When you lose a game in as tough of a fashion as Game 1 was, you have to deal with a tough question: Do you keep the team that was inches away from securing a Game 1 victory in Colorado? Or do you you respond by making changes to a team that made crucial mistakes that ended in their overtime defeat?
These aren't easy questions for Mike Yeo to face as he prepares his team for tonight's tilt at the Pepsi Center. There are a few changes he made- and one non-change I think he should have made, so let's break that down quickly right now.
Kyle Brodziak Moves Down to Center the Fourth Line
Now that Dany Heatley is banished to the press box, never to be heard from again, Minnesota Wild fans have been all too glad to focus their full attention on this season's other whipping boy, Kyle Brodziak. It appears that the giveaway to tie the game has Yeo pretty upset, as well, as Brodziak has been as much of a staple on the third-line as you can imagine despite his inability to score.
But now, many Wild fans are getting what they want with Brodziak's fourth-line duty. And I'm not sure I'm a fan of this move. I don't like that Brodziak, who has a hard enough time scoring as it is, is being put with Cody McCormick AND Stephane Veilleux, energy guys who don't offer much in the scoring department (They're a combined 10 points in 77 games). While Justin Fontaine isn't as good as his early goal-scoring break-out would suggest, he still is a noticeable upgrade in skill over Veilleux or McCormick, and has played tough minutes all season- including 55.3% of his ice time with Brodziak. With an upgrade in skill, and a comfort level between Brodziak and Fontaine, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me to sacrifice all pretense of scoring to have both Veilleux AND McCormick on the fourth line with Brodziak.
In fact, the only thing I like about this move is...
Erik Haula Moves Up to Center the Third Line
Not only is it great to see Haula rewarded for his strong play in Mikael Granlund's absence, Haula centering the third line gives the Wild a stronger two-way presence on a line that has been depended on to play tough minutes. Is there the possibility that Matt Cooke has a stronger offensive game in him when flanked by a more offensive, speedy presence in Haula? Even if he doesn't bring it to another, Cooke will bring the grit and agitation along with enough offensive ability to not be a detriment. Nino Niederreiter has had a difficult time finding a home with a skilled centerman, and now with Haula and third-line minutes, "El Nino" will have a prime opportunity to wreak havoc.
As for Haula, one of the fastest skaters, if not the fastest, on the team, he will potentially be deployed against the equally speedy Nathan MacKinnon's line, which burned the Wild all night on Thursday night. Remember- late in the season Yeo talked of not wanting to throw him into the fire of tough third-line minutes, so this is a hell of a vote of confidence for Haula. He's truly been impressive.
Jonathon Blum Continues to Sit For Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser
Colorado was chippy all night. All night. The Wild had agitators/tough guys in McCormick, Veilleux, Stoner, and Prosser. And the Avalanche didn't care. They were still chippy. That foursome also drew four fewer penalties than Zach Parise and Matt Moulson, who drew two penalties each.
So, if our agitators (save for Matt Cooke) aren't drawing penalties, and aren't noticably deterring the use of extra-curricular chippiness in the game, do we really need ALL of them?
I would much prefer to see Yeo, instead of trying to do all he can to match the physical play of Colorado, try to gain a further advantage on the Avalanche: Skill on the back end. This is where Jonathon Blum would come in handy.
Blum excelled late in this season while filling in for an injured Stoner, racking up a nice 54.5% Corsi Forced % (Percentage of shot attempts your team takes when you are on the ice), meaning that he's able to move the puck down the ice and keep it in the offensive zone. Yes, it's a small sample size against softer minutes than say, Ryan Suter sees, but 1) He'd be seeing softer minutes in this series, too, and 2) Regardless of how much time he had, or the difficulty of those minutes, he's succeeded in those situations.
I understand that Stoner and Prosser weren't actively the reasons that Minnesota lost Game 1, but having Blum take those 13-14 minutes that they got, respectively, may have been the difference between winning and losing. The evidence we have says that Blum keeps the puck out of his own zone better than Stoner or Prosser. So why not try that?
Darcy Kuemper to Back Up Ilya Bryzgalov
Talk to me after the game. I'll give my retroactive opinion then.
Oh, it doesn't work that way?
I think Bryzgalov's strong play down the stretch merits at least one more start to show he can keep playing at a high level. I don't think Goals 3 and 4 Thursday were Bryzgalov's fault, necessarily, and there's nothing to suggest that it is imperative that Kuemper starts tonight.