The Minnesota Wild have struggled through adversity all season long.
Injuries, learning a new system, injuries, their equipment fire, sickness, injuries...Did I mention injuries?
It seems like every single time the team gets a player back from injury another one takes their place on the injured reserve. It started with Pierre-Marc Bouchard, just one game into the season. That was the first big one.
Then Cal Clutterbuck, before his gutsy return from a high-ankle sprain…Five weeks early.
Then there were nagging injuries to Petr Sykora and Martin Havlat. Then there was Derek Boogaard, then Kim Johnsson, then Josh Harding—all with minor injuries.
Then the next major one came as Petr Sykora was sidelined with a concussion from, pardon me while I editorialize, an extremely dirty hit by Steve Ott.
Then there was Chuck Kobasew and Benoit Pouliot. Kobasew suffered a minor injury and Pouliot got an injured wrist that has kept him out of the lineup even since he was traded to Montreal.
Then, the next biggie, Brent Burns with another concussion. Then Martin Havlat with another nagging injury.
The list goes on.
But, while the Wild have struggled with injuries all season long, they have thrived of late. In large part, because these injuries have allowed General Manager Chuck Fletcher to begin reconstructing the team a bit earlier than he had originally intended.
While most teams are struggling to keep afloat amongst the rash of injuries that they have received, the Wild are flourishing.
If Bouchard doesn’t go down, the team doesn’t trade for Kobasew, who has quietly become one of their most solid checking forwards.
If Burns doesn’t go down, the team doesn’t call up Clayton Stoner, who has quickly endeared himself to the coaching staff and fans alike with two points and an even rating in three games. For those keeping score at home, that’s one more point than the typical replacement(s) for Burns had notched in 32 games combined.
If the team isn’t struggling with injuries, they don’t pick Andrew Ebbett up off of waivers. But they did, and Ebbett has quickly asserted himself as a mainstay in the team’s lineup.
If the team doesn’t have injury problems, they likely wouldn’t have had a spot for Guillaume Latendresse on their roster. Instead, they traded for Latendresse and he has quickly become an important part of the team, playing an integral role in their offense.
I mention this, because this team is truly a team. While there are individuals that stand out (Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, etc.) the parts have largely been interchangeable for much of this season.
Despite their struggles early on, which have been well documented, and their recent two-game skid, this team mentality has the Wild as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They have clawed their way into challenging for a playoff spot and, what’s more, they play 16 of their next 25 games at the Xcel Energy Center—a building where their record is 10-4-1 so far this season.
If you watched the last six periods of Wild hockey (against Ottawa and Colorado), you likely saw a Wild team that is struggling in a large way. Their players are playing with new and unfamiliar equipment and there will be a transition period, to be sure.
What you saw over those last six periods of hockey is the Wild playing five periods of some of the worst puck that they’ve played all season, right up until the third period against Colorado.
While one period of solid hockey does not right the ship or stop a skid, what it does do is show that this two-game skid will not be extended much past that.
How can I be so sure?
Because, if you watch the third period against Colorado and compare it to the first period against Ottawa, you see two completely different teams.
It takes a while for players to get confidence in new equipment in any sport. For players that are as obsessive about their equipment as hockey players, it can completely change the way that you play the game.
But, if you saw the third period on Monday, you saw a team that was beginning to get their confidence back.
And that, my friends, is the most important thing that can happen right now.
- Petr Sykora is back, practicing with the team (albeit wearing the grey non-contact jersey) and is expected to be back around the New Year.
- The flu bug is flying around the Wild’s locker room and has claimed its latest victim. Martin Havlat is questionable for tonight’s game against Edmonton.
- While Havlat is questionable, Guillaume Latendresse is expected to return to the lineup.
- Equipment Manager Tony DaCosta told Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the likely cause of the team’s equipment fire was a stray propane torch. The guess is that the torch fell off of the team’s stick tool cart and something fell on top of it, pushing down the trigger.
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