Good thing they added the numbers on the front of the helmets this year.
When the season previews came out, the defensive corps for the Wild was pegged as the weakness. The. Weakness. With the season in the books, the defense was not the issue. The offense from the defense, maybe, but not the defense. Semantics are all we have left, so just roll with it.
The D corps showed signs of brilliance at times, and players who needed to step up and prove themselves did so. Justin Falk found his size advantage, Clayton Stoner found out he can play if he just plays, and Jared Spurgeon was just short of spectacular. Of course, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, and Nick Schultz were all sent packing, and with injuries, we got to know names like Chay Genoway and Kris Fredheim.
Still, the AHL guys came and went, and the D still played well enough to keep the team in most games. They protected Niklas Backstrom better this season, and that is a huge step up from the 2010-11 campaign.
Are signs of improvement good enough? Let's find out.
Nathan- Season previews from writers across North America pegged the inexperienced and low on talent Wild d-corps as the major concern for the team. Many called them the worst defensive corps in the NHL. Let's be honest, with Brent Burns leaving, Marek Zidlicky and Greg Zanon aging and Nick Schultz never a household name who could blame them?
We thought they would be ok if Marco Scandella stepped up, Clayton Stoner returned from injury, Justin Falk learned to use his body and Jared Spurgeon improved in his sophomore campaign. Some of that happened, but when it came right down to it, they were right. The team had no offense from the blue line and nobody to lead the transition game. Sure, the forwards didn't score, but the defensemen certainly didn't do their part either. It was a lackluster season for a beleaguered stable of defensemen.
Bryan- For "the Worst Defense in the League," they didn't do too terribly bad. While 2.65 goals against per game isn't spectacular, it certainly wasn't anywhere near the worst in the league. The defense cannot move the puck to save their lives, and asking for offense out of this group is like asking a rock to bleed, yet they do what I want the defense to do. They play... wait for it... defense.
The loss of Brent Burns was a huge blow, removing the top d-man on the team from the mix. Then injuries kicked in. Then Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, and Greg Zanon were all trade away. There was supposed to be hope in the ranks in Houston. There wasn't. At least, not the type of help the Wild needed. A point of strength and depth was exposed as being less than stellar.
The defense was solid, the offense was non-existent.
Jesse- Offensively, this group was really bad. It didn't help that Zidlicky was a dud on the powerplay with Heatley. It also didn't help that Scandella didn't show any of the offensive traits that fans are hoping to see. Despite that, they were a good group defensively.
The Wild were continually outshot and out possessed. The blueliners were continually called upon to play well above reasonable expectations. The forwards couldn't receive breakout passes, get pucks in deep, and get a real forecheck going. The Wild led the league in blocked shots for a while, and that was in part to the defensman giving everything they had.
If this core played on a team that could generate offense like Pittsburgh, it's a different story offensively for them. Being dead last in scoring shouldn't fall on these guys. They're not flashy, they're not high skilled, and the group did lack a true top pairing, but considering that the blueline is basically stitched together with a group of 3rd-pair defensman, a couple 2nd-pair guys, and some AHLers, they did pretty well.
Grade - B-
JS- The entire defensive corps' +/- stat is downright nasty, but defense wasn't the team's problem by a long shot. There was a time towards the middle of the season where the defense was falling apart, and the offense from the blueline was seriously lacking, but considering the strong start, the strong finish and the average age and experience of the blueliners, I'd say the defensemen as a group had a decent season. Many of them will need to step up though, especially Scandella, Prosser and Spurgeon. The Wild were 2nd in the league in blocked shots, but there are two sides to that medal: Sure, the D blocked shots like crazy, but that's only because they were always stuck in their own zone. Gilbert is supposed to fix the breakout, so next season could be better.