Mike Yeo, Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Marek Zidlicky, Cal Clutterbuck, Devin Setoguchi

Slumping Wild try to avoid frustration

On Dec. 15, the Minnesota Wild were atop the Western Conference with a 20-8-4 record and 44 points.

Today, they’re in seventh with a 21-15-6 record…and 47 points.

Our resident mathletes will note this means the Wild are 1-7-2 over their last 10 games — they’ve only got one regulation win in their last 12 games — which is one of the most staggering slides in franchise history. Minnesota’s had tough stretches before, but never on the heels of becoming the best team in hockey…yes, in hockey. From Dec. 4-15, the Wild led the NHL in points. Today they’re in 13th.

The losses have hit the Wild hard, but they’re trying to keep their composure.

“It’s about being professional,” Kyle Brodziak told the Minnesota Star-Tribune. “Frustration is probably the easy way to go about it. The harder thing to do is just to dig deeper and try to find ways to be positive and keep coming to work just knowing in the back of your mind that eventually it’s going to pay off.

“You can’t get frustrated. Frustration is an evil thing that will just make it so much worse.”

The Wild are facing two major problems at the moment. One is a lack of goalscoring — they rank 29th in goals per game (2.19) and their leading scorer, Dany Heatley, has just 13 goals through 42 games.

The other problem is precedent, or lack thereof. Nobody on the team quite knows how to deal with going from awesome to awful in such a short span, mostly because teams rarely go from “best in the league” to “fighting for playoff positioning” in a matter of weeks.

“I’ve been on teams that had tough stretches, tough times, but I haven’t been on a team that you’ve been on top and then suddenly it goes the other way,” goalie Niklas Backstrom said. “It’s a challenge for us. We have to climb back.”

Unfortunately for Minnesota, things aren’t about to get any easier. The Wild will play five of their next seven on the road in tough locales — Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Toronto and Colorado — with their home games coming against the top two teams in the Pacific Division, San Jose and Dallas.

Panarin impresses ‘Hawks with his preseason debut

Artemi Panarin
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Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.

Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.

“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.

The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.

Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.

Gustavsson secures one-year contract with Bruins

Jonas Gustavsson
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There was stiff competition for the backup goaltending job in Boston, but with a signing this afternoon, it seems likely that the matter has been resolved.

The Boston Bruins announced that Jonas Gustavsson has agreed to a one-year, $700,000 deal. It’s a one-way contract, according to the Boston Globe’s Amalie Benjamin.

That contract is still small enough that the Bruins could bury it in the minors if they so desire, but it does set him apart from his last competitor for the goalie position, Jeremy Smith, who has a two-way deal. The fact that Boston went this route seems to imply that Gustavsson will serve as Tuukka Rask‘s understudy, although both netminders attended Sunday’s practice.

In Smith, the Bruins would be getting a 26-year-old goaltender who was dominant with the AHL’s Providence Bruins last season, but has no NHL experience. By contrast Gustavsson, 30, has played in almost 150 NHL games.

Boston sent Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban to the minors last week, but an argument could be made that either one of them is worthy of the backup job. However, both of them have a lot of potential and it’s not surprising that the Bruins felt they were better served by staying in the minors where they can play regularly and focus on honing their game.