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.

Wild struggle, drop another against Flames

You know, it’s getting harder and harder to write about this team.

Not because I don’t want to talk about a loss. I’ve got no problem doing that. Where the problem starts is when I come to what to write on a nightly basis, because I don’t want to sound like a broken record but, unfortunately, that’s what it’s become.

The Wild have absolutely no teeth on offense right now.

They came out on fire and, through the first eight minutes of the game looked like it could be another 9-0 tilt against the Flames. They were forechecking hard, they were supporting each other (every time someone went in hard on the forecheck, there was someone there to grab the puck that was knocked loose), they were getting pressure on Kiprusoff – they were doing everything that they had to do.

But after that eight minutes, it just went away and from then on out, it was just the Wild holding on and Niklas Backstrom keeping them in the game.

Unfortunately for the Wild, you can’t win every game with goaltending. You’ve got to score, and they continue to be unable to do that.

To Minnesota’s credit, they picked it up again after Dany Heatley broke the shutout with about six minutes to go in the game but, by that point, it was too little too late.

This is a team that has not only lost the identity that helped it get to the top of the NHL. This is a team that has lost its pride. You could tell that, when Vancouver scored the first goal a couple nights ago, it was over and you could tell the same on Saturday when the Flames scored.

A confident team – a team playing with pride and passion – can stop the bleeding. They can push and push and get that goal back. The Wild, right now, can’t. You could see the physical change in the way they were playing early on. They came out and worked their asses off early in the game and, after they were denied a few times in the first eight minutes, they just stopped.

I hate to say this, but they quit on Mike Yeo on Saturday night – something that they haven’t done all season long.

They came out and played his system to a T and, when it didn’t work, just stopped.

In fact, the lone player on the team that seemed to have any sort of passion or, for that matter, even seemed to care about the outcome of the game was Backstrom. It’s hard to blame Backs for any of the goals that were given up tonight. The first, Wellman turned the wrong way (rookie mistake) and the Flames cashed in on a net that was basically empty.

Things started to go downhill there, with Iginla getting his 500th career goal (I promise, not all of those have come against the Wild) on a pinball goal that went off both Zidlicky’s and Koivu’s skates before going in, then Glencross cashed in on the power play after the Wild went to the well one too many times.

Right now, something’s got to give. In my estimation, Fletcher is doing the right thing – he’s giving the roster that he has the opportunity to respond now that they are getting healthy. After Saturday’s game, though, he shouldn’t give them too much of a leash. Changes need to come and they need to be drastic to kick this team in the ass and get them back in gear, otherwise, talking about how the Wild are going to fit Nail Yakupov into the line up next season could be a real possibility.

Gameday Thread: Wild look to keep it going against Devils

The Wild are off to their best start in franchise history, and there’s one big reason why.

Mike Yeo.

As was mentioned on Sports Illustrated’s Red Light Blog, the Wild’s biggest asset this season has been their system – when they stick to it, it works. But just as big as that has been the guy that’s gotten them to do what the great Jacques Lemaire couldn’t do in his last season with the Wild and what Todd Richards couldn’t do in two seasons with the Wild – gotten them to buy in.

You won’t hear a bad word about Jacques Lemaire ever come from my mouth, but he did lose the locker room in his last season with the team, and the locker room remained lost through two years with Todd Richards.

Yeo, on the other hand, has found it.

The system in question? Well, it’s quite similar to the one that the Pittsburgh Penguins run and it basically boils down to getting the puck in deep, forechecking hard and pinning their opponent deep in their own zone for extended periods of time.

In their own zone, it’s much like Lemaire’s system, meaning that the intent is to keep the puck to the outside and not give up second chances, or at least limit them quite a bit.

Now, to say that the Wild have done it with similar success as the Pens just wouldn’t be true. The Wild still have a long way to go to reach Penguin-ian levels in regards to how they play the game.

The system, however, works. You can tell that it works because, when the Wild stick to it, they have success.

Take the game against the Lightning. The Bolts got on the board first, but the Wild stuck to what they wanted to do. They got the puck deep, they forechecked hard and they forced the Lightning into mistakes, two of which ultimately led to goals.

Minnesotastill has a way to go, though. They’re far from being perfect.

Yeo (and many others) wants to see the team shoot more. The Wild are averaging 26.2 shots per game. That’s good for 27th in the league. They’re also giving up 31.3 shots per game, which is good for 25th in the league.

In short, they’re not yet proficient at the system. They’re not spending as much time in their own zone as they’d like and they’re not shooting the puck as much as they would like.

So, that’s both good news and bad news. The bad news is that the Wild aren’t yet where they need to be in terms of their ability to do what Mike Yeo wants them to do. They’re still trying to be too cute with the puck and still trying to find the perfect shot before pulling the trigger, rather than getting the puck towards the net and getting some dirty goals. The good news, though, is that they’re not where they want to be with their system yet, but they’re still first in the Western Conference and second in the league only to, ironically enough, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Lineup

The Minnesota Wild’s Twitter account has confirmed that Cal Clutterbuck will be out tonight and that Darroll Powe will be in, while Niklas Backstrom will be back in the cage. Casey Wellman skated on the second line in practice yesterday, so this is my best guess at what the line combos will be tonight:

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

Schultz/Lundin
Zanon/Stoner
Scandella/Spurgeon

Backstrom

Burning Questions

Can the Wild solve the Devils? Marty Brodeur is 7-1-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average against the Wild in his career. If any goalie has consistently owned the Wild, it’s been him. The Wild is struggling to score this season, so if there’s any perfect storm for Brodeur, it’s tonight’s game. The Wild need to avoid that.

Can the Wild get on the board first? When they do, they’re 6-1-3, compared to 9-6-0 when getting scored on first. The Devils, meanwhile, are 5-7-0 when their opponent scores first compared to 7-3-1 when scoring first. As much as I like comeback wins, a pole-to-pole win would be nice every once in a while.

Can Casey Wellman impress on the second line? Wellman has been an enigmatic prospect for the Wild. Not in the James Sheppard sense, but in the sense that he’ll dominate down in Houston, then come up to the NHL and seemingly forget what made him get his call up. He looked good in his first game of the season against the Lightning. Can he take advantage of his opportunity tonight?

The puck drops at 7 pm on FSN. Enjoy!

Wild atop the Northwest despite themselves

It’s not always pretty, but this team has learned the most important thing that any team just learning to walk (like the Wild are) has to do.

They’ve learned how to win.

Thanks to some spectacular goaltending, the Wild is returning to the Twin Cities with six out of a possible ten points and they’re riding high. What’s even more encouraging is that, in every win, the Wild scored three or more goals. In fact, in their wins, the Wild outscored their opponents 10-4.

Of course, in their two losses, they were outscored 8-3, but we’re focusing on the positives here.

I’ll be honest here, my faith in the team wavered after the debacle inLos Angeles. The Wild responded in a big way, though. They came out strong in Anaheim, and even though their legs caught up to them (they really looked like a team that had played the night before in the last two periods), they got out of Dodge with a huge rebound win. Two days later, in Columbus, they looked like a team that had just travelled across three time zones. They got flat out dominated in the first period, but rebounded and scored four goals over the last two periods and really snuck out ofColumbuswith a win.

But they got the win, and that’s the important thing here.

The problem behind this, though, is that the Wild is still having problems scoring. Of the 10 goals they scored, just one was an empty-netter, but the Wild’s top line is just not clicking and a big reason why is a seeming reluctance to shoot the puck.

Dany Heatley, one of the Wild’s leading scorers, is on pace for 237 shots right now, which would be the fourth lowest total of his career. (For comparison’s sake, his two 50-goal seasons in Ottawa, he had 300 and 310 shots respectively.) He’s on pace for 23 goals and 50 points, both of which would be career lows for seasons in which he plays 70 or more games. Even his 9.6% shooting percentage is 2.4 percent lower than his career low.

Meanwhile, Mikko Koivu has an abysmal 2.5% shooting percentage and is on pace for 46 points, which would be his lowest total in a 60-plus game season since his rookie season (he had 42 points in his injury shortened season in 2007-08).

In other words, the chemistry experiment with the Wild’s top line is failing, miserably.

For all intents and purposes, these two players should be enjoying huge years playing together. Koivu has long been thought of as a solid playmaker, while Heatley is undoubtedly an elite sniper, but they’re just not clicking.

The addition of Guillaume Latendresse to the line helped. Latendresse’s size helped create space for the two men and allowed them to play the position that they’re used to (i.e. not camping Heatley in front of the net, but putting him at where he can utilize his shot), but with Latendresse out, the line has gone back to being stagnant.

Now, the fix is a lot harder this season than it might be in future seasons when the Wild has a little more talent in their bottom-six players (for example, after Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and so on are in the system), but this season it’s showing the distinct lack of depth that the Wild have at the NHL level and it’s a serious cause for concern.

I know, I know. I said I was going to look at the positive, but this is just too glaring to ignore.

The Wild are winning on the backs of their second line and their role players. Quite simply, their best players aren’t their best players right now, and there’s no easy fix.

But I don’t want to take away from the optimism of the situation. In fact, I’m using this instance to try to add to it.

The Wild are top in the Northwest Division and their top line isn’t playing well.

The Wild are tied for third in the league right now (after all the tiebreakers, they get bumped down to fifth, but still), and their best players aren’t playing like their best players.

Now, Mike Yeo is too good of a coach for this lull from the top line to last forever. So, if the Wild are getting these sort of results without a huge contribution from their best players, what can fans expect to see from the team once players like Heatley and Koivu start heating up?

We’ll be back tomorrow with that schedule we promised you and a look at the Avs game. Until then!

Backstrom’s return to the net causes a goalie conundrum

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

He's been okay this year, yeah?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Preseason Gameday Thread: vs. Columbus

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

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

Per Wild.com:

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

Chay Genoway – Kris Fredheim
Greg ZanonMarek Zidlicky
Marco ScandellaNate Prosser

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

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

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

Minnesota will look to keep their momentum going

Kuemper.

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

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

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

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

Goaltenders: Curtis Sanford and Allen York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby Wild down St. Louis 1-0

Hackett makes a save on Jonathan Cheechoo

Well, I don’t want to say that was unexpected but…Okay…That was unexpected.

The Baby Wild came out last night and took on a St. Louis Blues team that was mostly comprised of their NHL regulars, and looked pretty darn good in the process.

Peters scored the lone goal for Minnesota

Niklas Backstrom and Matthew Hackett combined for the shutout, while Warren Peters got the lone goal, beating Jaroslav Halak witha nifty little backhand. Incidentally, Backstrom got an assist on the play too, making him not only their top goalie, but one of their top offensive players also.

So, some thoughts on the game:

  • I was impressed with the defensive responsibility of the team on Thursday. The Wild needed to have a performance like this in order to compete with a more experienced, more talented Blues squad and they did just that. For three periods, they did everything they were supposed to do and it showed in the results.
  • The Wild’s AHL veterans (Jed Ortmeyer, Warren Peters) both looked good again. Unless one of the youngsters really blows Mike Yeo away, I think that 13th forward position could go to one of those two.
  • Of the four defensemen that played last night that are vying for a roster spot, Scandella probably looked the best out of everyone. Prosser and Hendry looked good, but Falk was just terrible for most of the game.
  • Zack Phillips was good, but he was trying to do too much for most of the game. It’s a definite learning curve, and he needs to learn that he won’t be able to dance around the ice in the NHL like he does in the Q. He showed signs of what could be in store, though. He could be a dandy.
  • Both Backstrom and Hackett were tremendous against the Blues. Backstrom made a handful of spectacular saves, as did Hackett who withstood a 14-1 barrage in the third.

But what of my questions? Well, let’s take a look.

Nate Prosser checks Alex Steen

How will the Wild’s youth fare tonight against a fairly experienced roster? Well, given that they won and shut out a team full of regulars, I’d say they fared pretty darn good.

Will Niklas Backstrom look like the Backstrom who was a Vezina Trophy finalist, or the Backstrom who has struggled at times the past two seasons? It’s a limited sample size, but he definitely looked good. We’ll see how he fares the rest of the pre-season, but it’s definitely an encouraging sign.

Where will the Wild’s scoring come tonight, with mostly youth and fringe players playing? Well, the answer to this question, obviously, was Warren Peters.

Can Minnesota’s inexperienced defensive unit hold their own against a fairly experienced stable of forwards? Yes, and yes. This defensive unit was great for the duration of the game. They helped prevent any major scoring chances and gave the goaltenders the opportunity to see the puck.

Will Zack Phillips (my dark horse roster pick), Kris Foucault, Brett Bulmer or Jarod Palmer emerge as surprise front runners to make the roster on opening day? No. The youngsters didn’t have bad games, but none of them blew anyone away. All showed that they’ve got the tools to be good down the road, but right now none looked quite ready to be a full-time NHLer.

Will Jordan Hendry rebound from a less than stellar performance last game? Yes. He wasn’t the team’s best defenseman, but he had a very good game save for a mistake here and there.

Check back later today for our gameday thread. Otherwise, enjoy the weather today…It’s only going to get colder!

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

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

Holy crap, the pre-season starts tomorrow (Line Combos)

Well, we all knew it was coming but this one really snuck up on me after my weekend of family (and wedding) fun. We have line combinations for the Wild’s first pre-season game on Tuesday.

Per Russo:

The roster Tuesday:

Fowards:

Guillaume Latendresse-Matt Cullen-Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck

Brett Bulmer-Warren Peters-Jed Ortmeyer

Matt Kassian-David McIntyre-Jarod Palmer

Defensemen

Jordan Hendry-Mike Lundin

Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon

Justin Falk-Nate Prosser

Extra, it appears: Tyler Cuma

Goalies:

Josh Harding, making his first start since his exhibition debut a year ago, and Matt Hackett will split the cage.

No big surprises here yet, but you do get a good idea of what Coach Mike Yeo is thinking for some line/d-pairing combinations.

Jordan Hendry earned a spot on Tuesday's roster

First of all, as Russo says, it was supposed to be Nick Schultz paired with Mike Lundin (top d-pairing, anyone?), but instead Jordan Hendry impressed so much on Saturday’s and Sunday’s scrimmages that he earned the spot.

Well, that’s definitely some encouraging news.

So, basically, the Wild are going with two of their NHL forward lines followed by two lines of players vying to make the squad and two NHL d-pairings followed by three players trying to make the squad.

That’s right, I said two NHL d-pairings.

I’ve maintained all along that the Wild would probably look to an NHL veteran to fill their seventh d-man spot, and Jordan Hendry will be that guy. Bank on it.

He doesn’t take ice time away from any prospects (unless the prospects just plain stink) and he’s a guy that is established enough in the NHL and plays a safe enough defensive game to push players like Clayton Stoner. The fact that he came out and impressed during this weekend’s scrimmages just proves it.

He might not get the lion’s share of ice time this season, but Hendry will be on the squad in some capacity.

Kassian might be a dark horse to make the squad.

Of the group playing on Tuesday, the two that I think will get a good, long look this camp will be Matt Kassian and Jed Ortmeyer.

While still a prospect, Kassian’s game doesn’t really have much growing to do. He’s a fighter, plain and simple. That’s his role and that’s where he excels. We’ve got a new coach with a similar, yet different philosophy than Richards. Brad Staubitz might not be who he wants to roll with in the enforcer role all the time, which opens the door for Kassian.

In Ortmeyer, you’ve got a proven NHL veteran. He’s a consummate pro and can fill that 13th or 14th forward spot with ease, slotting in whenever and wherever he’s needed. In essence, he’s like the utility man on a baseball team. Unsung, but always there when you need someone.

We’ll have a brief preview of the game up tonight or tomorrow, as well as our player profile of Darroll Powe.

The Wild have a coach. What’s next?

So, Mike Yeo is the head coach of the Minnesota Wild. That begs the question – what now?

Over the next two weeks, we have two events that will begin to mold this franchise into what Yeo and Chuck Fletcher want it to be. First, there’s the draft, where Fletcher will continue to stock the Wild’s war chest, so to speak. After two drafts that would likely be considered quite successful in doing so, Fletcher is going to have another chance to keep building the franchise the right way.

After the draft comes free agency – a period that is probably going to be difficult for Wild fans to swallow for reasons I’ll explain in a bit. But first…

The Draft

The Wild have the tenth pick in the NHL draft and, despite what some might think, there is some top-end talent to be had at that pick. Some are predicting that Drummondville center Sean Couturier will fall that fall, some are saying that it could be defensemen Ryan Murphy or Nathan Beaulieu. All would be great picks and, should Couturier be available, he is the natural pick.

But, I don’t think that Couturier is going to be available at the tenth pick, and the Wild don’t have a whole lot of need for another young defenseman at the moment.

What they do have need for, however, are some skilled forwards.

Players like Mika Zibanejad and Sven Bartschi are two players that most certainly fit the bill and are likely to be available around the tenth pick. There are also players like Mark McNeill, Ty Rattie and Tomas Jurco that could be had later in the round too.

The Wild have a lot of options for skilled forwards in this draft and I certainly think that they can find someone to fill their needs.

Free Agency

Now, free agency is going to be a difficult time of the off season for Wild fans.

Why, you ask?

Well, quite frankly, because the Wild shouldn’t do a thing.

Sure, they could go after some of the big fish, maybe get lucky and grab someone like an Alex Tanguay, but where would they be? Would they be any better off?

I submit that they wouldn’t.

The Wild need to stop spending millions on players that are nothing more than third or fourth liners. They need to save that money for their own players and for players that will actually make a difference in the line up.

This isn’t to say that Matt Cullen isn’t a great player, or that he isn’t an important part of the Wild’s line up. He most certainly is. But a $3.5 million player, he is not.

That is the type of contract that the Wild must avoid to avoid making third-liners the sixth highest player on their squad.

If Minnesota can find players of good value, that’s one thing. But, if not, they need to just stand pat and let their young players get some playing time. They need to develop, they need to get younger and they need to (here comes the dreaded word) rebuild.

They’re not starting from the ground up. They have a good foundation that players like Mikko Koivu, Nick Schultz and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are a part of. They’ve supplemented these players with players like Martin Havlat and Greg Zanon.

But now, the fans need to be understanding. Understanding that it might take a few seasons to get to the point where the Wild are perennial contenders. Understanding that there will undoubtedly be growing pains. Understanding that it might not be fun, but also understanding that there is a plan in place to undo the damage that Doug Risebrough did to this organization.

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