Five things to be thankful for this Minnesota Wild season...and a couple that we're having second thoughts about...
Let us try and be thankful for what NHL hockey fans in Minnesota have right now. Because, it could be much, much worse...
1. The play of Zach Parise is certainly worth the price of admission, if you're a Wild fan. He actually gets it, that it's the play EVERY night that determines how a team does. Practices the same way as he plays. Overcomes adversity like few the game has seen in a long, long time.
2. Ryan Suter has actually become a better player with less overall time on ice this season. Until recently, when 3 of the top 4 defensemen went out with injury and/or illness at the same time, Suter was on his way to less time on ice on a game-by-game basis. And, he was becoming a better defenseman for it. But, help is on the way, as his 'little buddy', Jonas Brodin, seems to have overcome the mumps and may be back for duty this weekend, vs. St. Louis on Saturday night.
3. The offense that is coming from the second line, with Nino Niederreiter as the team's leading scorer, is a welcome relief for what could have been a really stagnant line otherwise. Nino, indeed, knows how to put the 'biscuit in the basket'. Now, if he could only get Charlie Coyle going again...
4. Marco Scandella's maturation and development is a sight to behold. The No. 3 defenseman for the Wild right now, the fact that he is moving the puck and not just playing steady defense right now, speaks volumes as to his versatility and development. Scandella's play has inspired others to do the same, also.
5. The two-headed goalie tandem is back. Niklas Backstrom rolled over the Florida Panthers like a storm front Monday night; the only goal scored was a disputed high-stick call. Darcy Kuemper came back from a disastrous game on Nov. 16 vs. Winnipeg, to shut down the Philadelphia Flyers in Philly on Thursday night.
OK. That was the good stuff. Now, the bad stuff:
1. The power play is as abysmal as ever. If ever there was an option for not accepting a penalty against your opponent, the Wild could use that option about now. A wretched 1-for the season power play on the road does not make for happy coaches, players, or fans. Which leads me to Item No. 2...
2. Thomas Vanek. This isn't snakebit, folks. The snake would die of embarrassment if he bit Vanek, whose steadfast refusal to skate, hit or (especially) shoot the puck makes his $6.5M contract even a bigger albatross for Wild management than the two contracts that were vanquished from the books (Dany Heatley, Robert Parrish) and the one who got away (Clayton Stoner) who were cleared out to sign the ex-Gopher. Vanek thinks that every goal he scores should be a tip-in from in front of the net. Sadly, not every goal will be that way. But, don't tell Vanek that.
I'd rather have Jason Zucker and Erik Haula on the power play than Vanek, which makes the last 1:17 of Saturday night's 2-1 loss at Tampa even more puzzling. The coaching staff knows how little Vanek produces, yet they still put him out there. Anyone else would have been more productive.
Oh, yes, we'll still see Vanek out there, trying to cherry-pick at the red line, unable to help out on defense or the power play. And, he's into the Wild for about $19 million more the next three seasons. Happy, happy, joy, joy.
Let's see what happens the next five games, with four of the five teams in last season's playoffs. Then we'll be past the quarter mark, and four of the next five games at home. Let's all see what happens.