Sunday, December 5, 2010

How long...will this keep goin' on?

Like the old song, we ask this question of Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher:

'How long...will this keep goin' on?'

The Wild enter this week with a morbid 1-5-2 record since the OT win in Detroit on Nov. 19th (and 3-7-2 in their last 12 since the Atlanta disaster on Nov. 11, the date I have been using for the last month to show the ineptitude of this Wild club).

Yes, there is reason for optimism (Martin Havlat's sudden upsurge, the return of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, the continued goaltending of 'Backodore') despite the number of bad goals against them lately, most as a result of inopportune screening by the Wild defense.

But, therein lies the rub. The problems of the Wild, as many of them as there are, in my opinion:

1. Not enough shots on net. You don't win if you don't score, and you don't score if you don't shoot. You shouldn't have 13-15,000 people at the 'X' screaming 'SHOOT!!!' and then still wind up passing the boards, because the forward moved to set up for a shot. I've seen this all too often this season. And the next time I see no one in front of the net, when the puck is ready to come out from behind the goal, I may just be besides myself.

2. Too many players are moving too slow. Granted, some of this is due to age (Andrew Brunette, as an example), but a lot of it is players taking the night off, for whatever reason. The first line (Brunette, Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen) especially has looked slow and erratic the last two weeks. None of those three wish to go after a puck in the corners. The lack of speed and/or urgency in their game has cost the Wild dearly, as they either get penalized after they get caught, the Wild generate no offense, or at worst, the Wild give up yet another easy goal.

3. Someone want to shake up the third line? The John Madden-Eric Nystrom combination is getting beat up fast, especially when the Wild are shorthanded (they are both -11 as of now). This is where Miettinen should reside, until either he is traded or the unrestricted free agent-to-be is allowed to go elsewhere. The fact of the matter is that the third line needs help, and right now they're not getting it.

4. I'll say it: Cam Barker is a STIFF. How can you be that well paid, and yet that much of a lumbering oaf on skates? This week, rookie Jared Spurgeon has been paired with the Human Pylon II, which has made on-ice life very difficult for the young defenseman, who some have called 'minnow'. Barker, a -9 as of today, has really worn out his welcome with his passive-non-aggressive play, and his standing at the blue line, too inept to do anything, allowing opposing forwards to spring free for breakaways.

5. We fans all love the shot-blocking exploits of Greg Zanon. However, maybe, just maybe, sometimes the right play doesn't always mean sacrificing the body to block the puck. Especially when your defensive partner (Marek Zidlicky) is on the ice more for offense, than defense.

Zanon is a good defenseman. He deserves to be a top-4 on any NHL club. Zidlicky, for all his known problems, is actually having his best season as a member of the Wild. Maybe not statistically, but in overall play, he has never been better. Any defensive pairing works better when both members are upright and skating. Zanon has been getting caught out of position way-y-y too often, then tries to make up for it by blocking shots. If the Wild are to get better, they must play better positional hockey. Starting with the No. 2 defensive pairing.

The Wild now have four days off until their Thursday night game at Phoenix, against a Coyotes team who came into St. Paul, and exposed every weakness of the Wild in one pathetic evening of puck. After that, the Wild make their annual December visit to Southern California, two arenas (STAPLES Center, Honda Center) which the Wild have not fared well in over the last few seasons.

Will the winds of change blow thru St. Paul this week? The best answer is...'we'll see'.

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