CALENDAR TURNED DEC. 13-14
The Wild was the first NHL team to 20 victories, to 40 points. It was the best road team in the NHL, the best comeback team, winning 12 times when allowing the first goal. Then, the wheels fell off during a winless stretch of eight games in 15 nights. On Dec. 13 in Winnipeg, Matt Cullen returned home because of illness and Guillaume Latendresse made an expedited return from a concussion. In a fast, physical, one-goal loss, Pierre-Marc Bouchard was driven face-first into the boards. The next night, the Wild returned home to play Chicago. Marek Zidlicky returned from a concussion, and suddenly, a blue line that had played consistently well with the same defensemen during a seven-game win streak -- Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Nick Schultz, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin -- was altered. The Wild lost in a shootout. It lost Latendresse for good. It lost Mikko Koivu to a knee injury, meaning he would join Devin Setoguchi, Latendresse and Bouchard on the sideline. Days later, the Wild's identity of being a hard-working, good-defending team was gone. "The details in our game -- completely nonexistent," coach Mike Yeo bemoaned after a Dec. 22 loss at Edmonton.
Last summer, GM Chuck Fletcher added Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi to rid the organization of a passing mentally by bringing in shooters. The result? The Wild scored the fewest goals in the NHL. During a 20-7-3 run to open the season, the Wild scored one or fewer goals four times. Since? Twenty-seven. What happened? Well, injuries didn't help. Latendresse and Bouchard missed 111 of the Wild's nearly 400 man games. Koivu missed 27. That wreaked havoc on the lineup and specifically affected Heatley and Setoguchi, who often played with linemates not suited for the top two lines. The Wild, because of a horrendous season by Zidlicky and the trade of Brent Burns, got almost zero production from its blue line.
LOSS OF KOIVU
The Wild was a one-trick pony again this season. For the second consecutive season, the team was a Koivu injury from disaster. Last season it was a broken finger, this year a shoulder injury. He missed 23 games in the second half, and the Wild just doesn't have the depth to replace all the things Koivu provides.