It took less than a minute into last night’s game for the Minnesota Wild’s casual fans to make sense of the Brad Winchester trade.
Blaine, Minnesota native Matt Hendricks found Wild defenseman Nate Prosser in the corner attempting to play the puck and creamed him with a scary check in the numbers into the boards that left Prosser struggling on the ice. That was enough for Wild center Kyle Brodziak, who instantly dropped the gloves to tango with Prosser’s offender. Both players received two minutes for roughing–not necessarily the call Minnesota was looking for. It would be all Mikael Granlund would need.
Entering the offensive zone on a two-on-two with defenseman Keith Ballard, Granlund dropped back on the right wing just inside the blue line, sliding the puck back to Zach Parise and then making his way to the high slot. Parise dished the puck back to Granlund, who then scored one of the easiest goals of his NHL career on a scrambling Ben Scrivens for his sixth of the season. Fourth line winger Stephane Veilleux and former two-time 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley would also score to give Minnesota a 3-0 win. There were a lot of positives to the game–Granlund only looks better after the Olympics and Darcy Kuemper continued his dominance in net. However, Minnesota showed just how vulnerable they can be.
With no Mike Rupp or Brad Winchester in the lineup, Edmonton’s big hitters went to work, wreaking havoc everywhere they went. It certainly didn’t help them offensively, but the Wild can’t be a team that can be pushed around easily, and it’s very fortunate that the injuries to Prosser and Clayton Stoner (dislocated finger) weren’t serious. But what happens when Granlund goes down? Or Parise? Or Jonas Brodin? There’s a reason why teams like a Cal Clutterbuck, a Rupp, a Winchester or a Matt Cooke–they help keep the game clean. If you’re going to target our star players, we’re going after yours, and we’re going to go hard. All they need to do is take to the ice once and the matter is settled.
Minnesota did a commendable job shaking themselves off and taking the high road last night, but they’re going to have to be ready when it comes to playing physical teams. The physical intensity only increases during the playoffs–will the Wild be able to stand their ground against a team like the St. Louis Blues?
Minnesota needs another goaltender, probably another defenseman and wants a scorer. If Granlund can expand upon his impressive Olympic performance, perhaps the team’s biggest need after acquiring a goaltender is to go after another rugged third-fourth line forward. There’s no question a guy like Steve Ott would be less expensive than a Ryan Kesler or a Matt Moulson, and he would definitely be useful against a team like the Blues.
The Wild are most certainly headed in the right direction with potentially very bright outlooks in both the immediate and distant future, but only if they can stay healthy enough to get the job done. A Rupp and/or Winchester in the lineup might make a guy like Dustin Brown think twice before elbowing Jason Pominville in the face again.