The Minnesota Wild are a team the Canadiens will play only one time this year, and as such are probably something of an unknown commodity for Habs fans. That they play in the West might indicate a certain style of play, but in fact their style is completely opposite to what is commonly referred to as ‘Western hockey’ in that they are a team reliant on the trap. After last year’s Cinderella run, they find themselves out of a playoff spot, three games under .500, and struggling as of this writing.
Here then are five things you need to know about the Wild:
1. Coaching, coaching and coaching. Who else but Jaques Lemaire could bring an under-talented team to a Conference Championship. He’s the master of the trap, having perfected it during stays specifically in Montreal and New Jersey and he’s brought the most stifling system in hockey to the heartland of American Hockey. While it may not be working as successfully this season, it’s still a very real entity that must be faced whenever teams play the Wild.
Another aspect that Lemaire brings is an uncanny ability to pull out the best in his players. He’s a taskmaster who’s in the face of players that aren’t putting out their best game, and what better example in hockey is there than the case of Alexandre Daigle? Left for dead by the hockey world, he now finds himself the leading! goal-scorer on the team.
2. Marian Gaborik. Last season’s revelation is this season’s late-coming washout. His contract negotiations caused him to miss the early part of the season and he’s therefore struggled to get remotely close to something resembling the season he had last year. With a completely underwhelming five goals and 13 points in 37 games, any disappointment on the part of Wild fans is surely understandable.
On the other hand, it could be said that he’s due, perhaps even long overdue. It would be extremely prudent for any team playing the Wild to pay special attention to Gaborik, because he’s got the ability to break out of a slump with a flick of the wrist.
3. Roloson and Fernandez. It doesn’t matter that the team is having a tough time of it this year, the goaltending tandem is having a fine season. Roloson’s sub-2.00 goals against and .932 save percentage are phenomenal, and Fernandez’s stats, while lower, are only very slightly less appealing. Each player can win a game on his own so there’s never an advantage by seeing one in the net over the other.
Looking at the scoring on the team, it’s very easy to see why these two are the co-MVP’s thus far this year. It’s a testament to their teamwork that they are managing to share the load without causing a ruffle; Fernandez has appeared in only five games less than Roloson.
4. Special Teams. Always a consideration in today’s NHL considering the tightness of the games and even more critical against the Wild who’s stifling five on five style prevents many chances other than with the man advantage. The Wild’s powerplay is ranked down at 26th in the league and their penalty kill, unsurprisingly, is ranked 10th overall. If the battles are to be won on special teams, this will be a tough task for the Habs.
5. Recently. In their last three games, the Wild have managed to tickle the twine a mere four times. On the other hand, a normally strong defence has been beaten twelve times during that same stretch. They’ve managed a tie, their last game, and two humiliating losses; all three games were on the road.
Unfortunately, the most recent game against the Kings was one where Roloson turned aside 36 shots and kept the Wild in with a chance to win, so whatever slump that might have been plaguing the team seems to have been sorted out.