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 down Sharks in a shootout

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

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

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

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

In other words, showing a little passion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts

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

Burning Questions

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

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

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

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

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

3 Stars

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

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

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

Gameday Thread: Wild look to stop slump against Sharks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lineup

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

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

Schultz/Falk
Zidlicky/Zanon
Spurgeon/Stoner

Harding will be between the pipes.

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

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

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

Burning Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hawks down Wild in shootout

First of all, watch this shootout goal from Patrick Kane and not say, “Are you effing serious?” I dare you. It’s impossible.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I didn’t do a write up on the game last night because I was too busy watching 24/7. Like, watched it three times too busy.

Would I have watched it three times had I not had to write a review for it? Probably not. But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself in the process. My review will be up on Hockey Primetime soon, and I’ll link you too it as soon as it is, but I’ll give you a preview to how awesome the first episode was.

Not gonna lie – that song is now on my iPod.

Anyway, on to the Wild game.

As has been their M.O. this season, the Wild came out glacially slow again and, thanks to some spectacular goaltending by Niklas Backstrom, were still tied at zero when the buzzer sounded. Considering how badly they were outshot (11-2), this was no small feat.

They then kept their M.O. going, falling behind 2-0 in just over a minute on two quick goals from the ‘Hawks. The first, Marian Hossa potted on the power play after catching the Wild scrambling and then looking (just about every single player had their back to the blue line) and the second saw a beautiful pass end up with Michael Frolik, who had a tap-in into the open net.

The Wild, though, didn’t stop. In fact, they just kept getting better as the night went on. They, once again, scored two very quick goals to tie the game up. The first was a very controversial call, in which one linesman called an icing and the other waived it off. The ‘Hawks learned the hard way that they have to keep playing until the whistle blows, because Colton Gillies came in hard on the forecheck with Steve Montador and John Scott playing the puck very relaxed, expecting the icing to be called. Gillies got the puck out to Kyle Brodziak who scored on an incensed Blackhawks team – and rightfully so. I’ll take that kind of blown call any day of the week but it was, indeed, a horribly blown call.

Matt Cullen pounded home a Cal Clutterbuck rebound just a short time later to tie the game and the Wild were buzzing.

Jonathan Toews buried a beautiful wrister in the third to put the ‘Hawks back up, but the Wild were not to be denied with Mikko Koivu tying the game with a blistering one-timer on a beautiful play by Cal Clutterbuck.

Overtime was uneventful, in terms of goals, but was a tremendous pace and highly entertaining to watch and, seriously. Tell me that a 10 minute overtime of that pace wouldn’t end in a non-shootout win? If the league wants to minimize the impact of the shootout, that’s the way to go.

On to the shootout, where Jonathan Toews scored a typical shootout goal on Backstrom (five hole) and Patrick Kane made about a bazillion and two dekes before potting a shootout goal that, quite frankly, made Backstrom look silly.

So, how does this match up? Is this the Wild regressing? They’ve lost two straight, it obviously must mean that they are, right?

Well, not so fast.

Yeah, the Wild lost two tough, hard fought games. They didn’t find a way to win, when they needed to.

They ran into a hot Ondrej Pavelec, hell bent on rebounding from his seven-goal disaster against the Red Wings and, stuck with a team that about 99-percent of the pundits around the league would say is unequivocally better than the Wild, losing in the skills competition on a shootout goal that, quite honestly, bordered on the ridiculous.

This team isn’t regressing. This is a team that is coming together that has lost a couple tough hockey games in which they’ve played quite well.

The Wild play again on Saturday against the New York Islanders and you can bet they’ll be one hungry team.

Burning Questions

How do the Wild respond to a tough loss? They responded well, despite looking tired in the first period. They lost, yeah, but it was a hard-fought game that took the shootout for Chicago to win.

Can Guillaume Latendresse rebound? He ended up leaving the game with post-concussion symptoms. I was concerned that this would happen when he was rushed back into action, and it did.

Will Marek Zidlicky play and, if so, will he be useful? He didn’t look terrible, but he didn’t look great either. He had a few good looks, but one has to wonder if those good looks were worth scratching the puck magnet, Greg Zanon, against the Blackhawks.

How will Backstrom look in his second game in two nights? He looked good. None of the regulation goals could be pinned on him and, honestly, Backstrom didn’t lose the shootout; Kane won it.

Three Stars

1)      Cal Clutterbuck – Two assists, including the game-tying one on a delayed penalty and a gorgeous pass.

2)      Jonathan Toews – Great game. Goal and an assist, a shootout goal and was a force all night long.

3)      Mikko Koivu – Game-tying goal, +1, six shots.

Ducks beat Wild 3-2

This is just getting painful to watch.

The Wild just can’t seem to get things going offensively, despite all of their offensive weapons, and fell to the Ducks last night 3-2. A large part of that is because, despite getting a good amount of shots, the Wild just can’t sustain any offensive pressure in the zone because, as Russo intimated in his post last night, the Wild are dumping great, but when it comes to chasing, they need some work.

It isn’t even that the Wild aren’t forechecking either. They are. In fact, a lot of times they have a very strong forecheck but they’re not using it to their advantage. When you’re playing a dump and chase style (which, I assure you, isn’t the way that Yeo wants the Wild to play), the chase is dependant on using your forecheck to get behind the defense and get the puck. Instead, the Wild seem to be dumping it, then expecting someone else to chase it.

Again, let me stress that this isn’t the way that the Wild want to play. They want to be a puck possession team. To me, dump and chase has always been the most ridiculous style of play. You’ve worked hard on defense to gain the puck, just to chip it in and chase after it once you hit the blue line? It just doesn’t make sense.

Now, there are some teams that are better suited for it. There are some teams that it works for. This team, it doesn’t.

Now, I’m sure that this isn’t the style of game that Yeo would like the Wild to play, but if it’s going to be something that the Wild continue to revert to (and, let’s be fair, every team dumps and chases at some point), it’s something they have to work on in order to do it well enough so that it’s a benefit to the team, not just a planned turnover.

If they Wild are going to revert back to this strategy at points during the game, then using it to get in behind the team’s defense needs to be indelibly seared into their memory.

When I was back in high school, I was on the basketball team. After one particularly disheartening loss (read: we got curb stomped), our coach decided to teach us a little about hustle. In the drill in question, we lined up in two lines on the baseline, coach rolled the ball towards center court, and one person from each line went, for lack of a better expression, balls out trying to get to the ball first. We got court burns, we were exhausted, we were all hurt in some way, shape or form but, most importantly, we got better. That’s exactly what the Wild needs to do. They need to separate the forwards and defensemen, dump the puck in deep and let them hit it out down low trying to come out with the puck. People are going to get pissed, punches could be thrown, but let’s be honest here. If the Wild aren’t pissed off with the start that they’ve had, they’re not paying attention.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild close out a game? This is kind of a moot point, because the Wild didn’t really have the opportunity to close the game, but I will say that the Wild just folded mentally in the last few minutes of the third period when they were within one. At that point in the game, you just can’t take careless penalties, and that’s exactly what they did. I don’t care how unintentional the delay of game penalty was, you can’t take that penalty at that point in the game. You just can’t.

Will Guillaume Latendresse be successful on the fourth line? No, he wasn’t. In fact, in his 13 odd minutes of ice time, he was largely ineffective. Now, that could be because of lingering after effects of his injury or that could be because he was playing on the fourth line. Two things really stuck with me about this game and it was that Latendresse wasn’t the offensive force he has been this season because, well, he was rarely able to get time in the offensive zone and that, if Cal Clutterbuck is getting more power play time than Bouchard, Latendresse and Setoguchi, something’s wrong. I love me some Clutterbuck, but a top-six forward he is not.

Cal Clutterbuck on the first line? Will he succeed? Yes and no. I’m hesitant to call him a huge success on the first line, but he did create some chances. The problem is, though, that he doesn’t really have much of a net presence. Just because a player is physical doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to hold their own consistently in front of the net. Clutterbuck used his body to create chances for others tonight but, to me, it just seemed like the whole square peg in a round hole scenario for Minnesota.

Can Cullen get back on the scoresheet? Yup. The second line was one of the Wild’s top lines and Cullen got a power-play goal that pulled the Wild within one.

Three Stars

1)      Teemu Selanne – Selanne was just a force all night long, no question about it. He had assists on all threeAnaheim goals and just dominated the offensive zone.

2)      Corey Perry – Perry was his typical “Wild killer” self, getting under people’s skins and scoring goals while he was at it. He scored the first goal and that really set the tone for the game.

3)      Ryan Getzlaf – No “homer” star predictions here. Getzlaf got the game winner for the Ducks and, like Perry and Selanne, was a force for the Ducks.

Wild down Oilers in shootout 2-1

Snipe!

I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I was watching the game on my DVR (two kids, plus bedtime doesn’t always for an easy time watching the game make) and one of my buddies texted me to share something he did in Dark Souls (trust me, if you’re a gamer and you’ve played the game, you know doing something positive in the game is definitely something to brag about). Being that he’s a huge Wild fan, my response was to immediately tell him that I was watching the game because I didn’t want any spoilers.

His response to that was, “Well, I won’t tell you what happened then.”

To which, my response was, “If it went to a shootout, I can guess.”

Boy was my guess wrong, and I’m man enough to admit it.

Okay, so it's not the shootout. But he was still good.

Backstrom simply rocked the shootout. He got outwaited by Jordan Eberle first thing, then stopped three shots in a row to give the Wild a shootout victory and, according to Russo’s twitter, his second shootout win in his last ten.

I’ve always been a Backstrom sympathizer (not always a popular position among Wild fans), and seeing him come out and turn the Oilers away in a shootout yesterday just made me smile.

Before the shootout, Mike Yeo came over and pumped his tires (to steal some phrasing from ourVancouvercounterpart), and Backstrom looked like a completely different goalie than he did inOttawa. InOttawa, he wasn’t sure of himself. He almost looked timid trying to stop the shots. Tonight, he did not.

The Oilers came out strong and, again, the Wild struggled through the first period, giving up a goal midway through the period to Ryan Smyth, which seemed to wake them up a bit. From there, the Wild poured on the pressure and after being outshot 12-9 in the first period, the Wild outshot Edmonton26-10 the rest of the way.

Despite the disparity in shots, the only goal the Wild managed to get through Nikolai Khabibulin’s wall was Matt Cullen’s snipe in the second period. The rest of the way was typified by some great chances by the Wild and either some great saves by Khabibulin or missed opportunities byMinnesota.

The Wild came out of overtime assured of a point, but wanting the extra mark against a division foe and, this time, you saw just what kind of coach Yeo really was. Backstrom was staring at open ice, preparing himself for the shootout, and Yeo came over, leaned in and said something to him, then patted him on the back.

Now, I’ve never played goalie, but I can tell you from my experience playing organized sports, that sort of pep talk from your coach can do you wonders. Even if it’s a simple, “You got this,” it’s something that is vastly underrated in a coach’s arsenal, and Yeo utilized it to perfection last night. After allowing a goal to Jordan Eberle, Backstrom played the rest of the way perfectly and the Wild were able to skate away with a shootout win.

So, some thoughts on the game:

Yay! We won!

  • Backstrom truly looks back to his old form and, honestly, I feel a lot of the reason why is because of his level of trust in his defense. The last two seasons, he never really seemed to trust the players in front of him (and for good reason, because he never really knew who was going to be where) and it showed in his play. This season, he’s confident that players are going to need to be where they should be and he’s able to play much more aggressive and much more self-assured because of it.
  • Guillaume Latendresse continues to look great on the ice. He’s throwing his weight around and he’s shooting the puck and getting some great looks. It’s only a matter of time before he starts putting the puck in the back of the net, though I feel like he’ll have a lot better shot at doing that if he uses his quick release and stops winding up for slap shots.
  • Matt Cullen scored his third goal in four games and, though he’ll probably slow down sometime soon, he’s looking really good and really confident with the puck. More importantly, he’s scoring at even strength – something he did only three times last season.
  • The Wild’s first line was held off the scoreboard last night, but they still got some great looks. They already have some decent chemistry and haven’t even been playing together more than a couple of months. Once they start learning each other’s tendencies, watch out – they’re going to be very explosive.
  • How about Colton Gillies? The kid just keeps getting better and better. He hasn’t shown much of an offensive upside yet (though, in his defense, he hasn’t really played with any players that exude offensive ability), but if he keeps playing like he has, he’s definitely going to get a shot on the power play at some point.

Alright. There was no gameday thread, so no questions to answer, but here are our three stars.

Three Stars

1)      Nikolai Khabibulin – There’s no way this game even makes it to a shootout without the Bulin Wall playing like he did. 34 saves, many of them coming after defensive zone turnovers by the Oilers and, my goodness, that third period was spectacular on his part.

2)      Niklas Backstrom – Backs played solid again, and he looked like a man with a chip on his shoulder in the shootout. If he keeps playing like this, it bodes well for the Wild.

3)      Matt Cullen – Cullen scored the Wild’s lone goal and potted the opening goal in the shootout. He looks calm, confident and very, very good out there right now.

Alright. Coming up in a few is our look at the game for you all to watch tonight with no Wild game on. Cheers!

Wild down Jackets 4-2 in home opener

It was exactly what everyone hoped it would be. The Wild came out and, despite being outshot, dominated most of the play en route to a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets to stretch their home opener record to 10-0-1 (the one being a tie) and their streak in home openers to ten wins.

The Wild started this one quick with a beautiful breakout pass from Guillaume Latendresse to Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who just feathered the puck up to Matt Cullen, who promptly buried it for the 1-0 lead, and they would never look back. A power-play goal by Marco Scandella (his first NHL goal) and a power-play marker by Dany Heatley (not his first NHL goal, but a sick goal nonetheless) would give the Wild a commanding three goal lead midway through the third.

Derek Dorsett would close the gap to two with a gritty, hard nosed goal in the crease, but Devin Setoguchi would give the Wild a three-goal advantage again with a blistering one-timer from the slot just under a minute later. Maksim Mayorov would close out the scoring in the latter part of the third period but, by that point, the game seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

So, the first game is in the books. How did the Wild look?

Well, it took a while, but they look like they “get it,” so to speak. The biggest thing was that they buy into the system that Mike Yeo has put in front of them and, for the most part, they look like they did. They forechecked hard, they possessed the puck (even when they weren’t getting a ton of offense out of it) and they kept the play in front of them. In fact, the only two goals came from when they let the play get in close to Backstrom. They even kept their foot on the gas for most of the game.

If I’m nitpicking, the one thing I will say is that the last half of the third period was the Wild’s second period in this one. The Jackets started looking tired and, instead of putting their foot down and trying to get one more, they seemed to be content with just sitting back and coasting to the win, and that’s part of where the Jackets’ second goal came from.

In any event, some thoughts:

  • Marco Scandella looked really good tonight. I mean, really good. As in, he could potentially make everyone forget about Brent Burns this season if he keeps playing like that. He made great decisions with the puck, he jumped into the play, he was aggressive, he was positionally sound and he played mistake-free hockey. He’s going to be a good one, folks.
  • Brett Bulmer had a rough first game, but he showed flashes. He made a couple key mistakes, but that’s to be expected of a 19-year-old rookie. He made a couple key plays, though, including one strong forecheck that led to a drawn penalty that then led to a power-play goal.
  • Have I mentioned that I absolutely love the Wild’s first line? They’re dynamic, they’re fast, they hit…They do everything they’re supposed to do. In fact, Koivu was so shocked by some of the set ups he got that he just didn’t know what to do. That will come in time, but these three are going to be good.
  • Backstrom looked absolutely outstanding. He looked like the Backstrom that Wild fans got accustomed to seeing, not the goaltender that they saw over the last couple years. He made some huge saves and he was right where he needed to be all the time.
  • I’m not sure exactly what happened, but from all the angles I saw it looked like Pierre-Marc Bouchard just flat out two-handed Matt Calvert in the mug. It might have rode up Calvert’s stick, but either way Butch has got to be more conscious of where his stick is. He’s responsible for his stick regardless of what Calvert does, and he’s got to take care of that. I sincerely hope he doesn’t get a call from the Shana-hammer, but I’m worried that he might.
So, before we get to our Three Stars, let’s take a look at our questions:
Will the Wild play a full 60? Not quite, but they did for the most part. They kind of fell asleep with about ten minutes to go in the game, but that’s kind of a moot point as the game was well in hand. That’s not to say that it’s not something that they need to work on, but they need to learn to keep their foot on the gas the whole game, not just part of it.
Can the first line (we need a name for them) keep their momentum? Um, two goals, four points? I’d say they did.
Will the defense rebound after a handful of subpar efforts to end the preseason? Definitely. They kept the Jackets’ offense to the outside and they really played well against a pretty good Jackets offense. The penalty kill, especially, looked very good tonight and that’s something they should be very proud of.
Brett Bulmer will get a lot of ice time tonight. Will he look out of place? He didn’t look out of place, but he didn’t look altogether comfortable either. He made a couple of nice plays and he made a couple mistakes, but that’s to be expected of a rookie who’s playing in his first game. If he keeps playing like this, though, I’d expect him to stick.
Three Stars
1) Dany Heatley – Heater was just as promised. He played a great offensive game and, more importantly, he shot the puck. His goal in the second was a thing of beauty and he showed some great playmaking skills too in setting up Devin Setoguchi’s blistering one-timer. I wouldn’t expect 164 points from him, but he didn’t look out of place in the least.
2) Niklas Backstrom – Backstrom looked fantastic in net for the Wild. He stopped 29 of 31 and he played the type of hockey that the Wild need him to play in order for the team to be successful. He had to make a couple spectacular saves but, for the most part, he was very unassuming in net which means he was playing his game very, very well.
3) Marco Scandella – The Wild’s young defenseman scored his first NHL goal and looked pretty darn good out there all night long. His power-play goal was a beaut and he didn’t look out matched — in fact, he reminded me a lot of Brent Burns in many regards. He made good decisions and he played good, mistake-free hockey.
That’s all for now. We’ll be back on Monday with our gameday thread for the Isles game which, reminder, starts at 11:30 in the am.

Spurgeon leads Wild to 4-3 win over Oilers

Spurgeon jockeys for position with Ryan Jones in front of the net

I don’t want to get your hopes up and say that this is an indication of how Jared Spurgeon’s season is going to be, but Tuesday’s game against Edmonton was certainly an encouraging sign.

Spurgeon put book ends on a game that saw the Wild let a three-goal lead slip through their fingers and potted the winning goal with just under two minutes to go in the game to give Minnesota their first exhibition win over an NHL team since the 2009-10 season.

Sure, it’s an exhibition game and it doesn’t mean much, but boy does it feel good.

I listened to the game on the radio, so I can’t speak to a ton of the game, but here’s what I noticed by listening:

Kassian and Hordichuk go toe-to-toe (or skate-to-skate)

  • The Latendresse/Cullen/Bouchard line was on point tonight. Some good scoring chances and a combined four points and plus-five on the night. Easily the Wild’s best line all night long, including an absolutely beautiful snipe by Pierre-Marc Bouchard (which I can say because I saw it on NHL On the Fly). Butch just picked his corner and went for it and Khabibulin never had a chance.
  • Harding was very good in his first game back. He played about 30 minutes, give or take, and stopped 14 of 15 shots. Even Mike Yeo thought so, calling Harding’s return and play “Unbelievable.” (Thanks to Russo for that quote from the big guy). The encouraging news? After a shaky start to the game, Hackett was just as good. He gave up two goals in his first six minutes in the game, but really settled down and helped keep the score even for the rest of the way.
  • The Wild are obviously still getting used to Yeo’s system, as evidenced by the second period. The first and third periods, the shots were 7-7 and 9-7 respectively, but the second period the shots were 17-5 in favor of Edmonton. Credit also has to go to Yeo for getting the team settled down after a horrible second period and getting them refocused. Again, an encouraging sign.
  • Matt Kassian, who I’m making no bones about my hopes that he makes the squad this season, came out with a brilliant display of pugilism. He absolutely hammered Darcy Hordichuk after Hordichuk took a run at Nate Prosser, then dropped Hordichuk with three big punches.
  • Jordan Hendry took a step back, in my opinion, but not a huge one. He played good hockey for two periods but had an abysmal second. I feel like he’ll get a couple more chances, but he’s got to play a steady game to make the squad.

As far as my questions go, let’s take a look, shall we?

David McIntyre braces for the face-off against Anton Lander

Will Josh Harding be the same goalie that we’re used to? Or will his string of injuries adversely affect him? Yes and no, respectively. Harding was rock solid in this one.

Will the line of Guillaume Latendresse, Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard be as dominant as they were during the scrimmages this past weekend? I wouldn’t necessarily call them dominant, but they were very, very good all night long. Exactly what the team wants from its second line.

How will the team’s youngsters fare (Jarod Palmer, Brett Bulmer, David McIntyre, Matthew Hackett)? Palmer had a goal, Bulmer annoyed everyone on the other team and Hackett rebounded from a rocky start to have a pretty good game. McIntyre wasn’t really noticeable, at least on the radio, but for a youngster that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. All-in-all, I thought the Wild’s youngsters had a pretty decent game.

Will Jordan Hendry continue to make a positive impression during his tryout? Yes and no. He had two pretty good periods, like I mentioned, but really had a rough second period. For a defenseman with over 100 games of NHL experience, that’s not the type of game that’s going to win you a contract. He’ll get some more opportunities, but he needs to rebound from this to make the squad in my opinion.

Can Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon grab a hold of that lightning in a bottle that saw them both have impressive seasons in their own rights last season? Yes. Both definitely did this. Stoner played his game. He was physical, he was in great position all night long and he blocked shots. Everything that would be asked of him. For Spurgeon, he was the team’s best d-man all night long and he looked dynamic on both sides of the puck.

That’s all for right now, but I may be back later today. It’s my daughter’s birthday, so we’re going to go do whatever it is that she wants to do. The Wild are back in action on Thursday against the Blues, so I’ll update you with their roster as soon as I have it.

Photos Courtesy of Getty Images

Pre-Season Gameday Thread: @ Edmonton

Well, there’s going to be a bit of a change to the gameday threads this season — namely, they’re going to be a lot shorter and a lot more for your discussion than anything else. I’ll be popping in now and again to chat with y’all but, for the most part, you can just discuss.

But, before I get to the gameday part, some pandering. Check out my first power rankings of the season at Hockey Primetime, right here.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, on to the game.

There are actually a fair amount of questions for tonight’s game that I think bear discussion:

Will Josh Harding be the same goalie that we’re used to? Or will his string of injuries adversely affect him?

Will the line of Guillaume Latendresse, Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard be as dominant as they were during the scrimmages this past weekend?

How will the team’s youngsters fare (Jarod Palmer, Brett Bulmer, David McIntyre, Matthew Hackett)?

Will Jordan Hendry continue to make a positive impression during his tryout?

Can Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon grab a hold of that lightning in a bottle that saw them both have impressive seasons in their own rights last season?

Feel free to discuss them here or on our Facebook page. I’ve got my fantasy draft tonight, so I’ll be back later tonight or tomorrow to take a look at these questions as well as have my first Fantasy column for you all. Enjoy tonight’s game!

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

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