Any Minnesotan will tell you that getting a snowball to roll downhill isn’t as simple as the cartoons make it appear to be. Apparently nobody told the Minnesota Wild, because a dirty snowball growing and picking up speed seems to be the best image for the last few weeks.
Let’s talk about the good…
Pierre-Marc Bouchard is shooting more. Well, he was until he got injured.
Jared Spurgeon is playing decent D. Well, except for batting in a goal into his own net.
Dany Heatley is scoring late-in-the-game goals. Well, when he isn’t shooting high or wide along with the rest of the Wild.
Hmm, I’m detecting a pattern here.
The problems are many. No consistency in the forecheck (I can’t believe Colton Gillies had good things to say about the Wild’s forecheck against the Flames #drugtestnowplease), no challenge of opponents through the neutral zone, no coverage of the backdoor by anybody, and tired goaltenders (lack of D will do that). This is a team that looks beaten because they are being beaten. Snowball, downhill.
Yes, they have spent a majority of time over the last month on the road (with no end in sight until February). Yes, they’ve had more injuries and call ups than any other team in the NHL. Yes, they were in first place just one month ago.
Correcting this drifting ship isn’t going to be easy, and is going to give first-year head coach Mike Yeo a true challenge. There are some positive signs. Most of the top two lines are back to strength, with the glaring exception of Bouchard. Mikko Koivu and Casey Wellman have the ability to provide some sorely need offense, and Devin Setoguchi may actually be able to contribute yet this season as well.
If it seems like I’m being overly hard on the top line, it’s simply because they aren’t performing to potential. As a fan, I love having Koivu, Heatley, and Setoguchi on the Wild. Any of them have the skill to be formidable offensive players, but for some reason they just aren’t gelling come puck drop. They are shooting more, and that’s positive, but pucks are not finding twine, and there’s nothing positive about that.
Marco Scandella has finally been sent down. His horrible performance over this last stretch had to end with a consequence, and sending him back down was the right move. He’s young, he’ll get over it. He needs to get his confidence back, because he’s playing like a scared puppy right now. Someone should check the ice for a puddle.
Greg Zanon and Marek Zidlicky are trade bait. The Wild are D heavy and have three excellent net minders. Backstrom can’t be moved, and Hackett is the logical next #1…which leaves Josh Harding. As much as I like Harding in a Wild sweater, I would not be surprised to see a trade offered containing Hards and one of the Z(zzzzz) defenders. I’d offer Zids, myself. He can’t shoot or keep the puck in the zone lately. Anaheim is rumored to be shopping a top forward…might be time to go west, young man.
Yes, there are some good things. Spurgeon is playing well overall. I’m happy, I like rooting for the kid. Koivu is trying to get the team motivated, and he’s got arguably the best puck handling right now with the possible exception of Bouchard. Clutterbuck is skating all over the ice trying to wear opponents down through hit after hit. The problem is that all of these guys need support and they aren’t getting it.
With a nasty stretch looming against the Sharks, Blues, Blackhawks, Maple Leafs, and Flyers, the Wild need to find their game. It’s there, it existed just a few weeks ago, but right now it’s more lost than a little old lady on France Avenue. If you aren’t from the Twin Cities, trust me, that’s very, very lost.
Because I promised my thoughts on realignment and don’t want to disappoint, I’ll be brief and to the point. I think Donald Fehr is using the threat of stopping realignment as a bargaining chip for the upcoming CBA negotiations, I think the league is bluffing on not being able to write the schedule without approval at this point, and I think we’re in for a nasty summer unless the players come to their senses and fire Fehr. How’s that for direct?