Myers: With playoffs looming, Wild struggling to find cohesiveness
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Rarely do we find near-perfect hockey philosophy in the halls of the Pentagon, but with the makeup of the Minnesota Wild changing rapidly, and the playoffs approaching just as rapidly, perhaps Donald Rumsfeld said it best a decade or so ago.
"You go to war with the army you have," Rumsfeld famously said, of the American troops storming Iraq. "They're not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."
Just nine games remain in the NHL regular season after Tuesday night's 1-0 loss to the Blackhawks, and the look of the Army that Wild coach Mike Yeo sends over the boards on a shift-by-shift basis has changed significantly in just a few days.
About the time they were facing off on Tuesday, the Wild quietly handed out a press release saying that Dany Heatley's arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, performed Tuesday morning in Cleveland, was a success. It also noted that Heatley would be expected back in the lineup at the start of the 2013-14 season. After scoring a goal in a 4-2 loss to the Sharks last week, Heatley went down hard at the final horn during an ugly stick-swinging fracas with Marc-Edouard Vlasic of San Jose.
With him gone, and Matt Cullen still missing, the look of the Wild, at least offensively, will be much different than what might have been expected just a few games ago. There was a strange hesitation by Wild players, coaches and management to even talk about Heatley and what his loss will mean on Tuesday. Perhaps it's some kind of superstition. Or perhaps it's just hockey.
"It happens everywhere. A lot of teams have lost players and new guys come in," said Wild forward Devin Setoguchi. "You've got to get through it. Good teams can step up and other guys get opportunities, and that's where you find out what you team's made of. Obviously we lost Cully and Heater and those are two top-six forward who played 18 or 20 minutes. It's a big loss, but that's just time for other guys to step up and try to seize the opportunity."
That's great to hear, provided someone steps up and seizes the opportunity. On a night like Tuesday, when the only highlight provided by a Wild player was Clayton Stoner's costly turnover that led to the game's only goal, there's a clear void that needs to be filled, especially as the games take on more and more of a playoff feel.
"You have to have some pretty thick skin to make a long playoff run," said Zach Parise - an expert on the topic having played all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Devils last spring. "I think we're getting there. We're starting to play some playoff atmosphere and playoff-type games where there's not a lot of opportunity and not a lot of scoring chances. But on the flip side we've got to win those types of games because that's what we're going to see from now on."
Jason Pominville was in a Wild uniform at home for the first time on Tuesday night. Mikael Granlund was back in St. Paul. Yeo strongly hinted that Stoner might sit, after a few sub-par games, meaning the blue line will likely look different soon too. And don't be surprised to see Jason Zucker return from Houston for a stint before too long. The only semi-familiar face (to Gophers fans) we're guaranteed not to see, at least not this season, is Erik Halua, who signed too late to play for the Wild until next season.
Out of necessity the line combinations are changing, the playoffs are looming, and the Wild are going to war with the army they have, even if it's not the army they might want or wish to have.