Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gm 80 -- Wild 3, Avs 2 (OT) (7/8)

The Minnesota Wild knew they were in the playoffs before they took the ice at Xcel Energy Center Sunday evening to face the Colorado Avalanche. What they didn't know was how hard the rest of the evening was going to be, after the first period.

The Wild finally won when Marian Gaborik drove home a return pass from Pavol Demitra 3:10 into overtime, past prone Colorado goaltender Jose Theodore to secure a 3-2 victory and open a 4 point lead on their nearest competitor for the Northwest Division title, the Calgary Flames, who play Vancouver later tonight.

Gaborik's game winner was his 40th of the season, the first time a Wild player has reached that plateau in a single NHL campaign. The Wild victory was coach Jacques Lemaire's 499th as an NHL head coach; he'll get his first crack at 500 Thursday night at home vs. Calgary.

The first period was all Wild as Brian Rolston wristed a rebound of a Kim Johnsson shot past Theodore near the 5 minute mark. The goal was Rolston's 30th of the season, his third season with 30 + goals in his career. Three minutes later, Gaborik scored in the waning seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage (the first penalty had just ended) his 39th of the season to make it 2-0 Wild. This sent Colorado coach Joel Quenneville into a narly, blinding rage, his diminshing hair on his head nicely backdropped against a sea of angry red coming from within. Colorado was called for unsportsmanlike conduct ('abuse of officials' is the technical term) but the Wild did not capitalize on that opportunity.

The second period could not have been any different than the first. The Wild only got off 3 shots on goal in the second, as another 3rd liner -- Colorado's Jeff Finger -- gave his namesake to the Wild with a goal and an assist (Wojtek Wolski, 2 assists) as the Avs clawed back into the game at 2 each after two periods.

The third period was back and forth, with both sides needing metallurgy to stay in the game, as both Theodore and Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom had pucks go off posts at least twice each. The referees put away the whistle in the final stanza, as there were numerous plays for which both sides could have summarily marched to the penalty box. However, the play continued up and down as the period ended.

The overtime was no different, with both sides having chances as the clock ticked away. Gaborik came away with the puck at center near the Wild bench, passed it to Demitra who was on the left side, then they went in two-on-one against Jeff Finger, who shaded towards Demitra as he passed it to Gaborik, who put the game winner away and sent the crowd home happy to watch the Canucks and Flames battle it out on NHL Network tonight (in the US).

Chicken Little says: We may be in the playoffs, but we still could wind up in 8th place. Gotta keep working and playing 60-minute games or they're screwed; they could still wind up playing Detroit if they're not careful.

Pollyanna says: Gaborik scored his 40th goal tonight and it was the game winner in overtime. The team is playing a lot better now than when it was when we all were in Cow-gary last weekend!

Bottom Line: Wild need to win every game to put maximum pressure on both Calgary and Colorado to win the Northwest Divison. Any failure by either team will put the Wild in a better playoff position. And, with the five Northwest Division teams all playing each other the rest of the way, that means the Wild's fate is in their own hands.

Stud: Easy to say Gaborik; but I'll go with Backstrom, who made a handful of saves that I still don't believe he'd say he made. He was dazzling especially against Joe Sakic, Paul Stasny and Andrew Brunette, who's made a career of camping out in front of goaltenders.

Dud: Keith Carney did his 'Little Boy Lost' imitation again tonight. He wasn't asked to play in the OT, nor in a good part of the 3rd period. To top it off, he was responsible for Ruslan Salei, who scored the second Colorado goal.

Next Game: Wild: Thursday, April 3 vs. Calgary, 7:00 PM CDT (KSTC-45, Rogers SportsNet West)

After Last Night...

In case you read here first (and, why not?) before anywhere else, let me share some really good news:

After spotting the Calgary Flames a 1-0 lead early in the third period, the Edmonton Oilers came back in regulation time to defeat the Flames 2-1 late Saturday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

Edmonton is now only 2 points out of the No. 8 playoff spot in the NHL Western Conference, but with only two games remaining (Tuesday night vs. Calgary at Rexall Place; Thursday night at Vancouver) the Grease might have just been too little, too late with their 'Believe!' late-season push.

The Flames task gets no easier, as they travel to Vancouver to take on the Canucks this evening, who are still smarting from their getting whitewashed 4-0 at the hands of the Wild Friday night. This will be the first of two games in Van City for the Flames, as they start a season-ending four game road trip tonight (9:00 PM CDT; NHL Network-US, Rogers SportsNet Pacific-HD, Rogers SportsNet West).

The Canucks, having played their last road game on Friday night in St. Paul, begin a season-ending four game homestand at GM Place tonight, followed by Colorado on Tuesday night, the Oilers on Thursday and Calgary (again) on Saturday night.

Not to forget, the Avs: the Colorado Avalanche have two away games (tonight at Minnesota, Tuesday at Vancouver) then wait until Sunday afternoon to host the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center.

The Minnesota Wild can clinch a playoff spot with either a win or OT/SO loss this afternoon when they play the Colorado Avalanche (5:00 PM CDT; FSN North, Altitude TV, XM Radio Ch. 209), and could be playing for the Northwest Division title on Thursday night, when the Flames come calling on 'Fan Appreciation Night' at the 'X' in St. Paul.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Gm 79 - Wild 4, Canucks 0 (8/8)

A little of everything happened Friday night at Xcel Energy Center. Niklas Backstrom's 28-save game shutout and Pierre-Marc Bouchard's first NHL career fighting major combined to down the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 before yet another sellout crowd.

Bouchard's blood boiled over after Vancouver's Alexandre Burrows -- who skates with Bouchard in the off-season in Quebec -- speared the supposedly 5-8, 175-pound forward midway through the third period. Bouchard then wheeled about and two-hand slashed Burrows, earning them both the rest of the night off after coincidental 5-minute majors were called. The pugilism then amped up considerably after Brent Burns tore after Canuck goon wanna-be Nathan McIver, who went after Bouchard after Burrows' attempted shish-ke-bab of Bouchard. After Burns did his best imitation of a jackhammer on McIver, order was finally restored after Burns had racked up 19 penalty minutes by himself.

Burns also had the goal of the night, a really sweet blast from the top of the face-off circles which Roberto Luongo wouldn't have stopped even if he had been in position. It was a hard shot.

New daddy Luongo -- who flew to Fort Lauderdale, his off-season home, to witness the birth of his first child, a 7 lb., 6 oz. baby girl -- then flew back to the Twin Cities to catch up to his teammates, looked like he had flown 4,100 miles plus in less than 36 hours, as he gave up all 4 Minnesota goals in less than 34 minutes with 17 saves. The final straw in Luongo's evening came when Todd Fedoruk, trailing Marian Gaborik on a 2-on-1 rush, took Gaborik's pass and beat Luongo on his stick side for a 4-0 lead at 13:28 of the second period.

Relief goalie Curtis Sanford held the score at 4-0 despite several key chances including a complete robbery of a Gaborik attempt with less than 5 minutes remaining in the contest.

The Wild power play, at best anemic in the last six weeks, went 2-for-4 on the night, including power play goals by Bouchard and Burns as the Canucks were bottled up in their end most of the night.

The hitting started early, as Vancouver's Jeff Cowan was summarily sent head-over-heels into the Minnesota bench moments after the opening face-off, courtesy of Sean Hill, who re-checked him into the boards for good measure after Cowan attempted to right himself. Derek Boogaard and Cowan went at it two minutes before Burrows' attempt at skewering Bouchard occurred. Cowan did not fare well against the physically larger Boogaard, to say the least.

The loss puts Vancouver in a real bind. If the season ended Saturday, the Canucks would be out of the playoffs, as Nashville shutout Columbus 2-0 Friday night at Nationwide, putting the Predators ahead of the 'Nucks based on total wins. The Canucks next game will be Sunday night at GM Place, Vancouver, vs. the Calgary Flames, also fighting (literally) for their playoff spot as well. Calgary and Vancouver will play two games (of the four each team will have remaining) against each other this coming week, both games in Vancouver.

Chicken Little says: Edmonton didn't get the job done last night. 5.8 seconds left and Sakic scores sending the game to a shootout. Wild still aren't in the playoffs yet.

Pollyanna says: Vancouver can go beat on everyone else now -- if they can. Two games against Calgary at home in the next week. They won't catch the Wild, but if the 'Nucks can beat the Flames twice, that would be really good.

Bottom Line: Wild needed the game to solidify their 3 point lead in the Northwest, and the guaranteed home-ice advantage that comes with it. Now, even if Calgary wins at home against Edmonton Saturday night, the Wild go into their Sunday afternoon game against Colorado leading the Northwest Division.

Next Game: Sunday vs. Colorado, 5:00 PM CDT (FSN North, Altitude TV, XM Radio Ch. 209)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Gm # 78: Wild 3, Oilers 1 (8/8)

Frankly, they're all "must wins" at this point. And the Wild played well last night, earned a little puck luck and, more importantly, the two points.

They continued to receive offensive contribution throughout the depth chart (goals from Radio and Hill) and a couple of the high profile players got into the swing of things offensively as well (Koivu and Rolston). Both of those things are trends that will need to continue.

Additionally, Backstrom was very strong. Yes, he had some assistance from his friends Left and Right Post, but he made the saves we needed him to make and, more importantly, shook off any potential aftershocks from his previous outing. He has been very solid down the stretch, and we absolutely need that to continue.

You have to give the Grease credit. Their GM was on Hockey Night in Canada Radio (Sirius) yesterday saying the team is way ahead of where the Edmonton brass (all 75 of them, it seems) thought they'd be at this point. That they were able to resurrect their season at all is remarkable. And they're a helluva fun team to watch.

But, that being said, I think they're done. I just don't think they can count on the kind of help from their fellow NW division foes that they need to get in, and Nashville's easy schedule is a consideration too.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: You have to worry about the lack of depth on the blueline, and just how far we can go on four defensemen.

POLLYANNA SAYS: It was a game they needed to win, and they did. That's the sign of a good team.

BOTTOM LINE: They're now realistically one point from clinching a playoff spot. And they're on the right track to peak at the right time.

STUD: Koivu showed offensive brilliance, outstanding "vision" and deft playmaking on all three Wild goals.

DUD: Carney just looks overmatched in every way. Is he wily enough to overcome that? Not so far, but we'll see if he can elevate his game in the playoffs.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Gm 77 - Oilers 5, Wild 3

This is one of these "Aw mom, do I have to?" blogs. Why?

Well, first off, I said I would. And, there was a Wild game on the road last night (that I attended in person at Edmonton's Rexall Place). The Oilers destroyed the Wild 5-3, as the Oilers kept pace in the Western Conference playoff race, staying 3 points behind Colorado for the 8th and final playoff spot.

The way the Wild played last night, it was even more painful to watch in person than it was on TV across North America. (At least you could turn off the TV and go to sleep, except in Edmonton, where you really can't get too far away from the Oilers, even if you try.)

The Wild came out flatter than Norwegian flat bread (wasabrod), and got worse from there, if that's possible. A new high, in low. It was so bad, Jacques Lemaire changed goaltenders during the game. Twice. And no goalie was injured -- at least, physically -- either time.

Martin Skoula -- whose brain-fart miscues have plagued the Wild throughout this four-game Western road swing -- outdid himself when he gave up the puck with an errant clearing pass to Edmonton's Tom Gilbert, then slowly skated off to the Wild bench -- as the Oilers were on an offensive rush -- allowing Andrew Cogliano to race in along the left wing and score unimpeded on starting (and finishing) Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Because Skoula was on the bench when Cogliano's shot crossed the goal line, however, 'Bad Marty' did not receive a minus in the plus/minus ratings. He should have!

Two other defensemen -- Keith Carney and Sean Hill -- could not keep up with the younger, speedier Oilers, as they raced around in the first 5 minutes of the contest like bullies on the playground teasing the new kid. By the time Wild coach Jacques Lemaire mercifully replaced Backstrom with Josh Harding, the Oilers were up 3-0 and all was right, once again, in Oil Country. Nick Schultz slapped a deflected puck past Dwayne Roloson to make 3-1 after 1.

In the second period, Harding's feeble attempt to clear the puck from in front of his net gave Kyle Brodziak a golden oppotunity, which he buried after drawing Harding across the net at 3:54. The unassisted tally would prove to be the backbreaker, as the Wild would score twice in the past two periods, but this game was never close.

This was a bad game, folks. If you missed it, you should consider yourselves lucky.

The assembled multitude says:

Chicken Little: I could rule that roost! Where was that vaunted 'Wild trap defense'?

Pollyanna: Hey, we're still in first place. Don't knock it.

Bottom Line: Wild ran into a desperate opponent at the end of a long road trip. Throw 'Bad Marty' Skoula into the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster. It could have been worse, as Edmonton took their collective foot off the gas in the 3rd.

Stud: None in this group.

Dud: So many duds, so little time. You'd think one was at an Army Ordnance plant. Out of a bunch of bad mushrooms, one real toadstool stood out. Congratulations to Martin Skoula for really sinking to a new depth with his first period bail-out last night. Frankly, the way Marty is regressing, he is almost becoming the poster child for how NOT to play defense.

Next game: vs. Oilers, Wednesday 7:00 PM CDT (FSN North, Oilers PPV).

SOS update, 3/25/08

No more clarity today than yesterday and, if anything, waters are more muddy.

Current standings
3. MIN 77/40/89
6. CGY 76/39/88
7. VAN 75/38/86
8. COL 77/40/86
9. EDM 77/39/83
10. NAS 76/37/82

Home/away winning percentage
MIN: h .656 / a .528
COL: h .667 / a .471
CGY: h .655 / a .528
VAN: h .613 / a .545
NAS: h .618 / a .485
EDM: h .605 / a .485

Remaining schedule
EDM: @ MIN, @ COL, @ CGY, CGY, @ VAN

Total SOS score for remaining games
EDM 14.9
COL 20.7
CGY 24.5
MIN 26.0
VAN 29.0
NAS 37.4

*Edmonton certainly helped their cause last night with a solid win over Minnesota. They still have a very tough schedule, but if they can keep knocking off these "better" teams... Nashville's extremely easy schedule is definitely a thorn in the Grease's side.

*Colorado earned a huge 2 points by shutting out the Flames last night. Where they were out of the division title race with a loss last night, I think they're right back in it given the win. The reason? They have the same number of wins as the Wild. Those three points can be made up in the two H2H match-ups these two teams still have left - including the last game of the season.

*In a strange occurrance of happenstance, the Flames are grateful to their Alberta rivals from Edmonton for keeping the Wild at bay last night. The Flames have a tough turn around to get home and then play the rested Canucks tonight, and this is the game in hand they enjoy over the Wild, but they most likely will not see Luongo. Huge, huge game tonight.

*Minnesota continues to find ways to not lower the boom on the division - and last nights uninspired loss to Edmonton was just the latest example. They got a huge favor when Colorado beat Calgary, but they are now in the position where they virtually must beat Edmonton tomorrow.

*Vancouver was probably glad Colorado and Edmonton both won last night, even though it puts more pressure on them from behind. It keeps Calgary and Minnesota well within reach. A win in the Saddledome tonight would be gigantic for the Canucks, who have the second-easiest schedule from here on out.

*Nashville was definitely rooting for Minnesota last night, but their schedule is so favorable that it might not matter that the Grease won that game.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Wild Brass Brainy on Brawny?

So the Wild has played the last two games with Derek Boogaard, Chris Simon and Todd Fedoruk all dressed. That's an average height of 6-4 and an average weight of 250 lbs.

Among them, those three gentlemen have accounted for three fighting majors (Boogaard also had one in the Sharks game), four minor penalties, zero goals, zero assists and a cumulative -1 in those two games. And the Wild went 1-1-0.

They were also two of the most physical games of the season, both against division rivals with whom the Wild is in a desperate battle for the division title (and the home ice advantage that comes with it). Further, the division champion will most likely end up playing the division runner-up in the first round of the playoffs.

And it should be said that the Vancouver game was noticeably lacking of the cheap, behind the play, dirty-or-just-on-the-line little touches for which this blossoming rivalry has come to be known of late. The Calgary game had less of that as well, though it had not been as prevalent in games between the Wild and the Flames as it had in games between the Canucks and the Wild.

Much has been written here about the Wild brass addressing the team's shortcomings last playoffs by bringing in all these tough guys (to an extent you can include seldom-used Sean Hill and Aaron Voros on this list as well) and whether or not that is a good strategy.

But now, for the first time, we can look at actual games to see if this works.

While the win over Vancouver was nice, the Wild has not exactly struggled against the Canucks this season. So beating them with our tough guys in the lineup CAN be seen as just an extension of that overall trend. And the Wild has struggled mightily against the Flames this year, and not only did that continue, but the Wild allowed five goals (in regulation, no less!) in the process.

I believe the Wild is just not built for this tough, physical, norte americano style of hockey. To me, the evidence is that, in the instances this season where that kind of game has happened, the Wild has either wilted or gotten into the physical game, but at the expense of the other things (speed, transition, defensive soundness) that they do well - and that have made them successful.

There are many who contend that the presence of the muscle element on the bench alone is enough to protect the skill players from abuse. I tend to think this is folly - especially considering A) it's not much of a deterrant if that tough guy is only going to get a few minutes a game and B) if I'm one of these modern-pests who have no respect for my fellow player and no reason to respect the antiquated "Code" in hockey.

Blame expansion, blame the instigator, blame Bettman, blame the half-shields, whatever...the bottom line to me is that there are too many players in the league whose future as an active NHL player depends on them not heeding the cautionary warning of the hulking figure of another team's goon - standing on the bench - and instead going out and chopping that team's star winger on the ankle, or crushing him into the boards from a dangerous angle.

So the role of the goon is reduced. You need to have some skillz to go along with your ability to punch a guy in the face while standing on ice to garner more than a handful of minutes in a NHL game today. And frankly, that's fine with me. But that means that those guys whose skillsets DON'T include the ability to contribute regularly in other areas of the game will not see the additional ice time. So the chances are that much better that their butt is on the bench when the ankle biters are out their plying their nefarious trade on your star players.

It would be one thing if we were still only talking about one guy per team. But when the Wild dresses THREE such individuals (granted Fridge and, to a lesser extent, Simon do add value in other areas and garner more TOI than Boogey) to me you're effectively reducing the game roster of forwards to three lines of usable players. And that puts additional stress on the other guys, which leads to them being more tired in the key minutes of periods/the game which makes it harder to mount a comeback/protect a lead.

In summary, I continue to think that the Wild brass has not created a team that is tougher (top to bottom) and has actually handicapped the team when it is in tight, physical, playoff-type games - as they will be until the end of their season, whenever that may be.


SOS Update

After a big weekend, things are a LITTLE bit clearer in the NW division/Western Conference playoff race. Three teams have clinched a playoff berth (Detroit, Anaheim and San Jose), and there has been some stratification within the six teams we're tracking. Essentially, Colorado, Nashville and Edmonton are fighting each other for the 8th seed in the west, and Minnesota, Calgary and Vancouver are fighting each other for the 3rd, 6th and 7th seeds in the west.

Current standings
# Team GP/W/PTS
3. MIN 76/40/89
6. CGY 75/39/88
7. VAN 75/38/86
8. COL 76/39/84
9. NAS 76/37/82
10. EDM 76/38/81

Home/away winning percentages
MIN h .656 / a .543
COL h .657 / a .471
CGY h .655 / a .543
VAN h .613 / a .545
NAS h .618 / a .485
EDM h .595 / a .485

Remaining schedule
CGY: @ COL, VAN, EDM, @ VAN, @ EDM, @ MIN, @ VAN

Total SOS score for remaining games
EDM 18.4
COL 25.7
VAN 29.6
CGY 29.8
MIN 31.7
NAS 37.4

*Edmonton has an uphill battle. They have such a tough schedule ahead, they don't play Nashville, and they have one H2H with Colorado - but it's in Denver. Especially with their penchant for OT/SO games, I think the Grease are all-but done.

*Nashville's biggest problem is that they need to win two more games than Colorado does - in the same number of games. While their easier schedule makes that look possible, the Avs having four of 6 at home hurts Nashville. Even if Colorado goes .500, the Predators can't lose more than 1 more game from here on out. They still have to play Detroit, in Detroit, there's that one game...

*Colorado looks pretty good for the 8th seed, but can they catch/pass Vancouver? They have 2 more H2H with the Canucks, so it's certainly possible.

*I would say Calgary has the inside track on the division title right now, were it not for that four-game road trip to end the season. They have to take advantage of the game in hand over the Wild.

*Of Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary and Colorado, the Canucks have the worst home winning percentage. So, while they finish the season with four at home, that's of limited comfort. Also, the Wild and Flames each play the Grease twice. The Avs and Canucks only play them one more time.

*Minnesota looks pretty good to clinch a playoff berth. But winning the division title is not as solid. Sweeping (or even getting 3 points) out of the upcoming two games with the Oilers would be a very good thing. Especially because after that, their SOS will get much harder.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Gm 76 - Flames 5, Wild 4

It was supposed to be a battle for the Northwest Division lead between the Minnesota Wild and the Calgary Flames Saturday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome. One small problem:

Someone forgot to tell Jarome Iginla that he wasn't supposed to be the star of the show. Again...

Iginla's hat trick -- along with goals by Dion Phaneuf and Matthew Lombardi -- upstaged a two-goal night by recent Minnesota call-up Benoit Pouliot and another Minnesota two-goal night, this one by Kim Johnsson -- as the Flames torched the Wild 5-4 to pull within one point of the Wild in the uber-tight Northwest Division.

The Wild came out in the first period a little bit slowly, but caught up on the shot clock, ending the fist 20 minutes even at 10 shots a piece.

In the second period, the Wild thought they caught a break after a Calgary penalty was called early in the period. The thought was short-lived, however, as Dion Phaneuf (he of the '9 of the 14 traits of serial killers', as found on the message boards) split the defense, made Brent Burns look more like Martin Skoula and flipped one over Josh Harding's glove and into the net to take a 1-0 lead.

B-b-b-Benny went to work after that, scoring twice if a six-minute span in the latter half of the second period. Just as the Wild (and what few fans they had in the arena, including myself and the Mrs.) thought they just might get into the locker room ahead, along came the beginning of the Jarome Iginla show, as 'Iggy' got a nice, juicy rebound of a blast from Phaneuf and shoved it by a somewhat surprised Harding to even the score at 2 each going into the 3rd.

The fun continued for about 19,200 of the 19,289 fans at the Saddledome after Iginla put the Flames in the lead for good just 50 seconds into the 3rd after a unbelieveably bone-headed brain fart turnover by 'Bad Marty' Skoula allowed Iginla to race in and snap a quick shot by for a 3-2 Calgary lead.

The roasting continued six minutes later as Iggy grabbed a rebound off another Phaneuf throw-in as Skoula stood by with his patented 'What did I do wrong?' look. After a number of hats were thrown onto the ice (some pass-thrown three levels down from the far reaches of the English-saddle styled arena) the Wild scored two of the next three goals, as Johnsson pressed in twice to score, the second goal not enough as the clock ran out on the Wild as the puck was tantalizingly toyed with by Kristian Huselius as the final few seconds ran down.

Fight Card: All three members of the Wild's 'Legion of Doom' -- Derek Boogaard, Chris Simon and Todd Fedoruk -- went toe-to-toe in major confrontations during the game. Boogaard went against his old nemesis Eric Godard; Simon went on (and on) with Jim Vandermeer virtually seconds after the Boogaard-Godard fight ended; and finally Fedoruk went after Cory Sarich after Sarich boarded Simon into the penalty box boards 6 minutes into the third period. According to polls taken by, Boogaard and Simon won their bouts, with Fedoruk and Sarich coming to a draw.

The fourth 'Horseman' -- Aaron Voros -- was scratched for the second straight game.

Now that we've pulled the multitude out from Vancouver's Robson St. and fed 'em some good Alberta beef, let's see what they thought of the night in Cow Town...

Chicken Little says: What do they gave to do to win in the Saddledome? Rope and tie Iginla, and Phaneuf, and Kiprusoff, and Huselius, and...

Pollyanna says: So what? They're still in first place! They still have one game -- at home -- against the Flames. Big deal they lost tonight. They go to Edmonton, they get the two points there; who would'nt have been satisfied with 5 of a possible 8 points on this road trip??

Bottom Line: If Iginla doesn't go nuts, the Wild win. The Wild need to develop a strategy to stop Iginla. And soon; they'll need it sooner or later.

Stud: B-b-b-Benny Pouliot. No question. Has his best night by far since his call-up from Houston.

Dud: Stephane Veilleux was on the ice for 3 Calgary goals. The non-efforts by about 1/3rd the active roster. (Do we need to tell you which third?)

But our dud of the night is none other than 'Bad Marty' Skoula. After further review, he couldn't have possibly helped the Flames win the game any more than if he put on a Calgary sweater and joined the 'C of Red'. His brain fart turnovers led me originally to call him 'Poppin' Fresh' earlier in the year; last night he reverted to form. His Lerch-esque 'What did I do wrong?' as Iggy finished off the natural hat trick was a Skoula classic. Doug Risebrough would do well trading this stiff, but outside of maybe Kevin Lowe at Edmonton, no one would take the bum.

Next Game: Monday at Edmonton, 8:30 PM CDT (FSN North, Rogers SportsNet West)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Gm 75 - Wild 2, Canucks 1

Minnesota vs. Vancouver. Division lead (and playoff berths) on the line. Packed house of 18,630 at GM Place, Vancouver. May we say one more thing?

When it comes to these two Northwest division rivals, karma's a bitch.

Branko Radivojevic's sweet tip of a Pavol Demitra pass gave the Wild a well-earned, very hard-fought 2-1 victory over the 'Nucks, who now are on the road for over a week.

The first period, although no goals were scored, had a lot of end-to-end action, as both teams fought for position. The Wild wound up actually out shooting the 'Nucks 11-9 in the first, the only period of the evening where the Wild would out-shoot Vancouver.

The second period started out much as the first ended, with both teams still trying to figure out how to beat the other's goaltender, as both Roberto Luongo and Niklas Backstrom were having equally stellar nights. The stalemate was broken at 4:52 as Brian Rolston's deflected pass went off of Willie Mitchell's right hip (thanks, Willie, you owed Wild fans that) and past Luongo for a 1-0 Minnesota lead.

After Branko's heroics early in the third to make it 2-0 'the good guys', Sami Salo blasted one past a totally screened Backstrom to cut the lead to 2-1 and bring the big Vancouver crowd back into the game. From that point, however, it was the Wild that stepped up and took it to the Canucks, frustrating Vancouver time and again with their frequent incursions into Luongo's end of the rink, not allowing him to be pulled for an extra attacker until 64 seconds remained in the contest. As the Wild scrambled to repulse every attempt to get the puck in front, Vancouver responded by circling the zone and not putting the puck in position to score. Time ran out as Sedin after Sedin tried in vain to flag the puck down in the Minnesota zone.

The Wild now have won 3 of their last 4, have come away with at least one point in seven straight games and have clinched the season series with Vancouver (4-2-1 with one game remaining).

The assembled multitude has gathered to party 'til 3 AM on Granville Street. Let's ask 'em about the game before they get TOO wasted...

Chicken Little says: It was a better effort than I've seen in a while. But, Johnsson was on the ice too much tonight, and we paid for it. But, even I can't complain about two points; at least 'til I've had a few Kokanee Lights...

Pollyanna says: Demitra was plus 1 on the evening. Gaborik nailed Willie Mitchell a couple of times. Backstrom stopped anything he even partially saw. And, to top it all off, 60 solid minutes of play from 'da boys'. Ya gotta love it...and the 3 AM closing time!

Bottom Line: Going into the hell-on-earth the Pengrowth Saddledome has become for the Wild, getting this game in the win column -- in regulation -- was a must on this road trip. Now, the trip doesn't seem so bad if they do lose tomorrow night to the Calgary Flames. And, it makes it all that much sweeter for the Wild should they win tomorrow. M-m-m-good!

Stud: Could really pick a number of players tonight. Burns, Branko, Veilleux, Pouliot, Sheppard, all had great evenings, even IF they didn't show up on the scoresheet. But, let's give it tonight to the senior Slovak-in-residence, Pavol Demitra. Plus 1, worked like a dog, and for once was willing to take (and take off) a hit to protect the puck.

Dud: Not much to talk about here, although Johnsson was on the ice almost too much (over 25 minutes of TOI tonight).

Next game: tomorrow night at Calgary, 8:00 PM MDT, Pengrowth Saddledome (KSTC-45, CBC)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is Finishing 2nd As Good As Winning The Division?

Someone was saying the other day that finishing second in the Northwest division is not as bad as you'd think.

The reason is that the 3-6 matchup in the first round will almost definitely be the NW division winner vs. the NW division runner up. As opposed to finishing 3rd or 4th in the NW (assuming the 4th place finisher makes the playoffs) where you'd end up playing either the Red Wings or the Sharks (it looks like) in the first round.

We know the Wild doesn't match up well with Detroit and San Jose, and they're not that much more successful against Calgary either. But against Vancouver and Colorado so far, it hasn't been too bad.

Look at the numbers for 07-08:

Wild vs. Detroit
Overall: 1-3-0 (9 GF, 17 GA)

Wild vs. San Jose
Overall: 0-2-2 (8 GF, 14 GA)

Wild vs. Calgary
Overall: 1-5-0 (13 GF, 16 GA)

Wild vs. Vancouver
Overall: 3-2-1 (17 GF, 20 GA)

Wild vs. Colorado
Overall: 4-2-0 (16 GF, 13 GA)

So, if the Wild wins or finishes second in the division, they have a 2/3 chance of playing a team they match up with pretty well. And at least they'd be familiar with the Flames. But if they finish 3rd or 4th in the division, they have a 100% chance of playing a team that they stink against.

In other words, yes: finishing second is as good as winning the division, match up wise, for the Wild.


SOS update

Only one of the six teams we're tracking played last night, and it was Minnesota who earned a critical point in the SOL to the Sharks. The Wild now have a three-point lead over Calgary, Vancouver and Colorado in the NW, though the Flames and Canucks each have a game in hand (and two fewer wins).

Current standings
3. MIN 74/39/87
6. VAN 73/37/84
7. CGY 73/37/84
8. COL 74/39/84
9. NAS 74/36/80
10. EDM 74/37/79

Home/away winning percentages
EDM: h .583 / a .485
COL: h .657 / a .485
MIN: h .656 / a .545
CGY: h .643 / a .543
VAN: h .633 / a .545
NAS: h .606 / a .485

Remaining schedule

Total SOS score for remaining games*
COL 32.3
EDM 33.3
NAS 37.2
CGY 43.5**
MIN 43.5
VAN 46.2

*Since none of the six teams plays out of the conference from here on out, I redid the SOS so that only the 15 teams in the western conference are ranked. This obviously brought the scores "down". It also had a tightening effect on the range of scores.

**One potential glitch here is that Calgary does not appear to be penalized at all for finishing the season with four on the road. I altered the formulae to make the "penalty" for playing on the road twice as big as the "bonus" for playing at home, and it really didn't change the relative rankings at all:

COL 32.7
EDM 33.5
NAS 37.9
CGY 43.4
MIN 43.7
VAN 46.7


Gm # 74: Sharks 4, Wild 3 (SO)

Most Minnesota Wild fans would certainly agree, any time you can take any points out of the Shark Tank -- a.k.a HP Pavilion at San Jose -- you are most certainly grateful. Such was the case Wednesday night as the Wild came off the deck with Marian Gaborik scoring his second goal of the night (38th this season) as the Wild pushed the Sharks all the way to the shootout before their old nemesis -- the continued poor shootout performance of an otherwise stellar Niklas Backstrom -- rose up to bite the hand that feeds them, as the Sharks walked away with a 4-3 final victory in the last inter-divisional game for these two Western Conference teams.

What made matters worse for the Wild -- already short-handed at the Center position -- is the apparent loss of Defenseman Kurtis Foster, probably for the remainder of this season and possibly longer, due to a crushing cheap hit into the boards in the Minnesota end of the ice 5 minutes into the second period at the hands of San Jose center Torey Mitchell, who was given a minor penalty (instead of the 'deliberate attempt to Injure' major he should have received) after a 12-minute delay while Foster was hauled off the ice, totally immobilized, as a stretcher case. First reports indicate that Foster has a broken femur; further information was not available when this blog entry was filed.

Update 12:10 AM Pacific Time -- Michael Russo (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) reports a steel rod has been inserted to stabilize Foster's left leg. He is out for the season.

This fired up the Wild for the remainder of the evening, one which, except for Derek Boogaard's re-crushing (again) of Jody Shelley, one of his favorite victims, and the beautiful tip-in by Stephane Veilleux of a Foster shot from the point, didn't hold much for the Wild to hang on to, as the San Jose style of 'pack the defensive zone' hockey was slowly taking hold.

Hey, it's late, so let's go right to the remaining group:

Chicken Little says: Oh great. Foster's out, Skoula sucked again tonight and we have no room for error. NOW do you believe me that the sky is going to fall?

Pollyanna says: Gaborik scored twice tonight, Backstrom looked nearly amazing for 65 minutes, and we actually increased our lead in the division. Next case!

Bottom Line: The Wild needed the point. The Wild went out and got the point. The Wild screwed up by not replacing Backstrom with Harding for the shootout. But they did get a point in San Jose, and that should be the end of the discussion.

STUD: Gaborik, no question. Two goals, and looked like he was really into the game from start to finish. You've not been able to say that about the March captain lately.

DUD: Again, No question. Martin (-3) Skoula needs to have his head examined...or maybe the contents thereof (or lack of same) after his bonehead pass attempt led directly to San Jose's 3rd goal. Any time Jeremy Roenick has a multi-goal night against you, you've got to wonder 'What in the 'F' were you thinking there, Marty?' Yes, Skoula has been playing better lately. However, a leopard can't change his spots; neither can Skoula.

Next game for Wild: at Vancouver, 7 PM PDT (9 PM CDT), Friday, March 21 (KSTC 45, Rogers SportsNet Pacific, NHL Network-US).

Final thought: If anyone in their right mind thinks Seattle cares about hockey, the answer is NO. They have too much else to do around here (I'm actually in Seattle en route to Vancouver for Friday's game), like wait for the Mariners to break spring training, wait for the Seahawks to start 'OTA's' (Organized Team Activities) or, like tonight, wait for the Sonics to be handed their heads on a platter. This is a bad sports town. Don't even THINK of expanding here, Gary Bettman.

That's it. G'night from the Emerald City.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New Wild Blogosphere Message Board

It's sort of a clearing house for Wild blogs, where we hope the conversation will be a little more, well, conversational than the comments sections allow.

Free to join.


SOS update

So Nashville couldn't handle AO's heat, the Flames were extinguished by the BJs and the Oilers staked claim to inclusion in this analysis with a severe beat down of the Coyotes. Very interesting.

Current standings
3. MIN 73 GP/86 pts
6. VAN 73 GP/84 pts
7. CGY 73 GP/84 pts
8. COL 74 GP/84 pts
9. NAS 74 GP/80 pts
10. EDM 74 GP/79 pts

Home/away winning percentages
EDM: h .583 / a .485
COL: h .657 / a .485
MIN: h .656 / a .545
CGY: h .643 / a .543
VAN: h .633 / a .545
NAS: h .606 / a .485

Total SOS score for remaining games
EDM 48.3
COL 59.7
MIN 68.3
CGY 68.7
VAN 71.7
NAS 84.5

*Calgary blew their GIH last night, and now sit two wins behind Minnesota, with the same number of games left. As much as they needed the points, they might have needed the notch in the W column more.

*Nashville still has the easiest schedule, but they have to be a little worried about the Oilers because the Grease currently have one more W than the Preds do. However, the Oilers have the toughest schedule of the six teams.

*The NW division title may simply come down to which of the four teams (Edmonton doesn't get counted in the mix for the division title just yet) finishes better than .500.


HTP Personnel Announcement

I am pleased to announce that WildRoadTripper (WRT) has agreed to join HTP at full author/blogger status. Heretofore his work was best known at Russo's Rants, and more recently he agreed to help me out when I was away. But now, we can all look forward to his wit, candor and "no bullshit" approach on a regular basis.

One of the distinct disadvantages of being a Wild fan living in the eastern time zone is that A) it's hard to get to the X on a game-by-game basis and B) those west coast games (read: 10 or even 10:30pm start time) are a real bitch. Lest my dedication to the team be questioned, I fully intend on continuing to tape the ol' eyelids open for those tilts, but having a partner in crime who's either an hour earlier or is given to road trips to see the Wild play, ahem, can only make for better blog.

And, it just so happens that my intrepid partner is on his way to the northwest right now where he will be live in attendance for the Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton games!

And I hope he will participate more than on just west coast games or games to which he travels.

So WRT has the conch, to coin a phrase, for the game recaps for all four games of this road trip. I will be updating the SOS and doing my usual non-recap thing.

As always, we're more than happy to field requests, criticism, etc. Unless you're a Canucks fan.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

SOS update

Here's the updated data on strength of schedule, after last night's games (Wild 3, Avs 1 and Nuks 3, Coyotes 1).

Current standings
3. MIN 73 GP/86 pts
6. CGY 72 GP/84 pts
7. VAN 73 GP/84 pts
8. COL 74 GP/84 pts
9. NAS 73 GP/80 pts

Total strength of schedule score for remaining games
COL 58.6
MIN 65.9
VAN 68.1
CGY 82.3
NAS 100.7

Current home/away winning percentages
COL: home .657 / away .485
MIN: home .656 / away .545
VAN: home .633 / away .545
CGY: home .643 / away .559
NAS: home .625 / away .485

*Calgary's two games in hand over Colorado is big, but even more so considering they have 2 fewer wins than the Avs do. That gives the Avs some comfort.

*The Avs really didn't want to lose that game last night. They now have the same number of wins as Minnesota, and they give up a game in hand to the Wild. So the Avs will need one more win than the Wild, and they have fewer games in which to get it.


Gm # 73: Wild vs. Avs (6/8)

Maybe this was just a big plot by DR and JL all along. You know, the old "they peaked way too early last season and were dogmeat in the playoffs so we're going to keep a firm grip on them this season and only unleash them the last 15 games or so" routine. As Machiavellian as those two are, I wouldn't put it past them. The only thing I can't figure out is how they paid off Ohlund to assault Koivu.

Anyhoo, the Wild played one of their better games of the whole season last night, and earned a tiny bit of breathing room atop the ridiculous mess that is the Northwest Division right now.

The checkers were a main story line for the third game in a row, with Radio and SRV both scoring, and helping out defensively as well. Last year in the playoffs, the Fowl got a huge boost from their checking line (Pahlsson/R. Niedermayer/a dude I don't remember). They got it done at both ends of the ice. If SRV and Radio (plus whoever is their third) can produce the same effort for the Wild it will be huge.

Brent Burns took a lazy DOG penalty for shooting the puck out of play that lead to a 5:3 for the Avs early in the game. The Wild killed it off - which was huge - and then Burnsie made up for it with his 14th goal of the season, and on the power play no less. He would later assist on Radio's GWG.

Among the more encouraging signs in this game was the team's overall grit and willingness to stick up for each other/protect Backstrom (who also had a very strong game - nothing he could have done on the one goal, and several big saves at key moments). The defense was engaged and effective all game I thought - and Skoula continued his strong play of late. Other than some early trouble, I thought they did a great job clearing the zone when they got in trouble, and that's my litmus test for how they're playing on a given night.

Pouliot looked pretty solid, if a little conservative, but earned his ice time the whole game. You can't really ask for much more than that at this point.

It was a satisfying effort - and a needed win as they head out on this big road trip.

Season series
Overall: Wild leads 4-2-0 (GF 16, GA 13)
In Minny: Wild leads 3-0-0 (GF 10, GA 4)
In Denver: Wild trails 1-2-0 (GF 6, GA 9)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: While you often need puck luck to win, you certainly can't count on it. The Wild got some breaks which helped immensely.

POLLYANNA SAYS: There's a feeling they are building toward something good - and at the right time of year, too!

BOTTOM LINE: Huge two points, in regulation (you're welcome Calgary and Vancouver), setting up a big road trip.

STUD: Backstrom was extremely solid - particularly in the third as the Avs mounted wave after wave of furious attack.

DUD: Demo was again a non-factor and even took a dumb penalty (which I thought was in the O-zone). We need him, and we need him NOW.

Up Next: The Wild heads out on the road for four games, starting Wednesday in San Jose. Then a brutal B2B Friday and Saturday in Vancouver and then Calgary.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Strength of Schedule Analysis

Predicting any outcome in sports is pretty tough. And I type that mindful of the fact that millions of Americans are furiously filling out brackets right now as March Madness is about to tip off.

So, I'm not going to predict who will win which games from here on out. At least not right now.

I am going to try to perform some analysis on the strength of schedule for each of the key players battling with the Wild to make the Western Conference's playoffs.

To me, this is do-able after determining a couple givens.

First, that past performance IS indicative of future results. (At least as a meaningful variable.)
Second, that there is an advantage to playing at home, and thus a disadvantage to playing on the road.

For this analysis, I first ranked the teams in the NHL based on's current league-wide standings. The best team in the league was ranked #1 and the worst team in the league was ranked #30.

Then I mapped out the remaining schedules for the following teams: Minnesota, Colorado, Calgary, Vancouver and Nashville. *I will keep an eye on Edmonton as they are making a late charge as well.

For each game, I attributed the same value as the ranking of the opponent. So, if Minnesota is playing Colorado, and Colorado is the 10th-ranked team, then that game gets a value of 10 to start with.

Then, I added 0.5 points if it was a home game, and subtracted 0.5 points if it was a road game. So if Minnesota is playing Colorado in St. Paul, the 10 becomes a 10.5; and if they are playing in Denver the 10 becomes a 9.5. The idea here is that the "harder" the game the lower the points attributed to it. Conversely, the "easier" the game, the higher the points attributed to it.

Then, I factored in the team in question's winning percentage (season-to-date) at home or away, depending on that particular game. So if Minnesota is playing Colorado at home, the original 10 becomes a 10.5, and then that value is multiplied by Minnesota's home winning percentage (0.645) for a final value of 7.42 for that particular game.

Finally, I totalled up and averaged all the points for all the remaining games.

Here are my results:

Current standings
3. Minnesota 72 GP/84 pts
6. Calgary 72 GP/84 pts
7. Colorado 73 GP/84 pts
8. Vancouver 72 GP/82 pts
9. Nashville 73 GP/80 pts
*data from

Total Strength of Schedule for remaining games:
Colorado 69.4
Minnesota 77.5
Vancouver 81.0
Calgary 89.3
Nashville 100.7

Current home/away winning percentages:
Minnesota: home .645 / away .545
Colorado: home .657 / away .500
Calgary: home .643 / away .559
Vancouver: home .633 / away .531
Nashville: home .625 / away .485
*data from

*So Colorado has the hardest remaining schedule, while Nashville has the easiest remaining schedule.

Team breakout
Colorado: With nine games remaining, the Avs give up a game in hand over everyone except Nashville. They have 2 games remaining against Edmonton - which would seem to be a good thing, except that Minnesota, Calgary and Vancouver all have two games against the Oilers as well. All of their 9 remaining games are in the division. Five of their remaining games are on the road, but their final game is at home, against the Wild.

Minnesota: With ten games left, the Wild has a rough road as well. They have one non-division game, but it's in San Jose and the Sharks have dominated the Wild this season (Wild is 0-3-0 against them). So that game in hand against the Avs is nice, but it's tempered by the opponent. The Wild does have four of their last five at home, but that final game in Denver (where they are 1-2-0 this season) looms very large. And a big four-game road trip (San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton) directly before that home stand could mean their shot at the division title is over by the time they get home.

Vancouver: Also has ten games remaining, and they have one game out of the division (vs. Phoenix). Tempering their relatively strong schedule ahead is a season-ending four game home stand (Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Calgary). Interesting to note that the Canucks have the worst home winning percentage of the four NW division teams at this point.

Calgary: Has the easiest schedule among the NW division teams for the sole reason that they have a game left against 23rd-ranked Columbus. Apart from that outlier, their schedule is pretty similar to Colorado, Minnesota and Vancouver. They do finish the season with a four-game road trip, but that can be a good thing in that it gets the team out of the craziness of being at home in crunch time.

Nashville: Has the easiest schedule of the group, though they give up a game in hand to Minnesota, Calgary and Vancouver. Two against Chicagao, St. Louis and Columbus certainly mitigate having two left against the Red Wings. They also finish with two straight at home (St. Louis, Chicago).

Given all this, you have to like Nashville's chances of sneaking into that 8th spot. Four teams from one division is tough anyway - especially with all the in-fighting they would have to do to get there. But who among the NW division teams falls? Tough to say Vancouver with that four-gamer at home to end it. I'll say Calgary looks to be in the most precarious situation with those four games on the road to end the season. And Minnesota can't like ending the season in Denver with so much on the line.


Gm # 72: Wild vs. Kings (4/4)

I didn't get to see this game due to the fact that it was only broadcast on HDNet. I can understand why FSN North didn't have it on (Gophers WCHA playoffs), but I can't figure out why FSN LA (or whatever the hell it's called) didn't carry it, and thus why no Center Ice. Oh well.

The Wild won, and that's all that matters. Good to hear the checkers (SRV, Radio) again stepped up. Would have liked to see Pouliot too, but twas not to be.

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


Friday, March 14, 2008

Gm # 71: Wild vs. Devils (1/1)

"It's not forbidden to be what you are..." - Moxy Fruvous

...maybe not, but, in the Wild's case, it might not win you too many games either.

This team is like a bad salesman: it can't close.

This team is like a bad john: it won't finish.

This team is like a televangelist: it gives hope to everyone it plays.

Okay, so maybe that last one was a bit of a stretch. But the point is that this Wild team is floundering in the most crucial of elements, at the worst possible time. As has been said here in the past, they have no identity, no leadership, no willingness to play for each other and obviously there's no one in the room demanding accountability. Or if there is, that person doesn't have the clout or the respect of his team mates to GET accountability out of the rest of them. The flip side of that is that the coaching staff also isn't able to get through to the guys. That's not a good thing either. But since I don't see DR firing JL anytime soon, I think that part probably isn't going to change.

Again, I don't expect them to win the Cup this season. Winning a ROUND would be enough for me. But these guys aren't going to win jack if they all keep pulling in different directions.

A couple bright spots:

*SRV was great last night. He really made a difference, and not just the goal he scored. We'll need more of that.

*Koivu's strong move to the net and then dish to set up Gaborik at the end of the second was incredible. If he can add that power forward element to his game on a consistent basis that can only help the team.

*Backstrom was pretty good, until Langenbrunner's winner in the SO.

*I loved seeing Fridge crash the net. He came oh-so-close at least once as a direct result of going to the crease.

A couple not-so bright spots:

*Rolston was brutal last night. Just wandering around aimlessly for the most part. It's almost a BAD thing when his first slapper of the game ends up on net because you know that's all he's going to do for the rest of the game and he's going to get his pocket picked again, and again, and again. He's a remarkably soft player, and very weak on the puck as well.

*Demitra was also invisible. I am extremely tired of seeing him not shoot for the whole game, but then try to sneak one of those on-the-side-boards, bad angle, teensy-weensy percentage shots past goalies - just because he beat Turco ONE TIME on one of them. At this rate, I won't miss either Demo or Rolston if we let them walk this summer. I'd love if it they could both make me eat those words.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Can't win in regulation? Won't win in the playoffs.

POLLYANNA SAYS: They proved they can play with one of the best in the east...for part of a game, anyway.

BOTTOM LINE: That's a big point, standings-wise, but two would have been better.

STUD: Veilleux made an impact on the game as much or more than any other Wild player. It was very good to see.

DUD: Rolston was invisible much of the time, ineffective all the time, and wasted a shootout spot.

Up Next: The Kings are in town Saturday for what is quickly becoming a must win for the Wild. The trouble is the Kings have been playing the role of spoiler pretty well of late - and always play the Wild tough.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pronger, Campbell Both Losers *UPDATED*

Well, Chris got 8 games (the Fowl currently have 9 remaining in the regular season), after the Zapruder film surfaced with a much closer, clearer view of what happened. Either he got off lightly or Chris Simon got screwed.

Have you seen the video of Chris Pronger stomping Ryan Kesler yet?

If not:

(the video's linked to the story, under the title "Stomp")

And now there's a much closer view of the action which you can link to here:

First, Pronger's no better than the Chris Simons or Marty McSorleys of the world. This is 100% bush league, chickenshit by a player with a history of bush league, chickenshit on the ice. McSorley and Simon at least stood in an took their lumps on occasion. Pronger doesn't fight. He just dishes out cheap shots and pathetic, disgusting play.

Look, I respect the Fowl. I think Delta Burke is a great (if scheming and self-aggrandizing) GM. I don't have to like them to respect them - and that's the whole point.

But the problem is that they get away with this kind of crap.

However, I don't really want or need to make this just about the Fowl. I'm fine making it just about Pronger...

...and Colin Campbell. I simply can't fathom how he thinks he can get away with not disciplining Pronger for this. Simon - again, no saint - got 30 games for the EXACT SAME THING. Simon was a repeat offender. So is Pronger. Kesler wasn't hurt on the play (thank goodness - and it pains me to have to defend Ryan Kesler who terrorizes the Wild with regularity). But neither was Ruutu.

But the credibility of the entire league takes a hit when Campbell drops the ball like this - and this is a league that's a little short in the credibility department in a lot of Americans' eyes.

Bettman - hell, PA head Paul Kelly - should absolutely step in, discipline Pronger and censure Campbell in this matter. The good of the entire NHL would be served by that.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Gm # 70: Wild vs. Sharks (3/4)

With a winless streak wreaking havoc on fans' ulcers, seeing the Sharks skate out of the visitor's locker room to take on the Wild is probably not the best tonic. For as much crap as the Wild have taken for playing the trap over the years, the Sharks are at least equally as difficult to play against. They just pull everyone into the slot area on defense and block away. If you dare try to penetrate into the box, it becomes a feeding frenzy of pain - a practice the super-timid Wild are generally loathe to engage in anyway.

But, when your goalie gives up a softie 46 seconds into the game, and then a penalty shot seven minutes after're really in trouble.

That the Wild persevered and earned the point (off a ridiculous, pinball goal) is remarkable. That they were unable to impose their will on the game - the type of game they're sure to see in the playoffs, should they get there - is distressing.

And that's the key takeaway. This is the Wild, the team you saw yesterday. They might be good enough to make the playoffs, maybe even to win the division. But they certainly do not seem to be built for a long run through the rugged Western Conference playoffs. Seventy games is plenty of time to work out the kinks. There are no major injuries right now (Belanger notwithstanding) and they jsut came out of the easiest portion of the remaining schedule by going 3-5-3.

Now, neither the Flames, Avalanche nor Canucks have gotten their act together either, so the division is still within the Wild's reach. But it's beyond time for excuses here. You want the division title and home ice? Go get it.

I no longer think they have the moxie, and they definitely don't have the leadership to make up for it.

Season series
Overall: Wild trail 0-2-1 (GF 5, GA 10)
In Minny: Wild trail 0-1-1 (GF 4, GA 6)
In San Jose: Wild trail 0-1-0 (GF 1, GA 4)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Three of the remaining twelve games are against teams out of the playoffs. You do the math.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Showed character to earn a point...or was that dumb luck?

STUD: Koivu's clean win made Rolston's GTG possible. That's something we need more of in general.

DUD: Backstrom was unprepared on the first goal, and then beaten like a rented mule on the penalty shot as well as each of the three shootout shots. I know it's not his mentality, but when was the last time he stole a game?

Up Next: The Wild is off until Thursday when they face off against the Devils. Then two more home games (LA, COL) before the last big road trip of the season (@ SJ, @ VAN, @ CGY and @ EDM).


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Gm # 69: Wild @ Thrashers (WRT)

How far does the Wild bandwagon go out of control until it falls over the cliff?

That's the question many Wild fans are asking themselves tonight after a disheartening, disappointing, and disinterested team let a 2-1 lead blow away to a 3-2 shootout loss to the hapless Atlanta Thrashers Friday night at Phillips Arena. The end came after Niklas Backstrom had a puck bounce in off his rear end after Erik Christiansen -- who just came over in the Marian Hossa deal last week from the Pittsburgh Penguins -- clanked it off the post, then off Backstrom's heine and into the net.

The Wild O/T loss means that they may find themselves in seventh place in the Western Conference when they next take to the ice Sunday afternoon in a 3 PM Central Time matchup with a team they don't do well against -- the San Jose Sharks, who have the NHL's best record away from home.

The game was all Wild in the first period, as they outshot Atlanta 16-5 in a first period where the Wild dominated. The second period was a see-saw, back-and-forth affair for the most part, and the third period -- especially after the 9 minute mark -- was almost all Atlanta. The Thrashers and Wild both had chances in the OT, but none resulted in anything close to a real scoring attempt. The Thrashers Ilya Kovalchuk scored with 44.5 seconds left in regulation after a Keystone Kops-type scramble in front of the Minnesota goal, where once again Backstrom let in a goal from a very sharp angle between him and the goalpost. Similar bad-angle goals were scored against him against Chicago on Tuesday night and against Chicago at United Center Feb 20th.

Let's see what the assembled multitude thinks, shall we?

Chicken Little says: If you don't believe the sky is falling now, pal, you never will! I thought Atlanta was the team planning the golf outing. I'm not so sure now.

Pollyanna says: Burns broke Lubomir Sekeras' all-time scoring record for Wild defensemen, and Gaborik got his 400th point with an assist on the Rolston goal. Now we go home and right the ship!

The Bottom Line: Jacques Lemaire should have marched thru Atlanta like Sherman. He went out more like Michael Vick. Another golden opportunity for free points blown.

A few more of these, they'll be, as British super-chef Gordon Ramsey, says, "IN the shit, unable to get OUT of the shit, and absolutely FULL of shit."

Stud: Brent Burns played yet another stellar game. A goal, an assist, 27:46 of ice time (tops among Wild players). Blame him not for the Kovalchuk goal. He had just come on the ice.

Dud: Kim Johnsson. What was he thinking on the Kovalchuk goal? He was right there. Block the shot! (Or, at least help your goalie to do so!)

Next Game: Wild: vs. San Jose, Sunday, March 9, 3 PM Central Time (FSN Bay Area, KSTP 5)
Atlanta: at Florida, Saturday, March 8, 7:30 PM Eastern Time (FSN Florida)

Gm # 68: Wild @ Hurricanes (WRT)

One statistic normally does not a game make. It did tonight in Raleigh, where the 30th-ranked Carolina Hurricanes penalty kill helped shut down the Minnesota Wild 3-2. Former Moorhead (that's in Minnesota, dont'cha know there) Spud Matt Cullen scored twice for the 'Canes, who came out of a back-to-back with two wins after outscoring their opponents 9-5.

The Wild pulled another '0-fer' on the power play, going 0-for-6 after pulling off a similarly putrid effort on Tuesday vs. the Chicago Blackhawks, When will the power play wake up? Maybe they need to be sponsored by that new Diet Pepsi...

Josh Harding, starting goalie for Minnesota, was victimized by a Carolina attack that frankly was not afraid to attack the middle of the ice -- something the Wild were loathe to do throughout the evening.

So, now that the storm has passed, let's ask the troops:

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: In case you haven't figured it out yet...THE SKY IS FALLING!! Wherrrrrrre's ROLSTON???

POLLYANNA SAYS: "Georgia...Georgia...the whole day thru....with that ol' sweet song...keep Georgia on my mind."

BOTTOM LINE: The 'Canes were very willing to lose this game. The Wild did NOTHING to change perception into reality. The boys need something -- at this point, anything will do -- to get them out of this late-season funk. The next three games are against 2007 playoff teams, and the Wild official Road Trip group will meet the team at Phillips Arena tomorrow.

STUD: Is there one in this game? Believe it or not, it's Mikko Koivu! Last game's dud is this game's stud; 1 goal scored, +1 for the night, 5 shots, 1 hit, 8 for 18 in faceoffs, 21:34 in TOI.

DUD: Eric Belanger on a night where there could be multiple duds, stands below many of the rest. -2, 3 shots, 3-for-9 in faceoffs, his 3rd period penalty forced the Wild to play 4-on-3 for 2 full minutes. Not his best effort.

Next Wild game: at Atlanta, Friday, March 7, 6:30 PM Central, FSN North (no local Thrashers' TV).
Next Carolina game: Buffalo, RBC Center, Saturday, March 8, 7:00 PM Eastern Time, FSN South, MSG

Saturday, March 8, 2008

blog update

Thanks for your patience this week. WRT did a great job getting his game recaps done, but I am stuck in this storm and am unable to post them right now as I try to get home.

I will have them up by the end of the weekend.


Gm # 67: Wild @ Blackhawks (WRT)

In my absence this week, WRT, has graciously agreed to provide us with some game thoughts.

Here's his entry for the Hawks game:

You never know which Minnesota Wild team will show up on any given evening. Such (or, suck, take your pick) was the case Tuesday night as the Wild dropped a 'should, woulda, coulda' type of game to the formerly-lowly Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 in front of the 309th straight sellout at the Xcel Energy Center.

It seemed as if the Wild were concentrating much more on form than function -- Pavol Demitra's late second period steal and subsequent 2-man breakaway the crowning dis-achievement of the evening after Chicago goaltender Patrick Lalime guessed corectly that Pav wouldn't shoot -- and that fact came back and bit 'em in the ass, big time.

Of course, the continuing power-play lack of 'power' didn't help much. The Wild went 0-fer-8 on the PP last night. Even worse, their continuing lack of face-off success continues to haunt this team, as James Sheppard, a rookie (!) was the only center to even register a 50% face-off win percentage.

As the game progressed, and the frustration mounted, the team actually did LESS to help themselves win. Mark Parrish, as example, only registered 8 minutes, 30 seconds of ice time last night. One really wonders what Parrish said to P.O. Jacques Lemaire and the staff. He was grounded, and when your main inside guy isn't out on the ice going inside, you're not going to get the garbage goals you better get in order to win.

On the Season: Minnesota vs. Chicago

Overall: 2-2 (each team 1-1 in each arena)
In St. Paul: 1-1 (Minnesota 3, Chicago 4)
In Chicago: 1-1 (Minnesota 5, Chicago 5)

Next Game: Wild: Thursday, March 6 at Carolina (RBC Center, Raleigh) 6:30 PM Central, FSN North, FSN South (Carolina announcers)

Blackhawks: Wednesday, March 4, vs. Anaheim (at United Center) 7:30 PM Central, FSN Prime Ticket.

OK, team, what do ya think?

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Where's Rolston? 17:38 in ice time, -2, one shot, one shot blocked. And this guy is going to be your alternate captain until the end of the season? Give me the map...

POLLYANNA SAYS: At least Martin Skoula wasn't on the ice for any Blackhawk goals!

BOTTOM LINE: St. Paul Pioneer Press writer Brian Murphy once called the Blackhawks 'the Wild's chew toy'. After the last two Hawks-Wild games, it's safe to say that the chew toy is gone for good. A game the Wild needed to have (especially after Columbus' disappointing 1-0 loss at Calgary late last night) that they threw away!

STUD: Nick Schultz. Check this out: 17:44 TOI, 4 blocked shots, one assist. Worth every penny last night.

DUD: Mikko Koivu. 19:01 TOI, 1 shot, 2 giveaways ("Skoula had none, by contrast," adds Pollyanna) , 6-for-13 in faceoffs. Ug-Ly.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Gm # 66: Wild vs. Kings (3/4)

The Minnesota Wild is 3-0-0 with Chris Simon in the lineup.

Risebrough for Governor!

Martin Skoula looked like Bobby Orr in scoring the GWG last night.

Martin Skoula for Mayor of St. Paul!

The Wild has won each of their last seven victories by a margin of one goal each.

Jacques Lemaire for TUMS spokesman!

While it might be imprudent to start planning the parade route after beating the Lightning, Panthers and Kings (29th, t27th, and 30th in the NHL, respectively), these games do represent "fair ups" in that each of our NW division brothers gets to play them too.

The Wild was a little taken aback by the Kings energy and spunk to start the game, but Backstrom bailed them out in the first period, only allowing the one goal. They then got things together in the second and only superlative play from the debuting Erik Ersberg kept the Kings in it the rest of the way.

Skoula's goal was a thing of beauty. And it more than made for a giveaway earlier in the game.

Gaby's first game as a captain went pretty well, and his tip of Burnsie's shot for the first Wild goal was perfect. I noticed him backchecking several times in that game (he's been doing that much more consistently overall for a while now).

Overall a good 2-points, and a win in a game you probably should win.

Season series
Overall: Wild lead 2-0-1 (GF 7, GA 6)
In Minny: Wild lead 1-0-0 (GF 2, GA 1)
In LA: Wild lead 1-0-1 (GF 5, GA 5)

CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: It would be nice to take control of these games from the opening face off.

POLLYANNA SAYS: Nothing wrong with a little scoring depth!

BOTTOM LINE: Two points, and hopefully a new level of confidence for Skoula.

STUD: Skoula crashes the net in OT and scores the GWG. This one was automatic.

DUD: Branko's hooking penalty late in the third was stupid. That's the second time in a couple weeks he's done that.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

WRT Report: Miami

Following is the second installment of WRT's Florida trip to watch the Wild play. Since the team emerges from FL with a 2-0 record, I suspect he will be invited to attend the rest of their road games this season - on the team's dime, of course.

Wild Road Tripper says:

BankAtlantic Center, for its location near South Florida's major shopping area (the five-portion behemoth Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall) you would think would be busier than it actually is. One of two major arenas in the area (the other being the American Airlines Arena in Downtown Miami) there is a dearth of events in event-filled South Florida on the day before the Minnesota Wild play the Florida Panthers.

From the outside, you wonder if a hurricane ever makes a direct hit on the place how it will survive, with massive amounts of glass on the East and West side and the South End. The North side (where the Panthers' box office is) is thankfully in the shade, a must for South Florida. However, having said that, it makes an impressive evening presence as we approach from the parking lot.

Parking a vehicle here is easy and free. The drawback is some of the locations are a ways (1/4-to-1/3rd mile) away from the arena itself. Taligating is tolerated in the lots. Scalpers (and there are many most Panther game nights) work the lots, not near the plaza areas (off-limits by Broward County ordinance) themselves. Plenty of good seats still available. Traffic flow is good, with the Sawgrass Expressway nearby and I-595 three miles south via Panther Parkway (a.k.a. NW 136th Ave.)

Once you walk in (straight on, no wanding, no Nationwide Arena-style waist showing) you pick up a program (free; again, are you listening, Minnesota Wild??) and go directly onto the concourse, where the team store (Pantherland) beckons.

All sorts of Panther-related items for $5/each (mugs, pins, growling doo-dads, etc.) and lots of people buying. Food here is markedly better than the out-sourced stuff at the St. Pete Times Forum. Stir-fry, pitas, Cuban sandwiches, all sorts of sausages, beers a-plenty, it's all here. Where to find it is along the concourse on large, back-lit signs. Sodas are Coke items; they do have fountain sodas, and yes, you can get a Panthers' souvenir soda for $5. They love that image down here...

Seating can go from the super-comfortable (leather seats in certain locations on the 100-level) to the ridiculously tight (my seat in Section 108 was made for a munchkin). Three levels, reminds me of HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The 400-level is atrociously high up there, you are a ways away in the cheap seats. Two levels of suites in 3/4ths of the arena; the end where the Panthers shoot at 1st & 3rd periods is the end where no suites are on top of the 100-level (this is the end they call the 'Sinatra theatre' when the place is set up in small concert format).

Note to the impatient; trying to get back to your seat is tough, especially with all the lost 'sheeple' in front of you. Someone really needs to get the people moving when the play stops.

And speaking of which, here's one for you: every play stoppage is sponsored by some business trying to get their name out there. Every icing, every break, every whistle comes another ad blurb. I suppose that's what happens when you don't make the NHL playoffs for eight straight seasons.

Would I go back to the BAC? Yes, but take advantage of what you have. The gates open one hour before the game starts. Open up earlier (say 6 PM for a 7:30 PM start?) and let people take advantage of the food you serve there. It's not a bad place to spend an evening, why not allow people to enjoy it (especially since there's no real Bar/restaurant district within walking distance)??


WRT Report: Tampa Bay

Fellow Russotan, (and self-described) "Wild Road Tripper" was the inspiration for my Columbus trip earlier this season with his tales from the road with the boys. He and his wife took advantage of a late-February scheduling opportunity to travel to Florida to see the Wild play (which I suspect falls neatly into the category of euphemism for "get the F out of Minny in the middle of winter").

He was kind enough to share his thoughts on the trip, the first installment of which follows:

Wild Road Tripper On Tampa Bay:

The St. Pate Times Forum (Newspaper bought the naming rights. Nice.) is on the surface a not-so-inspiring building, despite its' location near the Port of Tampa on the edge of Tampa's downtown. Put 17,000 (announced) fans in there, however, and it can get downright crazy.

Opened in 1996, the Forum (formerly known as the Ice Palace) is the second home for the Lightning, having spent their first two seasons playing at Tropicana Field in Downtown St. Petersburg, across Tampa Bay from their current location. The arena has two levels of suites (atop the 100-and-200 levels) and club seating on the 200-level. The 300-level "cheap seats" leave a lot to be desired, as the seats in the ends are quite a ways from the ice surface.

The staff is almost TOO eager to assist you; I had to shy away from a number of them from time to time. They all wanted to sell me the Lightning 2008 calendar ($5), and why was never explained (charity?) but I can only digress to others as to why the hard sell.

Note to those who drink soda: the Forum is clearly in the Pepsi camp, and no fountain beverages; only 20-oz plastic bottles ($4) available. You can get a souvenir cup with a beer ($6) but not with a soda. And, in direct contrast with other NHL venues, like the 'X' in St. Paul, you keep the cap with you. (The ushers are responsible for picking up the 20-oz bottles after the game for recycling. Go figure.)

The fans were all right (what there were of them; over 17,000 was announced, but you could get your choice of seats no problemo). I would say about 14-15,000 actually showed up Wednesday night.

To cater to the downtown crowd post-work to pre-game, the Forum opens 2 hours prior to game time, at 5:30 PM. All concession stands, the two restaurants on the Club level and the open-air bar outside open at this time. (Yes, I said open air bar. More on this wonder later.)

Concesssions are primarily handled by lease-outs to local restaurants (Outback Steakhouse, Five Guys Burgers, etc.) and to undo this maze they have a guide pamphlet you can get at the gates and also at the Box Office (for those of you, like me, who don't wish to pay an extra $2.50/ticket to Ticketmaster for them to allow you to print your ticket on your computer).

All patrons (except disabled, VIP and Suite level) are expected to walk up three sets of not-too-steep stairs to the entry level where the access is then straightforward (no pat-down searches, no wanding, no showing your waist, a la Nationwide Arena in Columbus) and in you go.

Now, having said that, here's where the fun comes in. The access wells are labeled not only by Section but by SEAT number (so you go in the correct entry). Of course, we went in what we thought was the right entry. And, of course, we were wrong... Programs are FREE (Minnesota Wild, are you listening?) and available from any usher in the arena. Of course, with all this free stuff, it made for an unwieldy seat situation, but with no one sitting next to us, we spread out and made full use of the available space.

We were in Section, 120, Row 8 (end where the Wild shoot 1st & 3rd periods, a requirement for us) and next to the Zamboni tunnel in the Northwest corner of the lower level. To say that most of the fans were interesting would be stretching the truth...a lot. Most were transplants from the Northeast (Boston, NYC, Philly, DC) or 'snowbirds' like us 'just visiting', like in Monopoly jail. The guy in front of us was from New Jersey, as an example. Two others we met (in Lightning regalia) were from Detroit. And, so on.

The sound is above rock-concert level loud all night. My ears were ringing after a while. They do the standard array of in-game promotions, and the usual type of between-periods stuff. Even the pre-game intros are nothing to write home about. Same old, same old...interferes with the alcohol sales, I guess.

There were a few boors in the crowd; one especially wore a #28 white Lightning 'original' jersey (with the pseudo-'painted on' numbering) and the name 'Ekman'. He took every opportunity during the second period (when the Wild were defending the goal near us) to come on down to the edge of the open door to the ice, and scream 'YOU SUCK BACKSTROM! DO YOU HEAR ME!?! YOU SUCK!!!!' until his eyes bulged out, his face turned as red as a beet, and everyone standing in the tunnel, including the Lightning game day staff, paramedics, even the Ice Girls, were laughing AT him. This guy had DEFINITELY been over-served.

After the game (a 3-2 Wild win) ended a few of the disgruntled Tampa fans (the stupid ones, anyhow) stared yelling at anyone in Wild regalia. None of us listened; a few just pointed at the scoreboard. The rest just shuffled out of the place, and into the night, or to...the OPEN SPORTS BAR just outside the west gates! You got it right, can 'get a load and hit the road' by stopping at this bar open for a half-hour after every 'Bolts game. I couldn't believe it. This reminded me of the old Chicago Stadium, where it was 'Hard Liquor and Handgun Night' every time the Blackhawks played at home in later years.

How the Lightning get away with this in this day and age of cracking down on drunken sports fans is beyond belief. We walked across the street (and the Tampa Historic Streetcar tracks to Ybor City) to the Marriott Harborside, which was built after the Forum opened. This hotel (and the Embassy Suites) are the two closest hotels to the arena (although not the cheapest by ANY stretch of the imagination). There is parking available to the west of the arena (two huge parking ramps, general parking $12) and took a taxi (after a wait) back to our hotel (flat rate in the downtown, $3/person).