Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: The Artists Formerly Known As Versus, WGN-AM 720
Hey Big Spender: Hockey Wilderness
I’m not going to say that the insanely loose pocketbooks of the Wild led to the lockout that almost cost us the season… but I will say that it added at least 3 months to it. I always look for arbitrary or petty reasons to hate other teams but I’ve never really had a reason to hate the Wild (they’re still no North Stars) but I’m going to go ahead and have one now.
Either that or Cal Clutterbuck’s facial hair… that’s a good enough reason too.
One of the biggest concerns of this shortened season has to be the fact that only 40-some odd games isn’t a big enough sample size to really figure out who the best teams are. 82 games may too many, sure… but 48 might not be quite enough. Case it point – The Wild last season. About halfway through the season last year, the Wild were the top team in the league. I was going to say they looked “unbeatable” but that was certainly not the case. They looked very beatable… but no one could seem to do it. True to their style, the Wild weren’t putting up a lot of goals but they were giving up far fewer despite getting drastically out-shot in just about every game.
Time/luck/fate/karma caught up to them though. Despite leading the league for a good amount of time, the wheels came off the Wild… and it wasn’t pretty. By year’s end, the Wild were 14 points out of a playoff spot. The solution this year? Meet Zach Parise and Ryan Suter! That loud sound you heard was Mikko Koivu exhaling after finally getting some real players around him to help carry the team.
The Wild surprised most by grabbing both of the highest sought after free-agents over the summer and without a doubt, it will drastically change the dynamic of what we’ve always known as a pretty dull hockey team. Parise (American Hero) is one of the better scorers in the league with a pretty gnarly reputation as a forechecker. We’re all well familiar with Suter from his time in Music City. Paired with Shea Weber, Suter was part of perhaps the best defensive pairing in the league… and it could be argued that Suter was the better of the two. It remains to be seen how well he’ll play without Weber but I would imagine he’ll be just fine. Suter’s had a bit of a rough start to the year but not much more so than our own Brent Seabrook. They’re both still solid players but look like they haven’t quite found their footing yet. Suter’s had a new partner on the blue line last night in the 19 year old Jonas Brodin. Christ.. and we thought Leddy was young. Brodin plays more of the Duncan Keith/Leddy role in his quicker and more mobile game. He’s only 3 games into his NHL career though so the Hawks should look to capitalize on any hesitation the see from the rookie.
As always, the Wild rely on strong goaltending with a solid tandem of Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom… that is if they aren’t battling PTSD after seeing over 31 shots per game last season. Backstrom has seen the most games so far this season despite having a lower Sv% (.887 to Harding’s .902). He played last night against Columbus though so it’s probably that we’ll see Harding tonight.
Speaking of the game last night – it was an ugly win for the Wild as they let a two-goal lead evaporate early in the third before getting a game winner from Bouchard, the 100th of his career. The Wild were solid for 40 minutes but lost it in the third, allowing the Jackets to tie it on the power play. They were able to regain composure and rally for the win but it could have taken it’s toll for their overall stamina tonight.
We know the story for the Hawks.. surprising solid special teams, surprisingly solid goaltending and a surprising undefeated record. As much as this Wild team has improved – they’re still not terribly intimidating. Prior to last night’s win they had lost 3 in a row and face a much stronger challenge tonight with the Hawks in town and on two (much needed) days rest. Expect the Wild to come out of the gate strong but they’ve got to worry about keeping up the same pace all game.
Let’s Go Hawks