In preparation for tonight's game featuring the Blackhawks and their Central Division rivals(?) the Minnesota Wild, I virtually chatted up Emilie Wiener, the managing editor over at Hockey Wilderness. We asked each other three burning questions sure to titillate our team's respective fan bases.
Jen: Ryan Suter regularly skates about a million minutes per game. Do the Wild keep an Iron Lung in the locker room for him? Do you worry that he will burn out before the end of a long season?
Emilie: Some Wild fans worry about him being overused. But honestly, I see him after almost every game and I’ve never actually seen him look tired. After the Flyers game on Monday, he was playing street hockey with his son. He just doesn’t get tired. A lot of it has to do with the fact that he positions himself very well on the ice, and frankly doesn’t have to hustle to get to puck often.
To add to that, while I understand why hockey fans would be against planning him a lot of minutes, no one knows his conditioning level better than he does. He played long minutes last season (anyone remember the nearly 40 minutes he played in during one of the playoff games last season?), and there was no negative outcome for him. It's normal to look at the situation and be concerned, but when you actually see how he is after games and talk with him about…it’s just another day at the office for him.
Jen: If you could wave a magical hockey stick and "fix" one thing about the Wild, what would it be?
Emilie: No more injuries. Oy. The Wild have this weird ability to take on strange, bizarre injuries. Puck to the cheekbone, puck to the eye, having a goaltender run over and get a concussion...I mean, two years ago the Wild had WARREN PETERS as their first line center because injuries wiped out over half of their roster. This is the biggest fear for Wild fans. The team has great depth, but because they got to a point where so many players were out with injury that the 3rd line center of their farm team was center the top line of their NHL team, no depth is good enough.
Jen: Which player on the Wild under 25 years old do you think has the most potential and why?
Emilie: You’re all going to be mad, but I can’t pick just one. Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin and Nino Neiderriter all have huge potential. Nino, aka Knightrider, and Coyle are going to turn into two very good power forwards. Granlund has the vision and stick handling skills of a hockey god, and when he's healthy (currently out with a concussion, THANKS ASSHOLE KADRI) he sets up some of the most beautiful goals you'll see outside of Patrick Kane. Brodin is cool as a cucumber, although he is struggling to regain his confidence from a broken cheekbone earlier this season.
Emilie: Coach Q is known for using a line blender during games, which is something Wild fans are looking for Coach Yeo to try and utilize during games. Is it as awesome as outside fan bases seem to think?
Jen: This falls squarely under the "be careful what you wish for" heading. Experimenting with line combinations is certainly preferable to sticking with something that doesn’t work simply out of stubbornness or a lack of creativity. There are definitely times that Q’s line blender provides a spark to the team mid-way through a game and he does give players the opportunity to give it a go on various lines and at different positions. During the Playoffs last season, I think the line blender was used too much early on. When Q went back to lines that had worked all season, suddenly the chemistry was back and the team came back from the brink of elimination.
This season has been a different story. Q’s line blender has been constantly set at puree and frankly it’s maddening. Instability at center and trying out a bunch of IceHogs on the wings wouldn’t be too overwhelming but coming out of camp the Blackhawks kept 8 defensemen on the roster. As soon as injuries required some line shuffling, we were left with "Team Accountant" Sheldon Brookbank, a defenseman, skating as a wing for multiple games.
Emilie: Patrick Kane got off to a bit of a slow start at the beginning of the season, but is kicking ass and taking names now. What attributed to his turn around?
Jen: The Blackhawks had the luxurious burden of a seriously shortened summer prior to the season. There was a bit of experimenting going on at second line center, which may have contributed to Kane’s slow start. As soon as Patrick Kane decided playing hockey was super fun again, well you know the story. Everyone in the hockey universe saw his ridiculous puck handling video. Giving the fans a treat like that and probably all the gushing that goes on in the wake of it really seems to make him have more fun. Watching him skate around the ice like a mischievous little imp is one of my favorite things about hockey. When Patrick Kane is having fun, the rest of the league cringes in horror because he is just that good.
Emilie: The Blackhawks just lost to the Stars earlier this week. What happened, and how do you think the team will adjust so they don't fall victim to the same mistake?
Jen: That loss to the Stars was so very strange. The Blackhawks owned the puck the entire night. The possession numbers were skewed ridiculously in their favor. I thought the Stars did a very nice job taking advantage of the sloppy "we just got home from a long road trip" mistakes the Blackhawks made. The Stars have a few of the most efficient even strength scorers in the league so this isn’t surprising. Seguin and Robidas were out with injuries and I think the Stars rallied as a team to do what they could.
Some of the goals were off of defensive mistakes, others probably should have been saved and there’s always the good old standby of puck luck. Any way you put it, the Blackhawks should have won that game and they didn’t. They were not all that focused early in the game and it got them into a hole. The fight between noted pain in the butt Andrew Shaw and the newly minted public enemy of Blackhawks fans’ Antoinne Roussel didn’t do anything to change the momentum. Roussel also continued trying to run Toews and Kane but that’s a conversation for a different time. I will say that Roussel’s taunting of the fans after scoring on the penalty shot seemed to electrify the building, so good job good effort on that one buddy.
During a long NHL season, I think it is to be expected that we will see a few periods or games where the team just isn’t focused. How they respond is the important thing and since they stormed back to tie the game and made Kari Lethonen’s job extremely difficult with 50 shots on goal, I won’t be running to the panic room just yet.