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.