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....


Monday, October 29, 2007

2 Games for Jones

The NHL suspended Flyers defenseman Randy Jones 2 games for his hit on Boston's Patrice Bergeron.

As reports, Colin Campbell suggested that Jones' hit and those of his teammates Steve Downie and Jesse Boulerice earlier in the season are not the same. Unlike the other two, Jones does not have any history of this kind of play. More importantly, when you look at the video of the hit, it does not appear that it was an intentional, "attempt to injure" type of hit.


Gm # 11: Wild @ Avs (2/8)

The Wild fired up the ol' Way Back Machine and channeled themselves, circa 2002, for their Sunday 3-1 loss to the Avs in Denver. In other words, it was the "dump it in on offense, and pray for a turnover on defense" routine that we grew so fond of in those seminal years.

There wasn't a whole lot of pretty from the Wild, though Harding looked pretty good (virtually no rebounds on the shots he had a clean chance on) and Koivu continues to impress with his overall game. Cal Clutterbuck got his first NHL action, and didn't embarrass himself in 7:03 of ice time.

But the Avs - who improved to 5-0 at home this season with the win - were not to be fooled by our rope-a-dope strategy.

Foy played a little better, too, at times. I wonder if the presence of a guy like Clutterbuck (who plays about the same type of game) isn't the extra motivation he needs to start earning his time.

After the 7-0-1 start, the Wild are now 0-2-1 in their last 3.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: It's injury season, and the team is still only skin-deep. 0.500 by Thanksgiving?

POLLYANNA SAYS: They were without their #1 goalie, #1 scorer and his consiglieri. Not a bad effort, considering.

BOTTOM LINE: Where was the plucky, "grind out a point and take your chances in the shootout" team from last year? Tough to give 2 full points to a division opponent.

STUD: Mikko was dominant in the first period, and continues to show all-star form.

DUD: Skoula was back to his old tricks. Timidly going into the corner behind Harding after a loose puck, and lamely giving way to the bull-in-a-china-shop forecheck of Big Bad Joe Sakic, and then failing to recover into the play as the Avs scored what ended up being the game-winner.

*** *** ***

SBP Update

I decided not to bet Saturday's options, but did take the Fowl last night at home against the Oilers. Bad move. That's twice I've been burned by the Fowl, and the last time for a while.

Season record: 7-10
Winning %: 0.412
Last 10: 3-7


Saturday, October 27, 2007


Russo's reporting that both Backstrom and Gaborik are out with groin injuries, after today's practice in Denver.

Gaborik has apparently not felt 100% the past few days.

Demitra is still out.

Obviously this is not good news.

Presume that Schaefer backs up Harding tomorrow. Clutterbuck probably dresses.

Hopefully the Avs will be a little distracted with the World Series...


Friday, October 26, 2007

Gm # 10: Wild @ Grease (2/8)

I didn't get the game on until there were only 4 minutes left in regulation, so I can't comment on any of the (apparently abundant) action leading up to that point.

The Grease hammered out a 5-4 shootout victory when Ales Hemsky - who had apparently used up all the other moves in his arsenal in undressing the Wild for two goals in regulation - scored by losing control of the puck.

From what I did see, both teams were playing for OT by the 16 minute mark of the third. The Wild had a couple dandy chances in OT, but Roli the goalie and his left post had something to say about them.

In the shootout...sheesh...the Wild are just not a good shootout team. Nummelin is money. I say that if we're comfortable dressing Boogey but only playing him 1 minute a game, then why not do the same with Nummelin just to have him around in case we go to a shootout. Mikko - who is also usually money (must be a Finnish thing) - maybe thought Roli knew all his best moves so he changed it up, and that rarely works. And Belanger has apparently been watching a Gaby's Greatest Shootout Goals video because he just skated in and missed the net high.

On the other end, Harding - who was 1-0 in the shootout theretofore, I believe - got deked enough that he couldn't get his long left leg back to stop the first one, learned his lesson and made the same save on the second one, and then allowed the stinker by Hemsky.

While I'd prefer we just get back to winning games in regulation, I wonder if there might not be some shootout practice in the near future.

Sheppard got his first NHL goal.

For a game recap, check out Mike Russo's work here.

The Wild did resign Brent Burns to a 4-year, $14.2M contract that will keep him with the team through 2011-2012. The cap hit looks like $3.55M annually which, if Burns continues to progress on the same trajectory he's been on since the start of last season, will be cheap sooner rather than later.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Sounds like a better overall effort, but where's the killer instinct?

POLLYANNA SAYS: 7-1-2 through the first 10 games is a very good start. Lets say 100 points gets you into the playoffs this season. The Wild secured 16% of those points in only 12.2% of the season.

BOTTOM LINE: One more point.

STUD: I'm really in no position to say.

DUD: Ditto stud.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gm # 9: Wild @ Flames (1/8)

Amazing. Unbelievable. Season-defining. Shocking. Resounding.

All words that could be used to describe last night's game.

All for the wrong reasons, if you're a Wild fan.

The Wild were going to lose. Obviously. And last night had a lot of things going for it, too. Against the Flames, who have had great success against the Wild. In Calgary. The Flames coming off a bad loss - and probably stinging from it either of their own accord, or from Keenan's. But, after getting out to a 3-0 start only 10 minutes in, it's not that they ended up losing 5-3 (though that's bad enough) but rather HOW they ended up losing that is scary.

They dominated in the first period, and for nearly the first half of the second. 5:5 the Flames were penned in their own zone, running around and taking stupid penalties. The Wild had two PPGs (Rolston, Parrish) in the first, and shut the Flames down when Calgary had a man-advantage. The first period was the most dominating period of the season, by far. The second started out as more of the same - but then the Wild got into penalty trouble (at one point, four guys in the box), and even though they killed off a 5:3, the tide was ebbing. Once the dam broke, it was only a matter of time before the flood.

The last half of the game was a complete and utter meltdown by Minnesota. No one played well. Nobody played to the game plan. The Flames absolutely owned the Wild the last 30 minutes.

I don't know if Boogey saw a shift after the first period, but if Lemaire isn't comfortable sending him out when we so clearly needed to do anything at all to break up Calgary's momentum then he has no value to the team. That's at least the third straight game where he's gotten less-than 2 minutes of ice time. If you can't play him when you're winning, and you can't play him when you're losing, and you can't play him when it's tied...then he's essentially a Wachenhut rent-a-cop sitting on his duff eating Doritos and watching TV. I'm not saying I don't want him to play - quite the contrary. But if Lemaire won't play him then why is he there?

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: If this team doesn't start playing 60 minutes that 7-0-1 start could evaporate very, very quickly.

POLLYANNA SAYS: At least no one got hurt. But a 7-1-1 start is still better than what we could have hoped for.

BOTTOM LINE: Fugly. Reality check? Definitely. Lesson learned? We'll see.

STUD: Really hard to pick one guy here, but Sheppard got his first NHL point (assist on the first PPG), so I'll give it to him.

DUD: They were all bad at some point, but Foy was a -3 with 6:40 of ice time. I actually thought he played well in the first period (when they all did), but clearly the Flames preyed on him in the second and third.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

HUGE Props For Cal *updated*

Just came across an article on Mr. Clutterbuck on the AHL's website. Cal's been playing on a line with Aaron Voros and Adrian Foster, and they are apparently tasked with being energy/pest type guys.

Cal's not the biggest guy in the league (5-11, 205) but he's young (DOB 11-18-87) and he seems like he's willing to do whatever it takes.

Keep at it Cal!


Oh, happy day!

Russo reports that the Wild have called up Cal the Pal as insurance in case Demo can't play on this road trip. While there are a couple other guys competing with him to dress (Foy, Boogaard) at least his strong play is getting noticed - not something you can say about Foy, for example.

While this means they passed over some bigger names (Pouliot, Kalus, Irmen), it also means that the team is rewarding those that earn rewards - which is exactly what they should be doing.

Atta boy Cal!


Monday, October 22, 2007

Gm # 8: Wild vs. Avs (1/8)

In the not-too-distant past, the Wild would have curled up and died in this game. Second night of back-to-back games? Check. Home game after long road trip? Check. Coming off strong, focused effort the night before? Check. Playing against noted Wild killer Joe Sakic? Check.

Fortunately, the Wild has two money goalies, and the ability to play Harding Saturday against St. Louis and turn around with a fresh Backstrom against Colorado on Sunday was an ace in the hole that JL didn't hesitate to use.

And it was a good thing, too, as the Wild got to taking penalties and running around in the first period, and had to rely on the unflappable Finn to turn aside 13 shots to keep them in it.

Then the power play continued what one hopes is a trend by adding two goals. Gaby and Demo worked the puck down low, drew all 18 dressed Avs skaters to them, and then Gaby fed Parrish the puck at the top of the crease. Budaj must have felt like the last man alive in the Alamo because Parrish completed the Sunday Times crossword puzzle, made and ate a ham sandwich, and still had time to put a SWEET move on him and backhand in a goal.

The Avs continued to get themselves in penalty trouble that landed the Wild on a 5:3 during which Rolston set up about 10 feet inside the blue line and sent a cruise missile past a thoroughly-screened Budaj - compliments of Parrish. Both goals came with former Gophers' standout Jordan Leopold in the penalty box, which I suppose is better than the alternative for him the last few seasons, which would have meant on the IR.

The Avs have made a little cottage industry of sorts out of getting behind in games and then coming back. Their prior two games saw them stake their opponent to leads of 4- and 3-goals respectively before mounting a comeback (one successful, one not). So the two-goal deficit must not have felt like a big deal at all to them. They did get back in the game, when the Wild pulled the equivalent of stopping to watch the arc of a home run ball, and it was at that point that I left to go to my own hockey game.

From reading the recaps, it seems the third period was mostly staid, until Stevie Ray Veilleux (as he's called by the faithful at Russo's Rants) crushed Brett Clark along the boards, forcing a turnover that lead directly to Mikko Koivu's GWG (off a nice power move to the front). SRV has become my favorite of that group of guys vying for fourth line time. He consistently gives the kind of good, honest effort that, in our first couple of seasons, might have put him on our top two lines.

All-in-all, a solid-if-unspectacular effort by a team that is harder and harder to debunk. Most importantly, they finished it off in regulation. 7-0-1, and 15 out of 16 points for the Wild. But we've only allowed our opponents to get 2 points on the whole season, and we got one in that game. It doesn't matter if it's October or March, these points are huge.

BOTTOM LINE: Good two-point harvest against a division foe. Nice to see the PP cashing in.

STUD: SRV doesn't get a lot of love in the press/with the fans, because his game doesn't translate to the scoresheet. But his hustle and forecheck lead to the winning goal (if not an assist), and his +1 was well-deserved.

DUD: Foy did nothing to differentiate himself in his limited minutes. When you don't play for over two weeks, you absolutely must get noticed when you finally get back into the lineup. I keep expecting this kid to open my eyes. Maybe it's time to realize I'm the dumb one for continuing to expect it.

*Demo left in the third with an injury to the leg, to be re-examined today.

*** *** ***

SBP Update

Not a pretty weekend again. The Leafs lost on Saturday, but the Flyers won. I had mentioned that I might take Colorado on Sunday, and I did. So I went 1-3 overall for the weekend.

Next picks aren't until Saturday the 27th, so I have time to lick my wounds.

Season record: 7-9
Winning %: 0.438
Last 10: 3-7


Gm # 7: Wild @ Blues (1/4)

The Wild followed up a sloppy game in Los Angeles with a strong road game in St. Louis, beating the Blues by a score of 3-1.

The Blues came into this game playing very well, and the Wild did a good job of dictating the rules of engagement.

Josh Harding got his second start of the year and played very well overall. The lone goal he allowed he probably would like back (a long shot by Minnesota-born Steve Wagner), but he more than made up for it over the course of the game.

The much-maligned "power" play finally paid off with one actual PPG, and another one just after a penalty had expired. The latter of those two was scored by Burnsie, who had a strong game to atone for his horrendous showing in LA.

The star of the game, however, was Blues goalie Manny Legace who was unconscious in the first period stopping all 17 shots he saw - including some Grade A scoring chances. Even though the Wild got three past him, this game would have been an absolute blow out were it not for his great play throughout.

BOTTOM LINE: Closest thing to a 60-minute effort yet.

STUD: Belanger. 1-1-2 for the night, but his goal came forty seconds after the Blues tied it up at the end of the second, kept them from getting any momentum, and proved to be the GWG.

DUD: No one really played poorly, so this is a dud by default. Boogaard was limited to 1:17 of ice time and, while he obviously has no control over how much he plays, he had zero impact on the game.

*** *** ***

SBP Update

I took the Canucks on Friday night, and lost.

Season record: 6-7
Winning %: 0.462
Last 10: 4-6


Friday, October 19, 2007


Sports Book Picks 10/19/07

*The Philly pick worked out last night, and I got back to 0.500 in the process. By the time I was able to put the pick in, though, the line had tanked and so I only got -200. Laid $20 to win $10.

*For Friday the 19th, I like the Canucks at home (-120) against the Kings who played last night in Calgary and then traveled to the 'Couver.

*On Saturday the 20th, I like the Maple Leafs (line TBA) at home against the Blackhawks and the Flyers (line TBA) at home against the 'Canes.

*On Sunday the 21st, I might like the Avs (line TBA) on the road against the Wild, but I'm going to reserve the right to see how the Wild plays Saturday in St. Louis before committing to that one.

Season Record: 6-6
Season Winning %: 0.500
Last 10: 5-5


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Random Musings, SBP

*The Wild's busiest days of the week this season are Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. They have 14 games on each of those days. The least-busy day of the week is Monday, when they only have 6 games. There are 28 weeks in the regular season. The day-by-day breakdown: Sunday 14 (50%), Monday 6 (21.4%), Tuesday 11 (39.3%), Wednesday 12 (42.8%), Thursday 14 (50%), Friday 11 (39.3%), Saturday 14 (50%).

*The Wild play the Avalanche on four of the next five Sundays.

*Give the Devils their due: they're 6 games into their season-opening 9 game road trip, and they've managed to stay at 0.500 (3-3-0). As the Prudential Center (and a night in their own beds) gets closer and closer, if they can manage to stay within shouting distance of the division leaders (currently Philly, by just two points) they could use the emotional lift of going home and to a new arena that will probably be full for at least a few games - a rare delicacy for the Devils - to amass some momentum heading into the holiday season.

*Don't forget that the Thrashers' 0-6-0 start isn't the whole story. They were swept by the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs last season. I'd say a streak of 0-10-0 for a playoff team was enough to warrant dismissal of the head coach.

*The Sharks, off to a shaky 3-2-1 start, are 3-1-1 on the road. This team is too good not to figure it out at home, and if they can continue putting up points in white jerseys...

*Carey Price is starting tonight for the Habs against the Senators. One of Huet or Halak will be in street clothes. Meanwhile, teams like the Kings continue to toil in goaltending misery.

*Ray Emery is available tonight for Ottawa, but white-hot Martin Gerber will get the nod.

*Milan Hejduk has a sore back. Fredrik Modin, Marty Turco, Marcel Hossa, Rick Nash, Zbynek Michalek, Boyd Devereaux, Kyle Wellwood, Carlo Colaiacovo, Martin Havlat and Todd Bertuzzi all also made the infirmary roster.

*This is awesome.

*** *** ***

Sports Book Pick 10/18/07

Take the Flyers (-120) at home against the Devils tonight, in a battle of Martys.

Season record: 5-6
Season Winning %: .455
Last 10: 4-6


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bob Hartley Canned, Souray Shelved

In surprise here....GM Don Waddell is going to step behind the bench as the interim head coach until a permanent replacement is hired.

In Edmonton, big ticket free agent pickup Sheldon Souray is out for 3-4 weeks with separated shoulder from a fight the other night. Shel, listen. You're like the only guy apparently willing to play in Edmonton. You're not there for the rough stuff. You're there to fire cannons from the point on the power play. Take the next few weeks to get your mind right.


NCAA Update, Stoa Done For Season

Junior left winger Ryan Stoa will miss the rest of this season after sustaining a knee injury in the championship game of the Ice Breaker Invitational tournament against Michigan.

Stoa, from Bloomington, MN, is property of the Colorado Avalanche, drafted #34 overall (2nd round) in the 2005 Entry Draft.

*** *** ***
The updated Division 1 Men's hockey poll:

(last week's ranking)
1. UND (1)
2. Miami (4)
3. Minnesota (5)
4. BC (2)
5. Denver (13)
6. Michigan (10)
7. Clarkson (7)
8. UNH (6)
9. Michigan State (3)
10. CC (11)
11. Notre Dame (8)
12. Ohio State (19)
13. Wisconsin (15)
14. Quinnipiac (14)
15. St. Lawrence (16)
16. St. Cloud State (17)
17. Maine (12)
18. BU (9)
19. Cornell (18)
20. UMass (NR)

Gm # 6: Wild @ LA (1/4)

The Wild rolled into Hollywood on top of the world (not to mention various NHL power rankings lists) and promptly dropped a deuce on the ice at Staples Center, and their winning streak with it. Yes, they got a point in their 4-3 SOL, which is good, but they again played down to the level of their opponent - and it finally stung them.

Without taking anything away from the Kings, the Wild were sloppy and undisciplined all night. They gave the Fowl 8 man-advantages the other night, and followed that up with 9 (including 2 in OT) against the Kings. The PK is clicking at a 90% success rate (4th-best in the NHL) and that's great, but you can't play with fire that many times without eventually getting burned.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, the Wild power play is downright awful. 1-for-22 (4.6%, 29th in the league) and this from a unit that was absolutely on fire during the pre-season.

I once heard Scotty Bowman explain that he wanted to see the percentages of his team's PP and PK add up to more than 100. I don't know if this is a universal coaching thing or not, but it has stuck with me as an easy barometer of a team's overall special teams acumen. 90% on the PK is great, but you're not going to go a whole season at that rate. So it would seem that you've got to be able to get more than 5% from your PP if you're going to compete in the NHL.

Anyway, the Wild just struggled all game. They had trouble clearing the zone, they had trouble generating solid scoring chances. Brent Burns spent 10 minutes in the box all by himself - all minors - and generally had a brutal game. Mike Cammalleri drew about 4 minors himself in a gutsy effort for Los Angeles.

They were fortunate to get to OT, and then Backstrom, who has never been good in the shootouts, saved their bacon in the extra session only to get light up in the shootout.

Clearly the Wild were going to lose sometime, and getting a point IS a good thing. But they absolutely must get their discipline under control, and start playing THEIR game (and preferably for 60 minutes).

BOTTOM LINE: They've been playing with fire by playing to the level of their opponents, and it finally bit them six games in.

STUD: Rolston with another bomb from the face off circle. That's two games in a row for the big guy.

DUD: Burns was just awful. Awful. He'll bounce back, but this was a sobering reminder that he's not exactly Nik Lidstrom yet.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Audience With The King(s)

The Wild are in LA today, with the moms in tow, to take on the Kings. The Kings are full of young, promising future stars like Kopitar, Jack Johnson, Patty O'Sullivan, etc. They've got a couple wily veterans (Rob Blake) too. But they're having a little trouble in the defensive zone right now. Maybe it's jetlag from their little jaunt across the pond. Maybe it's Crawford. Maybe it's just really early in the season and they haven't completely gelled yet. Whatever the reason, they're giving up 4.5 goals per game, and are only scoring 2.66 through six games.

This ought to be a game where the Wild put up some big numbers and cruise to a win.

In the past, this has been a game that the Wild mailed in - coming off a big, emotional win in Anaheim, road trip starting to wear on them a bit...

One of the most important aspects of the Wild's season-opening 5-game winning streak is that all five have been in regulation. The Northwest Division is so tight that two-point wins are critically important. As much as the team relied on OT/SO last season you have to wonder if all those free points they gave away prohibited them from winning the division. And if you can make that point, then can't you say that those same one-point wins might at least have kept them from securing home-ice advantage in the first round anyway?

Late start (10:30 ET) so I'll probably read about most of this at the same time you are tomorrow morning.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Gm # 4, 5: Wild @ Phoenix (1/4), Wild @ Fowl (1/4), SBP, NCAA

Wild @ Phoenix

The Wild had no business winning this one. Maybe they were looking ahead to the Fowl or whatever, but they sure looked disinterested for 50 minutes before somehow working out a 3-2 win. That being said, you kind of have to ask Phoenix why they couldn't put the game away. Nice to see Gaby, Koivu and our power play get on the board, Nik looked average in the first and then found himself in the second and third. Hard to complain about a guy with 4-0-0, 1.00, 0.959 stats, though.

And we learned that an angry Belanger is a dangerous Belanger. His personification of the age-old adage "Don't get mad, get even" in scoring the game-winning goal (a shorty, no less!) shows the kind of intestinal fortitude that this team needs.

BOTTOM LINE: Good teams find ways to win this kind of game, and the Wild did just that.

STUD: Belanger's going to make his dentist a rich man. But as long as he continues to show up on the scoresheets...

DUD: Radio was a waste of space out there. All these kids vying for fourth line time, I just don't see how they can not put out a huge effort to try to earn more ice time. Unless they can't, in which case I still think we should ship them out and start easing the Pouliots of the world into the NHL.

*** *** ***

Wild @ Fowl

Wild fans, possibly jonesing for any kind of fix to stave off the worst cravings from the rivalry salad days of the North Stars (vs. Blackhawks, Red Wings, Blues, etc), have tried very hard to make a rivalry mountain out of a molehill since the birth of the team.

Oooh! Thirty games a season and one playoff series against the Nuks! RIVALRY!

By in large, fans of these respective teams have yawned or laughed at this feeble attempt to fabricate something that needs to be grown organically.

About the only team we could potentially claim a budding rivalry with is the Anaheim Fowl. We've faced them twice in the playoffs, and they've summarily dumped us on our collective butt both times. We've won one of nine games against them in two series. Last year they beat us into submission and overwhelmed us with gritty blue collar offense over the balance of five games, rarely needing to shift out of first gear in the process.

But there was a little nastiness in game four (the one game we did manage to win). Brad May - who should know better - chose to sucker punch team pacificst Kim Johnsson amidst some other squirmishes, and it certainly escalated the vitriol and the machismo for the rest of the series.

In a day in age when "We'll get them next time" rhetoric is grounds for a "premeditation" claim if rough play comes to pass somewhere down the road, there wasn't a ton of hyperbole tossed around before this game (at least not by the players). The Wild, at least, were also preoccupied with that little season-opening four-game winning streak thingy.

The Wild have never been confused with the more rough-and-tumble type teams in the league, and one gets the feeling that, under the current administration, they never will. So it was refreshing to see them sack up for this one, get the pugilistic stuff out of the way and then "Belanger" the Fowl on the scoreboard in their 2-0 win.

Boogaard did his job, passing on Parros early, then fighting May, and then fighting Parros. I wouldn't say DB "won" either of his fights, but he did what he had to do. You have to respect May, by the way, for answering the bell and adhering to the code. Something the Cookes and Jarkko Ruutus of the world never do. Even Nick Schultz, the new daddy, got in on the action, wrasslin' with Ryan Getzlaf.

More impressively, after all the fireworks, they were able to focus on their game and scratch out a solid win. Rolston fired up the laser beam again and Parrish put the cherry on top of a nifty little tic-tac-toe play with Koivu setting up Radio, who set up Parrish for the finish.

That they gave the Fowl 8 man advantage situations was a little concerning, but that they killed them ALL off was both a relief and hopefully something they can build on.

Harding got the start, looked shaky for the first few minutes and then settled in to a very strong, very busy night.

At this point, I see nothing to be gained from further retributive activities - as there's nothing to seek retribution for. Hopefully we can continue to see hard-fought, edgy hockey when the Wild and Fowl get together, and if that leads to some fisticuffs so be it.

BOTTOM LINE: Best performance of the five games for the Wild by a long shot.

STUD: Harding was poised, positioned and solid. No one should have any reservations when Josh gets a start over Nik. Very possibly the best 1-2 tandem in the NHL.

DUD: It's hard to say anyone really played poorly, but it was not the best game of Burns' career. Flubbed a couple clearing attempts. Not a dud per se, more that he had the least-great game.

*** *** ***

SBP Update

Rough weekend. I picked four games and went 1-3. On Saturday I won on the Sabres, but lost on the Sharks and Predators. On Sunday, I lost on the Fowl.

Next pick is not until Thursday this week.

Season record: 5-6
Season winning %: 0.455
Last 10: 4-6 (0.400)

*** *** ***

NCAA Report

Upsets, zaniness and a few early-season statements were made this weekend in college pucks. In mostly non-conference tournament play, there were several big story lines.

*Defending NCAA Champion Michigan State was blanked by North Dakota 6-0. The Fighting Bigots didn't seem to have any trouble defending their pre-season #1 ranking - even without TJ Oshie who missed the majority of the game after getting a fiver and a gamer for checking from behind (no truth to the rumors that the Flyers immediately called the Blues about trading for him after his penalty).

*The Gophers hung on to beat the Wolverines in the Ice Breaker championship game. Jeff Frazee was giving out rebounds like it was his job, but Blake Wheeler looks like a stud, and could very well be challenging for Hobey if he can continue to play like he did this weekend.

*BU, in the biggest upset of the weekend, lost to Robert Morris University up in Alaska. In fact, the Terriers flew back from Anchorage with only a tie to show for their whole weekend.

*Ohio State beat Wisconsin to win the Lefty McFadden Tournament.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Out of Town Updates/Matriculation

*Rob Ramage was found to be criminally responsible for the death of Keith Magnuson in an automobile accident back on December 15, 2003. Jail time appears to be a likely possibility. The Magnuson family will now bring a civil suit against him, seeking damages, though their lawyer was on HNIC radio last night saying that they are trying to draw a distinction between claiming he intentionally killed Mr. Magnuson.

*The Sabres found their way into the win column in their third game of the season, with a 6-0 beat down of the Thrashers. Ryan Miller, who had given up nine goals in their first two games, both losses to the Islanders, earned the win with a shutout.

*The Leafs rebounded from that ugly 7-1 butt kicking by the 'Canes to crush the Isles 8-1 last night. Sundin is now the most prolific scorer in Leafs history, blahblahblah...

*The Devils continued their potentially staggering season-opening 9-game road trip, with a loss to Florida. 1-3-0 is an ugly start, and with a ways to go before returning to the (luke) warm environs of Newark, NJ, this could very well be an ugly season for the Devils. At least they can look forward to the new season of the Sopra.....oops.

*Ottawa finally lost.

*** *** ***

SBP Update

Went 1-1 last night, winning on the Sabres and losing on the Devils.

No picks tonight.

I do, however, like the Sabres, Predators and Sharks for Saturday night, and the Fowl on Sunday.

Season record: 4-3
Season winning %: 0.571
Last 10: 4-3

*** *** ***

Back To School

The college season has technically started already, but this is the first big weekend. The Ice Breaker Tournament, in St. Paul, MN has easily the most intriguing games. In the matinee matchup this afternoon the Michigan Wolverines take on the BC Eagles. They are followed by the "host" Minnesota Gophers entertaining the RPI Engineers. All games are at the X.

The Pre-Season D1 Men's Hockey Poll

(1st place votes)
1. North Dakota (13)
2. Boston College (3)
3. Michigan State (11)
4. Miami (Ohio) (1)
5. Minnesota (1)
6. New Hampshire
7. Clarkson
8. Notre Dame
9. Boston University
10. Michigan
11. Colorado College
12. Maine
13. Denver
14. Quinnipiac
15. Wisconsin
16. St. Lawrence
17. St. Cloud State
18. Cornell
19. Ohio State
20. Vermont


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gm # 3: Wild vs. Grease (1/8)

Well, we have conclusively established that the Wild can play down to the level of the opponent - and win. Which is not to say that a 3-0 start is a bad thing, because it is a very good thing.

The Wild beat the Grease 2-0 last night, extending a run of success against Edmonton that has been going on for more than two seasons now (six straight wins, and 13 of the last 16 overall). The "second" line (PMB, Rolston, Belanger) was quiet, but the "first" line (Gaby/Demo/warm body) finally got it going by participating in both goals. Brent Burns scored his second-straight game-winner (he turned the same trick last season as well) on a nice half-pinch where he unloaded a laser that blew past Roli.

But the Wild did not overwhelm the Grease for any concentrated stretches, and the Oilers were unlucky several times with bouncing pucks, etc, that would have made Nik Backstrom's night a little more exciting had they clicked.

The Grease did not play poorly, but they clearly lack anyone who can finish, and they're not going to win many 6-5 games.

So why didn't the Wild blow them away? Perhaps because they didn't have to. The Wild, to their credit, played a very strong defensive game (21 shots against, not the most difficult shutout of Nik's career). But through three games the Wild has not put together a 60-minute performance. My fear is that they haven't because they haven't HAD to. While that's fine if you win (which they've done, and all in regulation which is a bonus), we've all seen how hard it can be to just "turn it on" when you're playing a good team.

We'll know soon enough, though, as we have a back-to-back game weekend, with a short turnaround to the second game (Saturday 10pm ET, Sunday 8pm ET), oh and that second game is against those pesky Anaheim Fowl.

James Sheppard appeared in his first NHL game (wearing Bobby Smith's old #15) and didn't fall down on a crossover or anything.

Foster returned, hit a couple people and actually got a couple shots on net. Big time improvements from his average performance last season.

Skoula played pretty well. No glaring mistakes.

BOTTOM LINE: This game would have felt like a better win if we'd been the road team. But it's two points.

STUD: Burns. He is absolutely rounding into a top pairing defenseman - with an offensive skillset that few but the very best employ.

DUD: Nummelin. Looked small and confused most of the time he was on the screen.

*** *** ***
SBP 10/11/07

Take the Sabres (-110 ) against the Thrashers who played last night against Ottawa and then flew to Buffalo.

Take the Devils (+140 ) on the road against the Panthers who are A) bad and B) on the second night of a B2B.

Season record: 3-2

Season winning %: 0.600

Last 10: 3-2

*** *** ***
Out of Town Updates

*Carey Price made his debut for the Habs last night in Pittsburgh, winning 3-2. He is the third Habs goalie to debut against the Penguins. Dryden and Roy being the other two.

*Offense was not the problem most people thought the Flames would have, yet they have only seven goals in three games so far, oh and a 0-3-1 record.

*The Wild's 2 GA in 3 games is pretty impressive, funny thing is the Caps have the same stat - and both teams are 3-0-0.

*Not to say "I told you so" but remember what I said about the Predators 2-0-0 start being deceiving?


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Random Musings

*The Leafs, or more specifically Paul Maurice, must be experiencing an increasing sensation of heat on their butts as the season continues to get off to an ugly start. After giving up seven straight goals last night to the 'Canes (who are playing well - Cam Ward, it's nice to see you again), the Buds have now given up 4.25 goals a game through the first four games. Toskala, Raycroft, whatever. The Leafs were thought by many to be a playoff team this year, and they need to get it together pretty soon or else you get the feeling heads are going to roll in TO.

*Erik Johnson has a fracture in his foot, and is listed as day-to-day.

*The Caps' 3-0 start is a bit surprising. But more power to them. How can you not root for a guy like Kolzig?

*So is Calgary's 0-1-1 start.

*Nashville's 2-0 start is not as dominating as it seems, given that both games have been at home, and against teams on the second nights of back-to-back games.

*Manny gave up four (4) goals in his one start (a loss) so far for the Bruins. Tim Thomas gave up one (1) in his (a win).

*James Dolan's little anti-trust war with Gary Bettman is very interesting. Meanwhile, a smidge uptown from the Garden, the NHL is about to open a brand new paean to marketing and consumerism (The NHL/Reebok Store) - hmm...I wonder if they are going to sell Rangers' gear there?

*No Sports Book Picks (SBP) tonight.


Monday, October 8, 2007

Jason Blake Has Leukemia

and HTP wishes him the very best.


Jason Blake of the Toronto Maple Leafs issued the following statement following the team’s practice Monday at Air Canada Centre:

“This morning I shared with my teammates news that I was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. It is highly-treatable, and I have begun taking a pill on a daily basis that has proven to be very effective in controlling this cancer. The prognosis, and certainly the expectations of my physician, myself and my family, is that I will live a long, full and normal life.

“This situation will not impact my ability to live my life as I otherwise would, and will not affect my ability to perform at my highest level for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I’m looking forward to my first season with the Leafs and helping our club compete for the Stanley Cup.”

Statement from Maple Leafs team doctor Noah Forman regarding Jason Blake’s medical condition:

“Jason Blake has very recently been diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML). This is a form of leukemia (blood cancer) which is a slow growing cancer of the white blood cells. It has an incidence of 500 new cases diagnosed each year in Canada.
“It is caused by an abnormal chromosome of cells in the body’s bone marrow.


Gm # 2: Wild vs. Blue Jackets (1/4)

Much, much better effort Saturday night.

The Wild beat the BJs 3-2. Brent Burns had the GWG in the third off a nice pinch and a sweet look from PMB. The "second" line of PMB, Rolston and Belanger has been on fire in the first two games. The Gaby/Demo/warm body line (it was Parrish Saturday) was much more involved than it sounded like they were on Thursday, but no goals. Even Skoula only had one mistake.

For the BJs, Rick Nash looked very strong, and I thought Nik Zherdev also played pretty well. I had "scouted" the BJs Friday night when they played the Fowl, and Nash was also a beast in that game. Big kid, tons of skills. All this talk about the Wild needing a #1 center...what about Sergei Fedorov? He's a UFA after this season, but he's making $6.08M right now and he's 37...he's obviously very strong defensively...?? I have absolutely NOTHING to back that up. All I'm saying is that he jumped out at me as a guy who could fill that #1 center spot pretty nicely. I wouldn't necessarily even want them to sign him beyond this season...but if we are one guy away at the deadline, and the BJs are out of it by then...

The Grease are in town Wednesday for the first of our 27 meetings this season.

BOTTOM LINE: Wild showed much more what their true capability is. Love the second line, where's the first?

STUD: Belanger had his first goal for the Wild, looks fast and involved on both ends of the rink.

DUD: Foy. Didn't play poorly, per se, just didn't play well. He just doesn't have the margin for error to not contribute.

*** *** ***
Sports Book Picks (SBP) update

For the record, I lost the Vancouver pick from Friday, and I bet three games on Saturday, going 2-1.

I took the Lightning against Atlanta (win), the Wild against Columbus (win) and the Flames against Vancouver (loss).

My next picks aren't until Thursday's games. (Has anyone figured out my "system" yet?)

Season record: 3-2
Season winning %: 0.600
*** *** ***
Out of Town Update

*The Avs' Paul Stastny is off to a red-hot start.

*I heard Brian Burke on HNIC radio (Sirius, channel 122 from 4-6 M-F) justifying his team's early schedule. Specifically, he took responsibility for the fact that they played three road games between returning from London (where one of the games was also a road game) and their season North American home opener on Wednesday the 10th. His point, and I admit it makes sense, was that as long as they had to travel across all those time zones anyway, they might as well knock off four road games. That allowed them to not have to make those trips later in the season. He said that anytime you can reduce the overall travel burden on your team it's a good thing. Fair enough. The Fowl played in Detroit, Columbus and Pittsburgh. Again, I can see the rationale. But now that they've started 1-3, and have played either two or three more games than everyone else in the division, you wonder if the Kings didn't choose the wiser of the two paths by returning directly to LA and re-acclimating. Hindsight being 20:20, of course.

*I watched the Pens get demolished by the 'Canes the other night. M-A Fleury was horrendous in goal, and only lasted two periods. Crosby was, by in large, a non-factor. Those high expectations can be heavy.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Gm # 1: Wild vs. Blackhawks (1/4)

Wild win 1-0. Since I did not see the game I can not make any kind of personal comments on it. By the sounds of it the Wild played poorly, with the exception of Backstrom, and were lucky to come away with two points. The fact that it was two points in regulation, however, is a good thing and hopefully portends better luck at closing teams out before OT than the Wild had last season.

What can you say about Backstrom? It's only one game, but it has to give the guys confidence that he's no one-hit wonder.

BOTTOM LINE: Two points is two points. It's a cliche, but good teams find ways to win even when they aren't playing their best.

STUD: Nik. Shutout, and it sounds like he was the best guy on the ice for the Wild.

DUD: Everyone else?

*** *** ***
Sports Book Pick (SBP) 10/5/07

Take the Canucks -120. The Sharks lost in a SO last night in Edmonton, then flew to Vancouver for the Canucks' home opener tonight.

*Last night's pick (Predators -120) worked out as Nashville stomped on Budaj and the Avs 4-0.

Season record: 1-0
Season winning %: 1.000
Season money: + $8.00
*Presumes each bet is $10.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Let's Play Hockey!

Okay, no more preseason predictions, prognostications or punditry. Teams are down to 23, and it's the season is underway.

Three of four went to OT last night, and the fourth was a one-goal game.

It's hockey season!

Some quick hits before game #1:

  • Demo is wearing the C for October. Permanent alternates are Rolston and Walz.
  • Speaking of Wes, he will start the season between Gaby and Demo.
  • JL contemplating giving Hards as many as 30 starts, based on merit.
  • Reitz cleared waivers and is Houston-bound.

Sports Book Pick (SBP) 10/4/07

Take the Predators -120. The Avs played (and won) last night in Denver, then had to fly to Nashville and play the Preds' home opener tonight in front of what one presumes will be the most passionate Preds crowd possible after all the crap from last summer.

Season record: 0-0

Season winning %: 0.000

Season money: EVEN

Go Wild!


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Watershed or Woodshed?

The 2007-2008 season is a huge moment in the Minnesota Wild organIzation's young life.

Whether or not we wanted to, we swallowed DR's five year plan. The idea was that DR and co would build a team the core of which would ultimately compete for the Cup, as opposed to just trying to get into the playoffs, every season. I think the Senators are a good comparison for what I envision his plan evolving into. In exchange for our patience as savvy hockey consumers over the seminal years, Minnesotans and Wild fans everywhere would receive an honest effort every night, a team that didn't get blown out, and a number retired in our honor. That, more or less, we got.

An interesting by-product of this approach was that the team was just competitive enough to finish out of the running for a good shot at a top-three pick in the draft in all but our inaugural season. So our "success" to-date has actually cost us in terms of missing out on some true blue chip prospects. Other than AJ Thelen, I mean.

I think the team has delivered measured progress every year. The Cinderella run in '03 was an added bonus. And I think last year's free agent bonanza and playoff appearance was less aberration (as '03 might have been) and more because we were finally a playoff-caliber team.

So, in keeping with DR's plan, if the success from last season was a natural, sustainable progression, then it's reasonable to expect them to at least maintain that level (ie make the playoffs) if not even improve on it (ie win a series) this season.

Therefore, this is a very important season. If they do maintain or improve, then everything's cool. But if they take a step back and miss the playoffs (which they could very well do in an extremely tough division without too much going "wrong") then you could easily see the veterans they have brought in the last couple years to satellite the young nucleus jettisoned, and a new approach taken. To me, that would represent a break in the deal that DR struck with us.

There are obviously a lot of little things that make up what ends up being a successful or unsuccessful season. An injury here, a suspension there.

But regardless, the pressure is on the Minnesota Wild this season, starting from the top (DR) down. I just hope they see it that way.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Your 2007-2008 Minnesota Wild

With the signing of Sheppard, the Wild's opening roster appears to be set.

The forwards include:

Gaborik, Demitra, Walz, Koivu, Moore, Radivojevic, Sheppard, Veilleux, Rolston, Belanger, Boogaard, Foy, Parrish and Bouchard.

The defense includes:

Burns, Carney, Foster, Johnsson, Nummelin, Reitz, Schultz and Skoula. (Hill becomes available mid-November).

The goalies are:

Backstrom and Harding.

There are a couple nagging injuries right now (Walz, Foster, Nummelin) which is why Reitz is still here, though he apparently didn't simply back door the job. Pouliot, Kalus and Belle appear to be the first in line for call-ups from Houston.