Saturday, November 24, 2007

Saturday Night Special: Let's Get Wild!

Saturday Night Live was made famous by two wild and crazy guys. Well the Minnesota Wild just drive the state of hockey wild. The team started out 7-3-2...full of promise and looking good but injuries to Niklas Backstrom...and the personal absence/retirement of Wes Walz has seemingly put the brakes on the Wild season. The Wild stand now at 11-9-2...still only a point out of first place in the wacky Northwest Division. Now Backstrom was a main reason for the early success playing incredibly the first two weeks of the season....posting both of his shutouts in that time. Then the injury bug hit....and there wasn't as much rejoicing.

First Backstrom went down....then Gaborik and now Demitra....the Slovakia glass groin syndrome has taken full effect. This undoubtedly has hurt the Wild offense.

They have to rely more on the goaltending and lately even that has taken a hit. In a 3-2 loss to Calgary, Backstrom had to give up one of the most ugly goals I have ever seen....which lead to the Flames win. In yesterday's game, Backstrom had two goals he would most certainly like to have back and a defensive turnover so bad I could have thrown a clock through the television. Who does that in front of their goalie? Don't answer that Devils fans! The Wild had an awesome goal differential of +16 after 12 games....but now has slipped all the way back to a -1.

Now Gaborik and Parrish share the team lead in goals with 7 and Pierre Marc-Bouchard leads the team with assists with 14. A defensive player that has been playing pretty well is Brent Burns...his last two games have been not so great but his 11 points and a +4 are pretty solid for a player with such high expectations placed on him by management, teammates, and even himself. This is a little excerpt from Doug Risebrough's Managing Expectations....very interesting indeed. Burns recently was awarded a four year extension for his hard work...and players can go two ways.....

A couple players in the last couple years have discussed, in telling ways, the pressure of a long-term, high-paying deal. I won't name the players. But here is what they said.

Player A: "For the first time in my career, I came to the rink as an underachiever. It really ate me up."

Player B: "I got an opportunity early in my career to fly under the radar and live with my and my teammates' expectations. It's something I'm getting used to. It's more responsibility."

This really makes you think. Burns is going to be the anchor of this defense. Sean Hill is a nice veteran presence and a good mentor to have but the Wild's fortunes on the backend ride on the youngster. The defense and goaltending are a staple of any Jacques Lemaire coached team. It doesn't hurt that the forwards, as a group, are one of the best backchecking groups in the league. The Wild have strayed away a bit from that...and their 4-6 record in the last ten games indicates it more than the injuries. Injuries are just an excuse and the Wild have to fight through it. Also, Backstrom has to right the ship a bit on his own end.

It will take a team effort from the coach down to the players to get the Wild back on board but if any team can pull back the reins and rise back up the standings in the Western is the Wild. They have the system in place....they just have to execute it. Do you believe the Wild will bounce back? Voice your opinion and GO WILD!

~ stevens8204