Wild Nation – The Official Blog of the HPT Radio Show

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Brunette

The Depth Chart and Other Randomness

leave a comment »

Depth Chart
Earlier today, Mike Russo of the Star-Tribune posted what will be the Wild’s depth chart if it starts the season with the way the roster is now:

Goalie 
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding
Barry Brust
Anton Khudobin

LD-RD
Kim Johnsson-Brent Burns
Nick Schultz-Marek Zidlicky
Greg Zanon-Shane Hnidy
John Scott-Jaime Sifers
Tyler Cuma-Justin Falk
Clayton Stoner-Jamie Fraser
Marco Scandella-Maxim Noreau

LW-C-RW
Andrew Brunette-Mikko Koivu-Martin Havlat
Owen Nolan-James Sheppard-Pierre-Marc Bouchard (RW until training camp)
Antti Miettinen-Eric Belanger-Cal Clutterbuck
Colton Gillies-Kyle Brodziak-Derek Boogaard
Petr Kalus-Benoit Pouliot-Craig Weller
Robbie Earl-Morten Madsen-Danny Irmen
Matt Kassian-Cody Almond-Carson McMillan

First of all, if you haven’t checked out Mike Russo’s blog and you’re a Wild fan, shame on you.  It’s one of the best resources for all things Wild out there.  Click here to go there.  Bookmark it, scour it daily and above all thank him for his amazing coverage of the Wild!

Anyway, off my soapbox for the moment.

Looking at this depth chart, the thing that immediately jumps out at me is not the center position.  A lot has been made of our depth (or lack thereof) down the middle.  In looking at the team, however, we’ve got five potential pivots on our roster, and that’s not including Colton Gillies, Owen Nolan or Benoit Pouliot.  Throw those two into the mix and we could have as many as eight players on the opening day that could be capable of anchoring a line in the middle.

The thing that really jumps out at me is our lack of depth at left wing.  After Nolan, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen, the talent level really drops off.  This isn’t a knock on Gillies; however, we have a serious lack of skill and depth on the left side and, honestly, on the wing in general. 

To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, is our talent on defense and in nets.  Our top-six defensemen could be the best top-six that the team has had.  The additions of Zanon and Hnidy give the team two reliable, physical anchors on the blueline and will force opposing teams to keep their heads up.  Meanwhile, expect Scott and Sifers to compete for the seventh spot in camp, most likely with Scott winning the battle.  That’s not to say, however, that our youth could not come in and surprise.  With Cuma, Falk, Stoner and Scandella in the wings, there is a good chance that Scott and Sifers may not be foregone conclusions at the 7 and 8 slot.  It will take a lot for any of these four to make the squad, however.  Of the four, Stoner probably has the best shot as this could be his make it or break it year, but make no mistake — the Wild’s top 7 are pretty much set.

Olvecky Signs in Nashville
Joel Ward, Ryan Jones and now Olvecky?  Those Tennessee boys sure do like Wild prospects. 

In all honesty, I think that Olvecky has a fantastic chance to make the Nashville squad next season right out of camp.  Olvecky is a big body with a lot of untapped talent to boot, and he performed admirably for the Wild in a limited role with the team in the handful of games he played for us last season.

He really started to come into his own last season and seems like he could be the type of player that Barry Trotz will really love.  For $600K and a two-way contract, I’d take Olvecky any day of the week.  A good depth pick up by the Preds.

Qualifying Offers Signed
The Wild had a few players of their own signed as well.

Restricted free agents Benoit Pouliot, Clayton Stoner, Danny Irmen and Robbie Earl all signed their qualifying offers and it seems as if the lot of them (with the exception of Pouliot) could see another year playing in the minors.  Earl and Irmen both have too many players in front of them to have a shot at making the squad (that is, barring a spectacular camp from either) and Stoner will have to do some serious damage in camp to work his way up the depth chart.

Injuries do happen, though, and we could very easily see one of them get a cup of coffee in the NHL and do what Cal Clutterbuck did last season and not let go.

In addition, Russo reports that the Wild could be close to signing Duncan Milroy and Joe DiSalvatore to plug some holes in their minor league system.

Fletcher Working Trade Market
There are a lot of people who are getting scared by the Wild’s seeming lack of movement this off season.

Those fans are the Chicken Littles of the fanbase.

While there are some quality players out there, there really aren’t any players that would meet any immediate needs for us.  I mentioned Mats Sundin, Robert Lang and Mike Comrie previously, but Sundin likely doesn’t have much more tread on his tires, Lang is rumored (or already has) to jump ship to the KHL and Comrie, well, let’s just say I don’t want to sign a player for his girlfriend.  In addition to those players, there are players such as Alex Tanguay and Petr Sykora left over.  Undoubtedly, these players could make an impact on the Wild roster, but would they really fit?

In the case of Tanguay, he’s a tremendous talent, but he’s also been pigeonholed as a playmaker — of which, the Wild have many.  Sykora would be a cheap, effective sniper, but do the Wild want to sink the money it would take to get him on an aging player?

Bottom line is that the best route for the team to improve, at this point, is the route that Fletcher is taking — trades.

There are many top flight forwards that have been presumed available via trade.  Phil Kessel of the Boston Bruins, Dany Heatley of the Ottawa Senators, Jonathan Cheechoo of the San Jose Sharks, even Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane have always been rumored to be available.

To be honest, the names remaining in free agency don’t even hold a candle to a lot of these names.  I’d much rather have a Kessel, Heatley, Sharp or Kane over any of those available — regardless of the assets we have to give up for them.

The bottom line is that the Wild are far from done, in my opinion.  But Fletcher has said all along that he’s not afraid to go late into the summer with a less than full roster to give himself the flexibility that he needs to get the players it takes to make this a winning team.

So…

Fear not Chicken Little.  The sky is not falling.  With a little patience, we could have a playoff team yet.

Advertisements

Wild’s Most “Rugged” and other News

leave a comment »

SI has recently posted a list of the NHL’s “Most Rugged” players and one of Wild Nation’s personal favorite hockey blogs, Puck Daddy, has responded with their revised list, of which Wild winger Owen Nolan was one.

All of this got me thinking.  The Wild has never really been the epitome of a “rugged” team, save for the playoffs two years ago when they had the Four Horsemen (Derek Boogaard, Aaron Voros, Todd Fedoruk and Chris Simon) on their roster.  But last season, who could have been considered the Wild’s “Most Rugged” players?  After some serious thought, here’s what I came up with:

5) Brent Burns – From his gap-toothed smile to his perpetual almost-beard, rugged is certainly a word that is befitting of the Wild’s brightest star on the blueline.  Burnsie does it all.  He hits, he scores, he plays good defense; and let’s be honest.  The man played the last six weeks of his season with a concussion.  That’s rugged.

4) Stephane Veilleux – The reisdent red-headed stepchild of the Wild has always been one to mix it up with anyone at any time.  He’s played through broken bones on his face on multiple occasions and is always front and center when the Wild’s checking line comes into the discussion.  One of the best checking line players the Wild has had, Veilleux will try to cash in on this ruggedness this summer.

3) Cal Clutterbuck – The new face of the Wild’s checking line certainly put on a show this last season.  Clutterbuck gained noteriety from his big hits, despite his small stature.  Throw in another perpetual chin growth and you’ve got one rugged player.  Besides…Anytime you anger Don Cherry to the point where he gives you a derogatory nickname, you must be doing something right.

2) Andrew Brunette – Truth be told, Brunette has never been known for his physical play, but he gets the nod over Clutterbuck here due to the fact that a) he looks like he’s one day of forgetting to shave away from joining Han Solo aboard the Millenium Falcon and b) he played the last three months of this season with a torn ACL.  Now that’s rugged.

1) Owen Nolan – We’ve got to give the nod to the Wild’s resident badass on this one.  You know a player commands fear and respect when he’s allowed to screen the goalie pretty much unimpeded, which Nolan did all season long.  On top of that, he is the only player on the Wild’s team that is allowed to break the gameday dress code because, quite simply, no one wants to tell him that he can’t; not to mention that he penciled himself into the line up this season, coming back early from an injury.  As Burns said about him in a session of Hockey Unplugged; you don’t want to mess with him.  He could firebomb your car.

Other News

  • Wild prospect Cody Almond is playing in the Memorial Cup with the Kelowna Rockets.  Almond has been signed to an entry level deal and will play with the Aeros next season.  Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune also pointed out that Almond takes nearly all of the big faceoffs for Kelowna, not to mention has got some great wheels on him and is a solid penalty killer.  Almond was second in playoff scoring in the WHL with 27 points in 22 games.
  • The search for the next GM of the Wild continues.  For what it’s worth, my prediction for this is Pierre McGuire as GM and Pat Quinn as coach.  Second interviews should be wrapping up shortly, however, and we may have a new GM as soon as next week.
  • The Aeros avoided elminiation by downing the Manitoba Moose in OT, 5-4.  The Aeros now trail 3-1 and will face elimination again in Game 5 in Houston.

 

 

The Walking Wounded and other Wild Updates

leave a comment »

Per Russo,

Goalie Niklas Backstrom will indeed have left hip surgery Friday in Vail. Brian Stensaas was on a conference call with acting GM Tom Lynn. He reports he has two cysts on the bony part of his hip.

Lynn says they won’t know how long he’ll be out until they operate. Worst case scenario, Stensaas says, could be four to six months!

But Lynn said the doctor cautions they can’t give a timetable yet. More from Stensaas in Wednesday’s paper.

Also, I hear Brent Burns is having shoulder surgery probably on Thursday.

This is in addition to Andrew Brunette having reconstructive knee surgery this off season and Derek Boogaard having shoulder surgery.

So what does this mean for the Wild?  Well, if the prognosis for Backstrom truly is 4-6 months, that puts Backstrom back at the earliest, August 24th and at the latest October 24th.  Knowing Backstrom, he will work his hardest to rehab and be back sooner, but this essentially makes the top priority for the new GM hammering out a deal for back up goalie Josh Harding.

If this is indeed the case, you can take Harding off of the table as a bargaining chip.  That is, unless the new GM is suddenly stricken by Barry Brust-mania and believes that Brust can shoulder the load as an NHL starter.  What this could do, however, is drive Harding’s stock through the roof.  If Harding can perform like Backstrom did when he wrested the starting job away from Manny Fernandez a few years back, Harding could easily become a hot commodity among NHL teams.

The Search Begins
After being denied permission by Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs to speak with Dave Nonis, Wild owner Craig Leipold recieved permission from the Nashville Predators to speak with a couple of his old employees; Director of Hockey Operations Mike Santos and assistant GM Paul Fenton.

From Russo,

Leipold declined comment on them, ”just like I won’t comment on any of the other candidates.” 

There are lots of candidates that have surfaced. These are just two that so far I know he’ll be allowed to talk with. I’m sure there are others. I’m working the phones.

Santos is in his third year in Nashville and is responsible in negotiating player contracts and preparing for salary arbitrations. He served as assistant GM for the New York Islanders from 1997-2002 and director of hockey operations for the Florida Panthers from 2002-03.

He was Commissioner and President of the North American Hockey League from 2003-06. He’s worked for USA Hockey and the NHL.

Fenton is in his third year as Nashville’s assistant GM after eight as the director of player personnel. He oversees the Predators’ amateur player development and managers the team’s pro and amateur scouting staffs. He’s also GM of the AHL Milwaukee Admirals.

Fenton, who played eight years in the NHL for seven teams and was a former Boston University standout, also spent five seasons working for the Anaheim Ducks. 

It hasn’t happened yet, but another person I’d assume Leipold would request permission to speak with his Pittsburgh assistant GM Chuck Fletcher. He’s 41 with 16 years of experience. He’s immensely respected after years in Florida, Anaheim and Pittsburgh.

Remember, Leipold has a fabulous relationship with Penguins GM Ray Shero, who used to be assistant GM in Nashville.

In addition, the Wild have been denied permission to speak with Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill.  Nill is under contract until 2010-11 and has a commitment in his contract to stay in Detroit.  In fact, this quote was run in the Windsor Star when Toronto was inquiring about Nill’s availability.

The way we do things here, I’ve already got most of the responsibilities and input that a general manager would have. Ken [Holland] and I work really well together.

I’m comfortable, I’m well-compensated and I like the organization. I know which side my bread is buttered on.

Risebrough Presser
You’ve got to love hockey guys.  Doug Risebrough held his “exit presser” yesterday and held it at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub.  Gotta love it.

Anyway, Russo had some snippets in his blog regarding the players and it just shows how well respected Risebrough was by his own players.  Derek Boogaard had his fiancee drive to the pub after he literally just woke up from having shoulder surgery, just so that he could thank Risebrough for the opportunity and have a chance to say goodbye.  Risebrough also spent some quality time with Marian Gaborik at the arena and went to Brent Burns’ home to meet with the youngster after the new broke regarding his concussion problems.

Again, on a personal level, I’m sad to see Risebrough go.  He was a great guy, probably the nicest associated with the NHL that I’ve had the pleasure to meet.  Part of me feels that he deserved a bit better treatment than he received from Leipold; however, that’s also Leipold’s perogative as the owner.  It’s his team and he can run it as he sees fit.

On a business level, however, it was time for a change.  Risebrough had become increasingly defensive about his decisions over the past few seasons and it seemed as if fans, management and players alike were all growing tired of his smug, “I know best” attitude.  As disappointed as I am that it had to end like this, it certainly had to end.

In the transcript of the presser, however, there was one quote from Risebrough that really rings true to me.

I think the club, I believe the club is in really good shape, and I’ll tell you why. I think it’s got a good core of players. It’s got good youth. I think it’s got great flexibility in terms of the salary cap. It’s got lots of room this year, it’s got lots of room next year. So whether that means what do you want to do immediate signings or future signings, it’s all there. It’s got a great fan base that’s still in love with this team. So it’s going to be energized. I believe players that had poor years will rebound. I’m pretty comfortable to say the injuries aren’t going to be the same magnitude. So I think it’s a great opportunity for a manager and I think it’s a great opportunity for a coach. And I feel good about that. I made decisions on a regular basis for the right  reasons, and the right reasons never included me. They never included me, they were always for the franchise. Now I can say, I didn’t always make the right decisions, but I did them for the right reasons. And I feel good about that.

That right there, to me, says it all.  Whoever it is has a good base, but also has his work cut out for him.  This is a solid team in need of a few key components to become a serious contender.  I don’t think this team needs to be blown up and start from scratch again, but at the same time I don’t think that this team is ready to contend next season after all of this going on this off season.  One thing’s for sure, though.  It’s still an exciting time to be a Wild fan!

Season in Review: The Forwards

with one comment

The season has ended and Jacques Lemaire has stepped down as the coach of the Minnesota Wild.  A big weekend in Minnesota hockey, to be sure.  So today, true to my word, I will begin my season review of the team; first, starting with the forwards.

Mikko Koivu – 9 – C | 79 GP, 20 – 47 – 67, +2:In a word, Koivu’s season was okay.  Most likely, more was expected of him both by himself and by the fans, however he showed marked improvement over his last couple seasons and looks as if he will continue to improve towards next season.  He certainly showed flashes of brilliance; however, he was mired by inconsistency late in the season, at one point going eight games without even registering a point in what could have been considered the period of the season where the Wild needed him most.  In all, Koivu had a good season, but was not what was needed by the team.  Grade: B

Andrew Brunette – 15 – L | 80 GP, 22 – 28 – 50, -5: Let’s be fair.  Bruno was exactly what Wild fans expected.  He did everything that the team expected from him and was a true leader on and off the ice.  I don’t think that anyone expected him to be a 80 point scorer, but he was expected to be steady and he was exactly that.  He munches minutes, he controls the puck and he’s solid in his own zone.  I’m sure he would have liked to be more consistent, as there were multiple long stretches where he failed to register a point, but overall he was one of the top players on the team.  Grade: A-

Pierre-Marc Bouchard – 96 – C | 71 GP, 16 – 30 – 46, -5:Fresh off of a new contract, Bouchard struggled for the first half of the season.  He struggled to find his groove in the offensive zone and was tentative for a lot of the season.  Once he hit his stride, however, he was as good as any player in the league.    After the All Star break, Bouchard turned it on and was one of the top players on the team.  As with Bruno and Koivu, however, finding any sort of consistency was a struggle for Bouchard and his season could have been much better than it was with some sort of consistency.  Grade: B-

Owen Nolan – 11 – R | 59 GP, 25 – 20 – 45, +5:I was as thrilled as anybody that the Wild had signed “Cowboy” during the off season.  Nolan has always been one of my favorite players and to see him come to the Wild was something that I absolutely loved.  While injuries slowed his season, Nolan was one of the big reasons why the loss of Marian Gaborik for the majority of the season was not an unmitigated disaster for the Wild.  He came on with a punch that I don’t think anyone expected from him and immediately became a fan favorite.  Despite playing injured for most of the season, Nolan was one of the Wild’s best players and the only thing that holds his final evaluation back is the fact that he was injured for a good chunk of the year.  Grade: B+

Antti Miettinen – 20 – R | 82 GP, 15 – 29 – 44, -1:I think if you asked any Wild fan what they expected from Antti Miettinen, they would have said something like the old Antti that the Wild had (of the Laaksonen variety).  I don’t, however, think that they would have responded by saying that the young Finn would be a 40+ point scorer.  “Mittens,” as he has so lovingly been dubbed by Wild fans, came out like gangbusters and, eventually, cooled off later in the season but his impact on the Wild’s roster was immediate.  He brought a hard-working, defensively sound presence to the team that complemented the line up that they had perfectly.  He meshed well with countryman Mikko Koivu, but also fit into other roles quite easily.  His performance was a pleasant surprise on a team that did not have many this season.  Grade: A-

Eric Belanger – 25 – C | 79GP, 13 – 23 – 36, -5: One thing can be said of Belanger.  He is certainly consistent.  What is frustrating about him, however, is that you occasionally see flashes of brilliance that make it maddening to watch him at times.  There were times this season where Belanger was a magician in the offensive zone and there were times where he was brilliant in the defensive zone.  Belanger is a checking line center that was thrust into a second line center role this season and performed admirably.  He plays with a passion for the game that is hard to miss.  The trouble is that the team didn’t need him to produce like a checking line center this season.  They needed him to step up his game and produce like a second line center; and this, he did not do.  Grade: C

James Sheppard – 51 – C | 82 GP, 5 – 19 – 24, -14: By all accounts, James Sheppard was a massive disappointment this season.  His performance towards the end of last season had Wild fans and management alike optimistic that he might step into the limelight and take over a larger role on the team.  Sheppard failed to step up to the task and was such a disappointment that he even began to see regular shifts with the fourth line or be benched in important moments.  The only thing that salvaged his season was, again, a late season push in which the youngster began to show his true potential, notching 1 goal and 7 assists for 8 points in eleven games and a +6 over this time.  Grade: D

Marian Gaborik – 10 – R | 17 GP, 13 – 10 – 23, +3:In what will likely be Gaborik’s last season with the team, fans are left wondering what could have been.  In just 17 games, Gaborik proved his worth to the team by lighting a fire under himself.  Not only did he lead the team to a 7-3-1 record down the stretch, but also gave Wild fans one of the most electrifying 11-game stretches in recent memory.  This stretch saved Gaborik’s season from being a bitter disappointment; however, 65 games missed cannot be ignored.  Grade: D+

Stephane Veilleux – 19 – L | 81GP, 13 – 10 – 23, -17:Again, in what will likely be Veilleux’s last season with the Wild, the scrappy winger put together a fairly solid campaign.  After his outburst at the end of last season, however, the team was certainly expecting more from him and he simply didn’t deliver on this early in the season.  As he approaches free agency, he may have to reevaluate his standing with the team as he will likely not be back.  Grade: C-

Cal Clutterbuck – 22 – R | 78 GP, 11 – 7 – 18, -5: Cal Clutterbuck came to Minnesota, leaving his car parked in the airport parking lot; thinking that he would be back in a few days.  A couple months later, he was told to find a place to live.  That pretty much sums up the rookie’s first full NHL season that made him a cult hero in Minnesota and even incited a grassroots Calder Trophy campaign.  In his rookie season, he broke the NHL hits record and showed some offensive flair as well, leaving Wild fans hopeful for the years to come.  Grade: A+

Dan Fritsche – 49 – L | 50 GP, 5 – 8 – 13, -5: Fritsche was a press box mainstay in New York, but quickly became a checking and fourth line mainstay for the Wild.  With many fans disappointed that the Wild simply did not claim him off waivers, Fritsche quietly came out and made an impact for the Wild and endeared himself to the fans.  A hard worker and a solid player, Fritsche will be looked towards to play a larger role on the team if he stays in Minnesota.  Grade: C+

Benoit Pouliot – 67 – L | 37 GP, 5 – 6 – 11, +1: Pouliot was another of the Wild’s young disappointments this season.  Expected to come in and help complement Marian Gaborik, Pouliot came out and showed flashes of brilliance during his stay with the Wild.  Unfortunately, these flashes of brilliance were punctuated by stretches of apathy by the youngster.  If he remains with the team, he will likely be on his last shot to make the big show.  Grade: F

Peter Olvecky – 28 – L | 31 GP, 2 – 5 – 7, +1: The young Slovak may have played his way into a short one-way contract for next season with the way that he played in his limited call up.  Solid two-way play and some solid offensive zone play even led to the youngster getting time on special teams as the season wore down.  If he stays in Minnesota, next season he will be looked at to show some more of his offensive talent.  Grade: C

Colton Gillies – 18 – L | 45 GP, 2 – 5 – 7, -2:This season was to be a learning season for young Colton, and learn he did.  A relentlessly hard worker, Gillies was among the last off every practice, even when he was playing and soaked up all he could from the Wild’s extremely experienced coaching staff.  Gillies wasn’t expected to do much this season, but next will be where the rubber meets the road.  Grade: C

Krystofer Kolanos – 39 – C | 21 GP, 3 – 3 – 6, +3: Kolanos showed flashes of why he was a first round pick this season, but was ultimately deemed to inconsistent to remain with the team.  Should he be re-signed, he will likely need to show more consistent offensive production to stick with the team.  Grade: C-

Derek Boogaard – 24 – L | 51 GP, 0 – 3 – 3, +3: Much to the surprise of many, Boogaardcame out this season and actually tried to play hockey.  In fact, the big man didn’t even break 100 PIMs or just the second time in his career.  Hampered by injuries again, this fan favorite didn’t stand out in any way; surprisingly, not even fighting.  Grade: C

Craig Weller – 12 – R | 36 GP, 1 – 2 – 3, -3:Weller was slated to be “Boogaard Lite” for this team; however, he was unable to stick with the team for any extended period of time.  Often scratched, Weller simply did not impress enough to earn consistent ice time and was regularly a mainstay on the bench next to the back up goaltender when he was dressed.  Grade: F

So there you have it.  The season review for the forwards.

Up Next: Defense and Goaltending

Also, keep it tuned here tonight for the premiere of Wild Nation, Hockey Primetime’s official Minnesota Wild radio show!

Gameday: Wild @ Islanders – 3/25/09

leave a comment »

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Playoff Window Closing for Wild

leave a comment »

If I were to tell you that the Wild have gotten points in 9 of their last 15 games, you’d figure that this was a pretty impressive feat, no?

Indeed, getting points in 9 of 15 games looks very nice on the resume.  But when you look at the actual wins and losses, the picture becomes much, much more grim.

The Wild, in need of a late season push to make the playoffs, have just four wins in their last 15 games.  Thank goodness for the consolation points.  In their last 15 games, the Wild are 4-6-5.  Hardly an impressive record; much less a record for a team that is trying to remain in the playoff race.

The good news?  The rest of the bottom half of the Western Conference is just about as inept at winning as the Wild are currently.  The bad news?  The Wild lost its games in hand without coming away with a single victory.

The Wild need a spark, and badly.  A lot has been made of the leadership on the team this season, and this team is showing a distinct lack of leadership with Mikko Koivu at the helm.  He’s had a fantastic season as the captain of this team, but has been near invisible since being named the captain in March.  In the month of March, he has 2 goals, 4 assists and sitting at -4.  Hardly the numbers you want from your team leader in the most important stretch of the year.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think that Mikko has more leadership in his little finger than the majority of the team does.  But it’s time for our best players to be our best players.  The Wild have started the disturbing trend of digging themselves a hole early, and our top players need to step in and put an end to this.  How bad is this trend?  The Wild have scored first in just two of our eight games this month.  They have dug themselves into large holes too often and have had to play catch up too much.  This is not a winning formula.

The bottom line is that, though they are just a point out of a playoff spot, the window in which they can control their own destiny and make some noise in the playoff race is slowly closing.  The Wild play two of their next three games at home before heading on a crucial road trip that starts out east, then heads to Canada.  If this team is to make the playoffs, they need to step their game up, stop playing catch up and win hockey games.

The Picture of Irony
Ironically, the Wild’s troubles in the month of March have not been of the offensive kind.  With the exception of a few games, the team is finding the back of the net.  The problems that the Wild are encountering are not stemming from their offense.  They are stemming directly from a lack of team defense.

It’s amazing to me that Niklas Backstrom even allows Lemaire to put him out on the ice anymore with the distinct lack of help that he is getting.  This team is completely lost in their own zone at the moment.  Opposing teams are allowed to get to Backstrom with frightening consistency and our players are doing little to nothing to stop them.  One of the biggest differences between this team and last season’s team is grit.  While Sean Hill and Keith Carney may not have been the fleetest of foot or have made the best decisions, one thing that they would not stand for were players pushing around our team in front of the crease.  With them gone, this is now met with ambivilence at best and apathy at worst.

This team needs a complete change in mindset going forward and, even if they do make the playoffs, I can’t imagine it would be more than a one and done series as I don’t believe that this team has the fortitude to last an entire playoff series.

The addition of John Scott has added a lot to this blueline and it’s starting to show as well.  Scott is a physical presence and is playing very solid, defensive hockey.  If the Wild is going to do anything in the last weeks of the season, it is going to be on the backs of players willing to get physical and play soundly in their own zone.  If we control our own zone, the offense will follow.  It’s just a matter of keeping the puck on the other end of the ice.

The Walking Wounded
With all signs pointing to this team being one of the softest in team history, it is quite nice to see some players emerging to lead by example.

It started with Owen Nolan, who was tired of watching the team perform poorly and stepped up in practice, letting Lemaire know that he was playing.  It continued to Marc-Andre Bergeron, who exploded upon finding out he was scratched when he felt that he was healthy enough to play.  Nolan once again set the bar high by flying out to Vancouver, broken foot and all, to join the team and now there is news of Andrew Brunette playing with a torn (or at least partially torn) ACL?

This, my friends, is what real hockey players are like.  They don’t pack it in at the slightest sign of discomfort as some “superstars” have done.  They don’t disappear when the going gets tough.  They don’t sit by the wayside and ignore their team.  They do whatever they have to do to help the team win.

Pleasent Surprises
How about Peter Olvecky?  Over the last few games, we have really seen him come into his own.  The youngster has a large frame and a nose for the net and is even showing that he is improving in his own end.  He has began to earn the trust of Lemaire; so much so that, with the game on the line against the San Jose Sharks, Lemaire put Olvecky out on the ice in place of James Sheppard.  From the little we’ve seen of Olvecky, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I defintely like what I see and hope that he can find a permenant place in the Wild’s line up.