Here I was going into tonight planning on talking about the importance of Mikko Koivu.
Not that he’s not. He set up the second goal of the game, logged 23 1/2 minutes of ice time, was a +1, and won 64% of his 22 faceoffs. It’s great to have him back, but it doesn’t mean the same after the result tonight. They lost. They’ve canceled out the good getting 14 points in 7 games has done.
The silver lining to this is the cushion that the Wild have built has prevented the Wild from dropping out of the race. In fact, after a 7 game losing streak, the Wild’s 6th in the conference, and only one point behind the division-leading Canucks. That’s actually really awesome. While it certainly would be nice to still have that leeway in the standings, that’s exactly what a team builds that leeway for. For when their team gets bitten by the injury bug, when their goaltending regresses from superhuman to merely very good, when the team gets tired and frustrated. Even after a 7 game losing streak, the Wild are closer to the top of the standings to the outside of the playoff bubble.
But make no mistake, that leeway doesn’t exist anymore. Koivu’s back, and the excuses have to be out the door. It’s not ideal to play without two Top 6 wingers and your most skilled call-up, but good teams can and do overcome injuries like that. Hopefully Mike Yeo takes this losing streak as an opportunity, not a problem. It’s easy to fall into bad habits (or in the Wild’s case, stick with them) when the team is winning. This team passes too much, and doesn’t put the puck on net. This was an issue that Yeo tried drilling into the team’s head in practice earlier this year, and when the Wild were winning, fans stopped hearing that message as much. The right way for Yeo to approach this is to reinforce what’s going to make this team successful: being aggressive and shooting the puck. A seven game losing streak creates a lot of receptive ears.
Maybe it’s premature to go on this rant, as we don’t yet know what Cody McLeod will be suspended for his hit from behind that left Jared Spurgeon injured for the game, and possibly beyond. We’ve seen Ryan Whitney, Zach Bogosian, and Lennart Petrell put questionable-to-dirty hits on Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Marek Zidlicky, only to avoid suspension for what some might call
absolutely stupid ticky-tack reasons. I guess I could be fine with this, but then don’t suspend Bouchard for two games for having his slash lifted into another guy’s own face.
One one hand, I expect McLeod to be suspended. It was a behind the back hit where he shoved Spurgeon into the boards. Case closed, right? But, you never really know. Here’s the hit (From @Fels0096 via Hockey Wilderness):
The league could do the “It’s not that bad” thing the announcers were going off of, McLeod could say he didn’t mean to do it, which seems to be a magic suspension-avoiding incantation, or they could let him off with time served. I think the fact that Spurgeon was injured will make this suspendable, but really, it’s anyone’s guess (Bouchard was hurt, no suspension). Even if he is, it doesn’t restore my faith in the Brendan Shanahan’s rulings on player safety. Suspending offenders based on injuries is foolish. If a player drives another player into the boards head first, it’s still a dirty hit (which makes me a saaaaaaaad panda). Even if Spurgeon is skating tomorrow, this is a hit that needs to be suspended, because if it’s not suspended, that hit will keep happening. It sucks, but it appears that Shanahan is going status quo at the NHL Player Saftey. He’s Colin Campbell with a camera.
The World Junior Championships kicked off today, and all six of the Wild’s Prospects were in action. The first was Mikael Granlund in the Canada-Finland game, where Granlund was held pointless (but had an even +/-) in an 8-1 blowout (which would have been 10-1 if Canada had Phillips and Bulmer) against the tourney favorite Canadian team. Obviously, we expect more from Granlund, but he’s entitled to a game where he’s off the score sheet. Moving on.
Sweeden’s game against Latvia was a mixture of disappointment and elation. (Channels Chris Berman) “My Name Is” Jonas Brodin had a very good game, on defense and offense, where he chipped in a couple of assists. With questions about his offensive upside, it’s nice to see him get on the board. I’m excited to see if he can keep up that kind of production against the tougher teams in the tournament, because if his offense comes around, his defensive positioning and puck-moving skills will make him the total package. Johan Gustafsson had a disgusting night, and I don’t mean “Patrick Kane Shootout Goal” Discussing, I mean “Marty Skoula, but if he only had one leg” disgusting. 4 goals on 13 shots. To put that in perspective, Latvia’s goalie gave up 9 goals, and he had a SV% almost .100 points higher. A starter in the SEL shouldn’t be a sieve to Latvia. End of story. Johan Larsson left in the first period, but not before getting an assist. He should be fine, Sweeden’s coach said they only pulled him because they weren’t going to risk him getting hurt. And really, it’s not like they needed him.
There’s a Party in the U.S.A., though, as both Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle did very well in the US’ 11-3 drubbing of Denmark. Captain America, Jason Zucker, scored a goal and got 4 assists, and Charlie Coyle had a hat trick. While Denmark lacks the depth that a team needs to stay competitive in a tournament like this, the Wild prospects success is encouraging, especially Coyle’s. Underperforming to what the expectations were, Coyle hadn’t been having a great year, culminating in him leaving Boston University. Like I said, Denmark isn’t exactly a powerhouse, but a hat trick is a positive sign that maybe Coyle was right, and all he needed to do was focus 100% on hockey. We’ll be staying tuned to see if he continues to get back on track against tougher competition.
I hope that you all had a great weekend. I had a really nice Christmas, I feel really blessed to have been able to celebrate with my family. I’ll make sure to put up my Christmas photo next time I post, because I’m really self-indulgent like that.
And go T-Wolves!