Minnesota Wild (15-8-4) 34pts 4th in the Central
2.33 Goals For (23rd)
2.26 Goals Against (7th)
20.6% Power Play (9th)
78.5% Penalty Kil (24th)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #11 Zach Parise ~ 11G 11A = 22pts
2. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 5G 16A = 21pts
3. #29 Jason Pominville ~ 13G 4A = 17pts
4. #22 Nino Niederreiter ~ 5G 10A = 15pts
5. #20 Ryan Suter ~ 0G 15A = 15pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #28 Zenon Konopka ~ 37 PIM's
2. #4 Clayton Stoner ~ 29 PIM's
3. #39 Nate Prosser ~ 19 PIM's
1. #37 Josh Harding (13-4-2) 1.51GAA .937%SP 2SO
2. #32 Niklas Backstrom (2-3-2) 2.77GAA .896%SP
Colorado Avalanche (18-6-0) 36pts 3rd in the Central
3.04 Goals For (6th)
2.08 Goals Against (4th)
18.1% Power Play (16th)
83.6% Penalty Kill (13th)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #9 Matt Duchene ~ 12G 8A = 20pts
2. #92 Gabriel Landeskog ~ 8G 11A = 19pts
3. #26 Paul Stastny ~ 8G 9A = 17pts
4. #90 Ryan O'Reilly ~ 9G 7A = 16pts
5. #15 P.A. Parenteau ~ 7G 9A = 16pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #55 Cody McLeod ~ 62 PIM's
2. #58 Patrick Bordeleau ~ 39 PIM's
3. #16 Cory Sarich ~ 24 PIM's
1. #1 Semyon Varlamov (12-6-0) 2.14GAA .932%SP 1SO
2. #35 Jean-Sebastien Giguere (6-0-0) 1.62GAA .949%SP 2SO
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"We played a soft hockey game, we cheat, we turn the puck over, we turn away from everybody, we make it pretty easy for them and that slows us down, we can't get any speed generated because we keep backchecking" were the words from the guy who should be wearing the captain's "C" for the Wild, Zach Parise. Harsh words, but its true. The team consistently slows itself down as it fears the contact from opposing skaters. It stops, turns and tries to find open space in order to evade the contact and that makes the Wild far easier to defend. On Friday night, the Wild arguably had one of its fastest teams from top to bottom on the ice as it dressed speedy youngsters Jason Zucker and Erik Haula in their 3-1 loss to Colorado in front of mega-sellout crowd. Despite the apparent speed through the neutral zone, Wild forwards have a penchant for stopping just inside the blueline allowing opposing defenses to catch up and get set up to hold off the Wild's anemic offense. Slow starts have also been an alarming trend that has resulted the team digging tiself a hole early to crawl out of, and with goals so hard to come by its often too much to overcome.
So will we see more of the same tonight aganist Colorado? Perhaps, but the harsh words by Parise should resonate in the locker room and if they don't you really have to wonder if the club understands the true gravity of it all. As Wild beat writer Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune so succinctly points out is this team is in a major free fall and in a super tough Western Conference it doesn't take much a slide to find yourself on on the outside looking in. You can read Mr. Russo's article here. The Wild may not have slid too much in the Central Division, but it has slid significantly in the Western Conference where it once was 4th now it finds itself in 8th.
The Wild must refocus itself and be willing to pay the physical toll to win games. Especially against the better teams in the division and Western Conference. I think the other basic truth of last night's game with Colorado proved was that the Avalanche are a solid team. They have speed, grit and skill all throughout their lineup. They are creative with the puck in the offensive zone and play with dogged determination in their own end giving up very few uncontested shooting opportunities. I thought former 1st overall draft pick and former Golden Gopher defenseman Erik Johnson was pretty decent defensively for the Avalanche and the rest of their blueline while not a star studded group by any means their defense was consistent as they helped sweep away the rebounds Jean-Sebastien Giguere gave up to deprive the Wild of those 2nd chance opportunities. Even though Giguere was solid against the Wild, I would be surprised to see him get the start tonight in Colorado. Expect Semyon Varlamov to be between the pipes for the Avalanche and I think the Wild will go with Josh Harding again. Even though the Wild lost, Harding's rebound control has certainly been better than Niklas Backstrom. Backstrom has had a pretty good record playing in Colorado, but this season he's been 'ok' at best.
Minnesota also needs to simplify itself offensively, and take every opportunity they can find to shoot the puck and crash the net. The Wild have often waited until the 3rd to really pour it on and pepper the opposing goalie with shots and its been too little, too late. Dany Heatley has been the 'hot' hand throughout this stretch of losing 4 of their last 6 games; scoring 4 times including last night. How has Heatley done this? By crashing the net! Nino Niederreiter has done a lot of the hard work to set up the chance, and the two have shown some good chemistry lately. That means the rest of the team needs to find ways to get pucks on goal and then follow it up for rebound chances of their own. So to Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak; its time to make something happen out there.
The team also needs to raise its game toughness-wise. The team will be without the services of both Mike Rupp who has left the team to deal with a death in his family as well as Zenon Konopka who suffered an eye injury last night and the swelling was so bad that they couldnt' really determine just how bad it really was. However, the main point is Konopka won't be on the road trip and neither will Rupp so Minnesota will have to stand up for itself without those 'tough guys' to do that for them. Justin Fontaine will replace Rupp and be in the lineup this evening. Either way, the Wild must make Colorado pay a physical price as well as weather through the Avalanche's hits.
Colorado impressed me a lot last night. They transitioned quickly and had oodles of speed. I thought Nathan MacKinnon played very well for a rookie and Gabriel Landeskog is about as complete a player as you will find. Great hands, good defensive awareness and awesome skill on offense. Toss in shifty forwards like Ryan O'Reilly and a silky smooth playmaker and young Christopher Reeve look-a-like Matt Duchene. Don't believe me, see for yourself.
Separated at birth? Deceased Superman actor Christopher Reeve and Colorado's superman playmaker Matt Duchene
Apart from the color of their eyes, the two look like they could be brothers. Reeve, an avid hockey fan (he loved the New York Rangers) would probably have been happy to be compared to a hockey player. Yet back to my main point is the Avalanche are pretty well set at forward and this team could return the Avalanche back to its dominant role it used to have throughout most of the 90's and the first half of the 2000's.
Say what you will about Patrick Roy's personality, ego, etc. But he's managed to get his club playing to its potential and that's why Colorado in my opinion is more than just a club riding a hot streak. I think this team is dangerous and is a serious challenger in the league's toughest division. Minnesota will have to dig real deep tonight if it wants to rebound with a win. The Wild need it, not only for the points and to maintain their place in the standings but perhaps more importantly for its confidence. It won't happen if the Wild continue to cheat as Zach Parise had talked about in his comments and a fast start will also be a major help. Yet, that is up to the guys on the ice to make it happen.