Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Gm # 42: Wild @ Stars (3/4)

Good teams, they say, find ways to win. One would assume, then, that the converse is also true. But what about a team that both finds ways to win some games, and finds ways not to win other games? And, further, what about a team that does some of the things necessary to win a game but not others, and very often not enough to overcome those that they don't do? Inconsistent? Uncommitted? Unprofessional? Heartless? Immature? Adrift? Rudderless?

This Wild team folds at the slightest provocation. In last night's game against the Stars, the defense was there (one goal on a good crash, one goal on a good screen and iffy goaltending, and one goal on a good hit down low that left the defense short), particularly in two 5:3s - both of which were totally killed off by the Wild. But, against a staunch defense that started at the center red line, the Wild wilted, failing to amount more than a one-and-done attack on their most-successful posessions.

The Stars are a very good team. And last night they were a very good team stuck in a four-game losing streak, with a five-game road trip staring them in the face. Add desperation to a very good team and you can pretty much count on a great effort - which Stars fans certainly got.

But, to me, much of the Wild's problems, its lack of identity, comes down to the difference between physical and tough.

After the Fowl had their way with the NHL last season/playoffs, the movement du jour was to get "tougher". One of the teams swept up in the hysteria was the Minnesota Wild who, though without making major moves, have brought in players to elevate the team's collective "toughness quotient" a la Hill, Voros and Fedoruk. Remember that this is a team whose mantra has been slow, patient evolution into an annual contender for the Cup. So you'll excuse them if the leap from plodding, patient, "I'd rather watch paint dry", defense-first-and-prey-on-turnovers team to a swashbuckling, pound-you-into-submission-and-then-skate-away-with-the-puck-unimpeded-to-the-goal" team proved a bit too great to assimilate to in 42 games.

The Wild, in their newfound zeal to Be Tough, at times have lost appreciation of the difference between playing "tough" hockey (ie, pounding your opponent into submission and then skating away with the puck unimpeded to the goal) and playing "physical" hockey (ie, finishing checks, hounding relentlessly on defense, not taking any crap - but NOT running around and getting out of position in order to inflict same).

Physical carries with it the connotation of discipline. Tough, by comparison, carries with it the connotation of recklessness. That distinction may not stand the test of history (I'm not about to tell a guy like Gordie Howe that he wasn't tough, or that he was tough, but at the expense of some other attribute) but then few facets of the game today do.

And ironically, bringing this back to the game at hand, when the Wild is faced with a phyisical team they - and their toughness - shrink into submission with startling alacrity.

Skoula's Report Card
*Martin had an average game last night. Though he did not participate in the offensive side of the game (understandable that he would focus on his defensive play since he was just benched for his shortcoming in same) he was not an obvious culprit in any Wild pratfalls.
Grade: C

Season series
Overall: Wild trail 1-2-0 (GF 10, GA 14)
In Minny: Wild lead 1-0-0 (GF 6, GA 3)
In Dallas: Wild trail 0-2-0 (GF 4, GA 11)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: You can't coach heart.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Parrish kept his streak alive (four straight, five in six with a goal).

BOTTOM LINE: Further proof positive that the Wild will be a speedbump to the contenders in the West come playoff time.

STUD: Schultz played some inspired defense at times. Too bad he's not counted on for offense too.

DUD: PMB, who had been playing better, was but a fly to an elephant last night. On the ice for two of Dallas' three goals.


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