Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks Eye On The Enemy: Gone Puck Wild (Minnesota)

By Colin Likas
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Hear what a Wild fan has to say about his team

So that 12-game win streak earlier in the season … where’d that come from?

DL: Yeah, it was a really a surprise. I think we all expected a big change for the Wild this season, but this was something special. Normally the team starts a meltdown about this time, but they actually took the opposite road and established themselves as a big player in the division.

Also, I really think that the streak was due to three things: 1) Bruce Boudreau‘s system was finally installed and clicking with the team, 2) Devan Dubnyk was playing at his absolute peak which was actually statistically better than when he started with the Wild and 3) Eric Staal has shown the Wild professionalism and how to win and made a resurgence in his scoring play.

The standout star so far for Minnesota has to be Dubnyk. How’s he been able to put up a Vezina-like performance this season, and can he keep it up?

DL: I think Dubnyk’s season is due to his inner strength. His trials of almost being shut out of the league have given him a laser focus and determination that keeps him grounded. He’s not worried about life outside the crease, so when he’s in it he can concentrate purely on stopping pucks.

Also, he works a ton to keep on his game. I do think he can keep it up. I think the difference down the stretch will be that we see a few more games of 3 and 4 goals against rather than just 1 or 2 against.

Who else has stepped up for Minnesota so far this season?

DL: Eric Staal! The amazing thing is he’s on pace for 60-70 points, which is about what he was racking up in his prime with Carolina. Also, the added presence in the locker room has been invaluable.

The Wild have benefited from their crop of mid-20s players like Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund adding a few more clutch goals and increasing their point output overall.

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On the flipside, have there been any disappointments for the Wild?

DL: Jason Pominville continues to slump and be a streaky player. The hope was that since he played so well at the end of the season and the playoffs last season, that he’d enter this season on that roll and really make a difference. Right now, he’s on a goal drought that has lasted 17 games, and that’s not the player they signed for $5.6 million a season.

Minnesota has been trying for the last several years to put together a team to at least get out of the Western Conference. Can this team do it, and why or why not?

DL: I think this team can do it. They’ve got a great goaltender, their coaching staff is better than it’s ever been and the contribution is up and down the lineup. Virtually every player in the lineup is on pace to exceed their point totals from last season. It’s a new team, really.

How about the Central Division? Do you like the Wild to overtake the Blackhawks and hold off everyone else for the crown?

DL: I think it’s going to be a very close race that could go either way and will really depend on the head-to-head matchups of the two teams. The Wild are two points behind, but they have five games in hand so I really see the race tightening, and that makes those head-to-head game very important.

Alright, let’s move on to the actual game in hand. The Blackhawks and Wild have somehow not met this season. What are you looking for in this game for the Wild?

DL: I want to see the Wild play their defensive style first and make no mistakes. The Blackhawks are a team that will take advantage of nearly every turnover or powerplay you give them, so I want to see the Wild play a possession game that doesn’t give the Kanes, Hossas and Toewses of world easy shots at Dubnyk.

Also the Wild need zero-to-one-goal Dubnyk because Corey Crawford will only be giving up a goal or two himself.

Are there are Blackhawks players, matchup-wise, who concern you when the Wild face them?

DL: Oh, yes. This is the most complete team in the NHL. The ’Hawks score, defend and have Crawford stopping a lot of shots.

Patrick Kane is certainly the player we in Minnesota fear the most.  So many times in the playoffs we’ve seen him just bury a mistake in the back of our net and make it look too easy. We can’t have Ryan Suter on every shift to stop him.

And last but not least, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game, and what do the Wild need to do to come out on top?

DL: I think this game goes to OT 2-2, but the Wild will come out on top. I really liked the Wild’s win against the Ducks on Sunday — they held a one-goal lead for a period and half on the road, and I think they can do that in Chicago on Sunday.

If they play shutdown and systematic hockey, the Wild can win a low-scoring game that this will most likely be. Bottom line, the Wild cannot serve the puck up to the ’Hawks’ big scorers.

Next: Blackhawks Hanging Tough In NHL Power Rankings

That’s all we’ve got for this week’s Eye on the Enemy. Thanks to Danny Lambert for offering some excellent insight into his favorite hockey team. It should be a great game Sunday — it almost has to be better than Friday’s affair.

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