Minnesota Wild Turning It Around After Slow Start

Blake BenzelCorrespondent INovember 12, 2009

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 10: Mikko Koivu #9 of the Minnesota Wild congratulates teammate Greg Zanon #6 on his first goal of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on November 10, 2009 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After a putrid start to the 2009-10 NHL season, the Minnesota Wild are starting to show signs of life. 

Everyone expected some growing pains to start the season; however, when the team started 3-9-0, it raised some eyebrows. 

How bad was the team’s start? 

It ranked as the team’s worst start in franchise history—worse than their inaugural campaign when the team started 2-7-3. 

The Wild have long been known as a streaky team, however, and this season has not been any different.  Since their slow start, they have won four of five games heading into Thursday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning

The team’s recent five-game stretch has seen them give up more than two goals just once (their 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks) and has seen them dominate play on multiple occasions, including most of the game against the Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs

The Wild have been in desperate need of what head coach Todd Richards calls their “compete level” to be higher, and they have done just that.  Their recent two victories against Dallas and Toronto have been strangely devoid of the defensive errors that have plagued them this season, with the exception of Schultz’s own goal—part of the territory as a defenseman. 

One thing that really has stood out to me over the last two games has been the communication between the rearguards.  Against Toronto, especially, you could tell that the defensemen were actively communicating with one another.  This is something that has changed during the Wild’s recent winning ways and something that will need to continue if the team is to build on their recent success. 

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In addition to the team’s defense actually playing defense, their offensive lines are finally starting to click. 

The AMA Line has been put back together (for those uninitiated into the wonders of Mike Russo and his blog for the Star-Tribune, the AMA line is A ndrew Brunette, M ikko Koivu, and A ntti Miettinen), Martin Havlat is finally beginning to play like the player everyone thought that he would be and the team’s third line of Chuck Kobasew, Kyle Brodziak, and Cal Clutterbuck has looked like one of the team’s best lines on a regular basis. 

But on top of all of this, there is one thing that has really stood out in my mind over the last five games. 

Richards finally looks comfortable behind the bench. 

You want proof?  Just look at his use of timeouts in the last two games. 

As Russo pointed out, he has been very shrewd in using his timeouts—using them at crucial points against both Dallas and Toronto to give his team a much needed extra rest. 

This team is proving that they are extremely talented in all facets of the game; however, their one weakness to this point has been their coaching. 

This has never before been a problem for the Wild, who have always had the luxury of having one of the best coaches ever to grace the NHL behind their bench for their first eight seasons, but early on in this season Richards was struggling—both with the pace of the game and with the management of the game. 

But now he’s hitting his stride, getting in his groove, or any other cliché that you might want to use. 

This is good news for the Wild. 

Yes, they’re still in last in their division.  Yes, they’re tied for last in the conference. 

But after this recent stretch of games, they’re just four points behind Edmonton, six behind Vancouver and seven out of the top eight. 

For a team that has struggled as greatly as they have, there certainly looks to be a bright side. 

The Cutting Room Floor 

This is a new segment I’m going to include in my articles from time to time about random notes or blurbs that I either cut out in my final editing process or just decided not to write about.  So, here’s the run off from my brain.  Enjoy! 

When Niklas Backstrom was signed by the Wild before the ’06-’07 campaign, no one (myself included) knew a whole lot about him.  I decided to do a little research and found some video and scouting of him here and there.  Right after I saw the video of him, I called up a buddy and we started talking about the pick up. 

I told my buddy that Backstrom would be the team’s best pick up of that off season. 

He told me I was full of human excrement (a slight paraphrase). 

After Backstrom’s 100th career victory, he is top in team history in shutouts, save percentage and goals-against average and will likely pass Manny Fernandez for the all-time leader in wins. 

Looking back, he wasn’t such a bad pick up after all. 

It’s looking like Steve Ott won’t be penalized for his WWE-esque flying elbow against Petr Sykora. 

Both players and fans have called for Ott’s suspension after the extremely reckless hit, but a lack of good video footage was cited in the reason why a suspension wasn’t going to be levied. 

Sykora is currently out with concussion-like symptoms. 

Why in the world won’t Benoit Pouliot and James Sheppard shoot the puck? 

In 15 games this season, Sheppard has just 13 shots and in 12 games, Pouliot has 15 shots. 

Maybe it’s confidence, but these two youngsters need to get their careers on track and it’s pretty hard to gain confidence in scoring when you don’t shoot. 

I think Kobasew has a clause in his contract that states that he must get leveled at least once per game.  I have yet to watch a game that hasn’t seen him get absolutely annihilated at least once. 

Big John Scott has looked absolutely unbelievable on defense this season, as has Marek Zidlicky.  If these two keep playing like this, sign them up for next year and quickly! 

That’s all from me for now.  I’ll hopefully be back tomorrow with a preview of tomorrow night’s game.

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