The Minnesota Wild began the lockout-shortened 2013 season by winning four of their first ten games. Although they had added superstar forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to their lineup the Wild were still plagued by that problem that it seems has afflicted them since the team first took to the ice in the fall of 2000. They were not scoring enough goals. In addition to still being offensively challenged the Wild were also breaking down defensively and taking penalties at inopportune moments in games and they looked like a team that perhaps needed some time and maybe a full training camp in the fall to come together.
Since Feb. 9, the Wild have won twelve of eighteen games and as of Monday night’s 3-1 win in Vancouver against the rival Canucks, the Wild held sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division with an overall record of 16-10-2; 34 pts. Monday’s win also marked the first time the Wild have won three games in a row in the 2013 season and the first time they have won in Vancouver since 2009.
The Wild have managed to turn things around by shoring up their team defense, getting scoring from players other than captain Mikko Koivu and Parise, and by their defenseman becoming more comfortable with each other and with head coach Mike Yeo’s system and controlling the puck much better than they were early in the season. Most notable among the veteran forwards who have picked up the scoring for Minnesota are center Matt Cullen and forward Devin Setoguchi.
Three of the Wild’s top prospects; forwards Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker along with defenseman Jonas Brodin, were brought up from the Houston Aeros and have provided the Wild with speed and energy (Zucker), poise (Brodin) and muscle with scoring touch (Coyle). Another highly regarded prospect, center Mikael Granlund, was sent down to Houston so he could get more playing time as he was becoming a regular healthy scratch with the Wild.
Most understood that Parise would make an immediate impact with the Wild and he did. The improvement in the play of Ryan Suter however is arguably the biggest reason the Wild’s ship has steadied in February and March. Suter leads the league in ice time per game with an average of 27:20. Suter while slow out of the gate in terms of scoring has warmed up to a point where he currently has 23 points (2 goals, 21 assists) and is tied with captain Koivu (6 goals, 17 assists) for the team lead. Suter’s emergence as a rock-steady leader and performer has been instrumental to Minnesota’s turnaround.
With 20 games remaining in the shortened regular season the Wild are currently in 3rd place in the Western Conference. They need to keep their foot on the gas however as they are a measly four points from being in 9th place and out of the playoff picture. No team in the tight Western Conference playoff chase can afford any sort of a losing streak at this point in the season as even a two or three game skid could knock them right out of the race.
The Wild cleared a major hurdle on Monday night in defeating the Canucks in Vancouver. The Wild face a similar hurdle this evening when they take on the always strong Detroit Red Wings in the Motor City. The Red Wings are not having their usual dominant season and currently are holding on to 7th place in the Western Conference. The Wings look more beatable than they have in many years and the Wild can really give their rising self-confidence and their playoff chances a big boost with a win tonight in Detroit.
Face-off in Detroit tonight is scheduled for 6:30 PM CDT and the game can be seen on television both locally and nationally on NBC Sports Network .