Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Game #77: Canucks 2, Wild 1 (OT)

When Marian Gaborik is good, he's really good. When he's bad, he's really bad. Either way, things happen to the Minnesota Wild when Gaborik is on the ice.

Tuesday night, at home, in a game they had to win, a game they needed to win, a game they should have won, they lost, because Gaborik, in overtime, was very, very bad. Really.

The Wild managed to blow a game where they actually outshot their competition -- in this case, the Vancouver Canucks -- by nearly a 2-1 margin, losing to the now-division-leading Canucks by a 2-1 score in OT, as the Sedin Twins combined to score in the extra session as a hopelessly-out-of-position Gaborik watched helplessly as Henrik scored his 19th of the season, a blast from the high slot, where Gaborik was supposed to be covering Henrik on the 4-on-4 play.

Gaborik was late getting back into the play after being taken out of play at the Vancouver end of the ice following Roberto Luongo's 33rd save.

The resulting OT loss left the Wild with 81 points, tied with Edmonton for 10th place in the NHL's Western Conference, and three points behind 8th place Nashville (who lost tonight at Columbus) with 5 games remaining on the 2008-09 schedule. The Wild end the season series with the 'Nucks 1-4-1, and 0-2-1 at Xcel Energy Center.

Mind you, Gaborik was responsible for taking the game to OT in the first place, as his rebound of an Andrew Brunette shot tied the game at 1-1 5:14 into the third period, giving hope to the usual Xcel sell-out crowd of 18,568. The Canucks opened the scoring when Pavol Demitra's centering pass went off the leg of Kim Johnsson and into his own net.

The Wild were almost as guilty of defeating themselves, going 0-for-5 on the power play, including 1:32 of 4-on-3 at the start of the overtime period, when Gaborik did not get any time on the ice.

I know the Assembled Multitude was thrilled tonight:

Chicken Little: Like the old Carole King song, 'But it's too late, baby, now, it's too late, though we really did try to make it...'

Pollyanna: The Wild aren't mathematically out of it yet! (Are they?)

Bottom Line: The Wild came into this game too cautious. They will have to throw care to the winds if they want more points in the standings. Right now, what's the worst thing that could happen to them? Miss the playoffs? They're already doing that. Might as well go out guns a-blazing, not passing yourselves to death on the power play. And, what's with no Gaborik during the OT power play? You don't want to win the game? Or is Lemaire trying to tell us something?

Stud: Brunette. He had more chances than Granny at the 'Plinko' board. He did assist on the tying goal, and had at least two chances where he worked his way in to better position.

Dud: I hate to rain on the Gaby-fest, but when your guy scores the goal that virtually knocks your team out of the playoffs, that's dud-ism enough for me. Gaborik, it is.

Next: vs. Calgary, Friday, April 3, 7:00 PM Central (6 PM Mountain) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: KSTC-45, Rogers SportsNet-West; XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Game #76: Wild 3, Oilers 2

So, if they don't go quietly, will they still go away?

Many fans of the Minnesota Wild are pondering that question, after their Wild took a badly-needed two points in regulation as the Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 Sunday evening at Rexall Place. The Wild finish the season having only won once in the 6 games played in the Province of Alberta.

Marian Gaborik led the charge with the game-winning goal in the third period, and assisted on Andrew Brunette's game-opener. Martin Skoula -- yes, him -- scored for the second time in three games as the Wild end the season series vs. the Oilers 4 wins to 2, holding the tie-breaker over the Oilers, who continue a season-ending six game homestand Tuesday night vs. the Anaheim Ducks, whom the Oil defeated 5-3 in Southern California Friday night despite Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson facing 54 Duck shots.

With both St. Louis and Nashville winning on Sunday, however, the Wild are still three points away from the 8th and final playoff spot in the NHL's Western Conference. The Wild finally return home beginning on Tuesday night for four of their last six games, after a 4-8-2 road record since Feb. 27, during their 14-of-17 game road marathon caused by tournaments on three successive weekends.

Niklas Backstrom also continued his strong play, stopping 31 of 33 Edmonton shots as the Oilers lost their fourth game in their last five. The Wild end the night in 11th place, 1 point behind 10th-place Edmonton. The sellout crowd of 16,839 was the 150th consecutive sellout of Rexall Place for the Oilers.

Chicken Little: The Wild won't keep this up. No way.

Pollyanna: Why can't they? Four of the next six are at home!

Bottom Line: The only thing consistent about this season's Wild team is their inconsistency. Tonight, two more forwards went down (Clutterbuck, Fritsche) for at least part of the game. How many more injuries can this team stand? I really wish they'd make it, but realistically, there's no way, especially if everyone's banged up.

Stud: Backstrom again; He kept the Wild in the game, especially after the Oilers' Alex Kotalik scored with just under 5 minutes left in the third.

Dud: Again, no dud-ism to be seen. Everyone had at least a decent game.

Next: vs. Vancouver, Tuesday, March 31. 7 PM Central (5 PM Pacific) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: KSTC-45. Rogers SportsNet-Pacific, XM Ch. 208)

WRT (happy there are no more late games)

Game #75: Flames 3, Wild 2

And the funeral march, indeed, starts for the Minnesota Wild.

Led by Martin Skoula and his two give-aways which wound up in the Wild net, the Wild succumbed to the aggressive forecheck of the Calgary Flames and lost 3-2 in the Pengrowth Saddledome late Saturday night, running their record on 'Hockey Night in Canada' to a dismal 1-3 and forcing the Wild to face reality:

It's over.

No playoffs for the 'Team of 18,000' this spring, as the Wild lose their fifth straight to the Flames (0-3-2) and are within one game -- tonight's game at Edmonton's Rexall Place -- of going 'O-fer-Alberta' in 2008-09.

Skoula's brain fart sequence, in which he cleared the puck directly onto the stick of Calgary's Jamie Lundmark who scored the first Calgary goal, then lost the puck to Todd Bertuzzi who set up Daymond Langkow for the second Calgary goal, was classic 'Skouba' in all its' glory. Then, in a crowning 'achievement' of 'Skouba' proportions, the change on the fly between Skoula and Nick Schultz somehow got fouled up, allowing Wild killer extraordinaire Jarome Iginla and Eric Nystrom in, 2-on-1, against Kim Johnsson. Iginla's pass to the streaking Nystrom was spot on, and Nystrom wasted no time in beating Backstrom for the eventual game winner. If this 'effort' by Skoula doesn't convince Wild management that Martin really needs a change of scenery, I really want to know what pictures he has, of whom, in what compromising positions.

How bad was it last night? In the third period -- when the Wild should have been the most desperate -- they went the first six minutes with only one shot on goal against Mikka Kiprusoff, who once again had another easy win vs. Calgary's favorite chew toy. The Wild only managed 15 shots against Kiprusoff, who recorded his 24th win vs. his favorite opponent. By contrast, Niklas Backstrom -- who really didn't have a heckuva lot of help in front of him a good part of the evening -- had to face 40 shots, many of those second and third chances as the Wild defense looked totally out-of-place as wave after wave of the 'C of Red' washed over the Wild crease.

Chicken Little: No Burns, no Koivu, no wonder Bouchard said he had a headache and couldn't play. I wouldn't play either if I knew my best two players were both on the shelf. And then, there's 'Skouba' rearing his head again.

Pollyanna: Wasn't Backstrom great?

Bottom Line: The Wild are, indeed, done like dinner. Time to clean house. No playoffs, no more excuses. DR and Tom Lynn need to go. Get someone in who will actually give Jacques Lemaire (if he'll agree to stay) the talent necessary to compete, not just be on the cusp season after season.

Stud: Backstrom. The only player who showed up ready to play.

Dud: Martin Skoula. 'Skouba' is back, everybody! Woo-hoo! Now we all can plan tee times!

Next: at Edmonton, Sunday (today), 7 PM Central (6 PM Mountain) Time, Rexall Place. (TV: FSNorth (including FSWisconsin), Rogers SportsNet-West (in HD); XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)

WRT (planning his non-hockey spring vacation)

Friday, March 27, 2009

'I'll never be confused for a N.Y. Foodie'

WRT with thoughts after following the Wild on the road in New York

You really get a sensual assault in New York if you're from the outside (which means the area beyond where you can commute in every day). Frank Sinatra's line from 'New York, New York': 'I want to wake up in the City that never sleeps', is still a very accurate description of life in midtown Manhattan as we came up the escalator from the subterranean depths of Penn Station on Monday Noon. For the next 71 hours we were exposed to the Big Apple, and all its' various sights, smells, sounds, and tastes.

My wife had never been to New York, and she was bound and determined to see everything all at the same time. My goal was a little bit more, shall we say, pedestrian; two Wild road games on consecutive nights, Tuesday vs. the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and Wednesday vs. the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, hoping for at least a split of the two games (and that we would escape the Garden in one piece, if the Wild had won on Tuesday night).

Of course, by now we all know what happened: that the Wild lost 2-1 at MSG, then went out to the Island and trashed the Isles 6-2 on Wednesday, in what was one of the most enjoyable nights of road hockey Wild fans had seen in years. Six goals? And they were all scored by the Wild? Who'da thunk it?

But there were other things, things not exactly hockey-related, which made this trip memorable...

The trip on the Staten Island Ferry across the harbor, so that we both saw the Statue of Liberty on a cloudless (but cool) afternoon;

The sobering thoughts that were conjured up, as the guide on our tour bus informed us that every Police precinct in the city is required to send a car to One Police Plaza (in the Battery, near the ferry slips) every day in case of terrorist attack;

The gaping hole in the City where Ground Zero is/was, still laying open like a large crater on the Moon;

The visit to so many places which we both had heard of, and had seen on TV and movies, but now had actually seen in person (the Garden, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Nassau Coliseum, Wall Street, just to name a few);

The visit to the NHL Store (missed Russo by 90 minutes on Monday, but it still is a neat place);

Seeing numerous Wild fans all over the City in the three full days we were there (some had stayed between the New Jersey game on Friday and the Tuesday/Wednesday back-to-back);

Dinner at Lupa, a restaurant partially-owned by Mario Batali, he of 'Iron Chef America' fame, on Monday night; spaghetti never tasted so good. In fact, all the food we ate while on the trip was very good or better; when you are in the world's most competitive restaurant market, your game had better step up to compete. Expensive? Yes. An $8 slice of cheesecake is expensive by any standards. But this is New York, where this is not only expected; it's the norm.

This was indeed the road trip of the season, regardless of what result the hockey gods have in store. Needless to say, we had an excellent time. And as we sat at home last night, exhausted but smiling, we were still wondering what that sound was:


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Game #74: Wild 6, Islanders 2

Uniondale, L.I., N.Y. -- The curse of the Tri-State is over.

The Minnesota Wild, led by Marian Gaborik's two goal, two assist night, thumped the hapless New York Islanders 6-2 Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum, ending the Wild's season against the Eastern Conference at 12-5-1.

Andrew Brunette and Owen Nolan each contributed a goal and two assists to the effort, while defenseman Marek Zidlicky, much maligned recently in this blog, came around and added three assists to the evening.

The Wild now have off until the weekend, with back-to-back games at Calgary and Edmonton on Saturday and Sunday, in what could be the Wild's last attempt to gain meaningful points against teams which could keep the Wild out of the playoffs.

The Wild faithful were well-represented at this game also, with several hundred Wild fans attending amongst the small crowd of 13,332 at the Coliseum. Your blogger even had an Islanders' T-shirt, the giveaway inbound for tonight's game, thrown at him after the Wild's third goal.

Update -- 5:30 PM CDT Thursday

Well, now, that was an interesting night last night, wasn't it? Clutterbuck telling off Okposo, John Scott taking a recent Islander call-up (Rechlitz) to school, and general mayhem ensuing after Miettinen tries to go thru an OPEN DOOR to the dressing room, and gets cut-off en route by Comeau. Yeah, we understand the Isles are trying to show that they belong, that they want an NHL paycheck; but isn't part of the deal showing that you have some personal restraint on the ice?

Sorry about the computer problems, folks; when you pay the hotel prices we do, however, one thing we expect is free Wi-Fi (at least) Internet access. My wife and I are quite adamant about this. When we don't get it, we go somewhere where they do. For example, I did Wednesday's short start of the game story at a Dunkin' Donuts outlet near MSG. I couldn't stand the rap music they had blaring on in there any more, so we did other things and moved on.

Same thing for this game. The Marriott-Long Island next to the Coliseum is a very nice hotel, but the only free Wi-Fi is in the main lobby area. So, I did what I could, and moved on. Hence, this update.

Anyhow, the looks on Okposo's face was priceless when Cal went after him; the 'What? Me?' which no one was buying. Gaborik was the Gaby of old but with one twist; he actually did go in front of the net, looking for rebounds. Owen Nolan must be rubbing off on him.

And with that, we turn to the multitude...

Chicken Little: See? See? What did I tell you? Even with Gaby back, Koivu is the straw that stirs this drink. And where is he now?

Pollyanna: Aw, shut up and enjoy a blowout for a change, Chicken Little. At least this blowout's going the right way!

Bottom Line: If the Wild had lost this game, after what they almost did the night before at MSG, that probably would have been the end for 'da boys' for this season. They came thru with flying colors, against an Islanders team which is about to hit rock bottom. The Isles are in such disarray, they gave T-shirts to everyone who came thru the gates. They were only supposed to be for children. The size they gave out? Adult small.

Stud: Gaborik. Two goals, two assists, he really put on a show for all to see. Honorable mention: Brunette, Nolan, Zidlicky, Skoula (he put a few actual hits together last night) and Clutterbuck, who now has broken the all-time NHL 'hits' record.

Dud: Was there one?

Next: at Calgary, Saturday, March 28, 9 PM Central (8 PM Mountain) Time, Pengrowth Saddledome. (TV: FSNorth, CBC, NHL Network-US; XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)

WRT (happy to be home)

Game #73: Rangers 2, Wild 1

New York -- The elephants came across the Hudson yesterday morning. Unfortunately, 'Dumbo' and his buddy already were in town, late Monday night.

'Dumbo' Marek Zidlicky (I know, it's a bit harsh; but you didn't take the abuse from Rags' fans) and 'Queen" MAB along with the lack of Captain Mikko Koivu helped the New York Rangers get by the Minnesota Wild 2-1 Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, as the Wild lost their second game in the Tri-State in five days.

The normal (!?!) Rangers' crowd of 18,200 was permeated by more than 100 Wild fans who were mostly concentrated in the North end of the arena (where King Henrik -- Lundquist, that is) held the Wild to 15 saves as he won his 34th game of the campaign.

The vaunted Rags' fans were in full throat, and saved some of their best salvoes for after Marian Gaborik scored the Wild's lone tally early in the second period, as they in unison shouted 'You Suck!' the first time Gaby touched the puck after his next shift started.

It indeed, was one of those nights, folks.

Update from Long Island …4:00 PM EDT Wednesday

OK, so we finally get out here to Uniondale, just the other side of Hofstra University (which must make for real fun traffic when both Hofstra and the Isles are playing at the same time). The Long Island Rail Road handled us very well; on time all the way out to Hempstead (granted, we rode mid-day, off-peak trains. But, I digress; after all, this is a hockey blog, not a railfan-zine.)

Anyhow, about last night at MSG: they are really ready to wind the season down (Rangers are 39-27-8, 7th place in the East, which means that if the season ended today, they would face New Jersey in the opening round.) The souvenir stands are trying to get the parents to trade in their kids’ old Rags’ jerseys for new ones (I suppose if your jersey hasn’t changed in 54 years or so, that’s about the only way left to keep ‘em coming back for more.)

I buy an MSG t-shirt, as I am more interested in Madison Square Garden than the Rangers; a pin (for the road cap) and off we go. The national anthem is sung by a very attractive blonde woman, for whom, the Rangers’ fans give next to no respect (they’re too busy screaming ‘You suck!’ to everyone else) as she ends it in about 1:28, barely tolerable by the ‘Reusse standard’ of 1:30 for the anthem.

Time goes by in the first period, after a long, long time of uninterrupted play, there is a puck hit with a high-stick call, play stops, and then, I hear from down the aisle, a tiny ‘excuse me’.

It was the young anthem singer, Paget Knebel, a 22-year old from Seattle who is attending Long Island University, hoping to sing professionally (rock and roll). She said she doesn’t understand hockey, except for the fights; those she understands. I told her she got her money’s worth in the first period, and she smiled. She has sung the anthem at MSG about six times (Rangers, Knicks and WNBA Liberty); she doesn’t get paid to sing (but she does get the exposure which, in hard-to-stand-out New York, might be even more valuable long-term,) but the Rangers do feed her prior to the game.

She sat next to me (and my wife) for the first two periods; then she had to leave, but not before about 5-6 of us had bestowed copious amounts of hockey knowledge upon the poor dear girl.

Needless to say, HTP wishes Paget well in her future endeavors. As for the rest of the Rangers fans, well, …

We found the assembled multitude outside at Lindy’s munching on $8/slice cheesecake:

Chicken Little: No Burns, no Boogaard, no Koivu, no John Scott, they might as well have brought the Wild onto the ice tonight with the song they bring Vince McMahon (WWE owner) out with: ‘No Chance in Hell’.

Pollyanna: Yeah, right. They almost beat the Rags, at MSG, with that line-up. Banged-up as the Wild are, they still went into the ‘World’s most Famous Arena’ and nearly pulled it off…

Bottom Line: Dumbest move of the night was prior to the game, benching John Scott in favor of Marek Zidlicky. You take all your size out of the lineup, and then you try to play a speed game vs. probably the NHL’s ‘grittiest’ team. They turn around and try to beat you to a collective pulp. This game was horribly mismanaged. Coaching staff should have done a better job, but so should Zidlicky and MAB, who in no way escapes this one. If we’re throwing people under the bus, save a little for Antti Miettinen, also. He blew two chances to score (one in the second period, and a partial break later on in the opening minutes of the third) and didn’t help his cause much.

Stud: When in doubt, go to your goalie. Backstrom again.

Dud: Let me see…Hmmm…starts with a ‘Z’…ends with a ‘Y’…wears an odd number…

Next: vs. NY Islanders, Wednesday (tonight), 6:00 PM Central (7 PM Eastern) Time, Nassau Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum. (TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin) in HD, MSG Plus)

Personal Note: The wife and I will be on your TV screens tonight. Look to the left of the Islanders’ goal. We are four rows up from the ice. How do we look?

WRT (getting a seafood hankerin’…)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Game #72: Wild 3, Oilers 0

Any athlete will tell you that victory comes at a high personal cost. Sometimes, however, that cost is a bit TOO high. The Minnesota Wild found that out, first-hand, on Sunday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center, as the Wild, although shutting out the Edmonton Oilers 3-0, lost Captain and leading scorer Mikko Koivu in the second period to a described knee injury (which, for those of us who know Wild policy, means it's definitely serious, as they are actually describing it.)

Koivu's injury -- which happened seconds after he came out of the penalty box -- was caused when he was hooked by an Edmonton player at center ice, a hook which was not called by either referee (Brian Pochmara or Mike Hasenfratz) at the time of the infraction. Koivu continued to play for the rest of the second period, but did not re-appear from the Wild dressing room for the third period.

Koivu's injury overshadowed a two-goal performance by the 'Irish God of War', Owen Nolan, as he scored the first two goals of the game in what is becoming typical Nolan style -- the dirty goal in front of the net, putting away a rebound, and then the deflection of the crisp pass from James Sheppard for the second goal of the game. Edmonton gave Stephane Veilleux the third goal as Tom Gilbert's pass from the corner of the Edmonton zone glanced off Sam Gagner's skate, and past Oilers' goalie Dwayne Roloson, who became the all-time losingest goalie against the Wild with his 12th loss to his former team. Niklas Backstrom played a strong game in goal for the Wild to gain the shutout.

The Wild snapped the Oilers' three-game winning streak, and gave the Oil their fifth loss since Feb. 8th, when the Wild last played the Oilers at the 'X'.

Oh, by the way: Marian Gaborik actually did make an appearance today. Actually was credited with six shots, but other than that, was mostly ineffective in his first game back from labrum surgery. Scratched for today's game: Zidlicky, Burns, Weller, Gillies and Olvecky.

The assembled multitude was outside in the afternoon sun afterwards:

Chicken Little: Well, only two shots by the Wild in the first period, even with the almighty Gaborik back in the lineup. Not good!

Pollyanna: Didn't I say that get them home and they'd do better? Didn't I?

Bottom Line: This was a game the Wild had to have in regulation, and they got it, but at a very high price. Koivu's knee will be re-evaluated before the team leaves Monday afternoon for New York, but don't count on him anywhere on the Big Apple trip. Nolan shows again why he and Koivu are considered the real team leaders (along with Brunette). Hopefully, Koivu's knee will recover enough to allow him to play in Alberta this coming weekend.

Stud: Nolan. Where wasn't he on the ice today? Scoring, making plays, hitting, being in the right spot when he needed to be...showing the kids (both on the ice and in the seats) how to really play the game.

Dud: For a while, I thought that if the Wild would lose this game because of MAB single-handedly. Another awful game for the defenseman. Out of position, no puck control at times, horrible decision-making...in short, another MAB 'classic.' Ugh.

Next: at NY Rangers, Tuesday, March 24, 6:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Eastern) Time, Madison Square Garden. (TV: Versus (in HD); XM Ch. 205)

Personal Note: I (and my wife) will be at the next two Wild games in NY, both at the Garden on Tuesday, and at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday. Nick in NY will be at both games also. In addition to all this, Michael Russo, Minneapolis Star-Tribune Wild beat writer, makes an appearance on NHL Radio's 'NHL Live' Monday afternoon at 12 Noon Central (1 PM Eastern) Time from the Reebok/NHL Store studios, West 47th St. & 6th Ave. in Manhattan. 'NHL Live' is carried on NHL.com, the NHL Network, and on NHL Home Ice, XM Ch. 204.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Game #71: Devils 4, Wild 0

The playoff chances of the Minnesota Wild hit 'the Rock' tonight. With a somewhat predictable result.

The New Jersey Devils turned an ill-advised Marek Zidlicky turnover and a classic 'Skoula night' into a 4-0 rout of the Wild Friday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, as the Wild lost their seventh game in March and the 10th in their last 14 games overall. Their 3-7-4 record since defeating Chicago at United Center Feb. 22 is hardly indicative of a team making a playoff push. And, tonight, they played like that.

Martin Skoula, a -3 on the evening, led the Wild down the path to defeat as he was frequently caught with his back to the play, as the Atlantic Division leading Devils came in waves at both Niklas Backstrom and, after Johnny Oduya drove Backstrom out at 11:02 of the second period, Josh Harding for the rest of the evening.

Patrik Elias netted his 29th and 30th goals of the season, as Skoula was caught flat-footed for both goals with his back to the developing play again. The offensively challenged Wild looked like a team which was planning a spring outing. For golf. At one point in the third period, both Zidlicky and Skoula were benched by head coach Jacques Lemaire, as the Wild were unable to score even though they were handed a 50-second 5-on-3 advantage, due to the previous defensive lapses by the two central European defensemen.

Fortunately for many Wild fans, the lack of local TV in Minnesota, due to the WCHA Final Five Hockey Tournament and the Minnesota State HS Basketball Tournament, meant that most Wild fans missed Martin Brodeur's 101st career shutout, now 2 behind all-time SO leader Terry Sawchuk. They also did not have to suffer the Wild TV broadcast team of Dan Terhaar and Mike Greenlay, who some refer to as 'Dumb and Dumber'.

You really missed watching the game? REALLY?

I didn't think so.

Chicken Little: Some disasters just naturally happen. Tornadoes occur in Oklahoma, buzzards return to Hinckley, Ohio, and Martin Skoula returns to his true form. And now, Zidlicky is 'learning' from him, as well.

Pollyanna: Get 'em home and they'll be better.

Bottom Line: Wild fans knew this was going to be bad. I don't think anyone thought it would get this bad, however. Brodeur and the Devils took the Wild to school tonight. And Skoula and Zidlicky get to wear the 'Dunce' hats and sit in the corner, feeling shame...

Stud: Lou Lamiorello, for having the fortitude to put together a Devils team this good.

Dud: Doug Risebrough, for putting together a Wild team this bad. No heart whatsoever tonight. Where is the drive, the desire in this bunch? It sure wasn't there this evening, at all. Also Skoula and Zidlicky for their glaring errors. Dud-ism reigns supreme tonight in Wild world.

Next: vs. Edmonton, Sunday, March 22, 2:00 PM Central (1 PM Mountain) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: FSNorth (including FSWisconsin) in HD, Rogers SportsNet-West; XM Ch. 208)


Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Century Club

I'll give a shout-out to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Penguins blog Empty Netters here, because this is where I saw the following statistic.

Evgeni Malkin's five-point night Tuesday gave him 102 points for the season, his second over 100 points. More significantly, it is the 29th time a player wearing a Penguins' uniform has achieved 100 points in a season, most in NHL history. Pittsburgh had previously been tied with Edmonton.

The list, brought to you by Seth:

Mario Lemieux (10 times)
Jaromir Jagr (4)
Paul Coffey (2)
Sidney Crosby (2)
Ron Francis (2)
Evgeni Malkin (2)
Kevin Stevens (2)
Rob Brown (1)
Pierre Larouche (1)
Jean Pronovost (1)
Mark Recchi (1)
Rick Tocchet (1)

Sidney Crosby sits at 92 points with 10 games remaining.

Some other fun facts from his list: Toronto has had only four 100-point scorers, Winnipeg/Phoenix eight, the Rangers six, Montreal 10 (none since 1985-86.)

Granted, there are more teams (i.e. not as good competition) and more games than back in the day, and in the grand scheme of things, this stat (like so many) doesn't mean much. But 12 different players have scored 100 points for the Penguins, at least three more than any other team. Still impressive.

The complete list: http://community.post-gazette.com/blogs/emptynetters/archive/2009/03/19/team-of-the-century-3-19-09.aspx

(Note: I had to modify Seth's list slightly when I posted it here. He had Kevin Stevens with just one 100-point season when he actually had two.)


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Game #70: Wild 3, Avs 2 (SO)

Tonight's game was a tale of two defensemen. One saved the game for his team, and possibly their dwindling playoff hopes. The other might as well have stayed home and played 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling,' for all he was worth this evening.

Of course, we are talking about Marek Zidlicky and Marc-Andre Bergeron here, y'know. The Minnesota Wild came back in the latter stages of the third period to once again (fifth time in their last seven games) force overtime, and then after that didn't decide the issue, forced a shootout in which Zidlicky wristed home the game-winner, as the Wild defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on St. Patrick's Day night at Xcel Energy Center before a mostly-sober (hey, it was a workday for most of us!) 18,568 crowd.

Zidlicky, although his play was not what one would call overly stellar, did not get his team beat. The same cannot be said of Bergeron, whose inattentiveness and lazy play combined with bad puck luck and, possibly, the worst stickhandling he's done this season nearly cost the Wild the game in both regulation and in the OT session.

Martin Skoula's rebound shot from the left point in the second period was deflected en route by Stephane Veilleux for his 12th goal of the season. After Ryan Smyth scored on a scramble with just over six minutes left in the second period, the Wild were held off the board for the next 24 minutes until Nick Schultz's laser shot grazed Wojtek Wolski's stick, goalpost and crossbar and found twine with 1:46 remaining in regulation to send it into the extra session.

Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Don't think the Wild can miraculously revive their demi-moribund playoff hopes. Not with a trip to beautiful Downtown Newark, N.J., in their immediate future.

Or, maybe???

The Assembled Multitude were staring into their empty 'goaltender' coffee mugs, tonight's give-away:

Chicken Little: The worst team in the West and this is the best they can do?

Pollyanna: Scoring from the defense, from the checking line, it's on now!

Bottom Line: If the Wild had not come away with two points tonight, they would have been relegated to the 'spoiler' role (even Bob Kurtz, Wild Radio PBP man, had intimated something to that effect tonight). Even with the win, the Wild are still in 10th place in the West, thanks to yet another 3-point game between two teams they are trying to catch (St. Louis and Edmonton). This team has to find a way to win every possible game remaining in regulation, so as not to give other teams a chance. Next game, the Wild face the NHL's all-time winningest goalie, Martin Brodeur. Things certainly don't get easier from here.

Stud: Schultz, no question. Also a good night for Skoula, Cal (+2) Clutterbuck and, believe it or not, Derek Boogaard, who actually was introduced as the starter when the Avs started the Laperriere-McLeod-McCormick line. Boogaard kept his cool and his focus on hockey.

Dud: Does the first paragraph give you a hint? It should! MAB for D-U-D.

Next: at New Jersey, Friday, March 20, 6:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Eastern) Time, Prudential Center, Newark. (TV: MSG Plus (in HD), XM Ch. 209.)

NOTE: No local TV of this game in Minnesota (due to the WCHA Final Five tourney and the Minnesota State HS Basketball Tournaments), so in order to see this game, you will have to watch the New Jersey feed (on NHL Center Ice).


Monday, March 16, 2009

WRT's This 'n' That

A column of facts, some opinions and an occasional rant

A few notes from my recent trip to Chicago and St. Louis...

Chicago is indeed gearing up for the playoffs. The Hawks are leading the NHL in attendance, for the first time in over two decades, and the fans are loving the Hawks again. The United Center is indeed the cool place to be on hockey nights. The days of the 8,000 attendances are over for good.

In fact, it is even hard to get cheap tickets on the secondary markets as well. Tickets for Hawks games are going for 2-4 times face value (which means well above $200/each for good seats on the 100-level).

However, the Hawks themselves are in a bit of a backslide, losing their last two games at home in a row (to Columbus and the Islanders) which is getting the populace somewhat worried, as Vancouver is slowly closing in on Chicago for the valuable No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and the final first-round home ice advantage. The Hawks still have one very distinct advantage, as they have the most home games remaining (9) of any team in the West, including a head-to-head game vs. the Canucks at the UC on March 29th.

However, the worry is tempered by the fact that two key Blackhawk components -- goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and forward Patrick Sharp, who were both out with injuries, will be back with the Blackhawks this week.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis...

The Blues also seem to have finally figured it out and are pushing other teams hard for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, as linemates David Backes (a Minnesota native) and Brad Boyes seem to have righted the Blues' ship of state. They have settled on Chris Mason as goaltender, a decision that although prudent for the franchise, spelled the end of the line in the Mound City for the popular Manny Legace.

The Blues, however, are in the reverse situation of the Blackhawks, with only 4 home games remaining (and the last two are against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are also in the playoff fight) and 9 road games, including a 3-game western Canadian swing this coming week, and a 5-game, 9-day odyssey beginning March 29th.

The Blues' good fortunes on the ice have also helped at the box office as well; Sunday's 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild was the 25th sell-out of the season in the cavernous Scottrade Center, which holds 19,150. The Blues management has also brightened up a formerly-gloomy arena with new coats of paint, new fixtures and a new attitude amongst their employees. The dull, dark, dank days of the old Kiel Center are, indeed, behind this proud franchise. The fans are coming back, in very large numbers, and that is good for St. Louis.

Bernie Miklasz, sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, likens Blues games at Scottrade Center to "19,150 (gathering) for another revival meeting, the revival of the St. Louis Blues."

'Free Food Game' a hit on and off the ice

The fact of the matter is that when the Blues fans are enjoying free food, the Blues do well. Sunday night's 5-3 win over the Wild made the Wild the third 'Free Food' victim (Los Angeles and Nashville the other two) in the three years the Blues have provided free eats for all comers.

This year's menu: Water or Soda (no sodas available after the start of the game), a box of popcorn, and either two hot dogs or an order of two chicken fingers (no sauce available, either).
Personally, I thought it was kind of a disappointment, as we went after the first period to get our food, and they didn't have soda, sauce for the chicken or ketchup packets for the wienies. Wouldn't it have been better just to let the fans go to the regular stands and let them get what they want, but with the same limits? Yes, it took a LOT of co-ordination to get this much food out, but it could have been done better, and with less confusion amongst all concerned.

The only thing they had plenty of? Tums as you exited the arena (Tums was the sponsor of the 'Free Food Game'.) On the scoreboard jumbotron all night was Homer Simpson eating exhibitions from various episodes of, 'The Simpsons'. Even my wife was dragged into it, as they made her the 'look-alike' for the late former chef Julia Child (she cooks and looks a lot better than the late Ms. Child, thanks).

Another member of our party (of nine) caught a T-shirt (medium) from the Blues' 'Towel Guy', who leads the crowd in counting the bell peals after the Blues score, and has done so for a number of years. He used to throw the towels into the seats, but when the team caught wind of this, not only did they not stop him, they now give him T-shirts (custom-screen printed) to throw into the seats. He saw two Wild fans in the lower level, and heaved to. He was close, but another member of our party, a friend of one of our own from nearby St. Charles, Mo., who was at her 3rd NHL game ever, picked it up.

All in all, the two-game-in-three days trip was very enlightening. It's good to know two of the NHL's premiere franchises are coming back from the scrapheap of pro hockey to assume their rightful place amongst the NHL's elite.

Now, if we can only get that ship of state righted in the 'State of Hockey'...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Game #69: Blues 5, Wild 3

ST. LOUIS -- Marek Zidlicky and Mark-Andre Bergeron had better get a pool together. They owe St. Louis-area Dairy Queen franchisees $43,850 for 19,150 free 'Blizzard' treats, courtesy of their rotten defensive play Sunday night.

The St. Louis Blues surgically stuck a dagger in the dying playoff hopes of the Minnesota Wild, driving starting Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom out of the nets and into the warm March night as the Blues defeated the Wild 5-3 at Scottrade Center on what was billed as 'Free Food Night'.

Nine different Blues' players earned points tonight, as the Wild were out-played, out-hustled and out-gunned by the younger, stronger, and quite frankly, hungrier Blues team as the Wild were out-shot 36-22, including a 29-11 shot advantage in the first two periods.

It is apparent, at least to this blogger, that the party is indeed over for this season's Wild team. As March has dragged on, the play of the Wild has steadily declined, despite the protestations of President/GM Doug Risebrough to the contrary.

With Brent Burns out indefinitely (possible concussion), Marian 'I'll play when I want to' Gaborik possibly not playing at all, and two key forwards (Andrew Brunette and Owen Nolan) playing despite serious injuries, this Wild team is on life support, with a very grave prognosis.

The goaltending should bail them out occasionally. However, occasionally does NOT mean every single night, game in, game out.

When T.J. Oshie gets two assists and isn't even selected as a game star, because eight other players have tallied points in the same game, that's saying something, folks. Sadly for the Wild, it's not something the 'Team of 18,000' wants to necessarily hear.

Oh, well, at least I get a little time on Monday to enjoy that Blizzard. Now, which flavor do I want...

The Assembled Multitude was found after the game bemoaning the night's play:

Chicken Little: The defense laid down and died tonight. I hope you're all happy now!

Pollyanna: Kurtis Foster would have been better than MAB or Zidlicky tonight. Come to think of it, Bananas Foster probably would have done a better job as well. And yes, I meant the flaming dessert!

Bottom Line: The Wild are done like dinner.

Stud: Yeah, right.

Dud: Anyone in a Wild sweater who didn't go thru the 'Free Food Game' lines.

Next: vs. Colorado, Tuesday, Mar. 17 (St. Patrick's Day), 7:00 PM Central (6 PM Mountain) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin) in HD, Altitude; XM Ch. 238)

WRT (happy he actually DID get Tums while exiting Scottrade Center)

Game 68: Stars 3, Wild 2 (OT)

Nick: I got this one. Thanks for filling in.

Someone should have filled in for Kim Johnsson Saturday night, as career third-pairing defenseman Niklas Grossman took advantage of Johnsson's bonehead move to screen his own goalie as Grossman fired the game-winner 2:23 into the OT as every Minnesotan's favorite team, the Dallas Stars, defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-2 at American Airlines Center.

Johnsson's evening was at best horrific, and at worst the death knell for an NHL season which, should the Wild fail to win in regulation this evening's 'Free Food Game' at Scottrade Center against the St. Louis Blues, will officially be on life support.

Steve Ott -- who is almost becoming as big of a Wild-killer as Jarome Iginla -- scored the first two goals of the contest, the first goal coming just 2:00 minutes into the game, before most of the 18,584 at the AAC had settled in for the night.

The Wild wake up Sunday morning in 10th place in the NHL's Western Conference, as both Nashville (shutting out Phoenix) and Edmonton (lost in OT to Colorado) also gained points late Saturday night, and as the games remaining dwindle, the question has to be asked: Is this the best this team can do?

The quotes coming out of the locker room after the game say they can do better. Well, then, guys? What are you waiting for? Time is indeed a-wastin', and you're running out of games to make up ground with. Every point is vital, and this club has given away three of them in the last three games with 3 OT/SO losses. In fact, the Wild currently have the worst record in their last 10 games (2-4-4) of any team in the Western Conference. With only 14 games left in the season, the Wild cannot afford to give away points.

Or do they really care anymore?

Chicken Little: Johnsson is embarrassing. Is he trying to out-Skoula Martin himself for the number of bonehead plays he makes? Johnsson should do gassers until he drops for what he did last night. My God that was awful...

: Niklas Backstrom was the only thing that held them in -- again. He hasn't given up on the season. Yet.

Stud: Andrew Brunette. Goal and an assist, and still playing on a bad wheel.

Dud: Johnsson. You really wonder who signs his paycheck sometimes.

Next: at St. Louis, Sunday (today), 5:00 PM Central Time, Scottrade Center. (TV: FSNorth (including FSWisconsin) in HD, KPLR-11; XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)

Personal Note: My wife and I (and seven others in our group) will be in the stands (lower level, behind the Wild goal) at Scottrade Center this evening. Stop by and say 'Hello' if you are so inclined...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gm # 67: Wild 1, Avs 2 (SO)


The Wild is sitting just outside the playoff cutoff line in the Western Conference. This is the crunch time. The desperation part of the season. Points are critical, so points are at a premium. There is no excuse for not knowing the situation, and no excuse for not "bringing it" every single shift/period/game.

Yet this Wild team just doesn't get it.

This is a heartless, immature, unprofessional and rudderless team right now. There is just no other way to explain it. Maybe they've tuned out the coach. If so, then it's time for the coach to go away. Maybe they're trying the very best they can and they just don't measure up. If so, then it's time for the GM to go away. But for sure, it's time for each and every one of these players to look at himself in a mirror and ask himself if he is doing everything he can possibly do, every chance he gets to do it.

Last night the Wild lost its tenth game this season in which they scored the first goal. Ten games! They lost four such games all of last season. They blew power play after power play, often not recording a single shot. They were, at times, completely inept in front of Backstrom - leading to an unbelievable 42 shots against. Their shot totals by period were 8-5-2. With the exception of Backstrom (who rebounded from another soft goal to turn in a point-saving effort for the balance of the game) the Wild was putrid. Despicable. Pathetic.

Sadly, the play of the rest of the teams around the Wild is allowing Minnesota to stay alive in the Western Conference race right now. This lends false hope to the common fan, and maybe lends a false sense of security to the players. Either way, this is a team that is in no way playing like they want to get into the playoffs. And that's sickening to this fan, anyway.

Chicken Little says: Now this was MY kind of game!

Pollyanna says: Pollyanna? Where'd you go, darlin'?

Bottom Line: They got a point, but they were playing like they didn't want any - and that's inexcusable

Stud: No freakin' way

Dud: Pick 'em

Up Next: Another brick in the wall...


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Game #66: Sharks 5, Wild 4 (OT)

Just when you thought that it was over, that the Minnesota Wild were incapable of pulling out more than two points in a row, along comes the 'Irish God of War', Owen Nolan, to remind us of how real hockey players play the game.

Nolan's two third-period goals, 3:58 apart -- the 400th and 401st of his career -- allowed the less-than scintllating Wild to escape the Xcel Energy Center -- an ice surface which they were soundly booed off of at the end of the first two periods -- with one point as the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks defeated the Wild 5-4 in OT, as Christian Ehrhoff's low-angle shot beat Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom 3:34 into the extra session.

The Wild basically did not show up for the first 25 minutes of this game, and by the time they did, a flukey goal (Joe Thornton's deflected fluttering shot which eluded two defensemen and Backstrom) a shortie (Travis Moen's rebound of Patrick Marleau's breakaway attempt, which leaked thru Backstrom's five-hole and in) and a 'silver platter special' (Thornton's second-period rebound, conveinently put away after going past a startled Eric Belanger into a wide-open net) meant the Wild had for the second time in five days spotted the best team in the West a three-goal lead.

The Wild finally got back into it when Peter Olvecky's rebound made it past Brian Boucher -- yes, the same goalie who was in net Thursday night when the first three-goal lead vanished -- and the Wild were back in it, 3-1. For some reason, they stopped skating (again) towards the end of the period, hence another round of boos.

PMB's rebound of a Kim Johnsson shot made it 3-2 1:02 into the third. Could lightning strike twice? Maybe, maybe not after Milan Michalek got yet another weak goal past Backstrom, a low-percentage shot from a very sharp angle to Backstrom's left, which beat Backstrom glove side high. Sharks 4, Wild 2.

Then, it's 'IGoW' to the rescue, tipping a shot from the left point by Marek Zidlicky in past Boucher at 13: 56. Then as the clock wound down, Nolan again found himself in front of the net, and Mikko Koivu's rebound found its' way to Nolan, who put it away at 17:54.

In the OT, the back-and-forth nature of this game came to its' zenith when Ehrhoff, who had been quiet most of the night, sped away with the puck, chased by Zidlicky, and from a sharp angle to Backstrom's right side flipped it over his left shoulder for the winner.

The Sharks come away with their first win in their last five games (1-3-1), and the Wild take points away in three of their last four games. The Wild wake up Wednesday morning, headed for Denver in 9th place, one point ahead of the Dallas Stars, who lost to St. Louis Tuesday night.

The assembled multitude had a few things to say afterwards:

Chicken Little: Backstrom gave up three of the softest goals you'll ever see tonight. If he took the dagger for the LA game, what does he take for this one? A skewer? A pitchfork?

Pollyanna: Nolan with two goals, playing with a broken toe? We really need to get him, Brunette, and Koivu in the same room with Gaborik. Lock the door, and give the key to Clutterbuck. Let's show Mr. 'Me, Me, Me' what real fortitude is all about!

Bottom Line: No one really expected the Wild to come away with points tonight; after all, the only thing about the Wild right now that is consistent is their inconsistency. Nolan pulled them out of the scrap heap, after Backstrom's play put them three goals down for the second time in four games. Say what you will, but could this be the result of Backstrom's 'contract drive' being over?

Stud: Nolan. Still showing the young pups what real fortitude is, and what it means to your team to have it.

Dud: Backstrom. Those three goals were God-awful. Shame on you, Niklas. Do better next game.

Next: at Colorado, Thursday, March 12, 8:00 PM Central (7 PM Mountain) Time, Pepsi Center. (TV: FSN (in HD), Altitude (in HD), XM Ch. 205)

Personal Note: I will not be able to cover the next two games, due to a work comittment. Nick will take over until Sunday, when I will re-join you all, as I attend the Blues' 3rd Annual 'Free Food Game' at Scottrade Center, this year with the Minnesota Wild as the opponent. If you're going? Come hungry, as every seat is 'All you can Eat'.

WRT ('I'll have another, thanks'...)

NiNY's Texas Hockey Adventures

You long-time HTP readers know that I am a fan of Dave Bidini's book "The Tropic of Hockey." The thought of a pilgrimmage to find the game of hockey in some of the most-remote corners of the world (from a Norte Americano's perspective) is somehow wonderful and thrilling to me. Interestingly, it is apparently possible to do so without leaving the comforts of my own country, as I found out last week on a business trip to Texas.

I visited the cities of San Antonio, Austin and Houston, each for the first time. While the days were busy (that was the work part, and those Texas boys - and girls - apparently know and like their munis!) and started early, I managed to find some hockey (related fun) during a couple of the evenings.

While San Antonio was bereft of hockey (I love asking cab drivers things like "Hey, how's the Rampage doing?" and watching them struggle between their desires to keep the BS meter running and not completely show their ass), things picked up dramatically in Austin.

I was met by a good pal who - get this - flew in from Denver to hang with me in Austin...for the night. He was on the ground for about twelve hours. God love ya, Pags. But he's a fellow beer league goalie, and we have had several great hockey adventures together over the years. So we immediately raised the level of hockey discourse.

Then, I was psyched to meet fellow Russotans AustinTXwildfan and his wife WildinATX. The "Austins" (as they're affectionately known in the Wild online community) are just great human beings. They were great hosts and really did credit to their current hometown by showing Pags and me the sights. Okay, they showed us about four bars (our choice) but we had a great night - and there was a lot of hockey talk going around. Well, and some drinking. But we definitely talked a lot of puck.

WildinATX, Pags, NiNY and AustinTXWildFan getting into the
"spirit" of Austin, TX with a "Helldorado"

Next up, an early flight to Houston where another long day of meetings was all that stood between me and an introduction to the one and only Ms. Conduct. And it was a two-fer since I got to meet Mr. Conduct as well. Not only that, but these good Americans took me to an Aeros game. Okay, so I totally confused the valet at the hotel and the cab driver by asking them where the Aeros played. And it's clearly a Texans and Rockets town, and that's probably to be expected. But the Aeros drew a crowd of loyal die hards that, while not large in number, was vocal when it needed to be and knew what was going on for sure.

I, you may recall, saw the Aeros play in person once earlier this season. And it was a less-than excellent effort from the Houston squad. Well this night (against the Grand Rapids Griffins) was a whole other story. I missed the first period, but the second and third were great exhibitions in opportunistic hockey, solid defensive fundamentals, good offensive capitalization and solid goaltending. Ms. C and I agreed that if the Wild played like how the Aeros played in that game, the Wild would be in much better shape this season, standings-wise. I met John Royal and Fred Trask through Ms. C, and the whole in-game experience was a blast.

Mr. Conduct, NiNY and Ms. Conduct at the Aeros game
Credit: Fred Trask

But, really, the highlight of the night was meeting and chilling with the Conducts. Just super people. Smart, funny, cool, hockey-smart...what more could you ask for? After the game they took me to The hockey bar in Houston, and we ultimately watched the second period of what ended up being a monumental comeback for the Wild against the Sharks in San Jose.

And that's really what hockey's all about. After the game's over, and the gear is back in the bag, it's hanging out in the parking lot, drinking beer and BSing with your pals that makes hockey more than just something you do late at night on a work night.

The Conducts and the Austins are just great ambassadors for the sport of hockey, in the non-traditional market of Texas. I am happy to have made their acquaintance, am indebted for their hospitality, and look forward to more fun experiences with them in the years to come.


Monday, March 9, 2009

'You have a point, sir.' - 'No, you don't!'

"Let's just get it to overtime."

Since the NHL introduced the automatic point for reaching overtime, how many times have fans said that line? Or how many times have fans lamented the fact that two teams that are chasing their favorite team in the standings play an overtime game, a "three-point" game?

There's no way to figure out the answers, but "one" is too many. (I said the "get it to OT" line Sunday after the Penguins blew a two-goal lead less than two minutes into the third period.)

Now that the league has implemented the shootout, and a game will have a winner one way or another, it is time to change how the standings work.

Do away with points.

Teams shouldn't be awarded for losing. That's what the overtime point does. Now that there is a winner and loser, the NHL should switch to the NBA/MLB standings and go with strictly wins, losses and Games Back of the leader. NBA and MLB teams don't get any bonus for going to overtime or extra innings. When they lose those games, they have to deal with the pain of, you know, losing. There's no consolation prize.

This is where the "traditionalists" say you can't get rid of the points system. Well, these same traditionalists should've been arguing against the shootout and loser point in the first place. Change happens.

Personally, I had no problem with ties. I even classified them as "good" or "bad" (for instance, blowing a third-period lead is a bad tie; erasing a third-period deficit is a good tie.) I enjoy the shootout, but I also had no problem with a game ending in a tie.

Now that there are no ties, however, there is no need for points to be awarded.

"Regulation win" is a new term that developed because of the overtime point. Because now we have to differentiate regulation wins from overtime/shootout wins if the losing team is involved in the playoff picture and ends up with a point.

The Eastern Conference standings, as of 5:36 p.m. EST (or EDT, whichever), Monday, March 9:

1. Boston
2. New Jersey
3. Washington
4. Philadelphia
5. Montreal
6. Florida
7. N.Y. Rangers
8. Pittsburgh
9. Carolina
10. Buffalo
11. Toronto
12. Ottawa
13. Atlanta
14. Tampa Bay
15. N.Y. Islanders

With a points-less system, here's how they would look:

1. New Jersey 42-23 .646
2. Boston 43-24 .642
3. Washington 40-27 .597 3 GB
4. Philadelphia 35-29 .547 6.5 GB
5. Montreal 35-31 .530 7.5 GB
6. Pittsburgh 35-32 .522 8 GB
7. Carolina 35-32 .522 8 GB
8. Florida 34-32 .515 8.5 GB
9. Rangers 34-32 .515 8.5 GB
10. Buffalo 33-33 .500 9.5 GB

In the West:

1. San Jose
2. Detroit
3. Calgary
4. Chicago
5. Vancouver
6. Columbus
7. Edmonton
8. Nashville
9. Dallas
10. Minnesota
11. Anaheim
12. St. Louis
13. Los Angeles
14. Phoenix
15. Colorado

West without points:
1. San Jose 42-22 .656
2. Detroit 43-23 .652
3. Calgary 39-27 .591 4 GB
4. Chicago 36-28 .563 6 GB
5. Vancouver 34-30 .531 8 GB
6. Columbus 33-33 .500 10 GB
7. Nashville 33-33 .500 10 GB
8. Minnesota 32-33 .492 10.5 GB
9. Edmonton 32-33 .492 10.5 GB
10. Dallas 31-35 .470 12 GB
11. Anaheim 31-36 .463 12.5 GB
12. St. Louis 29-36 .446 13.5 GB
13. Los Angeles 28-37 .431 14.5 GB

There are a few changes. Notably New Jersey taking over the top spot in the East, Carolina in and the Rangers out. In the West, Minnesota is in and the Oilers are out (they're 2-2 head to head, and Minnesota's goal differential, the next tiebreaker, is much better.)

Some teams have games in hand on others. Once those are played, there's bound to be plenty more movement. Depending on the results of those games, the standings could look very different if boiled down to just wins and losses. But even now, with 15 to 18 games to play, change would happen.

We can let the division winners maintain their automatic top three standing. Or we can get crazy and just do away with divisions period. Apart from the home-ice advantage for winning, the division standing means nothing nowadays. So just boil it down to the top eight in the conference regardless.

Awarding three points for a regulation win and two for overtime/shootout victories isn't a viable solution. That will cause even more confusion.

If the shootout is here to stay, then it's time to get rid of the phrases "regulation win," "let's just get it to overtime," and "three-point game."


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Game #65: Wild 3, Ducks 2

Stephane Veilleux's contract drive has begun in earnest. Don't believe me? Ask Jonas Hiller.

The Minnesota Wild finally finished their six-game, 10-day Western odyssey with a 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks Sunday night at Honda Center. Veileux's two-goal evening helped the Wild end the road trip with 2 wins, 4 losses and no overtime points as they come home (finally) to face the San Jose Sharks Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center.

Veilleux's night to remember started just 1:08 into the game, as he banged home a rebound after a scramble off Anaheim's Hiller to make it 1-0 Wild, only the second time in their last four games that they have led at any point in the game. The only goal of the period found the Wild in the unusual (for this road trip) position of having a lead at the end of the first period.

The second period was just like the first, until MAB didn't hear the footsteps of Todd Marchant coming up from behind him while Niklas Backstrom was playing the puck behind the Minnesota goal during a mid-period power play for the Wild. Marchant stole the puck off MAB's stick, wheeled and fired it into the yawning net, as Backstrom slid in vain to try and block the shot. 1-all at that point, and it stayed that way until Kim Johnsson stole the puck off the stick of an Anaheim defender, Owen Nolan slid it over to a rushing Veilleux who slapped it by Hiller top shelf to make it 2-1 Wild at the end of two periods.

The third period saw a frustrated Anaheim team try to generate offense, but with the amount of turnover the Ducks have seen recently (three trades at or near the deadline) the will of the Ducks just wasn't there like before. Andrew Brunette's goal 11:49 into the third period (with a great set-up by James Sheppard) sealed the deal, even though Scott Niedermayer did manage to score with 21 seconds left in the game, after a scramble where Backstrom actually had the puck concealed, but the referees were glacially slow in whistling the play dead.

The Wild end the season 2-4 in the Golden State, and the season series between the Ducks and Wild ends with two wins each.

Chicken Little: 2-4 road trip? Yeah, we'll get to the playoffs playing like that. Uh-huh.

Pollyanna: Great to see the third line scoring! 3 goals in the last 2 games!

Bottom Line: I thought the Wild were bad at times lately (and they have been). But nothing compared to the Ducks team we saw tonight. The Ducks are a team in total disarray right now. I wonder if Chris Pronger wishes he had been traded at the deadline. The Wild wanted this game more than the Ducks did. Backstrom showed flashes of his old form, and they boys actually played a little offense with the 'hockey prevent' defense tonight. Time to come home, boys.

Stud: Veilleux. Two goals for the night, showed a lot of hustle and got rewarded for it. Honorable mention to Cal Clutterbuck for pushing the right buttons of about half the Anaheim roster, especially Pronger.

Dud: Tie tonight! MAB for his bone-headed play which led to the first Anaheim goal, and Marek Zidlicky for his less-than-stellar effort (-2 on the night) this evening.

Next: vs. San Jose, Tuesday, March 10, 7:00 PM Central (5 PM Pacific) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: KSTC-45, Comcast SportsNet-Bay Area; XM Ch. 239)


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Game #64: Kings 4, Wild 3

"One step forward, baby, two steps back," was Paula Abdul's refrain from her mid-80' s hit, 'Opposites Attract'.

The same could be said for the Minnesota Wild on Saturday afternoon at STAPLES Center, as the Los Angeles Kings parlayed a very bad start from Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom into a 4-3 win, assuring the Wild of a losing record on their six-game, 10-day road odyssey.

Backstrom's two softies in the first period negated goals from Owen Nolan and Stephane Veilleux as the Kings won their second home game in a row in front of a 18,118-capacity sellout crowd. The victory meant also a Kings sweep of the season series vs. the Wild, winning all four games played between the two teams.

It didn't take long for the energy of Thursday night's come-from-behind victory vs. San Jose to be sucked out of the Wild, as Kyle Quincey's weak shot slid under Backstrom's leg pad and into the net, just 2:26 into the opening period. To make matters worse yet, it was the first shift in nearly a year for Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster, who was inserted into the line-up after Brent Burns came down with flu symptoms after warm-ups.

Twenty-nine seconds after Nolan scored to tie it at 1, Kyle Calder slid yet another shot under Backstrom's pads and that one found twine to give the Kings a 2-1 lead. Veilleux scored a short time later and the first period agonizingly ended 2-2. The second period was all Kings, and Backstrom was finally driven to the bench after Anze Kopitar's wrist shot went just under the crossbar to make it 3-2 LA, the fourth consecutive game in which Kopitar has scored. Josh Harding relieved Backstrom at that point. LA made it 4-2 a few minutes later, as Teddy Purcell's rebound of his own shot came back to him, and he clanked it off the farside post and past Harding at the second period waned on.

The third period was back and forth, as Eric Belanger scored off LA goalie Jonathan Quick's skate at 4:43 of the third period. LA, then taking a page from the Wild playbook, went into a 'hockey prevent' defense with one big exception: at least the Kings were somewhat aggressive with the puck, keeping the Wild bottled up in the neutral zone most of the last 15 minutes of the game.

The Wild are now 6-9 for the season in back-to-backs when one of the games is on a Saturday, and 8-10-1 overall on Saturdays (4-6-0 on the road, 4-4-1 at home).

(The assembled multitude were asked for opinions, but no garlic after Friday's Gilroy adventure...)

Chicken Little: The only thing consistent about the Wild is their inconsistency. This was a game ripe for the taking, and they flat out blew it. No sense of urgency in this club whatsoever.

Pollyanna: Kurtis Foster is back in the lineup. That's a good thing. Now, if we can get the other guy -- Mr. 'Me, Me, Me' -- back, we may be able to get the offense started somewhat.

Bottom Line: The Wild did themselves no favors today. Fans at the 'X' (remember them, guys? You haven't seen them in two weeks!) scream for the club to focus on how they're playing. Quite frankly, it's becoming more apparent than ever that this club needs not just a minor tune-up, but a major rebuild from the ground up. Of course, DR and TL will be hamstrung until (and, unless) they get rid of Gaborik and some of the others, one way or another. Until Gaby is sent packing, this team will be in total and complete disarray. I would say right now that if the Naegele family was still in charge of this club, DR's days would be numbered. Who knows what Craig Leipold thinks. He's too busy B.S.'ing people at burger and pancake feeds...

Stud: Kurtis Foster, if for no other reason than to honor his true grit and determination to return to the NHL. 'Fozzie' deserved better than a game like this one. Again, the Wild did not fail to disappoint.

Dud: Backstrom. Although he didn't get hung with the loss, he did take the sabre afterwards for his lack of effort this afternoon. He should have. The game he played was bad. REALLY bad.

Next: at Anaheim, Sunday (tomorrow!), 7:00 PM Central (5 PM Pacific) Daylight Time, Honda Center. (TV: FSNorth, FSPrime Ticket, XM Ch. 206)

WRT (who gets to set 10 clocks ahead...tomorrow, after some sleep...)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Game #63: Wild 4, Sharks 3 (OT)

(Revised and Updated)

The best comeback of the season is the game nobody saw, as the Minnesota Wild stunned the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks by a 4-3 OT count late Thursday night at HP Pavilion in San Jose.

After Joe Pavelski scored his second of the evening for the Sharks, who were 26-3-3 at home prior to the game, MAB and PMB scored 1:28 apart late in the second period to bring the Wild back off the deck and in it at 3-2 going into a third period which couldn't have turned out better, as Marek Zidlicky's clearing shot from his own side of the center red line bounced twice and went under the glove and past San Jose backup goalie Brian Boucher, tying the score at 3-all, and sending panicky Sharks' fans scrambling for their PDA's.

Late in the OT, Brent Burns' centering pass from near the corner to Mikko Koivu connected, and all the Captain had to do was slap it in for the game-winner, only 14 seconds away from the shootout. The Wild now are one point out of eighth place in the West with 67 points, and two games left in their marathon six-game road trip.

(We found the multitude Friday headed for the Garlic Capitol of the World, nearby Gilroy, en route to Southern California for this weekend's games...)

Chicken Little: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Don't celebrate just yet. That's only one game of their last five they've won. And there's still two to go on this road trip. Garlic fries, anyone?

Pollyanna: The Wild spotted the best team in the West a 3-goal lead and came all the way back to win. Only the second time in team history that feat has occurred (Other time: Nov. 16, 2006, at Nashville; Wild won in shootout, 7-6. WRT was there). The boys finally took the wake-up call and ran with it. Keep it going! (No thanks to the garlic fries, CL. How 'bout some garlic ice cream?)

Stud: Koivu is the easy (and obvious) choice, but on a night like this when keeping a forecheck was the key to victory, the 'Stud' title goes to Colton Gillies, as he really stepped up his game after Owen Nolan did his best volcano imitation on the Wild bench. (Talk about it's not easy being green, Owen. Eeewwww.) Gillies pulled double-shifts during most of the last two periods after Nolan started blowing beets.

Dud: Was there one after the mid-way point of the game? I don't think so. Everyone stepped up.

Next: At Los Angeles, Saturday, Mar. 7, 3:00 PM Central (1:00 PM Pacific) Time, STAPLES Center (TV: FSN (includes FSWisconsin), FSPrime Ticket; XM Ch. 207)


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Local deadline wrap-up

It was a busy yet uneventful trade deadline, if that makes sense. A lot of action, but few big names actually moved. The ones that did were expected, but there were many that went nowhere. Here's my analysis on what the local teams involved in this blog (Pittsburgh and Minnesota) did on Wednesday. For analysis on other deals, another site would a better option (OK, here's quick analysis: I like what Calgary, Phoenix and Buffalo did; I think daddy needs to take away the toy from the Tampa Bay owners; the Ottawa-Columbus trade should work out nicely for both parties; Montreal and Washington should've gone after goalies, even if just capable backups.)

First, the Penguins, who acquired three players total on the day.

Deal No. 1: Traded defenseman Danny Richmond to St. Louis for defenseman Andy Wozniewski. Very minor deal, both minor leaguers. Richmond leans more toward the offensive side of the game and is behind Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski on the depth chart, making him expendable. Wozniewski is more of a stay-at-home defenseman that the Pens might need if Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi aren't re-signed following the season.

Move No. 2: Acquired Craig Adams off waivers from Chicago. Adams will fill one of the third/fourth-line roles of mucker and grinder. Slightly more significant than Move No. 1.

The "big" one: Deal #3, acquiring Islanders RW Bill Guerin for a conditional draft pick, which goes like this: a fifth-rounder, OR a fourth-rounder IF the Penguins make the playoffs, OR a third-rounder IF the Penguins win one playoff round AND Guerin appears in half the playoff games.

Reportedly, the Pens were interested in Guerin earlier but he wouldn't waive his no-trade clause. The recent four-game winning streak has Pittsburgh back in contention and apparently changed Guerin's mind.

Guerin brings several things to Pittsburgh's lineup: First, he can still score (16 goals, 20 assists this season) and, as a right-handed shot, should provide a threat sorely lacking on the power play. Second, he won't be afraid to get his nose dirty. Third, ideally he'll be a calming presence in the locker room and maybe can teach the kids some maturity, which is also sorely lacking.

Considering what was given up, I think this is a pretty good trade. It's a low-risk move (Guerin's contract is up after this season) with potentially high reward depending just how well Guerin performs down the stretch. Worst case, all the Penguins give up is a third-round pick.

Overall, I grade the Penguins' day a B-minus. Guerin upgrades the roster - not significantly so, but it remains an upgrade. The young winger with a bright future is still lacking, but Ray Shero didn't do anything I would've considered stupid, which includes, but is not limited to, the following: Trading away a first-round pick for anything short of a Dany Heatley type; trading Jordan Staal for anyone over the age of 30; trading any halfway decent asset for a rental; acquiring a reclamation project such as Jonathan Cheechoo or someone like Ryan Smyth or Chris Neil.

This doesn't make the Penguins a Stanley Cup contender. But they are better than they were Tuesday.

Onto Minnesota's moves...um.

This is awkward.

Well, the Wild didn't do anything. And that's not good. Two players who I feel should've been moved are Owen Nolan and Marian Gaborik. I would imagine some contender would see what a difference Minnesota is with Nolan in the lineup and label Nolan as valuable, thus be willing to give up something for him.

(Update: I thought Nolan signed a one-year contract with Minnesota. Actually it was two years. My thought process doesn't change. Nolan is already having trouble remaining in the lineup. How will that contract look after another year's wear and tear? Maybe other teams were scared off at being on the hook for Nolan for another season. Wild fans would probably yell at me for giving Doug Risebrough the benefit of the doubt, but maybe he tried and couldn't find a willing taker. I know I'd at least pause at having Nolan for another year.)

Gaborik absolutely had to be traded, for whatever return Risebrough could've gotten. There's no way Gaborik is re-signing with the Wild.

No one offered even a draft pick for Gaborik? Really, Risebrough had to have received offers and should've accepted what he deemed was best. If no one made an offer, which I find hard to believe, then I can understand the lack of action. If Risebrough didn't even try to shop Gaborik, as Michael Russo reported, then Risebrough is, well, a fool.

Whether there was a market for Risebrough's other pending UFAs, I don't know, but I can't fault him overly so for not trading anyone else, though I think he could've gotten something for Marc-Andre Bergeron.

Acquiring any players of value would've been tough for Risebrough, who doesn't really have many assets to play with. Maybe he should've sent out a flier to see what kind of bounty Niklas Backstrom would've brought. (Philadelphia for Van Riemsdyk, Antero Niittymaki, Joffrey Lupul just to throw something out there?)

I saw an interesting question posed earlier by a Wild fan: Which is worse, the only deadline deal being acquiring Chris Simon, or doing nothing at all?

Unfortunately for the Land o' Lakes natives, they have to face that question.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Game #62: Canucks 4, Wild 2

On the night before the trade deadline, the need for something to bring life back into the Minnesota Wild was never more apparent. Too bad they were in Vancouver, where the dreams of a successful season go to die, courtesty of Alexandre Burrows and the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks turned moments of Wild inattention late in the second period into two goals in 28 seconds' time as the Canucks defeated the Wild 4-2 at GM Place, putting the Wild in 11th place in the NHL's Western Conference. Burrows' two goals, including the only goal of the third period, led the Canucks to within six points of first-place Calgary in the Northwest Division.

The Wild now have lost 4 in a row, including all three Western Canadian games on their odyssey-esque six-game, 10-day Western road trip, which will continue against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday at HP Pavilion San Jose. They have also managed to go 2-7 since defeating Colorado at home on Feb. 11th.

It was so bad, that the Wild only managed to get four shots on goal against Roberto Luongo in the second period, when the Wild were bottled up in their own zone for minutes at a time, unable to change lines being that the benches were too far away from where the play was taking place.

Chicken Little: They can't even get a full game out of their current line-up. This road trip is killing them...fast.

Pollyanna: Backstrom is still signed for four years!

Bottom Line: You could see this coming. The Canucks came in to the game 10-2-0 in their last 12 games at home, and they clearly are on a roll right now. The Wild came in shorthanded, battered and fried by the two games in Alberta over the weekend. Clearly, something needs to be done.

Stud: Backstrom. This game would have been 8 or 9-0 if not for him.

Dud: I'm really tempted to say everyone again, but the unbelievably bad play of Kim Johnsson convinced me to point out his Dud-ism again. (And, why do we keep him? Hmmm...could it be money? Yeah, I think so.)

Next: at San Jose, Thursday, March 5, 9:30 PM Central (7:30 PM Pacific) Time, HP Pavilion. (TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin), Comcast SportsNet-Bay Area (in HD), NHL Network-Canada; XM Ch. 206)

WRT (a really tired, frustrated one at that)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Backstrom Re-Signs with Wild

Goaltender Niklas Backstrom has re-signed with the Minnesota Wild, 4 years, $24 million, securing the Wild's No. 1 goaltender thru 2012. The contract does include a limited no-trade clause for at least the first two seasons, then depending on whether he still is the No. 1 goalie in Minnesota, extending automatically thru various performance marks. The new contract makes Backstrom tied for fourth-highest paid goalie in the League.

In contrast, according to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the most Backstrom ever made in the Finnish Elite League?



Trade Crosby?

One good thing about the trade deadline being, as of this writing, less than 28 hours away, is that rumors and fan-trades (trades created by fans who always undervalue opposing teams' players while overvaluing their team's players) will end.

What caused me to write this post and create the scenario that I'll get to shortly was not a trade proposal from a Penguins fan, but a statement. Los Angeles Kings winger Alexander Frolov recently became "available" - or has been available all season, depending whom you ask - and the Penguins would very much be interested in him. What this one individual proposed, however, was that Pittsburgh not even begin to discuss trades with Los Angeles unless 24-year-old captain Dustin Brown, an up-and-coming, very talented power forward, was included with Frolov in any trade.

After I read that statement, I just had to shake my head. I jokingly thought, "Why not demand Jack Johnson then too?"

I figure there are only two, maybe three, assets the Penguins have that would get Brown AND Frolov out of LA: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury the "maybe" third. Which got me to thinking about my own fan-trade. If you're Penguins general manager Ray Shero, do you offer the Kings Crosby in exchange for Brown, Frolov and Johnson, a potential franchise defenseman? If you're LA GM Dean Lombardi, do you accept?

If I'm Pittsburgh, you know what? I'm tempted to make that trade. Aside from the fact that the Penguins have won their last three games without Crosby, it seems that Evgeni Malkin steps up his game tenfold when Crosby is out of the lineup. He did it last year and is duplicating that again during this stretch. He's also got 13 more points than Crosby anyway. When Crosby's in the lineup, Malkin isn't usually as overpowering. There's a sort of alpha-dog status going on there. Malkin tends to defer to Crosby even though Malkin might be the better player.

Imagine these two lines for Pittsburgh in the case of this trade: Petr Sykora-Malkin-Brown the top unit, followed by Chris Kunitz-Jordan Staal-Frolov. Each of those lines has a sniper (Sykora, Frolov), each has a rugged forward who will throw his weight around and can also score (Kunitz, Brown), each has a center capable of creating his own offense (Malkin, Staal), each line has balance with two left-handed shooters and one rightie.

Staal also gets to play in his preferred role of center on a top-two line and perhaps regain his form from his rookie season. He and Kunitz have formed a nice little duo in two games so far, prompting jokes that Shero needs to find a new winger for Crosby, since Kunitz "belongs" to Staal.

This returns Max Talbot to center of the third line and puts Pascal Dupuis on the third line where he belongs, rather than the first line.

Without Crosby, there would also be a lot less hatred directed at Pittsburgh from other players (let alone fans; when Adam Burish is taking shots at Crosby, there's a problem somewhere.)

Pittsburgh's salary cap situation would also improve. The three Kings currently make less than Crosby. Brown is locked up for $3.175 million for a few more years, Frolov would be due a raise from his $2.9 cap hit after next season, and Johnson's in the final year of his entry-level contract, but his on-the-ice performance hasn't done much to merit a huge increase.

Even if the three combine to make more than Crosby after their new contracts, that's still money tied into three key players rather than one.

Which leads us to, "Do you accept the Penguins offer, Mr. Lombardi?"

Los Angeles gets one of the league's elite players (despite what Mr. Burish believes.) The Kings give up a lot, and that is one problem - who would Crosby play with. But considering who he's currently lining up with in Pittsburgh (well, when he's healthy), I feel confident the Kings can find some scrappy role player in the fold of a Dupuis, or a washed-up has-been like Miroslav Satan (who's been playing a little better lately, I'll grant him that) or go after someone in free agency (LA has plenty of cap space).

The pressure wouldn't be all on Crosby either, not with Anze Kopitar and Patrick O'Sullivan around to form the second line. There is also a solid defense corps even without Johnson in Drew Doughty, Kyle Quincey and Matt Greene. Jared Stoll is a solid two-way center with some offensive skills.

The other question would be, would LA potentially be giving up too much? I love Brown and Frolov, but I don't think either will grow to become as good as Crosby, the youngest player involved (he's 21; Brown is 24, Frolov 26, Johnson 22). The two Kings forwards have one 30-goal season apiece under their belts. Crosby has a pair of 100-point seasons, two seasons of 35+ goals, one high-ankle sprain away from adding to each of those numbers, and can still put up 100 this season.

Brown and Frolov each have room to grow. Or they could falter off like Jonathan Cheechoo (whose goal total over the last four seasons reads like this: 56, 37, 23, nine.) You just don't know. The guess here is they won't suffer that same fate.

The wild card is Johnson. Does he become the next Nick Lidstrom? If he does, and if you know for sure he will, then I'd probably have a tough time making that trade if I'm Lombardi. But that's the thing, you don't know. Do you trade potential for a given? Johnson is undeniably very talented. A shoulder injury cost him much of this season, which would've been his second full season in the NHL. Defensemen take a while to develop, so are you willing to wait for him? What if it means getting Crosby? There's no guarantee he'll turn into the player many experts believe he will.

There could be draft picks thrown in by each side, or another lesser player or two. From Pittsburgh's end, two downsides I see are, first, a public backlash, but depending who you ask on any given day, or after any given loss, some people won't be upset to trade Crosby, and second, if Staal doesn't become the offensive force people expect him to be (note: he's 20.) Oh, and there's also the whole, "Trading Sidney freaking Crosby" thing.

For LA, you might be giving up two potential franchise players in Brown and Johnson, along with a very good winger, but getting a marquee franchise player in return. They'd need to find a winger for Crosby, but again, they have more cap room than most teams in the league. Or trade Stoll for one.

Marketing, locker room chemistry, shock value and whatnot had little to do with my reasoning. I'm thinking purely from an on-ice standpoint to improve a team. (Although now that I think about it, there's this: rather than be the face of the NHL, Crosby could become the King of the NHL. Get it? The King? Because he'd be playing for the Kings?)

Joe Thornton was traded. Brad Richards was traded as a salary dump (which a Crosby trade would partly be). Some guy named Gretzky was traded. No reason why Crosby should be excluded from the list.

Chances of this happening? About the same as me wooing Giselle Bundchen away from Tom Brady. Intriguing to think about? I'd say yes.

(P.S. I can't wait for the rumorboards to start throwing this out as a legitimate trade. This was pure hypothetical speculation. Crosby and Brown are going nowhere. Johnson probably isn't either. Frolov? Maybe.)

2008-09 Stats
Sidney Crosby (60 GP, 23G, 56A, 79P, plus-3)

Dustin Brown (60 GP, 23G, 25A, 48P, minus-8)
Alexander Frolov (62 GP, 26G, 20A, 46P, minus-3)
Jack Johnson (21 GP, 4G, 1A, 5P, minus-12)


Sunday, March 1, 2009

DR's Window Closing

According to Russo, Riser feels that Gaborik's return will be the "shot in the arm" the team needs to ascend to the playoffs.

The problem, as Russo adroitly points out, is that Gaborik isn't expected back for 2-3 weeks. The Wild needs a shot in the arm right now.

It is becoming painfully clear that this is a GM who is either a coward (ie to make a trade) or unable to admit that he made mistakes in putting this team together. Neither is acceptable.

He has tried to set expectations low for this year's trade deadline yield. And, while I agree most teams will just look to just shuffle parts around - and that the Wild needs more than a couple "I just need a change of scenery to find my game" players at this point - the problem is that he then creates space for himself to do nothing. Again, either too afraid or too prideful.

If it isn't clear to him that his team needs a jolt, and that his head coach is practically begging for one, then you can add torpid or maybe obtuse to the list of descriptors for Riser. Lemaire said, "We’ve got to play the best we can, and if we don’t win, it’s because we’re not good enough" after last night's game. (Per Russo's blog.)

With the trade deadline only a few days away, we will not have to wait very long to start judging Risebrough's job this season. Waiting two weeks for Gaborik is not going to cut it. No, he doesn't need to bring in Bouwmeester and Spezza. But if he stands pat and the team continues its descent out of the playoffs then it will be open season on Mr. Risebrough. At least in this space.


Game #61: Oilers 3, Wild 2

On a day when it seemed nothing was going to go right for the Minnesota Wild, an old friend stopped in to say 'Hi there.'

Too bad his team -- the Edmonton Oilers -- came away with the two points Saturday night, as once again the Wild failed to come away with a win on 'Hockey Night in Canada', as the Oil won 3-2 at Rexall Place, despite outshooting the Grease by a 45-30 count.

On top of the day's major news -- that Derek Boogaard was given a five-game suspension for his supposed injuring Calgary Flame Brandon Prust late in Friday night's 4-1 loss, in effect ending his road trip after only one game -- Dwayne Roloson, former Wild goaltender, came back and haunted his old mates during a third-period flourish, which included at least three 'metallurgical saves' off crossbar and goalposts.

The loss, the third straight for the Wild, dropped the Wild to 10th place in the Western Conference, and they could be as low as in 12th place by the time they face-off versus the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night at GM Place in Vancouver. The Wild are also 2-6 in their last eight games, and have lost three straight games within the Northwest Division. If that isn't enough 'doom and gloom' for you, they are also 1-2 on 'HNIC', with one appearance remaining on the schedule. Guess when and where?

Saturday, March 28th, vs. the Calgary Flames from the Wild's favorite house of horrors, the Pengrowth Saddledome, where they are 1-13-2 after last night's fiasco in their last 16 trips into Cow-gary.

Chicken Little: And this road trip has only started! Shall we get the funeral pyhrre ready, sir?

Pollyanna: Hey, they played a lot better than last night!

Bottom Line: If they couldn't win this game, there's very little hope left for 'da boys' after tonight. This was a 'must-win' game which, true to Wild form this season, they did not win. Let's see what happens, particularly after Marian Gaborik's physical, scheduled for Sunday (moved up from Tuesday) in Vail, Colorado. The next few days could be either fun or torture, depending on what Doug Risebrough and the hockey operations staff do (or, don't do).

Stud: The whole team played markedly better than last night.

Dud: Was there a dud? They couldn't put biscuit in basket, but that's more due to the stand-on-your-head goaltending of Dwayne Roloson than anything the Wild didn't do.

Next: at Vancouver, Tuesday, March 3, 9:00 PM Central (7 PM Pacific) Time, GM Place. (TV: KSTC-45, Rogers SportsNet-Pacific (in HD), XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)