (sorry I missed yesterday’s) and gamer and on Friday with the Wild Nation Trade Deadline primer.

Wild Lose Koivu; Replacement Comes With No Easy Answers

Well, here we are. The one player that the Wild couldn’t afford to lose and they’ve gone ahead and lost him.

From what I understand, Minnesota’s captain was hit in the hand while blocking a shot in last night’s 5-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks and injured his finger – bad. Like might need surgery bad.

I won’t lie, this is a catastrophe for the Wild. Not only was Koivu their captain, their heart and soul leader in the locker room, but he’s also the number one center on a team without a solid number two.

Maybe, in the best case scenario, Matt Cullen or Pierre-Marc Bouchard could step up and fill the void, but would they be able to bring to the first line what Koivu could? They’re the best internal scenarios, and even then they’re not the greatest options.

I may be preaching to the choir here, but the Wild now need to make a trade before the deadline if Koivu is going to be out for an extended period of time.

But who do they go after? The West is so freaking tight right now, who could the Wild realistically make a trade with?

They could maybe target Koivu the other or Todd Marchant from Anaheim, but Anaheim is just one point ahead of the Wild in the standings. Do you think they’re going to help Minnesota out?

The same goes for Calgary, L.A. and Dallas. All teams that the Wild are chasing in the standings. Even San Jose and Nashville probably aren’t realistic possibilities. Neither are Phoenix, Vancouver or Detroit.

If the bottom falls out on Chicago or Columbus, they might consider a trade, same goes with St. Louis. The most likely options are Colorado or Edmonton, but there aren’t really any players on either team that would fit the bill that wouldn’t be part of the team’s rebuilding efforts.

The bottom line is, if the Wild want to make a move anywhere it’s going to be in the East.

But who?

Buffalo? Maybe Tim Connolly fits the bill, but with the Sabres making a playoff push there’s a good chance they’ll want Connolly to be at the center of that.

Florida? Stephen Weiss would be a good move for the Wild, but he hasn’t shown any indication that he wants out of Florida and he has a NMC.

Toronto? They could maybe get Mikhail Grabovski, but I doubt he’ll come cheap. Same with Clarke MacArthur.

The bottom line is that the Wild are going to need to pony up something good in order to get something good. They may even need to overpay. Likely a roster player, a prospect and/or a pick. But who do they move?

Andrew Brunette? Not likely. While he might have the most value, there’s no way that he’s going to be moved. He’s too valuable to the team.

John Madden? He’s got experience and he could be valuable to a team making a playoff push, meaning he’s likely going to be too valuable for the Wild to give up.

There’s been rumblings of Martin Havlat being moved, but that’s just not going to happen. NMC not withstanding, Havlat is the Wild’s biggest offensive threat. He won’t go anywhere.

No, the best players the Wild have to be moved that they’ll consider moving at this point are likely Cam Barker and Antti Miettinen. While both have value to the team at this point, both are essentially replaceable.

Basically, the pickings are slim and the players we would be able to give up are even slimmer, but the Wild need to make some sort of move in order to keep up with the Western Conference.

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.

Minnesota’s Lack of Scoring Cause for Concern

I apologize for no gamer from last night’s game, but I did some thinking about it and decided that this was the route to go instead.

Hockey Wilderness posted something a couple days ago about whether or not the Wild are the real deal. This was before the Wild’s two “shoulda, coulda, woulda” losses.

Before these two losses, I was definitely on the side of the fence that was saying that the Wild are the real deal. They were on a tear. They were scoring, they were playing great defense and they were receiving great goaltending. Plain and simple, they looked like the real deal.

But these two losses really pinpointed the team’s biggest weakness – the weakness that was supposed to become their strength under Todd Richards; their offense.

The Wild simply don’t have the goal scorers to compete on a nightly basis. Sure, they’ll have a player that gets hot every now and again. Lately it’s been Cal Clutterbuck. But the team’s scoring is extremely balanced – mostly by necessity.

Without Guillaume Latendresse, the Wild really don’t have a bona fide finisher.

Think about it. They have a lot of players that can finish, but none that are willing to tailor their game to make that their purpose.

Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard. These are all players that have the potential to be 30-plus goal scorers if they put their minds to it. Instead, they are all playmakers by design. They distribute rather than finish. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not riding any of these four players. They’re four of the most offensively gifted players on the squad.

But…

When you have four extremely talented playmakers like this, you’ve got to have someone for them to get the puck to. Right now, do they have anyone that fits that bill? I’d say they don’t.

Antti Miettinen? He works hard, he can chip in goals here and there, but he guy isn’t a first line player. He’s a checker that has some offensive upside. He’s the guy who you could be happy to chip in 15-20 goals in a season, not the guy to shoulder the load.

Cal Clutterbuck? He’s the same as Miettinen. He’s a great player, he’s a great checker and penalty killer, but the fact that he’s leading the team in goals is a huge problem for the Wild.

Mikko Koivu? He could most certainly fit the bill, but he’s unwilling to sacrifice anything from the defensive end to add to the offensive end of the ice. He’s a great player and a great leader and his game is to be that two-way forward, much like Mike Richards.

The only player that the Wild have currently that is, or could be considered, a bona fide goal scorer is Guillaume Latendresse, whom I would be very surprised to see back in the line up any time soon, let alone as effective as he was last season or even at the beginning of this season.

So Minnesota needs to go out and do something, anything to get some sort of scoring pop because it’s getting to the point of the season where all of the excuses in the world don’t matter anymore.

The whole “we deserved better” speech is getting old. The bottom line is, despite all of the Wild’s efforts over the last two games, they didn’t deserve better because they can’t put the puck in the net.

The Wild outshot the Blackhawks 17-10 in the first period on Wednesday, yet had a 1-0 deficit to show for it and just a period before that outshot the Canucks 13-1 with nothing to show for it but an empty net goal by Vancouver.

The bottom line is all of the hard work in the world isn’t going to mean a thing if, at the end of the day, the Wild aren’t able to convert on the opportunities that they’re creating with it and that is a problem the team is most certainly going to have to address.

Gameday Thread – Game 57 – Wild @ Blackhawks

As Russo put it, last night’s game was one of those “where the effort was there and the finish wasn’t.”

The Wild’s 4-1 loss last night against the Vancouver Canucks has put Minnesota behind the eight ball against a struggling Chicago Blackhawks squad tonight. If Minnesota wants to remain in the playoff hunt, this is a game that they have got to win.

After the loss, the Wild still remain just a point out of the eighth spot and are now three points behind spots four through seven in the ultra-tight Western Conference. It’s pretty simple. With three teams close to us in the standings in action (not including the Blackhawks), we can’t put our fate in other teams’ hands. We’ve just got to win.

* * * * *

Star Tribune Game Preview

NHL.com Game Preview

(I’ll try to update with some reports from the morning skate also)

* * * * *

Desperation Time
One of the biggest stories heading into this game will be whether or not a tired Minnesota Wild team will be able to match the desperation that will likely be coming from a Blackhawks squad that has slid down the rankings steadily for the last few weeks.

The Wild have got to play with the same effort and desperation that they have played with for the past few weeks. Sure, they’ll have a couple rough games here and there, but they can’t afford to have losing streaks and that means tonight they’ve got to come out with their “compete level” high.

This has been an extremely even season series to this point, with both teams winning a game and the scoring at 5-5 on the season. That means that this one could very easily come down to who wants it more, and that had better be us.

Finish (And not the country)
One thing that became painfully evident last night is that the Wild lack players that can finish on a consistent basis.

Martin Havlat? We all saw what he could do in his All-Star Game debacle.

Antti Miettinen? Give him a difficult goal and he’ll bury it. An open net? Not so much.

Cal Clutterbuck? He’s certainly been one of the best scorers for the Wild this season, but he can’t be counted on to score on a consistent basis.

I could go on too. The bottom line is that looking down the Wild’s roster, it’s painfully evident that the team misses Guillaume Latendresse more and more every game. In his short time with the team, Latendresse has been a goal-scoring machine. That’s what the Wild need, but they won’t be getting it at least for the rest of the month, if not longer.

Someone needs to step up and that someone needs to be players like Martin Havlat, Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. These are players that were expected to carry the offensive load this season, and they have to a certain extent, but they’ve got to have a more consistent goal-scoring effort than they have recently.

Havlat has just two goals and two assists in his last six games, Koivu has zero goals and only five points in his last eight and Butch has zero goals and just one assist in his last five.

The Wild have been lucky enough to have their scoring spread around this season  (they currently have eight players with eleven or more goals), but they need someone to step up and start pulling the team along and, as much as I love Cal Clutterbuck, that someone needs to be one of their top players.

Big Game
Tonight’s tilt is a big game – possibly one of the biggest of the season for the Wild.

Sure, from here on out every game is big. But this one? They’re coming off of a disappointing loss against one of their rivals and are on the second game of a back-to-back.

The last time they came out of a big rivalry game disappointed like this (Against the Avs on Jan. 14), they came out like gang busters and outscored their opponents 14-1 over their next three games. That’s exactly the team that we need to see tonight if the Wild are going to stay in the hunt.

The puck drops tonight at 7 p.m. CST and will be televised nationally on Versus.

Next Page »