Sunday, December 30, 2007

Gm # 38: Wild vs. Oilers

That...was some crazy shit.

The Wild came out ugly against a hungry Grease team, gave up not-one-but-two shorties (season total: 8!), dug themselves a 4-1 hole by the middle of the second period, and somehow managed a 5-4 OT win last night at the X.

Several of us watching the game and griping about it in Russoville, felt that they weren't out of it going into the second intermission after Rolston made it 4-2. On balance they hadn't played THAT poorly, and it IS the Grease, afterall. Sure there were moments of pure boneheadedness (ie Backstrom's brain fart behind the net and then half-assing it back out in front) but they just weren't skating like they believed it was over.

Then Gaby awakens from his post-fiver petit-mort for the third, Burnsie pinches in for the GTG, and Nummy in OT was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

Suddenly, the little moments of brilliance completely outshone the little moments of crap, and Wild fans are happy. Hill diving for (and getting) a puck at the blue line to keep a play alive Parrish getting worked over in the crease for the umpteenth time, etc.

Also, Demitra's borderline hit on Pitkanen resulted in at least one Grease player (*cough*sheldonsouray*cough*) coming completely unglued, which didn't hurt.

Tough loss for Roloson who had to feel like the last guy alive at the Alamo for the entire third period (and OT, for that matter). His amazing save on Fedoruk at the end of the second was justifiably the #1 play of the night on NHL Network's On The Fly highlight show.

*Johnsson's definitely showing some more offense, and he's producing results. That's a welcome change...lets hope he can keep it up.

*Nummelin needs to be in the lineup, and that's not just because of his OT/SO prowess.

*Gaby, maybe as much as ny young player in the league, needs someone to be his mentor. He COULD be a Luke Skywalker, but he's got to tell R2D2 to set a course for the Dagoba system to go find Master Yoda - if he even exists. A five-goal game, followed by 8 periods of ineffectiveness, followed by a great third period - he's a healthy groin and some consistency away from greatness.

All-in-all this could be a defining moment for the Wild...too bad the Sharks are in town Monday night.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Living for the wakeup call is dangerous living.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Character win.

BOTTOM LINE: Last year about this time the Wild started off on a tear that lasted nearly the rest of the second half of the season. Harbinger or coincidence?

STUD: Nummelin has been fighting to stay in the lineup. Surely an OT GWG can't hurt his cause.

DUD: I know he's getting some good pub, but Dominic Moore is a poor man's SRV - and that's a scary, scary thought. He absolutely craps his pants when he has the puck in the offensive zone - to the point that it's kind of embarassing. He might be a good checking forward, but we've already got like 7 of those on this team.


Friday, December 28, 2007

SBP Update

As my fellow Russotan GreenStar likes to say, "allegedly", it was a good night for the SBP.

I liked seven teams last night, and went 5-2 on them. I hit on Philly, Florida, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Nashville. I missed on Colorado and Phoenix. Unfortunately for me, I chose to look at these through the lens of a seven-team parlay (lay $5 to win $299), but I'll take a 5-2 night any time.

It's been a while since I updated the SBP, actually 18 games-worth. However, I have gone 13-5 in those 18 games (0.722).

Season record: 39-26
Winning %: 0.600
Last 10: 7-3 (0.700%)
Last 15: 10-5 (0.667%)
Last 20: 13-7 (0.650%)

Here are my picks for the weekend.


Islanders (vs. Devils) 1
Thrashers (vs. Bruins) 1
BlueJackets (vs. Hurricanes) 2
Penguins (vs. Sabres) 2
Predators (vs. Sharks) 0
Stars (vs. Blues) 3

Panthers (vs. Flyers) 1
Blackhawks (vs. Kings) 3
Canadiens (@ Rangers) 2
Canucks (vs. Ducks) 2


Gm # 37: Wild @ Coyotes 3/4

To start with, the Wild got back in the win column, rebounding after the debacle in Dallas. They beat the 'Yotes 3-2. And, while it wasn't the most exciting game to watch, the Wild did manage to give up a ridiculous 48 shots. A lot of them were from the outside, and precious few were on second chances, but were it not for the general brilliance of Nik Backstrom this could have been a very different outcome.

Overall it was a better game from almost everyone. Radio was pretty invisible, but his line showed up on the screen in the defensive zone doing a good job. Demo had some jump again, and nearly put in a nice feed from Parrish - who, incidentally, scored his first goal of the AW (After Walz) era.

The boys still struggle with clearing the zone at times which is both maddening and mystifying. They are extremely susceptible to a persistent forecheck, and this creates trouble when it leads to extended play in our own zone.

But I think the most important thing is that the win means the Dallas game didn't fester. Now we come home for three big ones (Edmonton, San Jose and Dallas again) heading into the new year.

A few quick hits:

*I think Backstrom re-established himself in that the guys had the faith in him to make the first save so that they were able to focus on taking care of the second chances. He gave up a bunch of juicy rebounds, but the defense did a great job of cleaning them up. Nik's biggest asset is his ability to be a calming influence on the team, and he did that last night.

*I really like what Nummy brings to the team. When he's on defense he adds a dynamic of offense that isn't there without him. When he's at forward he's an adroit-but-responsible forechecker. I'd like to see him get in some more games - and if that means that a guy like Foy or Radio or even Foster is sent packing, so be it. It's time for DR to fish or cut bait with a couple of these guys. This team needs some identity and I think some permanence in the lineup from game-to-game would help.

*Johnsson is flexing his offensive muscle again, and I'm very glad to see it. No, he's not putting up Lidstrom-like points, but it's coming.

*On the Coyotes' feed last night, they mentioned (again) that Gretzky keeps saying that Lemaire allows his offensive players to play offense - contrary to what many people think about him.

*Baudette, MN native Keith Ballard did a great job containing Gaby last night. He's really turning into a solid defenseman. One would suspect he'll be mentoring another Gopher next season as well when Blake Wheeler moves to the desert.

*That was the sixth-straight GWG from the BBR Me ASAP Line - four of which have come off of Rolston's stick.

Season series
Overall: Wild lead 3-0-0 (GF 9, GA 5)
In Minny: 1-0-0 (GF 3, GA 1)
In Phoenix: 2-0-0 (GF 6, GA 4)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Low percentage shots or not, giving up 48 shots a game is not a good way to go about winning games.

POLLYANNA SAYS: The power play continues to win games for us.

BOTTOM LINE: Two points, a little pride redeemed.

STUD: Backstrom gave the Wild exactly the game they needed.

DUD: Radio - where you at, bro?


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gm # 36: Wild @ Stars (1/4)

The Wild were absolutely putrid in their 8-3 ass-kicking by the Stars last night. Godawful. Ironically, the best player on the ice for the Wild was Harding, without whom the score could have been 15-3.

But this wasn't a loss to the Red Wings where you say "well, the Wings are that much better, it's okay". The Stars might be that much better, but this was most certainly not okay. Why not? Because the Wild showed absolutely zero interest in pushing back in this one once the Stars got up by a couple. The Wild literally deflated and they may as well have skated off the ice for as much effort as they put out.

To me, this again boils down to a clear lack of heart. And that's compounded by an apparent void in the leadership department. Can you imagine a Mark Messier team quitting in a game like that? Everyone has bad nights, and every team takes a beating now and then. But the Wild have seemed to fold under pressure and/or abandon hope with startling alacrity this season.

I do not think this is a talent-gap issue. I think it's a heart issue.

Now they take their Tin Man game to Phoenix for a game in the desert tonight.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Reversion to the mean is a powerful force.

POLLYANNA SAYS: At least Demo got back in the goals column.

BOTTOM LINE: The loss was one thing. Quitting on the game is quite another.

STUD: I guess Demo.

DUD: Gaborik was particularly terrible.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Gm # 35: Wild vs. Red Wings (2/4)

The Wild got pasted by the Red Wings again, losing 4-1 on Saturday night. But for a couple shifts it didn't even seem that close. Simply put, the Wings are in a different class than certainly the Wild and perhaps the rest of the league. Certainly there were some poor efforts from the Wild (Gaborik followed up his all-universe performance with an effort that wouldn't have been considered all-crapper, save for his one assist). Backstrom was back in and was largely adequate, though to expect more after being out for ten days might have been a little much.

I'm not going to get too worried about this one. The Wings are just that good, and you could expect a little emotional let down after GabyFest.

Season series
Wild trail 0-2-0 (GF 1, GA 9)
In Minny: 0-1-0 (GF 1, GA 4)
In Detroit: 0-1-0 (GF 0, GA 5)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Just pray we don't meet them in the playoffs.

POLLYANNA SAYS: At least this isn't the playoffs!

BOTTOM LINE: The (far) better team won.

STUD: We dump on Kimmy a lot for not producing any offense. Turnabout is fair play. Congrats on your first goal of the season, Johnsson.

DUD: Voros plays on the edge between reckless and aggressive. Saturday night he was more reckless than aggressive, and certainly not effective.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Gm # 34: Wild vs. Rangers (1/1)

Marian Gaborik treated hockey fans to a special performance last night, tallying 5 goals and one assist as the Wild doubled up the Rangers 6-3 at the X.

Simply, this was a dominant performance by a player who obviously has the skills to be one of the elite offensive players in the NHL. It overshadowed some spotty play by the rest of the team, some solid play by the Rangers, two big hits by Brent Burns (who took out 40% of the Rangers' skaters on the same play) and one ridiculous play by Martin Skoula. But, in the final analysis, all of the focus should be on Gaborik.

I realize this is easier to say after a big win, but the team is starting to show signs of really being a contender. That was the second game in a row that they won after giving up the first goal - and only the third time that has happened all season. The power play continued to show life, going 3-7. The defense, namely Burns and Johnsson, continued to show a propensity for joining the rush. The team overall continued to throw the body around a little bit. The goaltending was again more-than-adequate.

All this without Koivu - and that's the best part. There has been a lot of talk about the Wild needing a center, or one more piece up front to put us over the edge. Meanwhile, the team has assimilated to life without Mikko and is playing solid hockey right now. And, best of all, we know that at some point we're going to get a guy who was our best all-around player before he got hurt, and who won't need time to learn how to play center in JL's system.

All-in-all, for the things that weren't so great, Gaborik's genius made up for everything.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: They were arguably out-played 5:5.

POLLYANNA SAYS: That was the kind of night that you live for as a sports fan.

BOTTOM LINE: It was only two-points, but it was the most fun two-points all season.

STUD: Hmm...let me see, Demo and Voros both had two helpers...Butch had the GWG...ah, what the heck, I'll give it to Gaborik.

DUD: Skoula. Now let it never be spoken of again.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Useless Stats

Nashville (30 pts) is currently 21 points behind their division’s leader (Detroit, 51 pts).
That’s the largest differential among the six divisions.

1st New Jersey 39 pts
5th Islanders 32 pts

1st Ottawa 47 pts
5th Buffalo 33 pts

1st Carolina 39 pts
5th Washington 29 pts

1st Detroit 51 pts
5th Nashville 30 pts

1st Minnesota/Vancouver 40 pts
5th Edmonton 35 pts

1st Dallas 42 pts
5th LA 26 pts

FYI, the largest gap between 5th and 2nd place in a division is 14 points. In the Pacific 5th place LA trails 2nd place San Jose by 14 pts.

The other points differentials between 5th and 2nd place: Atlantic 5 pts, Northeast 6 pts, Southeast 5 pts, Central 4 pts, Northwest 5 pts.

Gm # 33: Wild vs. Predators (2/4)

On November 23rd, the Wild was spanked by the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-0 in St. Paul. That loss dropped their record to 11-9-2. That's significant because it was the closest to 0.500 the team has been since the season started. At that point, they had lost nine-of-fifteen and squandered every once of momentum from a 7-0-1 start. There were injuries and inconsistencies, and the team was playing mediocre-at-best hockey. In the eleven games since then the Wild has played three awful games, losing to the Flyers, Red Wings and Sharks. But...those three losses have been largely mitigated by the eight wins the team has to balance out that time frame.

Last night the Wild beat the swooning Predators 3-2, coming back from a 2-goal deficit to win for the first time in twelve opportunities this season. In fact, of those twelve times where the Wild trailed by two goals in a game, they had only come back to tie it up twice before this. It was also only the Wild's second win of the season when the opposition scored first in the game (thirteen opportunities). Coming into the game, the Wild's record when trailing after one period was 1-7-1. Trailing after two periods: 2-9-1. Trailing anytime in the game: 3-12-2. In short, when the score was 2-0 Preds after the second period, this game should have been over. But it wasn't.

Gaborik continued his hot play with a goal one-second after a third-period-starting forty-second power play expired. Belanger would tie it up, and then Rolston would pick up the GWG, for his 600th NHL point, no less. The BBR line played pretty strong all game, and the Mario Bros. line also had a few strong shifts. Josh Harding was solid again, and Skoula made up for an horrendous gaffe that lead to the Preds first goal with a better effort as the game went along. Only Foy and Moore stood out to me as not really contributing, but that's nothing new.

So, what does all this mean? Hopefully it means that the Wild are starting to find the same kind of mojo that launched their incredible second half last season. Being able to come back and win games is hugely important to a team that scores as infrequently as they do. The belief that you're not out of it regardless of the score or how much time is left - call it magic, arrogance, whatever - can be a powerful force on the bench. It's that kind of confidence that this team has been lacking all season. If last night's game is a sign that it's starting to come around, then that would be the best Christmas present Wild fans could hope for (besides the return of a healthy Koivu).

Season series
Overall: Wild lead 2-0-0 (GF 7, GA 5)
In Minny: 1-0-0 (GF 3, GA 2)
In Nashville: 1-0-0 (GF 4, GA 2)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Giving up a PPG to the 29th-ranked PP unit stings.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Not a lot to not like in that one.

BOTTOM LINE: It's only two points in the standings, but the how is very encouraging.

STUD: Scoring the GWG for a milestone career point is always good enough to get the stud, Rolston.

DUD: Foy took two stupid penalties, one of which lead to a PPG for Nashville. Not good enough, kid.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Gm # 32: Wild @ Kings (2/4)

The Wild had every reason to lay down in this one. Played the night before, half the team still getting over the flu, last night of a road trip... That they didn't, and indeed played an almost text-book road game, is perhaps more encouraging than the 2-1 outcome in their favor.

Compounding the difficulty of the task at hand, the refs (McGeough and Joannette) decided to hand out a grand total of 18 penalties (nine power plays for each side). This rendered the top-end guys nearly catatonic from exhaustion by the end of the game.

Gaborik continued his strong play of late with a first period goal off a breakaway set up by Skoula and Johnsson. He takes a lot of heat for his ineffectiveness on the shootout, and this is why - he can clearly beat goalies 1:1, so why doesn't he do it when there's no threat of being checked? Weird.

Perhaps not to the extent of the night before, but I thought Johnsson and Skoula both had solid games, including some timely pinching and a couple nice hits.

The biggest story line of the night was that Brent Burns had to play wing since the team was still so sick, and at the max allowable number of players. He was very, very strong - which might incite another round of "he's struggling on defense, move him back to wing" from the pundits - though it shouldn't. It is very nice to have the option of playing him there, but I think he has a higher ceiling as an all-zone defenseman than as a winger.

The other big story was the excellent play of Josh Harding, after his strong game the night before. Even moreso than in the Fowl game, Harding was square to the puck with great anticipation of when and from where the shot was going to come. He was very poised, and it was too bad he didn't get a shutout for his efforts.

I know the Kings aren't the Red Wings, but heading home with a 3-2 record on this road trip - the longest of the season, and when the two losses were SO bad - is a minor miracle. Now, with 6-of-8 at home and the rest of the division hot on their heels, the Wild needs to find that home attitude and keep up this new-found strong team play.

Season series
Overall: 1-0-1 (GF 6, GA 6)
In Minny: 0-0-0
In LA: 1-0-1 (GF 6, GA 6)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: How 'bout dem Vikings?!

POLLYANNA SAYS: These last two games are arguably more satisfying than the season-opening 7-0-1 run since we're playing better overall.

BOTTOM LINE: Textbook road game, beating a team we should beat, despite some adversity.

STUD: Harding. B2B wins for the kid, a better goalie game the second night. Made a strong case to get more starts immediately.

DUD: Moore continues to underwhelm. Nothing positive to mention, and 3-10 on the dots. If we ever get a couple centers I hope he's on the first plane out of town.


Gm # 31: Wild @ Fowl (2/4)

Not a lot went wrong for the Wild Friday night in Anaheim. They shook off a team-wide flu epidemic, got their power play mojo working, received solid goaltending and amassed a sufficient enough lead to take the foot off the gas in the third to rest up for Saturday night's game with the Kings.

Voros capped a perfect road period in the first with his sixth goal, and then the Wild power play went berserk in the second, tallying a team-record four power play goals in one period. When it was all over, Gaborik, Belander (GWG), Rolston and Burns had each beaten a Fowl goalie.

Harding had a very strong game, including a great glove save on a breakaway in the first period, and then some fine stops in the third. The two that got past him didn't really tarnish the overall effort since the Wild really did go into prevent defense the whole period.

In a vacuum, this was a momentum-generating effort. Strong play at both ends of the ice against an able opponent. Other than the overall efficiency of the power play units, to me the biggest development was how active the defense was. Particularly Johnsson who was all over the place.

Season series:
Overall: Wild lead 2-0-0 (GF 7, GA 2)
In Minny: 0-0-0 (na, na)
In Anaheim: 2-0-0 (GF 7, GA 2)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: The Fowl did get a PPG.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Now that looked like a playoff team.

BOTTOM LINE: They showed a little backbone, and took advantage of a string of penalties. Good enough.

STUD: Harding shook off a rough stretch over the last couple months with a good start that we desperately needed from our goalies.

DUD: Pretty quiet game from SRV, and he was on the ice for both Fowl goals. I don't think his spot in the lineup is so secure that he can float for entire games at a time.


Friday, December 14, 2007

SBP Weekend Update

Those pesky Grease upended me in the SO last night, beating the mighty Red Wings. That's 9 SO wins for Edmonton so far this season (vs. 1 loss). To put that into perspective, they only have 15 TOTAL wins! Nutty.

Season record: 22-16 (25-16 overall)
Winning %: 0.579 (0.610 overall)
Last 10: 7-3 (7-3 overall)

For this weekend:

Hurricanes (vs. Flames) 2 (take the over!)

Blackhawks (@ Sabres) 2
Senators (vs. Thrashers) 3
Canadiens (vs. Maple Leafs) 1
Flyers (vs. Hurricanes) 3
Lightning (vs. Capitals) 3
Kings (vs. Wild) 2

Rangers (vs. Coyotes) 3
Fowl (vs. Sharks) 1


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gm # 30: Wild @ Sharks (1/4)

You know that scene in “Braveheart” when the Scots get bamboozled by that British wank of a King who secretly launched a full-out offensive on them while Braveheart was cooing in the ear of the Brit Prince’s Frenchie wife? And then Billy Boy tells Hamish to “ride ahead and assemble the council - order it!” and the big guy does. And then there’s the scene where all the lords or whatever the H they were back then are standing around that meeting room with their thumbs up their collective arse fretting and crying about having to negotiate/surrender before the battle has even begun. And then WW gives his little recap speech that brings you up to date with everything that’s happened in the movie so far about “we won at [some hallowed Scottish battleground] and still you would not support me” or whatever. And then he says “if you do not stand with me now, then I say you are cowards” which was apparently enough of an insult back then to incite a near riot of umbrage from the assembled noblemen which is only put down when big Hamish swings the Axe of Doom and crashes it down into the middle of the table - which gives the cognoscenti enough pause that Willy Wally gets his chance to shake his head in disgust and walk out?

You remember that scene?

That’s what the Wild need right now.

They need someone to stand up and utter the one word that sends them all into apoplectic rage.
Of course, in real life, we then need the Wild to go out and turn this season right back around and embark on another second-half frenzy a la last season, instead of going behind Braveheart’s back and betraying him to their mortal enemy.

(the above also posted on Russo's Rants)

The Wild played another listless, heartless, disinterested, unprofessional game last night, losing to the Sharks 4-1 at the tank. Zero willingness to skate between the dots in the offensive zone (actually, the Mario Bros. did a little of that, so I'll give them a pass). Zero defensive buy-in from the forwards (a disturbing departure from Wild hockey of yesteryear). Zero ability of the suddenly-isolated defensemen to overcome that development, particularly in the face of a concentrated, high-energy, high-speed attack by the Sharks. Zero chance of coming back when you don't start trying until there's less-than half a period left and you're down by four goals.

These are extremely scary things if you're a Wild fan.

Simply, this team has no heart right now. Hard work has been a hallmark of this team since the first days when it was distinctly needed if the team was to have any chance of overcoming it's talent deficiency as an expansion team. That appears to be gone, possibly replaced by the misplaced notion that the overall talent level now obviates hard work. But, in the immortal words of Herb Brooks: "(the Wild) don't have enough talent to win on talent alone".

Is the answer on IR (Koivu)? In part, absolutely. Koivu was our best all-around player until he got hurt. But he's not THE answer. Is our answer in Houston? I have a hard time rewarding mediocre play with call ups to the show, and by all accounts the Aeros have been nothing if not mediocre on balance so far. Plus, what are the odds we'll do as well as we did with Voros again? Is the answer somewhere on the bench? It sure hasn't seemed that way, but that might be the only place it CAN come from if DR is as unwilling to overcome the challenges in trading as he sounds like he is.

Regardless, it all boils down to too many questions right now to feel very good about the Wild at this point in the season.


POLLYANNA SAYS: Radio scored again, all these third period goals from him!

BOTTOM LINE: The Wild were exposed as not being able to compensate for a physical opponent. And oh goody, the Fowl are up next.

STUD: Fedoruk again showed how large his balls really are by dropping the gloves for the second-straight game. When you're the only guy out of 20 that shows heart, you get the "stud".

DUD: Burns got turned inside out on at least one of the goals, and has mastered the art of getting his shot from the point blocked before it posed the slightest threat to the opposition.


Monday, December 10, 2007

SBP Update

Interesting weekend. In the system, I bet the Thrashers on Friday (win), the Bolts on Saturday (loss) and the Red Wings on Sunday (win). Additionally, I made a little 3-team parlay on Friday, taking the Wings, Devils and Blues (lay $10, win $36.60) which I hit.

Lesson learned: the system is less-applicable in the eastern conference, which I will attribute to the lighter travel/time zone change schedule.

Season record: 22-15-0 (25-15-0 combined)
Winning %: 0.594 (0.625 combined)
Last 10: 8-2-0 (8-2-0 combined)

Tonight (Monday 12/10/07)
Capitals (vs. Devils) 1
Predators (vs. Red Wings) 1

Tuesday 12/11/07
Canadiens (vs. Lightning) 1
Blues (vs. Oilers) 3

Gm # 29: Wild @ BJs (3/4)

It was gutcheck night in C-Bus for the Wild on Saturday, and they passed the test.

After getting abused by the Red Wings on Friday night, the Wild skated into their personal house of horrors (aka Nationwide Arena) where they've had extremely limited "success" since birth.

When they skated off the ice, it was with a solid if unspectacular 2-1 win. Niklas Backstrom was very sharp, especially in the final 18 minutes of the third period after the Wild took the lead and the BJs threw everything at him.

This was patient, system-oriented Wild hockey at its best. But, while that was good to see, the difference between winning and losing was that they didn't freak out when adversity struck. They just kept plugging away.

If they're going to become a team that can win in the playoffs they're going to need to develop this kind of mental fortitude.

Aaron Voros saw additional time with the WonderGroin Twins, and it paid off with a goal in the first period. He also got into a scrap. There's nothing unlikable about Voros' game. Remember when he pissed off the entire team in the preseason by hitting people like Carney? Well he's taken that exact same approach and applied it to the real games - without crossing the line - and the results are all positive so far. This kid has absolutely taken a job away from someone, and it's probably Foy or Radio. Good for him.

Season series:
Wild lead 2-1-0 (GF 5, GA 7)
In Minny: 1-1-0 (GF 3, GA 6)
In C-Bus: 1-0-0 (GF 2, GA 1)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: It would be nice to see some more offense.

POLLYANNA SAYS: They had plenty of excuses not to win that game.

BOTTOM LINE: Salvaged a little pride after the Detroit game.

STUD: Rolston's goal was huge and the GWG, both of which we need more of from him. But he was also 3-3 on the dot in the offensive zone. That's the kind of on-ice leadership we need from Rolston.

DUD: The "checking line" was victimized for the only goal allowed, with Dominic Moore compounding his sub-par (even for his own standards) game by being 3-7 on draws in our zone. Not good enough.


Gm # 28: Wild @ Red Wings (1/4)

In case you haven't noticed, the Detroit Red Wings are very, very, very good. I think it's safe to say the Wild are firm believers now, having largely gotten out of the way of the big red machine in their 5-0 whitewashing Friday night.

Simply, the Wild mailed this one in.

There was no concerted effort at all. Granted it wouldn't have mattered if Christ and the Angels were playing the Wings Friday night, as good as they were. But I like my teams to put up at least token resistance. The Wild have been too easily brushed aside at times this season and that has to stop.

This new gritter, tougher Wild team (read: Sean Hill, Todd Fedoruk and Aaron Voros) might still be assimilating to itself, but there is still no obvious leadership. By all accounts, Walz was the leader, but the fact of the matter is that he's gone now. It's time for someone else to step into that void or, if no one is able/willing to do so, it's time to bring in someone who can/will.

The Hasek hit on Gaborik at the end of the game has been the topic of much discussion over at Russo's Rants. Essentially everyone else thinks it was dirty and I don't. To me, Hasek made a save on a breakaway and that's it. Gaby having his head down was part of it, sure. If Hasek's known to come out on guys with their head down then Gaby should have known that. Hasek got the puck first, and we're lucky Gaby didn't get hurt. End of story.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Hard to tell if this was a case of reversion to the mean, or just getting your teeth kicked in by a far superior team.

POLLYANNA SAYS: At least Farber thinks WE'RE the real Hockeytown!

BOTTOM LINE: Everyone takes a whipping every once in a while. Still, lack of willingness to push back is distressing.

STUD: uhh...Fedoruk got in his first real fight as a member of the Wild. So we know ONE guy has some sack.

DUD: do you pick just one? You don't. After a game that bad they deserve to have multiple duds. Demitra, Gaborik, Johnsson and Burns were all -3.


Friday, December 7, 2007

SBP, etc.

SBP Update

Here are my picks for the weekend:

Thrashers (vs. Rangers) 2

BJs (vs. Wild) 3
Lightning (vs. Islanders) 2
Predators (vs. Fowl) 2
Sabres (@ Sharks) 1

Red Wings (vs. Hurricanes) 3

*** *** ***
As requested, Josh Harding will start tonight for the Wild in Detroit. I presume this means Nik will be back in tomorrow against the BJs, but hopefully Hards can give us a little spark because we've always stunk against the Wings.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Man That Launched A Thousand Slapshots

This is from Bill Meltzer, whose work I always find time to read.

SBP Update

I'm looking at three games tonight.

Montreal (@ Boston)
Nashville (vs. Vancouver)
Calgary (vs. Pittsburgh)

Of those three, I'd rank them all as 2s.

*I'm trying out a new ranking system of 1-3, where 3s are games I feel most confident about and 1s are the games I feel least confident about.


Gm # 27: Wild vs. Flyers (1/1)

For the second time this season the Minnesota Wild has shown that they are simply not suited for over-hyped game situations. With the newly-placed- "under watch" Philadelphia Flyers in town, and the full faith and credit of the disciplinary arm of the NHL firmly focused on the Xcel Energy Center, the Wild came out flat, pissed away two 5:3s, got bad goaltending, suffered another injury to a key player, and played as if they were generally disinterested in winning the game - which they didn't.

The injury is to Nick Schultz, and the nature and extent of it is as yet undisclosed. It looked like he took a puck to the throat. It also left us with a defense corps of Carney, Burns, Hill, Skoula and Johnsson that, between the extra ice time and general defensive efficiency, did not play very well for the balance of the game.

Nik Backstrom had one of his worst games in memory. On the first Flyers goal, the initial shot went through his legs, hit the post, caromed back into his leg pad - while he was looking the opposite way - and he essentially pushed it over the goal line with his leg. On the second Flyers goal, granted Jeff Carter was left all alone on the doorstep, but Nik made a weak sort-of half-poke check move and then had absolutely no recovery back to his right afterward. Carter had an empty net to poke the puck into. On the third Flyers goal, well a slapper from five feet outside the blue line is never a good goal. With the B2B coming up Friday and Saturday, I would hope we'd see Mr. Harding between the pipes at least once.

Aaron Voros did his usual great job being a pain in the butt, and drawing three penalties, I believe. But I did not think he clicked at all on the "top" line with Gaby and Demo. I would like to see the Mario Bros. (read: plumbers) line reunited for the Detroit game. Voros, Sheppard and Foy/Veilleux have just been too effective not to keep running them out there together.

So ends the stretch of 7-of-8 at home. The Wild went 4-3 in those seven games to further unearth a disturbing lack of killer instinct on home ice where they're now 10-5. Given that they're 5-5-2 on the road, you have to think that they'll need to be better than 0.667% at home.

They now venture out for five-straight on the road. None of the games are division games, but all of them are conference games.

Up first is the dreaded Detroit Red Wings, against whom the Wild has struggled mightily since birth.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Just when you thought they were getting it together...

POLLYANNA SAYS: No one got run by the Flyers!

BOTTOM LINE: Confidence is just too fleeting with this squad.

STUD: I guess I'll say Demo since we absolutely need him to be putting the puck in the net.

DUD: Backstrom was awful.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wild Nest Crowded - Big Decisions Ahead

I posted this on Russo's Rants originally, but there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

The bottom line is that DR has some tough decisions ahead as the Wild (hopefully) return to full health and we find ourselves over the 23 man limit.

Here's a rundown of the situation:

Lets do the math.

When we’re completely healthy we have 15 forwards: Belanger, Boogey, PMB, Demo, Fedoruk, Foy, Gaby, Koivu, Moore, Parrish, Radio, Rolston, Shep, SRV and Voros.

On defense we would have: Burns, Carney, Foster, Hill, Johnsson, Nummelin, Schultz and Skoula.

In goal we have Nik and Hards.

That’s 25 guys. You get 20 dressed (including 2 goalies) and 3 more on the roster as scratches, right? So a minimum of two need to go to Houston or elsewhere.

We generally have 6 defensemen and twelve forwards dressed for a game.

Up front, Belanger, PMB, Demo, Gaby, Koivu, Parrish, Rolston and Shep are givens.

That leaves four forward jobs to spread between Boogey, Fedoruk, Foy, Moore, Radio, SRV and Voros.

None of those guys can be sent back to Houston without going through waivers I believe (Voros just played his 11th game for us). Moore is the only natural center of the bunch, so he’s got that going for him. SRV has certainly endeared himself to JL (on balance) this season, so he’s got that going for him. Voros has darn near made himself indispensable so far, so he’s got THAT going for him. Radio’s been in la maison bow-wow already once, at least partially triggering the signing of Fedoruk who has been a pleasant surprise – though certainly not setting the ice on fire. Boogey has been well-chronicled here. He can add something to the game that no other player on our roster can, and, given the space to do so, is quite good at it. Whether or not he gets the space would appear to be the question – but perhaps it was the fact that his fate may have been taken out of the team’s hands in the first place that lead to us acquiring Fedoruk. Foy has produced sporadically, but not consistently, and even when he HAS produced it has not been enough to keep him in the lineup.

When you look at it like that, Boogey, Fedoruk, and Radio or Foy would appear to be the odd men out. But we only need to get rid of one of them. Among them, Foy is the cheapest by salary, Fedoruk by cap hit. Boogey is the most expensive by salary and cap hit. Fedoruk would be a poor-man’s Derek Boogaard by every measure that counts, but the difference he doesn’t have the target on his back that DB has – and he’s got more game.

But we’ve already talked about how hard DB will be to move. I still think this could add up to them risking sending him through waivers. That would still leave two tickets out of town unclaimed. If Boogey goes, Fedoruk stays. That alone leaves Radio and Foy in the cold. I’m okay with that. Those four jobs go to: SRV, Voros, Fedoruk and one of Radio or Foy (the other one gets moved).

So your twelve forwards are: Belanger, PMB, Demo, Gaby, Koivu, Parrish, Rolston, Shep, SRV, Voros, Fedoruk, Moore. (Boogey on waivers, Radio/Foy as scratches.)

On defense, Burns, Johnsson, Schultz and Skoula are apparently givens.

That leaves two defense jobs to spread between Carney, Foster, Hill and Nummelin.

Foster probably still has the most upside potential in that group, but Nummy’s probably the most versatile. The team seems to play better when Carney’s in the lineup, though and that speaks very loudly (at least to me). Hill has been fine, though to some extent you have to assume he’s not up to 100% game shape yet. We know he’s going to hit people, we know he’s going to lob a shot on goal here or there…the jury’s still out on him. One thing about Hill is that, while his salary is nice and low ($475k), his cap hit is $992k. Is there a team out there that’s willing to pay around $475k for Sean Hill? If you still believe you’re a playoff team I think you have to keep Carney. To some extent that mitigates Hill’s value if you have to cut one. I almost think Nummy might be the most attractive in the trade market. He’s also a UFA after this season which helps – especially because he’s almost half as expensive as Carney ($1.1M to $2.1M, respectively).

I think they risk Boogey on waivers and try to move either Radio or Foy. If they can find someone to take one of them, then you have whichever one isn’t traded taking up one of your three scratches. That means you can scratch 2 defensemen. That’s essentially where we are right now. If you can’t find a taker for either one, you have to move a defenseman. I think Nummy’s the most replaceable by the rest of the lineup, but I just don’t feel like he’s got a lot of trade value. If I was a GM I’d either want Carney for his Yoda-value, or Foster for his potential, of that group.

I’m now going to go take some aspirin.


Monday, December 3, 2007

SBP Update

For the weekend, I took four games, going 3-1.

On Saturday I won with Nashville and Detroit, and lost with Philadelphia.

On Sunday I won with New Jersey.

Season record: 20-14
Winning %: 0.588
Last 10: 8-2 (12-3 in last 15)

This week, no picks until Thursday.


Gm # 26: Wild vs. Canucks (3/8)

The Wild were fortunate to get another chance to redeem themselves against the Canucks so soon after their most-recent tet-a-tet. In addition to any continued aggression given that this was Mattias Ohlund's first game against them after his slash on Mikko Koivu, the Wild had at their disposal the sting from two straight butt-kickings at the hands of the Canucks as motivation.

For their part, the Canucks continue to be insane against the NW division, and rode in with Roberto Luongo engaged in a 3+ game shutout streak. The two teams are see-sawing with the division lead on a nightly basis, it seems. And you have to respect the Canucks if you're a Wild fan if for no other reason than they have played Wild hockey better than the Wild each of the first two games this season.

The Wild won the game 2-1 on Aaron Voros' one-in-a-million circus goal in the second period. Yes, it took that kind of zaniness to beat the red-hot Luongo. Yes, he deserves to be called red-hot despite the loss because he was insanely good all game. The other Wild goal was on a nice redirection by Eric Belanger - that Luongo damn near came up with. He absolutely robbed Gaborik a handful of times, and made a sick glove save on a nice one-timer from the point in the third. Even a stinger to the collarbone area on a hard shot from Voros couldn't derail the Luongo Express. The man is simply amazing.

The Canucks blueline was healthy/intact for the first time in a while, and they showed how strong they can be as a unit when they play Vigneault's system.

The Canucks are pretty much as advertised: all-universe goalie, one line deep on offense, good defense. They need Luongo because their margin for error is so small given that they will not score too many goals.

Interestingly, that's a pretty close proximity to the Wild. Excellent goalie who benefits from a great defensive system and a team that buys into it, not-much-more-than one line deep on offense (call it two when everyone's healthy).

Through 26 games each, the Wild have 69 GF and 65 GA. The Canucks have 69 GF and 62 GA.

Toss in the Avs and you have a strong, exciting, close three horse race in the NW right now. Edmonton is improving, and the Flames HAVE to be better than they've been so far (right??) so at just past the quarter-pole of the season, the division is as good as we thought it was.

Season series

Overall: Canucks lead 2-1-0
In Minny: Wild are 1-1-0 (4 GF, 5 GA)
In the 'Couv: Wild are 0-1-0 (2 GF, 6 GA)


POLLYANNA SAYS: I want to party with Aaron Voros - he's a nut!

BOTTOM LINE: Healthy certainly seems to equate to success for the Wild. Some big roster decisions loom.

STUD: Voros has taken St. Paul by storm with his go-go style of play, willingness to drop 'em, and timely goals.

DUD: I just don't see a future for Matt Foy, at least not on this team, if at all in the league. When you make Dominic Moore look good by comparison? That's a bad sign.


Gm # 25: Wild vs. Blues (3/4)

Back in the old days of the Norris Division, the North Stars and Blues enjoyed a healthy rivalry born of frequent regular season matchups and playoff battles. Though perhaps not to the vitriolic extent of the Red Wings or Blackhawks, the Blues were a common and disliked opponent.

In the modern era, the Blues have not been either as frequent or as worthy an adversary for the Wild. Several years of being in different divisions and sub-par hockey will do that.

That's all changing.

The Blues are much better than they have been basically since the Wild were born. They have the veteran leadership (Weight, Tkachuk, Kariya), the contingent of skilled youngsters (Erik Johnson, Brad Boyes, Lee Stempniak), and the solid netminding (Manny Legace) that you need to compete these days.

That the Wild needed an OT goal from Gaby to beat the Blues on home ice for the first time this season (second game at the X), tells you all you need to know about just how far this Blues team has come.

In particular, Brian Rolston shook off the burden he's been playing under since the injuries started piling up (possibly related to his having to play some center, and getting checked tighter without Gaby and/or Demo in the lineup). He unleashed his patented cannon to open the scoring in the second period - just nine seconds in, which is a new Wild record for fastest goal to start a period. Rolston also assisted on Burnsie's first period 5:3 PPG.

But the plucky Blues tied it up on two second period goals, and then both teams tightened it up in the third.

Gaborik has had well-documented struggles in the shootout, so it's fitting that he prevented the game from going that far with a great, look-off of Demo on a 2:1 and then a perfect shot just inside the short-side post after Legace might have bought the pass instead. Game over, turn out the lights, drive home safely.

Backstrom was again very strong, poised and calm - good to see him back to his play from last year.

Barrett Jackman punched Sheppard in the gullet, and Todd Fedoruk responded by taking a "holding" penalty. Shep is fine, good to see Fedoruk endear himself to his teammates and the fans.

Season series
Overall: Wild lead 2-1-0 (Wild 8 GF, Blues 6 GF)
In Minny: Wild 1-1-0 (Wild 5 GF, Blues 5 GF)
In St. Louis: Wild 1-0-0 (Wild 3 GF, Blues 1 GF)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Would like to see more of a killer instinct, particularly in these intra-conference games, like earlier in the season.

POLLYANNA SAYS: The BBR Me ASAP Line was back with style!

BOTTOM LINE: The Wild earned their first-ever winning November with the win - which is amazing considering how the month started.

STUD: Rolston is a huge cog in the Wild's wheel. Without him it's ugly, with him...well it's a win over St. Louis.

DUD: Moore was, again, worthless. 2-for-7 at the dot, nothing noteworthy anywhere else either. It stinks that we're forced to play him with the injuries at the center position.


Friday, November 30, 2007

SBP Update

I forgot to mention yesterday, but I bet three games last night:

Nashville (@ Ottawa) - WIN
Boston (@ Florida) - WIN
Detroit (vs. Tampa Bay) - WIN

Season record: 17-13
Winning %: 0.567
Last 10: 8-2 (W5)

For the weekend:


Sabres (vs. Hurricanes)
Flyers (vs. Stars)
Panthers (vs. Capitals)
Red Wings (vs. Coyotes)
*Your choice on Kings (vs Avalanche), Maple Leafs (vs. Penguins), Predators (@ Habs)

Devils (vs. Thrashers)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gm # 24: Wild vs. Coyotes

It's fitting that the Wild played the Coyotes last night since they've been wandering around in their own little desert for a month or so now. And while I'm not going to make too big a deal out of this one win, it was a much better, more Wild-like effort than we've seen in quite some time.

To the extent that means it was a boring, quiet game punctuated by opportunistic offensive moments, so be it.

But the Wild got a 3-1 win via hard work, attention to detail, stingy defense and good goaltending. Sound familiar?

The kids continue to earn their ice time. Last night JL had Sheppard, Voros and Veilleux/Parrish on a line together, and they were consistently the most energetic line on the ice. SRV got his fourth of the season, Shep got his second and added a helper, and Voros had two (first) assists.

Gaby scored on a breakaway which means he had a defender on him (as opposed to the SO when he doesn't score because no one's chasing him).

Backstrom played well again. Hill, Fedoruk and Voros all displayed a nasty edge (sorely needed with this team) and managed to get under the skin of the 'Yotes at times.

Johnsson had a strong game in all zones.

I'd still like to see the BBR line (Butch, Belanger and Rolston) get it going. They're allowed a little more creative flair (ie drop passes) than our other lines, and when that works it's great, but when it doesn't it just creates chances against. Rolston, in particular, continues to look anemic - though his laser off the crossbar in the waning seconds hopefully portends better things from him.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: We're still only one line deep, and it's the wrong line.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Shep, Voros, SRV...the future looks great!

BOTTOM LINE: Good, solid two points against a conference rival.

STUD: Shep showed Wild fans a glimpse of a future top line power forward type. Seven helpers now for the kid.

DUD: Gotta call out Rolston. He just looks tired. I know he doesn't like playing center, but we need him to be a bigger part of the game than he has been lately.

***NEW TO HTP***
Check out the Wild Super Stats Pack on the right column.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ouch Town Population You, Bro!

Here's the infirmary report for the Wild tonight against the 'Yotes:

Josh Harding - IR (head)
Petteri Nummelin - IR (head)
Nolan Schaefer still backing up Nik Backstrom, who starts tonight
Pavol Demitra activated off IR, will play tonight
Matt Foy - healthy scratch tonight (had goal, assist in last game)
Derek Boogaard - healthy scratch tonight
Kurtis Foster - scratch tonight (facial fracture)


Backstrom has four wins (2 SO) against the Coyotes, all-time

(thanks to Russo and for the 411)


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Random Musings

*Our deepest condolences to the Risebrough family on the passing of Doug's mother Marie, of complications with cancer. Hockey is nothing as compared to the health of one's family.

*The League absolutely must hold the Philadelphia organEYEzation responsible for the conduct of its players after Scott Hartnell's unconscionable hit on Andrew Alberts last night. That's three incidents in this quarter-season by the same team. I don't think anyone who isn't in the dressing room with them on a daily basis can say whether or not this is a systemic thing within the organization or just a string of horrid coincidences. But the problem is that it just keeps on happening with the Flyers. A punishment is both a correction to the behavior of the malefactor and a detriment to similar would-be malefactors. Clearly the Flyers players need a stronger detriment, and perhaps taking away a draft pick or suspending the coach of fining Ed Snider would do the trick. But if the league doesn't do something about this right now, then the league is saying they condone this type of behavior from an entire team.

Hartnell gets 2 games. No word on whether or not the Flyers got anything, so I assume they didn't. This is an ugly day for the NHL, and it's their own doing.

*Huge kudos to the 6,000 or so Edmonton Oilers season ticket holders who gave up their seats to Canadian service men and women on Saturday night. Al Cimaglia, who covers the Blackhawks for Hockeybuzz wrote a nice piece on it.

*Maybe moving Brett Hull into the front office was exactly what the Dallas Stars needed? With their OT win on Long Island last night, the Stars have now reeled off six in a row, and sit atop the Pacific.

*The scene at the end of "Return of the Jedi" after Darth Vader has tossed the Emporer down the chute of death but has taken the mortal hits from the Emporer's lightning finger thingamajigs and lies, dying, at Luke's feet and then begs Luke to help him take off his helmet so he can see his son with his own eyes once before he dies is A) awesome and B) what I thought of when I heard that Brian Burke moved Ilya Bryzgalov because he had promised him that he'd either start this season or else Burke would find him a new home where he could. Maybe I take this game a little too seriously. But Bryz's, er, Phoenix-like rise with the Coyotes (four game winning streak since he got there) is a good thing to see.

*The Devils continue to get it done, winners of four straight, and only four points behind Philly and the Rangers in the Atlantic. Congrats to Marty Brodeur on passing 500 victories.

*Don't look now, but the Sabres are gelling. They've won five in a row, knocking off the Caps last night, and Miller's starting to play like he did basically all of last season.

*Toronto is a mess right now. It doesn't help that they've got an endless string of rabid media types dissecting every chunk of crap that gets dropped in the bathrooms at the ACC to see who had corn with their pre-game meal last night. It would appear as though Fergie might not be so Fergalicious, and both he and "He Who Speaks of the Pompitous of Love" might both be looking for work soon. It would also help if Bryan McCabe could avoid taking a dump in his breezers every time he gets the puck in his own zone.

*Dost mine own eye deceive me, or are the Panthers sitting in second place in the Southeast?!

*...Meanwhile, across the continent in Calgary, Keenan's NEW club continues to languish in mediocrity and inconsistency.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Gm # 23: Wild @ Predators

It's a time-tested hockey cliche that getting out on the road can be a tonic for tight play at home. The Minnesota Wild certainly needed a dose of that after some horrible play at the X against the Canucks and BJs. They did play better in their 4-3 win over Nashville, and better might be good enough for right now, but it wasn't an awe-inspiring effort. At the end of the day, two points is two points (and in regulation!) so Wild fans should just take it and turn the page.

The Voros, Foy, Sheppard line was the best line all night, scoring two goals. We watched the Fowl's "Kid Line" hurt us over and over again in the playoffs last spring with an overwhelming forecheck and timely goals. This line is starting to produce the same kind of result. JL has talked about Sheppard playing more than he'd like him to, but as long as the kid puts out (and injuries dictate) he's going to keep getting ice time.

Backstrom allowed three goals, but turned aside 40 shots, and generally looked much more Backstrom-like than he has the past few weeks.

Parrish, so beaten up in the BJs game, showed his testicular fortitude by playing, and earning an assist on Gaby's goal.

Even Dominic Moore, who has not done anything to impress me, chipped in with two helpers.

Foster took a puck to the forehead and is out for a few days.

Radio, whose job is thought to be in jeopardy as signaled by the signing of Fedoruk, responded to his first healthy scratch as a Wild player with a stronger effort, and the GWG.

The Wild have a few days off to prepare before four-straight at home - where they'd better get it going.

Demo should be back on Wednesday, according to Russo.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Forty-three shots against is not a good way to go about winning games.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Winning on the second night of back-to-backs is always tough!

BOTTOM LINE: Two points, in regulation, on the road, against a direct competitor in the Western Conference standings.

STUD: Radio did a great job answering the critics in this he just needs to do it next game, and the game after that, and the game after that....

DUD: Fedoruk did nothing positive, got out-played by the guys whose jobs he's competing for, and was a team-low minus-two.


Gm # 22: Wild vs. BJs

Coming off a listless, uninspired, head-scratching loss to the Canucks, after which the team attempted to send a message to it's underperforming group of players in the form of a waiver wire signing of Todd Fedoruk, one would have thought the Wild would have had plenty of motivation to come out and whip the BJs. One would have been wrong.

The Wild played another inimaginably ugly game, losing 4-0. True, there was an element of bad luck, but sometimes you have to make your own luck - and the Wild aren't making anything positive on the ice lately.

Maybe Lemaire is losing his ability to get through to the troops, but, whatever the reason, it's ugly.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: What's this "NBA" I've heard about?


BOTTOM LINE: Wild drops a winnable game at home, falls out of the top 8 in the west.

STUD: Voros didn't produce on the scoresheet, but he's been one of the very few Wild players putting out a consistent effort. And his jack-in-the-box hit on Jiri Novotny was a thing of beauty.

DUD: The Wild needs Gaborik to produce in all games if they're going to have a shot at winning. He didn't (-2 for the game) and they didn't.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Gm # 21: Wild vs. Canucks

The Wild couldn't stand the heat, so they got out of the kitchen on Thanksgiving eve as the much-ballyhooed rematch with Satan and his Spawn, I mean the Vancouver Canucks, went to the Canucks in a 4-2 final.

First, the game.

The Wild came out amped to start, as you thought they would after the insane build up to the game. They got to running around a bit and the Nuks took advantage as only a poised, well-coached team will and were up 2-0 early. Marian Gaborik, showing some flashes of dominance, single-handedly tried to keep the Wild in the game with two goals to tie it, and one of the sickest displays of good-groin seen in the X in a long time when he sort of side stepped around not one but two Canucks players just inside the Nuk blueline and got a shot off in the second. The Wild, though, let the Canucks hang around, Hards got bopped in the noggin, Skoula and Burns both made stupid pinches and didn't recover, and Markus Naslund worked a hatter as Vancouver got out of town with a perfectly played road game victory.

Sean Hill finally got into a game after completing his 20-game suspension. Actually, I would have said he was one of the Wild's best players. He brought a very simple game and stuck to it for the most part. He even got a couple shots on goal.

Voros was the only Wild player to fight (Burrows), and continued to show that he wants to stay with the big club.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: I hate to say "I told you so, but..."

POLLYANNA SAYS: Gaby didn't hurt himself.

BOTTOM LINE: You get the feeling this season hangs in the balance over the next couple weeks. Five of six at home, we need to find our game right now.

STUD: Gaby potted two and undressed 40% of a Canucks' line on one play in the second. Groinerific!

DUD: Skoula made a horrendous pinch and then half-assed it back as the Canucks scored the winner.

Now, the reax.

This team is playing like shit.

There is no clear leadership on the ice. There is no obvious willingness to follow through on style of play or game plan. Gone is the cult-like adherence to the team-wide suffocating brand of defense. They've always been baby's butt soft. They're not skating, they're not hitting, they're not creating, they're not thinking.... Compounding this is that, in the absence of strong team-wide defensive play, the goalies are looking mortal. They're a rudderless team right now.

And it needs to change if they're going to continue on the trajectory that DR has promised us since day one. If we, as fans, are going to be patient as they build themselves into a perennial Cup challenger, then part of the deal is that there are no set backs. That once they achieve the next rung in the ladder they do not look back. Last year the rung they reached was of a playoff team. With no significant changes to the roster since then, the fair conclusion to be drawn is that that prior result (making the playoffs) is a given, and they believed they had the right guys in place to take the next step (maybe winning a series or two).

They will get no reprieve from me if they do not deliver on that forecast. This is not meteorology where it's okay to be wrong 95% of the time. This is big league professional sports.

And if that means that players' jobs, or coaches' jobs, are threatened to achieve those goals, then so be it. The Wild is not Marian Gaborik, or Niklas Backstrom, or Wes Walz, or Jacques Lemaire. The team will exist long after those guys are out of the game (I hope). So, if a player isn't getting it done, or if a cattle prod needs to be rammed up the team's collective butt to get them going - then do it.

And if a coach's message is falling on deaf ears - as happens with all coaches, regardless of how brilliant or pedigreed they are, eventually - then it's time to find a new coach.

Fallout Boy

Apparently DR has a very ill mother, and is tending to her. Obviously we wish Doug and his family the very best, and hope for a quick and full recovery for his mother.

But he and Tom Lynn were apparently fairly busy from the end of the Nuks game through the Thanksgiving holiday (DR's Canadian so I guess it's okay if he works on the U.S. T-day; I don't know where Lynn's from).

The big signing? Todd Fedoruk...???

They claimed him off re-entry waivers from Dallas. While this means we only have to pay half his remaining salary (and his salary cap hit as well, I believe), that would appear to be about the only positive. All I know about this guy is that he's an ersatz enforcer who's one good knock to the melon away from a lifetime of art therapy and Scooby-Doo lunchboxes. The primary cause of this situation is none other than our very own Derek Boogaard who crushed everything in Todd's face other than his will in a fight a couple years back. Apparently he's got more game than that, and is not just a fighter (no shit, Sherlock!) though to what extent I have no idea. One gets the feeling this is not the last move, especially considering Petteri Nummelin and Josh Harding both incurred injuries in the Canucks game, and Demitra is still only day-to-day.

With the BJs in town for the Hmong New Year today, the boys have a chance to come out and prove that they're not going to lay down this season, and hopefully start to get things back on track.

But it's certainly interesting times in Wild land right now.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

X Marks the Spot

Hmm...Thanksgiving Eve. What to do in the sleepy Twin Cities, well, other than take my tryptophan blockers, that is? Maybe see if there are any late tickets available for "The Lion King"? What's playing at the Lagoon?

Maybe trot on down to the Mall of Amer.....what's that? There's a professional ice hockey game tonight? In St. Paul, no less? Really? I wonder why I hadn't heard a thing about it?

Judging by the verbal vomiting the press has been afflicted with since the Canucks finished off their ass-kicking of the Wild last Friday night you'd think the Wild were playing Hitler and the Nazis tonight with a One-Time Only chance to avenge the Holocaust. Sorry to disappoint, but it's only the Vancouver Canucks and their roving band of chickenshit hockey players.

To recap the precipitating events:

1. The Canucks spanked the Wild all over the ice on Friday, ultimately winning 6-2, though it might as well have been 10-0 for as wide a discrepancy as there was between the on-ice performance of the two teams.

2. Towards the end of the game, Gaborik threw a nasty elbow at Ryan Kesler (who had shadowed and shut down Gaby quite effectively all night), Boogey tussled with Willie Mitchell and got tossed, PMB tussled with Alex Burrows, Koivu got his elbow up in Mattias Ohlund's face to which Ohlund responded with a slash that broke a bone in Mikko's leg, and SRV mistook Mike Weaver's melon for a clay pigeon at the final buzzer.

3. Mikko's on crutches and off the ice and Ohlund drew a four-game suspension from the league.

4. Boogaard, Markus Naslund, Kesler, Burrows, PMB and Gaby have all been running their mouths to varying degrees.

5. The Nuks called up AHL goon Mike Brown as an "insurance policy".

6. The league called the respective GMs and told them to keep their players under control.

7. Mick McGeough is all paid up on his Thespian Society dues and is ready to ref the game.

8. Fans on both sides are "putting on the foil" in anticipation of a game that will almost surely NOT match the hype.

So all eyes will be on the X tonight for just a little regular season game in November.

I, for one, think Gaby needs to "drop the purse" (thanks Brent Burns!) with Kesler.

I don't think Boogey will get too much action since he's about six inches taller and 60 points heavier than the average of the Nuks' two "tough guys" (Cowan and Brown). He's also drawn the watchful eye of the League with his incendiary rhetoric (his line about Naslund and the Sedin twins being "Pink and the Brain twins" is classic).

Hopefully the Wild remember that they truly got their collective butt handed to them by the Nuks where it counts the most - on the scoreboard - last game and need to step up and win the game mroe than the physical battle.

A repeat of the first Fowl game this year would be ideal.



Monday, November 19, 2007

Gm # 19: Wild @ Canucks (1/8)

Worst game the Wild have played in several seasons. Utterly incompetent in their own zone, minimal interest shown in the offensive zone. Props to the 'Nuks for shutting us down and generally dominating us. Like the Foys of the world, when given a chance to play Harding must come out stronger than that.

The BS at the end with Gaby/Kesler and obviously Mikko/Ohlund sets an interesting stage for Wednesday's rematch. If the refs don't toss Boogey so quickly I don't think any of that happens with Mikko.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Don't say I didn't warn you.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Um.....oh fuck it, that was pretty bad.

BOTTOM LINE: Ditto Pollyanna.

STUD: Voros played in front of the home town peeps, got his first goal.

DUD: Harding. Gotta be better than that, kid.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Stat Corner

Since the recap was so vacuous, I thought I'd try to find something of interest to write today.

Here are some numbers about the Wild so far:

*Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting
Season-to-date record by day:
Sunday 2-2
Monday 1-0
Tuesday 0-2-1
Wednesday 1-1
Thursday 2-1-1
Friday 0-0
Saturday 4-0

*Central Casting
Record by time zone:
Pacific 1-0-1
Mountain 2-4-1
Central 7-2-0

*What If?
What's the Wild's record when:
The Wild score first? 9-2-1
The opponent scores first? 1-4-1
The Wild lead after 1 period? 4-2-0
The Wild trail after 1 period? 1-2-1
The game is tied after 1 period? 5-2-1
The Wild lead after 2 periods? 7-0-0
The WIld trail after 2 periods? 2-4-1
The game is tied after 2 periods? 1-2-1
The Wild have a lead at any point in the 3rd period? 10-1-0
The Wild have a lead at any point in the game? 10-3-1
The Wild trail at any point in the game? 2-6-2

*Odd Is Good
The Wild's goals for/against by period:
First: 14 GF 9 GA (+5)
Second: 20 GF 21 GA (-1)
Third: 15 GF 11 GA (+4)
OT/SO: 0 GF 2 GA (-2)

Gm # 18: Wild @ Oilers (4/8)

I did not see the game again, so I can offer no editorial.

The Wild are 3-0-1 against the Grease so far this year, and 1-0-1 in Edmonton.

Big game tonight in the 'Couv.

*** *** ***


I took the Pens, Flyers and Wild last night - going 2-1 (stupid Rangers).

Season record: 14-13
Winning %: 0.519
Last 10: 7-3

For Friday I have the Devils (vs. Islanders), Habs (@ Sabres), Bolts (vs. Caps) and Canucks (vs. Wild).

For Saturday I like the Bruins, Flyers, Predators and I'm on the fence about taking the Panthers.

For Sunday I like the BJs and the Flames.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

SBP Update

With the help of a 3-1 weekend, I got back to 0.500 for the season!

I had the Canucks on Friday, and lost.

I took the Bruins, Hurricanes and Predators on Saturday and won all of them.

Season record: 12-12
Winning %: 0.500
Last 10: 6-4

The next picks are on Thursday the 15th.


Gm # 17: Wild @ Flames (3/8)

Back in, oh, 2002, the Wild were a plucky young team, outmatched in essentially every skill department by virtually every team. So they relied on a tight-fisted defensive game to stay competitive game in and game out. At that point, it was said by the coaching/management staff that it was the best way to stay competitive. Many of us swallowed that whole.

Over the years since then, as the players have matured and the overall skill level theoretically increased, the coaching/management staff has pontificated that they no longer HAD to rely on the harsh, cult-like adherence to a strict defensive code to win games, and even loosened the reigns on our more offensively-gifted players. As well, the coaching staff in particular has been talking about how nice it is to be a three-line-deep team on offense.

Then the WonderGroin Twins (thanks to the residents of Russoville for that one) go down and we're exposed as a stunningly thin team up front, with virtually no speed, much less finishing skill.

Last night might as well have been "Throwback Night" in Calgary considering how the Wild played. It was a page right out of the 2002-2003 yearbook. The Flames outlasted the Wild in a 3-2 win, with four of the five goals scored in the third period. It was, in a word, boring.

The Wild had zero jump whatsoever - against a team coming in at a low point in confidence amidst a five-game losing streak. The slightest bit of a killer instinct and the Wild could have taken control of this game early. Sadly, the only thing the Wild killed was it's fans' buzzes.

I understand we don't have our entire top line, #1 PP unit and #1 PK unit. That's a major bummer. But are we now forced to realize that we simply don't have the depth to overcome that? We do not have enough guys to restock those units? If we don't, we don't. But then the coaches and management waxing noxious about how deep we are rings pretty hollow.

I don't need sunshine blown up my butt to make me feel good about the team. I need effort, if not wins.

Now we have a tough back-to-back in Edmonton and then Vancouver starting Thursday night. We could very easily come out of this four-game road trip with zero points, and sitting somewhere in the middle of the NW division. If salvation is on the trainer's table getting his groin iced (or sitting in a hot tub back in St. Paul, sipping energy shakes and watching the games on TV) then we're in serious trouble.

If salvation is in the locker room, we'd better see it and soon.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: How you can't get up for a division game is beyond me. Pathetic effort by a team with no margin for error, apparently.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Voros played well again!

BOTTOM LINE: In the words of Dudley Moore's "Emory Leeson" in the movie "Crazy People": "First a mental institution, now rain?"

STUD: Koivu is a stud. He was the best player on the ice for us all night. That "A" looks really, really good on him.

DUD: I can only choose one? Ohhh...Skoula almost scored on Backstrom and generally didn't help the cause. It's always fun to put Skoula in this space, so why not?


Gm # 16: Wild @ Avs (3/8)

I didn't see this game, which the Avs won 3-2, but other than a couple PPGs it didn't sound like the most inspiring Wild game ever.

From JL's comments it sounded like the most important players didn't step up at all, though the Aaron Voroses of the world apparently did play pretty well.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Looks like another ugly November for the Wild.

POLLYANNA SAYS: At least the Gophers swept!

BOTTOM LINE: The Wild has now pissed away all the mojo from their "hot start".

STUD: Didn't see it, can't comment.

DUD: Ditto Stud.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Random Musings, etc

*Nashville's fall from playoff grace continues. They are arguably the worst team in a division that, for the last five years, wore the hairshirt distinction of being the worst in the NHL. More problematic is that three of their divisional foes (St. Louis, Chicago and Columbus) are rife with young talent - while the Preds are not. The team and league cite the lack of corporate sponsorship locally as a major roadblock to fiscal progress for them. But are we surprised that Piggly Wiggly isn't falling all over themself to sponsor the team down there?

*Speaking of the Central...before the season there was talk about whether or not we could see a single division send four teams to the playoffs. It was thought that the Northwest has four teams WORTHY of the playoffs. But no one figured it would be the Central that might be able to pull off the feat.

*The Rangers have no excuse for their season-long inability to score. And now guess what?! Jagr's unhappy! I'll bet Coach Renney is taking delivery of a case of Tums daily right now.

*Tough time to be a defenseman in the Northwest division. Vancouver (Salo), Calgary (Phaneuf), Edmonton (Souray, Pitkanen, Green, Roy) and Colorado (Leopold) all have or have just had injury trouble on the blueline.

*The Penguins have disappointed so far, and there are two major reasons why. 1) Fleury has been all stinkeroo and 2) other than El Cito, Geno and Sykora they have had zero secondary scoring.

*Not only did the Devils survive their 9-game road trip to start the season, but they've been playing pretty well in their new digs too. Yes, they're in last place in the division, but they're only 4 points behind Philly. Oh yeah, and Brodeur is starting to play like, well, Brodeur. Coincidence? I think not.

*So let me get this straight: Sheldon Souray leaves Montreal and signs with Edmonton, but has been hurt for a month and the Grease stink. Meanwhile, the Habs' power play is nearly automatic? Crazy game, this hockey.

*The Caps got off to a quick start but have since cooled dramatically. Kolzig, who looked so good the first couple games, just looks old and slow now.

*Eric Lindros retired. So much promise, and he was undoubtedly the Shaquille O'Neal of the NHL for a few seasons. But the concussions absolutely robbed him of a chance to fully realize that potential.

*The Hockey Hall of Fame induction weekend starts today. And what a class for 2007: Mark Messier, Al MacInnis, Ron Francis and Scott Stevens are the players. Perusing a profile page on, I count:
2 Harts
3 Lady Byngs
1 Selke
1 Olympic Gold medal
1 Norris
2 Pearsons
3 Conn Smythes
47 All-Star Game appearances
17 NHL All-Star Team selections (first or second team)
12 Stanley Cup rings
6538 games played
1779 goals
4088 assists
5867 points
0.897 career points per game (two of these guys are DEFENSEMEN!!)

*HTP completed the second reader poll. The question was: should the organEYEzation be held responsible (ie financially) when a player does something stupid/injures another player?

Among the 20 votes, 8 (40%) said yes, 3 (15%) said no and 9 (45%) said that it depends on the situation. For the record, I say that it depends on the situation, but that it should absolutely be a possibility. Thanks for voting!

*** *** ***

SBP Update

I took a week off to tweak the system, and came back last night with three games. I took the Devils, Canadiens and Hurricanes - and decided NOT to take the Rangers at the last minute. I went 2-1 - though the 'Canes sandbagged me.

Season record: 9-11
Winning %: 0.450
Last 10: 4-6

For this weekend, I like the Avs on the road tonight against the Canucks. Saturday I like the Hurricanes on the road in Atlanta and maybe the Predators at home against the BJs.

I'm holding off on the Bruins and Coyotes on Saturday - which means both will win and I'll feel dumb.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Gm # 15: Wild vs. Oilers (3/8)

The Wild, not without their own injuries (Gaby/Demo) took advantage of a more-injured (and thinner to begin with) Grease team on Monday in a 5-2 win.

It's not nice to pick on someone when they're down - and the Grease are most definitely down right now - so I'm not going to rehash the whole game.

There were some positives though:

*4 power play goals! And in a variety of flavors, no less. And without Gaby/Demo?! A very good sign.

*Foster finally breaks through. Getting him to start putting the puck in the net is certainly not the worst thing in the world for the Wild.

*Nummy on the wing was a breath of fresh air. Especially with Hill coming off suspension soon, I suspect we haven't seen the last of Nummy as a forward.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Anyone can beat the Grease right now. Prove it against a real team.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Way to salvage the homestand with back-to-back wins. And without the Slovakian contingency at full strength? Great!

BOTTOM LINE: Two regulation points against a division opponent. No more injuries. All good news heading back on the road.

STUD: Parrish, with two PPGs, is playing like the net-crashing ugly goal-specialist we need him to be. He is, quietly, a HUGE piece of the puzzle for us.

DUD: Pouliot. The first game, sure, I'll give him a pass to adjust to the speed of the NHL. But you have to know you don't have many games to show us what you're worth. He was a non-factor, and largely invisible. Back to Houston.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Gm # 14: Wild vs. Flames (2/8)

Second chances are one of the best things the sports world offers to players and fans alike. Redemption is both sweet and generally readily available. Conversely, playing a team soon after vanquishing them gives you an opportunity to really make a statement.

Such was the stage as the Wild faced off against the NW division rival Flames on Saturday night. Recall that it was the same Flames - with a solid history of beating up on the Wild - who ended the Wild's undefeated start to the season, and with a stunning, resounding, come-from-behind victory no-less, a mere 10 days prior.

Since then the Wild have been losing games and giving up ground to the Flames and the Avalanche in the division. Indeed, Saturday's game offered Calgary a chance to take the lead in the division with a regualtion win.

In the last game, the Wild dominated the first period (ultimately building a 3-0 lead) only to see it crumble away for an eventual 5-3 loss.

In Saturday's game, the Wild got off to a similar start. But this time the Wild were able to hold the lead, and ended up finishing off the Flames in a strong 4-1 effort.

Stevie Ray Veilleux had another strong game at both ends of the rink, and nearly set up Radio off the opening face off. Radio, who can't finish to save his life, worked his tail off too, and was rewarded at the end of the game with an empty-netter. The third member of that line was Mikko Koivu, who apparently can do anything Lemaire asks of him - and do it well. Koivu continues to impress me as the most complete player on the team. Those guys were primarily tasked with shutting down noted Wild-killer Jarome Iginla - and they did, save for an amazing tip in at the end of the second period.

In other news, Gaby's back! He scored twice, and had a couple other very nice moves. As a bonus, his first goal was on a breakaway - where he has some well-documented issues. His second goal was equally promising in that it was A) on the power play and B) a result of him being, and going to work, in the front of the net.

Finally, Backstrom redeemed himself after his brutal outing against the Flames last time out. He stopped several redirections, and made key saves all game long. The Flames were not without chances, and Backstrom was the answer more-than often enough to be a difference in the game.

Young Shep continues to show that he's not afraid of the Show and has the game to contribute. He did not look out of place on his shifts with Gaby and Demo.

...Although Demo did leave the game in the second period with a "leg injury". Coming so soon after his previous groiner, there is certainly some concern there.

Boogey had a long fight with Godard (one of the very few with a legit chance at beating Boogey in a fight) and did not return after with an injured hand.

Carney earned his paycheck with one brilliant play, breaking up a rush and setting up Sheppard's outlet pass to a cherry-picking Gaborik for the breakaway goal. JL has been saying that Carney's play had not fallen off from last year, but it was just a numbers game. I don't care what game it is, Carney has to be in the lineup. The whole defense is calmer and steadier when he's in.

I know he let in three goals and took the loss, but Kipper was very good in that game. He made that sick initial save on Radio, was screened on the Rolston goal, maybe would have liked the Gaby breakaway back, and was left all alone with two Wild players on Gaby's PPG. He made as many big saves as Backstrom did. All-in-all, it was another solid Finnish Goalie Battle Royale.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Better. Though now with Demo out we'll see if Gaby puts out or pouts.

POLLYANNA SAYS: There was the 60-minute effort we've been looking for!

BOTTOM LINE: Redemption Song. Evened the season series with Calgary, and put down the mutiny.

STUD: Gaby. 2-1-3 and a very strong game overall. Proved that he is absolutely still our most deadly offensive threat.

DUD: Foster. Got a raw deal on a big shot that hit the post, but otherwise was the worst defender on the ice. Still won't hit (even when he's in a fight - nice take down, Sally!) and is a worse finisher than Radio.

UP NEXT: Edmonton, Monday.

Also, Russo's reporting that Walz is contemplating retirement.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Brian Burke Wants To Hug

Mr. Burke is never one to mince words, and he has a unique offshoot of the Randy Jones hit on Patrice Bergeron, as reported by Kevin Allen of USA Today here.

Burke is saying that one way to prevent against the kind of legal, but potentially dangerous hit that Jones laid on Bergeron, AS WELL as reduce the impact of players turning their back into the hit (something that I still don't think Bergeron did on that play, but readily acknowledge happens all-too frequently) and ending up compounding the potential for harm from an otherwise-legit hockey play without malicious intent is to allow defensemen to go back to being allowed to place their hands on/around the player they're trying to check/control.

Rules changed after the lockout created a penalty situation when a defenseman takes his hands off his stick and places them on their opponent. This was an attempt to reduce the clutch and grab type of play that was thought to be clogging up the game to quadruple bypass levels.

I think Burke has an interesting point, and a potentially legitimate workaround.

My first reaction, though, is "where do you draw the line" and "do you really want to put more gray area into the refs' job"? Obstruction is such a subjective call, and NHL refs have a hard enough job as it is. The good thing about the way the rule is now is that, theoretically, as soon as the defender takes his hands off his stick and places them on the opposing player it's a penalty. Doesn't always get called like that, but that's the rule nonetheless.

If Burke's rule was graven on stone tablets and brought to fruition, at what point does it become obstruction? When the opposing player tries to move away from the exact spot that the hit was made? Within one stick length of that spot?

Hard to say, and I'm glad I don't have to try to quantify this.

But it's an interesting point, nonetheless - and anything that we can do to reduce these awful images of a player going head-first into the boards and lying unconscious on the ice is good.

Gm # 13: Wild vs. Blues (2/4)

The Wild got Demitra and Gaborik back last night, but not their killer instinct, and dropped a 3-2 game at home to the Blues. Carney also returned to the lineup (Johnsson out with thigh contusion) and, while his calming influence may have helped a bit, the game as a whole was still marked by some frustrating mental errors and poor decisions.

Gaborik doubled his goal total for the season in the first period on a nice little chop shot off a floater from Demitra got deflected up in the air. Gaby is a notoriously streaky scorer so hopefully this is the start of a hot stretch.

Pouliot got to play and was a non-factor.

I noticed Radio a bit more than usual.

Unlike the Penguins game, I thought Parrish was lost/wasted on the Boogaard line.

And speaking of Boogaard, it was his stupid roughing penalty in the second that turned the tide in the game. The Blues scored on the ensuing power play, and the Wild never mounted much of a serious effort from that part on. We're trying to prove to the world that you're not just a mush head goon, DB. Your help in that campaign would be appreciated.

0-4-1 in their last five, and now our hot start is completely nullified.

And with the Flames in town Saturday night...the boys better figure this thing out very quickly.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: The sky is falling!

POLLYANNA SAYS: Ummm....Pats vs. Colts on Sunday?!

BOTTOM LINE: Back with the rest of the pack, it's time to wake up and smell the coffee.

STUD: Gaborik had a nice goal and looked speedy after his siesta. Lets hope that continues.

DUD: Boogaard has arguably the slimmest margin of error in the league. But he just didn't get it done last night.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Gm # 12: Wild vs. Penguins (1/1)

Sid and Geno were as good as advertised, and the Pens doubled up the Wild 4-2 at the X. It was the Wild's first loss at home in five games this season. And here I was all psyched up to go 41-0.

The Wild simply aren't deep enough offensively too offset the loss of Demo and Gaby. This is somewhat perplexing since Gaby only has the one goal, but offense is more than goals, I guess.

There were some positives, though.

The "Deuces Wild" line of Boogaard (#24), Clutterbuck (#22) and Parrish (#21) was terrific all night. They banged bodies, they created chances, they brought energy. JL had them out after at least one of the Pens' goals - and that's an indication that he liked what he saw from them as well.

Shep got into his first NHL scrap after he won a draw against former Wild-hand Adam Hall and in the process knocked Hall in the helmet with his stick (Hall's head was at thigh height for the draw so it wasn't high sticking). Hall proceeded to act as though Shep had just shoved a red-hot fire poker in his eye but did not receive solace from the officials in the form of a penalty against Shep (as none was warranted). The play proceeded. Eventually Shep busted out of the Pens' zone on the backcheck and freight trained Hall who was standing around the face off dot just to the neutral zone side of the Pens' zone still dazed from the sight-threatening spear by Shep. Well young Master Sheppard put big, bad Adam Hall right on his keister. At this point, one presumes Hall's pride was sufficiently impugned that he felt he had to right matters by engaging in fisticuffs with Shep. This he did, though at worst I'd have to say it was a draw. Atta boy Shep!

Kimmy J took a leg contusion, and missed about half the game, but it's not thought to be groin-threatening so he should be back soon.

Koivu has become the best all-around player on the team. He makes scoring chances every time he's in the offensive zone, and he's busting his butt to get back on defense too. He's also starting to show creativity and vision in the offensive zone and is even starting to fake his own team mates out (on one play he suddenly went into reverse and got rear-ended by a surprised Rolston). Saku who?

Stevie Ray Veilleux's tireless work ethic finally saw him rewarded with a goal.

But, in the end, the Pens' top line was able to put up more points than the Wild's lineup-sans Slovaks (other than Radio).

Burns continues to try to do too much. I don't know if it's the pressure of the big contract or protracted growing pains. It could also be inevitable separation anxiety with JL scratching his Yoda (Mr. Carney). But he's making dumb decisions and taking penalties at bad times.

Blues in town on Thursday.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: The hot start is gone. 0-3-1 in the last four - regardless of injury - back to the drawing board, boys.

POLLYANNA SAYS: The kids are being forced to contribute and are doing an okay job so far.

BOTTOM LINE: At least we didn't give the points to a conference/division foe.

STUD: Koivu has been our best, most consistent player through the first month of the season. Where's the ceiling on this kid?

DUD: Burns struggled again. He's still young, and I think he'll turn it around. But it's been a few games now, Brent....