Big game for the Wild tonight against Chicago. It's never a good thing when you have to say that, over a four-game set, the game against Chicago is arguably the most-winnable! But, after tonight's game in St. Paul, the Wild heads out west to play, in order, San Jose, Anaheim and Colorado, before completing the four-game roader in Calgary.
1. It's The Cows. Kuemper has played very well of late. Even with Backstrom healthy enough to dress, I think I'm at least as comfortable with Darcy in the cage than Backstrom - even though Bax has played better of late, as well. I'm not less-comfortable with Kuemper, anyway. But, against Chicago, and with all due respect to Dallas, Edmonton, Ottawa, Nashville, Montreal and Toronto, Kuemper will see the best team he's seen this season since he beat LA on 1/7. He has the mechanics, it seems like his struggles early this season were confidence and maybe a bit of rust. But neither of those things seem to be bothering him now. That must continue to be evident tonight or the Wild cannot win, because...
2. Goals, goals, goals. The Wild's offense continues to be dismal, overall. Tied for 21st in the league with goals for per game (2.45), they have done an admirable job since the plague of shot-blocking injuries set upon them. But, the Minnesota Wild cannot win a shootout against the Blackhawks. Crawford got touched for 4 last night (plus the SO loss), so we'll see who Coach Q plays tonight on the quick turnaround. Regardless, you're going to have to score in order to win most of the time (channeling Lemaire), and if the Hawks put up the goals they typically put up (3.12 goals for per game), the Wild is going to be in trouble.
3. Les Enfants. This could end up being the season that really sets the Wild up for success and opens their window looking ahead a couple years. Why? Because the kids have been pressed into duty, and we're not getting ground up like the kids in Edmonton, for example. They're seeing (moderate) success, which is good if only because the alternative - losing - runs the risk of killing their confidence. With Parise, Koivu, Spurgeon, Bax and Hards all out, the kids have stepped in and we haven't sunk to the bottom of the league. If the typical progression is something like: kids get experience, mix in the right vets, suffer heartbreak in the playoffs, learn "how to win", then emerge as a contender, one could say the Wild is somewhere on that arc right now - which is comforting given where they were even two seasons ago. I know some of you get all exercised when Zucker gets demoted to the fourth line or back to Iowa. But there has to be a reason why, and Yeo is well aware of the positive things he brings to the game (speed, scoring) and Yeo also knows we need those things. But, although the offense isn't consistent yet, Coyle is coming along. Granlund, too. Nino has been a terrific get for Fletcher, one of the best values in the league. And don't look now, but Fontaine is on a 20-goal pace! The Wild might have as strong a core of 2nd-3rd line youth as there is in the league. And we don't even have to discuss Brodin, do we? Didn't think so.