After a team-best start to the season, the Minnesota Wild have fallen from first in the NHL to sixth in the Western Conference; their hopes are held alive by a nastily close and hard-battling Pacific Division. With a frustrated fan base and equally confused players, first-year head coach Mike Yeo has his hands full. Can he right this ship and point the Wild toward a playoff spot? Let’s look at the Wild of just 4 weeks ago compared to the Wild of last night’s loss to Vancouver.
The Wild of the early season could be counted on to bring fast, brutal pressure with or without the puck in the offensive zone. Whether it was Clutterbuck, Koivu, Bouchard, or Setoguchi, opposing teams knew that they would not only have problems skating through the neutral zone, they’d be lucky to even reach the blue line.
The more recent Wild has brought inconsistent pressure at best, and zero pressure much of the time. Aimless skating in the zone and ineffectual stick pokes have made offensive runs easy to start for even seemingly lackluster teams.
4 weeks ago, the word was TRAP. If you wanted to get a puck into your offensive zone against the Wild, you were going to have to dump it and skate like the devil himself was after you. If you didn’t dump it in time, you could count on being crushed against the boards by one of the Wild’s power forwards or young defenders.
Last night, it seemed as if the blue lines were keyed to blue sweaters as the Canucks skated effortlessly through the middle of the rink. Hits were far in between unless Clutterbuck was on the ice, and takeaways just didn’t happen.
The Wild of old found ways to win single-goal games. Offense wasn’t the strongest suit, but with a solid defense it needed quality over quantity.
The Wild of current is lucky to get a single goal in a game. Quality shots just aren’t being found, and quantity…well, last night’s goose-egg tells the tale.
That said, Backstrom is definitely showing signs of fatigue, and Harding’s .941 SV% against Vancouver was not enough. Unless the Wild D steps back up, look for more rubber to find twine.
What It Means
What does Mike Yeo need to do? He needs to get his players, veterans and youngsters alike, back on his system. Yeo plays Penguin hockey (minus Crosby), and the system works. It proved itself during the first weeks of the season, and until December 13th was working perfectly for the Wild. Injuries certainly changed the momentum of the team, and Yeo needs to bring that excitement and drive back to the locker room.
Trades are certainly being talked about, with Zanon, Zidlicky, and even Harding being discussed in whispered circles (Backstrom haters, you’re out of luck…he has a no-trade clause). With a sudden influx of healthy D, the Wild could look at releasing one of its underperforming blue liners. The problem is that even a name player won’t help the Wild score more goals (and therefore win more games) without a team behind him playing a consistent, managed system. Fix the underlying issue first, then look to augment with firepower if necessary.
Practice days for the team until Saturday’s matchup against the Flames. Hopefully Dave will be along in the next couple of days with his usual top-shelf pre-game report. Look for my thoughts tomorrow on the upcoming realignment, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @gonepuckwild for in-game commentary and updates throughout the day.