The Minnesota Wild fell 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks last night, dropping their third game in a row. There were riots in the streets, cars overturned and fires everywhere—oh wait—that was Vancouver fans after losing the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins back in June, 2011. It was an honest mistake. Everyone, take a step back and breathe…just…breathe. There—is that better? Good. Let’s take a good, long, and rational look at the struggling Minnesota Wild.
Minnesota is unbelievably dangerous…when playing an aggressively physical game. We saw it time and time again last night, especially in the second period. Minnesota’s fourth line of Devin Setoguchi, Zenon Konopka and Mike Rupp played a very gritty, physical game that created tons of offensive chances. Setoguchi, who has been shuffled up and down the Wild lineup, has yet to score a goal, but not for lack of trying. Last night, the struggling forward was robbed twice by Vancouver netminder Schneider and then missed the net once. The chances and extended offensive zone time continued as the first line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle jumped the boards and into the fray. The fact is, Minnesota was dominant for 16 of 20 minutes in the second period, but a few dumb decisions—here’s looking at you, Clayton Stoner—in the defensive zone caused the Wild to head into the dressing room down 4-0.
Minnesota’s lineup has become a lot larger with the acquisition of Mike Rupp and the call up of Charlie Coyle. Rupp was a key part of last night’s dominant fourth line and helped Konopka create room for Setoguchi to whiff on one beautiful chance after another. Coyle was also quite impressive on the first line with Parise and Koivu, laying hits and creating scoring chances while also being robbed once again of his first NHL goal by another great goalie.
Most of the rookies look great. While Minnesota’s No. 1 guy Mikael Granlund has been struggling, Coyle has arrived and he looks just as advertised. However, that’s not to say Granlund isn’t—he’ll be just fine once he fully adjusts to the North American style of game. While he adjusts, however, it looks like Charlie may be here to stay and is likely the long term solution as top right wing. Give him a little time to gel with Parise and Koivu and he’ll be fine. Another rookie to keep your eye on is Minnesota’s top defenseman…uh…I mean top defensive prospect, 19-year old Swede Jonas Brodin. Brodin has been an absolute stud and was Minnesota’s only player among the three stars of last night’s game. He had a few good shots, the primary assist on Tom Gilbert’s goal and skated in 24:00 of ice time last night while posting an even plus-minus rating. Brodin skates effortlessly, is a very smart blue-liner, has a great first pass and is very effective with or without the puck—this kid is the real deal. If he can dial in his slap shot, he’ll have it all.
Another positive is Zenon Konopka—I mean, who doesn’t love this guy? He may not be a scorer, but he can win face-offs, grind like no other and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves to get the team going. Probably the best thing about him—you know, aside from his pet rabbit named “Hoppy”—is the fact that he’s never a defensive liability. In fact, he always seems to be in the other team’s zone. Maybe, just maybe, other Wild players can learn from that.
Oh boy, where do I begin? Minnesota needs to play the full 60 minutes. Playing a dominant 16 minutes in the second period isn’t going to get you very far, and it definitely won’t get you the Stanley Cup. Minnesota needs to come out flying each period, chipping the puck past the opposing defense and KEEPING THE PUCK IN THE OFFENSIVE ZONE. Make them ice the puck! Win face-offs, make accurate passes and simple plays, and don’t get cute in your game. You play smart, stay sharp, always be aware of your surroundings. But, most importantly, Minnesota needs to play a physical game.
I think, at this point, the only thing that can be said is to play an aggressively physical style of game. When Minnesota plays like that, they control how the game goes—they control the play—and that’s the simplest and easiest way to win the game. Take a look at the Detroit Red Wings; do you know why they’ve been so good for so many years? They play a smart, maintain-control-of-the-puck style of game. The more time you have with the puck, the more you can control the play and dictate what the other team will do in return.
So, to summarize, Minnesota needs to play a full 60, while maintaining control of the puck, while also playing an aggressively physical style of game. Oh, and not fire the coach, because that will just bring this struggling team back to square one. I can’t stress enough that this isn’t Mike Yeo’s fault. The Wild are going through growing pains at the moment and, unfortunately, a lockout-shortened season only magnifies that. No Minnesota Wild fan in their right mind was expecting the team to immediately win the Stanley Cup. This year is going to be a learning experience for everyone on the team, and they’ll be much more prepared for next season as a result. The Wild will be just fine…next year.
Until the next shift,
Dakota W. Case
Editor, Gone Puck Wild