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).

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.

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 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.

Bouchard suspended, Isle down Wild and Gameday Thread: All in One

Well, consider this your open gameday thread.

We’ll be having live in-game commentary again tonight, so make sure you come back at the drop of the puck for that, but otherwise we’re going to keep this brief because there are a few things we want to talk about.

First, on the Bouchard suspension.

There are a lot of people up in arms about this, but I completely agree with the suspension. Bouchard has got to take responsibility of his own stick. He’s got to be cognizant of where his stick is and where it’s going. In the play in question, he wasn’t.

Look, I get that people are upset at the fact that he was suspended after never being suspended once in his entire career – I get that. But if you watch the replay, Bouchard turned towards Calvert and tried to two-hand him. He wasn’t pushing off, he wasn’t jockeying for position. He was trying to slash Calvert.

Did he mean to get him in the mouth? No. His stick hit Calvert’s and rode up into the guy’s face. But that doesn’t change the fact that his intent was to slash Calvert and, whether the intent to injure is there or not, under the Shana-hammer, that’s a suspendable offense.

Now, on to yesterday’s game against the Isles.

It was a rough one, but one that the team can learn from. Namely – you’ve got to show up to the rink ready to play.

The Wild looked tired and out of sync in the first period, and the Isles capitalized with a couple goals that really shouldn’t have been allowed to happen by the Wild’s young defensive corps.

That was the bad news.

The good news was that the Wild rebounded to the tune of outshooting the Isles 19-5 in the last two periods. But, again, the Wild could only get one of those 19 shots past Al Montoya. They didn’t give up, though, and they continued to battle in the last two periods and had some really glorious chances that just didn’t get converted.

A few thoughts from yesterday afternoon’s game:

  • Guillaume Latendresse and Brett Bulmer looked out of this world. In fact, I thought that the two of them were the team’s best players in yesterday’s game. Both were physical and made some great plays, and Bulmer probably had the hit of the night, laying out John Tavares on the half boards. Both assisted on Matt Cullen’s third-period goal, and their line was really the Wild’s best line all night long.
  • Clayton Stoner has been really impressive in his first two games this season, and I would liken him to the type of player that the Pens have in Brooks Orpik. He’s a steady, stay-at-home defenseman that will just pound and pound and pound. He has a fairly limited offensive upside, but he hits and hits and hits and players aren’t going to get around him very easily.
  • It’s hard to judge Niklas Backstrom’s performance from yesterday’s game because there really wasn’t much to go on. Yeah, he gave up two goals on 14 shots, but I wouldn’t really say that either of those two goals were his fault. The Wild were really fighting it in the first period and their defense just wasn’t all there.
  • Marco Scandella had a rough go of it yesterday. He looked like a completely different player than he did in the home-opener. He’s young, so he’s still got some growing to do, but he’s definitely got to learn to keep his head on straight under pressure if he wants to continue to grow.

Tonight’s game is going to be a good test for the Wild, to see how they rebound from their rough game yesterday. I would expect a more even effort from the team, though, in tonight’s game.

The puck drops at 6:30 CST and we’ll be back here for the drop of the puck with some in-game commentary.

Wild down Jackets 4-2 in home opener

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

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

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

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

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

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

In any event, some thoughts:

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

Columbus downs Wild and the final Preseason Gameday Thread

Kyle Brodziak and Steve Mason

The Wild couldn't put it together for 60 minutes last night

Well, because of how late I’m getting to this, I’m going to combine the gamer and the gameday thread – especially since the kids and myself are all under the weather.

ANYwho…

Last night’s game was, simply, a typical Wild game. It’s clear that this team isn’t going to go anywhere until they can learn to play a full 60 minutes.

The Wild dominated for bookends again, but it typical Wild fashion, they pissed it down their legs (for lack of a better term) in the middle 20.

Guillaume Latendresse

The Tenderness was one of the Wild's bright spots last night

They came out on fire. They dominated much of the play the first period, outshooting the Jackets 16-7 and going up 1-0 on a goal by the Tenderness (that’s Guillaume Latendresse, for those not accustomed to the nickname). In a word, they were rolling.

But the proof of how the game is going to go lies in the middle 20 and, in this case, it was an unmitigated disaster.

They turned the puck over, they weren’t skating, they weren’t supporting each other on defense (which, to be honest, was really the only zone they were in for the bulk of the period). Basically, anything negative you could think that a team could do, the Wild did it and everything positive you could think that a team could do, the Wild didn’t do it.

To steal a catch phrase from Todd Richards’ playbook, they just didn’t compete.

The Jackets had tied the game 44 seconds into the period, then had grabbed the lead by 2:38 and Jeff Carter gave the Jackets a two-goal lead by the time the second period had ended.

The Wild rebounded slightly in the third, but it wasn’t enough to dig themselves out of the hole they dug themselves in to.

So, the bad was pretty much that the whole team just gave up defensively in the second period. But what was the good?

Well, the top two lines again looked great in the offensive zone. In fact, Kyle Brodziak looked right at home between Bouchard and Latendresse, which could give Mike Yeo pause about making Matt Cullen the outright second-line center.

Nick Johnson looked okay but, to be fair, he had a rough go of it getting to the arena so last night’s game could be a wash. Clutterbuck is out tonight, though, so Johnson will get another shot at proving he can stick with the squad.

Well, let’s move on to tonight’s game.

Here’s the roster per Wild.com:

The Wild’s final audition lineup will once again include Brett Bulmer, who will skate in his fifth preseason contest. The injured players - Matt CullenJared SpurgeonMike LundinDrew Bagnalland Cody Almond will not be seen until the regular season starts. Cal Clutterbuck will also sit out tonight with a sore groin:

Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley
Latendresse-Brodziak-Bouchard
Johnson-Powe-Wellman
Gillies-Nystrom-Bulmer

Zanon-Scandella
Schultz-Falk
Zidlicky-Stoner

Backstrom and Harding

The fact that Clutterbuck is out is a positive for a couple of players – namely, Casey Wellman and Nick Johnson.

Cal Clutterbuck

Clutterbuck's injury opens the door for a couple players to impress

As I mentioned, Johnson had a rough go of it in last night’s game, but he also rode in a car from Pittsburgh to Columbus and played about 2 hours after he got to the arena. He’ll have full prep-time today, so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to show what he can do.

For Casey Wellman, this could be his make-or-break moment. He’s underwhelmed in his two games this preseason after missing the beginning of it with injury and he’s got to come out and show the Wild why they were so high on him when they signed him a couple seasons ago as an undrafted free agent.

In short, he needs to show that he’s capable of being a dynamic, offensive player at the NHL level like he was in the college level. He’s got to shoot the puck, he’s got to use his speed and he’s got to show the Wild something if he wants to make this squad. Right now, he’s going to really have to impress to stick in the NHL. That means, in short, he’s got to make something happen.

Tonight is also going to be a good look at whether or not this team can play a full game. Over the last 180 minutes of hockey, they’ve played roughly 80 solid minutes. That’s a little over one game. I understand having rough patches – every team has them – but this team needs to start working. They’ve got so much talent on this squad, if they just put a full 60 minute effort together every night, we could be talking about them contending for a playoff seed as opposed to dissecting why they’re giving away games.

They’ve got talented forwards, they’ve got talented defensemen and they’ve got talented goalies. But it’s pretty hard for any of them to show off their skills when the team is constantly hemmed in their own zone, making defensive errors and just not trying.

This is the end of the audition period for every single player on the roster, whether they’re certain to make the squad or not. The practice games end tonight, so the Wild need to get their heads on straight so that they’re ready to compete by the time October 8 rolls around.

The puck drops tonight at 7pm and will be streamed live on Wild.com and FoxSportsNorth.com.

Preseason Gameday Thread: @ Columbus

Columbus and Minnesota face off for the second time this preseason

Well, it’s just a couple hours until the drop of the puck and the Wild are looking to improve upon their performance on Tuesday against the Blues.

I didn’t do a gamer due to illness and, if you didn’t see the game, basically what happened was that the Wild jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but then just took their foot off the gas and started making mistakes in their own zone and, well, gave up three straight goals to lose 4-3.

Minnesota wants to rebound from a rough last two games

This team is showing a lot of positives right now, so it’s not all bad, but the Wild have got to start making good decisions with the puck. It doesn’t matter if you can get out to a two or three goal lead like the Wild were able to if you’re just going to turn the puck over and give away your advantage.

As Yeo said, the Wild need to “learn what the right play is.”

Now, I don’t want to editorialize too much here, but I’m going to go ahead and translate this into, basically the Wild need to unlearn everything they learned under Todd Richards.

Richards had them pushing the tempo so much that, many times they would make mistakes with the puck because they would be rushing to get up ice.

They need to unlearn that and start learning that, sometimes, the best play is to just move the puck laterally or backwards so you can get a better angle for your passes.

Anyway, the Wild will attempt to execute this tonight against Columbus.

Tonight’s line up per Wild.com:

The Wild will essentially use the same lineup that saw the ice against St. Louison Tuesday. Nate Prosser will be the extra defenseman:

Setoguchi-Koivu-Heatley
Latendresse-Brodziak-Bouchard
Bulmer-Powe-Clutterbuck
Gillies-Nystrom-Wellman

Zanon-Scandella
Schultz-Falk
Zidlicky-Stoner

Backstrom and Harding

It should also be noted that the Wild claimed forward Nick Johnson off of waivers from Pittsburgh, so it’s completely possible that Johnson gets slotted in somewhere tonight if he makes it to Columbus on time which, according to Assistant GM Brent Flahr is about 50-50.

In any event, the Wild is closing out the preseason with back-to-back games against Columbus tonight and, tomorrow, at home against

Look for the Wild to simplify their game this time around

Edmonton, so either way we’ll get to see Harding at least once more this preseason.

A big thing to watch for tonight is the playoff Brett Bulmer and Casey Wellman.

Bulmer impressed last game, scoring his first goal in a Wild uniform, while Wellman underwhelmed to the point that he was limited to just 12 minutes in ice time despite being slotted in between Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse.

With Cullen out and Staubitz suspended, both have tremendous opportunities to show what they can do. If they can impress, we very well might see them on the opening day roster. If they don’t? I hearHoustonis nice this time of year (or, in Bulmer’s case,Kelowna).

Tonight is also a big opportunity for Brodziak to prove that he should be the team’s second-line center. Essentially, whoever is in the spot this season is just a temporary solution until Mikael Granlund comes over next season, but the Wild need someone in the interim, and Brodziak could provide that if he can find the same chemistry with Latendresse and Bouchard that he had with Latendresse and Havlat last season.

The puck drops tonight at 6pm CST and will be streamed live on Wild.com and FoxSportsNorth.com.

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

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