Gameday: Wild @ Islanders – 3/25/09
Sans Brent Burns and Mikko Koivu, the Wild rolled into the Big Apple last night and left with a demoralizing loss despite a fantastic game by Niklas Backstrom. The team dropped from 10th in the West down to 11th, chasing 8th place Anaheim who is two points ahead of them, and two points back from 9th place Nashville.
Ok. That was the bad news.
The good news? Tonight we roll into the island to play the league’s bottom team in the New York Islanders.
This is not to say that the Isles should be taken lightly, as they have been hot as of late; however, if there is any team that the Wild could use as a “slump-buster,” this is certainly it.
When you look at the two teams, they have similar stats on paper. The Wild have only scored a paltry 184 goals this season (good for second last in the West) while the Isles are just two behind them (good for last in the East). The difference between the two teams, however, has been their defense and goaltending. The Wild have given up just 180 goals this season (good for third best in the league) while the Isles have given up 234 goals this season (good for eleventh in the East). The Isles are also having similar problems to the Wild on the blueline; namely, not enough grit. If the Wild are to be successful against this team tonight, they will need to get into the high traffic areas on the ice and push around an Isles defense that is extremely undersized. This means that players that like to get their noses dirty in front of and behind the net, such as Owen Nolan and Andrew Brunette, will be key to the Wild’s hopes of victory tonight.
Defensively, the Wild will need to focus on stopping the Isles offensive weapons. Though young, the Isles still boast some players that have the talent to put the puck in the net; most notably Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Sean Bergenheim, not to mention their leading scorer, Mark Streit. The biggest key to the resurgence of the Islanders over the last few weeks has been their balanced attack. They have been given the freedom to play spoiler and have taken to it quite nicely and the Wild will have to focus on their entire line up in order to keep the team down.
Goaltending has been a concern for the Isles since the injury of franchise goalie Rick Dipietro; however, Yann Danis has stepped up in his absence and performed marvelously. A little confidence can go a long way with Danis, and the Wild need to avoid giving him any at all, getting to him early and often. This will involve shooting the puck and getting it on net; the latter of which the Wild have struggled with all season long.
In the previous meeting this season, the Wild cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Isles, outshooting them 39-16 and dominating for most of the game. A repeat performance of this would be key to getting the Wild back on track and giving the team confidence heading into a crucial two game swing in Canada against the Flames and the Oilers.
Keys to the Game
- Shoot the Puck. It seems to be common sense, but the Wild have gotten behind in the shots early in too many of their games this season and, as a result, have had to fight back in too many of their games. Especially with an inexperienced goalie in net, the key to the Wild’s game should be to get traffic in front of him and get the puck on net. If they can do this, there’s no reason that they can’t have an offensive outburst and win this game walking away.
- Be Physical. The Wild are a team that have been pushed around a little more than they would like this season and it needs to stop. The blueline especially has been a weak point for the Wild this season in terms of physicality and the Isles are a small team. The Wild came out with a physical game last night against the Rangers and any carry over from this would be a huge help for the team.
- Establish Consistency. The Wild have lacked consistency all season long, both in the micro and macro views. In games they often go stretches without pressuring their opponent and oftentimes dig themselves holes during these periods. If the Wild are able to maintain consistency during the games, this will translate over to the macro view and consistency will begin to be established from game-to-game as well. This is key for the Wild to win games down the stretch and make a push for the playoffs.
This is a Wild team that can be good. They just need to find the consistency to do so. If they’re able to shorten their memories and put their loss last night behind them, they should have no problem handling the Isles. The question will be if they are able to do just that.
Clutter-Watch 2009: For all intents and purposes, tonight will be the game that Cal Clutterbuck breaks the NHL Record for hits in a season, set by Dustin Brown. Needing just two more hits to do so, it is very likely that this could be accomplished by the end of the first period, or even his first shift. As Mike Russo mentioned in his blog, however, I wouldn’t expect much of a fanfare for this. After all, the statistic has only been around for a few short years. We could very well be watching young Cal’s statistics next season as well, as he’ll likely be given more responsibility, more ice time and more opportunities to do what he loves to do: hit.