Midseason Refresh - For the Minnesota Wild and Gone Puck Wild

Good morning everyone! We’re almost to the all-star break, and this is the point in the season when teams evaluate their play and determine what changes need to be made in order to lock up that playoff spot. The Wild definitely have some issues to consider, and we’ll talk about those in a moment.

Here at Gone Puck Wild, we’re in the same position. We’ve had some staff come and go for various reasons, and we’ve added some new faces…including mine! My name is Mark Okern, and I’m the new Lead Writer for Gone Puck Wild. What does that mean? In short, I have editorial responsibility for the site and our staff writers. There is some cleanup ahead for the site…we know some of the pages are out of date, we’re working on it. It also means that you’ll be hearing from me on a daily basis, and I’ll be managing our Twitter and Facebook feeds as well. Links for those to come once we’ve gotten things cleaned up and straightened out. Now, onto more important matters…

After a franchise-best start, the Wild have been in a tailspin since December 13th. With numerous injuries hanging on their backs like a giant ape, the Wild have managed only one victory in the last 10 games, amassing a painful 1-6-3 record. The loss of top players such as Devin Setoguchi and Mikko Koivu brought the offense to a screeching halt, and having less prominent but key players such as Casey Wellman and Guillaume Latendresse out has only added to the misery.

Koivu’s return gave the team a brief burst of energy, but it hasn’t been enough to overcome a stretch of tough games. With 10 of the next 13 games coming on the road, the Wild need to get back on track ASAP. We expect to see Setoguchi and possibly Wellman back in the lineup for tonight’s matchup against the Canucks, but will it be enough?

Coach Mike Yeo keeps stressing that a focus on the basics of their system will see the Wild through this, but that focus has been sorely lacking as of late. The disappearance of any consistent forecheck, little pressure in the neutral zone, and seeming inability of the young defensive core to cover the backdoor have all contributed to fans beating their heads in frustration during every game. Throw in a lackluster effort on the power play and loss of the “shoot-first” mentality trumpeted by Yeo, and you arrive at the current slump.

What to expect tonight? If the Wild don’t change the above issues, it will be a very painful night for the State of Hockey. If they do, it may still smart a bit; the Wild have had a rough time of it in Rogers Arena.

We’re still waiting for the word on who will be between the pipes, but expect Josh Harding. Niklas Backstrom is looking worn-down from having to cover far more real estate than normal (defense, we’re looking at you!), and the Sedin twins are merciless on their home ice. With 27 goals between them this season, the Wild have to keep the twins and the rest of Vancouver’s high-caliber offense to the outside of the zone. Once they get in the slot…or heaven forbid in the crease…it’s lights out no matter who is in net.

If we have the keys to the Twitter account by game time, I’ll get the link posted and you can look for updates there. If not, I’ll have a quick pre-game update on goalie selection and any other related news. Let’s hope the Wild start 2012 in a better fashion than they ended 2011.

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