While it’s important no matter where the team is playing—home or away—it’s especially important for the Minnesota Wild to stick to their game on the road. The team will fly to Anaheim today for a Friday night showdown with the Ducks before visiting Phoenix on Monday night to take on the Coyotes. Neither team is a divisional rival, which means—while the Wild lights up the Pacific—their best friends (whoever is not in the Northwest or is last in the division) will have to man the home-front fort to keep teams like Edmonton, Vancouver and Colorado at bay. Will that happen? Knowing Minnesota’s luck, probably not, so here are Minnesota’s keys to success that will hopefully help them snatch up four points on the short road trip.
Key No. 1 – Minnesota needs to play K.I.S.S. hockey. For those of you that don’t know, K.I.S.S. means, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. The team needs to play a smart, simple game. Nothing fancy, no bone-head moves that force turnovers and create offensive chances for the other team. When players are out of gas, do the smart thing and chip the puck past the opposing defensemen into the offensive zone so fresh legs can hit the ice. The more time the other team spends in its own zone, the less time it spends in yours—it’s that simple.
Key No. 2 – Minnesota needs all four forward lines to produce. For the first six games of the season, nearly all offensive production was generated by the top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley. However, in the past two games, Minnesota has finally converted on scoring chances by both the second and third lines. This is good…because the top line has quickly run out of steam—and rightfully so as it was the only line keeping the Minnesota train going. Today’s travel day is vital for the team to get some physical and mental rest as they prepare to take on a tough Ducks squad. If Minnesota is going to stand any chance of making the playoffs, they’ll need goal scoring from all four lines.
Key No. 3 – Minnesota needs to play a good, strong defense. The addition of 2011 10th overall pick Jonas Brodin to the Wild blue line has been tremendous. Brodin, not known as an offensive or physical player, has proved many naysayers wrong with his surprisingly offensively physical game. The young man stepped right into the injured Jared Spurgeon’s spot on the top pairing with Ryan Suter and hasn’t looked out of place whatsoever. He skates like the wind, has a great first pass up the ice, plays with the poise and confidence of a seasoned NHL veteran and seems to know what other skaters, on his team and the opposing team, will do next before they do it. The young man from Karlstad, Sweden also has a surprisingly heavy slap shot from the point and has chipped in two assists in four games.
Another recent blue line acquisition who has fared quite well is Bloomington, Minnesota native Tom Gilbert. In seven games, he’s posted impressive numbers from the blue line, including two goals and four assists for six points, an even plus-minus rating, a power play point, 12 shots on goal, four hits and 17 blocked shots. Gilbert has certainly stepped up to provide some offense from the D-corps when the team wasn’t getting any secondary scoring from the 2nd-4th forward lines. He’s also developed some good chemistry with Clayton Stoner, a big 6’3” 205-pound defenseman drafted 79th overall by the team in 2004. The two have played a tough, physical shutdown game on a second defensive pairing that has been a major factor in Minnesota’s season thus far.
Key No. 4 – Head Coach Mike Yeo needs to play the hot hand in net. Not unlike a fantasy general manager adding and dropping players every day, Yeo needs to play whoever gives Minnesota the best chance of winning. I’m not saying the team needs to sign or buyout players every day—that’s just absurd. However, in a shortened season, one or two bad games in a row can be the difference between playoffs and a lottery pick. As much as it made me sick to see Harding get pulled last night, Yeo needed to stop the bleeding quick before the Blackhawk sharks went into a feeding frenzy. If he finds himself in the situation again, he needs to do damage control just as quickly as he did last night.
Key No. 5 – These next ten words are extremely important: Minnesota absolutely needs to stay out of the penalty box. Three straight penalties in the third period on Sunday cost them the lead—and ultimately the full two points—against the St. Louis Blues. Third period penalties struck again while facing the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night as Minnesota’s lead was once again tied. The problem isn’t the Wild’s penalty kill—it’s actually been quite good—it’s the momentum the other team gets from the power play. Last night, Minnesota had one penalty in the third period against a dominant Blackhawks team, but Nik Backstrom was up to the task. That’s not always going to be the case. So, if Minnesota can stay out of the penalty box, it’ll certainly increase their chances of success.
If the Minnesota Wild can follow these five keys to success, they not only might come away with four points on the trip, but they may be set to be serious contenders in the West.