By Joey Cavalier
It is finally time to check in on our Minnesota Wild. You know, the only team in Minnesota that wins games (save for the Lynx!). “Snap-Shots and Takeaways” is a series that will continue throughout the season. It will be random and quick-hitting, as I discuss the different areas of the Wild’s success and failures. Today we are talking about coaching, offense and defense. Next week I will touch on the Wild’s special teams and goaltending.
Let’s drop the puck!
When Mike Yeo was given the job as Wild head coach, I was very skeptical. However, the first-year coach has shown why he was given the job. He has fashioned the Wild into a “tough team to play against” (Yeo’s own words). He has displayed a sense of composure that most first-year coaches do not possess, as he has coached the Wild to a 19-point start through their first 14 games (the Wild are currently tied for 3rd in the Western Conference!). Time will tell if Yeo can keep this pace up, as well as solve the Wild’s deficiencies, but as for now, Yeo has done an excellent job as head coach.
Even after acquiring Danny Heatly and Devin Setoguchi via trade this past offseason, the Minnesota Wild have struggled to manufacture offense. Believe it or not, the Wild are currently 27th in the NHL with only 2.21 goals per game. That’s not the end of it either; they rank 26th in the league with only 26.6 shots per game. That’s not very good…
Though the Wild have been struggling as a team to score goals, the forwards have been doing their part in putting up offense. Guillaume Latendresse, Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Heatley and Setoguchi all have 8 points or more on the year. Cullen has been a pleasant surprise, and he is finally playing to his potential. Latendresse has played well, and looks like he is back to pre-injury form. Heatley has been working magic in the clutch with two game-winning goals on the year. The Wild forwards, as a group, haven’t exactly put holes through the back of the net, but they’ve accounted for 27 of the team’s 31 goals on the year and have at least been consistent in the way that they produce.
I fully expect the offense to improve as the season goes on, as chemistry grows and as players get accustomed to Yeo’s newly installed system.
The Wild have one of the youngest blue-lines in the entire league. Nate Prosser (25), Justin Falk (23), Jared Spurgeon (21) and Marco Scandella (21) have all been seeing significant ice-time while Greg Zanon and Clayton Stoner are recovering from injuries. This unit is currently a two-sided coin: they have been stellar defensively, yet they have been less-than-stellar offensively.
The Wild defensemen have only scored four goals through 14 games. That is just garbage. Marek Zidlicky has been the biggest letdown of the bunch, as he was supposed to be “the guy” on the blue-line with the departure of Brent Burns. Zidlicky has been completely ineffective as an offensive-defenseman. He has no goals on the year and only four assists. Scandella leads all Wild defensemen with 2 goals and is showing great promise as an offensive-defenseman. As the season goes on, and as Scandella continues to get opportunities, I believe that he will become the Wild’s No.1 defenseman. Replacing Brent Burns is no easy task, but Scandella is showing that he is the most capable of doing so.
Though the Wild defensemen have struggled to generate offense, they have done a great job keeping the opposition away from the net and off of the scoreboard. The Wild are currently 2nd in the NHL with 1.79 goals against per game. That is largely due to the elite goaltending of Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom, but the defensemen have certainly done their part. The youthful blue-line is showing a lot of promise, along with a sound understanding of the game. They have been blocking a ton of shots, hitting hard and playing “smart hockey.” They have also shown physicality in front of the net when things get heated and when fists are flying.
Overall, it has been an exciting start for this Wild squad. For the first time in years, Wild fans have something to be excited about. Hopefully, they can build off of this early success and become a true Stanley Cup contender as the season matures.