Saturday, October 31, 2009

Game #14: Wild 2, Penguins 1


The Minnesota Wild are really going to miss Mellon Arena, after the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins move across the street to Consol Energy Center after this season.

They obviously love the Igloo, as the Wild's win streak in Pittsburgh extended to three straight as Eric Belanger's goal with :00.6 remaining in the first period stood up, thanks to a Herculean effort by Niklas Backstrom with 34 saves as the Wild beat the Pens 2-1 Saturday night for their second straight win in as many nights. The Wild are now 3-0 versus the Eastern Conference in 2009-10.

Belanger also did his best vampire victim imitation, after ex-Gopher Alex Goligoski slashed Belanger with less than two minutes remaining, which sent Belanger to the locker room bleeding profusely from the proboscis.

The Wild are now off until Thursday, Nov. 5th after a 4-3 record while playing 7 games in 11 nights.

Leader: Backstrom, no question. Tonight, he was spot on his game. He had to be. During the last 10 minutes, while the rest of the Wild were scrambling, he was steady. Tonight, he was money.

Lagger: Sidney Crosby. Lost his cool (with Marek Zidlicky, none the less!) and was assessed 9 minutes in penalties, on a Penguins team who was already playing three men short due to injuries. Not smart.

Stud: Martin Havlat. Assisted on Belanger's game winner, but what made him stand out was his game-saving hand-clear of a sure goal in the final minutes, as the Pens were buzzing around the Minnesota goal. Who says he's a one-dimensional player?

Dud: Really, no one on either side deserved dud-ism. It was a good game by both teams.

OK, Assembled Multitude, put down the candy and tell us what you're thinking...

Chicken Little: How can this Wild team stay so lucky? How??

Pollyanna: Two good games back-to-back by 'da boys.' When these guys really want to put in an effort, they can win, even against good teams.

Bottom Line: A nice way to get the proverbial 'Monkey off your back' by beating the defending champions in their house. Did anyone think a week ago we would be sitting here saying 'Wild winning streak'? (I didn't think so...)

Next: vs. Vancouver, Thursday, Nov. 5, 7:00 PM Central (5:00 PM Pacific) Standard Time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin) in HD, CityTV (Vancouver); XM Ch. TBA)

NHL Recap 10-30-09

Stars of the night
--Frans Nielsen, 2 goals; Islanders upend Washington in overtime, 4-3.
--Tim Connolly, 2 goals, 1 assist, Ryan Miller 33 saves; Buffalo beats Toronto, 3-2.
--Petr Sykora, 1 goal, 1 assist. He obviously read my blog post and that's what motivated him. You're welcome, Minnesota.
--Kris Versteeg, 1 goal, 1 assist; Chicago edges Montreal, 3-2.
--Steve Reinprecht, natural hat trick, 1 assist; Florida beats Dallas, 6-5. Who needs David Booth? Reinprecht scored his three goals in a span of 5:11 in the first period, including just 29 seconds between the second and third goals.
--Corey Perry, 2 goals, 1 assist; Anaheim kills Vancouver, 7-2. Bobby Ryan had the same stat line but didn't score until the third period when the Ducks were up two already, so he doesn't get a star.
--Ryane Clowe, 1 goal, 1 assist; San Jose puts a temporary end to the Colorado machine, 3-1.

Working late
--Mark Streit's goal in overtime gave the Islanders the win over the Caps.
--Connolly's second goal came on the power play in overtime for Buffalo. Mikhail Grabovsky had scored shorthanded on the same penalty kill with 38 seconds left to force overtime.
--Rostislav Olesz had the only goal in the shootout for Florida.

History repeated, with a twist
Pittsburgh scored twice in 39 seconds with under three minutes remaining to tie its game with Columbus, 3-3, then won in the shootout on Sidney Crosby's goal. It is the second straight season the Penguins had a big third-period rally in Columbus. Last year, they scored three times in 3:25 to erase a 3-0 deficit before losing in the shootout.

Crosby is 4-for-4 on shootouts this season with two game-deciding goals.

That Columbus arena was LOUD when Alex Goligoski scored with 2:17 left to tie the game at 3-3 and when Brent Johnson stopped Kristian Huselius to end the game.

Strong in defeat
--Tomas Fleischmann, in his second game back from recovering from having a blood clot in his leg, scored twice for Washington.
--Rick Nash netted two goals for Columbus.
--Craig Anderson made 43 saves for the Avalanche.

The Skoula Report
Competent, even quality performance from Martin Skoula Friday. He logged 18:19 of ice time, again more than Jay McKee, blocked two shots, registered one hit, and also had an assist on Ruslan Fedotenko's goal - that made the score 3-2 - when his shot from the point ricocheted off the end-boards to Fedotenko, who had an empty net at which to shoot.

Quote of the night
"We go back to work, there's no magic potion trying to get out of this here."
Rangers coach John Tortorella. New York is 1-4-1 after starting 7-1-0

Marquee matchup
Saturday, Oct. 31 (11 games)
Anaheim (4-6-1) at Phoenix (8-4-0), 9 p.m. ET. Two reasons to watch this one: First and foremost, count the heads in the stands. Do a shot for every 10 you see. You'll still have plenty of alcohol left over. (I'm not going to make the obvious and lame, "Lot of Phoenix fans dressed up as empty seats for Halloween" joke.)

Second, Anaheim just scored seven goals, and Ilya Bryzgalov has a league-high three shutouts. Something's gotta give.

Oh, and a special note that there's afternoon hockey. Two games at 1 p.m., one at 2 and one at 3, all times ET.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Game #13: Wild 3, Rangers 2


This was supposed to be a Slovak's night. But, when the Slovak du jour failed to show, a Czech stepped in and stole the show.

As Marian Gaborik re-introduced himself to the 'Martin Skoula press box popcorn machine' at Xcel Energy Center Friday night, Petr Sykora made sure that Minnesota Wild head coach Todd Richards did not sit him next to the oft-injured ex-countryman any more, as his goal and assist helped propel the Wild to a 3-2 win over Gaby's New York Rangers in front of 18,106 goalie mask recipients (fake ones, Ms. Conduct.)

Richards also singled out Antti Miettinen for praise, as his rebound score gave the Wild its' second two-goal lead of the season entering the third period, a period which saw the Wild somewhat sit back and wait for things to happen.

Looking back at a good night for the local six, we find...

Leader: Sykora. Goal, assist, +1 for the night, looked really good in his comeback effort.

Lagger: Chris Drury. Big players need to step up in big situations. Where was the Rangers' captain?

Stud: Mikko Koivu. 2 assists, one of 3 Wild players +2 for the night, played his heart out tonight.

Dud: Marek Zidlicky. Two giveaways, always an adventure with the puck for Zids.

Take off the masks, Assembled Multitude, and tell us what you thought:

Chicken Little: OK, they won at home. Now, how about on the road?

Pollyanna: Three players +2 tonight, a two-goal lead and they didn't blow it. Nice 'W'!

Bottom Line: This October has been depressing enough for Wild faithful. Nice to see the boys still have it in 'em to pull one out when the breaks go your way. Now, will that continue when they face the defending Stanley Cup champions?

Next: at Pittsburgh, Saturday (Hallowe'en), 6:30 PM Central (7:30 Eastern) Time, Mellon Arena. (TV: FSNorth, FSPittsburgh, both feeds in HD: XM Ch. 206)

NHL Recap 10-29-09

Stars of the night
--Yann Danis, 31 saves in his first appearance; New Jersey beats Boston, 2-1. Not just first start. First appearance, period.
--Steven Stamkos 2 goals, 1 assist; Ryan Malone 1 goal 2 assists; Tampa Bay beats Ottawa, 5-2.
--Alex Ovechkin 2 goals, 1 assist; Washington edges Atlanta, 4-3.
--Ilya Bryzgalov 32 saves; Phoenix beats St. Louis, 2-0. Another shutout for Bryzgalov, his third. And the Blues continue to suck at home.

Step-up complete?
I said yesterday that someone needs to step up in goal for Nashville. Well, Pekka Rinne blanked Chicago (22 saves) in a 2-0 win, on the heels of his scoreless relief effort against Minnesota. Dan Ellis has been better overall, but maybe Rinne is figuring things out. This team still can't score much though.

I am Russo
Going to go all Mike Russo on you by praising a prediction I made. I said if Edmonton was going to score against anybody after being shut out in two straight games, it would score against Detroit. Well, less than a minute in, the Oilers scored on a goal by J-F Jacques, and midway through the second period they were up 5-1. Never mind that they blew that four-goal lead, but they won 6-5 in a shootout.

Patrick O'Sullivan rung his shootout attempt off the near post and off the bar in the back of the net for the winner. Dustin Penner had four points (1-3) and Ales Hemsky scored twice with an assist for Edmonton. Linemate Shawn Horcoff had three points (1-2).

Detroit's goaltending is bad. Jimmy Howard made some good stops at the end of overtime but before that? Yeesh. Chris Osgood has been no better.

Oops, we did it again
For the second straight game, Los Angeles took a 1-0 lead, allowed the tying goal a few minutes later and lost 2-1 in a shootout. On Wednesday it was to San Jose. Thursday it was Vancouver, playing without Bob Luongo. Andrew Raycroft made 30 saves in his place and Mikael Samuelsson had the shootout winner. He also scored in regulation for the Canucks. Scott Parse scored his first NHL goal for the Kings.

Quote of the night
"It's a useless part of the game, the shootout. I hate it, but the fans love it. For that reason I like it, because the fans are excited, they're standing waiting for the next shooter. It is good for the game, but boy, do I hate it."
Kings coach Terry Murray

Marquee matchup
Friday, Oct. 30 (8 games)
Colorado (10-1-2) at San Jose (8-4-1), 10:30 p.m. ET. This year's NHL leader against last season's NHL leader.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On Sykora


So I guess Petr Sykora is becoming a target for criticism? I haven't caught many Wild games lately but I heard he was a healthy scratch last game.

I thought I had mentioned the negative parts of Sykora's game in an earlier post, but looking back, I don't think I did. Fine time to do it now, I guess. I'll probably look like I'm just re-hashing what other critics have said. But I don't have any reason to criticize him now; I'll just be sharing what I observed when he was in Pittsburgh the last two seasons.

First, I know Mike Russo constantly mentions Sykora's streak of 20-goal seasons. And that's all well and good.

But if Sykora isn't scoring one of those 20 goals, he's not doing, well, anything to help his team.

I was happy Sykora was a Penguin for the last two seasons, even with how horridly his 2008-09 season ended, when he had a shoulder injury, barely scraped together any points, let alone goals, during the stretch drive when Pittsburgh battled for a playoff spot, and was a healthy scratch for the majority of the playoffs.

He scored 53 goals in two regular seasons. I thought he could've, maybe even should've, had more. Sometimes his shot would juuust miss the net. Or his hands let the puck get away from him. Or he'd simply shank a shot. Or he couldn't catch up to a puck that was out of reach.

I started to think he either wasn't the pure sniper I believed him to be or his skills were in decline despite being in just his early-30s. In the "what have you done lately?" world, I wasn't overly interested in the Penguins re-signing him. I don't know how much that shoulder injury affected him, but his situation was not a Chris Kunitz situation.

Kunitz scored a goal Wednesday. It was his second goal, period, in 41 games, counting the playoffs. The difference between Kunitz and Sykora is Kunitz does a lot away from the puck to contribute. He'll battle in the corners. He'll throw a big hit. He forechecks. He backchecks. He does a lot of little things that often go overlooked, especially by people who look only at the scoresheet.

Sykora doesn't do any of that. He's not overly fast and I think I threw more hits in a Penguin uniform than he did in his two seasons. He doesn't work the corners or camp out in front of the net and his defensive work isn't super impressive. He didn't kill penalties. He didn't really create his own shot. If set up in a quality scoring position, there was a good chance he would score.

That's eventually why Sykora became a scratch in the playoffs. He brought absolutely no positive to the team. Even Miroslav Satan, who had nine straight seasons of 20 or more goals snapped after the 2007-08 season and who is basically a carbon copy of Sykora, changed his game. Satan netted 17 goals for the Penguins before being demoted to the AHL for salary cap purposes. When he got into the lineup in the playoffs, it was on the fourth line, but he seemed to welcome the chance to play.

He threw checks. He was responsible defensively. He even dropped the gloves at the end of a playoff game and got a strong ovation from the home faithful. He showed fire and determination, which Sykora didn't do until the very end.

Sykora didn't get the message until Game 6 of the Final. Unfortunately it was a game he didn't finish. He was on the fourth line and made a diving block of a shot in the second period, breaking a bone in his foot in the process and keeping him out of Game 7. That's how his career as a Penguin ended. Sure, he lifted the Cup at the end, and his contributions in the first two-thirds of the season helped to that end. But on a personal level, things ended poorly.

I thought he might have a rebound season if paired with a good playmaker, either Martin Havlat or Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and if Sykora was fully healthy. Obviously, that hasn't happened, at least not yet. Todd Richards has made some curious decisions, with the benchings of Havlat and Sykora and the recent healthy scratch.

Those things are often done to make sure the player gets the message. But if it takes repeated messages sent, then it may come to a point where one has to question if the coach is conveying the correct message or utilizing the proper methods. I'm not saying Richards is a bad coach, but there certainly seems to be some disconnect between the coach and the team's two marquee free agent signings.

For Wild fans' sakes, here's hoping Sykora turns things around.

Worst-case scenario, the Penguins often go shopping at the trade deadline for a winger to put on one of the top two lines.

Another big-name injury


Marian Hossa. Phil Kessel. Marc Savard. Andrei Markov. Johan Franzen. Ilya Kovalchuk. Sergei Gonchar.

Those are just some of the big-name players off the top of my head who have suffered injuries that will cause - or have caused - them to miss weeks, if not a month or two or more of action. And never mind injuries that cause players to miss a game or two here and there (Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Gaborik come to mind.)

Now, a bombshell was dropped at the Penguins' practice today when coach Dan Bylsma announced Evgeni Malkin, last year's leading scorer in the regular season and playoffs and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, will be out two to three weeks with a shoulder strain. According to Bylsma, Malkin strained the shoulder approximately 10 days ago but had been playing through it.

Malkin hasn't scored a goal in, oh, approximately 10 days (OK, it was Oct. 20) but had notched three assists in the three games since and still has 14 points in 12 games.

"Obviously he has played with it and could gut it out, which is what Geno would be apt to do," Bylsma told Jason Seidling at practice. "At this time of the year the concern is the player and this is a precautionary measure."

According to Bylsma, rest and rehab is all it should take to fix the shoulder.

If one were to look on the bright side, one could say that now is a better time for Malkin - who had played in 254 straight regular-season games - to miss time rather than later, in the crucial stretch drive or worse, the playoffs. The Penguins also might possibly sort of be able to cope in his absence, if the top line of Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Bill Guerin plays like it did Wednesday, when the trio combined for 10 points.

At 10-2, Pittsburgh has also given itself the luxury of a little wiggle room. Bylsma also has Jordan Staal around to plug that No. 2 center hole, and enough role players to fill Staal's vacated No. 3 center position.

But let's be honest: You're not a better team when a player like Malkin has to miss time. (Although the Penguins won't need to kill as many penalties over the next couple of weeks. Malkin has 18 PIMs in those 12 games.)

The Penguins also played Wednesday without Tyler Kennedy, who is expected to miss Friday's game in Columbus. Kennedy has five goals and is tied for the league-lead with three game-winners.

NHL Recap 10-28-09

Stars Goalies of the night
--Chris Mason, 34 saves; St. Louis downs Carolina, 5-2.
--Ryan Miller, 31 saves; Buffalo beats New Jersey, 4-1.
--Dwayne Roloson, 34 saves; Islanders win over the Rangers, 3-1. No Gaborik, no offense for the Rags.
--Jason LaBarbera, 31 saves, Keith Yandle 3 assists; Phoenix wins again, 4-1 over Columbus.
--Sidney Crosby, hat trick, Chris Kunitz 1 goal 3 assists; Pittsburgh wallops Montreal, 6-1. Crosby's third career hat trick. The first also came on Oct. 28. He has 36 goals in his last 55 games now, counting playoffs. As for Martin Skoula, solid night. One glaring mistake that didn't amount to anything but also made a couple good plays.
--Brad Richards, 2 goals; Dallas tops Toronto in overtime, 4-3.
--Craig Anderson, 30 saves; Colorado takes out Calgary, 3-2. Is goaltending important? Colorado went from Andrew Raycroft and Peter Budaj to first in the NHL behind Anderson.

Working late
--Mike Ribeiro tied the Stars' game with 2:45 remaining and James Neal scored in overtime to give Dallas the win.
--Both goalies were sharp between Los Angeles and San Jose, and it took six shootout rounds to decide a winner when Ryane Clowe scored on Jonathan Quick and Jarret Stoll's attempt was stopped by Evgeni Nabokov. Alexander Frolov (Kings) and Patrick Marleau (Sharks) had the regulation goals.

Doug Risebrough impression of the night
"We're happy. I don't want to give people the impression we are not happy. We're managing our expectations a little better."
Miller. Buffalo is 7-1-1.

Quick strikes
Two goals in 38 seconds late in the second period, by Nick Foligno and Jarkko Ruutu, gave Ottawa a 4-2 lead over Florida in an eventual 4-3 win. One was lucky, as Foligno's pass went off the skate of defenseman Bryan McCabe and past Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun. McCabe scored later but Florida's comeback attempt fell short.

Someone step up
This won't make Wild fans feel better, but someone has to decide who's the Nashville starter. Dan Ellis has out-played Pekka Rinne but was pulled after conceding those three quick goals. Coach Barry Trotz says he's not worried about Ellis, but this continues to be a back-and-forth situation. Rinne won his last start but gave up five goals in doing so and had a decent bounceback game Wednesday.

Quote of the night
"All the arenas are all new and all generic. You don't have a lot of differences. So, to me, there isn't a real home advantage for a lot of the teams."
Blues coach Andy Murray. St. Louis is 3-1-1 on the road but just 2-3-0 at home

Marquee matchup
Thursday, Oct. 29 (7 games)
Washington at Atlanta to see Alex Ovechkin play Ilya Kovalchuk. Detroit (4-4-2) at Edmonton (6-5-1), 9:30 p.m. ET. If the Oilers, who have been shut out in two straight games, are going to score, it'll be against the Red Wings, who allow an average of 3.5 goals per game.

Someone forgot to tell the folks at NHL Network to re-do their commercial for the Caps-Thrashers game. Saw one last night trying to showcase that Ovechkin-Kovalchuk matchup. Woops.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Game #12: Predators 4, Wild 3


The Minnesota Wild have gone beyond 'lovable losers' after tonight's lack of effort against the Nashville Predators, right down to major suck-ability.

That's right. You heard me. The Wild suck.

A 4-3 loss at home to the Preds sent the crowd of 18,195 out the doors unentertained, unrequited, and flat-out pissed off after another Marek Zidlicky turnover at neutral ice led to a Jerrod Smithson shorthanded goal which proved to be the game-winner. The Wild now are a Western Conference-worst 3-9 on the young season.

Oh, well, at least we have Marian Gaborik to watch Friday night -- NOT!!

Wild Offense: Non-existent except for the first 3 minutes of the second period.

Wild Defense: Aw, do we have to??

Preds Offense: Good pressure especially after they got the one-goal lead in the third.

Preds Defense: Dan Ellis was shaky in the second, but Pekka Rinne came in and showed why he really is No. 1 in Music City.

Leader: Ryan Suter, Nashville. +1, one assist, 21:13 in TOI. Good night and good numbers for a player the Wild couldn't get away from all night.

Lagger: Mikko Koivu. Another -3 night. Can't keep this up, Herr Capitain.

Stud: J.P. Dumont, Nashville. Started the game off right for his team with a goal in his first shift.

Dud: Zidlicky. Burns came close, but the last goal was directly a result of Zidlicky's carelessness. Maybe he misses his fellow Euro, Skoula, and wants to emulate him. YEEEEAAAHHHH!!!

(The assembled multitude were walking out the door arguing too much about the shots on goal by Greg Zanon and Zidlicky and the saves on those shots by Backstrom. Yeah, they both shot on the Wild net.)

Bottom Line: This team sucks. The race for No. 1 in the draft is definitely 'on'. (Don't trade the pick, CF.)

Next: vs. NY Rangers, Friday, Oct. 30, 7:00 PM Central (8:00 PM Eastern) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: KSTC-45 (in HD), MSG2; XM Ch. 207)

NHL Recap 10-27-09

Stars of the night
--Nicklas Backstrom 1 goal, 3 assists; Washington doubles up Philadelphia, 4-2.
--Craig Anderson, 25 saves for his second shutout of the season; Colorado hands Edmonton its second straight scoreless defeat, 3-0.
--Pavel Datsyuk, 2 goals, 1 assist; Detroit gets its first road win, 5-4 over Vancouver.

Not something you see every day
Wojtek Wolski netted a pair of goals for the Avalanche but the second one is something of a rare occurrence. The Oilers pulled goalie Nikolai Khabibulin late and trailing 2-0. Wolski out-raced two Edmonton defenders to a loose puck as it approached the Edmonton zone. One of the defensemen hooked Wolski before he could fire the puck into the empty net, and the officials correctly awarded Wolski the goal.

Not so Os-good
The Red Wings got their first road win of the season but there remains the issue of enigma Chris Osgood. The guy is money in the playoffs but is having a second-straight dreadful regular season, on the heels of a stellar 2007-08 season. Osgood gave up two very soft goals to Vancouver and was pulled after the second, on just the fourth shot, only seven minutes into the game.

I'm one of the few people who says Osgood gets a bad rap, but even I'm starting to find it hard to defend his play. In fact, I won't for the foreseeable future.

Quote of the night
"We should be embarrassed to get shut out two games in a row."
Oilers forward Sam Gagner

Marquee matchup
Wednesday, Oct. 28 (10 games)
There's a few quality games Wednesday, so we're going to make it a double-dip. First, Montreal (6-5-0) at Pittsburgh (9-2-0), 7:30 p.m. ET with the streaking Canadiens, winners of four straight, against the leading team in the East.

Later, at 10:30 p.m. on the NHL Network, Los Angeles (8-4-0) at San Jose (7-4-1) to see the league's leading scorer, Anze Kopitar, who faces the top assist man in the NHL, Joe Thornton.

A close third game is Colorado at Calgary at 9:30 p.m.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

From bad to worse


The Florida Panthers were already having a season to forget. Last year, they missed out on the playoffs on a tiebreaker, having had the same record as No. 8 Montreal (41-30-11, 93 points) but losing the head-to-head points tiebreaker, 6-3.

The opinion here is the Panthers would've given the Bruins a much tougher series than Montreal did. But that's neither here nor there now.

Entering the season, the Panthers were looked at by some as being a playoff contender for sure, a potential playoff team and maybe even capable of winning a round or two.

Well, about that....

Florida has struggled, to say the least, in the early going. The Panthers have just five points at 2-6-1. Only the woeful Maple Leafs, with three points, have a worse record in the entire NHL. Their young stars have struggled, the goaltending has not been as good. Really, now that Jay Bouwmeester is not on the roster, it seems to be a different team.

One of those talented young skaters who wants a mulligan on the season's first nine games is David Booth. For a variety of reasons. First, he has just two goals on the season after netting 31 in 72 games in 2008-09.

He was also on the receiving end of that shoulder-to-head hit by Mike Richards. The result? A concussion. Initially diagnosed as Booth missing a week or so. One day later (today), that prognosis has already worsened. Booth is now on the injured reserve list and team officials say he'll miss at least two to three weeks.

Booth turns 25 in November. He's signed through 2015. He's part of Florida's core.

Right now, he can't watch television for more than five minutes. Who knows what his future will hold.

Richards played in Philadelphia's next game. Wasn't even fined.

Hockey is a physical sport. We all like to see players who throw big-time body checks.

Let me repeat that: body checks, not head checks. Richards, with one malignant hit, has jeopardized the career and life of a fellow player. Did Booth have his head down? Sure. Did Richards seem to target Booth from across the ice? That seems possible.

I do not like this argument of, "It's a hockey play," or, "Booth should've kept his head up." That's blaming the victim. This is a hockey blog, so I'm not going to specifically voice this comparison, but there's an argument in the real world that also blames the victim and makes as little sense.

Frankly, hitting a player in Booth's position is a sign of disrespect by Richards for his fellow player. This is on the heels of Richards, as captain of Philadelphia, recently shirking his duties to speak to the media, running headlong into Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in a recent game, and is also not the first time Richards made a hit like that on a player. Ask Ronald Petrovicky.

The NHL claims to want to eliminate shots to the head. Well, why was there no punishment for this then? Richards gets away clean, as do the Flyers, and Florida's already-disappointing season could very well be over without arguably their best player for almost a month, if not more.

With each failed sentencing after failed sentencing, it's getting harder and harder to respect the National Hockey League.

Especially when the players don't respect each other.

Burns Comps Update

With all five players passing the 10 game mark, I thought it would be a good time for an update. You will recall we're comparing Brent Burns to other young high-profile defensemen in the league right now.

Player GP G-A-Pts Pts/Gm
Burns 11 1-3-4 0.36
Green 10 2-6-8 0.80
Weber 10 3-3-6 0.60
Phaneuf 10 5-4-9 0.90
Bouwmeester 10 1-5-6 0.60

Player PwrPlyPts, +/-, PIM, TOI, GWG
Burns 3, -11, 8, 23:59, 0
Green 2, +3, 14, 26:58, 0
Weber 2, E, 4, 25:27, 1
Phaneuf 4, E, 4, 23:40, 1
Bouwmeester 2, +5, 10, 26:54, 0

So, Burns is clearly struggling in the early going. That -11 is a league-worst number. Obviously there's still time to realize the turnaround season that Burns and Wild fans everywhere had been hoping for. But he's got to get it going as soon as possible.


NHL Recap 10-26-09

Stars of the night
--Marian Gaborik 2 goals, 1 assist; Vaclav Prospal 1 goal, 2 assists; Rangers beat Coyotes, 5-2. Gaborik is the league's top goal scorer now but left with an injury. Says it's not related to his hip or groin.
--Several Toronto players. See below.

Undeserved point?
The Islanders scored a late goal and earned a point after losing in overtime, 3-2, to Montreal. On the sequence that led to the tying goal by Jeff Tambellini - his second of the night - New York defenseman Mark Streit seemed to play the puck with a high stick, so much so that he appeared to stop playing briefly, evidently anticipating a whistle. None came and Tambellini scored a few seconds later, but the Canadiens got the second point when Tomas Plekanec fed Roman Hamrlik on a nice pass for the game-winning goal. Jaroslav Halak made his fourth straight start for Montreal, which has won... four straight.

Monster explosion
Was it the return of Jonas Gustavsson? Or the undisciplined play by the Ducks? Either way, Toronto got its first win of the season, emphatically so, 6-3 over Anaheim. Niklas Hagman had a hat trick, with all three goals on the power play. Tomas Kaberle had five points, including a goal, and Lee Stempniak chipped in four points, plus a goal. Matt Stajan had three assists and Gustavsson made 25 saves.

Anaheim had 45 minutes in penalties to Toronto's 31.

Just a feeling
But I think Minnesota wins in Pittsburgh Saturday.

Quote of the night
"He made a nice Czech sausage, that's what we call it. Sometimes in practice when you do a nice flip we call it a Czech sausage."
Hamrlik, describing the pass by Plekanec; both are from the Czech Republic. I don't think further commentary is necessary.

Marquee matchup
Tuesday, Oct. 27 (3 games)
Flyers-Capitals (7 p.m. ET, Versus) should be good, but I'd rather pick Colorado (8-1-2) at Edmonton (6-4-1) at 9:30 p.m. ET to see if the Avalanche can continue their hot play.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Game #11: Blackhawks 3, Wild 1

By Wild Road Tripper

CHICAGO -- The Minnesota Wild brought some clothes, some money and some hockey equipment to Chicago in order to play the Chicago Blackhawks Monday night in a nationally-televised (except on DirecTV) game on Versus, the NHL's US cable-TV outlet. What did they forget to bring?

Their 'A' game.

The Hawks beat the Wild 3-1 in front of 20,046 at the United Center, in Martin Havlat's first real game against the team whom he used to play for, prior to his UFA signing on July 1 with the Wild.

Too bad Havlat's -2 rating for the night did not stand out more, as the Wild generally were one step behind the Hawks the rest of the evening.

Wild Offense: Right now, there is none, save for Andrew Brunette. He's the only one who can put the biscuit in the basket.

Wild Defense: About as bad as the offense. If they don't get bad luck, they get none at all.

Hawks Offense: Sputtering without Jonathan Toews, who's still MIA after Willie Mitchell's open-ice hit last week vs. Vancouver, but more than enough to beat this sorry lot.

Hawks Defense: Good enough for tonight. Not very good, but good enough.

Leader: Tomas Kopecky. Seemed to be wherever the puck was, even though he didn't show in the scoresheet.

Lagger: Mikko Koivu. O Captain, our Captain, where hast thou gone?

Stud: Brunette. The only single Wild player worth anything right now.

Dud: James Sheppard. Even after a stint at the Martin Skoula press box popcorn machine, he still doesn't get it. You can be 'Little Boy Lost' for only so long, Shep.

The assembled multitude got on the wrong bus after the game (naturally):

Chicken Little: Who's more lost right now? The Wild? Or us??

Pollyanna: Bruno's going great guns, but...Hey, why do we keep passing pawn shops?

Bottom Line: If the Wild are going to do anything later in the season except have a fire sale, they have to play better than this. Two front-line players for Chicago (Toews, Brent Seabrook) both out injured, and they still played like that tonight. Unacceptable.

Next: vs. Nashville, Wednesday, October 28, 7:00 PM, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin) in HD: No XM Radio)

NHL Recap 10-25-09

Stars of the night
--Manny Malhotra, 2 goals; San Jose tops Philadelphia, 4-1. Don't know if this means anything, but after Mike Richards received no discipline for his hit on David Booth, he was called for charging goalie Thomas Greiss. He'd also bowled right into Marc-Andre Fleury when the Penguins visited Philadelphia earlier with three seconds left in a two-goal game. Richards isn't a dirty player though. Sure.
--Anze Kopitar, 2 goals; Los Angeles beats Columbus, 6-2. Dude leads the league in goals (10) and points (21). He's good.
--Bob Luongo, 27-save shutout in Vancouver's 2-0 win over Edmonton.

Guess the benching worked
Alexander Frolov, a two-time 30-goal scorer for the Kings, potted a pair of goals Sunday after recently being a healthy scratch. He also had an assist. Frolov now has three goals on the season.

Goaltending controversies!
--Greiss made 37 saves in relief of Evgeni Nabokov, who hasn't exactly been impressive, at least not consistently, for San Jose.
--Edmonton backup Jeff Deslauriers has allowed just three goals in two appearances (one win) for the Oilers. Starter Nikolai Khabibulin has a goals against average north of 3.00.
OK, there's not really any controversies here.

Quote of the night
"It probably wasn't fair to throw him out there to the wolves, but it shows his character. He's been practicing hard. Maybe he knew it was coming and his teammates rallied around him."
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, on Greiss

Marquee matchup
Monday, Oct. 26 (4 games)
Phoenix (6-3-0) at N.Y. Rangers (7-3-1), 7 p.m. ET. Next up on the Coyotes list of "Good teams to embarrass" is the Rangers. Shane Doan is starting to score more often for Phoenix, while Marian Gaborik is New York's showcase.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

NHL Recap 10-24-09

Stars of the night
--Mike Cammalleri, hat trick (GWG in OT), assist; Montreal beats the Rangers, 5-4.
--Danny Briere, 2 goals, 1 assist; Philadelphia tops Florida, 5-1. Game marred by David Booth being taken off the ice on a stretcher after a hit by Mike Richards. Looked clean - no elbow or charge from what I saw - but it was a shot to the head; reportedly no suspension for Richards.
--Bob Luongo, 35 saves; Vancouver keeps Toronto winless, 3-1. Mason Raymond scored a pair.
--Patrick Marleau, 2 goals, 1 assist; San Jose edges Atlanta, 4-3.
--Martin Brodeur, 32 saves; New Jersey ends Pittsburgh's seven-game win streak, 4-1. Devils got just garbage goals but did a good job defensively limiting the Penguins' opportunities and second chances.
--Loui Eriksson 1 goal, 1 assist; Marty Turco 27 saves as Dallas hands St. Louis a 4-1 loss.
--Cristobal Huet, 27 saves; Chicago shuts out Nashville, 2-0.
--Craig Anderson, 48 saves; Colorado beats Detroit, 3-1. Anderson's proving he's real, but Colorado is giving up so many shots it's hard to think it's a good team.
--Anze Kopitar 3 assists, Jared Stoll 2 goals in LA's 5-3 win over Phoenix.

Working late
--Washington trailed 2-0 in the third but got goals from Mike Green and Keith Aucoin to force overtime, where Brooks Laich scored the winner a minute into the extra frame. Laich and Green each also had an assist.
--The Bruins also overcame a two-goal deficit, but they trailed 3-1 with less than 90 seconds remaining. Goals by Mark Recchi and David Krejci (22 seconds left) forced overtime, and Patrice Bergeron had the only goal in the shootout as Boston beat Ottawa, 4-3.
--Drew Stafford scored with 17 seconds left and Tyler Myers, in Round 6, had the only shootout goal as Buffalo earned a 3-2 win at Tampa Bay.
--Heck of an effort by Cal Clutterbuck on his overtime winner for Minnesota.

Getting sick of these guys
Calgary and Edmonton met for the third time already this season. The Oilers really wish the schedule was different, as they've lost all three meetings, one in a shootout. Last night, it was Nigel Dawes scoring a pair of goals, Rene Bourque with a shorthanded goal and two assists, and Miikka Kiprusoff making 23 saves in a 5-2 Flames victory.

By the skin of their teeth
Columbus eked out a 6-4 victory at Anaheim last night when Fedor Tyutin one-timed a wobbling puck juuuust before it bounced over the blue line for the go-ahead goal with 3:22 remaining. Rick Nash added an empty net goal, his second goal of the night, and the Blue Jackets overcame blowing a 4-2 lead after two periods.

Quote of the night
"They had no business winning that game. They get one goal and then get a little bit lucky. We failed to clear and (Anton) Volchenkov loses his stick and they score."
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson

Marquee matchup
Sunday, Oct. 25 (3 games)
Edmonton (6-3-1) at Vancouver (5-5-0), 10 p.m. ET. The Canucks are starting to play better defensively, having given up only six goals their last four games. Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky are playing very well right now for the Oilers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Game #10: Wild 3, Hurricanes 2 (OT)

By Wild Road Tripper

Happily (for most), 18,145 Minnesota Wild patrons were sent into the cool Saturday night, compliments of a man who wasn't even supposed to play for another months' time.

Welcome to Cal Clutterbuck's world, Minnesota. You're all just pawns, and tonight, Cal is king.

The hard-nosed winger, who sprained his ankle two weeks ago during a game in San Jose, came back and scored the game-winner from a prone position on the ice, as Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward helplessly tried to get back in the net 1:55 into OT, as the Wild ran their 2009-10 home record to 3-0-0 with a 3-2 OT victory over the 'Canes at Xcel Energy Center. The loss runs the 'Canes record away from Raleigh to 0-4-2, as they end a four-game road trip.

Let's Go!

Wild Offense: For the most part, this was again another fits and spurts night, but there were a couple of bright spots; Brent Burns with two assists; eight different players with points tonight. Not bad, considering what we've been seeing lately.

Wild Defense: Shone brightly tonight. Head Coach Todd Richards singled out both Burns and Nick Schultz for praise in the post-game presser. Niklas Backstrom was rock-solid as usual.

'Canes Offense: Not much except Ray Whitney assists on both goals.

'Canes Defense: Two 'Canes (Jussi Jokinen, Sergei Samsonov) both -2 on the night. Ward was his usual steady self, except in the OT.

Leader: You could make a case for several Wild players, but anyone who marches into the coaches' office and begs to go back in deserves better. Clutterbuck, it is.

Lagger: I think that Marek Zidlicky played too much tonight. All that ice time (27:02, tops on both teams) gassed him pretty good.

Stud: Burns. He was into this game, big time.

Dud: Stephane Yelle. If you aren't using him, why bother? 5 shifts, 2:19 TOI. And you're paying him how much, Mr. Karmanos??

Assembled Multitude, do your things...

Chicken Little: Gotta start winning in regulation! We all know what happened last season!!

Pollyanna: "We don't suck like the Leafs, we don't suck like the Leafs, hi, ho, eh, ya know, we don't suck like the Leafs..."

Bottom Line: The Wild would not have been happy had this golden opportunity for two points been allowed to slip. This team needs wins, right now, anyway it can get them. If this were a Western Conference team, the howl after this game would have been almost cacaphonic. But it was an Eastern Conference team (and a tired one, also) that came calling at the 'X' tonight.

Next: at Chicago, Monday, Oct. 26, 7:00 PM Central Time, United Center. (TV: Versus, TSN2, both feeds in HD; XM Ch. 206)

Personal Note: I will be in attendance at the United Center for Monday night's Havlat returns game. Will blog if not too tired afterwards.


Game #9: Blues 3, Wild 1

By Wild Road Tripper

Minnesota Wild forward Andrew Brunette said it best following last night's 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center:

"Every game it seems we're down a goal in the first five minutes. It makes it tough psychologically."

No kidding, Bruno.

In a game where not only did the Wild give up the first goal for the seventh time this season, but lost Kim Johnsson in the process, thanks to a crushing check by Minnesota-native David Backes in the first period, the Wild again failed to answer the call for the entire game. They did rebound and played markedly better as the evening went on, but by the end it was once again too little, too late.

Leader: David Perron. Head and shoulders (and occasionally, elbows, but we ain't sayin') above everyone else.

Lagger: Nick Schultz. Once again, his lack of experience with aggressive forechecking showed as the Blues game winner was stolen from him.

Stud: Backes. Pieces of Johnsson's equipment were reportedly seen around Scott AFB this morning.

Dud: James Sheppard. Does his fan mail come addressed as 'occupant' for the way he is playing right now?

OK, assembled multitude, it's your turn:

Chicken Little: Do I really need to say anything? The record speaks volumes. 2 and 7...

Pollyanna: At least they kept it kinda close!

Bottom Line: Most fans blew this one off before the season started. St Louis is a good, young, hard-skating team. Too bad the Wild blew it off, also, after that disasterous first period.

If you're going: Another 'green evening' with the third jerseys.

Next: vs. Carolina, tonight (Saturday, Oct. 24), 7:00 PM Central (8:00 PM Eastern). Xcel Energy Center. (TV: FSNorth, FSCarolinas; XM Ch. 241)

NHL Recap 10-23-09

Stars of the night
--Sidney Crosby, 2 goals, the lone shootout goal; Pittsburgh beats Florida, 3-2. The tying goal was Crosby's first shorthanded goal of his career. Two fine plays by Evgeni Malkin to set up both goals, including a spectacular diving keep-in at the blue line on Crosby's power play goal.
--Tomas Vokoun, 41 saves in the loss. Still could've been the first star of the game.
--David Perron, 1 goal (SHG, GWG), 1 assist; St. Louis beats Minnesota, 3-1.
--Paul Stastny, 2 goals (GWG), 1 assist; Colorado edges Carolina, 5-4.

The Skoula Report
New feature for as long as Skoula plays, at least as long as I feel like doing it. Possibly only on slow nights.
Martin Skoula made his Pittsburgh debut, and considering he hasn't played in a while, he didn't look too bad. Made several good plays in his 17:02 of ice time, which was more than NHL blocked shot leader Jay McKee's 15:24. He was a +1, with one SOG, and blocked four shots. One or two of those were luck - he just happened to be in the right spot - but the others were good positioning. He also had a nice poke-check to stop a scoring chance. His stick-handling and mobility reminded one of Hal Gill or Rob Scuderi, but overall, he didn't do anything to hurt the team.

Demotions can be good
One of the Blues' top young players is Perron, who had recorded no points until Friday. A demotion to the third line resulted in him getting his first points of the season. St. Louis has to hope he begins consistently producing. Sorry, Wild fans, not trying to rub salt in the wounds.

Quote of the night
"(Colorado coach) Joe (Sacco) grabbed the guys and told them to regain their composure and not go running around trying to get guys back. You can lose your whole team on a hit like that, end up in the box and lose the two points."
Colorado defenseman Adam Foote, on teammate Darcy Tucker being on the receiving end of a check into the boards by Tuomo Ruutu, who was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Milan Hejduk scored on the ensuing power play and Wojtek Wolski scored shortly after it ended, to break what had been a 2-2 tie.

Marquee matchup
Saturday, Oct. 24 (15 games)
Los Angeles (6-4-0) at Phoenix (6-2-0), 9 p.m. ET. Anze Kopitar is red-hot and coming off his first career hat trick. He is tied for the NHL scoring lead. The Coyotes and Ilya Bryzgalov have made a habit of stopping some very good teams (Pittsburgh, San Jose and Detroit) and get another test.

Friday, October 23, 2009

NHL Recap 10-22-09

Stars of the night
--Zach Parise, 2 goals, 1 assist (on the game-winner); New Jersey doubled up the Rangers, 4-2.
--Jeff Schultz, 1 goal from around his own net (check YouTube or, 2 assists; Washington edged Atlanta, 5-4. Crazy goal Schultz scored. Just fired it down the ice, it skipped, and Ondrej Pavelec couldn't stop it. Also, when's the last time the Caps had five goals and Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom had no points?
--Defense partners Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, 2 goals, 1 assist each, Weber with the winner in OT. J.P. Dumont had 1 goal and 4 assists for Nashville in a wild 6-5 win at Ottawa. This was a fun third period to watch. Nashville entered up 3-0, the Sens scored three straight, Nashville went up 4-3, then Ottawa tied it, Suter scored to make it 5-4 with a minute left, then Ottawa got a shorthanded goal with less than two seconds remaining to force overtime.
--Mike Smith, 32 saves; Tampa Bay beats San Jose, 5-2. Steven Stamkos scored twice. Consistency calling San Jose. Consistency calling San Jose. Come in, Sharks.
--Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky, five points each. Penner had two goals, Hemsky one, the Oilers overcome a 4-1 deficit to beat the Blue Jackets, 6-4. Another wild one. Edmonton out-scored Columbus 3-0 in the third period.
--Anze Kopitar had a hat trick, the first of his career, in the Kings' 5-4 overtime win over Dallas. Yet another crazy third period. Dallas trailed 4-1 after two periods and struck three times in the third to salvage a point.

Strong in defeat
--Ilya Kovalchuk scored twice for Atlanta.
--Jason Spezza had three assists and won 15 faceoffs and was the best Senator on the ice.
--Kristian Huselius netted a pair of goals for Columbus.
--So did James Neal for Dallas.

Working late
--Claude Giroux scored the only goal in the shootout and Philadelphia defeated Boston, 4-3. Seen this mentioned a couple places, and I may have said it, but it bears repeating: This was Philadelphia's second game in 11 days. Why such a long break in this Olympic season? You really can't get anything right, can you, NHL?
--Weber's goal, his third of the season, came on the power play 2:11 into overtime. Ottawa fans not happy with the refs. Nashville had two power plays in the last three minutes of regulation, then another in overtime.
--The Cactus of Good Fortune continues to, um, smile upon the Coyotes, who got two lucky/fluke-ish type goals, including Adrian Aucoin's winner in overtime, to hand Detroit a 3-2 loss. Pavel Datsyuk had two assists after missing two games. Note: I don't know if there is such a thing as The Cactus of Good Fortune, but it sounded good.
--Michal Handzus scored 55 seconds into overtime to help the Kings avoid an embarrassing loss after blowing that three-goal lead.

There's that offense
Montreal scored a season-high five goals in routing the Islanders, 5-1. Five different players had goals, and for each player, it was either his first or second goal of the season: Scott Gomez, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Max Pacioretty, Michael Cammalleri and Max Lapierre. Jaroslav Halak started for the second straight game and made 21 saves. The five goals were the most the Canadiens (4-5-0) scored since the opener, when they had four, and the game marked their first two-goal lead of the season. It was also their first regulation win in 13 games.

Quote of the night
"Once again our start isn't the way it should be, so as a coach I'll have some questions to ask some of the leaders. We'll be looking for some answers."
San Jose coach Todd McLellan
(Whew! Looking for a new captain too? Again? Certainly can't be the coach's fault, right?)

Bonus quote
"After the game I went to give (Halak) a hug and he said, 'I don't like shutouts.' And I said, 'Well, you better like shutouts!'"
Cammalleri, after Halak missed a shutout only because Halak misplayed the puck behind his net for Josh Bailey's shorthanded goal

Marquee matchup
Friday, Oct. 23 (3 games)
This is not a fun schedule of games. I don't think there is a marquee matchup. I guess Florida (2-5-0) at Pittsburgh (8-1-0), 7:30 p.m. ET, to see how the Penguins look without Sergei Gonchar. The Panthers usually play the Penguins tough too so there's upset potential.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

NHL Recap 10-21-09

Stars of the night
--Tim Thomas, 28 saves; Boston edges Nashville, 3-2.
--Mikko Koivu, 1 goal, 1 assist, lone shootout goal; Minnesota beats Colorado, 3-2. Good debut for sure in his first game as captain, but did he really need the 'C' to play like this?
--Mikael Samuelsson, 1 goal, 1 assist; Vancouver beats Chicago, 3-2. Questionable star of the night: Antti Niemi was the second star despite losing, and the game-winner he gave up to Samuelsson was a very soft goal.

And then there was one
John Tavares' goal in the shootout - the third in three attempts for the Islanders - sealed New York's first win of the season, 4-3 over Carolina, leaving Toronto as the lone winless team in the NHL. Andy Sutton had two points, including a goal, and Dwayne Roloson made 35 saves. The Islanders avoided their worst start in franchise history.

Hope you didn't miss the start
Buffalo beat Florida, 5-2, but the fun part is six goals were scored in the first period, including all five Sabres tallies. They chased backup Scott Clemmensen with two goals on three shots in the first 1:56, added a third less than three minutes later, and were up by four halfway through the first. Steve Reinprecht stopped the blood flow by scoring for Florida, but Thomas Vanek - who is NOT out for "weeks" as originally feared - got a fluke goal to make it 5-1. Ryan Miller made a whopping 41 saves for Buffalo.

Curious selecting
I once made it a nightly habit to check box scores and look for the worst (statistically speaking) Three Stars selection of the night. I say I judge based on stats because unless I watched the game, I might've missed the player's contribution. But here's a curious call: Dallas defeated Anaheim, in California, 4-2, but the Ducks still came away with two of the three stars, including No. 1 James Wisniewski, a defenseman who had one assist.

Loui Eriksson and Steve Ott had one goal and assist each, James Neal had two assists for Dallas, and was part of a nifty passing play to set up the eventual winning goal, and Marty Turco made 24 saves.

Quote of the night
"Obviously, nothing's going to bring back what happened last year. They still won the series; we just won a game. But it's nice to be able to come in here and show we can win and just start moving on."
Bob Luongo, after the win in Chicago

Marquee matchup
Thursday, Oct. 22 (9 games)
Washington (4-2-2) at Atlanta (4-1-1), 7 p.m. ET, a Southeast Division game pitting Alex Ovechkin against one of the surprise goalies of the young season, Ondrej Pavelec, and Ilya Kovalchuk against goalies who haven't established themselves this season, either Jose Theodore (if healthy) or Semyon Varlamov (who hasn't shown his 2009 playoff form yet.)

Blogger Charting Wild Scoring Chances This Season

Just came across this, and it's pretty cool. Guy is going to monitor scoring chances for and against for the Wild this season.

Good stuff, and his summary analysis is pretty accurate.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Game #8: Wild 3, Avs 2 (SO)

An NHL captaincy is a sign of leadership, of taking the reins and pointing the team in the right direction, of 'manning up' to will the team towards the common good.

Mikko Koivu proved why he was named Captain of the Minnesota Wild tonight, as the Wild came back from a lackluster second period to defeat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 in the shootout Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center, before 18,175 less-than-enthused viewers.

The Wild now have a two-game home winning streak (imagine that!) but their admiration of this game won't last long, as they have 3 games in 4 nights beginning Friday night at Scottrade Center vs. the St. Louis Blues.

Wild Offense: OK in the first period, outshooting the Avs 13-4. Good in the third, especially late as the Avs took dumb penalties. Horrible in the second, when the Wild stopped skating.

Wild Defense: Just like the offense. OK in the 1st; horrible in the 2nd; good in the 3rd.

Avs Offense: It's still the Svatos and Stasny show in Denver. They've got two really good rookies also to pair them with.

Avs Defense: When will Adam Foote ever get that chip off his shoulder? Goalie Craig Anderson (UFA from Florida) seems to be the steal of the UFA season this past summer.

Leader: 'The Franchise'. Koivu did not want this team to lose tonight, They didn't.

Lagger: Kim Johnsson. His ill-timed collision at the start of OT with Greg Zanon pretty much summed up his evening.

Stud: Both goalies. Lots of mis-directs, rebounds, tips, and they got almost all of 'em.

Dud: James Sheppard. 4 hits, and how many misses. Had a golden opportunity to put the game away in the last minute, but blew it as he didn't skate well.

(Check back Thursday, as we had to sober up the Assembled Multitude.)

Next: at St. Louis, Friday, Oct. 23, 7:00 PM Central, Scottrade Center. (TV: FSMidwest (in HD), XM Ch. 205. Note: there is no local TV of this game in Minnesota. NHL Center Ice only.)

Pens' Gonchar out four-to-six weeks


Just off the golf course (enjoying the likely last pleasant day here) and still on the road, but I'll chime in here. Shortly after noon today, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma announced defenseman Sergei Gonchar will miss the next month at least with a broken bone in his wrist. So for the second time in two seasons, the Penguins have to cope without their best defenseman.

Gonchar is one of the top offensive blue liners, is underrated defensively, often plays the full two minutes on the power play and is a top penalty killer. To say Gonchar, not Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin, is Pittsburgh's MVP would not be an outlandish statement.

This kind of thing seems to be the only way to derail the Penguins' hot start. They are 8-1 and tied a record for points by a defending champion at this point of the season.

The difference this year is so many players are producing. From Crosby and Malkin, to Tyler Kennedy and Mike Rupp, to Alex Goligoski and all the way down to sixth defenseman Jay McKee.

Goligoski will be one of the players counted on to replace Gonchar. He's also been one of the most impressive Penguins. He played 45 games last season while Gonchar was out and fared nicely. That was his first NHL action. This year, he doesn't look out of place one bit. His poise near his own net has been solid and his defensive work overall has been better than expected. He has grown by leaps and bounds already.

We'll see how he does now that Gonchar is not around and he'll be asked to take on a bigger role. Goligoski had been playing with McKee and it remains to be seen what the pairings will look like for Friday's game.

Kris Letang is the other defenseman who will need to step up. No problems are expected there. Letang has been excellent in recent seasons. His offense is off to a slightly slow start, with no goals, but he does have five assists.

The Penguins will be in good hands, even if Wild fans predict doom and gloom now that the Martin Skoula era will begin. He'll be with either Mark Eaton or McKee most likely (the guess here is Letang will play with Brooks Orpik, Skoula and Eaton and Goligoski-McKee. Won't be surprised to see Skoula-McKee and Goligoski-Eaton though.) Either way, Skoula will play with a strong defensive partner capable of covering up mistakes. Barring that, Marc-Andre Fleury is playing very well.

Still, the loss of Gonchar is a big blow. It won't be as bad as last season, when Letang was younger and less mature and there was no Goligoski. The Penguins also had to rely more on the Magic Man, Ryan Whitney, but he was hurt until December. Pittsburgh isn't likely to maintain that .889 winning percentage without Gonchar, but they shouldn't go into the tank either.

The Ballad of the Russoville Refugee

The Star-Tribune just converted Russo's Rants to their new blog format (similar to the Access Vikings page.) As far as reading the content Russo and Rachel Blount provide, there's really no big difference for me.

But as far as the comments section, there's a major difference for me. What made "Russoville" Russoville was the community that developed among the commenters to The Don's posts. Obviously it's about reading the work of the best beat writer in the biz first and foremost - and I hope the new format will not cause anyone to stop doing that. But Russoville was other things as well.

The new format makes it more difficult to work up the continuity of conversation than the old format allowed for. That may sound unimportant, but think of it like this: you and a group of friends go out to dinner every Saturday night, always to the same place. It gets to the point that you get the same table, tucked away in the back, so you can chat freely amongst yourselves. Then one week you show up there and not only do they not have your table, but they tell you they will only seat you at tables for two, scattered around the dining room. Obviously the restaurant doesn't HAVE to make your old table available to you. It can do whatever it wants. But you can see why this new set up is frustrating to the "regulars" of the old place.

So, we created a new place to hang out.

Don't get me wrong: this in no way means I will stop reading Russo and Blount. As far as I'm concerned there's still no better authority on the Wild. I just won't be commenting there at anywhere near the level I used to. This is not some kind of "punishment." I don't want the Strib to fail - selfishly, because I want Russo to be able to continue covering the Wild. But I didn't comment there because I was supporting the Strib so much as I enjoyed the community among the commenters. So I will treat the Strib like I treat every other website I frequent: as a place to go and read content, but not necessarily to hang out. And, for the community feel, I'll be at the new place.


Cal Skating?

Wow...Russo tweets (@Russostrib) that Cal Clutterbuck, he of the dreaded high ankle sprain, is skating with the team this morning. Not necessarily that he will play, mind you. But just skating is a surprise.

Or is it?

The Wild's medical staff has made a cottage industry out of mis-diagnosing players. Starting with Mikko's broken leg, to Burnsie's concussion (which begat the infamous "middle seat in coach" situation), to PMB's concussion, there has been a string of massive failures by the docs on staff. Perhaps Cal's high ankle sprain is just another notch on their belt?

Look, it's never cool to blow a diagnosis, but especially when we're talking broken bones and concussions. Obviously it's good for the Wild if Cal can return sooner than the month-plus it was originally feared he'd miss, that's not the point. The point is that you have to be able to rely on your medical staff, and from the fan's perspective anyway, the Wild's med staff is relatively unreliable.


NHL Recap 10-20-09

Stars of the night
--The Penguins. Seriously. Two adjectives come to mind about the 5-1 win over the Blues: Emphatic and resounding. Five different goal scorers, 13 players with a point. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby combined for two points.
--Chris Mason, 31 saves in two periods. Seriously again. Absolutely no support in the loss, kept the game closer than it should've been. Pittsburgh out-shot St. Louis, 20-3, in the first period, and 15-8 in the second. Expected a much better effort from the Blues.
--Jarome Iginla, 1 goal, 2 assists; Calgary thumps Columbus, 6-3.

Working late
Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta scored in the shootout to give Montreal a 2-1 win over Atlanta. Gionta had the Habs' regulation goal. Jaroslav Halak made 22 saves in the win, while Ondrej Pavelec earned second-star honors in the losing effort with 34 saves. Montreal (3-5-0) avoided its worst start in nearly 70 years with the win. The 1940 Habs were 1-10-1.

Two-pronged quick strike
I wrote before that the Penguins are really good at scoring multiple goals very quickly. They did it twice Tuesday. Tyler Kennedy and Malkin scored 71 seconds apart in the first period, and Matt Cooke followed a goal by Ruslan Fedotenko with one 36 seconds later in the second. The problem is Sergei Gonchar hurt either his wrist or shoulder, apparently. Would be a huge blow if he's out for an extended period.

Not going down in Flames this time
Calgary conceded two power play goals early in the second period, turning a 3-1 lead into a 3-3 tie, but stormed back to score the next three goals, including Dion Phaneuf's fifth of the season and Jarome Iginla's third. Jay Bouwmeester scored his first and added an assist.

Quote of the night
"It's not a good feeling when you come back to the bench and your teammates are surprised that you have a shot like that. It kind of hurts your feelings a little bit."
Canadiens forward Scott Gomez, on his shootout goal
(No idea what the heck that's all about, but wow! Doesn't sound like a fun locker room in Montreal.)

Marquee matchup
Wednesday, Oct. 21 (6 games)
Canucks (3-5-0) at Blackhawks (5-2-1), 8:30 p.m. ET and available on the NHL Network. Rematch of a 2009 Western Conference semifinal, known most notably for Bob Luongo giving up seven in the deciding game. And the Hawks are scoring a lot this season. Cristobal Huet will have a good view from the bench. Yep, he's not starting, again.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NHL Recap 10-19-09

Stars of the night
--Devin Setoguchi, 2 goals, 1 assist; Patrick Marleau 1 goal, 2 assists; San Jose beats the Rangers, 7-3. San Jose joins Boston as two of the more inconsistent "stud" teams. Heck of a win though against the NHL's hottest team.
--The Kings top line. Ryan Smyth 1 goal, 2 assists; Justin Williams 1 goal, 1 assist; Anze Kopitar 1 goal. Oh, and Jon Quick made 29 saves, 15 in the third, in LA's 4-1 win over Dallas.
--Nikolai Khabibulin, 39 saves; Edmonton edges Vancouver, 2-1.

Coming to an end
Two streaks for the Rangers. First, their seven-game winning streak. Second, Marian Gaborik's eight-game points streak.

One more second...
Vancouver's Kyle Wellwood went on a nifty skating and deking play and scored to tie the Canucks' game at 2-2, but took too long to do it, and the puck didn't slide across the goal line until after the clock hit zero and the buzzer sounded.

Quote of the night
"We had 10 minutes in the second period when we lost our focus and it cost us the game."
Dallas coach Marc Crawford

Marquee matchups
Tuesday, Oct. 20 (3 games)
Columbus (5-1-0) at Calgary (5-2-1), 9:30 p.m. ET. I went with this game a week ago but it's still the best game on the schedule, though the Blues-Penguins (7 p.m. ET, Versus) should be entertaining. So I guess we can double up tonight. The Flames will look to avenge their 2-1 loss at Columbus from last week. Rick Nash is still good. Jarome Iginla is still not scoring. Miikka Kiprusoff is still giving up goals.

The Penguins (7-1-0) are scary because they're winning despite somewhat pedestrian numbers from Sidney Crosby (seven points) and Evgeni Malkin (10). The Blues (3-2-1) remembered how to score last game, doubling their goal total of the three previous games (five) against the Ducks (5-0 win.) Apparently St. Louis needs to play 2009 playoff teams to put forth its best effort (wins include two over Detroit and one over Anaheim; losses to LA, Phoenix and Atlanta.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Some Statistical Analysis

Okay, so you don't need numbers to tell you the Wild is in a bad, bad way. That 1-6-0 record, last in the conference, 2nd-worst in the entire league spells it out perfectly.

But, chew on this for a second:

Through seven games, the Wild has never lead after the 2nd period, NOR held a lead at any point in the 3rd period. Wow. They've only been tied after 2 periods once - that was in Vancouver the other night, and they eventually lost that game.

What's funny is that, while they are giving up the first goal more often than not (5 out of 7 games), and getting behind by at least two goals more often than not (4 out of 7 games), they're hanging in there in the first period (only trailed after 20 minutes twice.) It's the second period (outscored 13-5) where they're falling apart.

I would think they're nice and centered at the opening face off, but then the stresses of live action and an inhospitable opponent are forcing them to make decisions that is testing their fleeting resolve. Then one mistake begets another and the wheels come off in the second. Then they have been able to show some pride in the third and mount a couple comebacks (only one of which was successful.)

One presumes TR will use these couple of days off to practice, practice, practice, but one also hopes there's some kind of group activity away from the rink planned as well - to blow off some steam and bond and all that new-agey crap.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

B's trade Kobasew to Wild

TSN is reporting that the Boston Bruins have traded Chuck Kobasew to the Minnesota Wild for winger Craig Weller, the rights to Alexander Fallstrom, and the Wild's second-round pick in the 2011 NHL draft. Kobasew, formerly with the Calgary Flames, had been with the Bruins for the last three seasons, and is signed thru 2010-11.

Weller, signed to a two-year contract prior to last season, is currently on the Houston Aeros' roster. Fallstrom is the Wild's 4th-round pick in last summer's draft (number 116 overall).

In order to fit Kobasew under the salary cap, the Wild have also placed forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard on long-term injured reserve, which will allow the team to go nearly dollar for dollar over the hard cap figure while Bouchard is off the active roster. No further medical decisions have been made on Bouchard.

More later.


NHL Recap 10-17-09

Stars of the night
--Ilya Kovalchuk, 2 goals, Johan Hedberg 40 saves (20 in the third); Atlanta beats Buffalo, 4-2. And a little in-your-face goal by Maxim Afinogenov late in the game to make the score 4-2 for the Thrashers. Had to make Lindy Ruff angry.
--Cody McLeod, 2 goals including the game-tying goal with 2:32 left; Colorado beats Detroit in a shootout, 4-3. Another big win for the Avs. Three goals in the third, including Matt Duchene's first career goal.
--Pascal Leclaire, 27 saves; Ottawa beats Montreal, 3-1.
--Martin Brodeur and Cam Ward combined for 53 saves; Brodeur got the shutout, 2-0. Ward let in just one. So much for what I wondered about Brodeur being done. He now has 102 shutouts, one away from tying Terry Sawchuk's record.
--Joe Thornton, three points including a goal; San Jose beats the Islanders, 4-1.
--Alex Ovechkin, 2 goals and the only one in the shootout; Washington beat Nashville, 3-2. Not a real hat trick, Caps fans. Sorry.
--Sergei Gonchar, one goal and assist; Pittsburgh beat Tampa Bay, 4-1.
--Andy McDonald, 2 goals 1 assist; Ty Conklin 26 saves in St. Louis' 5-0 blanking of the Ducks.

Should we start thinking an 0-fer is a possibility?
Here's a new game: Let's see how long the Maple Leafs go before winning a game. Another home loss, this one 4-1 to the Rangers, makes Toronto 0-6-1. Henrik Lundqvist made 34 saves. Marian Gaborik's points streak is at eight. Brandon Dubinsky had a goal and assist. Phil Kessel isn't going to solve all this team's woes. The good news for Leafs fans is no losses for a week - that's how long Toronto has off before its next game.

One step forward, one step back
So Boston shuts out Dallas one game, then loses to Phoenix the next game, 4-1. Second-most goals scored by the Coyotes in a game this season. Shane Doan had three assists and Ilya Bryzgalov (22 saves) continues to impress. Maybe Boston, not Florida, is the early candidate for most disappointing team of the season. No consistency at all.

It could be worse
Wild fans, at least you're not Toronto.

Record starts
The Thrashers are off to a record 4-1-0 start. So are the Blue Jackets at 5-1-0 after a 4-1 win over Los Angeles. Steve Mason made 27 saves, Rick Nash had a shorthanded goal and Raffi Torres had the game-winner.

Did you see that?
Stephane Robidas scored a crazy goal last night in Dallas' 4-3 win over Chicago, which proved to be the game-winner. Alex Auld made 29 saves for the Stars. The only YouTube video I saw of it is stupid, so I suggest going to That puck had some serious schizophrenia going on.

Quote of the night
"If you're going to hand their best player those types of opportunities, you're going to fail."
Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, on Kovalchuk's two goals.

Marquee matchup
None. No games Sunday.

Game #7: Canucks 2, Wild 1

By Wild Road Tripper

Bewitched, bothered and bewildered, the Wild's October Road Odyssey is finally, and mercifully, over.

The boys just didn't have it in 'em when it counted, as the Vancouver Canucks defeated the Minnesota Wild late Saturday night 2-1, in front of 18,630 at GM Place in Vancouver. Two late Canuck penalties failed to produce an equalizer, as the Wild fall to 1-6 for the 2009-10 season. The loss by the Wild marks the fourth straight defeat on CBC's 'Hockey Night in Canada', long considered the NHL's primary national telecast.

Wild Offense: Again, another night of fits and spurts. At times, the Wild forgot the new theme was 'dump and chase'. Lots of dumping in, but not much chasing. Having three of your top 10 forwards out of the line-up didn't help.

Wild Defense: Except for the play which led to the second Vancouver goal, the play was markedly better than Friday night's third period in Edmonton.

Canucks Offense: One-half of 'the Sisters' were missing, but Vancouver made a lucky break and a fortutious pass both count.

Canucks Defense: Shut down the Wild offense (what little there was of it) most of the night. All Roberto Luongo had to do was lean back and collect the game check.

Leader: When all else fails in Vancouver, you always turn to Luongo.

Lagger: Was there one tonight? Maybe James Sheppard, but then, some say we're too hard on the kid.

Stud: Niklas Backstrom. Stopped 37 of 39 shots, many close-in rebounds and/or weird mis-direction plays.

Dud: Marek Zidlicky. Took dumb penalty in 3rd period. Was a -2 for the night. The worst of the worst this evening.

The assembled multitude was seen just south of GM Place, hailing taxis on the street to get to the Airport:

Chicken Little: Glad this trip's over! A disappointing end for a disappointing team on a very disappointing trip.

Pollyanna: Me too! Now the boys can get back home to some positivity, home cooking and away from you, CL!

Bottom Line: The Wild played with 1/3rd of their offense injured and out of action. They still made a game of it, however. You can't take moral victories into account in the standings, but if you could, you just might take something away from this one.

Next: vs. Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 7:00 PM Central (6:00 PM Mountain), Xcel Energy Center. (TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin), Altitude, all feeds in HD; XM Ch. 207)

If you go Wednesday: Wear green. The Wild's new third jersey will debut Wednesday night.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

NHL Recap 10-16-09

(Now with occasional - and brief, I swear - comments by me!)

Stars of the night
--Rich Peverley, 2 goals, Ondrej Pavelec 28 saves in Atlanta's 4-2 win over New Jersey. Didn't see the game but Martin Brodeur doesn't seem right. Players in front of him or is it him? He is 37, has to slow down at some point.
--Tyler Myers, Clarke MacArthur, Tim Connolly, goal and assist each in Buffalo's 6-3 win over the Islanders. Don't look now, but Buffalo, at 4-0-1, is the only team without a regulation loss. How good are they? Schedule not too intimidating but a 6-2 win over Detroit stands out. Ryan Miller, 36 saves Friday, is playing really well.
--Scott Clemmensen, 25 saves in Florida's 4-2 win over Philadelphia, snapping a four-game losing streak. Florida seems less competitive without Jay Bouwmeester. Early candidate for disappointing team of the season, but quality win against a really good opponent.
--Tim Thomas 27 saves, Marc Savard two goals in Boston's 3-0 win over Dallas. Thomas not exactly having a good encore to his Vezina-winning season. Needs to play more like this.

Oops, we almost did it again
The Flames were up 5-0 after two periods...and won 5-3. Vancouver scored two late goals and with 2:17 remaining the Canucks made things interesting. This time, Calgary hung on. Where's the defense? Where's the goaltending? And where's Jarome Iginla? No points tonight. Is this Olli Jokinen karma continuing? On the other side, Roberto Luongo continues to, um, struggle.

Lips are sealed
Won't mention the Wild game... see below for that.

Padding a record
Florida's Radek Dvorak added to his franchise-record for shorthanded goals with the decisive tally Friday while the Panthers were killing a penalty. Dvorak, who has a shortie in two straight games and 21 for his career, 14 with Florida, took advantage of a Chris Pronger muff and scored to give Florida a 3-2 lead.

Quote of the night
"We've had so much time off, it doesn't even feel like the season has really started. I felt like we were playing our first game again."
Thrashers winger Colby Armstrong. Atlanta has played a league-low four games and had been off since Oct. 10.

Marquee matchup
Saturday, Oct. 17 (13 games)
Atlanta (3-1-0) at Buffalo (4-0-1), 7 p.m. ET. Two surprise teams who are playing very well. The Sabres have scored 12 goals the last two games and have allowed just eight on the season. The Thrashers are averaging four goals per game. Both teams are getting very good play from their goaltenders (Ryan Miller and Ondrej Pavelec.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Game #6: Oilers 5, Wild 2

By Wild Road Tripper

If there ever were such a thing, Josh Harding could take a few lessons in non-support from Kate Gosselin, the estranged wife of the cable hit 'Jon and Kate Plus 8', following Friday night's contest at Edmonton's Rexall Place.

The Minnesota Wild were rolled over and left behind by the Edmonton Oilers, as the Wild were greased 5-2 as Dustin Penner scored twice for the Oilers, with lowly J. F. Jacques adding two assists as the Oilers helped the Wild to their fourth straight road loss on a five-game Western swing, which shall mercifully end tomorrow night in Vancouver, as the doubleheader game on CBC's 'Hockey Night in Canada'.

Wild Offense: Took a while to get it going, and once they did, they never could sustain it long. Believe it or not, the Wild actually outshot the Oilers 31-19 for the game, but by the score, you'd never know it.

Wild Defense: It's getting uglier by the game, folks. Nick Schultz another -2 night, same with five other Wild players. Brent Burns and James Sheppard -3 each. They say plus/minus is a meaningless statistic. Not so tonight.

Oilers Offense: All those players that came north from Southern California paid off tonight. Lubomir Visnovsky +4, Penner 2 goals, Patrick O'Sullivan one assist and a +2.

Oilers Defense: The 'Bulin Wall' was solid tonight. He had their backs, and they knew it. No Wild players were allowed to crash into the crease. Josh Harding wished he could have said the same at the other end.

Leader: Penner. Played like a man amongst boys tonight.

Lagger: Burns. Only took less than two weeks to reach double-digits (-10). Put a little meat tenderizer on him, and he'll be ready as dinner for the petting zoo at home. Because, he sure isn't helping the cause any on the ice.

Stud: Believe it or not, Benoit Pouliot played at least somewhat up to his potential tonight. If he would only use that as a basis for further improvement, who knows what good things could happen to his struggling career?

Dud: Sheppard. A little desperation never hurt out there, Shep. 3-for-7 on faceoffs, -3 for the night, and his size 15 feet were made of concrete. Again.

The assembled multitude were last seen headed for the Light Rail line directly behind Rexall Place:

Chicken Little: All we need now are tar and feathers. This team is deader than a doornail.

Pollyanna: The end of the road trip tomorrow, and then, Chicken Little, I can get away from YOU for a while! (Seriously, this team really needs to get home after a 'W' tomorrow against the banged-up Canucks)...

Bottom Line: If there was a game for the taking on this long, five-game Western swing, this should have been it. More of the same, undisciplined 'Chinese Fire Drill' hockey that Wild fans are quickly becoming unenamored with. Anyone tell these guys a little 'D' goes a long way?

Next: at Vancouver, Saturday (tomorrow), Oct. 17, 9:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Pacific) Time, GM Place. (TV: KSTC-45, CBC (in HD), XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)

NHL Recap 10-15-09

Stars of the night
--Alex Ovechkin, 2 goals; Washington beats San Jose, 4-1.
--Milan Michalek, hat trick (two shorthanded goals), Jarkko Ruutu 3 points (1 goal) in Ottawa's 7-1 win over Tampa Bay.

Barely tested
Cristobal Huet got back between the pipes for Chicago and faced just 13 shots against Nashville. The Blackhawks won 3-1 behind goals by Dustin Byfuglien, Tomas Kopecky and Duncan Keith. The Predators' offense is awful.

Timely first goals
--With Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen out of the lineup, Detroit will depend more on Henrik Zetterberg, and he responded with his first goal of the season which proved to be the game-winner in the Red Wings' 5-2 victory over the Kings. Nicklas Lidstrom had two points and reached the 1,000-point mark, the first European defenseman to do so.
--Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly - the 33rd overall pick in the 2009 draft - scored his first career goal with just over six minutes remaining and the Avalanche keep on winning, 3-2 over Montreal. O'Reilly's was the game-winner. Kyle Cumisky had two points, including a goal, and Craig Anderson made 29 saves.

That's more like it
After being shut out in the home opener, Phoenix gave the Coyote faithful - what few there were (announced attendance of 6,899 and estimates of roughly 5,000 actually in the arena, less than 40 percent full) - something to cheer about when Scottie Upshall tied the game with St. Louis at 2-2 midway through the third period and Ed Jovanovski scored the winner in overtime, and the Coyotes beat the Blues, 3-2.

Quote of the night
"We were dead. It's too much to ask for guys to penalty kill for that long a time."
Sharks center Joe Thornton, after San Jose was whistled for five penalties in the first 18 minutes of the game.

Marquee matchup
Friday, Oct. 16 (6 games)
Canucks (2-3-0) at Flames (4-2-1), 9 p.m. ET. Maybe it's the illness ravaging my body (OK, it's a cold, but work with me, people) but I don't find Friday's schedule very exciting, so we'll go with a Northwest Division battle, one of just two division games on the slate. Vancouver has won its last two but is without Daniel Sedin. Calgary has lost three straight and is still trying to get Jarome Iginla (2 goals, 2 assists) on track.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Game #5: Ducks 3, Wild 2

By Wild Road Tripper

And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse...

It could have been too much time in SoCal. Maybe too many bad vibes coming from all those magnet schedules the Anaheim Ducks handed out to the 15,111 in attendance at Honda Center Wednesday night. Whatever it was, the Ducks managed to turn two incredible Minnesota Wild gaffes within the first 8: 29 of the game into a 3-2 Ducks victory, made worse by the post-game admission that Martin Havlat was diagnosed with a pulled groin which he suffered early in the third period after a long benching for ineffective play, his second such benching incident in as many games.

Wild Offense: What offense? There was none in the first period, and next to none in the third. The second period is where the Wild got on the Ducks. Too bad Jonas Hiller was there to stop all but one.

Wild Defense: Still looks like a Chinese Fire Drill. When will they learn someone has to stay back from the play in order to get a loose puck? Kim Johnsson looks horrible. The rest of them? Not much better.

Ducks Offense: Great night for Corey Perry. Two goals in 8:29. Can't get better than that, especially this early into the season.

Ducks Defense: Brendan Mikkelson? +3, assist on Anaheim's 3rd goal, takeaway. Beauchemin who?

Leader: Perry. Periods like that first one, you take into the warm California night.

Lagger: Johnsson. Nice way to support your goalie, be the 4th one to the bench, while the other team moves the puck up and scores. The rest of his night wasn't much better, either. How 'bout that -6 there, Kim?

Stud: Mikkelson. Another Duck find that fills a hole very nicely.

Dud: Brent Burns. Many more nights like this, Burnsie, and you may get fed to your petting zoo. Burns' -7 is currently the worst on the entire Wild roster.

The assembled multitude was seen sobbing along Katella Blvd., en route to Anaheim Stadium for cheap ALCS souvenirs:

Chicken Little: Are you lookin' up/ Are you lookin' down/ Are you lookin' all around? That iceberg dead ahead is the Wild season crashing into utter, hopeless failure...

Pollyanna: Wait a minute! This isn't 'Down Goes Brown'! It's not a Leafs' blog here!! This is only Game 5, and now the boys head north, where the ice is better, the competition more equal, and the Oilers and Canucks both have injury problems!

Bottom Line: If I knew what I would have gotten for my money last night, I might have asked for my money back. Every team has to play thru injuries. When are the Wild going to put 60 minutes of decent hockey together? The time for leaders to lead is when things aren't going the way the team wants them to.

Next: At Edmonton, Friday, Oct. 16, 8;00 PM Central (7:00 PM Mountain) Time, Rexall Place. (TV: KSTC-45, Oilers PPV; XM Ch. 205)

Some Wild Fans On Verge of Hysteria

Yikes. So, yeah, the Wild is off to a bad start. Pretty much no way to sugar coat that. Clearly there are some assimilation issues, that were likely also exacerbated by a fractured roster at camp due to injuries. But now, as the injuries are piling up, there's just no margin for error. And confusion and indecision on the ice - where you may only have a fraction of a second to make a decision - is a damp, warm petri dish where errors can grow like, well, like viruses.

So, it's rough sledding right now.

And while it's probably still a tad too early to be salivating about winning the draft lottery, some Wild fans are inching closer to the abyss of fan irrationality with an alarming singularity of purpose and focus.

Geez, guys, get a little perspective, why dontcha?

Look, we all knew this was going to be a rough start to likely a rough season. Too much new stuff to deal with for athletes as habitual as any out there to suggest otherwise. And we also knew that they were painfully thin on high-end offensive skill. And we also knew that JL Doc Browned a whole that was far greater than the sum of its parts - at least in terms of wins and losses - more successfully than any invention since the Flux Capacitor. So why the gnashing of teeth (you got me, I just saw an in-theater trailer for Where the Wild Things Are - Jim Gandolfini's voice is PERFECT for a Wild Thing)?

Of course no one wants a loser. But had we really deluded ourselves into thinking new and different was absolutely going to equal better in this case? Really? Aren't we a smarter group of hockey consumers than that?

My suggestion is to just enjoy the fruits of Purple Moses and give the Wild time to sort itself out. If they end up lagging in the wins department this year, then maybe there'll be a nice top five pick at the end of the rainbow.

But this is the first time this team has really put us through growing pains like this. Maybe we ought to give them a break. It's still better than no NHL team to root for.


NHL Recap 10-14-09

Stars of the night
--Vaclav Prospal 2 goals (including his 200th career goal), 1 assist; Henrik Lundqvist 34 saves in New York's 4-2 win over Los Angeles.
--Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg, 1 goal and 1 assist each in Chicago's 4-3 win over Edmonton.
--Three Stars from their 6-0 blanking of Nashville: Loui Eriksson (2 goals 1 assist), Brad Richards (1 goal, 2 assists) and Brenden Morrow (2 goals). Oh, a fourth: Marty Turco, 29 saves.
--Corey Perry, 2 goals, Jonas Hiller 32 saves in Anaheim's 3-2 win over Minnesota.

Working extra late
Cam Ward made 36 saves, including a terrific one on Bill Guerin in the third period, and Ray Whitney scored twice in the third period to earn Carolina a point, but the Penguins won the six-round shootout, 3-2, on Chris Kunitz's goal. Kunitz hasn't scored a regulation goal since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final and has just one in his last 36 games.

Evgeni Malkin had a goal and assist and Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves. The Penguins set a franchise-record for consecutive road wins to start the season (5-0.)

The jinx strikes again
Remember how I earlier wrote that Nashville goalies Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne are early pleasant surprises? Yeah, sorry about that, guys. In his second start, Rinne gave up four goals on nine shots to Edmonton and was pulled. The next game, Ellis allowed goals to Dallas on its first three shots and was pulled.

Maybe there is a goalie controversy
Another thing I wrote was a joke about Chicago's goaltending "controversy" after Antti Niemi posted a shutout in Game #2. Well, Niemi replaced Cristobal Huet after Huet gave up three goals on five shots to Calgary and Niemi got the win in that incredible comeback. Niemi started Chicago's next game and beat Edmonton.

Quote of the night
"It really tears the heart out of your confidence and takes a little bit of your energy when they score on the first three shots."
Nashville coach Barry Trotz

Marquee matchup
Thursday, Oct. 15 (6 games)
Sharks (3-2-1) at Capitals (2-2-2), 7 p.m. ET. Depending which Evgeni Nabokov shows up, and which Washington goalie shows up (and I don't mean Semyon Varlamov or Jose Theodore; I mean good or bad Varlamov or good or bad Theodore), this game will be either a goal-fest or a battle of netminders.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NHL Recap 10-13-09

Stars of the night
--Thomas Vanek, 2 goals; Derek Roy, 3 assists in Buffalo's 6-2 win over Detroit.
--Rick Nash, 2 assists in Columbus' 2-1 win over Calgary.
--Craig Anderson, 30 saves in Colorado's 4-1 win over Toronto.

Good signing, Brian
This is mainly an editorial, but I can't help myself. Mike Komisarek might be the worst free agent signing of the season so far. He was a minus-2 Tuesday and a minus-4 for the season. But it goes beyond that. The Maple Leafs trailed, 2-0, then got a goal from Francois Beauchemin to get back into the game. Less than a minute later, Komisarek took a careless elbowing penalty and Colorado scored on that power play to suck away the momentum Toronto built.

Later, Komisarek went out of his way to throw a big hit in the defensive zone, got out of position, then had the puck bounce off his head and into his own net once he got back into position. He's hitting people, sure (six Tuesday and 23 for the season) but he's hurting the team far more than he's helping with undisciplined play. And he's making $22.5 million the next five years. He better improve his game and control his violent tendencies. He's not Toronto's only problem but certainly he's a big one.

The Maple Leafs are awful. 0-5-1 now and not even in a lot of these games. How much longer will Ron Wilson - who made two of his only decent offensive players healthy scratches Tuesday - keep his job? Brian Burke should make Wilson a healthy scratch and see if that helps.

Did you know?
That the Sabres lead the league in shots per game? They're up to 38.2 per game now through four games, but they've scored only 10 goals. Who would have thought six would come against the Red Wings? Unfortunately it came with a price, as top winger Thomas Vanek, a two-time 40-goal scorer, suffered an upper-body injury and will be out for "weeks," according to coach Lindy Ruff. No exact time frame was provided.

Quote of the night
"I'm not going to lie to you, it felt great."
Colorado's Darcy Tucker, who scored against Toronto. The Leafs bought out Tucker in the summer of 2008 and are paying him $1 million per year through 2014.

Marquee matchup
Wednesday, Oct. 14
Kings (4-1-0) at Rangers (5-1-0), 7 p.m. ET. I'm tempted to go with Chicago and Edmonton to see what the Blackhawks do for an encore, but Los Angeles-New York pits two teams who haven't lost since their opener and who have impressive offenses. The Rangers have scored the most goals in the Eastern Conference and the Kings average almost four goals per game.

Good times in the desert, for now


The general consensus seems to be it requires 10 games of a hockey season for a general manager, coach or players to get a feel for their team and find out just how good they are. So maybe I'll re-visit this in another five games, but how impressive have the 3-2-0 Coyotes been so far?

By "impressive" I do not mean "entertaining." With apologies to my Arizona friends, the Coyotes have been anything but fun to watch. But they've also won three of their first five games, and here's the impressive part: Two of those wins were shutouts on the road against the defending champion Penguins and the President's Trophy-winning Sharks.

Let me repeat that: Phoenix earned shutouts at Pittsburgh and at San Jose. That's quite a feat.

Being a Penguins fan, I'm going to point out Pittsburgh seemed to show no interest and very little desire against Phoenix. But the Coyotes did plenty to not allow the Penguins any chances to score, they played a disciplined style of hockey and frustrated the Penguins. The Coyotes played the perfect road game.

They did the same in San Jose. In the two games, Phoenix allowed a total of 50 shots, 24 to the Penguins and 26 to the Sharks, who last year averaged 33 shots per game and have two of the hottest players in the league in Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley.

Phoenix is the early feel-good story of the NHL, by far. All the ownership issues, the bankruptcy, the dreadful 2008-09 season, and the Wayne Gretzky snafu don't seem to have affected the team, at least not negatively. It all may have brought the players closer together. How easy would it have been for the Coyotes to show next to no interest in each game, or be beaten down by what's been going on outside the arena?

Dave Tippett was hired not long before the season began and he deserves a lot of the credit. He hasn't let the players fall into a "Why bother?" type of attitude. In very little time, he taught the team a system and structure that gives the Coyotes a chance to win each night. Phoenix is playing a tight, defensive style, not unlike the old Jacques Lemaire-Wild teams. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is receiving much more support and he's also playing better than last season.

To be unkind, the Coyotes set out to bore the other team. But it's working. Through five games, Phoenix has allowed just seven goals. It's scored only 11 times, so if the Coyotes don't win a game 1-0 or 2-1, they might not win. But so far, they're keeping the opponents' scoring down.

Radim Vrbata, in his return to the desert, is the only Coyote with more than two points. He has team-highs with three goals and four points. Captain Shane Doan has only two assists but his offense is bound to show up sooner rather than later. There may be concern over the point-producing abilities of youngsters Mikkel Boedker, Peter Mueller and Scottie Upshall, among others, but I'm guessing the focus from the coaching staff - which includes former rugged, tough-guy defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, who also deserves a lot of credit - is on limiting the opposition's scoring and not worrying so much about Phoenix's offense.

Six teams have a worse power play percentage than Phoenix (15.4% through Monday) and certainly that will have to improve, given how little the team scores. The penalty killing is middle-of-the-pack (14th, 81%) in the early going.

The one blemish so far, other than the power play, has been being blanked in their home opener, after team officials did so much to get a sell-out.

It's not too likely the Coyotes will keep up this kind of play all season. They may still win only 30 to 35 games. But they're not going to be the walk-over so many people - including me - expected. They'll make teams work and work and work some more for every inch and every goal.

Now that I've written all this, Phoenix will probably give up 20 goals in losing the next five games, and all I've said will be for naught. I really do seem to have that kind of jinxing power. (The first game after I pointed out Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo had no goals and one point so far, Michalek scored on an assist from Cheechoo. Just one example. At the same time, Heatley, who I'd praised, was shut out by these Coyotes.)

Regardless, it's been good to see Phoenix is enjoying at least some success so far with all the troubles off-ice - and on - the franchise has gone through in recent years.

If only some of it hadn't come at my team's expense.