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).

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).

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.

Wild break skid; down Oilers

Now that is how you end a losing streak.

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Burning Questions

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

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

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

Three Stars

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

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

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

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

‘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 rebound against Blackhawks

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one is a bit worse, yes?

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

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

Anywho, on to today’s game.

Lineup

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

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

Schultz/Lundin
Spurgeon/Scandella
Stoner/Zanon

Backstrom in nets.

Burning Questions

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

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

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

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

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

Wild steal win from Devils

If you were to ask me how the Wild keep winning, I honestly couldn’t tell you.

The Wild played a pretty poor game on Friday night, but still managed to sneak out a 4-2 win over a New Jersey Devils team that has been struggling of late, but is still a very good team.

Friday night, the Wild showed their ability to fight back and, boy did they ever. Minnesota responded to a quick goal by the Devils with a Dany Heatley goal just 20 seconds later (the goal was vintage Heatley, too). Just over three minutes later, Kyle Brodziak scored on a beautiful effort and not even two minutes after that, Casey Wellman re-directed a Matt Cullen shot past Martin Brodeur to give the Wild a two-goal lead and chase the future hall-of-famer from net.

The biggest news coming out of the game, however, was that Niklas Backstrom was injured during the first period. Josh Harding entered in relief and played a solid two periods, stopping all 22 shots he faced. Backstrom’s injury isn’t thought to be serious and it sounds like he’ll be on the road trip with the Wild, but they’ve called up Matt Hackett just to be safe.

Predictably, though, it was a sloppy game for the Wild. It was a one-game home stand, after a big shootout win, against a desperate Devils team and, if not for their great start, the Wild probably lose this game. They spent a good chunk of the game pinned in their own zone because of sloppy play in the neutral zone and poor execution, which is evidenced by their 16 total shots, but they got great goaltending and they never stopped working and battling, which Mike Yeo lauded after the game, saying “I love the work ethic and the attitude that our guys bring.”

But, the good news is that the Wild won. They’ve now won three straight since their two-game slump heading into their five-game road trip and things are very optimistic around the team right now.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild solve the Devils? I don’t know if you can say that they solved the Devils, but they certainly solved Brodeur. 3 goals on 4 shots. Ouch.

Can the Wild get on the board first? Nope but, once again, it didn’t matter. With as quickly as they responded to the Devils’ goal, though, they might as well have scored first.

Can Casey Wellman impress on the second line? He scored a goal, he brought speed and even a bit of a physical game and his goal was not only a key goal but it was the type of goal that the Wild are looking for more of – the dirty kind.

3 Stars

1)      Kyle Brodziak – Two goals, plus-two and five shots.
2)      Josh Harding – Stopped 22 of 22 shots and was dominant for the Wild.
3)      Zach Parise – A goal and an assist and eight shots.

We’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend!

Wild rebound to down Lightning

Now that’s how you respond from a couple of down games.

After two pretty lousy games over the weekend, the Minnesota Wild came out on Monday and won a very impressive game over a very talented Tampa Bay Lightning team.

The Wild, as has been their M.O. this season, came out of the gates slow (though I think it was less of them coming out slow and more of the Lightning coming out like a bat out of hell), but rebounded with two incredibly solid periods of play to break their two-game losing streak and head into their 20 of 29 on the road on a high note.

Minnesota did exactly what had made them so successful for the first quarter of the season. They battled. When they got down in the second period (by the way, what an absolute laser by Steven Stamkos on that shot), the Wild didn’t just fight back – they fought back with an energy that I’ve never seen from a Minnesota Wild squad.

They didn’t just respond to the adversity; they thrived under it.

Cal Clutterbuck evened the score with a shorthanded goal shortly after Stamkos’s tally and that’s when the Wild really got going. That goal turned the tide of the game and, from that point on the Wild played like a boulder rolling downhill. They just kept pressuring the Lightning and the Lightning kept making mistakes.

With under five minutes left in the second, Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored what would stand up as the winning goal with a howitzer of a one-timer from right faceoff circle that, like Clutterbuck’s goal, was caused by a Lightning mishap. It would stand up as the game-winner and Mikko Koivu would put up the insurance tally with an empty-net goal late in the game.

The biggest story of the game, though, was the play of Niklas Backstrom.

Just one night after being pulled in the first period after giving up three goals on eight shots, Backstrom responded and responded big. He set the tone for the Wild’s game with his battle-level, fighting back after his terrible (and justifiably so, read Russo’s post if you want the whole story, but he’s not a robot) performance against the Flames and fought all night long, making some amazing saves to keep the Lightning off the board.

Overall, a great win for the Wild, especially heading into a very tough stretch that will see them on the road quite often.

Let’s see, what else…

  • Pierre-Marc Bouchard was absolutely spectacular on Monday. In fact, his whole line was solid, but Bouchard seemed to be right in the middle of everything. He was making play after play and he was the offensive force that the Wild need.
  • Clutterbuck was also terrific for the Wild. He was great in every zone and he was the Wild’s steadiest player all night long. He was even chirping Martin St. Louis, which I suppose is a bit like playing with fire.
  • The Wild’s fourth line was great. Both Wellman and McIntyre were buzzing all night long and, despite not finding themselves on the scoresheet, brought the “little bit of life” that Mike Yeo wanted them to.
  • I’ve never seen a player have so many scoring chances and such bad luck as Kyle Brodziak in the second period. He had two breakaways, he rung one off the post on one and got stoned on two shots on the other. He had a shot at an open net blocked by Stamkos and he just couldn’t buy a goal.

Burning Questions

How will Lundin and Zanon slot back into the line up? Quite well, actually. Both Lundin and Zanon looked terrific and they didn’t look like they had much rust at all.

How will Lundin and Zanon slot back into the line up? I’d say so, in a huge way.

Can the Wild find goals? They didn’t find much, but the players that needed to play well for Minnesota played very well. Dany Heatley still struggled, but the rest of the players picked up the slack.

Can the defense buckle down? The additions of Lundin and Zanon definitely helped and the Wild’s defense looked back to normal.

3 Stars

1)      Niklas Backstrom – Backs stopped 32 of 33 shots and that one that he let in was an absolute laser that I’m not sure any goalie in the league would have stopped.

2)      Pierre-Marc Bouchard – Butch was spectacular. He scored a goal and he was the wild’s best offensive player all night long.

3)      Cal Clutterbuck – See Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Clutterbuck was great for the Wild.

Gameday Thread: Heatley and Setoguchi return to San Jose

Full tuck? Really?

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

Does anyone really think he was serious?

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

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

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

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

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

So, is this bulletin board material?

Probably not. This is just Burnzie being Burnzie.

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

Just sayin’.

Lineup

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

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

Latendresse has really helped the top line

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

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

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

Burning Questions

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

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

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

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

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

Wild shutout Flames 3-0

Another solid win

To say that this game is going to be a contentious topic among Wild fans is going to be something of an understatement.

First of all, let’s start with the good. The Wild won 3-0 over Calgary for their fifth straight win, despite getting outshot 41-26 and despite giving up seven power plays (I’ll get to that in a few), and despite the bad (getting out shot by 15 shots and spending a significant amount of time shorthanded), the Wild didn’t look bad tonight.

First and foremost, the Wild’s team defense was on point tonight, plain and simple. Niklas Backstrom was spectacular in net, but the Wild’s team defense did a tremendous job of shutting down passing lanes and shooting lanes and keeping the puck to the outside, for the most part. They did a good job of supporting one another in the defensive zone and they did a great job of getting the puck out of the zone once they got control of it.

Second, the Wild’s offense really wasn’t that bad. It’s hard not to get outshot by a huge margin when you spend that much time on the penalty kill and the majority of that margin came in the first period, where the Wild were outshot 15-5 and really stumbled out of the gates again. If that gets turned around and the Wild can come out strong and post at least 10 shots in every period, the goals are going to come.

Backstrom looked GREAT tonight

Finally, Niklas Backstrom responded in a HUGE way. He knew his job could potentially be on the line and he played like it. He stopped all 41 shots he faced, he made some spectacular saves and he was engaged all night long. I’ll finally go ahead and say it. The Wild have themselves a good, old fashioned, goalie controversy.

So, let’s break down the game (and I’ll get into the bad while I do this).

The Wild really did come out flat, getting outshot by the Flames 8-0 within the first four minutes of the game. They got their legs going after that and were able to push back a little, but they didn’t look good and they didn’t look focused to start.

The Wild’s third line again sparked the team, though, with Darroll Powe (filling in on the third line for the injured Cal Clutterbuck) tipped a Nick Johnson shot past Miikka Kiprusoff to get the Wild going.

Shortly after that, Tim Jackman and Brad Staubitz got together for a fight that, honestly, looks a lot better on paper than it did in reality. It didn’t really do much for either team’s momentum, as the Flames kept pouring on the pressure and the Wild kept turning them aside.

The rest of the period was uneventful, with the Wild hanging on to their tenuous 1-0 lead and the Flames pushing hard.

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the Wild’s locker room after the first period, because the Wild really came out a lot stronger in the second. The Wild’s parade to the penalty box started early in the period, but the Wild continued turning the Flames aside until, finally, they got their second of the game on an absolutely gorgeous passing play to set up Dany Heatley for his fifth of the season.

Then comes that contentious part I was telling you about.

Just under a minute after Heatley scored his power-play tally, Justin Falk and Jarome Iginla started jostling with one another. Nick Johnson jumped to his teammate’s defense and he and Iginla started to tussle. That’s when things got interesting. In the middle of the fight, whether by accident or not, Johnson’s head came into contact with Iginla’s chin. The refs seemed to think nothing of it. Iginla, on the other hand, immediately pointed at Johnson and started telling anyone who would listen that he was headbutted.

Johnson got sent to the locker room, the Flames got a five-minute power play and the Wild were down a man for the rest of the game.

The Wild's role players were again key tonight

Now, I’ll share my personal views on this in a different post, but needless to say I disagree with the call.

The third period came and this was the period that I thought the Wild really played their game best. They put pressure on the Flames (when they weren’t a man down) and they got some shots on goal. It was a good period and they continued to weatherCalgary’s storm. Guillaume Latendresse potted an empty netter late in the third to give the Wild the final score of 3-0.

Burning Questions

Will Backstrom respond? A 41-save shutout? I’d say that he did.

Can Minnesota play their game? To be honest, they didn’t really have the chance to. All of the time they spent on the PK really messed up their game plan but, when they were even strength, they kept with the Flames and even were able to take it to them a little bit. But puck possession, they just didn’t have enough time to establish it.

Can the Wild get it done on the road? Again, they shut the Flames out. It might not have been pretty, but I’d say they got it done.

Can the top line keep it up? Four points between Koivu, Heatley and Latendresse. Yeah, they done good.

Three Stars

1)      Niklas Backstrom – Backs made 41 saves, many of them spectacular, and he was the reason the Wild won.

2)      Dany Heatley – Heater had a beautiful power-play goal and assisted on Latendresse’s empty netter.

3)      Nick Johnson – He may have gotten kicked out, but he definitely was playing his butt off before he did. He assisted on Powe’s goal and was buzzing most of the night.

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