Commentary

Point Shots: Not Wild about youngsters' soft start

Updated: October 24, 2008, 8:01 AM ET
By Jim Wilkie | ESPN.com

The Wild are 4-0 despite some top forwards being hurt, have been perfect killing penalties and have the third-best power play (28.6 percent), yet coach Jacques Lemaire isn't very happy.

Lemaire wants youngsters Benoit Pouliot, 22, James Sheppard, 20, and Colton Gillies, 19, to make a bigger impact now that they've been given more opportunities to play in the absence of injured Marian Gaborik, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Owen Nolan. Lemaire said "the kids" failed to step up during a 1-0 victory over the Lightning on Sunday.

"They've got to do better!" Lemaire told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Come on. We've got to see them. I've got nobody! I've got nobody to play, and I've got to sit them? They have to wake up. Come on!

"I don't want to get on them, but you know, this is the NHL. I've said that. But we demand a lot. The kids, they've got to play."

Watch Thursday against the Sabres to see if Pouliot, Sheppard and Gillies respond to Lemaire's challenge. Whichever one can gain Lemaire's confidence surely will be rewarded with better ice time and power-play opportunities. Otherwise, Minnesota will need the Antti Miettinen-Mikko Koivu-Andrew Brunette line to carry the load again.

The good news is that it appears Bouchard and defenseman Marek Zidlicky might be back against Buffalo.

Off Center

[+] EnlargeErik Christensen
Scott Cunningham/NHLI/Getty ImagesChristensen has been struggling to start the year.

Atlanta's Erik Christensen started the season as the No. 1 center but is off the top line, and he might keep falling if he can't snap out of his early-season slump. Christensen, who has one assist through the first six games, tells The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he plans to shoot more.

"When you're struggling, I think you have to shoot twice as much and constantly put everything on net," Christensen told the paper. "Sometimes it's just a lucky bounce or a shot that goes through a big screen that gets you going. I'll take anything right now."

The top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Todd White and Bryan Little has accounted for five of the Thrashers' past eight goals.

Atlanta isn't very deep at center, but if Christensen can't produce, coach John Anderson might have no choice but to move Eric Perrin or Marty Reasoner up to play between Slava Kozlov and Jason Williams.

Lovin' Lucic

Up in Boston, gritty forward Milan Lucic has been going in the opposite direction, climbing from fourth-liner at the start of the season to top-line winger for the Bruins.

Lucic brings a nice physical element that creates space for center Marc Savard and winger Phil Kessel. He set up Kessel with a nice drop pass in Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Sabres.

Lucic has a goal, two assists, 14 penalty minutes and is a plus-1 through six games. His ice time has gone up by more than four minutes per game since the season opener (now in the 17- to 18-minute range) and he played 2:38 in power-play time against the Sabres and 3:18 the night before in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Penguins.

The second-year power forward is worth watching, especially in custom leagues that count hits. He ranks 31st with 17 hits through Wednesday and he doesn't plan to change his style anytime soon.

"The big thing for me has to be to keep it simple and do the things that I was doing last year that made me successful," Lucic told the Boston Herald. "When I complicate things, it just makes me worse, not better."

Getting up to speed

[+] EnlargeSaku Koivu
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jim RossKoivu is still not feeling ready and he's off to a good start.

Canadiens captain Saku Koivu shares the team scoring lead with defenseman Andrei Markov with nine points (three goals, six assists and a plus-8), but the center tells The Montreal Gazette he isn't quite up to speed after a foot injury slowed him during training camp.

"I was afraid not so much for timing, because that comes fairly quickly," Koivu told The Gazette. "I was concerned about the hips and the groin injuries. I didn't have those four weeks in August when you skate and prepare yourself for training camp. I went basically straight to the exhibition game and I skated a week and a half with the team.

"Even now, I feel good for a period and a half, two periods, and then I get fatigued a bit. And that's when you have to worry about injuries," said Koivu. "I think it's going to be good to have some time this week to get in the gym and to do some skating."

Koivu and linemates Guillaume Latendresse and Alex Tanguay have combined for 22 points in helping the Habs to a 5-0-1 start. Just wait until Koivu gets into proper shape. He'll be well-rested for Montreal's next game Saturday against Anaheim after a four-day break since the Canadiens' last game Monday.

Vancouver vibe

Coming home from a 2-4 road trip and getting four days between games, Vancouver hopes to get the Sedin twins back on track beginning Saturday against Edmonton.

Henrik Sedin had a goal, four assists and an even rating on the trip, while brother Daniel Sedin had two goals and an even rating but hasn't had a point in the past five games. Getting the last line change at home should give them a little more room by freeing them a little from opponents' checking lines.

"We know we have to be better. I don't think we have created the scoring chances we need to," Daniel told The Province newspaper. "We must get going now. We can't wait 10-15 games. That's too long. But we are working every game and sometimes it's just not going to be there. You have to remember, we've been playing some tough teams here and this is a tough road trip.

"Against Detroit, I thought we had a decent game. But we haven't been consistent and maybe that's because we haven't been able to get the cycle going behind the net."

New linemate Steve Bernier, who has a goal, two assists and a minus-1 rating in the past six games, is still figuring out how he can best fit in, whether it's hanging around the front of the net or joining the cycle along the boards.

"We're trying, and the one thing I have to get used to is playing against the other team's best defensive players every night," Bernier told The Province.

"My job is to be in front of the net screening the goalie, but I also need to be in on the cycle. It's only been five games and I think we can be a lot better. I do think we have to start showing more soon. We talk a lot in the room about where they want me to be, depending on who we are playing."

Sundin shine

Mats Sundin is apparently getting ready to return to the NHL, so check your free-agent list to see if he's available in your league.

Sundin had a physical exam in a Toronto hospital Wednesday and is expected to travel to Los Angeles to begin a two-week on-ice training program, according to The Globe and Mail.

It will still take until late November at the earliest for Sundin to see game action, wherever the unrestricted free agent decides to play, but he's well worth hiding on your bench after this positive news.

Jim Wilkie is a former NHL editor/writer for ESPN.com.