5 games down, 77 to go. 6 points out of 10 is great, considering the relatively poor play by the Wild. Personally, I love what I'm seeing out of the first line, which is the hot topic right now. They're playing great, but the goals just haven't come. To this, I say ''relax''. All players, all lines, all teams have slow spells during the season. I like to think the Wild are getting theirs out of the way early. Also, from the looks of things, Yeo isn't wasting anytime fixing what's leaking in the Wild's plumbing. Rather than just have a bag skate for the sake of having a bag skate, he's directly adressing the problems with specific drills, which, as a soccer coach myself, is something I respect unlimitedly. Loving Yeo right now.
Earlier today, my cousin asked me: ''Did you ever think Guillaume Latendresse would lead the Wild in points, especially when you got Dany Heatley?'' I answered ''Nope'', but thinking back and seeing the way he's played so far, I'm not all that shocked. To many of my canadian friends, the fact that Guillaume Latendresse is currently leading the Wild with 4 helpers is either a surprise or very funny, because they all go ''PFFF, look how bad your team is, Lats is leading in points!''. What they refuse to realize is that Latendresse is a much different player than he was when he was in Montreal. Heck, he's a much different player than he was when he first came to the Wild!
Join me as I comment on this in my first Thought Bubble of the season, which is a single panel shortie, as opposed to my usual 3-panel format.
We all know how great the second line, formed by Latendresse, Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, has been so far. While many say Cullen has been the best player, it's actually a pretty close race between him and Lats, who notched assists on all three of the former's goals. Latendresse leading the team in assists and points, but take a look a some of his other numbers:
+/- : +3 (leads team)
PIM: 6 (leads team for some reason)
Takeaways: 6 (Second on the team)
Hits: 11 (6th on the team)
The only knock on him is that he hasn't scored yet, but it shouldn't be long. If anything, he's been one of the more solid fantasy choices off the Wild.
It's easy to look at the numbers, especially this early on in the season, but everyone who's been watching has to have noticed that Latendresse is a changed man. He came into last year's camp out of shape, and it showed. He skated very poorly, was lazy, and even played himself out of the 2nd line and into the 4th. Despite posting a solid 6 points in 11 games, he simply wasn't very good. When he arrived in exchange for a sack of pu.. I mean, Benoit Pouliot, he scored 25 goals in 55 games, but it can be argued that that was a product of playing with Havlat, who finally had a scorer to play with. They complimented each other well and created plenty of chances, sure, but the defensive aspect of that line was left to Brodziak and Brodziak alone. Latendresse was usually slow to react after turnovers, seemed lost in his own zone and was usually just waiting for the puck instead of working for it. It worked for scoring goals, but he was one-dimensional.
This time around, from the very beginning of the preseason, I've been noticing a spring in his step (or skate). He's also playing a better balanced game. His takeaways are a testament to a new aspect of his game: following the puck carrier, which translates to a better two-way game. He has one blocked shot to his credit, a block that scared the bejeezus out of Wild fans, but he came back into the game, grinded the puck out from behind the net and it slipped to Greg Zanon for his 1st goal since the discovery of the wheel. That shift showed Lats' capability to take over shifts and be the best player on the ice, becoming the creator instead of the recipient. It took Latendresse 23 games to reach 4 assists in 2009-2010, and he got that 4th assist in a 1G, 3A explosion against the Penguins, where the Wild won 4-3. While he still plays like a power forward with his hulking body (not too many Wild players can protect the puck quite like him right now), he's added ''Playmaker'' and ''Grinder'' to his repertoire, and it's paying dividends early on.
All this, to me, tells me he's playing much more of a team-oriented game. He's sacrificing his body, fighting for the puck, creating offense for his teammates and is in the best shape of his life. Let's hope he's only scratched the surface and let's root for his first goal to open the floodgates.