Uneven Season Start Has Wild Team And Fans On Edge

Marc Elliott

CARLTON PEAK… Four games into this young NHL season, the Minnesota Wild stand at 1-1-2, or as the Sagarin ranking and I see it, 1-3. They have 4 points in four games or  4 out of a possible 8 points available. Based on some blogs I follow and by many reader comment sections I get into to, some fans are already in panic mode, some are taking the I-knew-they-wouldn’t-be any-good anyway tact, while some predictable posters I recognize channel their frustration onto individual players. I firmly believe that the club could just as easily, and probably should be 3-1. Lets say the Red Wing game was was it was, and with the team giving up the lead to the Hurricanes and then losing in OT, and losing the home opener in similar fashion to the Columbus Bluejackets, you can make a position for both positive and negative play. 

That the team gained leads is a positive, that they couldn’t hold them obviously is a negative. They had strong possession data in the Wings game then gave up goals on individual player gaffes. They didn’t have as good of possession numbers in the Canes tilt and lost the game. The Blackhawk game was a bit strange, they broke out of the ’D’ zone more efficiently then the Wild did early on, and they got a little bit of sustained ’O’ zone time and at times established their cycle, but net minder Devan Dubnyk held off any challenges. The Wild got the first marker late in the 2nd and then after the Hawks tied it with about eleven and a half minutes left in the final frame a flurry of goals came about and the Wild were off to the races and a 5-2 final win. There was controversy on the go ahead marker by Chris Stewart, but it was eventually ruled to be a good score based upon the interpretation of an offside’s-onsides rule involving the offensive player already being in the zone but having the puck brought into the ‘O’ zone by a defender and then gaining possession. If you wish to give it a look, it is Official Rule 83.1 in the NHL rulebook, available online or from their website. 

The CBJ game was the one of the four that made me sit up and take notice of some possible developing trends for this edition of the Wild, and they aren’t positive ones. Of course the club is already wrestling with injury and salary cap issues, and these could dog the team for the next two and a half months. Out for the immediate longer term are Coyle, and in all likelihood, Parise. Shorter term are Granlund, Neiderreiter and Foligno. Depending on the day the team is doing battle with less then $200k in cap space remaining. For the Hawks contest the team suited up 11 forwards and 7 ‘D’ men. I’m not of the thought that this is a Stanley Cup roster to begin with, but if they are looking like they could trend that way with an add-on or two, this matter could prevent GM Chuck Fletcher from any real roster maneuvering. Coyle is gone for the next 6 weeks at least, Parise is an unknown at this point, and I look for Granny, Nino and Foligno to be back in the near term. In the meantime the shuttle between St. Paul and the Iowa Wild will be busy, the team had four call-ups in the lineup versus the CBJ. In this tilt Columbus was on the tail-end of a back to back, but it was the Wild in the 3rd period that appeared tired and disoriented. 

After falling behind 4-2 the CBJ went into work mode and took over in terms of  possession time and in working their cycle. The 3rd period zone time was tilted to them and the result was a tie game and the Jackets made short work of the Wild in the extra frame scoring at 00:47 for the win. So, what am I seeing thus far that has me concerned and what are some of the bright spots? I think Jason Zucker has been the teams best offensive player so far. He isn’t the biggest guy out there usually but he is skating and playing with some power in his game. Eric Staal I believe will put up another strong year points-wise. Charlie Coyle was playing a strong game before his injury. And while some are surprised by this, I’m not; Chris Stewart can play some hockey eh? Big Stewie was miffed by not passing Coach Bruce Boudreau’s camp opening skating test and has kicked off the year as if on a mission. I noticed that some fans were disappointed to see him on the roster still, but not me. He contributes in many ways. 

Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon have been the best ‘D’ men so far IMO, and I’m impressed with the steady play of Jonas Brodin. Ryan Suter does not yet look like he is  on his game. Mike Reilly looks improved but was a numbers casualty on Saturday eve with the forward callups. I was concerned with the backup net minder situation with Alex Stalock coming in but he erased those with his performance in Carolina. I am concerned with Dubnyk though and believe he has given up at least one “softie” per game so far in his 3 games played. He appears to lock it down at times only to give up an unexpected tally at the most inopportune point in a game. This will bear continued observation. 

The numbers say that the club is 7th in Goals For Average at 3.66 per game, and is tied for 6th in Shooting Percentage at 12.4%. They are 27th in Goals Against Average at 3.66 per game. They are 17th in Save Percentage at .897. They are tied for 4th in Power Play Percentage at a respectable 28.6%. However their Penalty Kill Percent is at 77.8% placing them 21st in the NHL. The team is a -1 in Goal Differential. The team is 2nd ranked on Faceoff wins at 56.3%. 

Overall the team lost some true veteran experience in Scandella, Pominville and Haula, and it hasn’t yet leveled off by replacing it with the youth and inexperience of an Oloffson, Erickson Ek or Reilly. The imports, Foligno, Ennis, Quincey and Winnik aren’t fully integrated into Boudreau’s system yet and with the team basically going through camp and the first four games without it’s true roster intact due to injury or contract matters, we haven’t seen the teams true game yet. With season’s sometimes turning on a single point in April, I hope we see it soon, real soon… PEACE