Minnesota Wild (2-2-0) 4pts (4th in the Northwest)
2.25 Goals For per Game (24th in the NHL)
2.50 Goals Against per Game (12th in the NHL)
23rd ranked Power Play (14.3%)
15th ranked Penalty Kill (80%)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #11 Zach Parise ~ 3G 3A = 6pts
2. #15 Dany Heatley ~ 3G 1A = 4pts
3. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 0G 4A = 4pts
4. #77 Tom Gilbert ~ 1G 1A = 2pts
5. #64 Mikael Granlund ~ 1G 1A = 2pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #28 Zenon Konopka ~ 12 PIM's
2. #44 Justin Falk ~ 7 PIM's
3. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 6 PIM's
1. #32 Niklas Backstrom (1-1-0) 2.52GAA .906%SP
2. #37 Josh Harding (1-1-0) 2.56GAA .902%SP 1SO
St. Louis Blues (4-1-0) 8pts (2nd in the Central)
3.60 Goals For per Game (5th in the NHL)
1.80 Goals Against per Game (4th in the NHL)
1st ranked Power Play (43.8%)
12th ranked Penalty Kill (81%)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #91 Vladimir Tarasenko ~ 4G 3A = 7pts
2. #22 Kevin Shattenkirk ~ 0G 5A = 5pts
3. #74 T.J. Oshie ~ 3G 2A = 5pts
4. #27 Alex Pietrangelo ~ 1G 4A = 5pts
5. #10 Andy McDonald ~ 2G 2A = 4pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #75 Ryan Reaves ~ 17 PIM's
2. #42 David Perron ~ 10 PIM's
3. #25 Chris Stewart ~ 7 PIM's
1. #41 Jaroslav Halak (3-0-0) 1.69GAA .902%SP 2SO
2. #1 Brian Elliott (1-1-0) 1.98GAA .925%SP
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The excitement has died down a little. The fans that were overjoyed at the team's 2-0 start now are a little on edge after their team has dropped the last two games and settled into the more familiar and frustrating .500 record. I wrote in my post game article after the Wild's 5-3 loss at the hands of Detroit, that there would be 3 questions that we'd likely have an answer for at the conclusion of this two-game road trip. Those questions were:
1. Are the 2nd and 3rd lines going to be able to produce offensively? Or are they going to continue to be bystanders?
2. Can this newly formulated Wild team be just as successful on the road?
3. Will the Wild's defense show improvement, both in their own zone but also in starting the break out?
Let's look at each question on its own.
Are the 2nd and 3rd linesgoign to be able to produce offensively? Or are they going to continue to be bystanders? So far the answer to this question has been no. This line has not produced much of anything offensively and perhaps more disturbingly they seem to be aware of it yet we saw the same maddeningly obnoxiously unselfish play that had the line thwarting its own scoring chances by choosing to pass the puck. After the Wild's 3-1 loss to Nashvile on Tuesday, current 2nd line winger Matt Cullen told Fox Sports Net's Kevin Gorg that the team needed some offensive contributions from its 2nd and 3rd line. I think the implication was clear that Cullen realized the team needed those lines to be shooting the puck more. However when Friday rolled around the 2nd and 3rd lines were very much bystanders against a banged up Detroit defense and if it wasn't for a nice set up by Mikael Granlund the line would've finished the game with no points yet again. Granlund dished the puck to defenseman Tom Gilbert who registered his first goal of the season and had more shots by himself than did the entire 2nd line. For the most part, Granlund's talents have been minimized by linemates Cullen and Devin Setoguchi who seem to lack the initiative to shoot the puck and when they do they don't put it on net. Meanwhile the 3rd line has been equally ineffective and the only player that seems a little interested in shooting the puck the last two games is Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Cal Clutterbuck took a lot shots through the first two games, but has been much quieter in that regard since and coincidentally the team's shot totals have decreased in each game. After the Detroit game, a reporter asked Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo about the issues with the lack of offensive punch from those lines and you could see he had to hold himself back a bit from calling them both out other than to say he's certainly going to be looking at shifting some personnel. I for one and applauding some changes be made. However, if I was Coach Yeo I'd remind the guys involved on these two lines that Jason Zucker is averaging about 4 shots per game with Houston and has been a force just about each every night. This team has young talent in the minors, some of it getting closer to being ready for prime time. A situation it hasn't had in the past so a veteran player knew that unless the team was going to trade him they likely were going to try to move around personnel on the big club rather than look for a player to come in via the farm. Those days are gone. This team now has options, especially at forward. Zucker, Charlie Coyle (who had a great game last night in Grand Rapids by the way, 2 goals and 6 shots on goal) and Johan Larsson are all very hungry and they respresent this team's future. So if you're on the 2nd and 3rd lines I wouldn't be too comfortable.
Can this newly formulated Wild team be successful on the road? This question still remains to be answered but tonight's game against St. Louis will give Minnesota its best test yet. The Blues are an outstanding team with lots of depth, and combine speed and skill with a large does of big-bodied grit. David Backes, Andy McDonald, David Perron, T.J. Oshie, Patrick Berglund, Chris Stewart are now joined by one of the most dangerous rookies in the league in Vladimir Tarasenko who currently leads St. Louis in scoring. This team also boasts a strong, and still pretty young defensive corps that can score and shut you down led by Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. Toss in probably the best goalie tandem in the league in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott and Ken Hitchcock's commitment to defense you'll see why so many hockey experts believe this is the team to beat in the Western Conference. The Blues are loaded. The Wild have struggled against the grit that St. Louis brings and now with the plethora of skill and scoring the challenge is that much tougher. If Minnesota can pull off a victory tonight then you have to say this team can beat anyone on the road. If they get slaughtered we will have to wait a little longer to really be able to answer this question.
Will the Wild's defense show continued improvement, both in their own zone and starting the break out? I think the answer to this is a yes. With the addition of rookie Jonas Brodin the Wild were better in their breakouts against Detroit than I thought they were against Nashville. Tonight will provide another very good test to see if this team is getting better play defensively and with the strong forecheck the Blues employ the breakout will also be that much more crucial to taking away a major part of the opponent's game plan. From certain circles amongst Wild fans, there is a lot of criticism for Ryan Suter as they've picked apart his -4 rating. Some of these fans lament the fact they feel he's underperforming offensively. To those fans i ask what did you think Ryan Suter was? He's more of a defensive-minded defenseman in the ilk of a Brent Seabrook or Kevin Bieksa rather than a Shea Weber or Alex Pieterangelo. Suter can help contribute some assists but his game is not wreaking havoc with some mega slap shot. Also, if you haven't noticed our power play has been greatly helped by Suter's ability to hold the zone which is something that had plagued the team for years but that doesn't end up on his own stat line most of the time. If Suter can help shut down Tarasenko and the other offensive aces the Blues have then I'm willing to see him not be a huge offensive contributor. We're far better with Suter than without him.
The Wild are going find out a lot about itself tonight. Its going to find out if it can compete against a team that seems to be deeper, bigger and stronger than they are. Barring some unforseen circumstances I fully expect St. Louis to be in thick of it for a spot in the Stanley Cup finals this season, so if the Wild want to show they deserve some serious consideration we'll see that tonight; or we'll see that we're just kidding ourselves.