Gameday Preview: Minnesota

Robert Cleave
November 29 2010 07:41AM

 

COLUMBUS,OH - NOVEMBER 06: Martin Havlat  of the Minnesota Wild skates with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 6, 2010 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

 

 

The Flames head back to action this evening against the Wild, after getting a lengthy trip east out of the way and managing to do so without any casualties. Tonight, Calgary hosts a squad that is absolutely hanging on because of their powerplay and goaltending.

 

 

The Wild got slapped by the Avalanche in their last outing, and the last few games have seen the club's weaknesses fully exposed. Minnesota's 30 5v5 tallies are the second fewest in the league, and that performance is largely due to the fact that they generate fewer shots 5v5 than any other team in the NHL. Minnesota averages 24.3 shots/60, which is certainly a ways behind Calgary's 30.9, and they don't shoot a high percentage, either.

 

I guess that shouldn't really be a surprise. Other than Mikko Koivu and Martin Havlat, the Wild don't have much going on, and Koivu is having a mediocre season at EV, with only one goal and some fairly pedestrian possession numbers despite not having to face the toughs on most nights.

 

That duty has largely gone to John Madden and Eric Nystrom, and their regular and underlying numbers reflect the fact that Todd Richards has fed them to the wolves as a matter of course. Nyzerman is -9 with 1G/1A in 22 games and has been absolutely torched in terms of possession at EV thus far, but he's been over his head in the role the club has given him most nights. It does make you wonder who exactly Chuck Fletcher thought he was signing this summer, because with no disrespect to Nystrom, he's not strong enough for the icetime he's been stuck with. He'll be on the 4th line tonight from the sounds of things, which is about right for him.

 

 

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 19: Patrick O'Sullivan  of the Carolina Hurricanes skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins on November 19, 2010 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

 

 

The Wild claimed Patrick O' Sullivan off waivers from the Hurricanes, as the Minnesota native tries to resurrect a fading career. He's about one more bad season from heading to Switzerland or Germany to finish his time as a player, IMO, but it appears he'll get a chance to ride shotgun for Koivu, at least for now. With Guillaume Latendresse on the shelf for an extended period and Pierre-Marc Bouchard still out due to post-concussion syndrome, Minny needs someone, anyone, to play forward, so O' Sullivan will get his shot.

 

The Wild, as mentioned up top, live and die on the PP. They don't really generate that many shots when up a man, but unlike their work 5v5, they shoot the lights out when they get an advantage. The club's 21.7 5v4 SH% is the NHL's best, which does make one think that if they ever come back to earth even a bit, the Wild could drop out of the race pretty quickly.

 

The other factor, until this week at least, that was holding things together was excellent goaltending, but Minnesota has given up 5, 6 and 7 goals in three of the last four outings, so Backstrom and Theodore's numbers now reflect competent men at work rather than other-worldly stuff. They're still a good tandem, though, and they'll be the backbone of whatever success the Wild enjoy for the remainder of the season.

 

 

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 16: Goaltender Niklas Backstrom  of the Minnesota Wild warms up prior to the start of the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Xcel Energy Center on October 16, 2010 in St Paul, Minnesota. The Blue Jackets defeated the Wild 3-2. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

 

 

Tonight, it's pretty clear that a night where the game is played almost exclusively at 5v5 would probably favour the Flames. The Wild do have a pretty decent defense corp, and guys like Havlat and Koivu always seem to bring their best against Calgary, but their forwards are generally struggling badly enough that a good 5v5 effort from the home team, like we saw against Philly or even the last game between these clubs, might well suffice. 

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Robert Cleave is a perpetually grumpy Winnipegger.
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#1 Kent Wilson
November 29 2010, 08:30AM
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Martin Havlat has really come alive recently despite playing with nobodies. Im still waiting for the day he and Koivu are finally reunited and deployed PvP. That's the only thing that would make sense to me in Minny.

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#2 Kent Wilson
November 29 2010, 09:32AM
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On a more general topic, these are games the Flames pretty much have to win outright for the rest of the season if the playoffs are to be had. CGY has about 75 points to make up in 59 games...so roughly a 35-19-5 (0.59 WIN%). That manes consistently beating the lesser lights (particularly those in this conference) as well as taking it to the better teams now and then too.

I imagine the Flames will go on some sort of run eventually because that's what happens in a 82. If it doesn't happen for CGY soon and persist beyond a 5-gamer, they're probably done.

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#3 LawrenceS
November 29 2010, 10:27AM
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@Kent Wilson

Problem is, to Calgary, almost every other team IS a greater light.

They didn't beat the Devils, and there aren't many other lesser-lights to play.

That time is gone. 26th in the league and needing ~ .600 for the duration? They have to be giant killers now.

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#4 Kent Wilson
November 29 2010, 10:33AM
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Meyer on waivers this morning. I guess Kots will be back soon. Woohoo!

Meyer should have been sent down when Kostopolous was acquired, but that's neither here nor there. He's a gamer, but not really an NHLer.

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#5 PrairieStew
November 29 2010, 01:35PM
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@Kent Wilson

You meant win out vs Minny right ? Agreed, they need at least 4 of the 5 left against the Wild. 4 of them are in the next 3 weeks. 2 vs Columbus and a trip to LA to see the 2 teams there all before Christmas.

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#6 Kent Wilson
November 29 2010, 01:43PM
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PrairieStew wrote:

You meant win out vs Minny right ? Agreed, they need at least 4 of the 5 left against the Wild. 4 of them are in the next 3 weeks. 2 vs Columbus and a trip to LA to see the 2 teams there all before Christmas.

Yeah...I basically mean win games against teams that are (or should be) weaker than them. You can only bleed points against the weak sisters so much at the best of times. Calgary isn't going to run the table against the real clubs in this league for the rest of the season (absent some sort of COL-like run of percentages) so it's contests against the likes of the Wild where they have to make hay.

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#7 PrairieStew
November 29 2010, 03:02PM
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@Kent Wilson

The good news is, by my estimation there are 20 such contests remaining, the aformentioned 5 vs the Wild; 4 vs Anaheim, 3 each vs Edmonton and Columbus, 2 vs Ottawa and 1 each vs Buffalo the Islanders and Atlanta. You could swap in the Leafs for Atlanta and get 21 "easy" games if you want to call Atlanta a mid level opponent and the Leafs a cellar dweller. Yah - let's do that.

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