Sorry kids. Indian duty precluded me from getting this yesterday. But let’s get to it now, Lord knows we’ve got plenty of time before the game tonight thanks to NBC. I always think it’s a great idea to start a game at 8:30 local time on a Friday night. Doubt the UC will be lacking for atmosphere tonight.
Right, the forwards:
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
This was the formation for most of the Colorado series, even though Mikko Koivu had centered for Parise for most of the season. Granlund is the better playmaker for these two snipers though, and he scorched the Hawks this season with four assists in just three games (he was hurt the other two). Of course, he was able to do that as Q kept tossing Michal Handzus against him, which won’t happen this series (I pray). Granlund was able to feast off Hawks turnovers and cash in on the break, but hopefully the Hawks have tightened that up for good now. He’s a shifty little fucker, with some balls so he’s not going to shy from anything.
Parise is obviously the big gun and brought his A-game at the end of Round 1, almost willing a Game 6 win by himself at home. What scares you about Parise is that his best work comes right around the net, and this type of player has given the Hawks fits before (Daniel Briere scoring 18 goals in the ’10 Final comes to mind). The Hawks don’t really have any crease clearers in their top four, as much as Hammer and Seabrook should be. Parise is too strong and his hands too quick to be completely neutralized by any road grater anyway. He only made an impact in Game 3 of last year’s series, but I’d look for him to do more this year.
Pominville really cooled off in the second half of the season, and only managed an empty-netter in Round 1. But he’s still very effective at ghosting into space to find time for his quick release, and runs a point on the power play where he’s pretty good at getting a shot through. He had his fun against the Hawks early in the year.
Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
This combo presents the Hawks with a pretty big line to deal with, which makes me think this is where Keith and Seabrook go. Moulson and Coyle are the type of power forwards that the Hawks don’t like to see, and Coyle really played well against Colorado. Moulson can be a pretty stealthy sniper too, though Koivu isn’t quite the playmaker to make him blossom. Koivu has driven Toews nuts before, with his faceoff prowess, more physical style than you realize and hockey smarts. The plan for these guys will be pretty simple, which is get the puck deep, try and cycle and crash the net. If they have a big series then this is going to be trickier than first blush.
Dany Heatley-Erik Haula-Nino Neiderreiter
This is the big difference from last year’s Wild team, is they have an effective third line now. It’s also where Matt Cooke’s suspension actually did them a favor, because it gave Neiderreiter a bigger role which he’s taken with aplomb. Put it this way, Cooke wouldn’t have lasered that wrister past Varlamov. Heatley, all jokes aside, has reinvented himself as a decently effective grinder who can still snipe one home if you give him the chance. I’ve really enjoyed watching Haula this season since his call-up. He never stops. He’s a pest through constant motion, even though he’s not much bigger than an Italian beef sandwich (MY FRENT!). The Hawks aren’t outgunned by this third unit if the peformance from Saad-Kruger-Shaw in Game 6 is what will be the norm, but the Wild aren’t quite so top heavy as they once were.
Stephane Veilleux-Kyle Brodziak-Cody McCormick
The only one worth discussing here is Brodziak, at least until Cooke returns in Game 4 because I doubt they’re going to shift Neiderreiter off the third line for him. McCormick and Veilleux will barely play, and Brodziak will take some of Haula’s shifts on the third line. It feels like Brodziak kills the Hawks. He’s scored against them three straight seasons. It’s a total of five goals in 12 games the past three seasons in the regular season, and for a worker-bee that’s a boatload. He just makes himself known down low on the forecheck and gets to the front of the net consistently. He’ll score again this series. Just accept it.
This is not the same Wild team as last year, but there still doesn’t appear to be enough to throw a major scare into the Hawks if they’re paying attention. Yes, the Wild just took out a team with a superior point total, but the Hawks aren’t nearly as flawed as the Avalanche. They actually have a blue line (and if Leddy and Rozie carry the form from the last three games into this one there isn’t a team around that can match their depth) and they’re just not as top heavy as the Avs were. It may take six games this time around because the X will be hard to pull more than one out of. But it won’t take more.