Bryan recently gave the Wild a "C" for their recent test. They failed the game as a team against the Pens, Stole two points from the Oilers, and gave two points to the Canucks. It is still early in the season so some of their issues can be corrected. Russo touched on this earlier this week, but the powerplay has been terrible. I think everyone was worried about the powerplay since it appeared to always be an issue with Yeo. I am not so sure Yeo is the problem, but perhaps, the personnel. Russo wrote yesterday about the new powerplay combos and I couldn't agree more with what the Wild are trying to do. Moving Cullen to the point is a must and I think Brodziak can handle the 2nd line powerplay duties, he is by far the most underrated player on this team and I hope they are talking contract extension behind closed doors right now. I am a little mystified as to how Bouchard can't function at the point with his shot, but it does appear that opposing teams are gunning for him there and will respect his pass and shot more at the half boards.I think Yeo is right, if the powerplay improves and they start getting some dirty goals, scoring will jump and some of this close games may not be so close anymore.
We are almost a month into the season and so far the Wild have played . . . average. I am not sure if this is above or below everyone's expectations but there are areas of improvement needed and suddenly areas of alarm.
Breaking up the top line, I think we all had mixed feelings about loading up the top line when it was announce pre-season. I for one thought it was a good move looking at other team's loaded top lines and how well they work. The experiment just is not working out too well and a change even if it is just temporary, needs to be made. Aparently, that means moving Clutter to the top line due to Lats' injury (we'll get to that soon enough). He can fill in temporarily when asked, but I wonder how well this will work long-term. Hopefully, these new lines increase the scoring and lead to a balanced attack so that opposing teams can't focus on Koivu and Heatley alone.
Areas of concern, and there are a few that are starting to nag at me. Biggest of all is another injury to Lats. I think we all shudder when we hear "groin" and "injury" in the same sentence. Russo reported they are not going an MRI just yet, but seriously, why wouldn't you just to make sure. If there is serious damage, then this team needs to start planning for a long-term absence from Lats. He came to camp reportedly in shape and had started out very well so this could be a huge blow to the team. Can they function without him and seriously challenge for the playoffs? Does this force the front office to make a move or do they stick with the troops they have? If Lats misses significant time, will he be offered another contract . . . probably not.
Another area of concern is Greg Zanon. He did not look right during the pre-season and now reportedly has a groin injury himself. He plays big minutes, is a super shot blocker, and will be missed. This is a guy who always plays when he is hurt so you know this injury is probably worse than usual if he is missing another game tomorrow after sitting out after a while. A few other blue line issues are Mike Lundin and Jared Spurgeon. I know it is not his fault, but Lundin being hurt since the pre-season has really hurt this team. Brought in as a solid, veteran defenseman with some puck moving skills, with Zanon hurt and Spurgeon's issues (again, we'll get to that soon), he would be a great asset right now. Instead, you have to wonder once he is healthy, how long it will take him to get into stride. Spurgeon, I am not sure if we should call it a sophomore slump just yet, but it is heading in that direction. So poised with the puck last year, he seems to be a bit panicky this year. He didn't let his size effect his game last year but has been thrown around a bit this year. These are correctable issues but you have to wonder if he keeps having poor performances, if he will need to be sent down just to get bigger minutes and regain his confidence. I would talk about Zidlicky being bad Zidlicky but we've all been over that before, what's more to say? He appears to be trying to fill the void left by Burns of trying to do too much although he is not making up for it with any points like Burns did at least. I guess I did talk about Zidlicky afterall huh?
Okay on to the bright spots. How good have Stoner and Scandella been? How good was Falk against the Canucks the other night? Schultz continues his solid play too. I already mentioned how underrated Brodziak is. Gillies looks great. Nick Johnson should be playing every game unless we know we are playing a team with a fighter to kick Staubitz' ass. I like Brett Bulmer so far, but I wish we could inject some confidence in his offensive game and tell him he can score in this league too. I think he sticks for the whole year. Cullen has been very good, especially in the shootout. Unfortunately,most of these bright spots are bottom six guys and defensive-defensemen (jury is still out on Scandella's offense although I could see him becoming our Ryan Suter one day). The big guns need to step it up and soon or it will be time to panic.
Highlights for the season so far have to be opening night against the Jackets (at least we aren't them) and Heatley's heroics against the Oilers, what a play. Worst bone-headed play so far, has to go to Heatley for his tomahawk chop of Kesler's stick in overtime against the reigning President Trophy winners, Western Conference Champs, etc., in their barn, blah blah blah. What was he thinking?
Overall, there is time to fix the problems, and if they do, they should be able to string some wins together and then we maybe, hopefully talk playoffs for the first time in what feels like ages. If you got this far, thanks for taking the time to read it all!!