Game Nine: The Hangover

Headed into last night's game at Phoenix, Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild had plenty of reasons to be fired up.  Fourth-line forward, penalty-killer, and well-liked Darroll Powe was traded to the New York Rangers for another fourth-line forward in Mike Rupp.  Mikael Granlund and Devin Setoguchi, both struggling for many games, were "demoted" to the fourth line centered by tough guy and rabbit enthusiast Zenon Konopka.

And Charlie Coyle was called up to make his NHL debut with no injuries keeping any of the forwards out of the lineup.

Charlie Coyle's in better shape than you.

The result of the latest statement game for the Wild?  A regulation loss.  Much gnashing of teeth around the Internets.  A players-only post-game meeting.  Which is surprising, because I loved the effort and game of just about everyone. You won't lose many hockey games playing like that. 

I know that beat writer Mike Russo says everyone's frustrated because they "have to try so hard to score", but that's B.S. Last year was a different team with a lot less talent, and clearly we've had some guys struggling and coasting this year. But if the team plays like they did last night, they will get their wins. And that's really supposed to be Yeo's strong area, getting everyone on the same page. This is a Dave Tippett team they are playing. Clearly they are going to struggle to score. Wild played a stifling system for eight years.

On to the coach...are people calling for Yeo's head now? Really? Want to hit the reset button and give up on this year already? I get that the team is not scoring, but the team hasn't scored EVER except the one year with Gabby and Demitra and Rolston rolling. Yeo's not telling the guys to not shoot the puck or to turn it over. He can't go on the ice and score the goals.

That said, I'm curious about Yeo's defensive system. The Wild are sitting back way too much in the neutral zone, not in a good way as in 1-3-1 and clogging up the lanes, but the forwards go to the boards and the D backs way off and basically lets the other team just steam right through across the blue line. And in the D zone, the team collapses so deep that they cannot pressure the points. All five players are below the hash marks and between the faceoff dots. Do they not have any faith in the defense or goalie? This is leading to some prolonged shifts, unless someone can intercept the puck. The puck movement is solid from there, surprisingly excellent, but they are spending too much time waiting for the other team to make a mistake rather than forcing them to make mistakes.

How about the experiment with the lines up front?  Well, I loved that the Wild could roll four lines last night and not lean on the big guns until late in the game. Now if they can get Spurgeon back and do the same with the defense...

Here's some random thoughts about the players and lines:

  • Charlie Coyle looked very good in his first game. His skill set is higher than I remembered or imagined. Soft hands, gets in the right places in the offensive zone, good shot, tries to make plays. Kid does NOT look like the overmatched big forwards the Wild drafted in the past.
  • Coyle's line with Bouchard and Cullen, not bad. Bouchard looked excellent as the Phoenix defenders gave him a little too much respect and had a couple great shots that just missed. Cullen didn't have a great game, maybe still fighting the injury?
  • Granlund had his best game yet. He didn't look nearly as slow or weak on the wing. I was afraid the D would play him tight and physical (as they have all year), but they gave him a bit of room and he started to slow the game down a bit and make some plays. Came very close. I saw really for the first time all year that he can be a very good offensive player in this league, but it might take a lot longer than expected for him to figure out what he can and cannot get away with. He's smart and highly skilled, but I think his lack of speed is going to make that transition harder than we hoped.
  • Setoguchi had a good bounce back game as well. I liked, but did not love his game. He had shifts where he was aggressive and got the puck, but then could not hold it along the boards to make plays, especially when pressured by the defender. Konopka was surprisingly effective on that line. Nobody was taking shots on Granlund and he nearly kept up ragging the puck, although he did lose the puck or break down plays several times. Makes you wonder if you can find a tough, physical, skilled center for Granlund?
  • By the way, the average even strength time on ice for the Parise-Koivu-Heatley line was over 15 minutes, for the Granlund-Cullen-Setoguchi and Mitchell-Brodziak-Clutterbuck lines nearly 13:30 a piece, and for the Bouchard-Coyle-Cullen line a little over 12 minutes.  So don't get too up in arms about which line is second, fourth, etc.
  • Koivu and Parise were EXCELLENT. Koivu was a beast tonight. That puck possession ability of his, where he can skate through hits and checks? Best all year. Had some great shots and plays. Parise relentless as ever. Great goal. Heatley...struggled. Looked slow and lost the puck too often. It's got to be frustrating for him as he's a highly skilled guy but seems the body is breaking down and with well below average speed he gets neutralized. I can see him slipping down the lineup.
  • "Third" line...lets just call it fourth. Loved what Mitchell did with more ice time, showed his speed and ability to force turnovers and draw penalties (and let's be honest, his penalty should have gone the other way with that hold). Clutter was fine. Brodz is really struggling. He seems like someone who really needed to play hockey during the lockout. After playing well in an increased role last year, he should have gone to Europe and developed that offensive game more.
  • Remember when Suter was going to be our #1 defenseman? It's Brodin. Five games into his career as the youngest defenseman in the NHL and he's been the best defenseman nearly every night. Remember when we were worried about his offensive game? He picks his shots SO WELL and puts them on net. They will go.
  • Suter was fine. I really thought he was a defensive defenseman, but he's just pure offense and transition. I thought he is showing EXCELLENT chemistry with Brodin. Neither are physical and perhaps it will take time for their net presence to develop, but I love that they can move the puck to each other and make that good first pass. Especially Suter to Brodin in the D zone for the breakout pass.
  • Gilbert played strong, he might be our most physical defenseman. Surprising as I thought he was an offensive defenseman primarily. Stoner was okay, didn't embarass himself.
  • Falk that was a dreadful game. Nearly every shift he did something incredibly stupid. Turnovers, bad passes, bad decisions, turnstile defense in his end, ugh. Scandella was okay.
  • Backstrom was alright. Made some good stops and gave up his usual jump out of the net and give them a free goal move. He's another player who looks like he really missed playing during the lockout.

So next game...I kind of want to see the same lines? Kind of liked the four lines, bruiser between the skill forwards, speedy checking line, etc.  But where does Rupp fit in?  Does anyone need to be "sent a message" again?  I'm very much looking to see how this team rebounds at home.


  1. What do you think of the comparison of Zucker as a less-good Parise? It seems, at least to me, that they have some similarities. They're both fast,slightly undersized forwards with good shots. He'd obviously have to play his off wing, but Zucker may be worth a shot with those two I think. That'd be an absolutely relentless line.

    Also, would Granlund be as successful with Coyle on his wing versus vice versa?

  2. Well I haven't seen him play in the NHL yet, but from what I gather, both are small, speedy wingers with offensive ability who are tenacious forecheckers and not afraid to play a physical game. I've heard comparisons to Parise and Mike Cammalleri as Zucker has a wicked wrist shot...maybe better than Parise. Even if he becomes a poor man's version of either player that's better than the Wild have had in the top six for years.

    I really think Granlund and Coyle would be a good complementary pairing. I'm not sure where Granlund will end up (wing or center) but would like to see him play with a physical, skilled center. I'm excited for Johan Larsson to come up as he could be that second line center the Wild have been looking for the past dozen years or so.

    Did you know that Mikko was the first Wild center to top 50 points? Not even point per game, not 60 or 70, it literally took until 2006-07 for a Wild center to crack FIFTY points.