The Wild held the NHL’s best offensive and defensive team to one goal tonight here at the X but couldn’t muster up a goal of its own and fell 1-0 because of it.
The Wild picked off several passes at center-ice to get on the attack, but it just couldn’t sustain anything close to sustained pressure and were beaten to or outbattled on most offensive-zone loose pucks. That led to a lot of offensive-zone time for the Blackhawks.
Still, this game had the feel of one big mistake costing one of the teams, and Clayton Stoner committed that faux pas when Marian Hossa read and reacted perfectly to his attempted cross-ice pass to Mikko Koivu.
Hossa picked off the ugly pass and used a quick release to beat Niklas Backstrom five-hole for the game’s only goal with 4:46 left in the second period.
The crowd groaned, especially when it became clear it was Stoner, who has been so maligned lately got a string of poor games with the puck. My Twitter mentions went into overdrive.
Coach Mike Yeo didn’t protect him after the game because there was no hiding the blunder. He said he would talk it over with his staff if he could keep playing him. My initial guess is Stoner keeps playing. The left-shot D behind him – other than Marco Scandella in the minors – are Justin Falk and Brett Clark, and the Wild hasn’t shown the confidence to give them top-4 minutes.
Right-shot D Tom Gilbert can play top-4 minutes, but he has struggled bigtime lately and can he play the left side? And Yeo has indicated over and over that Stoner’s issues have been with the puck and that he brings a hard-to-play against, physical, positional element that is valuable.
The problem is this is hockey. He’s a defenseman. Defensemen have to play with the puck.
Yeo said he has no concern about his blue-line depth (the Wild’s given up one goal in two games and held Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks’ horde of other scorers to goose eggs tonight.
So the key is to keep this in perspective. The Wild played the best team in the league, was in position to win the game but “blinked first.”
Offensively, the Wild didn’t win enough battles, weren’t opportunistic, especially on one second-period sequence when ice-cold Cal Clutterbuck couldn’t bury a loose puck he squeezed into the crease. He has one goal since Feb. 9.
The first line didn’t seem in sync tonight, the second line, especially Devin Setoguchi, misses Matt Cullen badly (Yeo said he’s getting closer, and Chuck Fletcher seemed to indicate that if Cullen had his way, he would like to play Thursday or Saturday, but the team may not feel comfortable risking his long-term health).
But sorry, it’s time to figure out a way to get Jason Zucker back. The Wild needs his speed, energy and clutch goal scoring.
While it’s easy to overreact to this loss, I still wouldn’t. One mistake cost them against arguably the best team in the league.
Still, the Wild has lost five of seven, is now seventh in the West and only five points up on ninth (Dallas). Two big games coming up against St. Louis and Columbus, which won big tonight. And the home game before this, the Wild laid a giant egg against the big, bad Blues.
Dany Heatley is indeed out for the year. What this means for his future in Minnesota now becomes cloudy. He has one year left on his deal at $7.5 million with $5 million in real money. Way too premature now to speculate. There will be time for that after the season.
Tough loss for a guy that almost never misses games.
“It's going to be a big blow,” Setoguchi said. “Not many guys in this room have played in the playoffs, so losing Heater is huge. He’s positive all the time, he plays big minutes, he's a big guy, you can't get the puck off him, he scores big goals.
“No one wants to miss a year, especially with his track record [of playing every game].”
The Wild has its team picture Wednesday morning. Talk to you after the noon practice.
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