Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Power Play Powers Wild Victory

As I stated in a previous blog, if the Minnesota Wild's power play got going, they'd be fine. Well with two of their top offensive weapons out with injuries (Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik), others needed to step up. In comes Petteri Nummelin. Nummelin, after spending all of last season and the beginning of this year as a defensemen, was asked to play wing. Nummelin's speed and hands allow him to be a successful forward. His presence was felt early, when he fired a pass from the sideboard to the other side of the net to a cutting Mark Parrish to give the Wild a 1-0 lead. It's good to see Nummelin getting into the lineup. With Sean Hill eventually making his return after suspension, that'll make eight defensemen to fill six spots. Anyway Nummelin can get into a lineup is fine with me, because he can play anywhere. Nummelin had 2 assists on the night, his other coming on another Mark Parrish power play goal. The Wild ended up with 4 total power play goals in the game and added another even strength. Niklas Backstrom was, believe it or not, solid yet again. Backstrom has yet to lose to Edmonton in his career, improving his record to 6-0 and had a streak of 209:15 shutout minutes end with Dustin Penner's power play goal in the 2nd.
The Wild continue to impress. While playing solid defense, they have proved that they can win in a variety of different ways. Want to play a special teams game? The Wild will beat you. Want to play an even strength game? The Wild will beat you. Want to TRY and play an end to end game filled with lots of offense? The Wild posess the talent to BEAT YOU. I continue to say the Wild are the best team in the NHL and will stand by that claim. Call me a optimist but every team has to be scared of what the Wild are doing. They already have 20 points on the season and look to be right there at the end of the season.
The Wild have five days off before playing in Colorado on Saturday.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Wild are Victorious.... FINALLY!

For the first time in a week and a half (five games), the Wild ended a game with a victory. It all started October 24 when Minnesota rolled into Calgary, being the only team left in the NHL without a regulation loss. After dominating play in the 1st, the Wild held a 3-0 lead. The Flames proceeded to score 5 unanswered goals. This game began a streak of 5 consecutive losses for the Wild. Although they did pick up a point in the shootout loss to Edmonton, it was an incredibly difficult week to be a Wild fan. Nicklas Backstrom, Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra and Wes Walz were all injured and made things tough for the Wild to play a complete game.
Backstrom returned to the lineup Saturday night and returned to old form, giving up 1 goal on 23 shots. Gaborik and Demitra both returned to the lineup two games ago against the Blues, each recording a goal and an assist in the loss. Gaborik had a phenomenal game Saturday, recording two goals and adding an assist.
The scary thing is that the Wild were outshot 24-16 in the game, yet still managed to win by three goals. Their defensive style of play allows for limited scoring chances. Tonight, the Wild made the best of their chances, adding a powerplay goal, another goal just as a penalty expired, and a breakaway goal. If the Wild continue to play well on the powerplay, they should fine.
Brian Rolston recorded his team leading 7th goal Saturday. Rolston scored via his patented rocket slap shot.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wild Begin Sharp, End Dull

Give the Minnesota Wild a three goal lead and history shows they will not lose. That was before Wednesday night when the Calgary Flames became the first team to beat the Wild in franchise history when trailing by three goals or more. The Wild jumped out to a wicked fast start, scoring three goals (two power play) in the first ten minutes and took that lead into the intermission. Brian Rolston and Mark Parrish both added a power play goal and Wes Walz shipped a goal in as well. This was the best period I think I've ever seen the Wild play. The play was completely dictated by Minnesota and they really had their way. Anything they wanted they got. Oh how quickly a game can change. The Flames exploded for three goals in less than five minutes near the mid point of the second period and you could feel the momentum swing. The Flames came out in the 3rd period and really dominated, and added two goals in the final frame to take a 5-3 victory from the Wild.
It had to happen sometime. The Wild were bound to lose eventually, but you wouldn't think this would be how. The Wild have been one of the leagues best defensive clubs in recent years and to give up five unanswered goals in only two periods is ridiculous. Hopefully this is a wake up call to the Wild and anyone who thinks any kind of lead in any sport is safe. I would never recommend sitting on a lead, and I think the Wild did this a bit as they backed down on their attack. I hope the Wild realize now they're not invincible and that a hockey game is 60 minutes long, not just 20. Minor bump in the road we'll have to see how the squad responds tonight in Edmonton.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Wild Continue to Roll

The Minnesota Wild continue to be the NHL's hottest team defeating the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 sunday night in St. Paul. Dispite giving away a two goal lead late in the 2nd period, the Wild managed to score with three minutes left in the 3rd to get the victory. The final goal was really a fantastic individual effort by Mikko Koivu, who intercepted a clearing attempt along the boards, looked as though he was going to take the puck behind the net and drove hard to the front and jammed the puck past the Avs goaltender. Head coach Jacque Lemaire has really praised Koivu's play this season. I definately agree, Koivu has been one of the Wild's best players. One minor note, Pavol Demitra left in he 3rd period with an undisclosed injury. Lets pray it's nothing serious.

As the Wild continue to play they only look to be getting stronger. Behind the solid play of Backstrom and Harding, the powerplay which was in a 1-22 slump has caught fire, adding two goals in five chances last night and really moved the puck well. The penalty kill, which has been near the top of the league year in and year out, continues to look good. However having said that the Wild have been taking too many penalties for my liking. Brent Burns needs to clean his game up. Too much stick work and lazy play has left him in the penalty box more than actually on the ice. Last week against the Kings, Burns received five minor penalties and added two more last night against Colorado. That is the only knock I have on the Wild at this point; too many undisciplined penalties, extremely odd for a Lemaire coached team. Lets hope we can get it fixed before it comes back to really hurt us.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Watch Out; The Wild Are For Real

Through the first seven games (6-0-1) the Minnesota Wild have failed to score more than three goals in a game. However with the one-two punch of Nicklas Backstrom and Josh Harding (who?) carrying the team that's not a problem. When a team like the Minnesota Wild only have to score only two or three goals per game to get the W it's really scary. With offensive weapons like the Slovakian duo of Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra, goals shoudn't be a problem for these two. Then you have Brian Rolston. So far only two goals on the year, but he's added five assists for 2nd on the team in points behind free agent Eric Belanger who continues to impress. Belanger's three goals is tied for the team lead. The line trio of Rolston, Belanger and Pierre-Marc Bouchard have been pheominal. The three have accounted for almost half of the Wild's offensive production (nine of the 19 team goals). Another offensive bright spot has been the play of defenseman Brent Burns. Burns has played solid defensively but has also shined in the offensive zone, adding three goals.

The story so far this season has definately been the play of the goaltenders Harding and Backstrom. Together they own a save percentage near .960 and have given up a toal of eight goals in seven games including three shutouts (two for Backs and one for Harding). Lets give a little credit to the defensemen as well. The play of the defense has allowed Backs and Harding to make that initial save and clear the puck from the front of the net. Nick Schultz continues to impress me. I always thought of him as an OK player, but in the playoffs last year and from the beginning of the season this year he has shown me that he has a rock solid defenseman. Together Schultz and Kim Johnsson draw the task of shutting down the opponents top line. Judging by the scores, I'd say "Mission Accomplished"

The Wild are at home today (Sunday) against Colorado before traveling to Canada to face Calgary and Edmonton.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Wild Roster: Arbitration Cases

We have already discussed the additions to the Wild from the free agent market, so now it's time to look at who the Wild are bringing back. With arbitration hearings coming this week, the focus shifts to Wild players who were eligible for arbitration this off-season, and how the Wild dealt with each of them.

Derek Boogard - $2.63 million, three year contract after Wild opted for arbitration

The Wild adopted an interesting strategy with Boogard when the organization opted for arbitration. Only four players have been taken down this path, the reason being that it can generate some bad feelings betwixt the player and the organization (see Luongo, Roberto and the Florida Panthers). In Boogard's case though, it seems as though this was merely a move to make sure no other teams signed him away from the Wild. He had the option of choosing a one or two year contract at the hearing, my feeling was that he would go with two years. His value isn't going to change much, and he seems pretty happy with the organization, so stability is one reason a three year deal was so appealing to him.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard - $2.6 million, one year contract

This happened quite a while ago, almost at the same time that players were filing for arbitration. Mostly this contract shows how the Wild perceive Bouchard in relation to their other young forwards (Koivu got a four-year deal). Perhaps the front office is unconvinced that Bouchard is capable of consistently putting up 20 goal seasons like '06-'07. If Bouchard puts up the same or better numbers in the upcoming season, I think the Wild will be much more amenable to a multi-year deal.

Kurtis Foster - $1.025 million, one year contract

It was a little surprising that Foster opted for arbitration this year. He didn't have a breakout season in '06-'07 and it didn't seem that he would be looking at too much of a reward after going through the process. Thus, I wasn't terribly surprised that he was signed before his arbitration hearing, nor was I surprised at the length or value of the contract. This season will be an important one for Foster to determine his future with the Wild franchise. After scoring only 3 goals in 57 games last season, Foster should be a larger part of the offense this year with his big shot.

Josh Harding - $1.45 million, two year contract

The notable thing about this contract is that it is a one-way contract, so Harding will be with the Wild all season. He'll back up Backstrom, although given Lemaire's penchant for playing the hot goaltender, he may see more action than a traditional backup.

Nick Schultz - arbitration (hearing Thurs. 7/26)

This is the only unresolved arbitration case remaining for this offseason. Schultz had a very strong season, playing in all 82 games and playing the most minutes on the penalty kill of any Wild skater. Schultz can only sign a one-year deal if his case goes to an arbitration hearing, due to his previous service time. Obviously, the Wild would prefer to avoid arbitration, but I would be surprised if this one didn't go all the way until Thursday before a deal is agreed upon, either before the hearing, or as a result of it.

[UPDATE - 7/24]: Well, I was wrong about the day, but the Wild avoided arbitration by signing Schultz to a one-year deal for $1.85 million. A raise from last year, but not a long term deal that Schultz probably wanted. He can become an unrestricted free agent after this upcoming season.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Wild Roster: Free Agents

Eric Belanger - 3 years, $5.25 million

Belanger started his career with the Los Angeles Kings in 2000-2001. Over the next five seasons, he scored 63 goals and 87 assists in 323 games (0.46 Pts/Gm). Last season he started with the Carolina Hurricanes but was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers, which was a positive for him. In Carolina, his playing time was decreased and he scored at a bit of a lower rate, 8 goals and 12 assists in 56 games (0.36 Pts/Gm). The Thrashers put him on a line with Marian Hossa and Slava Kozlov and gave him 19:29 average ice time which turned into 9 goals, 6 assists in 24 games (0.63 Pts/Gm). Thus when the Wild called and promised him the chance to play with Demitra and Gaborik, he jumped at the chance.

In addition to being a center who has shown some scoring ability, Belanger has also been a pretty good faceoff man over his career. Faceoffs are something that the Wild have struggled with in the last few years. Lemaire, in a February Star Tribune
article, said, "We're not good enough on faceoffs. [It's] that simple." This was one of the positives of the trade for Dominic Moore last season, and the Wild continue to address this issue this offseason.

Centers (500 F/O min.)
'06-'07 F/O Pct.
Career F/O Pct.
Eric Belanger
Dominic Moore
Mikko Koivu
Todd White
Pavol Demitra
Wes Walz
Wyatt Smith

Sean Hill - one year, $475,000

In the Wild's playoff series against Anaheim, the Ducks overran the Wild with physical defensemen and forwards. This had an apparent effect on the Wild front office, as they only took physical players
in the draft, then they signed Sean Hill, a big, physical defenseman. The most quoted stat is that he was third in the league in hits last season and among the leaders in blocked shots. The physicality has the Wild probably slotting him in a third or fourth defensive pairing once he joins the team.

Ah yes, the steroid suspension. In the playoffs last year, Hill tested positive for a banned substance and incurred the accompanying 20-game suspension. He served one game of the suspension in the playoffs last year, so he will be unavailable through the first 19 games of the 2007-2008 regular season. Hill has
denied that he used PEDs but he will be allowed to practice with the team during the suspension, but not allowed to play in preseason games either.

Steve Kelly - one year, undisclosed amount

Kelly hasn't played in the NHL for quite a while, four seasons to be exact, and he won't spend much time with the Wild this year, barring some kind of miracle turnaround. This signing is probably not even worth the time I spent writing all this. If the season goes according to plan, Kelly will provide depth at the AHL level.

Nolan Schaefer - two years, $1.15 million

The 1 million plus price tag is misleading, it only applies if he makes the NHL squad, which at this point seems unlikely. Schaefer was signed as a third goaltender to replace Josh Harding at Houston, and possibly compete with Harding for a spot on the roster. His only NHL experience came with the San Jose Sharks two years ago, posting a 1.88 GAA and a 5-1 record in seven games.