Saturday, February 28, 2009

Boogaard Sits For Five

For his hit on Brandon Prust last night against the Flames. Russo has it here. First suspension of his career, and well-deserved in this case, in my opinion. High elbow in the waning moments of a 4-1 loss? Yeah, the big man was just trying to tie it up...


Weller on Waivers

Russo reporting...odd since they have a free spot if they move Nolan to IR. I was just starting to like Weller, too.


Game #60: Flames 4, Wild 1

They came. They sucked. They left.

And who are 'They'?

The Minnesota Wild, whose pathetic efforts Friday night in the Pengrowth Saddledome led to a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the Calgary Flames, who clinch the season series with their 4th head-to-head victory (of 6 total games to be played) this season.

Getting no help from in front of him most of the night, Niklas Backstrom was pretty much left to fend for himself as two Calgary goals in the first 38 seconds of the second period doomed the Wild to their fifth loss in their last seven games, as Michael Cammallieri, soon-to-be UFA who came over from Los Angeles prior to this season, scored twice to lead the Flames to victory, their seventh in their last nine games.

The Wild drop to a sickening 1-13-2 in the 'Dome in their last 16 games, dating back to the 2006-07 season. However, due to the schedule, they willl not have a lot of time to think about it, as they moved on to Edmonton following the game for tonight's nationally-televised (in Canada) game vs. the Oilers, who themselves did not manage a goal in their last game Thursday vs. Columbus.

Chicken Little: Blow up the whole thing and start over if this is the best they can do during a playoff drive.

Pollyanna: Backstrom kept them in this one, who knows how bad it would have become otherwise!

Bottom Line: On the start of a six-game, 10-day road trip, this was not the way you wanted to start it. This game sucked. If they keep playing like this, they're out of the playoff hunt.

Stud: The only guy who showed up tonight. Backstrom.

Dud: Everyone else on the Wild not wearing No. 32.

Next: at Edmonton, Saturday (tonight!) 9 PM Central (8 PM Mountain) Time, Rexall Place. (TV: FSNorth, CBC(in HD), NHL Network-US; XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Axe, meet Block: Pens trade Whitney for Kunitz

With golf tee times reserved just in case, the Pittsburgh Penguins made a move ideally to help the now and the later, trading defenseman Ryan Whitney to Anaheim for forward Chris Kunitz and prospect forward Eric Tangradi.

Whitney, 26 and coming off major foot surgery, has been a major disappointment so far, but while I've been a Whitney detractor since before it was popular, I'm giving him a tad leeway on this season considering his health circumstances and the team's struggles, and how he was viewed as a savior once he returned. He almost immediately began playing 25 minutes a night, which seems a lot for a guy coming off that little foot thing that kept him out all season. (Sure, some of those minutes are on the power play, but that doesn't mean they're easy minutes. Have you seen the Penguins' power play? Putrid.)

When he's healthy, Whitney can be very effective. He had 59 points two years ago, struggled (due to the foot) to just 40 last year but was one of the better Pens defensemen in the finals. He had two goals and 13 points this season but was a minus-15.

My knowledge on Kunitz (6-1, 198) is a little limited since I don't watch the Ducks often, but it seems to me he's a Ryan Malone-type. A power forward who's good for 20-25 goals a season (he peaked at 25 two seasons ago, had 21 last year and 16 so far this year). He may throw the body around slightly more than Malone, and that right there should make him MVP, since hits are such a valuable statistic.

Kunitz, 29, is signed through 2012 with a cap hit of $3.725 million. Whitney has four years after this remaining on a contract paying him an average of $4 million.

I know less about Tangradi, though from what I've read, he is Anaheim's No. 2-rated prospect. He is hot on the heels of Saint Tavares for the OHL scoring lead, with 87 points, including 38 goals. He is another power forward with excellent size at 6-4, 221.

Bottom line: Kunitz will add much-needed grit to the Penguins, costing something the Penguins had an excess of (defensemen, more specifically offensive defensemen). Getting Tangradi as well seems to make this a win for Pittsburgh, which still has Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski available as "mobile defensemen" while shoring up the NHL club and adding a tremendous winger to the system, which has been severely lacking in goal scorers.

From Anaheim's end, does this mean Chris Pronger and/or Scott Niedermayer is on the move? The addition of Whitney adds a third skilled blueliner, and while Whit's cap hit will be less than $1 million this year (according to, that number will shoot up next year.

The Ducks get a defenseman who despite being 6-4 and 220 doesn't play a very physical game, has been struggling in his own end since returning, hasn't mastered how to quarterback a power play yet but obviously has the signs to do so. If Niedermayer sticks around, maybe Whitney grows a bit under him. If Whitney progresses as everyone in Pittsburgh wanted/expected him to, Anaheim will get its younger version of Pronger/Niedermayer, though not as tough (Pronger) or as skilled (Niedermayer), but still a very quality defenseman who can score.

Now the question remains, will Pittsburgh make other moves? It still has Jordan Staal as a trade chip. Or will Ray Shero sit for a few days and analyze the Kunitz acquisition to see if that did the trick?

The trade deadline is seven days away (counting today).

(Semi-amusing update: Wednesday, Whitney was a healthy scratch for what was announced as "returning home to be with an ill family member." Which may be true. But Whitney is from Boston. Who plays in Boston Thursday night? You guessed it, Anaheim. Coincidence, or not?)


WRT's This 'N' That

A column of opinions, some facts and an occasional rant

Some thoughts following a road trip to Chicago for last Sunday's Wild-Blackhawks game:

It's amazing what you see on the road. The Chicago Tribune ran the following as their headline for Monday's editions after the Wild defeated the Hawks 2-1:

"Full Bore: Wild's tedious game plan makes for an unpleasant loss" screamed the tabloid-style back page of the re-designed Trib, making light of the post-game comment of the Hawks' Kris Versteeg, who took the Wild to task for playing a disciplined style on the road.

"Playing against a team like that makes it pretty tough to really get any life in the building," Versteeg lamented.

The Hawks play 16 of their final 23 games at home, where they have already have a 15-5-5 record going into Friday night's home game vs. KiPA's beloved Pittsburgh Penguins.

Speaking of the Hawks and home cooking: The United Center is becoming the place to see and be seen again. Hawks tickets are hot commodities in the Second City, and Hawks president John McDonough told the Chicago Sun-Times that this season, the Hawks will set the all-time franchise attendance record. The Hawks have sold out the last 28 games in a row at the NHL's largest arena, including all 24 games at home this season. The Hawks are averaging 22,051, or 107% of the UC's listed capacity of 20,500 this season...and, in yet another sign that Chicago is ready to come back to the NHL, they now have a season ticket waiting list, for the first time in nearly two decades. All this in spite of the fact (or, because of it) that all 82 Hawks games are televised, one of a handful of NHL teams to be so widely distributed in their home market.

As I can attest from personal observations, the life really has come back to one of hockey's signature franchises. When I (and a party of six) went there on Sunday, there were lines everywhere for everything. When I started attending Wild-Hawks games in Chicago after the Strike/lockout of 2004-05, you could pick your choice of seats in the cavernous UC. This year, however, you get tickets in advance, or you wind up standing at the top of the upper concourse (which is a LONG way from the ice surface), just like in the old days at the old Stadium across the street, where the standing room was atop the third balcony and along the walls, at either end of the old building.

The only thing they could improve is the noise level. Turn it DOWN, guys. Let the crowd be the noise level; you really don't need to amp up everything to get the crowd excited. You used to have to do that. No more. You have the people back, so let them enjoy the evening, without giving them a headache from too much amped up music and PA announcements.

Also: with the large crowds now populating the UC, the days of packing the place with visiting fans are OVER. I estimated about 500-700 Wild fans were in the building; in previous years, that number used to be about twice that (or more). You cannot just decide to pack the car up with your buddies and all head down to Chicago for the weekend expecting to get Hawks tickets. You have to plan in advance.

The Hawks few remaining road games will not be easy, either; they still have road games at Boston (March 7), New Jersey (March 17) and Montreal (March 31), divisional games at Detroit and Nashville, and two games at Nationwide Arena vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets and Hawks have only played each other twice so far this season.

Edit: One final Chicago thought: Over 31,000 watched hockey in Chicagoland on Sunday (22,443 at the UC for Wild-Hawks, and 9,100 for Manitoba-Chicago Wolves at Allstate Arena, f.k.a. the Horizon in Rosemont). Both games ran at the same time in the early evening.

Other stuff:

Good things come in fours?

The Blackhawks have swept the season series from three teams, winning all four games against Calgary, Dallas and Phoenix. The Wild's record against the same clubs? Phoenix, Wild win 3 games, lose 1; Calgary, Wild lose 1 in regulation, 2 in OT (so far, 3 games remain); Dallas, Wild lose both games (2 remain).

Anyone else notice the added seats at the 'X' last game?

The Wild added four seats by taking out the camera position betwen the benches and replacing it with a four-seat box, accessible from the section 116/117 aisle. The new seats are presumably $225 'on the glass' seats...the question: Why did they feel the need to take away the camera position? Is this a harbinger of things to come? Or is this Wild owner Craig Leipold's idea?

Best place to be on Trade Deadline Day?

The Wild were not dealt the best hand from the NHL scheduling department this March, being in the middle of a six-game, 10-day road trip when the trade deadline occurs next Wednesday (2 PM Central Time) as they will be en route from Vancouver to San Jose at the deadline. If anyone on the current roster is traded, especially to the Eastern Conference, they will have a long time to think about it.

Now I know why they scheduled it at that time...

The Wild are scheduled to play the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, April 5th. The game is scheduled for a 5 PM Eastern Time start. Reason: it's the off day between the national semis and the national championship game of the NCAA Final Four men's basketball tournament, and hotel rooms in Detroit will be at an absolute premium.

Now that's what I call an appropriate sponsor!

The St. Louis Blues have scheduled the third annual 'Free Food Game' for Sunday, March 15, vs. the Minnesota Wild. The menu calls for every seat to be 'All-You-Can-Eat', with free hot dogs, chicken fingers, potato chips, popcorn, peanuts, soda pop and water. The Blues have not lost a 'Free Food Game' yet, defeating Los Angeles in 2007 and Nashville last season.

The sponsor of the Free Food Game?


That's it... WRT

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Game #59: Kings 2, Wild 1 (SO)

If Chicago sportswriters thought Sunday night's Wild-Blackhawks game was boring, they shoulda got a load of THIS one.

In one of the biggest NHL 'snooze-fests' you'd ever want to see, the Los Angeles Kings played perfect road hockey against the perfect road hockey team -- the Minnesota Wild -- and came away with a 2-1 shootout victory Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center, the final game at home for the Wild before their dreaded 14-of-17 road game marathon, which starts with their next game Friday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary.

Antti Miettinen was the only Wild player that scored -- both in regulation (shorthanded) and in the shootout -- as the Wild dropped their third game of the season to the Kings, giving LA the season series (one game remains between the two clubs, March 7 at STAPLES Center.)

Niklas Backstrom made 25 saves in regulation and overtime, and Jonathan Quick made 24 for the Kings, who won only their second game in their last 6 as they also continue a marathon road trip, while the US Figure Skating Championships occupy the arena back home.

The Kings did it also without their captain, Dustin Brown, who was back in SoCal for the birth of his second child (a baby boy, Mason).

Next: at Calgary, Friday, Feb 27, 8 PM Central (7 PM Mountain) Time, Pengrowth Saddledome. (TV: FSNorth (including FSWisconsin), Rogers SportsNet West in HD; XM Ch. 207)


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Game #58: Wild 2, Blackhawks 1

CHICAGO -- There's an old saying that goes, 'Youth shall be served'.

The Minnesota Wild found that out first hand tonight, taking away a 2-1 victory against one of the NHL's toughest teams -- the Chicago Blackhawks -- in front of a raucous, sold-out United Center crowd of 22,443 in the NHL's biggest arena Sunday night.

Two of the Wild's 'young guns' -- Cal Clutterbuck and Peter Olvecky -- combined their efforts with Josh Harding's spectacular goaltending to get the Wild their second win in as many nights. The Wild conclude the season series with Chicago, winning 3 of the 4 games played.

The evening started crazily enough, as ex-Blackhawk (and Red Wings) enforcer Bob Probert was honored prior to the start of the game. What made things stranger, however, was who took part in the ceremonial face-off at the end of it: Not the teams' captains, but their enforcers -- Derek Boogaard for Minnesota and Ben Eager for Chicago. Neither wanted to touch the puck.

Clutterbuck hit anything that moved -- and sometimes, things that didn't, like when Brent Seabrook dispatched Cal in the second period with a vicious check of his own -- for which Cal lost his lid, but just skated away, showing the maturity of a seasoned NHL veteran.

Olvecky snapped a laser past Chicago goaltender Cristobal Huet 3:30 into the third period, and then the Wild, showing the same kind of pluck that allowed them to defeat Detroit at home Saturday night, proceeded to hang on and defend the one-goal lead the rest of the evening, even after Mikko Koivu was called for holding with 10.5 seconds left in the third period. Olvecky's goal was assisted by Martin Skoula, who now -- believe it or not -- is on a two-game point streak, against two of the top 4 teams in the Western Conference, nevertheless. Skoula played in his 700th NHL game tonight.

Harding played like a man who really is ready to step up to a No. 1 position, as he turned away 44 of 45 shots against him by the Hawks, including several spectacular saves in the second period, which sent the referees scrambling to the Toronto 'War Room' for confirmation of their correct no-goal calls. The Chicago media named Harding No. 1 star for his efforts.

We managed to save the assembled multitude by literally throwing them under the bus...the CTA #19 United Center Express, that is...

Chicken Little: Burns still scares me. He's just not into the game like the rest of the top 4 'D' are right now.

Pollyanna: Martin Skoula! Martin Skoula! Martin Skoula! Whee!!

Bottom Line: No one of the Wild fan contingent expected this game to turn out this way. Harding's stand-on-his-head goaltending was the difference in this game. You need everyone contributing in the stretch drive, and tonight, the third and fourth lines did. If they keep this kind of good play up, someone else will be on the outside looking in, and the Wild will actually make the playoffs...something most in the Wild Blogosphere said would not be done, as little as eight days ago.

Stud: Harding. 44 saves are more than enough reason. Honorable mention: Clutterbuck, Dan Fritsche (he really stepped up after Nolan was lost to a 'lower body injury' early in the second period) and Nick Schultz, who did yeoman duty on the blue line tonight.

Dud: This is getting to be like a broken record. Burnsie, you gotta get off the schneid. Get into a fight, score a goal, crush someone into the boards, do something to pull out of the funk. Please. Your team needs you. (And so do their fans.)

Next: vs. Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 7:00 PM Central (5 PM Pacific), Xcel Energy Center. (TV: KSTC-45, FSWest, XM Ch. 238)

WRT (happy to return home tomorrow with the 'W')

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Game #57: Wild 5, Red Wings 2

Two points. In regulation. That's a phrase the Minnesota Wild haven't heard much of in, say, about nine days.

Thanks to Owen Nolan, the 'Irish God of War', the phrase can be said this evening. The Wild took the game to the Detroit Red Wings, defeating the defending Stanley Cup champions 5-2 before a Saturday night 18,568 crowd at Xcel Energy Center.

Nolan scored the game's first two goals, both in the first period. Now, under normal circumstances, the lid would have blown off the place. But, this is the same way that last Saturday's fiasco vs. the Ottawa Senators started, so naturally, the natives were a little skeptic. Happy, yes, but skeptic.

The second period started with Detroit's Tomas Kopecky getting credit for the goal when Brent Burns' errant clearing pass deflected off the skate of Kopecky and past Niklas Backstrom, cutting the lead to 2-1. Pierre-Marc Bouchard then outskated Brian Rafalski and went in alone on Wings' third-string goalie Jimmy Howard, called up just for tonight from Detroit's AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. PMB toasted Howard, going seven-hole and it was 3-1.

And then, 90 seconds later, came the real shocker; Martin Skoula -- yes, THAT Martin Skoula -- snuck in behind the Detroit defense from the left point and connected on a Mikko Koivu pass, putting the Wild ahead by 4-1 after two periods. Even Marty couldn't believe it; he was still grinning ear-to-ear after the game being interviewed by FSNorth for their post-game show.

The third period was huge for the Wild. They didn't play the 'Hockey Prevent' defense like they did last Saturday. Did 'da boys' actually LEARN something? Or were they just teasing the crowd?

They weren't teasing. They actually played to win, instead of not to lose. It was refreshing to see, save for the redirection in front of a Rafalski shot by Ville Leino at 14:45 which made the score 4-2. For the next five minutes, the Wild were on their horse, as the Red Wings came at them time and again, the Wild content with skating the puck out of their zone, one pass then down the ice after crossing the center line. Even in the last minute, as the Red Wings were controlling the offensive zone, the Wild did not crack under the relentless pressure, until the issue was decided when Stephane Veilleux's shot from center found the empty Detroit net with less than 2 seconds left in the game.

The crowd went home satisfied, at least for one night.

OK, Assembled Multitude, quit pitching pennies into those giveaway coffee mugs:

Chicken Little: Andrew Brunette was a scratch, breaking his 'Iron Man' streak at 509 games. No Boogaard, either. Thank heavens Craig Weller was able to return, or we'd have been really screwed.

Pollyanna: Jacques said afterwards that if he could get that effort every night, they'd be in every game. Great effort tonight by everyone! (Well, almost...see 'Dud'.)

Bottom Line: Wild were in really deep doo-doo if they didn't start piling up points in regulation. No more 'loser points'; you need wins, and lots of 'em. Efforts like tonight's are how you get them. Keeping it up now, with 7 of their next 8 on the road, will be the key to their season...and, possibly for some, it may make the difference in whether they stay here, or whether they go somewhere else if the Wild start losing again, and the brain trust decides to blow it all to hell and start over.

Stud: On a night where there were candidates a-plenty, 'IGoW' stands out. Two goals, one assist, a plus 2 for the night. Owen Nolan shows again he was a quality addition to the roster. But, one stood out even better than that.

A lot of you know that I cannot stand Martin Skoula's play. I've railed about it all season (and even worse before Nick invited me on here, on Russo's Rants) and when he has that next Grade 'A' brain fart, I'll be all over him again. But he really stood out tonight, and not just for the goal. In the closing minutes of the game, when Detroit crashed the net, there he was, calmly moving the play away from in front of the net. He led all players in time on ice, and in a big game like this one, that's important. So for the sake of fairness, let's admit the fact; the blind squirrel indeed found the nut tonight. Skoula for Stud.

Dud: Burns. On the ice for all seven goals scored in this game. Plus-minus or not, that's too many. Should have had an assist on Detroit's first goal (after all, his clearing attempt was what wound up in his own net). The Wild need you, Burnsie. Time to snap out of the funk.

Next: at Chicago, Sunday (tomorrow!), 6:00 PM Central Time, United Center. (TV: FSNorth, Comcast SportsNet Chicago (in HD), NHL Network--Canada; XM Home Ice Ch. 204)

Personal Note: Yes, I will attempt again to attend tomorrow night at United Center. Hopefully, I will be blogging after tomorrow's game from the Windy City.

Wish me luck (I need it.) -- WRT

Friday, February 20, 2009

Brunette 'Possible' vs. Detroit; Sellout streak possibly ending?

The Minnesota Wild, thru a team spokesman, confirmed that forward Andrew Brunette will attempt to play Saturday night vs. Detroit at Xcel Energy Center, despite his tweaking of his previous MCL sprain during the first period of Thursday night's 3-2 OT loss to the Calgary Flames at Xcel.

Brunette, whose 'iron man' streak has reached 509 games, will test the knee tomorrow, possibly in the morning. He did not practice at all Friday.

In another Wild-related note, the Wild sent an e-mail to previous individual game ticket buyers, informing them of tickets available for 4 midweek games, fueling speculation that the team's 359-game home sellout streak, currently the NHL's longest, is in jeopardy of being broken before the 2008-09 season ends. 5 of the team's 8 remaining home dates are on Tuesdays, beginning next Tuesday night vs. Los Angeles.

Saturday's game vs. Detroit will be the third game in the five-game Hockey Greats coffee mug series, with a mug given to all fans outbound, upon departure from the arena. The mug will feature Defensemen: John Mariucci, Mike Ramsey, Phil Housley and Brent Burns. The game is also a Premium price game for single-game tickets. The game will be in High Definition for all three telecasts (FSNorth, FSDetroit, and the French-language RDS).

WRT (looking forward to his next coffee mug)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Game #56: Flames 3, Wild 2 (OT)

Todd Bertuzzi reminds most Minnesota Wild fans of a bad piece of meat. Eventually, you'll develop indigestion. Tonight, they were reminded as to why.

Bertuzzi's intercept of an errant puck handle nearing the end of overtime let Adrian Aucoin walk in against Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom, and his shot bounced off the posterior of Brent Burns, off the arm of Backstrom, and into the net to give the Calgary Flames a 3-2 overtime win over the Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The OT loser point drops the Wild further behind in the Western Conference playoff race, as every other team playing who are ahead of the Wild (except Edmonton, who lost at Dallas) won Thursday night. And, to make matters that much worse, Andrew Brunette left the game late in the first period with an undisclosed 'lower body' injury, according to Wild Propaganda Minister Kevin Falness.

The Wild are now 1-5-3 in their last nine games vs. Calgary, who see the Wild as the Wild saw the Chicago Blackhawks until this season; as their own personal chew toy, ready to be beaten at any given time. The Wild have now lost 3 in a row, with two games back-to-back upcoming against two of the top four teams in the West, where they are now 17-21-4 overall.

The Flames now lead the Northwest Division by 14 points over the Wild, who play 7 of their next 8 games on the road after their Saturday home game against Detroit, yet another team who loves beating up on the Wild.

The Wild now find themselves six points behind Edmonton for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, and 5 points ahead of 14th place St. Louis.

It sucks being a Wild fan right now...

Chicken Little: Which moving company should we call for the van to pull up for the exodus? The Wild will be sellers at the deadline, sure as shootin'...

Pollyanna: Wild-killer Jarome Iginla did not register a point for the 3rd game in a row against 'da boys'.

Stud: Dan Fritsche. Really stepped up after Bruno's injury to help bail the Wild out. Sadly, it wasn't enough, no thanks to...

Dud: Marek Zidlicky. Called out after the game in Jacques Lemaire's post-game presser, Zids took a chance on an offensive rush, turned the puck over, got caught out of position, and got burned for it. Completely killed the atmosphere at the start of the game, and stomped it flat pretty much the rest of the night. You really know you've pissed the coaches off when you get thrown under the bus by JL.

Next: vs. Detroit, Saturday, Feb. 21, 7:00 PM Central Time (8 PM Eastern), Xcel Energy Center. (TV: FSNorth, FSDetroit, RDS, all feeds in HD; XM Ch. 209)


Monday, February 16, 2009

Habs acquire Schneider

The first "name" guy to be traded ahead of the deadline is Atlanta defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who was sent, along with a 2009 conditional draft pick, to Montreal for the Habs' second-round pick in 2009 and third-round pick in 2010.

Schneider's time in Hotlanta was miserable to say the least. Acquired to theoretically provide an offensive and veteran presence for Atlanta's blueline, Schneider notched just 15 points (four goals) in 44 games and has been woeful defensively.

The 39-year-old gets a fresh start in an old place, as Montreal was where he started his career, which includes winning the 1993 Stanley Cup.

Montreal had been looking for a second offensive defenseman to complement Andrei Markov and Schneider could be a good fit. He is no longer "the guy" on the power play but will play more of a supporting role, which might suit him better.

The Thrashers get probably what they wanted when they picked up Schneider in the first place, a draft pick they can use to stock their system, and it's possible Schneider may have taught some of their young blueliners like Ron Hainsey and Toby Enstrom a thing or two about the game.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being "major blockbuster," I'd say this trade is a 2.5. Schneider's best days are behind him, and he's a free agent after this season, but I think he can still contribute on a team where he is not counted on for significant production like in Atlanta.

Penguins fire Therrien

At around 8 p.m. Sunday evening, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced they relieved head coach Michel Therrien of his duties. In his place, Dan Bylsma, head coach of Pittsburgh's AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (which is 35-16-1-2 this season), has been named interim head coach.

My thoughts:

I don't really know what to think. So I'll do a Pro/Con type thing to provide analysis.

In favor of the firing:

This team just does not consistently play hard each and every night. That's a sign of either the coach failing to motivate his players or the players tuning out the coach. Either way, grounds for dismissal.

Change needed to happen. The Penguins have horribly underperformed and a message had to be sent, and it's easier to fire the coach than 23 players.

Therrien has long had a reputation for being tough on players and difficult to play under. Rumors surfaced that's why Marian Hossa chose not to re-sign and that several veteran players would refuse to waive their no-trade clauses because they don't want to play for Therrien. While GM Ray Shero has said no players asked for a coaching change, personal dealings with players is, in my opinion, Therrien's biggest fault.

His constant line juggling and mis-use of certain players (Alex Goligoski, Janne Pesonen, other skill players being either healthy scratches or buried on the fourth line) caused plenty of head-scratching and second-guessing, particularly how he handled Goligoski and Pesonen.

Not in favor:

Therrien didn't suddenly forget how to coach. Less than a year ago, he coached the team to the finals and was a coach of the year candidate the year before. Now he can't do it anymore?

At some point, the players have to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they want to be a part of a winner. A coach can motivate and talk all he wants, but a player has to decide to take that torch and run with it. If he doesn't, maybe that's a knock on the coach, or maybe it's a black mark on the player.

Players have to execute. Plain and simple. Passing up shots from 10-15 feet away, numerous back-passes in the attacking zone, failure to move people from in front of the defending net, and a host of other things are on the players.

Shero didn't exactly fill the roster with the likes of Jari Kurri or Glenn Anderson. This team is filled with too many role players and not enough young guys who can put the puck in the net. Hell, or old guys.

Injuries are a factor. Call it an excuse if you want, but they are. Yes, there is still talent in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but losing Sergei Gonchar for the season up to this point has been crippling.

Final word:

While I've been unhappy with some of Therrien's quirks, primarily the line shuffling and failure to even want to use certain players in offensive roles (after Chris Minard was demoted once, he scored a hat trick in the AHL the next game. Yet rarely got top-six duty), I'm not convinced this was the right move. A fire needed to be lit under this team, yes, but this was a coach who had phenomenal seasons the last two.

Lose Marian Hossa and replace him with Miroslav Satan, lose Ryan Malone (who's finally found himself in Tampa) and replace him with Ruslan Fedotenko, a short offseason, key injuries, and this team didn't have a chance of being as good as last season's. Depending who you believe, none of that was Therrien's fault (jury remains out on if it cost Hossa; but if Hossa re-signed, there's a good chance Brooks Orpik does NOT re-sign.)

The timing of this move was also very curious. The move was made at 8 p.m.-ish; the Penguins play Monday at 2 p.m. According to an AP story, Bylsma won't even have a morning skate to meet his team. How can he prepare them for a game? What system will they use? Just how disjointed will they be?

It's possible the firing will save the Penguins' season. It's more likely it won't have any effect and they'll remain out of the top eight. It's possible it would've helped if it was made sooner. Maybe a more up-tempo style suits the Penguins better than Therrien's strict defensive system - which the Penguins weren't playing well anyway.

One thing remains certain: the Penguins still need changes if they want to reach the playoffs. Simply replacing the man behind the bench won't solve all the problems.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Game #55: Senators 5, Wild 3

Two words describe the Valentine's Day game effort from the Minnesota Wild:


After the 'Irish God of War', Owen Nolan, staked the Wild to a 3-0 first period lead against the seemingly hapless Ottawa Senators Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, the Senators stormed back and scored the next FIVE GOALS IN A ROW over the next 46 minutes to defeat this current putrid excuse for a Wild team, 5-3, before another sellout of 18,568 mostly unhappy customers. (Nice way to wreck Valentine's Day; thanks for nothing, boys.)

After Nolan rolled up two goals and one assist during the game's first 13 minutes, the Senators replaced ex-Wisconsin Badger goalie Brian Elliott with veteran ex-Vancouver Canuck Alex Auld. Well, folks, the wake-up call was answered by one team. Too bad it wasn't the one wearing the Iron Range Red sweaters.

Failure after failure was the Wild's own doing in the last two periods, as screw-up after screw-up found its' merry way behind Niklas Backstrom (until he was replaced for the third period by Josh Harding) and into the Minnesota goal, as the Wild stopped skating, stopped pressing the attack into the Ottawa zone, and basically tried to play the 'hockey prevent' defense for two full periods. And we ALL know what happens when you go into a prevent defense, don't we? You prevent yourself from winning!

In fact, it got SO BAD at one point, the Sens scored twice in a 3:28 span, with both goals coming while Ottawa was SHORTHANDED!

And the recipient of all this largesse? You won't believe this, folks, trust me...

OWEN NOLAN, who was on the ice for 4 of the 5 Ottawa goals, winding up an unbelieveable -1 for the night.

The Wild are now 11-3-1 against the Eastern Conference, with three games left against the East. And, they are all on the road; at New Jersey, at Madison Square Garden vs. the Rangers; and on Long Island vs. the (again, seemingly hapless) Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

Hapless? You want hapless? I'll show you hapless...just replay this one.

If you dare.

We found the assembled multitude booing and hissing after the game ended:

Chicken Little: Nolan gets two goals, one assist and still winds up a -1 for the night? What is this team coming to, anyhow? Can anybody here skate for 60 minutes?

Pollyanna: Could we keep the offense up a little more next time, please? Thanks!

Bottom Line: This game was worse than the Calgary 3-goal lead which they blew last season.

You have an amped-up crowd on Valentine's Day, being surcharged premium prices for tickets, who are supposed to be watching a team act like they want to be in a playoff race. That effort tonight was not indicative to a playoff run. It looked more like they wanted to run away into the night.

Wild went from world-beaters to Egg Beaters in less time than it takes to make a good breakfast. Jacques Lemaire, in his post-game presser, promised things would be different, starting at Noon on Sunday. (I think a number of Bag Skating sessions would fit right about now...don't you?)

Stud: First period: Nolan...he looked like he was having fun out there, always in the right spot.
After the first period, nobody was a stud. (Except maybe Daniel Alfredsson of Ottawa...)

Dud: First period: No one. They skated, they moved well, they worked hard.
Second and Third periods: I'm really tempted to say Nolan, but Kim Johnsson looked like he was in Mites most of the night. He was getting out-classed even by Filip Kuba, who returned off the scrap heap to get in on the fun. Kimmy J, you're the Dud tonight. Wear it proudly; you earned it.

Next: vs. Calgary, Thursday, Feb. 19, 7:00 PM Central (6 PM Mountain), Xcel Energy Center (TV: KSTC-45, Flames Pay-Per-View; XM Ch. 239)

WRT (a very P.O.'d Wild STH right now...)

In the Pitts

Rejoice, Penguins haters (which is to say, EVERYONE.) The Pittsburgh Penguins have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Don't bother me with little mathematical details that might say otherwise. It's written in the NHL bylaws that once a team loses thrice to the Toronto Maple Leafs, it is legally barred from participating in the postseason. (It's Article LXII, Paragraph 4, Section c.)

So, have your fun. The 29 other teams and fan bases love to hate the Penguins, so I'd imagine this day becomes a national holiday.

The Penguins don't play hard, don't work hard, they probably don't even practice hard. They don't do anything well, except lose in new and exciting ways.

Not only that, they're just not talented enough. Mark it down: the Penguins will NEVER win a Stanley Cup with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

I wrote in my paper several weeks ago that reaching the finals last year was the worst thing that could've happened to Pittsburgh. Missing the playoffs by 10 points would've been better. Missing by one point would've been better. Losing in any of the first three rounds would've been better. Heck, reaching the finals and getting SWEPT would've been better.

Now the supposed "core" group is a bunch of overpaid, underachieving deadweights who the franchise is stuck with for years. There will never be enough overall talent on this team to ever win anything again.

Hopefully NBC and Versus realize this and stop broadcasting Penguins games, rather than televise the slop that consists of the team now.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Gm # 54: Wild 2, Red Wings 4


First, the Wild has reversed its trend of solid play on the second night of B2Bs from last year when they were very good (9-4-2) to this year (3-7-0). Second, the Red Wings simply own the Wild. Always have. Looks like they always will.

Back in the North Stars days of my youth, this would have been particularly galling, and it's not that I am happy about it now. But the Wings are so good, and their entire organization so enviably well-run, that it's just easier to be in awe of what they do to the Wild on the ice than try to muster up enough angst to fight it.

Josh Harding was the sacrificial lamb last night, and it would be hard enough to fight off the waves of Red Wings for a goalie who has been playing consistently, but I can't imagine how hard it must be for someone who gets utilized less-frequently than the career counselor at the SuperMax in Colorado.

Mikko had a shorty (that's two in three games for the Wild) and it was sweet. Since there's so little of interest to write about for the game overall, I'll discuss this for a second. It used to bug me that we didn't have more shorties overall. But I realized recently that, though valuable any time, you don't need them as much if your PK is as good as ours.

Burnsie had a PPG (5:3) and it too was sweet. This kid is playing like he's backed up something fierce the last few games. Hopefully that goal will be a big meal of cabbage and baked beans to him.* GreenStar has been saying he needs to go Inglewood Jack on someone to get his mojo back, and that would be okay, too.

The Wild plays the Flames in St. Paul next Thursday. In between they have five days off and a scrimmage against the Senators.

Chicken Little says: The sky fell on the Wild against the Red Wings a long, long time ago.

Pollyanna says: Bring on the Senators!

Bottom line: Anyone who thought the Wild had a shot in this one should contact me about a bridge spanning Brooklyn and Manhattan that I'd like to sell them.

Stud: Guh....Mikko? I guess....

Dud: Bela's been so good this season, and with so little notoriety, that I hate to call him out, but I have to believe even he would admit he played a bad game.

Up Next: Wild vs. Ottawa, Xcel Energy Center, Saturday, 8pm ET.


*True story: I was at a grocery store a few years back, having stopped in to pick up two heads of cabbage and a can of baked beans that were needed for dinner that night per Wife in NY's instructions. Not thinking anything of it, I'm standing there and the nice lady goes "Honey, not to be all motherly, but if you eat all this cabbage and all these baked beans, you're going to have a problem." Nice.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Game #53: Wild 3, Avs 2

Strike one up for the senior circuit...

That was the theme of Wednesday night's game at Xcel Energy Center, as the Minnesota Wild, led by the goal and assist by the 37-year-old (today!) 'Irish God of War', Owen Nolan, and the assist by 35-year old Andrew Brunette on the game winning goal with less than two minutes left in regulation, led the Wild to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in front of the 354th straight sellout in St. Paul.

Nolan, who played his 1,100th game on Sunday afternoon, connected on a pass to Pierre-Marc Bouchard just over 8 minutes in, and PMB did the rest to open the scoring at 1-0. Five minutes later, Ryan Smyth answered with a garbage goal in front of the Minnesota net and the first period ended 1-1.

The only goal in the second period was Nolan's sweet cue-shot tip of a Marek Zidlicky pass which grazed the post as it went in. Nolan's 13th goal made it 2-1 after 40 minutes.

Brunette's deft pass to Antti 'Mittens' Miettinen left Colorado goalie Andrew Raycroft exposed as the clock was winding down, on a game which featured some very stupid mistakes, 2 4-minute Colorado power plays, and some bad judgement on the part of Derek Boogaard, who let his judgement get the better of him after a third-period run-in with Avs' agitator Darcy Tucker, for which Boogaard was assessed not one, but two penalties on the same play.

The resulting power play allowed the Avs to tie the game at 2-all when Smyth, a.k.a. 'Captain Canada', was left to deflect a shot from the point by John-Michael Liles past Niklas Backstrom to even it up and set the backdrop for the heroics of the Wild veterans.

The Wild thought -- for a moment -- that Cal Clutterbuck had scored with just over 3 minutes remaining, but that play was overruled by the NHL's Toronto 'War Room', as the replay showed that Clutterbuck had indeed kicked the puck past Raycroft after a large scrum in front of the Colorado net.

But then it was Bruno to the rescue, as he worked his way behind the goal, and with Ruslan Salei all over him like a cheap suit, turned and passed it out to Miettinen, who stuffed it five-hole past Raycroft for the game winner.

The Wild wound up the night in 6th place in the NHL's Western Conference after Anaheim's come-from-behind OT win at home over Calgary late Wednesday night.

Chicken Little: Boogaard should have been more aware of what Tucker was trying to do. He suckered him in, and Boogaard took the bait, hook, line and sinker.

Pollyanna: Hey, no 'loser point'! At least they got the job done in regulation!

Bottom Line: When you play the Avs, you need to watch out and play disciplined hockey. The Avs had seven power plays last night. You can't keep doing that and expect to win. Don't let Tucker (or Ian Laperriere, for that matter) get the best of you. Play smart. Good win, however...

Stud: Nolan. The man does have a knack for the tip-in goal. He kinda even relishes in it.

Dud: Boogaard. 6 minutes in penalties last night. All of them unnecessary. Next time, be smarter than Tucker, Boo. Your teammates will thank you for it.

Next: at Detroit, Thursday (tonight), 6:30 PM Central (7:30 Eastern) Time, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit. (TV: FSNorth (incuding FSWisconsin), FSDetroit, both feeds in HD; XM Ch. 207)


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Root for others

When I got into the office Monday evening, I stopped to chat with a co-worker about the struggles of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Five hours later...

I kid. It would take much more than five hours to discuss all that's wrong with the Penguins.

But the conversation steered toward the standings. We decided we're rooting for the Bruins, Capitals and Devils - the latter two being among our most-hated opponents - to keep winning. Here's why.

Boston is the class of the East. Thirteen points clear of No. 2 Washington. No one will catch the B's. The Caps have a 13-point lead in their division. No one will catch the C's. The Devils' Atlantic Division lead over the Flyers is smaller, just five, but in relation to the Penguins, it's bigger, at 14 points. Pittsburgh won't catch the D's.

So in that sense, it's better for us to hope those three teams win each and every night, in regulation (except when they play the Penguins), just to deal crushing defeats to the teams Pittsburgh is chasing in the standings, of which there are a lot.

This strategy can work for fans of the Wild as well, who are currently in the top eight. I'd advise rooting for the Sharks, Red Wings, and yes, even the Flames, to keep producing points - at least in conference games.

Calgary's lead over Minnesota isn't insurmountable - nine points - but in those division games when Calgary plays Vancouver or Edmonton, both of whom are hot on Minnesota's tail, the Flames winning in regulation (side note: I hate having to specify that; is it time to do away with points and go with wins and losses?) is the best result.

Or even in the non-division games. The Flames travel to Anaheim Wednesday. The Ducks are two points ahead of the Wild, though they've played four more games. But do you root for the hated division rival or the team whose coattails you're currently riding?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to order my #9 Parise sweater, a Jose Theodore bobblehead and a case of Sam Adams.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Game #52: Wild 3, Oilers 2 (SO)

From start to Finnish, this game was as even as the opponents are.

The Minnesota Wild used their Finnish legion of players wisely, as goals from Antti 'Mittens' Miettinen in regulation and Mikko Koivu in the shootout -- the only goal of the four-round shootout -- and 28-save goaltending from the Oiler-killer, Niklas Backstrom -- finally subdued the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 Sunday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center.

With a number of Finnish visitors, including Koivu's father, in town for the week, the cheers of "Mik-ko! Mik-ko! Mik-ko!" reverberated throughout the arena. The man Wild fans call 'the Franchise' then five-holed ex-Wild goalie Dwayne Roloson in the shootout's fourth round, tying Roloson with Roberto Luongo as the goalie most beaten by the Wild in St. Paul.

The win, Minnesota's 3rd in its last 4 at home, takes the Wild to 57 points, two points behind the Anaheim Ducks and currently seventh in the Western Conference. The win also took the Wild to 2-7-1 when the opponent is on the second game of a back-to-back. The Oilers took away the 'loser point' for surviving regulation, and remain tied for eighth with the Vancouver Canucks.

Eric Belanger scored the other Wild goal, as he took the pass from the 'Irish God of War,' Owen Nolan, and buried it behind Roloson to tie the score at 1-all late in the first period.

The close, tight-checking game nearly got ugly as several runs at Backstrom were executed by Oiler players in desperate attempts to score, only one of which was called by the officials as the Oil went down to their second defeat of the weekend (they lost to Detroit 8-3 Saturday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena.) The Wild still have one game in hand on the Oilers, who now go home to face the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night at Rexall Place.

Are you all a little happier today, assembled multitude?

Chicken Little: They didn't give up, but they could have done better. Can't be giving up the loser points...

Pollyanna: Mikko Koivu showed again why he is really 'the Franchise' player for the Wild. He stepped up after the Oilers tied it up. Well Done, Mikko.

Bottom Line: This game is a microcosm of what the rest of the season will be like. Close, low-scoring, tight-checking games, especially in your own division. The Wild really can't afford to give away the 'loser point' in games like this, as the consequences could be dire at the end of the season.

Stud: Koivu. No one else even comes close today (except Backstrom, who just keeps earning a bigger contract every game out.)

Dud: PMB was P.U. tonight. Two late penalties (one extending into the OT), no points and generally became lazier as the afternoon wore on. He didn't even spin before turning it over, again, and again, and again...

Next: vs. Colorado, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 7:00 PM Central (6 PM Mountain) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: FSNorth, Altitude, XM Ch. 209)


Friday, February 6, 2009

Game #51: Predators 2, Wild 0

Nice way to back up that win against Anaheim on Wednesday night, boys, with a Game #51 that looked like it was played in Area 51.

In one of the worst start-to-finish games of the season, the Minnesota Wild feebily handed the Nashville Predators a 2-0 victory in front of the 352nd sellout crowd of 18,568 Friday night at Xcel Energy Center.

The turning point in the game came just after the midway point in the second period, as the Wild went on a 1:36 2-man advantage...and proceeded to whiz that away, getting only two shots on goal in the entire power play. The anemic effort by the Wild offense led to Nashville backup goalie Dan Ellis getting his 11th win of the season, bringing the Preds to within two points of the Wild in the Western Conference playoff race.

And, with the Edmonton Oilers coming into town on Sunday afternoon, things don't get much better for 'da boys' the rest of this weekend. Face it, Wild really DID turn off the TV at some point in this game, didn't you?

I sure do wish those of us 'in house' could have done the same.

Assembled Multitude, what say you?

Chicken Little: I hate to say 'I told you so', but if you think play like tonight will get you to the playoffs, you're dreaming!

Pollyanna: (Sobbing uncontrollably...)

Bottom Line: For a team which just announced that season ticket renewals were coming out soon, this is not the way to sell your product. This game was absolutely wretched to watch. No jump from anyone at all, and when they did try something, it usually got fouled up, normally in Keystone Kops-esque fashion. This game sucked. You want us to pay good money for this??

Stud: Fuhgeddaboutit.

Dud: The whole Wild team. Everyone stank the joint out equally.

Next: vs. Edmonton, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2:00 PM Central (1 PM Mountain) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: KSTP-5 (in HD), Rogers SportsNet-West, XM Ch. 207)

Special Note: This game is on the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis-St. Paul (bumping an NBA game, LA Lakers-Cleveland) and will be the only Wild game so handled this season.


Wild STH Renewal Site is now up and...

...taking your 2009-2010 money, even before Doug Risebrough has done anything -- like re-sign Niklas Backstrom or deal with Marian Gaborik, once and for all -- to deserve it.

Here's the link:


Thursday, February 5, 2009

WRT's This 'n' That

A column of opinion, some facts and a bit of a rant...

My view on Wednesday night's 3-0 Wild win over Anaheim:

Yes, it was boring. Yes, it was not the most scintillating game either team has played this season. But it was a game with no 'loser point' and that was indeed the important thing, as every other team the Wild are trying to get above in the Western Conference race lost last night.

The Ducks came out as uninspired as anyone in Minnesota has ever seen them since they ditched the purple and teal uniforms (which my wife, a purple lover, still misses BTW). It looked like Chris Pronger was going about half-speed most of last night. Was it fatigue? A long road trip still ahead? Or maybe the realization for the Ducks that the window of opportunity for them is finally closing, and that as the trade deadline approaches, the Ducks may actually be sellers for the first time in years?

Whatever, Cal Clutterbuck continues to show that he is the best thing the Wild have had come up from Houston in a long, long time. Now, we know Ms. Conduct and some of the Texas contingent who read this blog on a regular basis miss him dearly, but he was ready, obviously, to make the jump to the big show, and, well, B-b-b-Benny wasn't. He draws penalties like honey draws bees; quickly, and in large numbers. If he can keep his wits about him, he will have a successful NHL career as the agitator you want on your team...if your team is playing against the Wild. Because the Wild already have him.

And one more thing Nick left out from his game blog:

Next: vs. Nashville, Friday, Feb. 6, 7:00 PM Central, Xcel Energy Center (TV: FSNorth (in HD), FSWisconsin (in HD), FSTennessee; XM Ch. 207)

(OK, I did it because I know y'all love to know when games in HD are on!)

OK, now a few things from around the league:

The Los Angeles Kings are also trying to boost sagging ticket sales in an uncertain economy. They are having a 44-hour 'President's Day Sale' on four remaining home games at STAPLES Center; the three-game homestand over President's day weekend (vs. Calgary, Edmonton and Atlanta) and the March 16 game vs. Nashville, who also are running ticket deals (and papering the house) in order to get the maximum amount from the NHL's revenue sharing pool...Calgary must not be a very popular opponent. Both the Kings and the Ducks are running multiple ticket deals for the Flames' road trip next week...

And now, the (sorta) rant:

The Wild announced yesterday (via conference call to season ticket holders) that the team would not raise prices for either the 2009 playoffs (if they make it, and that's still a big 'IF') or the 2009-10 regular season. Now, mind you, the club and suite level holders prices have held steady for now four seasons, as per their signed contracts with the Wild, while the upper level seats have gone up in price by nearly 1/3rd or more (in some cases).

Now, here's where the fun comes in: The Wild say that should you decide to avail yourself of the new 10-payment plan, that you have to begin paying for 2009-10 season tickets no later than March 20th, or about three months earlier than normal. In fact, before they even drop the first puck in September, they will have over 60% of your money already in escrow accounts, drawing interest. The conference call also said that the 'Select-A-Seat' season ticket holder days, where STH's can change their seat locations (and move up or down in class, depending on location) will also be earlier this year (normally mid-July, about the same time as the NHL schedule is released).

What does all this mean? That fans, some of whom get their tickets thru now-cash-strapped corporations, will now have to shell out more money earlier than ever before. Also, it means that despite the best efforts of the Wild fan base to get the Hockey Operations department (read: DR) to move on player issues (most notably Gaborik and Backstrom), it will be 'business as usual' over at 317 Washington Ave., St. Paul, no matter what.

" Damn the torpedoes! Full speed in Neutral! "

That's it... WRT

"Muscle Spasms" = Vague Enough

So the Wild has been adhering to the new "non-disclosure" injury report guidelines this season like they were quoted from the Koran. Gaborik is out with a "lower body injury." That kind of thing.

Well a new phrase has snuck into the Wild PR lexicon: "muscle spasm."

As in, "Owen Nolan did not dress last night due to muscle spasms in the upper body." SRV and Boogey were also afflicted by this growing epidemic recently.

Apparently muscle spasms are satisfactorily non-specific as to not allow an opponent to target that player's malady to the Wild's detriment. Either that, or it's just BS.

As someone who is occasionally afflicted with muscle spasms (who isn't?) I can tell you that they can be debilitating. But, these are athletes who relish the idea of playing with broken limbs and the like. Granted, this isn't the playoffs, but it's not like these aren't big games. Which leads me to believe that the team took some flack for their non-disclosure, put their PR heads together and came up with "muscle spasms" as a "specific" condition that they are willing to disclose, but that still obfuscates the truth of the matter.

Listen, this isn't about some First Amendment crusade for the Truth. It's about fans wanting to know the severity of their players' injuries, as well as fans not wanting to be dicked around with by the team on which they dote.

I don't think that's too much to ask.


Gm # 50: Wild 3, Ducks 0

In all honesty, that was a boring game. And you have to figure it was by design on the part of the Wild. Get the lead, tighten it up, choke the Ducks to death. A very Wild-like win.

The Wild did some nice things. Obviously their defensive game was very strong. Not very many secondary- or tertiary-chances for the Ducks at all. They played their system extremely well. They were opportunistic offensively, and other than PMB's ENG, Bruno's and Mikko's goals were both the result of hard work and going to the net.

PMB had another strong game - and we need it from him. Now he has to keep it up, because he has the ability to really be a difference-maker for us down the stretch here. He's finally playing "big" (well, bigger than himself) and that's awesome - but it needs to continue.

A perfect game from Clutterbuck. Aggravating, drawing penalties, not retaliating, no boarding...creating opportunities. Bobby who?

And Backstrom. What else can you say about him? For sure it wasn't the Ducks' best game ever, but he is just so solid. I thought the Ducks TV crew did a good job showing how he's just swallowing pucks, not letting off any rebounds (and admitting that I thought Brian Hayward did something good took a lot out of me.) Russo apparently mentioned that there might, repeat might, be something going on with his contract negotiations with the Wild. Assuming DR won't sign him if he's looking for ridiculous money, I sure hope they can work something out.

Finally, thanks to our new friends SK and grace, both Ducks fans, who stopped by the live blog during the game last night. And Fred, from Ms. Conduct's neck of the woods too. (And of course Ms. Conduct, Elise, Buddha, KiPA, MiG and Maggie - the old gang.) It's great to get the opposing fan's perspective on things.

Chicken Little says: Actually, not too much to gripe about. It wasn't the most exciting game ever, but it was a win.

Pollyanna says: Back-to-back wins! 9-5-1 since New Year's Eve! Back into the top eight!

Bottom Line: A big two points to start off this crucial stretch of 8-of-10 at home heading into the March from Hell.

Stud: For as much as we beat on PMB, when he's playing this well we have to give him the shout out. Turnabout's fair play.

Dud: SRV was absolutely invisible last night. With Cal getting some PK time, could SRV be out of a job?

Next: Nashville, Xcel Energy Center, Friday 8pm ET.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wild vs. Ducks Live Blog!

Monday, February 2, 2009

February Captain is Bruno

Andrew Brunette, he of the 502-game iron man streak, will be the captain for the month of February.


Energy Guys, Agitators, Pests (and Enforcers)

Just as the Cal Clutterbuck love fest was getting up to warp speed, one of the engines fails.

Having just garnered the ultimate endorsement - a lambasting by Don Cherry on HNIC - Cal then went out and boarded Alex Burrows in the Wild's game against the Canucks on Saturday night. He earned a 5 and a gamer for his troubles, an early shower and the consternation of Wild fans who now must ask themselves if their new hero is truly heroic, or just another Matty (Cooke)-come-lately.

The main questions before Wild fans in L'affaire Clutterbuck are whether or not Cal should take off his helmet when he fights (he wears a visor), and whether or not he deserves to be placed on a higher pedestal than some of the dirty, cowardly players in the league.

Given how his old man apparently hammered respect into Cal's brain, I am not surprised in the least that he has fought a few times this season.

One of the rites of passage of moving up to the big leagues for a player with Cal's skillset SHOULD be having to establish your manhood by dropping the mitts a few times.

Just because the Ruutus, Cookes, etc of the league haven't fought very often doesn't mean they weren't challenged to - or should have, if they cared about being respected by their peers, that is.

The fact that Cal is willing to man up and answer the bell that is going to be rung simply by his playing this way separates him from that other class of player in my book.

Should he have to take off his pot to fight even when his opponent chickens out and refuses to (looking at you Keith Yandle)? No.

On the other hand, and not to be a Burrows apologist, I challenge any of you to stand along the boards in a hockey game, see an opposing player coming in to check you, and NOT want to turn away from that player to protect your face and absorb the hit with your back.

Now, I fully accept that some of these guys are doing it because they know they can get away with it and draw a penalty. And maybe (subconsciously?) they're hiding behind the "it's a natural protective reaction" thing. And that's obviously lame with a capital L. And, there is certainly an element of these players taking their careers (not to mention their lives) for granted by tempting hockey Darwinism by intentionally putting themselves in harm's way (getting boarded head-first being more dangerous than getting your back slammed into the glass, or so goes the theory, anyway.)

But since you could never legislate that, much less accurately judge whether or not that's what's going through that player's mind at that moment (Ref: "Hey, were you trying to draw a penalty or where you just trying to protect yourself?" Player: "I was just trying to protect myself." Ref: "Good enough for me...",) the only action available is to continue to penalize the hitter, not the hittee.

And it seems like Cal admitted as much, saying, "It’s probably my fault for continuing on with it even though I knew who I was going to hit."

If Cal had pulled back from Burrows on that play, would JL have reamed him when he got back to the bench? Probably not. And that should be enough to justify the penalty (actually, since Burrows was bloodied on the play, THAT was enough to justify the major; the gamer, though, was at the discretion of the refs.)

So, what is the difference between a pest, an agitator and an energy guy?

To me, and this is by no means either scientific or definitive, an energy guy today is a 3rd liner, good for 15 minutes of hard skating, dumping and chasing and then nailing the defenseman in the corner, 10 goals a season, will fight when necessary and they'll get some PK time. They're not really going to engage in egregious extracurricular activities - unless it's called for by the situation. And, when it is, they're not going to wait until the linesmen are there to throw a (gloved) punch at their adversary.

In the salary cap world, you're going to have to have a couple of these guys and you're going to need them to be willing to play for relatively cheap money. You like to be able to put them out there right after a goal, or as the final step before having to pull your goalie when the team is flat. Bonus points if your energy guys are among the vocal leaders in the room/on the bench. These are honorable, honest, respectful hockey players who realize they don't have top six skills, but also that they can absolutely contribute in their own way. They are also known as "heart and soul" guys or "lunch pail" guys. Examples: Ian Laperriere, Ethan Moreau.

Agitators, to me, are a step down the evolutionary ladder. These are guys with the skills to hold down a NHL job (albeit on the fourth line) and warrant single-digit minutes per game, maybe chipping in single-digit goals. But, perhaps due to a numbers game (only so many minutes to go around,) or perhaps because their brain gets in their way, they don't. These are the guys that can't back down from a challenge, as long as their boyz (or the zebras) are there to make sure they don't get into any real trouble. They'll trash talk, but they won't back it up. They'll drop, but only if they get caught, and then it'll be a bunch of co-jersey adjusting and the odd-open hand slap. There isn't a lot of honor amongst agitators, but they leave fans shaking their heads because you just know they could be so much more. Examples: Alex Burrows, Matt Cooke.

Finally, the pest. The pest is an agitator sans natural ability. The pest is only there to get under the opponent's skin. Put them out there on a power play and they'd look like a deer in headlights. They are guys whose jobs wouldn't survive contraction. Whether out of cowardice or lack of honor, they won't fight. The pest may also have enough ability to lay claim to the agitator role, but are so obviously disrespecful of the game that they void that claim. Example: Jarkko Ruutu.

Now, there is a separate class of player reserved for the true enforcers. The difference between a pest and an enforcer is that the enforcer respects the game, and willingly fights. These are the mid-single-digit minutes, bench door openers who won't get a sniff when the game's on the line. Examples: Derek Boogaard, Zach Stortini, Chris Neil.

Obviously there is some blurring of the lines here. Like everything in hockey, there's no clear cut delineation between whether a player is part of one group or another. I mean, Sidney Crosby has a fighting major on his record, for the love of God. And I am pretty sure Colton Orr has scored a couple goals in his career (actually, he has scored 4.)

But, in addition to trying to outline the caste system among the lower lines on a hockey team, the point of this exercise is that you can have a player that conducts himself in an honorable manner - which is not to say Lady Byng-worthy manner - even the vast majority of the time, but who makes the odd bad decision without it totally ruining his rep. It's not like Alex Ovechkin scores on every shot he takes.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Gm #49: Wild 4, Canucks 3 (OT)

Old rivalry, meet new antagonist.

The Vancouver Canucks did just that Saturday night at GM Place, as the Minnesota Wild and rookie uber-pest and NHL hitting machine Cal Clutterbuck gave the Canucks a taste of their own medicine, reminding them of the days of the now-departed Matt Cooke and Jarkko Ruutu, while defeating the 'Nucks 4-3 in overtime to vault back into 7th place in the NHL's Western Conference.

Before being tossed out of the game early in the second period, after hitting Alex Burrows immediately after Burrows turned his back on him, Clutterbuck managed to get under the skin of at least two Canucks -- Alex Edler and Willie Mitchell -- drawing penalties against both. The Wild came away from the first period with a 2-0 lead, and the contest, from that point, was indeed 'on'.

After Ryan Kesler and Edler scored for Vancouver to tie the game at 2 all, Eric Belanger's patience with Mattias Ohlund was rewarded as his shot in the mid-slot found the net with 12:14 remaining in regulation time.

However, it was the end of regulation which Wild fans should be concerned about. Brent Burns was called for a tripping penalty with 1:32 remaining which, quite frankly, was the result of Burns taking a 'lazy break' against Kesler, who was carrying the puck across the Minnesota blue line. Despite the efforts of the Minnesota defense, the Canucks scored (as they do frequently against the Wild, in the last minute of the game) as Kesler's rebound 10 feet in front of a totally screened Niklas Backstrom found twine with 15.3 seconds remaining in the contest, and the Wild's lead was erased once again. Kesler's goal was the first time in three seasons that an extra-attacker goal has been scored against the Wild (Mark Bell, Chicago, Jan. 22, 2006)

In the extra period, the Wild came out flying, and were quickly rewarded when Daniel Sedin hooked Mikko Koivu to the ice 52 seconds into the OT. Marc-Andre Bergeron then sent the sellout crowd of 18,630 home for the night when his slapper from the point beat Roberto Luongo to end the game, giving the Wild their first OT road win since March 13, 2007, when the Wild beat the Canucks 3-2 at GM Place.

The Wild finished January with a 7-5-1 record, tying the franchise mark for most January wins. The win was also the 22nd all time vs. the Canucks, tying them with Edmonton as the team the Wild has been most victorious against.

Chicken Little: When are the Wild going to play 60 full minutes against the Canucks? Even when they're down, they still can't win in regulation.

Pollyanna: Mikko Koivu shuld be named permanent captain. There's no doubt.

Bottom Line: The Wild won a game they had to have. They shouldn't have given up the 'loser point' (thanks for nothing, Burnsie) to get the two, but they got the two, and right now, you take every point you can and worry about the semantics later. Backstrom showed tonight why he was an All-Star; come to think of it, so did 'Bobby Lu,' too. Great game by both goalies. Can the Wild carry this over into next week? We hope so.

Stud: A lot will say Backstrom. A lot would say Koivu. A few would say MAB for his two goals. But let's not overlook who got them those tallies, shall we? PMB is this blogger's choice; three assists on the night, and he limited the 'spin-o-turnovers' and the across-the-sheet passes.

Dud: Burns. Lazy play resulted in lazy penalty, resulting in Canucks goal which gave up the loser point and forced the OT. Dumb, dumb, dumb move. Burnsie can do better. For the Wild to reach the playoffs, he has to. (Sorry, Burnsie.)

Next: vs. Anaheim, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 7:00 PM Central (5 PM Pacific) Time, Xcel Energy Center (TV: KSTC-45, FSWest, XM Ch. 208)