It was a banner night for the Minnesota Wild top line as the trio of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley combined for a total of four goals and seven points against Brian Elliot and the St. Louis Blues. The Blues would have the last laugh, however, winning 5-4 in overtime. Lines two through four were once again silent, and third line center Kyle Brodziak was a noticeable negative-4 rating on the night. The team just wasn’t winning battles and Backstrom is no longer a goaltender who can steal win after win for a defensively and offensively struggling team. Minnesota did gain a precious point, moving them to first in the NHL’s Northwest Division and third in the Western Conference with five points…which just so happens to be five points less than the fourth place team—the St. Louis Blues.
The most obvious problem at the moment is the lack of secondary scoring coming from the second, third and fourth forward lines. Of Minnesota’s 13 goals scored, 10 have come from the top line with the others scored by Mikael Granlund, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and defenseman Tom Gilbert. While Minnesota’s top line has certainly established itself as one of the deadliest in the league, it can’t carry the team on its own. Minnesota’s defense isn’t terrible, nor is the goaltending, but neither is good enough to support one scoring line and give the team a serious chance of making the playoffs. Coach Yeo can try switching up Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck between the second and third lines all he wants, but the fact remains Granlund needs a true NHL power forward on his line to maximize his success.
Michael Russo of the Star Tribune brought up an interesting point recently in one of his articles concerning a Pittsburgh Penguins squad looking to add a winger to play with Crosby. Bouchard or Setoguchi could fit the bill and, supposedly, Penguins 2009 1st round defenseman Simon Despres could be available in return. Not only would this trade shore up Minnesota’s defensive depth, it would also open up an opportunity for fellow top prospect Charlie Coyle to play alongside Granlund as the power forward he needs. Acquired from San Jose in the Brent Burns trade, Coyle may very well have been the centerpiece of that deal for Minnesota. He is a big kid that has dominated nearly every level of play he has experienced thus far: college, major junior, world junior championships and pro.
While Jason Zucker probably deserves the first forward call-up of the season, the honors will likely fall to Coyle—who’s no slouch by any means, either. Granlund is an elite-caliber player, but he needs room to breathe and he’s not getting that right now. Coyle plays a Heatley-style of game that’s very physical, creates scoring chances and gives him and his line-mates room to pass and shoot the puck. That—the elite power forward—is what Minnesota is lacking on the second line. Some may argue that Setoguchi is that power forward, but he has yet to rise to the occasion in Minnesota. Also, Coyle is at least two inches taller, and a good 10-15 pounds heavier, than “Seto”.
Long story short, Coyle brings size, skill, a goal scorer’s touch and a contagiously competitive edge that Minnesota desperately needs on the second line. He’s the Jonathan Toews to Granlund’s Patrick Kane; it’s as simple as that. Much like their Chicago counterparts, they could be the much sought recipe for Minnesota’s scoring success. You can bet that Minnesota fans certainly hope so. The bottom line is that, especially in a lockout-shortened season, Minnesota needs to immediately address their secondary scoring before this goes too far. A few more losses, and the team’s chances of making the playoffs could become quite slim.