There were Great Expectations in Minnesota after their hot start last year and big free agent additions this summer. The stats-inclined amongst us remained skeptical and indeed with a .500 start through the early going and bottom of the league possession numbers, the Wild remain one of the least intimidating opponents in the league currently.
The Flames aren’t exactly imposing either, of course. Without Cammalleri and Backlund once again, they will be dressing two rookies on their second line. Not to mention the rookie in net who is playing with the knowledge he will probably be waived and demoted almost as soon as the final buzzer sounds.
Calgary was noticeably exposed against the Canucks on Saturday night in light of these issues, so they can’t exactly take anyone lightly at this point. Particularly since they have to start collecting points soon before the early season hole becomes too deep to dig out of. With just 8 points in 9 games and currently sitting 12th in the Western Conference, the Flames are in danger of falling too far behind the pack out of the gate if they continue to lose for much longer.
The bad news for the Wild is their spending spree has only marginally improved the club over last year’s Cinderella edition. Ryan Suter is playing in the top-4, has a respectably easy zone start (54%) and is getting absolutely buried in terms of possession (-11.95/60). In fact, his corsi is the worst amongst regular Wild blueliners, which should be especially alarming for Minny’s decision makers given how much money they invested in him. It’s early so it’s possible Suter will reel things in, but those are poor early returns.
Zach Parise has been better and is one of the few Wild forwards above water. He hasn’t turned them into instant contenders or anything, but there’s no question the Wild’s top line is much more dangerous now and will be the primary concern for the Flames this evening.
Nothing changes from the Canucks game aside from Sarich drawing in for Derek Smith. And for good reason – Smith had a dreadful night in Vancouver. Babchuk remains a healthy scratch (FOR NOW).
- Glencross – Tanguay – Iginla
- Cervenka – Street – Hudler
- Comeau – Stajan – Stempniak
- Begin – Jones – Jackman
- Bouwmeester – Giordano
- Brodie – Wideman
- Sarich – Butler
Stempniak continues to be good on the third line, generating another goal and a few chances on Saturday night, but that unit wasn’t as noticable sans Backlund. The second line was also very quiet with Ben Street in the middle. He has had a good few years in the AHL but Street struggled to do anything of note in his first NHL contest for the Flames. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to translate things at this level.
Parise and Koivu are the big guns here. Cal Clutterbuck is a really good middle-tier, shut-down player (although he’s known more as a hitter/agitator) and Kyle Brodziak is a capable 3rd line type center.
- Parise – Koivu – Coyle
- Heatley – Granlund – Setoguchi
- Cullen – Brodziak – Clutterbuck
- Bouchard – Konopka – Rupp
- Suter – Brodin
- Stoner – Gilbert
- Falk – Prosser
The Wild’s second line is probably a lot more famous than it is effective. Mikael Granlund made hay in Finland the last couple years and is generally considered a high level prospect, but he has been beat up so far in the early going of his NHL career. Granlund’s possession numbers are terrible (worst on the team in fact) and he has just 3 points in 10 games played and 14 shots on net. He’s a guy finding his legs and shouldn’t be in a top-6 position at this point in his career.
Dany Heatley’s fall from grace is well established at this point. He’s a guy you don’t want firing on your goalie from the slot, but the rest of his game has fallen away over the years. Devin Setoguchi has the second worst possession rate on the team ahead of only the aforemention Granlund, which is not unsual for the erstwhile Shark. I suspect it’s part of the reason San Jose had no problem moving him.
The Wild’s other roster holes are obvious on their back-end. Suter is paired with rookie Jonas Brodin on the first pairing. Brodin is another pretty decent looking prospect, but again he’s hardly being delpoyed in ideal fashion, assuming the Wild want to win more than a few games this year.
Also, I don’t know what PM Bouchard is doing on a 4th line with two ruffians.
Sum It Up
Minnesota remains a flawed club despite their Wild (pun!) spending this past off-season. They have a first line the Flames need to be concerned with and few other decent pieces peppered throughout their line-up, otherwise it’s rookies and liabilities all the way down. At some point all of this may coalesce into a contender, but it won’t be this season for sure.
That said, they could be a club battling for that final playoff position in the West come game 48, which is probably where the Flames will find themselves as well. If Calgary intends to make the dance, then Minnesota is a key team to grab points from.
TIlted Kilt Ticket Giveaway
Good News Everyone! The Tilted Kilt is giving away two tickets to a lucky patron this evening. Simply stop by before the game and you could win the chance to walk down the street and watch the action at the dome as well.
Otherwise you could just stick around TK and enjoy the game on their various big screens. Win-win!