When a team is struggling, players and fans alike need to take solace in the little things.
This weekend saw the good and the bad of the Minnesota Wild, as the team dropped Friday’s game to the St. Louis Blues by a score of 3-1 before coming out with a strong showing at home against the Carolina Hurricanes, defeating them 3-2 in overtime and extending their home winning streak to three games.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking or maybe it’s reading too much into two games, but after the first period against the Blues, that saw the Wild get outshot by a 15-4 margin, the team looks to finally be getting it.
Despite only scoring one goal against the Blues, the Wild’s offense was buzzing for almost the entire second and third periods, outshooting the Blues 17-11 over the last two periods.
The Wild, again, however, were stymied by the hot hand in net and could only muster one goal.
Against Carolina, the team looked to pick right up where they left off on Friday night, having some added energy in the lineup with Petr Sykora and Cal Clutterbuck both returning to action.
The Wild controlled play for much of the game against Carolina and, again, came away with an overtime winner at home.
There were some large storylines this weekend, the largest being the return of Clutterbuck to the lineup on Saturday night, just two weeks removed from a high ankle sprain—an injury that typically takes six to eight weeks to recover from.
Clutterbuck, already a fan favorite in Minnesota, only increased his status on Saturday night with a diving game winner that you would have had to see to believe.
Even more remarkable is the fact that Clutterbuck wasn’t even slated to play.
Upon finding out, he actually went into Coach Todd Richards’ office and asked that he be inserted into the lineup. Given the go ahead by Don Fuller, the team’s Head Athletic Trainer, the decision was made to insert the young agitator into the lineup after pregame warmups.
Were it not for Clutterbuck’s triumphant return, the big story of the weekend would be the scratches for Saturday night’s victory.
Despite his strong play over the last few games, Benoit Pouliot found himself in a familiar place on Saturday—back in the press box as a healthy scratch. James Sheppard, however, had a very unfamiliar experience in joining Pouliot.
Sheppard, the previous golden boy of the organization, has played very uninspired hockey this season. He has not played physical in the least and has yet to even tally a point, going minus-5 in that time.
While Pouliot stepped his game up during the rash of injuries that struck the Wild early in the season, Sheppard seemed to wilt under the pressure.
It was a move that was a long time coming and something that, hopefully, will light a fire under Sheppard when nothing else seems to.
Finally, the other big story from the weekend was the injury to defensive stalwart Kim Johnsson. Johnsson left Friday’s game against the Blues after the first period with what was dubbed an “upper-body injury” and is said to be out for a matter of weeks.
Whether you like Johnsson or not, there is no denying that the man is a large part of the team’s blueline and plays a great deal of important minutes in all situations.
Johnsson will be replaced by John Scott at even strength, and maybe on the penalty kill, but there is going to be a significant hole to fill on the power play.
While Richards used Shane Hnidy, who has a very heavy shot, on Saturday night you can’t help but wonder how long inserting Hnidy will work.
Despite Friday’s loss, the Wild made significant steps this weekend and began looking like they were coming together and understanding what was expected of them.
The momentum gained over the weekend will look to be carried into Monday night’s game against the Blackhawks.
All they need to do now is start filling the back of the net.