Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bruins for real?

One of the surprises of the NHL season so far: the resurgence of the Boston Bruins.

A member of the Original Six, the Bruins have the Eastern Conference's best record (they're tied with the Rangers with 36 points but have three games in hand; thus they get the nod) behind only San Jose overall. Boston is winning games impressively, having downed preseason favorites Montreal twice this month (including a 6-1 win) and most recently Detroit, 4-1.

Boston has the fourth-ranked power play in the league, though its weak link at this point is the penalty killing, which is "only" 15th in the league.

Claude Julien preaches defense but it's the offense as much as anything spurring the Bruins to the top of the East. Only the Sharks, with their "shoot shoot shoot" style of offense and the Red Wings, with their stable of all-stars, have scored more goals per game than Boston, which has also allowed the fewest goals against per game.

Offensively, the surge is being led by Marc Savard, who with 30 points is tied for fourth in the NHL in scoring. Seven players have scored a half-dozen goals or more - led by Phil Kessel with 13. Scoring eight goals is Savard and Blake Wheeler, David Krejci has potted seven goals and a trio of players - the currently injured Marco Sturm, Dennis Wideman and Milan Lucic - each have netted six goals.

Zdeno Chara has four goals. Once his offensive game heats up, the Bruins will be more dangerous.

Eleven Bruins have 11 or more points, including Patrice Bergeron, who missed virtually the entire 2007-08 season after receiving a concussion from a check from behind by Philadelphia's Randy Jones. Bergeron, who played just 10 games last year, is having a very nice bounceback season.

Defensively, Chara, Wideman, Mark Stuart, Shane Hnidy, Aaron Ward and the currently injured Andrew Ference have done a solid job of protecting goaltenders Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez, both of whom are playing very well.

Thomas has a GAA of 1.88, third-best in the league, but with a caveat; the two goalies ahead of him are primarily backups in Florida's Craig Anderson and Pittsburgh's Dany Sabourin. Fernandez is in the top-15 with a 2.32 GAA, tied with Montreal's Carey Price. Both netminders are also in the top-15 in save percentage: Thomas is second (.948, behind Anderson) and Fernandez 15th again (.918).

The Bruins are a dangerous team. They have a very capable duo in goal (Thomas is the No. 1 but Julien won't hesitate to turn to Fernandez), fueled by an excellent offense that, apart from Savard, doesn't have a "name" player, though Kessel and Lucic are changing that. Lucic is drawing comparisons to Cam Neely. Maybe a lot of those guys are playing over their heads but they're demanding attention.

If Boston continues at this pace, no team will want to play them in the playoffs.


Gm # 22: Wild 6, Predators 2

The Wild was the beneficiary of some fortuitous calls early in the first period, turned them into five power play goals and more or less cruised to an easy win as the wheels came off the Preds' wagon. One suspects that having to battle the Wild AND the refs would do that to the best of teams.

But don't blame the Wild. Other than Weller's icing-call hit on Ryan Suter, the only thing the Wild could have been called last night was "opportunistic" as they just took what they were given and ran with it. The Preds would have done the same thing.

Embattled Pierre-Marc Bouchard shot the puck - and voila! - a 1-1-2 game. Weller got his first of the season. Mikko Koivu had a pair. And this was all without the services of Eric Belanger who missed the game with a leg injury (got nailed in the Bolts game.)

Jordin Tootoo was up to his usual tricks, running into Josh Harding (who played very well considering the rust you know he was fighting), an really doing more than any other Pred player to persevere despite the obstacles.

This game turned into a fight fest (at one point, back-to-back-to-back bouts in the second period) and there was definitely some acrimony there which sets up an exciting re-match next Saturday night, back in Nashville. After trying to force toughness into the roster (Boogey, Fridge and Simon, anyone?) it's nice to see the whole team man-up and stick up for each other, well, the whole team other than Johnsson, that is.*

Chicken Little says: Can't rely on the PP for a whole season. Still need to address inability to score 5:5.

Pollyanna says: Offense is offense - regardless of when it comes. They said the 3rd period against the Bolts was inspiration and then went out an proved it.

Bottom Line: Solid 2 points on the road - and without one of their better two-way players to boot (settle down, Marian, I'm not talking about you.)

Stud: Mikko was a force to be reckoned with all night. His sliding-on-the-stomach goal had touches of Ovechkin, and he was his usual rock-solid on defense too.

Dud: I know this isn't his game, but *Johnsson hopefully took some grief on the plane ride home for making Harding take care of his own business after Tootoo ran him.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Gm # 21: Wild 4, Lightning 2

Sometimes, it takes a pissed-off Finn to get things going. Nobody likes a p.o'ed Finn.

Just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning, especially after Mikko Koivu's 3rd-period goal while being summarily pushed to the ice in front of the Tampa goal. The sixth goal of the season for the man they call 'Franchise' turned out to be the game winner, as the Wild beat the 'Bolts 4-2 on 'Wes Walz Day' in front of the 337th straight sellout of 18,568 at Xcel Energy Center on Friday afternoon.

The Wild came out as lackluster as they have in the other four games of the now-completed 5-game in 9-night homestand, only getting off long-range shots against Tampa goalie Mike Smith, until the 'Irish God of War', Owen Nolan, beat Smith from close in just over 12 minutes into the contest.

After Tampa worked for nearly 30 minutes to take a 2-1 lead, James Sheppard started the comeback with a tip-in of a MAB shot from the point at 2:02. Koivu, while getting worked over in front of the 'Bolts goal by ex-Canuck Lukas Krajicek, rebounded Antti Miettinen's shot from the mid-slot at 6:10. After that, Tampa's big line -- Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Ryan Malone, the ex-Penguin -- worked feverishly to get the tying goal throughouot the latter stages of the third period.

But it was the rookie, Steven 'Don't call me Steve' Stamkos, who caused the greatest upset to the Wild, as he sold a high sticking call on Nick Schultz to the officials, who also whistled the Franchise off with 5:05 remaining. Stamkos' Avalanche-quality dive job -- along with Mikko's protesting -- not only sent Schultzie to the box for the stick work, but Koivu for unsportsmanlike conduct as well as a 10-minute misconduct, meaning that if the game went to OT, Minnesota's best offensive player would not be available.

The Wild, however, for once protected their slim lead, punctuating the afternoon's scoring with an Eric Belanger empty-net goal with 23 seconds left in the contest. Finally, as the Wild surrounded Belanger, a Black Friday game which did not turn out to be a ... turkey.

We found the assembled multitude after the game, chowing down on leftovers. Here's what they said between bites:

Chicken Little said: When are the Wild going to get decent officiating? Decent offense? Something for Gaborik? Gaborik himself off the IR? You can't depend on your defense forever, especially when your best defenseman is now a forward (Brent Burns). Pass the cranberries?

Pollyanna said: Mikko was great, Zidlicky came thru, even MAB, Shep and the IGoW joined the party. Maybe this is the game where they turn the corner and pull out of the funk.

Bottom Line: It was ugly, it was not pretty, but it's 2 more points in the books. And considering the Wild are at the exact same point this year for the month of November that they were at this date last season, that's not all that bad.

Leftovers: the Wild are now 5-2-1 all time on the Day after Thanksgiving.

Stud: we rip him for being a Dud enough. Marc-Andre Bergeron is the Stud today; 2 assists, and he came to play, folks. Honorable mention to James Sheppard (1 goal, 1 assist) and to Owen Nolan for his grit and determination on the ice. And, of course, the 'Franchise'...

Dud: The defense would be much better if we could put Brent Burns back on the blueline, where he really belongs. How long will the 'experiment' go on??

Next: at Nashville, Sommet Center, Saturday, Nov. 29, 7 PM Central Time, FSNorth (in HD!), XM Ch. 239, for 'Sci-Fi Night' (so bring your Lightsaber and Vulcan ears!)

Gm # 20: Wild 3, Stars 4

The Minnesota Wild is not a good offensive team. This is not a systems issue. This is a lack of overall skill level (comparable to other, more offensively gifted teams) which translates into trouble finishing, which translates into lack of goals-scored.

So, when they do manage to put a few behind a goalie, they absolutely must be able to parlay that outburst into a win.

Usually, they do this - which is going to make the next sentence seem trite.

Wednesday night they failed. Miserably.

This team is demonstrating a frustrating inability to hold a lead, or really even play with the lead. They have never really had a killer instinct, so, while it would be nice to have now, it can't be all that surprising that they don't. But this trend of late has been particularly vexing since they have been choking up these leads and games to teams that are coming into the X fairly banged up. Simply, the Wild is not better than any other team in the league by a wide enough margin to "play down" to their opponent on any given night - yet that is exactly what they've been doing.

And now, they've managed to piss away three games on this 7-of-8 at home stretch (the final game of which is today against Tampa Bay). True, they still have a healthy three games in hand on the Canucks and Flames (both of which they currently trail in the NW), but that doesn't mean losses against the Blues last week and the Stars on Wednesday are any less costly.

It seems like the Wild has a stretch like this every season. Where their fervent belief in/zeal for Lemaireian hockey yields to the reality that they really have a very small margin for error and they flop around for a few games trying to get back to stasis.

But, while history may contextualize it, this was a crucial stretch of games considering how March looms in the windshield like a tornado churning right towards you.

Chicken Little says: This was a dejecting loss for fans. Aberration? Maybe. But it better not take us long to find out.

Pollyanna says: But for a couple bad breaks the Wild win this one going away...or do they?

Bottom line: The bottom line is that they walked away with zero points from a game in which they lead 3-1 with 2:20 left in the second period.

Stud: Begrudgingly, because I don't really want to say anyone was a stud, I'm going to say Belanger. He has really replaced Walz in terms of on-ice contributions.

Dud: This Butch nonsense has to stop. I don't care who you miss. Figure out a way to start contributing or lets figure out a way to get a player in place of you who can.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Foster's Rehab Continues

Thanks to Mike Russo for an encouraging update on Kurtis Foster's continued rehabilitation.

Russo points out that it doesn't mean as much physically as it does mentally, but it still had to feel amazing for Foster to take that next step.

He won't be a top four guy on this team, and probably not a top PP unit guy anymore either.

But here's hoping he is able to make a full recovery and get back to the NHL again as soon as possible.


PS: Someone needs to show the Wild docs how to make better projections about injury recovery time frames. They continue to get it wrong, and it makes them look like the local weather man.

Quarter-pole Check-Up

The Minnesota Wild has completed 19 games of the 08-09 season. They have a record of 12-6-1, 25 points, and sit in second place in the tight Northwest division, fifth place in the Western Conference.

Here's a comparison of the Wild's performance through 19 games this season to their performance through the same number of games last season, using the stats from the Wild Super Stats Pack (plus a couple extras).

Overall Record
07-08 10-7-2
08-09 12-6-1

Home Record
07-08 6-2-0
08-09 6-3-1

Away Record
07-08 4-5-2
08-09 6-3-0

Record vs. Western Conference
07-08 10-6-2
08-09 6-5-0

Record vs. Eastern Conference
07-08 0-1-0
08-09 6-1-1

Goals Differential
07-08 51-49 (+2)
08-09 49-39 (+10)

1st Period
07-08 15-13 (+2)
08-09 13-12 (+1)

2nd Period
07-08 20-22 (-2)
08-09 19-11 (+8)

3rd Period
07-08 16-12 (+4)
08-09 14-15 (-1)

07-08 0-2 (-2)
08-09 3-1 (+2)

Record when...

MIN Scores 1st
07-08 9-2-1
08-09 9-4-0

Opp Scores 1st
07-08 1-5-1
08-09 3-2-1

MIN Lead After 1
07-08 4-2-0
08-09 5-0-0

MIN Trail After 1
07-08 1-3-1
08-09 1-2-1

Tied After 1
07-08 5-2-1
08-09 6-4-0

MIN Lead After 2
07-08 7-0-0
08-09 7-0-1

MIN Trail After 2
07-08 2-5-1
08-09 0-4-0

Tied After 2
07-08 1-2-1
08-09 5-2-0

MIN Lead in 3rd
07-08 10-1-0
08-09 10-0-1

Tied Anytime 3rd
07-08 3-4-2
08-09 5-2-1

MIN Lead Anytime
07-08 10-3-1
08-09 11-4-1

MIN Trail Anytime
07-08 2-7-2
08-09 3-6-1

Blown Lead (can be more than once per game)
07-08 4-3-2
08-09 5-5-1

*Of interest to me are the better road record overall (though one has to consider that includes a romp through the Southeast division), the better goal differential in the second period versus last season, the ability to put a game away in the third period combined with an inability to come back in the third period, and the higher number of blown leads.


Old Home Week

The Wild is hosting its own version of "Old Home Week" this Thanksgiving. First up, a return of native sons Mark Parrish, Toby Petersen and Matt Niskanen when the Stars roll into town tonight. The Stars in general, and Niskanen in particular of late, seem to have their way with the Wild with some regularity. Hopefully the Wild will not be so hospitable, the spirit of the holiday notwithstanding.

Then on Friday night, former captain, mensch and lump of clay Wes Walz returns to the X, though as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning. There is no doubt Wes did great things for and with the Wild. He was often the largest source of on-ice inspiration in the expansion years and several of the Big Moments in Wild History to-date were authored by him. But I feel like we should turn that page now. Wes is gone. Whether or not you liked the way he left, he ain't Wild property no mo. I don't sit around pining for Willie Mitchell or Manny Fernandez, so I don't see why I should do so for Wes.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What is it with Gaborik?

What really IS the matter with Wild forward Marian Gaborik?

Is it:
A player who refuses to go get treatment for his ‘undisclosed condition’ from the same specialists who returned him from the same condition - TWICE? And who is getting paid $7.5M this season to basically sit on his heine, while his team struggles thru what is the easiest part of their season’s schedule?

A management whose blatant stubborness borders on the absurd, whose sole goal is to become more secret than the former Soviet KGB when it comes to their players? Who thinks that the public (and the media, especially those media assigned to follow the team) should be a group of trained ’sheeple’ who should just accept what they say as almighty gospel, without a single shred of evidence to back up what they say?

Is it an ownership whose obsession with the almighty dollar is so strong, as to not do anything — AT ALL — to upset the apple cart when it comes to this team’s premier player? Including (but not limited to) negotiating by not talking to him? Or his agent? At all?

And then, the team accuses the media of stirring the pot, as it were, by asking questions about that player’s availability.

Just my opinion: The Wild and Gaborik are engaged in an NFL-style, 'pay me-or-trade me' stalemate. Gaborik refuses to play unless he is traded, which the Wild refuse to do, or paid what his agent, Ron Salcer, thinks he's worth, estimated to be $10M/year. So, both sides dig in and become obstinate, stubborn and the losers? Wild fans everywhere, who are stuck with a malcontented, surly, disgruntled player and a equally distrusting, obstinate, and hostile management whose 'siege' mentality belies the fact that the Hockey Operations department doesn't know what they can do.

Neither one wants the other. But without the other, neither Gaborik nor the Wild get what they REALLY want.

Rid of each other.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gm # 19: Wild 4, Caps 3 ...aftermath...

No need to do much tonight. The Live Blog (which I have yet to totally figure out, folks) pretty much says it all...but we revived the assembled multitude and asked for a few chosen words of, well, you know...

Chicken Little: Four goals against JT60 (Theodore) and they STILL almost lose in the last 5 minutes!! My God, when will they stop going to the 'prevent' defense??

Pollyanna: Ms. Conduct owes Cal Clutterbuck a Key Lime pie when she makes her visit up north later this season after that performance tonight! What a coming-out party!! And on national TV, too!

Bottom Line: It was a great game...for 55 minutes. It looked like the previous two games the last 5. (Even Jacques said so in his post-game presser.) We need 60 minute efforts every night. Having said that, I'll take the 2 points, thanks.

Stud: as AC/DC would say, Washington was..."Clutterbucked"...need I say more?

Dud: Not having a good night was Nick Schultz, who looked out of place a lot tonight. He was on the ice for both Caps even-strength goals. Not good for Nick.

Next Game: vs. Dallas, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 7:00 PM Central Time (TV: KSTC-45, FSSW; XM Channel 239)

Wild vs. Caps LIVE BLOG!

All-Snooze Game

I'll state right off the bat what some know - I'm a Penguins fan. That means I have a hard time finding anything positive to say about the city of Washington, D.C. (on a variety of levels, but that's a different story) or the Capitals.

Not the case this time.

This is a little less than a week old, but it's a brief though humorous blog entry by Caps owner Ted Leonsis.

He posted a link to an article by a Canadian writer stating - sarcastically or not - what a joy it was that the Canadiens supporters had each of their six All-Star Game nominees leading the voting, which would lead to a starting lineup of all Montreal players in the city of Montreal.

Mr. Leonsis said, "What if the All-Star Game was in Nashville?" Implying a starting cast of all Predators, if the writer would be singing the same tune. I enjoyed the post.

I'm not going to rag about the voting process. Any All-Star Game is a popularity contest. I won't accuse anything shady going on with the voting to date. I think everyone who's been around the NHL knows how passionate Habs fans are. In fact, it doesn't surprise me at all that the Montreal players are leading. (As it stands now, there will almost be a lineup of Habs vs. Wings; Detroit players lead the forwards, Lidstrom and Rafalski are 1-3 in defensemen and Osgood, who is not having a good year at all, is second in goalies, but behind Luongo.)

Want to hear something fishy? Penguins defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney are on the ballot. That shouldn't be. Gonchar won't be back until well after the game and Whitney won't return until a few weeks before. (By the way, Gonchar's fourth and Whitney's sixth.)

No, what I'm saying is - do away with the All-Star Game.

Yes, you heard me. Get rid of it.

The game serves no purpose. It doesn't even have much entertainment value. Sorry, but goals every five seconds, no defense, no checking, no penalties, just isn't that exciting for me. No one remembers who wins or the score, or the MVP. It leads to "controversies" like this year - "Are the Habs fans doctoring the voting?" It leads to constant talk about who got snubbed and who's unworthy. It leads to Rory Fitzpatrick situations. It might provide something to talk about, but really, it seems like something people get far too worked up about when it really is rather meaningless.

Granted there have been some outstanding memories from the game - Google or Youtube ones in particular if you want, I won't name specifics. But I think the Skills competition the night before is much more fun and interesting. That's what I try to catch every year, not the game.

The only two highlights, for me, from last year's game were these: The announcers talking to East starter Rick DiPietro at the faceoff, then Rick Nash coming down and scoring just seconds into the contest during the chat between the goalie and the booth; and Manny Legace's comment when Gary Bettman discussed shrinking goalie equipment because goalies are getting bigger. Legace said, and I can't remember the exact quote, but it went something like, "What?! I'm 5-9!"

Don't know who won. Was last year when Eric Staal had a hat trick?

One year I completely missed the game. I can't remember if I was out of town for work or what, but All-Star Weekend came and went for me. All I thought was, "Oh well."

Plus, it's not an All-Star roster. It's a first-half All-Star team, sometimes not even based on merit. (Niklas Backstrom is fifth in voting among Western goalies. Fifth! Only Tim Thomas has better numbers among regular starters in the league than Backstrom.)

If the NHL wants to keep the idea of All Stars around, fine. Name the "teams" at the end of the season when we see how players fare throughout the grind. Don't name them after a couple of months and don't have them actually suit up for a game.

In the game's defense, I like the camaraderie and togetherness the players display. One example is Jeremy Roenick razzing Dany Heatley about his missing teeth in 2003. But again, I remember that more than Heatley's four goals (five if you want to count the shootout one).

I'd love to see the skills competition remain. But if we do away with the game, we'd have to do away with the competition or find a replacement for the game. It doesn't make much sense getting the players together for one day. I'm not sure what we'd replace the game with though - any ideas or suggestions, feel free to post away. The writer in the above linked article said the All-Star team used to play the defending Cup champion. Well, as the results stand, that will essentially happen (never mind that one of the would-be starters wasn't actually on the Cup-winning team). But I'm not really sure I like that idea either. I guess I'm against the whole idea of having an exhibition game in the middle of the season.

I'd almost rather see a two-day skills event than a game. That won't happen of course. The league will continue to have the all-star game and people will continue to not watch.

This isn't NHL-specific either. Baseball's all-star game is much the same, I'd imagine the NBA's is as well (not something I follow), and the NFL Pro Bowl is quite possibly the lamest sporting event ever created.

I only watch the all-star game to see how the local team's players fare. If the game meant something - as baseball attempted to do with its all-star game - that would raise the stakes. Except what could it mean? You can't put home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup finals on the line. Hand out a trophy for bragging rights? Extra money to the winner?

I think that last one would get teams to play hard. What better motivator than money? Yet at the same time, how depressing would it be if that's what it might take to get a real game out of the event?

So just get rid of it. Give the players the weekend off, don't make them play a pointless exhibition where they risk injury on each play (just look at how innocent-looking a play resulted in a possibly serious injury to Luongo.) Name them All-Stars at the end of the season to see who's actually deserving.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gm # 18: Blues 2, Wild 1

The Minnesota Wild 'November Nadir' has arrived, right on schedule.

Saturday night, Brad Boyes tallied both St. Louis goals to lead the Blues to their second victory in as many nights, with a 2-1 victory over the now-haplessly offensive-anemic Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Wild, with Brent Burns at wing instead of 'Uncle Moneybags' Marian Gaborik (supposedly still nursing yet another groin injury, hence another nickname: 'Groinorik') just couldn't put it together despite having three back-to back power play chances in the first period, when they actually outshot the then-hapless Blues 11-4.

The second period was the Brad Boyes show, as he scored twice, the second of which came after Martin Skoula actually made the RIGHT play (for a change) and went down in an attempt to block Boyes' laser from the edge of the face-off circle to the right of Niklas Backstrom, who waved as it caught the inside of the post then nothing but net.

Boyes' first marker came less than one minute after Stephane Veilleux started the scoring for the Wild with a quick snap shot which fooled Blues' backup goalie Chris Mason, who gave the Wild fits frequently when he was Tomas Vokoun's backup in Nashville. (Vokoun has since moved on to the Florida Panthers.)

A somewhat furious last three minutes of regulation time was punctuated when Bloomington-native David Backes tried to install Brent Burns into the frame of the boards just behind the Blues' goal, earning him an early quit and a 5-minute major for boarding. The Wild, however, true to recent form couldn't put the biscuit in the basket as Mason stopped everything thrown at him.

Overall, this was a game not to be remembered, as this thing stank from the 'Let's Play Hockey' opening (when the wrong name was at first flashed up on the scoreboard) to the final futive efforts of Koivu, Brunette, et al to put one thru the Blues defense.

It wasn't hard to assemble the multitude after this one:

Chicken Little said: Can anything break this Wild team out of its' funk? It was as lackluster an effort as has been put out for a home game since...last game vs. Vancouver!

Pollyanna said: At last, Veilleux scored! See? Someone else besides Koivu can score on this team! (Well, sometimes.)

Stud: Very little to choose from here, but Cal Clutterbuck continues to impress. Someone get his car out of hock at Bush Intercontinental in Houston, will you?

Dud: On a night when Dud-ism overfloweth, there is the lowest of the low. After being called out Saturday in both Twin Cities newspapers for not shooting, Pierre Marc-Bouchard continues to act like he has the only Yo-Yo in the neighborhood, and he wants no one else to play with it. PMB: SHOOT THE DAMN PUCK, WILL YOU PLEASE?

Next Game: Wild vs. Washington, Monday, November 24, 7:00 PM Central Time (TV: Versus, TSN2-Canada, XM 208)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Gm # 17: Wild 2, Canucks 3

Well that was....not...satisfying.

The Wild had a glorious opportunity last night, playing a divisional rival that had played the night before and whose star goalie got a night off.

Instead, Minnesota looked the tired, unfocused team while Vancouver played the opportunistic road team to a regulation victory.

The Wild is desperate for offense right now. That "One Good Line" from the start of the season having been figured out and disassembled as a result. Even a two-goal effort from Mikko Koivu wasn't enough to overcome a general lack of chances-created all game long, much less a late third period goal that left Wild fans facing the grim reality that there just was no chance they would be able to come back.

More disturbing, though, is this team's recent penchant for giving up leads. I count five leads (all one-goal) attained and given up over the last three games. Last night, as with the BJs game last Saturday, the Wild took and pissed away 1-0 and 2-1 leads. Now, their record when scoring first this season is 8-3-0, so it's not a critical issue quite yet, but it's not a good thing either.

This was a game where the Wild definitely missed a healthy Gaborik. *sigh*

The Canucks' first two goals went in off tips by or off of Wild players - which has to both frustrate and, oddly, comfort Backstrom who didn't play poorly, but just couldn't turn water into wine for us last night.

Chicken Little says:'s one thing to be great defensively, but if you can't even hope to win a game 1-0 you've got problems.

Pollyanna says: least they get four more at home...?

Bottom line: they lost. And a division rival gets a net two points on us.

Stud: Mikko was the best of the group last night. An even strength goal and a shorty.

Dud: Butch is failing this team when it needs him the most.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gee Thanks, Lady

Japers' Rink has an amazing piece up.

First, this lady needs to go away right now. I don't care what you've done in your past. I don't care if you have a Pulitzer or twelve on your resume. You're done. Go crawl into a hole somewhere and think about the little things in life, like integrity and honesty.

Second, I think most of my brothers and sisters in blogging would say they don't aspire to anything resembling a Career In Journalism. I've got a day job and I like it. It pays the bills, puts food on my table and diapers on my two daughters.

I do this because I love it and I enjoy the ability to interact with other hockey fans.

But I think most of those same brothers and sisters in blogging would have to admit that the clear-but-hard-to-define chasm between us and the establishment of the fourth estate is an annoyance at best and a source of personal frustration at worst. We recognize there really isn't anything we can do about it. But I'm not out here to steal anything from anyone or prop myself up as anything more than a guy with an opinion and electricity running to his house.

Therefore, when idiots do something like this - something the vast majority of us would never even dream of - and from the "legitimate" side of the aisle, no less, it's really galling.

I hope to read about this lady's dismissal in the immediate future. If she can't be made an example of it will be a sad, sad thing.


You Know What I'm Tired Of?

I'm tired of hearing about Gaborik the sniper. Snipers score goals. Gaborik has scored 207 goals in 487 regular season games played. That's 0.43 goals per game, or 34.85 goals per 82 games. Gaborik has missed 103 regular season games out of the 590 games he could have played in. That means that Gaborik has missed 14.31 games per the 7.195 (82-game) seasons he's been in the league for.

So his goals per 82 games - his injury probability

((0.43*82) - (82-14.31)) = 28.77

That's hardly sniper-caliber.

But even that goals per 82 games (34.85) isn't all that great. Looking back at the post-lockout seasons (05-06 through 07-08), the guys that scored 34 goals per season have ranked 21st overall (Marleau, McDonald, Rolston and Knuble in 05-06), 23rd overall (Spezza, Cammalleri, Huselius and Pominville in 06-07) and 16th overall (Spezza and Jokinen in 07-08) in goal scoring in the league.

What's worse? Look at the current cap hit for those players:

Spezza $7M, 13th in the league
Marleau $6.3M, 29th
Jokinen $5.25M, 54th
Rolston $5.06M, 60th
Huselius $4.75M, 72nd
Cammalleri $3.35M, 182nd
McDonald $3.33M, 184th
Knuble $2.8M, 222nd
Pominville $1.03M, 440th

Now obviously Gaborik's not going to take a pay CUT with his next contract. But, at a current cap hit of $6.33M, it would appear by the statistical company that he keeps that he really shouldn't be expecting that much of a raise, either.

Gaborik really isn't an upper echelon goal scorer. He's an upper echelon goal scorer on the Wild roster. But that's not saying much.


Gm # 16: Wild 2, Penguins 1 (SO)

Nik Backstrom must be made out of kryptonite.

How else do you explain how he was able to keep Pittsburgh's stable of stars at bay? Oh, sure he had some help from the guys in front of him (limiting the Pens to 24 shots has to be pretty good in it's own right), in particular Kim Johnsson who seemed to be everywhere last night, but the story of the night was Backstrom, Backstrom, Backstrom.

Not only did he make every save he should have, and all-but one that he shouldn't have, but he either controlled or nullified rebounds all night as well. And then, as if he needed an "and then," he was a perfect 3:3 in the shootout, blanking Sykora, Goligoski and Crosby in the process. He is now 8-for-8 in the shootout (all wins) this season. This is the guy that had among the worst shootout statistics among all NHL goaltenders coming into this season.

The Wild, despite the final score, didn't actually score last night through 65 minutes of regulation and OT. They say it's better to be lucky than good, but They also say that Lady Luck is fickle. At the end of the day, the Wild is going to need some offense.

But this was the first time this season that the Wild faced a real test and came out on top - regardless of how they did so.

Hopefully KiPA will chime in with an eye witness report as he was at the game in person.

Chicken Little says: Backstrom is good, but we'll need more than Backstrom and a lot of luck to keep winning.

Pollyanna says: Kismet, Serendipity or just good old fashioned hard work...the Wild just knocked off the defending Eastern Conference Champs.

Bottom line: A win's a win. This would have been an easy game to have lost but taken away a "moral victory".

Stud: Backstrom is unconscious. He absolutely needs to become the #1 priority for Risebrough immediately.

Dud: Gillies was mostly invisible, and the couple times I did notice him he looked lost.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Finally, a trade

But not involving Marian Gaborik. Nor Nikolai Khabibulin. Not even anyone whose best hockey is still in front of him.

No, the trade included Pittsburgh's Darryl Sydor and Dallas' Philipe Boucher, both defensemen in a one-for-one swap.

I'll wait while you go to to find out about those two players.

Okay, back? Good.

From the "it seemed like a good move at the time" department, prior to the start of last season, Pittsburgh signed Sydor to a two-year contract totaling $5 million. The thinking was Sydor would bring a veteran presence to a young defense corps and leadership to a young locker room, what with Sydor having won two Stanley Cups.

Without knowing the nuances of what went on behind closed doors and whatnot, I won't say the experiment failed. Off the ice, Sydor may have done exactly what GM Ray Shero wanted.

The problem was, Shero signed Sydor to an on-ice contract. That part didn't work out so well. Sydor more often than not was a healthy scratch and the few times he did play, only stuck out when he was making mistakes. It didn't take long before he wanted out, but shockingly, there isn't much of a market for an aging, expensive, no-good defenseman.

Or is there?

Sydor fared better this season for the Penguins but was still a healthy scratch and even played left wing a time or two. He split time with Mark Eaton in the press box.

I'm surprised the Penguins moved him in a non-salary dump move. Most fans would have been happy with a draft pick. Instead, Pittsburgh gets Boucher, who scored 19 goals and 51 points just two seasons ago. He's a right-handed shot that can be valuable on the power play, something the Penguins have lacked since current Stars D-man Sergei Zubov was on the club (and fans are still complaining about trading Zubov for Kevin Hatcher).

The problem with Boucher is he hasn't been able to stay healthy the last two seasons. He played just 38 games last season and has registered only 17 points in the last 54 games, which includes a paltry three points (no goals) this year.

I don't know why Dallas made this trade. I'm sure Sydor is happy. He's going to a team that (presumably) wants him and will play him, plus Dallas is where he won one of his Cups (Buffalo fans everywhere just scratched their eyes out; sorry guys.) It's a swap of 35+ defensemen with one year left on a contract that pays $2.5 million, so no one's gaining salary cap space.

Maybe Brett Hull sees something in Sydor the Penguins don't. I think the Penguins got the better end of the trade. At worst, Boucher will probably be quarterbacking the second power play unit, something Sydor rarely did. At best, he'll be on the first unit, ideally with Alex Goligoski, and Evgeni Malkin either slides to the forward position or centers the second PP, giving the Penguins two dangerous units. (And where he won't be giving up shorthanded goals on the blue line.)

Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, this doesn't clear up their potential defense problem. It just further muddies the waters. The Penguins are playing without their top two blueliners with the injuries to Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar. Whitney may be back in mid-December. Gonchar will be longer. But when Whitney returns, Pittsburgh will need to decide who to sit among this group: Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Goligoski, Rob Scuderi, Hal Gill, Eaton, Boucher and Whitney. Add Gonchar when he returns.

Orpik, Letang, Scuderi and Whitney should be locks. Gill seems to have lost what little step he had, but at 6-6 should still be able to contribute. Goligoski absolutely belongs in the NHL. Eaton's being paid $2 million annually (why, Ray? Why?!) and early on replaced Sydor as the player Penguins fans want to trade the most. Boucher was just acquired, so...

Shero likes having depth on the blue line but there's going to be one or two quality players who will not be dressing. Maybe he's got another trade in the works. Maybe Boucher is a stopgap until Whitney and/or Gonchar return.

Bottom line, the Penguins received a player they will use in return for a player they weren't. Dallas gets to welcome a Cup winner home, I guess. Maybe the Stars decided Sydor just needed a change of scenery (Boucher too for that matter) and didn't want to wait on Boucher to return to form.

But now that one trade has been made, maybe more will follow around the NHL soon.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gm # 15: Wild 3, Blue Jackets 2 (SO)

Some games are exciting, thrilling contests...full of excellent, end-to-end action, up-and-down the rink play. Some games are virtually 'Friday Night at the Fights,' with lots of chippiness and throw-'em-Down punches along with a hockey game breaking out at some point.

And then, there was Saturday night's Festival du Snooze at the Xcel Energy Center, as the Minnesota Wild turned a very pedestrian effort into a 3-2 shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The win gave the Wild a 10-4-2 mark on the '08-09 campaign, while the Jackets dropped to 8-7-3 on the season.

The first Wild goal was Benoit 'B-b-b-Benny' Pouliot's rebound in front of the Columbus net after an Eric Belanger shot was stopped; and then, Erik Reitz (his 1st NHL goal, originally given to Burns, but replay showed the puck hitting a BJ defenseman) found his puck past BJ's goalie Steve Mason, who is playing while the injured Fredrik Norrena recovers back home in 'Cloud-umbus.'

James Sheppard's inadvertant giveaway to Rick Nash and an uncovered Kristian Huselius scored for the BJ's during regulation time. Overtime produced nothing except for one terrific save by Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom as he robbed Huselius after the puck squirted free nearly 3 minutes into the extra session.

Zidlicky scored the eventual game winner in Round 2 of the shootout, and Antti 'Mittens' Miettinen sealed the game with his goal in Round 3, as the Jackets did not score with either of their first two shooters (Huselius and rookie Derick Brassard) against Backstrom.

We corralled the assembled multitude afterwards for reaction...

Chicken Little said: A very pedestrian effort against a very pedestrian opponent. The Wild could very easily have lost this game; Nash was stepping up like the captain he is finally becoming for the Jackets.

Pollyanna said: Wild are now 4-2 since November 1st. Better by one game than last November. So there!

Bottom Line: Winning ugly games like this now makes it that much easier to go down the stretch in a position of strength. Two points now means more than that later on, when points will become precious. But the Wild can do better.

Stud: Backstrom. When all else fails, call on your goalie. (Ask this blog's major contributor!)

Dud: 'Queen' MAB. (Or, do we call him 'Skoula Lite'?) On a night where every player in the Wild line-up had a touch of Dud in him, his Dud-ness stood out. If not careful, MAB will be with Gaby, running the press box popcorn machine.

Next Game: Wild vs. Penguins, Mellon Arena (a.k.a. 'the Igloo'), Pittsburgh, Tuesday night, Nov. 18, 6:00 PM Central Time (Versus, XM204)


Friday, November 14, 2008

Kovalchuk > Semin

Remember Alex Semin's blunt, honest interview a couple weeks back? Well Ilya Kovalchuk has trumped Semin in both the bluntness and the honesty departments in a follow-up interview, also posted on Puck Daddy's blog.


Gm # 14: Wild 4, Coyotes 0

There was a fair amount of trepidation regarding this game by some Wild fans - myself included. Long layoffs (four days, in this case) can often render a team flat. And the Coyotes have been playing good hockey of late as well.

We needn't have worried.

The Wild turned in their most dominant, 60-minute, three-zone effort of the season last night, giving the young Coyotes a demonstration of what a team looks like when it takes its game to the next level.

Nik Backstrom was again superlative, continuing his personal mastery of Phoenix, though he got more help from the five guys in front of him than he had in most of the preceding 2-4-0 stretch.

And let me take a moment to single out Martin Skoula. I am officially taking him OFF my personal hot seat. He has been the steady-with-a-hint-of-offense, low-second or solid-third pairing defenseman many of us had thought he could be, but had yet to see before this season. Unspectacular? Fine, I have no problem with that because "spectacular" cuts both ways - or at least it has with him in the past. When he took a hit to make a play - the right one, to boot - behind the Wild net last night, it almost brought me to tears. If he can anchor the bottom half of our defense corps then the Wild will be a much better team for it.

And, what can you say about Mikko? There can be no doubt that this is his, not Gaborik's, team. There was a play last night where the puck was just inside the Phoenix blueline, with at least one Wild player deeper in the zone (onside) and a Phoenix defenseman back checking to try to clear the zone. Mikko stepped up to hit the guy first, then won the puck and THEN set up a scoring chance. We commented at the time that he looked like Peter Forsberg in his prime.

Marek Zidlicky had his first two goals in a Wild sweater - on the night he was joined at the X by his wife and son for the first time.

Burns and Nolan both returned, understandably rusty, but contributed. Pouliot drew raves from Lemaire. Belanger was outstanding in all situations - his 1-1-2 was richly deserved. Even MAB - my NEW Skoula - earned 3 helpers and didn't take a dump on the ice in front of Backstrom.

Total team effort - which will need to be duplicated and re-duplicated over the rest of the next couple weeks of (primarily) home games.

Chicken Little says: They showed they can put together a 60-minute effort. Now they need to do it consistently.

Pollyanna says: That....was fun!

Bottom Line: It's one thing to have games-in-hand, but it's quite another to convert them into wins.

Stud: So many to choose from in this one. I have to go with Zidlicky. Just for getting the monkey off his back, and for sparking our power play that had been struggling.

Dud: I'm getting very tired of watching PMB kill scoring chances by patently refusing to shoot the puck. If, for no other reason than, it makes him so easy to defend. How about Butch and Gaby to Ottawa for Spezza and a 1st?


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Game tonight, Nick Cooks, Bobby Lou

*The Wild has completed their second 4-day layoff of the season, and returns to action tonight against the Coyotes at the X. The Coyotes vanquished the BJs last night in BJ-land by a score of 5-2. Hopefully they left their goals and their cheery dispositions in C-Bus.

*The next 12 games is huge for the Wild. 10 of 12 at home, which, in combination with an 8 of 10 at home in February, will have to tide the team over in the standings during that brutal 14 of 18 on the road in late February/March.

*Little help please? The schedule makers may have it in for the Wild with that brutal March, but they apparently realized that and have tried to atone for it with the start of this next run. Four of the next five opponents (Phoenix, Columbus, Vancouver and St. Louis) all will have played the night before. Incidentally, each of those four games is at home.

*According to Russo, both Burns and Nolan are back in tonight. Kolanos has been sent down to make room.

*Nick Schultz and his wife appeared on Twin Cities Live yesterday showing us all how to prepare bacon-wrapped tenderloin to his specifications. This will undoubtedly get a lot of play in the locker room - something it would appear that Nick was both aware of and trying to mitigate during filming as he tried to slip in as many "I'm really just the grill meister" references as possible. You can see the video on Deuce By Definition's blog here. In case any of the boys are in need of some additional fodder, I have prepared a list of epicurean-themed nicknames for the defenseman. If you have any others drop 'em in the comments.

Nick "Cookie" Schultz
Nick "Ginsu" Schultz
Nick "Bacon-Wrapped" Schultz
Nick "Emeril" Schultz
Nick "The Apron" Schultz
"Remy" (that's sort of obscure, I'll give two points to whomever can spot that one)
Nick "Bam! Bam!" Schultz

*Roberto Luongo's insane shutout streak was finally broken last night in the third period against the Avs. I know he over-uses the butterfly, but he still has to get that big frame up every time he goes down - and he's one helluva goalie. Good on him.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fare Thee Well, Master Yoda

Keith Carney retired from the NHL in a manner befitting the unassuming stalwart's reputation.

Every Wild fan with visions of Brent Burns lifting the Stanley Cup over his head in a Wild sweater will have Keith Carney - Yoda to Burns' Skywalker - to thank when that glorious day finally arrives.

Keith is reportedly going to be spending some quality time with his family. We thank him for his play and tutelage in Minnesota, congratulate him on a great career and wish him well in his future endeavors.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I thought it would be interesting to see if the numbers have changed at all over the last couple weeks.

Reminder: this is a HIGHLY SCIENTIFIC measure of Marian Gaborik's "current market value", designed by LEADING MATHEMATICIANS, STATISTICIANS, ASSORTED PhDs and using various proprietary formulae. While not designed to predict or depict the ultimate value of his next contract, Gabonomics should give the casual hockey fan an idea of just what Gaborik and his agent should expect to receive based on his current career-to-date performance.

*Baseline (salary) $7.5M (T11th in NHL)
*Baseline (cap hit) $6.33M (28th in NHL)
*Ceiling (salary) $10M (Lecavalier)
*Ceiling (cap hit) $9.538M (Ovechkin)
*Career points-per-game (reg season, through end 07-08): GP 487, pts 415, PPG 0.852
*Projected points per full season (PFS) (career PPG x 82): 69.86
*Injury probability (reg season): 100 games missed out of 7.158 NHL seasons (587 games) = 13.97 games missed per season or a 17% chance that he will be injured for a given game.
*Projected points per full Gaborik season (PGS) (PPG * (82-13.97)) = 57.96

(1) Given that Gaborik is not worth more than Lecavalier, Ovechkin, Crosby or Malkin. Therefore his salary should not exceed the lowest of those players, or $9M (09-10 salary figures). Action: reduce effective ceiling from $10M to $9M.

(2) Given that inflation has occurred in NHL since his last contract was signed. The salary cap increased by 12.7% from 07-08 to 08-09. Gaborik's salary of $7.5M (08-09) should therefore be able to increase in keeping with that inflationary level. Action: increase effective baseline from $7.5M to $8.45M.

(3) Production adjustment. Gaborik has one point in two games this season. This brings his career PPG down to 0.852. It also reduces his projected PFS to 69.86. However, his PGS is now at 57.96, or 82.9% of his PFS. Action: reduce effective baseline by half* of the difference between PGS and PFS ((PFS - PGS) * (17.1% / 2)) from $8.45M to $7.73M.

(3.1) Injury watch. Gaborik has missed 11 games this season. At the start of this season, his career games-missed per season was 12.71. Should he exceed his average games-missed per season his ceiling will also need to be lowered. Action: maintain effective ceiling at $9M, understanding that this will come under pressure if he misses at least two more games.

Conclusion: Marian Gaborik's current annual salary range is $7.73M to $9M. Over a 6-year deal that means guaranteed money of $46.38Mto $54M. Over a 7-year deal that means guaranteed money of $54.11M to $63M. Over an 8-year deal that means guaranteed money of $61.84M to $72M.

*The panel decided to reduce the baseline by half of the difference between PGS and PFS because they did not feel that Gaborik's injury status this year should completely counteract his injury history over his seven complete seasons.

Random Musings

It's been a while since we did one of these, and there's just so much going on!

*Happy Veterans (US) and Rememberance (CAN) Day. To all those who serve or have served, or are related to those who serve or have served - we salute and honor you. Thank you for what you do and the sacrifices you and your families make on our behalf.

*The Blues are taking the (flagging) economy seriously. They have announced a fan bailout promotion where they will draw one fan (by section/row/seat) and pay that fan's rent or mortgage (to a max of $4k) for the following four months. They are going to do this at Saturday home games for the rest of the season.

*Great Hall of Fame class of 2008! Larionov, Anderson, Scapinello and Chynoweth. Outstanding stuff. Yzerman, Leetch, Hull, Andreychuk and Robitaille are all first-time eligible next year as well.

*I'm really not much for power rankings. Too hard to be objective. I think the quickest, easiest macro-stat to look at for in-season comparison of teams is the percentage of possible points (PPP) that a team has garnered. In other words, if you've played 10 games, you could have as many as 20 possible points. So, if you only have 15 then your PPP is 75%. To me, this accomodates the fact that teams will have played different numbers of games. Again, I don't think this tells "the whole story" of where teams should be ranked relative to each other, but it's a good proxy.

PPP Rankings (as of 11/11/08)

1. SJ 81.25%
2. DET 76.92%
3. MTL 75.00%
4t. BOS 67.86%
4t. BUF 67.86%
6. NYR 66.67%
7t. CHI 65.38%
7t. MIN 65.38%
9t. WAS 64.29%
9t. PIT 64.29%
11t. CAR 60.00%
11t. VAN 60.00%
13. NJ 57.14%
14. EDM 56.67%
15. ANH 55.88%
16. PHX 53.85%
17t. CBJ 53.33%
17t. TOR 53.33%
19. CGY 53.13%
20t. OTT 50.00%
20t. TB 50.00%
22. ATL 46.67%
23. NAS 46.43%
24. LA 46.15%
25t. DAL 42.86%
25t. COL 42.86%
27t. PHI 42.31%
27t. STL 42.31%
29. FLA 39.29%
30. NYI 35.71%

Anyone see anything debatable with where PPP puts these teams?


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Farm Report: Crop Dusted

Wife in New York (WiNY?) took me out for date night last night. We had a little food and then made our way down to Blue Cross Arena where we took in the Rochester Americans against the Houston Aeros.

It was my first Amerks game, and the arena is a cozy little rink. It didn't feel like it was any bigger than Mariucci (though not as new) and that wasn't just due to the small crowd. The Amerks had gotten out to a 1-10 start on the season, and that, plus their severed relationship with the Sabres I'm sure has had a pronounced effect on ticket sales.

However, it's not because tickets are exorbitantly expensive. We were literally on the glass, right behind the middle of the Amerks' bench (WiNY didn't realize that's where we were - she being hockey savvy enough to know that those seats aren't all they're cracked up to be.) In any event, I think we paid $22 each. Not bad.

Okay, onto the game.


That was an embarassing effort by the Aeros. A pathetic effort on offense - you guys do realize you have to shoot the puck to score, right? - particularly on the power play where the Aeros were all-too willing to throw the puck around the perimeter without apparently even considering sending it towards the net. Pressure to the points created a turnover almost immediately and it was all the Aeros could do to not get blown off the ice in any kind of foot race.

Danny Irmen was terrible. With his shabby hair puking out from under his helmet it certainly looks like he's "gone native" in the minor league - which, if it means he's resigned to never making it to the show, is probably a good thing. No heart, no hustle, no moxie, no nothing except a whole lot of average. There are some in Wild Nation who pine for a representative son of Minnesota on every Wild team. It ain't gonna be Danny unless Risebrough loses a bet with God.

Marco Rosa - are you kidding me? Hey kid, there's this new league in Russia that just started up, maybe you heard of it? Do us all a favor and go check it out. Permanently.

Clay Stoner is certainly a big kid. But he played like Snuffalupagus. The only word that comes to mind is "passive." If he is to make the Wild playing like that it will be as Nordy.

John Scott got some big minutes, in all circumstances so you feel like they're really trying to groom him for the NHL. All I saw was a guy who took a couple dumb penalties, hit people in the corners, but was insufferably accomodating in front of his own net.

About the only guy I saw anything positive out of was Corey Locke. He's shifty and fast, and created as much as anyone on the entire team.

I have to be honest, though, my biggest complaint is with Constantine. What the hell is he doing? Should he not be teaching these kids how to play at the NHL level? That power play is an absolute joke. No structure at all - and they certainly had plenty of options to show it to me. The Wild is successful (even when they're outmatched talent-wise) because they put forth an honest effort in all zones and are opportunistic when they get a chance. I saw nothing of that from the Aeros last night. KC's got this rep as the big task master - but at some point maybe you should just coach hockey, you know? If all we want is a disciplinarian, we can probably go find a retired master sargeant for a fraction of whatever Constantine is stealing from us. Should Lemaire decide to retire to "The Trap" full time in the near future, I have to hope Risebrough has something else up his sleeve by way of a head coach because there ain't a lot of sunshine (band) with KC no mo.

I know it's just one game - and I obviously haven't seen them play very often - and I realize that the injuries to the big club have further diluted what talent they have.

But to mail it in against a 1-10 team, especially in areas like the PP that ought to play at the same level all the time - and showing nothing of value in terms of systems and coaching - is distressing.

And Tommy Lynn? Your wannabe tough guy attitude is wearing thin. Results, not rhetoric, matter in this show, pal. Stop BSing the fans and start paying attention to the team that you're supposed to be running down in Texas.


Gm # 13: Wild 0, Canucks 2

Backstrom was very good last night at GM Place. He continues to give his team a chance night in and night out. He has maintained an elevated level of play over last season, and continues to make the hard saves as well as the ones he should make.

That has been enough for the Wild in 8 of their 13 games so far this season, and a major part of this year's version of their now-annual rush out of the opening gate.

It wasn't enough last night.

You see, the Canucks employ this goalie by the name of Roberto Luongo. He's pretty good. He was outstanding last night. He garnered his third shutout in a row - and fifth on the young season. To say he's in a ridiculous zone is to minimize the brilliance that he brings every night.

The thing is, he hasn't been that successful (for him) against the Wild in his career-to-date. But he was the story last night. I would say the Wild had the lion's share of the good chances - and that's not including the shots the Canucks blocked. While Backs did what the Wild needed him to do, Luongo just did more.

In particular his second period left pad save on Bouchard (who was pretty good last night himself) was a thing of beauty. Bobby had the left pad working all night, and used it on another tough save later in the same period.

I really didn't have a problem with how the Wild played overall. The Canucks neutralized the Wild's power play, but one got the sense it really wouldn't have mattered considering how locked in Luongo is right now.

So, you tip your cap to him.

Come on home, boys.

Chicken Little says: It's hard to muster up some desperation in a mid-November game. But the Wild didn't even appear to try to do so until it was too late.

Pollyanna says: Threw everyting at them but the kitchen sink. Nothing to hang their heads at.

Bottom Line: Tough to say anything other than the right team won.

Stud: Luongo - not even close. If you need a Wild player, Backstrom fits the bill.

Dud: As posted on Russo's Rants last night, Queen MAB is the new Skoula.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Other trade musings

Why should the Minnesota Wild have all the fun in trade rumors?

We're already sick of "Gabbing about Gab(b)y," so I bring you "Staal Taalk!" (Get it? Staal has two A's, so I put two A's in talk? Okay, fine, it's not funny, but who asked you?! This is my blog, at least as long as I don't offend Nick, so I'll make whatever lame jokes I want. You know, kind of like Russo.)

The Staal in question (I know, there's so many of them) is Pittsburgh center and sometimes-winger Jordan.

First off, no, the Penguins aren't trading Staal for Gaborik (you know, because the argument is they can't afford Staal, so trade for Gaborik. Makes perfect sense. *eye roll*)

However, I think they should trade him soon for some winger. A good one. A young one. A healthy one. A not-horribly-expensive one. (If you're scoring at home, Gaborik is disqualified because of Points 3 and 4.)

It's my opinion, aided by a couple reports or rumors, that Staal isn't happy in Pittsburgh. I've heard nothing firsthand (I'm not in Jordan's Fave Five; I think I'm No. 8) but let's look at the facts: No one likes being the third-line center. At least no one who scored 29 goals as a rookie. That's what Staal is right now - but check back with me in 10 minutes, he might be back to second-line center or wing. He wants to be a No. 1 or 2 center, and, well, the Penguins sort of have guys named Crosby and Malkin for those slots. Being a top-six forward would work too, but...

That's the thing. The experiment with playing Staal on Malkin's wing has not worked. That offensive explosion he had his rookie year - 29 goals, seven shorthanded - looks like an aberration. Since then, in the regular season, he has, er, 13 in 94 games, including just one this season, which was into an empty net. None of those 13 are shorthanded. He did, however, score nine goals in 25 playoff games, including six last season.

He's also not exactly a playmaker. He has only 32 assists for his career.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not saying he's a bad player. He's big, has a long reach, can skate and is terrific defensively. As his playoff stats and rookie season suggest, he's got goal-scoring potential.

But here's the thing: I don't think he's going to develop fully into the player everyone in the league seems to think he'll develop into... in Pittsburgh.

I don't know if he needs to be the guy but I do think he needs his own linemates on a consistent, game-by-game basis. Michel Therrien and Jacques Lemaire probably call each other at night and talk about their constant line-changing, laughing while eating bon-bons or something.

That means I think Staal is better served playing somewhere other than Pittsburgh. I also think Pittsburgh is better served by moving Staal for a real NHL winger for Sidney Crosby (Sorry, Miroslav, it's just that you're 34; nice goal against Phoenix though.)

Now that we've gotten into the "why," let's discuss the possible "who."

As I mentioned, I don't see Gaborik here. That injury is just too much a problem now, plus Staal is too valuable to give up for a rental and Gaborik won't accept less to play with Crosby (if he's healthy, boy that'd be nice though.)

So how about Ilya Kovalchuk? It'd be Marian Hossa Part Two but this time both teams get valuable long-term pieces. Staal and Ryan Whitney for Kovalchuk? Atlanta gets potential franchise players for the front and back line and Pittsburgh gets its coveted scoring winger. People say Don Waddell doesn't need to move Kovalchuk now, but really, is his value higher now, when he has a year after this season remaining on his contract, or next season, when he'll be a potential unrestricted free agent?

Or they say Waddell can't move his team's franchise player because he needs to put butts in the seats...please. It's Atlanta. They're 29th out of 30 in attendance this season. Sounds like he's doing a GREAT job filling the arena.

But okay, who else? Rumors abound, with Phil Kessel mentioned (now that he's good, I doubt Boston will move him), along with Antoine Vermette, Marek Svatos and/or Wojtek Wolski, and I think even Martin Havlat's name has been mentioned.

Let's scratch Havlat's name though. See the Marian Gaborik Corollary.

The others are intriguing. Problems are, Wolski seems more of a playmaker, Svatos also has trouble staying healthy (no seasons with over 66 games) and both have as many goals as Staal does. Oh, and neither seems selfish enough to shoot the puck very often.

Vermette, however...there's a name I could like. Works for Ottawa too, no? Staal could become their top center, and they can move Spezza for another part they need (Khabibulin?). Other moves might need to be made for salary cap purposes.

I still think Maxim Afinogenov can do well in the right setting, but no real reason to trade for him. He surely won't re-sign in Buffalo (or maybe even the NHL). Frolov in LA? Maybe. That'd give the Kings a nice center corps with Kopitar and Stoll. But I don't know who's centering that third-line out there, if it's Stoll or.. I think it's Handzus? So that might not be a win-win for both teams.

Cheechoo was once rumored to be offered for Whitney, but I don't see Cheech going anywhere right now.

But those are some names to chew on. Staal's going to want a big payday at the end of the season, and it's not that I don't think he's worth it, just that he's not worth it to the Penguins (sort of like how Gaborik is worth more to the Wild than to others; or is he at this point?). I think Staal's best value is in a trade, but it remains to be seen what will happen.

Though given the Penguins poor offense, GM Ray Shero may not want to wait too long.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

What happens when they play a game...and no one sees it?

That's what will happen tonight in Glendale, Ariz., as the Minnesota Wild face-off against the Phoenix Coyotes, in the only game Wild fans with NHL Center Ice (or the new GameCenter Live) will not see this season.

Neither the Wild (whose broadcast outlets are jammed with WCHA college hockey and the NBA's trembling Timber-chihuahuas), nor the Coyotes (whose outlets are full of Suns basketball and college football) are televising this game. The only game on the Wild's 2008-09 schedule not to be televised. No webcast. No 'Dumb and Dumber' (that just may be a break in and of itself), no Strader and Pang (days after another blog refers to a rather scathing blog about how Strader's predecessor, who now sells real estate in Winnipeg -- now THERE's a tough job! -- was let go by the 'Yotes two years ago). Just radio, like in the good 'ol days. (Of course, there's XM satellite radio which will carry the Phoenix XTRA 910 radio feed; XM Channel 204).

You can listen via the web to either broadcast, via either team's websites. But think of this:

There are 1,230 NHL games each regular season. Of those, at least half of the league's 30 teams will televise every single game this season (the latest of which is Chicago, as this is a cornerstone of 'Rocky' Wirtz's new strategy for reviving the until-recently moribund Blackhawks franchise.)

Minnesota thinks of itself as the 'State of Hockey' (as its' long-standing marketing theme says) and St. Paul was dubbed the 'new Hockeytown' last season after the declining fortunes of Detroit's 'Big 3' automakers forced a downturn in regular-season Red Wings attendance at Joe Lewis Arena. If all this is true, you mean to tell me that someone wouldn't be interested in televising one Wild game?

One would think so...

The fun starts tonight, 9 PM Central Time...'see you...on the radio'...