Saturday, May 4, 2013

Game 2 Thoughts: Skill Deficiency


So, what did we learn? We learned one big thing: that the Wild's upper-end skill level is no match for the Blackhawks' upper-end skill level. In fact, the Wild's top skilled players are roughly equivalent to Chicago's 3rd line in terms of straight-ahead offensive skill. We can effort with the best of them, but it takes apparently a special alignment of the stars to dial up the kind of performance from a guy like Koivu that A) is on par with an average game from the likes of Toews and B) is necessary just to start the conversation of whether or not the Wild can skate with the Hawks in a playoff series. As relatively good a job as the Wild's top line is doing on the Blackhawks' top line, the Blackhawks' top line enjoys the ability to not be counted on for offense every game because their second line is so good - and their third line so opportunistic. The Hawks are a very good, very deep team. But the Wild's top line enjoys no such luxury. They have to be perfect defensively AND offensively in order for the Wild to have a chance to win.

It's not just about Koivu, either. I'll give Coyle a bit of a pass because he's a rookie. But Parise, bless his little heart, just isn't in the same league - at least with Koivu as his center - with the four-line-six-defense tsunami of the Blackhawks. Parise has performed exactly as his career statistics show he should have this season. He has not disappointed at all. But he's in an untenable situation with these line mates, asked to do this job, against this caliber of opposition.

And that was the concern last summer, remember? The Debbie Downers said that the Wild reached and overpaid in a less-than premium free agent class. Granted, most of those Debbie Downers were fans for teams that swung and missed on the same players. And granted as well that Suter has exceeded expectations - shaking off whispers that he wouldn't be the same player without the great and powerful Weber next to him (he hasn't been...he's been better).

I'm not saying I wish we hadn't signed Koivu or Parise (anyone who says we shouldn't have signed Suter is a moron). I'm just saying we put Koivu and Parise in roles that they cannot fulfill and that's unfair. And the result is that we're nowhere close to contending for the Cup unless other teams knock off the real contenders for us. Again, not that we thought we were this season, but is Granlund and Kuemper and full-time Zucker going to elevate us to the level of the Blackhawks? This series is a forward-looking measuring stick. And we're short where it matters: skill.

The eastern conference game must just be a different, inferior game to how we play in the west. Parise has simply disappeared where and when it matters most. He's had shots, says the hockey-illiterate like Souhan. Well Brodziak had three of his own. Shots alone don't necessarily tell you anything.

This isn't another "blow up the team, fire everyone" spasm to which Wild fans are so prone. We have an incredible core, still have an enviable group of young players, and a good GM. I think Yeo's best coaching days are ahead of him. We don't have three things: a top-drawer goalie, depth on defense and a top line. Glass half full: that's only three things. Glass half empty: those are three pretty big things!

Maybe this is all prelude. Maybe this is the eye-opening experience for a guy like Koivu that he will carve into his memory and use as his motivation while he's golfing and working out and eating sushi this summer; coming back a better player next season and raising his game to a Toewsian level in the process. That would be great. It would also be a surprise.

But, as long as everyone shows up to the team events, everything's hunky dory, right?

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