A popular song from the late 1960's once said, "A time to build up,a time to break down, A time to dance, a time to mourn, A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together" these were lyrics from Turn, Turn Turn by the Byrds. This would be an accurate description of the Minnesota Wild as of late as they attempt to adapt and shuffle its lines try to find its offense that has more or less gone completely dormant. The Wild have just 21 goals in 9 games this season. 57% of those goals have come from its top line of Mikko Koivu (2), Dany Heatley (4) and Zach Parise (6) and while having your top line lead the way is something to be expected you still want goals from your bottom 3 lines to supplement what your top line is doing but that isn't really happening. Minnesota's other 9 forwards have scored just 5 goals this season making up 41.7% of the offense while the blueline has chipped in another 3 goals (14.2%). Toss in a losing record and you have all the motive you need for changes to be made. The first one came in the form of a trade when the team dispatched Darroll Powe and Houston Aeros' forward Nick Palmieri to the New York Rangers for Mike Rupp who should make his Wild debut tonight. More changes occurred as the team reorganized its lines and called up Charlie Coyle from the minors. After a 2-1 loss to Phoenix; despite a better effort the Wild felt more change was needed and now Coyle will be on the top line with Koivu and Parise while Heatley gets pushed back to the 2nd line.
Tonights' opponent is no stranger to the Wild; the reviled Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks got off to a slow start but have rebounded nicely on the goaltending of Roberto Luongo who was once thought to be on his way out of Vancouver, replaced by Cory Schneider who coincidentally is set to start in tonight's game. So will the changes the Wild made finally yield a victory or will it be back to the drawing board for more changes yet to come?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Wild had good jump to start the game; working well along the boards, moving their feet and winning races to the loose pucks. I thought Minnesota looked determined and their hustle was preventing the Canucks from getting their forecheck going. Offensively the Wild were not getting a lot accomplished. While the top line had a bit more speed with Charlie Coyle playing the line with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise they seemed to be neutralized rather easily by the Canucks' defense. Minnesota was making good little passes off the wall to alleviate pressure and it finally created a scoring chance as Pierre-Marc Bouchard moved in late but his play would come with a consequence as the Wild muted their momentum with a 'too many men' penalty. The Wild were terrific on the penalty kill; challenging Vancouver's point men well and not allowing the Canucks to get much of anything going on the man advantage. Yet after the kill the Canucks simplified their attack and Minnesota started to struggle. It all started with a nice individual effort by Dale Weise to charge the Wild net where he just kept hacking at the puck until finally Niklas Backstrom was able to draw a whistle. I think this sort of gave Vancouver an idea and they would work the puck near the Wild crease and Alexandre Burrows set up by taking his chance to put a wrist shot on goal that Backstrom stopped but his rebound was pounced upon by Daniel Sedin for a quick shot from in close that beat Backstrom to make it 1-0 Canucks. Zenon Konopka would try to spark his team by dropping the gloves with Weise. In a pretty long back and forth fight, Konopka and Weise traded jabs but it was more wrestling than anything devastating shots were actualyl thrown. Mike Rupp looked good on his first initial shifts; marauding on the forecheck and taking every opportunity to deliver a hit and this aggressiveness yielded a few Canucks' turnovers. The top line would finally get clicking as Coyle forced a turnover as he put a good check into Alexander Edler and then making a sharp little pass to Parise who tried to be patient against Schneider but he didn't drop and Parise settled for two sharp angle shots. The Canucks would kind of carry the play towards the 2nd half of the period as they'd find the back of the net again as a wrist shot by Maxim Lapierre would be redirected deftly by Chris Higgins who beat Backstrom 5-hole just as a roughing penalty to Parise expired. Minnesota needs to find a way to get more pucks on goal, 3 shots in a period won't beat anyone let alone the Canucks. Vancouver put 9 shots on goal and while I thought for the most part Minnesota denied the Canucks from having too many prime scoring chances the Wild still found themselves in a 2-0 hole. The Wild should've had another great chance as Bouchard dished a pass over to Dany Heatley who looked as though he had an open shot but before he could pull the trigger Baudette-native Keith Ballard dropped to the ice causing Heatley to try to toe drag around him but Ballard would reach out and knock the puck away from the Wild winger. This team needs to just worry about quantity not quality. It was a formula that was working for the Canucks and the Wild would be wise to emulate that.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild's 'big' response after a bad 1st period was about a minute of hard work and then reverting to the same emotionless play that plagued them in the last stanza. Mike Rupp was throwing his weight around, but no one else seemed to be. The Wild were watching and chasing the Canucks and the play would tilt back in the Minnesota zone. Vancouver would swarm near the Wild crease and Backstrom found himself under siege; as Zack Kassian was creating chances at will. On one key sequence, Kassian, the young Canucks forward leveled Heatley and then later in the same shift out mustled the bigger Wild winger for a puck as he carried it to the blue paint. After a few more minutes of ugly play the 4th line finally ignited a little fight back as they stormed the Canucks' crease as Konopka, Rupp and Devin Setoguchi just couldn't get an open look as bodies tumbled to the ice. With the fans still fuming a bit over the missed opportunity the 1st line of Coyle, Parise and Koivu tried to also crash the crease and Coyle shoveled a shot wide of the mark. A few minutes later the Wild would earn their first power play of the game as Marco Scandellal was tripped up by Weise. Minnesota's power play showed a little desperation as Pierre-Marc Bouchard threaded a shot from the point that was reidrected by Parise that was blocked aside by Schneider. The power play would set up a few more ideal chances as Setoguchi one-timed two nice little feeds by Matt Cullen but still the Wild had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. Minnesota would draw another penalty as Henrik Sedin tripped up Coyle. The Wild's power play again was showing a sense of urgency as Minnesota was setting up some great chances; Setoguchi hammering another one-timer wide of the mark. The best chance came off the stick of Coyle who took a nice little pass by Koivu and he patiently worked the puck from his forehand to his backhand but his bid would hit the left post iinstead of sneaking around Schneider's leg pad and in. Minnesota continued to hustle but they'd take a late interference penalty by Torrey Mitchell. The Canucks' power play was fairly cautious, but the simple approach and failed clearing attempts came back to haunt the Wild. A long range point shot by Jason Garrison was stopped by Backstrom who sprawled to make a stop as Clayton Stoner dove trying to sweep the puck out of danger but instead put it right on the stick of Mason Raymond for an easy goal on a gaping Minnesota net, 3-0 Canucks. It would go from bad to worse as Marco Scandella allowed Jannik Hansen to get behind him and a chip out of the zone by Raymond caught the Danish-born forward in stride and he fired a shot by Backstrom with ease to make it 4-0 to a small chorus of boo's from the home crowd. It was a devastating period for Minnesota who again had its chances but couldn't bury the biscuit and the Canucks who were outshot 7-12 added two more goals to really put the game out of reach for the offensively inept Wild squad. The Wild looked demoralized as they headed back to their locker room meanwhile Minnesota were burning up Twitter with cutting sarcasm about their team. Ugly.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota decided to swap goalies; by sitting Backstrom in favor of Josh Harding. The Wild were their own worst enemy to start the early part of the 3rd period as they tried to claw their way back into the game, but they were not taking enough chances to shoot the puck and were attempting too many high risk passes. This not only did not result in a lot of shots being put on Cory Schneider but it also created some dangerous turnovers. Sensing his team needed another spark as well as wanting to earn a decisive victory with the gloves dropped; Konopka went after Dale Weise. Konopka certainly got off to a quick advantage in the fight firing heavy right handed punches that had Weise holding on trying to recover. Weise would try to work a few blind uppercuts but Konopka kept throwing them until both fighters fell to the ice. Konopka was still pretty upset, chirping at various Canucks' players as he made his way to the penalty box. Once in the box he'd find out he was going to be given the boot as he was tagged with an instigator along with a 10-minute game misconduct. The Wild tough guy wasn't about to be quiet as he headed to the locker room continuing to make some promises for next week's tilt between the two clubs. The fight seemed to finally awaken the Wild and they'd start to create some offensive pressure and a key catalyst was Charlie Coyle who continued to use the body effectively and work the puck to Parise who peppered the goaltender. Kevin Bieksa would hold up Pierre-Marc Bouchard giving the Wild a power play. The Wild continued to get good play out of Coyle who was making the small plays behind the net to allow Minnesota to maintain the cycle as well as getting good chances from in close that were stonewalled by Schneider. Minnesota finally would light the lamp with its 2nd unit as a battle won down low by Cullen would be passed out to Jonas Brodin who slid it across to Tom Gilbert for a one-timer that he blistered by the Canucks goalie to make it 4-1. The goal got Minnesota moving a little again, but their own lack of concentration would foil any comeback bid as penalties by Setoguchi and Heatley effectively kileld any chance the Wild had rallying back. The team would hear some discontent and apathy as they headed to the locker room after its 3rd straight loss.
Niklas Backstrom didn't have his best night but it was tough to put the blame entirely on him. He did seem to be guessing more than he has in the last few games; twisting and turning in his crease and getting caught off his pads and lying on the ice unable to recover. Its his slow recovery time that had some fans (myself included) wondering if was showing his age a bit. Some of the Wild's defense certainly did not help matters, especially Marco Scandella who really has struggled in the Wild's end. It is unforgiveable he was caught so flat footed on Hansen's goal late in the 2nd period. Even when Backstrom made the stops the Wild's defense seemed to only make it worse by not fighting hard enough in the scoring areas on the ice. Harding was ok in relief but he only had to make 6 saves.
Up front the Wild had some good chances; headlined by decent play by Devin Setoguchi who had another solid game taking his chances to shoot and being involved physically. I thought Charlie Coyle was great on the top line; creating space on the ice for Koivu and Parise by being physical and creating havoc near the crease. The 2nd power play unit of Cullen, Heatley and Setoguchi was surprisingly effective. But as a whole it was another failure because the team isn't finishing the quality chances its creating. The analogy of close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades comes to mind. Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak were missing in action throughout most of the game and have more or less been total non-factors offensively.
What more can be done. The team has made a trade, its players have held a 'players only meeting' the coaching staff has shaken up its lines multiple times and yet the result is painfully similar. Little offense, lethargic early effort and defensive breakdowns combine for another loss. I am not sure what to do; other than to go back to this organization's roots and bring back Jacques Lemaire and the neutral zone trap. On message boards; Fire Mike Yeo threads build in intensity. I have to say, Twitter was absolutely scathing tonight. Even in the post-game show on Fox Sports Net North, former Wild workhorse Wes Walz seemed angry and at a loss as what to do suggesting the team needs to start calling out players for a lack of effort. However that wasn't going to happen from Yeo who seemed ok with the effort in the 2nd and 3rd but said the team needed to get in the right 'mindset' to play tonight. What more can be done? Yeo didn't think facing adversity is a bad thing, but this team for the most part is healthy (knock on wood) but they are spiraling out of contention. He said the players have a 'clean slate' but that doesn't really help promote accountability after losing your 3rd straight game. The Wild will face a hard-working Nashville team on Saturday night and I don't see this team doing well against a team that is going to be ready to work hard right from the start because that mentality seems as elusive as goals are now.
~ The Wild's roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Dany Heatley, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Mike Rupp, Devin Setoguchi, Zenon Konopka, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella, Justin Falk, Tom Gilbert, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. Josh Harding shared duties between the pipes with Niklas Backstrom. Mikael Granlund, Matt Kassian and Nate Prosser were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Mason Raymond, 2nd Star Alexander Edler, 3rd Star Jonas Brodin (what no Corey Schneider? Lame Wild fans, lame!)
~ Attendance was 18,352 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Mike Rupp wore #27 for the Wild joining Nathan Smith, Sean O'Donnell, Kyle Wanvig, and Cody Almond having worn the number before.