Ever watch Full Metal Jacket, Heartbreak Ridge, or even Stripes, but whether you’re talking about Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, Gunnery Sergeant Highway or Sgt. Hulka the Drill Sergeant was a memorable character for their tough as nails, don’t take crap from anyone style. They drill into you discipline and force people to stop thinking as an individual and instead think and act as a collective in a quick and efficient manner. Maybe its the old school coach in me, but if my team has a poor effort it brings out my drill sergeant side. No, I never was a drill sergeant, but I’ve met a few and their straight forward directness and demanding nature is precisely what is needed after the Wild’s 3-0 loss to Vancouver. Goofing off, mediocre effort and failure will not be tolerated. I wonder if Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo channelled his inner drill sergeant and put the team through its paces in the 2 full days they had before tonight’s game against the Calgary Flames. At the very least, put these players through a few ‘Herbies’ to instill discipline and authority. The fact of the matter is the Wild are 1-7-3 in their last 11 games, and they really can’t get much worse than that.
If the Wild are angry about being put through some tough drills / practices they only have themselves to blame. If they want to vent their anger, they can do so against Calgary, a team which is reeling after being destroyed 9-0 by the Boston Bruins. When Minnesota was successful, they out worked the opposition and they willed themselves to victories. Now, they seem to coast through periods and have lapses in effort and focus and the result is a dramatic drop in the standings. As I say to my players all of the time, ‘its about us’ its not about what our opponent does its about what we do and I think that is completely applicable to the Wild. I think any drill sergeant would say the same thing to their soldiers. So will the Wild show they’ve taken accountability and play better or will they look they’re in need of another boot to the ass?
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As far as Jarome Iginla‘s 500th goal goes, I’m sure you’ll take it anyway you can get it. The Canadian media had been dogging him about it quite a while and I’m sure getting blitzed 9-0 against Boston didn’t make it any easier. However, it was a weak goal, having gone off the skates of Marek Zidlicky and Mikko Koivu before beating Niklas Backstrom. Yet to score 500 goals in the NHL is an outstanding accomplishment, and a testament to his consistency as a player. I’ve always liked Jarome Iginla even though he’s been a Wild killer throughout his career.
The first 5 minutes of this game looked pretty good for the Minnesota Wild. They were skating with excellent intensity, their forecheck was working and their puck support was excellent. Not only were they able to keep Calgary bottled up in its own end, but they were able to create some great scoring chances early as Devin Setoguchi nearly scored on the 1st shift of the game. It was the best start to a game the Wild have had in weeks. But the Wild were only teasing the fans back home in the State of Hockey. After the first 5 minutes where they totally dominated the Calgary Flames the team would revert to the version that drives Wild fans crazy for its incredible indecision, its lack of hustle and intensity that not only causes them to get beat on the races to the loose pucks but also makes the other team look as though they’re on the power play even though they’re still at even strength. The team sat back and Calgary simply took over, out working and out hustling the Wild.
Minnesota managed to provide some offensive pressure from its top line on occasion but many of those shots were coming from long range and while they were able to generate the first shot they simply could not seem to cash in on the rebounds Kiprusoff was giving up. That is a credit to the Flames defense; which is one of the softest in the league. The Wild defense was painfully soft, not taking the body but instead opting for poke checks and finesse. Marek Zidlicky is an unmitigated disaster every time he is on the ice. He consistently rushes the play for no apparent reason, and even when he has plenty of time to evaluate his options and make a nice pass he just winds up and tries to chip a puck off the glass and out to no specific Wild player which turns into a needless give away. Offensively, Zidlicky is almost equally erratic. Other than blasting a few slap shots, he struggles to hold the zone, and makes questionable decisions to shoot when he clearly has a defender in the shooting lane making for another needless turnover. Zidlicky’s return to the Wild lineup coincides with the team’s current death spiral it appears to be in. I doubt it bolsters Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo’s calls for accountability when you have a bumbling player like that continue to get prime minutes on the power play when he can’t even perform his job at either end of the ice. I don’t care if he makes $4,000,000 / season (which makes him Minnesota’s highest paid defenseman), right now moving Zidlicky to the pressbox or anywhere other than on the ice is addition by subtraction in my opinion. I posed the question to Hockey Unfiltered‘s Todd Lewis whether the Wild should make a trade to shake things up. I also mentioned Marek Zidlicky and asked whether there would be any interest at all. He seemed to think there might be some interest and if I was Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher I’d be shopping Zidlicky actively saying the asking price was going to be pretty low. I am not sure I agree the demand for a 34-year old defenseman who in Lewis’ opinion has lost a bit in his game, but we’ve seen teams throw ridiculous money at a guy like Tomas Kaberle who I believe is very much overrated.
Lewis also stated he is not a big fan of using trades to shake up the team, but to that I’d say the team has had more different players (37) don a Wild sweater this season which is more than anyone in the league. I don’t think simply playing the call up and hope game is going to help the club anymore. As it is right now, the Wild had two defenseman in Mike Lundin and Justin Falk sitting in the press box last night so there are plenty of guys we’ve given a shot to this season on our blueline. 10 different players have played defense for Minnesota this year. We’ve seen internally what our team has in terms of options. Suffice it to say, I think its time to look outside our organization and consider swinging a deal if we can. I am not suggesting some blockbuster deal but a shot needs to take place to wake this group up. Marco Scandella has great potential but has been struggling mightily as of late, Jared Spurgeon has been the team’s most consistent defenseman but I am not sure how much more we can ask of him and he certainly cannot deter an opposing forward from crashing the crease without taking a penalty. Nick Schultz seems to have lost a step and he’s not giving us a whole lot at either end. Mike Lundin hasn’t impressed me and Justin Falk has shown us he can be ok as a fill in but he isn’t going to wow you at either end of the ice. Nate Prosser likes to agitate a little, but he could still be more physical than he is. Tyler Cuma seems to still be a long term project (if that). I think in the distant future we have a great one in Jonas Brodin, but we won’t see him here until next year at the very earliest.
Offensively, I think the club needs to focus on one thing. Simplifying its game and shooting the puck. Mike Yeo talked about funneling the puck on goal and how it helps both offensively and defensively by keeping teams pinned in their own zone as well as tiring them out by spending so much time in their own end. Minnesota has been at times too cute with the puck, but its also been a little too willing to settle to take its chances from perimeter rather than lowering the shoulder and carrying it to the crease. Last night, late in the game the Wild started to take the puck to the crease and they had some great chances to score but just couldn’t seem to bury the biscuit. Where was that kind of determination for most of the game? Why did it take a 3-1 deficit before you started to play with some real urgency? They have Devin Setoguchi back and on the top line with Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley. The line combined for Minnesota’s only goal but where has the secondary scoring gone?
Matt Cullen has been very quiet as has Kyle Brodziak and most of the 3rd line which is now reunited more or less because of the return of Setoguchi. Casey Wellman who spent time on the 2nd line last night must shoot more often if he wants to avoid being shipped back to Houston. Wellman at 25 years old is no spring chicken, his chances to show he belongs in the NHL are growing smaller and smaller. He does have speed which the Wild definitely need, but if he wants to stick out and contribute offensively I think he should be a bit more greedy and take every opportunity he can to shoot the puck. The California-native has shown some scoring touch with Houston but we need to start seeing that assertiveness here otherwise this could be his last season in the Wild organization and perhaps the NHL as a whole. Wellman’s skillset really dictates he’s a Top 6 forward or bust kind of player, but oddly enough he could learn a lot from Cal Clutterbuck. I am not asking Wellman to try to become the NHL’s hit leader, because he doesn’t have the frame for that; but what he can take is the Wild winger’s willingness to fire a shot on goal whenever he has the chance. Clutterbuck is 4th on the team in shots on goal with 90 and while he certainly does a lot of different things well for Minnesota his shoot first mentality makes him an important element to have on a pass-first team like the Wild are. I’ve said this in the past for Wild call ups hoping to stick whether it was Robbie Earl or Krys Kolanos. When they shot the puck when they had the chance they had value to the Wild, but when they stopped their value diminished and usually they ended up being sent down.
As the Wild return to St. Paul, they have a few days to think about their direction as a team before they play San Jose Tuesday night. I know in Banff, the team allegedly bonded and had some time to rest and enjoy the beautiful Alberta Rockies but maybe its just me but now is not the time to sing kumbaya and tell stories around the campfire. Its time to get down to business. Prior to the game Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo felt his team had a quiet focus going into this game; well that was good for about 5 minutes of focused and intense play, during that time the team dominated. But for whatever reason that focus was lost and they got beat by an inferior team that was decimated by injuries. Its time for the Wild to get their head out of the clouds and figure it out. Despite their record of futility the club still is in the playoff picture; 7th in the Western Conference. Yet if it doesn’t do what is needed to figure it out, it will find itself on the outside looking in, real quick.
~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Casey Wellman, Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, Warren Peters, Brad Staubitz, Colton Gillies, Nick Johnson, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mike Lundin and Justin Falk were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as follows: 1st Star Jarome Iginla, 2nd Star Miikka Kipursoff, 3rd Star Lance Bouma
~ Attendance was 19,289 at Scotiabank Saddledome.
World Junior Championships Update:
Sweden 1, Russia 0 OT ~ In a thrilling WJC’s final, Sweden peppered Russian goaltender Andrei Makarov with 57 shots, but the 58th one beat him as Mika Zibanejad swept in and beat Makarov on a sick backhand shot in overtime. Wild prospect goaltender Johan Gustafsson was named the top player for Team Sweden as he stopped all 17 shots he faced including some real high quality chances late in the 3rd period. Johan Larsson was very solid, anchoring the top line as Sweden’s captain. However, the one that really impressed was Wild prospect blueliner Jonas Brodin who was poised well beyond his years. His superior quickness and skating ability was very evident as he both shut down the Russians time after time as well as supported the play offensively with quick passes and excellent ability to carry the puck up the ice. Makarov deserves a ton of credit for keeping the Russians in the game as long as he did; he stopped 57 shots and was under siege all night long. It was Team Sweden’s first World Junior Championship since 1981.
Wild Prospect Update:
Mario Lucia leads the way in Penticton
LW – Brett Bulmer (Kelowna, WHL) ~ If the Rockets somehow make the playoffs, they owe the Minnesota Wild a bit of thanks for sending Bulmer back to get more minutes with Kelowna. Bulmer scored a natural hat trick as the Rockets’ prevailed over Spokane Wendsday night, 5-2. The Prince George, British Columbia-native has 17 goals and 31 points in 22 games. UPDATE: The 6’3″, 195lbs winger had a power play goal in a 4-3 shootout win over Victoria.
F – Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ I wonder if Notre Dame Head Coach Jeff Jackson already finds himself excited for next season knowing he has a quality scorer like Mario Lucia to look forward to. Lucia and the Minnesotan-laden Penticton Vees continue to dominate the league with their high scoring attack with the Wild prospect as the club’s top scorer. The former Wayzata star had a goal and an assist in the Vees 6-1 rout of the Vernon Vipers. This brings up Lucia’s totals to 27 goals and 62 points in 32 games.
F – Anthony Hamburg (Omaha, USHL) ~ The Phoenix, Arizona-native has been quietly trying to re-establish his game with the Lancers as an overage player as injuries scrubbed his freshman season at Colgate. Hamburg had an assist in the Lancers’ 3-2 win over Sioux Falls Wednesday night. The former 7th round pick had an even more impressive outing Friday night, notching a power play tally as well as an assist in a 4-3 win over the Des Moines Buccaneers. UPDATE: Hamburg had a power play goal Saturday night in the Lancers 5-2 win over in-state rival Lincoln Stars.