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).

What to watch on the Wild’s day off: Maple Leafs v. Avalanche

Two surprise teams face off tonight

The Wild have an off day before the Pens come into town on Tuesday, so it’s time once again for some suggested viewing during the Wild’s day off. The game for tonight is:

Toronto v. Colorado

Weeee! I scored!

Why: Both Toronto and Colorado have shot out to surprise starts and are atop their respective divisions. For Toronto, they’re undefeated at the friendly confines of the Air Canada Center and, for Colorado, they’ve yet to lose away from home after losing their first game at the Pepsi Center. Colorado’s offense has been out in force, scoring 17 goals in five games whileToronto’s defense has been the talk of the town, giving up just seven goals in three games. That’s not to say, though, that Toronto’s offense is a slouch, with Phil Kessel helping pace the NHL right now with eight points.

When: The puck drops tonight at 6 pm CST and is televised on Versus.

What to Watch For: Semyon Varlamov has been an absolute monster in net for the Avs. He’s faced 144 shots in just four games and has yet to face less than 30 shots in a contest. Now, the Avs defense needs to protect him quite a bit more, but Varlamov is certainly playing with the proverbial chip on his shoulder after being moved from Washington this off season and the Avs front office are looking like geniuses for picking him up.

What Else: I mentioned that Kessel has eight points in his first three games, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Joffrey Lupul. Lupul has five points in three games and is one of the big reasons why Kessel is buzzing as much as he is. ForColorado, keep an eye on Gabriel Landeskog, who has two goals and an assist so far this season.

State of Hockey Connections: Phil the Thrill starred for the Golden Gophers for a season before making the jump to the pros. Jake Gardiner hails from Deephaven and was a star at Minnetonka High School before going and plying his trade at theUniversity of Wisconsin for three seasons. Chuck Kobasew played 105 games in a Wild uniform and both Peter Mueller and Erik Johnson hail from Bloomington.

Fun Fact: At 35, Milan Hejduk will be the elder statesman in this game and one of five players that are 30 or older. J.S. Giguere (34) and Jan Hejda (33) are the over-30s forColorado and John-Michael Liles (30) and Tim Connolly (30) represent the 30-plus crowd for Toronto.