Minnesota Wild: Recapping an up and down first week
After one week of play, the Minnesota Wild sit at a pedestrian 2-2-1 record. Zach Parise has set the standard in the early season with 9 points including 5 goals. The top line of Parise-Mikko Koivu-Dany Heatley has combined for 21 points and has scored 10 of the Wild's 13 goals.
They've been great. The supporting cast has not. That goes without saying when three players account for 75% of a team's goal output.
It's still early, but early ,to paraphrase Yogi Berra, is a lot later in this 48 game season. Many saw Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mikael Granlund as quality secondary options for the Wild attack. Neither has played up to expectations just yet. This shouldn't come as surprise considering Bouchard has battled concussion problems over the last year and Granlund is a twenty-year old rookie.
Both players have the talent to escape the first week slump, but they will need help from the collection of veterans that rounds out the forward group. Devin Setoguchi, once a key return in the trades with San Jose, has a single assist and only 6 shots to his name thus far. Of course, Setoguchi is not alone. One could call out the entire roster sans the top line for failing to score.
How long do Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson, Justin Fontaine, Charlie Coyle, and the like wait in the AHL while the big club continues to struggle putting the puck in the net? I ask this rhetorically- Zucker in particular would provide an immediate spark should he receive a call-up.
Wednesday's tilt with the undefeated Chicago Blackhawks could determine this team's personnel actions in the near future.
While Parise has lived up to his billing, co-signee Ryan Suter has played to a -5 +/- rating through five games. This isn't a reflection on Suter's play itself, but on the lack of consistency on the Wild blueline. Suter and partner Jared Spurgeon played very well together in the team's 2-0 start. Spurgeon's injury, however, forced Tom Gilbert into the top pairing.
Top defensive pairings rely on familiarity more than anything else. Each player understands his partner's nuances, whether it's a form of communication or tendencies with the puck. Once they become comfortable with one another, they establish a rhythm that allows them to play well for upwards of 25 minutes a night. Suter and Gilbert have yet to find that rhythm.
Frankly, Gilbert has looked particularly unsettled in his new place. In Sunday night's overtime loss at St. Louis, Gilbert lost not one but two battles down low to the Blues David Perron. Perron fought off the Wild d-man's pin behind the net causing Gilbert to drop his stick. When the defenseman bent down to retrieve it, Perron had already circled the net to find a wide open Patrik Berglund at the back post. The Swede made it a one goal game heading into the final frame.
Suter was of equal blame on the eventual game winner. The Wild defenseman allowed Vladimir Sobotka to stand unchallenged at the edge of the crease as he chipped in the victory.
It's important to note that both Suter and Gilbert have played over 25 minutes for the past three games. Suter has dipped below that number only once in five games. In other words, those are some tired legs on the blueline.
One bright spot on the defense has been 2011 first round pick Jonas Brodin. The young Swede debuted against Detroit last Friday, earning his first career assist to go along with his first career penalty minutes. He's looked very comfortable on the big stage for a 19 year old.
Young d-men have a tendency to play tentatively, content to give up the puck, get their thirty seconds of ice time and get off. Brodin has not. He's challenged the opponent's top forwards and has shown a willingness to push the play. Brodin has made his fair share of so called rookie mistakes. But a player who both makes and recovers from mistakes is worth much more than one who is afraid to make them at all.
The Wild welcome the Columbus Blue Jackets to the X Tuesday night in what could be a perfect tune up for the impending battle with the Blackhawks. Four points in two days is just the medicine this team needs to calm an increasingly restless fanbase.