The Minnesota Wild are in a dogfight with Vancouver for the divisional lead, making for some exciting hockey as the 2006-07 season draws to a close. The playoff teams are all but decided in the West, but the important placement of the teams is now very much up for grabs. Minnesota, for the moment (the Canucks play tonight and could change this) sit one point up on Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead.
Minnesota has been often noted for their systematic play, often playing a very defensively aggressive style with loads of forechecking. This year, Minnesota has seen a swing in a different direction and are taking a more offensive slant towards the game. With multiple trades to improve the team’s offense, the Wild look to make an impact in the playoffs if they can hold together at the seams.
The injury to goaltender Manny Fernandez certainly hurts. The Wild has instead turned to backup goalie Niklas Backstrom to guide them. Backstrom, one of many Finnish keepers in the league, is a veteran of international play and has loads of experience in the Finnish SM-Liga. He isn’t particularly tested at the NHL level, however, which may cause some problems for the Wild in the post-season. Manny Fernandez may be back in time, though, which will alleviate some of the question marks over the squad.
Defensively, the Wild are quite strong. Martin Skoula, Nick Schultz, Kim Johnsson, Kurtis Foster, Brent Burns and Keith Carney round out the defensive team for Minny. Kim Johnsson would likely be considered the leader of the pack here. He’s quick and agile at the blueline and can put together a great rush up the ice. Schultz is another rushing defenseman, but his experience leaves something to be desired in terms of playoff hockey. His tendency to blow big plays under pressure will make him a careful choice for the post-season power play.
Up front, the Wild are about moving the puck quickly and about taking shots. Marian Gaborik leads the way with this endeavour. Despite only playing 42 games in the season so far, Gaborik has an impressive 50 points. He can be tremendously sneaky, giving opposing defenders a lot to think about as he zips in and out of open spaces. Gabby plays well with a qualified center and has paired especially well this year with Pavol Demitra.
Demitra is the team’s points leader, with 64 in 67 games (25 goals and 39 assists). His ability to move the puck, coupled with his skating strength, making Demitra a tough player to move because of his strong abilities. He can be a little flimsy at times, however, and may be seeing his career come to an end in a few years. Nonetheless, Demitra is still a very versatile forward that has breathed new life into the Minnesota offense.
Brian Rolston is another big ticket for the Wild. His booming shot is legendary and his tendency to unleash the beast in the shootout has goaltenders diving out of the way. Rolston is the leadership of the Wild and leaves it all on the ice every night. He will be deadly in the post-season.
Filling out the rest of the forwards, giant forward Derek Boogaard, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Adam Hall, Mikko Koivu, Dominic Moore, veteran Mark Parrish, Branko Radivojevic, Wes Walz and Todd White bring various roles to life on the ice.
The Wild have a great combination of speed and skill. That speed and skill is adequately defended by toughness up front and more speed and skill on the back end. If the goaltending situation is able to work itself out, the Wild will be a dangerous team to play in any round of the post-season. If not, it may be a short one for the boys in Minnesota.