Gameday Thread: Koivu nominated to first ASG

It’s amazing that Mikko Koivu hasn’t been named to an All Star roster before, especially with how important he has been to the Minnesota Wild over the last few seasons, but the NHL rectified that problem on Thursday by naming Koivu to its 42 man roster for the All Star game on January 29.

Koviu, who has nine goals and 33 points in 29 games this season, may or may not have been snubbed last season when it came time to pick the team, but he certainly made it this year, rebounding nicely after a slow start to the season.

Koivu likely won’t take any credit for this, as he’s a typical captain and is all about the team, but he’s more than deserving of this honor to represent the Wild in the game.

To put this in perspective, let’s look at how quietly Koivu has had a great career through its first seven years.

He’s second on the Wild’s all-time scoring list, with 350 points. He’s first in assists, with 245, third in goals, with 105, fourth in plus/minus, with plus-23 and fifth in games played with 472.

Additionally, his 26 shootout goals are sixth in NHL history.

I was amazed that, in the few previews I saw for the All-Star roster, Koivu wasn’t included on any. Puck Daddy had Dany Heatley as the Wild’s representative (which, I will admit, would have had a certain “fun” factor to it, especially if he were chosen for a team with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson), while NHL.com had chosen Nick Johnson to represent the Wild as part of the rookie teams (while I applaud the nod to Johnson and the solid season he’s having, I think it would have been a pretty huge snub to choose him over Koivu, or even Heatley or Josh Harding).

In any event, Koivu knows that the Wild have a huge game tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks, so he’s likely not going to dwell on the All Star nomination, and neither should we.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here are the lineups:

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

Schultz/Falk
Zanon/Zidlicky
Stoner/Spurgeon

Harding has earned himself another go in net and Matt Hackett will be his back up, as Niklas Backstrom is fighting an illness.

Burning Questions

Will Koivu respond to his All Star bid with an All Star game? While deserving, Koivu earned the nod over players like Scott Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr and Nicklas Backstrom (who is, admittedly, hurt). There are likely going to be naysayers and nothing is better for motivation than someone saying you’re not good enough.

Can the Wild build on their big win over the Sharks? The Wild came out strong and played great against San Jose. Can they build on that momentum and keep it going against another good team in the Blackhawks?

Will Devin Setoguchi respond? Setoguchi was scratched last game for missing a team meeting. Mike Yeo said that he expects a big response from him tonight. We’ll see if we get it.

Will Josh Harding steal the starting job? Alright, it might not be stealing it totally, but Harding played well enough against the Sharks to get another start in the cage. Another good game could cement the spot as his until his play falls off.

The puck drops tonight at 7:30 and will be on Fox Sports North.

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 lose again, time for a change?

Well, regression or not, it’s undeniable that the Wild are on a losing streak – big time.

I’ve been sick as a dog lately, so I taped last night’s tilt to watch this morning and, I’ll be honest – I fast forwarded through a good part of the game. It’s not that the Wild played bad, per se, but they didn’t play well, either.

At the end of the day, the Wild fell 2-0 to the Canucks and have now been shutout in three straight showings by Roberto Luongo. In fact, in their recent skid of 0-5-1 on the road, the Wild have scored just four goals.

I’ll let that sink in.

Four goals in their last six road games.

This is a team that needs offensive help – big time.

Now, per ye olde Wild scribe, Mike Russo, Chuck Fletcher is reportedly talking trade right now and rightfully so. This team needs a kick in the ass. They’ve gone from one of the top teams in the league to barely holding on to a playoff spot and a large reason why has been their inability to score goals.

And, let’s be very clear with this. Where the Wild are struggling isn’t their secondary scoring. Of the four players on their team that are in double digits for goals, three of those four players are “secondary scorers.”

This isn’t a failing by the Wild’s role players. This is a failing with their top-tier scorers.

The fact that Devin Setoguchi has played 12 games fewer than Dany Heatley, yet has just four fewer goals is absolutely inexcusable. The fact that he has just one less goal than Mikko Koivu, despite eight fewer games is ridiculous.

We can talk about the system and the goaltending and the upgraded offense until we’re blue in the face – the bottom line is that the offense hasn’t looked upgraded one bit this season.

So, if the Wild are going to make a trade, it can’t be for a “fringe” top-six player. I would even go so far as to say that it can’t be for anyone less than a top-three player. That’s how dire the Wild’s situation is at the moment. They need something to spark them.

There are no lack of those players available right now, either.

Anaheim has basically put a “For Sale” sign on their entire roster (though, Bob Murray has said that, for a core player like Getzlaf, Perry or Ryan a core player would be expected in return), Rick Nash has said that he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause if it were in the best interest of the Blue Jackets’ franchise to move him (which, it very well could be), Tampa Bay is in need of both a goaltender and defensive help (which, with the emergence of Matt Hackett, the Wild have both to spare).

These aren’t rumors, this isn’t any inside information – this is just to say that top-tier help could be available for the right price and, at this point in time, it’s looking like whatever the price the Wild need to pay for talent like that is the right price.

What’s ailing the Wild?

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Brodziak looks exhausted, as does Cal Clutterbuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check back later today for our gameday thread.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘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.

Gameday Thread: Wild look to slow down Jets

If this keeps up this way, the Wild are going to get a serious Rodney Dangerfield complex, because they just can’t get no respect

Ask any talking head or stat junkie and they’ll tell you that the Wild are one of the worst teams in the league – that is, if they recognize that they’re even part of the NHL.

The talking heads will tell you that the Wild play a passive, defensive style of hockey. That they can’t score goals, that the only reason that they’re winning is because they’re riding strong goaltending, then dismiss the Wild and move on talk for 60 minutes about the fact that Sidney Crosby is still hurt.

They’ll talk about the fact that the Wild are fifth in the league in goals-against (64) and laud how great of a job the Wild’s goaltenders have done winning them hockey games because the Wild are 22nd in the league in goals for per game (2.50).

They’ll ignore, however, that the Wild are actually in the top half of the league in total goals for with 79. They’ll also ignore that the Wild have the seventh best goal differential in the league at plus-15.

They’ll talk about the fact that the Wild don’t have a “go-to” type player. That Kyle Brodziak is leading the Wild in goals and that Dany Heatley isn’t the same player that he was back inOttawa(never mind the fact that Heatley has a point in each of his last six games and his shooting percentage has climbed back into double digits).

In fact, they’ll find every single reason why the Wild shouldn’t be winning hockey games, ignoring the fact that they still are winning hockey games.

The stat junkies will spout their metrics and their Corsi ratings. They’ll talk about how the Wild are terrible because they start more often than not in their own zone or that they’re defying logic because they play a lot of the game in their own zone.

They’ll tell us these things as if they’re revelations to those who watch Wild games on a regular basis when, in reality, we all know these things.

I don’t think any Wild fan is fooling themselves into thinking that the Wild are going to sustain this pace throughout the season. If they did, it would truly be a remarkable task because of the fact that their goalies are getting used and abused with the amount of shots they’re taking (Minnesota is 29th in the league in shots against per game).

But what is painfully obvious in every analysis of the Wild is that neither the talking heads nor the stat junkies are spending any appreciable time actually watching the Wild play.

Neither of these groups take into account the fact that the Wild underwent a significant makeover this off season.

Two of their key offensive components (Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi) are playing their first season alongside anyone other than themselves, while the Wild lost two other key components (Brent Burns and Martin Havlat) from their past teams.

What does that mean? Chemistry, of course.

On top of that, the Wild had to learn a brand new system (or, at least, those that didn’t play inHoustondid). That takes time. It takes time to get comfortable with the system and it takes time to stick with it when the going gets tough.

First, looking at the offensive components, Heatley and Mikko Koivu have combined for 13 points in the last six games. It looks a little like they’re starting to mesh, yeah?

Second, looking at the system and the coaching, over their last 15 games, the Wild are averaging 3.0 goals per game, a significant boost over their season average of 2.5. To give you an idea of the difference .5 goals per game makes,Ottawais currently tenth in the league with 2.93 goals per game. If the Wild had been on this pace since the start of the season, they would be tenth in the league in scoring.

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying, quite simply, that the Wild is improving with each game.

Yes, the statistical breakdown of the Minnesota Wild defies logic. Looking at just the stats, there’s no reason why the Wild should be as good as they are, but the Wild have won 12 of their last 15 games because they’re starting to get it. Their offense is coming around. They’re starting to understand what they need to do to be a winning hockey team.

These metrics and stats that everyone is talking about looks at the stats of their season as a whole, which is important to do, but is also skewed because of the fact that their offense has taken a while to get going. They had to learn one another and they had to learn the system. Now that both are happening, the Wild are coming around and are playing tremendously good hockey.

Now, is this all to say that I think the Wild are going to continue to play this way, win the Presidents’ Trophy and win the Stanley Cup?

No. I’m not going to be as bold as to suggest that.

What I will suggest, however, is that this team is not as bad as everyone seems to think. What I will say is that this is the real Minnesota Wild team, not the team that went 4-3-3 during October.

The offense, the shots, the time of possession – all of that will come with time. But right now, people need to get over their obsession with statistics, sit down and watch a Wild game and realize that, yes, this team is a good hockey team.

Lineup

There is, indeed, a Wild game tonight. Per Wild.com, here is their projected lineup:

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

Schultz/Lundin
Spurgeon/Scandella
Stoner/Zanon

Backstrom is in the cage.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild keep it up? The Wild have played some tough games in the past week, or so, and I would call this game a “trap” game, so to speak. The Wild got to go home and sleep in their own beds on Sunday before heading up to Winnipeg. Cullen is out sick and Latendresse is back in. If there is any game that could see the Wild suffer a let down, it’s this one.

How effective will Latendresse be in his return? Don’t expect him to play a lot, but Latendresse will be back and I would imagine will see power play time, as well as a shift on the top line here and there. The last time G-Lat was “eased” into the line up, he looked pretty impressive in a 3-2 loss to the Ducks, playing a little over 13 minutes and taking three shots. I’d expect a similar game from him tonight, keeping it simple and getting his legs back.

Can the Wild get shots? The Wild have been consistently outshot by a large margin over the last few games, but it hasn’t mattered one bit. To keep winning, though, they’re going to eventually have to start shooting the puck more and playing more on the offensive end of the ice. The Jets might be a good place to start with that.

Can Heatley and Koivu keep it up? The Wild’s top offensive tandem has combined for 13 points in their last six games. Koivu has a four-game point streak going and Heatley’s sits at six currently. Minnesota needs them to keep it going if they’re to keep winning.

The puck drops tonight at 7:30 on FSN.

Wild get big win over Preds

If there was ever a playoff series I want to see, it would have to be between the Wild and the Predators.

By the time the game was over, there was so much pent up animosity between the two teams, I’m surprised things didn’t boil over at the final horn (though there was never really a chance for it to).

It started at the end of the first period, with Francois Boullion poking and prodding at Dany Heatley and seemed to abate a bit until Mike Fisher blatantly speared Kyle Brodziak in a “sensitive” area.

Fisher’s excuse to Brodziak? It wasn’t intentional.

I watched the replay and there was nothing unintentional about it.

It really got going, though, late in the third when Cal Clutterbuck caught an unseen punch from Patric Hornqvist and went absolutely ballistic. In fact, he got a solid DDT from the ref in order to stop him from trying to tear Hornqvist limb from limb.

But the Wild came out and played a full game and played quite well for the duration. They seemed very disorganized in the offensive zone during the first two periods but, they spent most of that time in the offensive zone. In fact, the Preds were so pressed in their own zone that, when they got the puck, all they could do a lot of the time is chip it out and change.

That’s exactly what the Wild want.

They wore the Preds down and, were it not for Pekka Rinne, the game could have been a lot different. Like 5-2 or 6-2 different.

Rinne was brilliant all night long but, by the time the third period rolled around, the Wild had won the war of attrition. They finally played their game for the whole 60 minutes and it paid off for them.

And, speaking of which, I’m sold. I’m sold on the system, I’m sold on the coach and I’m sold that this team is actually a good team.

That’s right, I’ve said it. They’re a good team.

They’re not only getting bounces, but they’re creating bounces.

You hear coaches on teams that are down say a lot that they’ve got to create their own luck, and that’s true. Puck luck only takes you part of the way. The rest is up to the team to create and that’s what the Wild are doing. They’re putting themselves in the right positions to get those lucky bounces and things are starting to fall into place.

What else?

  • Dany Heatley looked like the Dany Heatley of old tonight. He broke a six-game goal drought with his third-period tally, he had four shots and he legitimately could have had a hat trick tonight if not for some solid goaltending by Pekka Rinne.
  • Koivu was dominant again tonight. He had two assists, three shots and he led the Wild in ice time.
  • Harding was dazzling once again, which keeps giving the Wild a great tandem. He’s 10-0-1 in his last 11 games at home (dating back to 2008).

Burning Questions

 Can the Wild avoid a letdown tonight? Boy, did they. They played great in all three zones tonight and were a dominant team.

Can the Wild’s weapons start firing? Their top line combined for three points. They definitely started.

Can the Wild’s second line get into the act again? Yes and no. Clutterbuck got a shortie and their second power play had the PP goal.

Three Stars

 1)      Mikko Koivu – 2 assists and dominating play all night long.
2)      Dany Heatley – 1 goal, great offensive play.
3)      Josh Harding – 23 of 25 saves, was dazzling all night long.

Gameday Thread: Preds smash into St. Paul

The Wild haven’t played a game since Saturday’s win over the St. Louis Blues, but one thing’s for sure. It was probably the most enjoyable three day break for the fans that they’ve had in quite some time.

Why?

Because the Wild were sitting atop the NHL for the entirety of it.

Now, we at Wild Nation aren’t counting our chickens before they’re hatched. There’s still 62 games to play. It doesn’t matter if the Wild are first in the NHL on November 23. It matters if the Wild are first in the NHL on April 7.

But it’s cool nonetheless.

Now, the Wild aren’t getting ahead of themselves. They’re not content with this accomplishment and they’re not going to rest on their laurels. In fact, Mike Yeo is saying all the right things, basically saying that the Wild aren’t satisfied with this (a paraphrase, of course). He’s saying what he’s supposed to, the players are saying what they’re supposed to. Everyone’s focused on moving forward.

That’s going to be important, because the Wild have a huge test coming up tonight in the Nashville Predators who, if you were wondering, are currently fifth in the West, just three points behind the Wild.

The Wild have won eight of their last ten, but they’ve also been playing against a bunch of teams that have been struggling. The two losses in their last ten were against the Kings and Sharks – two teams that have been playing quite well – so this is going to be a great test of where the Wild are at.

The good news is that they’re not only winning the games they’re supposed to be winning, but they’re also finding ways to win close games and they’re starting to expect to win close games and they’re starting to expect to win, period.

That’s good news, because that confidence is going to come in handy, especially as long as their top scorers aren’t scoring.

Lineup

Per Wild.com, here’s the line up for tonight’s tilt:

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley (Koivu finally showed up on offense on Saturday. Now it’s time for Heatley and Setoguchi to follow suit. If I know anything about the Wild’s Captain, he’s not going to be satisfied with his performance against the Blues, and he’ll drive his linemates to be better too.)
Bouchard/Cullen/Clutterbuck (This line has really struggled without the presence of Latendresse or Setoguchi. Clutterbuck is a great player, but something just seems off when I watch these guys skate together.)
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson (I can’t really say much that hasn’t already been said about these three. They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and they’re really coming into their own as a solid checking line.)
Gillies-Peters-Staubitz (The Wild basically need these three to play eight to ten minutes of mistake-free hockey. They’ve been doing that recently.)

Schultz/Prosser (Nate Prosser is blossoming into a stud, right in front of our eyes. That is all.)
Scandella/Stoner (Marco Scandella is returning to the line up after missing a couple games with a concussion. Given how cautious the Wild have been returning people from concussions of late, I wouldn’t expect any setbacks, but keep an eye on him nonetheless.)
Spurgeon/Falk (Justin Falk has been unbelievably impressive this season. With how he’s playing, as well as the rest of the young defensemen, it’s going to be really hard to justify taking anyone out of this line up when Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin get healthy.)

Backstrom between the pipes.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild avoid a letdown tonight? The Wild have had great success against teams not in the top eight, but have struggled a bit against the conference’s top eight. This is going to be a huge test for the team, but one that I think they can definitely pass if they play their game.

Can the Wild’s weapons start firing? Dany Heatley is second on the team in points, but sports a sad looking 9.5% shooting percentage. Setoguchi’s is much better at 14.3% (it’s higher than his career average) but Koivu’s is at 6.5%. The Wild need these three to get into a groove, and the only way they’re going to do that is by shooting the puck.

Can the Wild’s second line get into the act again? The Wild’s second line has really looked lost at times with Clutterbuck on it. With Latendresse out indefinitely, they need to start getting some chemistry between the three.

The puck drops tonight at 7 pm and will be televised on FSN. Enjoy!

Gameday Thread: Here come the Avs

The Wild have a couple big announcements for their blue line heading into today’s game.

First, congratulations to Nick Schultz, who will play in his 700th NHL game tonight. To put that in perspective, the total number of games for the Wild’s other blueliners after tonight’s game will be 202.

Schultz has been a rock on the blue line for the Wild since playing 52 games for the Wild as a 19-year-old and has been one of the steadiest defensemen in the league since that time. It’s pretty much that he’s going to play 70-plus games in the season and that he’s going to be playing against team’s top lines more often than not.

The latter part of that is one reason why it is such a testament to Schultz that he is a career plus-19 and that he’s only had three minus seasons in his career.

He doesn’t create many goals (his career high in points is 20), but he’s not going to make it easy for other teams to score many goals (though, I must say that he’s probably deflected more goals into the Wild net than any other player in team history – again, a testament to his positioning, because he’s right where he needs to be).

On a personal note, Schultz has long been one of my favorite Wild defensemen, so congratulations Nick. Here’s me hoping for another 700 games with number 55 wearing Iron Range Red!

Second, congratulations to Kris Fredheim, who the Wild signed to an NHL contract today and who will play in his first NHL game today.

For those of you who don’t know much about Fredheim (and I don’t blame you, because I knew next to nothing about him until today), here’s a little scouting report from Houston Beat Writer extraordinaire and contributor to the blog, Ms. Conduct:

He’s a good, solid, stay-at-home defenseman that you really just never have to worry or think too much about. I almost never even notice him with the Aeros, which I think is a good thing in a stay at home d-man. Nothing flashy or too aggressive about his game. He just does things the right way and sort of flies under the radar as a result.

He’s got good size and good speed and good positioning, so I don’t see him having much trouble adapting to the NHL, though he’ll take a bit to get used to the speed, I’d wager. But he’ll be fine. The best part is that Yeo knows him and his strengths and weaknesses, so he’ll put him in a position to succeed.

So, there you have it. If this season has done anything for the Wild, so far, it’s shown the defensive depth that the organization has, so I don’t think there’s any cause for concern with Fredheim slotting into the line up tonight.

Anyway, congratulations to Schultz and Fredheim. Now let’s go buy some bubble wrap for the Wild’s d-men.

Lineup

Here is the probable line up, per Wild.com (again, with my thoughts intersperced):

Setoguchi/Koivu/Heatley (God, how I just want these three to do something. Anything. Just play like they’re capable of playing. That’s all I ask. Maybe a couple goals too. But that’s really all I ask.)
Bouchard/Cullen/Clutterbuck (As you’ll see below, I think Wellman will end up on this line at some point. Clutterbuck is good, but he’s a checker first and a scorer second. The Wild need someone with a scorer’s mentality on this line.)
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson (This line has been one of the Wild’s best liens over the past few weeks. They’ve just been flat out on point.)
Gillies/Peters/Wellman (See my thoughts on this one below.)

Wellman was recalled again today (after getting demoted yesterday), so I’d guess he’ll get slotted into the line up tonight as Wild.com was speculating. He’ll likely start on the fourth line, but given that the organization has said time and time again that Wellman is the type of player that needs to be in the top-six to succeed, I’d guess he’ll find his way up to the second or even first line at some point during the evening.

Schultz/Prosser (It really says a lot about Prosser that they’d be slotting him in on the top pairing next to Schultz.)
Stoner/Fredheim (Once again, Stoner has come back and been a stud. That’s a great partner for a player in his first NHL game to skate next to.)
Spurgeon/Falk (Two of the Wild’s brightest young defensemen skating next to one another? Should be good to watch.)

Having allowed just four goals in his last two games and with a 17-4-2 record against Colorado, Backstrom will be in the cage.

Burning Questions

Can Casey Wellman contribute at the NHL level? Wellman was sent toHoustonat the beginning of the season under instructions to dominate. He’s done that, but can those skills translate to the NHL level? Mike Yeo seems to think so. Most of Wellman’s goals this season have been “NHL” goals, meaning they’re goals that would have been scored in the NHL as well. If that’s the case, he could finally be ready.

Can the Wild’s young defense keep stepping up? With Zidlicky out,Minnesotahas just one player on their blue line tonight that’s played in a full NHL season. So far, their young blue line has been one of the big reasons that Minnesota has been as good as they have been. The Wild need that trend to continue tonight.

Can the top line finally put together a full, solid game? Heatley, Koivu and Setoguchi are together again thanks to an injury to Guillaume Latendresse. They absolutely dominated in the pre-season. The Wild need them to do that again, and quick.

Can the Wild avoid the hometown blues? The first game back after an extended road trip is typically a tough one. Can the Wild come out strong and avoid that? Coming back home from the Eastern Time Zone should help, but they’ve got to come out strong tonight.

The puck drops tonight at 7 pm and will be on FSN.

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