For much of the slump, Wild fans have swung through just about every emotion a fan can go through. We tried to analyze the team into being good. We tried rosterbating the lineup into submission. We've pointed fingers at everyone from the goalies, to the defense, to mumps, to the goalies again, to the power play, to the offense, to the goalies again, and of course, the kaptain, Mikko Koivu.
Well, what do ya think of me now?
We've all heard the same argument a hundred times before. He's getting old, he doesn't have the heart of a captain, he elects to pass when he should be shooting. In the past 10 games, the Wild have gone 8-1-1 and the kaptain has played big role in how this team has turned it around in front of Devan Dubnyk. Sure, the Wild seem to have struck gold twice in 2 seasons by acquiring Dubnyk for peanuts this season, and Ilya Bryzgalov last season. Both have seemed to pay dividends for the Wild.
It still takes scoring to win however. All of Doobie's work would be for not if the Wild were not scoring. Mikko Koivu has provided a bit of the punch over this 10 game stretch, with 10 points in those games coming off 2 goals and 8 assists, and 1 goal and 4 assists coming in just the past 3 games. Koivu seems to be hitting his stride and the team is following right along with him. He's been playing well in all 3 zones of the ice and is winning faceoffs at a good pace to boot!
With a lot of voices calling for his head of late, it has been awesome to see him starting the throw all those doubts to the side as he's leading the team down this magical stretch. Now I can't promise you that he will continue at this pace. Unfortunately I do not have that kind of power, yet. His game will likely ebb and flow with the rest of them. It's just really good to see that with all the success this team is having right now, he finds himself among the leaders, pushing this charge up the standings.
Jason Zucker has also been absolutely huge for the Wild over this 10 game stretch. With goals in back-to-back games in Vancouver against the Canucks last week and back home against the Chicago Blackhawks, Zucker has shown us a level of hockey we were dreaming of last season. His effort has been some of the best we've seen on this squad night in and night out. His defensive play has been on form, displaying a solid back check and the aggressive nature when attacking a loose puck that will win those battles in the trenches. Which makes his injury last night a little distressing.
Zucker would leave last nights action in St. Paul with an upper-body injury and all signs are pointing to him sitting for at least a few games. At the time of this publication, we don't know much, but it doesn't sound good. It was stated by Coach Yeo after last nights game stated to not expect him back in the near future.
An extended absence for Zucker would definitely hurt the Wild in the effort department. His energy this season is not the kind you can easily just replace. With the right call-up, the Wild may be able to mitigate any disaster, but it's not going to be easy to plug someone in and expect them to play as well as Zucker has been. At the beginning of the season, our defensive depth was put to the test, and did not fair too well. Now, with Zucker going down along with Ryan Carter last night, it looks as if it's the forwards turn to see what kind of depth they have, and if they can keep this train on track.
Speaking of some great play, Charlie Coyle has really been showing his toughness in games lately. It's something I think we've all noticed, and it's something that the fans have been calling for, for nearly an entire season now. When we kicked this thing off in October, Coyle was playing decent, but he seemed to slump into some pretty lackadaisical play. His physicality was missing and his production on the ice was suffering.
In the last 6 games, Coyle has scored 2 goals and added an assist, but his physical contribution on the forecheck is where the story is here. This was never as evident as it was last night against the Vancouver Canucks. About halfway through the 3rd period, when players tend to tire, Coyle could be found in on the forecheck on a play that showed him using his physicality to regain a puck and continue the attack for the Wild. Catching up to the Canucks defender in the corner, he pokes at the puck with his stick, blocks the defender off the puck with his body, and pulls the puck under his control to dish it back off to a player entering the zone on a change. This extended some good offensive zone time for the Wild as they tried to keep the pressure on the Canucks late in last nights game.
I said this in last nights recap, but it's that kind of play that drives possession. It's that kind of physical effort that is needed late in games to help drive the nail down. Although this play didn't specifically lead to a goal, plays like this lead to goals, and if this kind of effort can be cultivated down the stretch it makes the Wild a very dangerous team.
How can we have a story today without giving a ton of credit to Mr. Dooby-Dooby Dubnyk? Devan Dubnyk, the pride of Regina, Saskatchewan (although he grew up in Calgary), has been a breath of new life for the organization. In his past 10 starts he has posted a 1.49 GAA along with a .940 Sv%, also winning the NHL 3nd star of the week just 2 weeks ago, followed up with the NHL's 1st star last week where he posted 2 shutouts for the Wild. You cannot even begin to say enough nice things about Devan Dubnyk. About the only criticism I'd have for his game right now comes from some of the minor gaffes we've seen him display while trying to play the puck out of the crease. It hasn't cost the Wild yet, but given enough opportunities, something like that will inevitably bite the Wild in the ass.
The story of Dubnyk has raised the question, why did Chuck Fletcher wait so long to make this trade? Looking back on it now, if he was being offered for a 3rd round pick I think a lot of teams who have seen how this trade panned out would have jumped at the opportunity to bring him into the fold. He's made a lot of stops in the NHL recently, but I think it's safe to say that he wasn't always on a team with the kind of system the Wild deploy. The way the Wild are stifling on defense, most nights limiting the opponents shot opportunities, and keeping the pressure out of the defensive zone, it has worked wonders to have someone like Dubnyk in net. Not overly flashy, but he doesn't need to be either.
Dubnyk hasn't delivered us to the promised land yet though. Going into tonight's game, 5 points still separate the Wild from a wildcard playoff spot. The hope I have is, that with how well Dooby is playing right now, it puts some serious pressure on Darcy Kuemper to perform. Kuemper has been a fragile kid for much of the season, and without any quality competition behind him his play slipped off into the abyss. At this point, if Kuemper wants the 1-spot back in the cage, he's going to need to earn it. It may be too early to talk about a Dubnyk contract extension, but with how Kuemper is playing these days he could be looking at yet another season playing backup to Dooby on the Wild bench. Definitely not what he or his agent had envisioned when he held out prior to the preseason.
It's been a great stretch of 10 games for the Wild, and as much as we've all be joking about getting that top draft pick, this recent surge has Wild fans anticipating another postseason berth. With the Calgary Flames taking care of business last night the Wild are hanging out with just 5 points separating them from a playoff spot. A regulation win tonight is not going to come easy, especially on a 2nd night of a back-to-back where we lost 2 forwards early, but the Wild will be hungry and with the potential of just 3 points separating them from the Winnipeg Jets when the night is over, we should hopefully see some great effort tonight.