Saturday, January 31, 2009
And, you'd have been right.
The Minnesota Wild went into Edmonton's Rexall Place -- a building which recently has become something of a house of horrors -- and came out on the short end of a 3-1 lube job, courtesy of the Edmonton Oilers, who were themselves rebounding from a 10-2 annihilation Tuesday night at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres, which went down as the worst home loss in Oilers' history.
The only bright spot (other than two fights, by Cal Clutterbuck and Derek Boogaard) was James Sheppard's goal early in the third period. But, by that time, it was all over.
Now, the Wild take on another team whose house is literally in disarray -- the Vancouver Canucks, who have lost seven home games in a row at GM Place -- and who reportedly were fighting amongst themselves the last few days. Maybe 'da boys' can take advantage of the disorder to help pull themselves back into the Western Conference race, where the Wild now sit in 10th place after Friday night's action.
Chicken Little: Talk about 'where's the beef?' after this game?? Yeesh...
Pollyanna: Hey, at least the newbies (Peter Olvecky, Dan Fritsche) didn't cost the Wild the game this time.
Bottom Line: If the Wild are serious about making a playoff run, they really needed to win this one. You just don't throw away 4-point efforts. They should have been better prepared for the first period Oiler onslaught. They weren't; they paid for it; they lost. Simple.
Stud: It would have been worse without Josh Harding relieving Niklas Backstrom after the 3rd goal by the Oil.
Dud: Take your pick. There were so many who didn't come ready to play...
Next: at Vancouver, Tonight 9:00 PM Central (7 PM Pacific) time, GM Place, Vancouver. (TV: FSNorth, CBC in HD(doubleheader game, 'Hockey Night in Canada'), NHL Network-US: XM Ch. 204)
Thursday, January 29, 2009
That's pure awesomeness - especially if it helps fan the flames on the bonfire that is Cal Clutterbuck.
"Cal We Can Believe In"
A depth move, to be sure. While we are maybe deeper in 3rd/4th line forwards now (thank God!) we are also thinner in defensive depth.
But, I'm sure DR has a master plan that this is merely a minor piece of...
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Cal Clutterbuck for the Calder Trophy.
Sure has a nice ring to it, eh?
And why not? He's on pace for high-teens goals, he's leading the entire league in hits, and he's leaving his imprint on every game he plays. He's helping the team win, and he's not causing it to lose. With 8 goals, he sits 8th on the team. He has more goals than Burns, SRV, Pouliot (RIP), Queen MAB, Kolanos, Gaborik, Shep, Johnsson, Schultz, Gillies, Weller,
Hell, he's got more goals than Johnsson, Schultz, Gillies, Weller,
Look, he probably won't win it. Chris Versteeg, Bobby Ryan, Drew Doughty and Steve Mason (Blake Wheeler, too, thanks CH)...they're all putting up very solid Calder-worthy campaigns. But shouldn't our Cal at least be in the conversation?
Says here he should.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
They are so bad, even the goalie got sympathy tonight.
Leafs' rookie Justin Pogge, in only his second NHL start, was offered up as 'sacrificial lamb' to a Minnesota Wild team who just got a fire lit under them by the coaching staff earlier in the day. The result was a 6-1 Wild victory over the hapless Buds at Xcel Energy Center, in front of many residents of 'Leaf Nation' who braved sub-freezing temps, arduous bus rides and an international frontier to see their boys get shelled by the likes of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, he of two goals and one assist; Andrew Brunette (in his 500th consecutive NHL game), and the 'Irish God of War', Owen Nolan, who ended the night's festivities with his 12th goal of the season.
Not even ex-Anaheim Duck Brad May could right the ship for the hapless Leafs; his repeated attempts to goad Derek Boogaard into a fight were unsuccessful, as Boogaard never fell for the trash May was talking. Supposedly, the incidents started after a supposed 'late hit' by Boogaard on the Leafs' Tomas Kaberle; at one point in the third period, May was restrained by the Leafs' Nik Antropov, as he was verbally jousting to no avail.
The Wild, after the four-goal second period blew the game away, let their collective foot off the gas in the third, not converting on numerous chances as Pogge and the Leaf defense looked like they were blowin' in the wind. Wild go to 11-2-1 vs. the Eastern Conference, and now face Western Conference opponents in their next seven straight games (four of those being divisional contests, where the Wild so far are a lousy 3-5-1).
Chicken Little: I'd like to see Skoula have a better game. Yep. Skoula.
Pollyanna: When can we play the East again?
Bottom Line: Habs fans and Sens' fans are right. Leafs suck. This was a gift from the NHL, scheduling this game right off the All-Star break. Don't blow this, Wild. Your next three games aren't going to be as easy.
Stud: PMB. See what happens when you shoot the puck? You score, you make plays, you get more ice time.
Dud: Not really a dud, but Martin Skoula is picking up some of his old habits again, like carrying the puck to just in front of his own crease before turning with it. That scares not only his goalie, but we fans as well.
Next: at Edmonton, Friday, Jan. 30, 8 PM Central (7 PM Mountain), Rexall Place, Edmonton. (TV: FSNorth, Oilers' PPV, XM Ch. 205)
Monday, January 26, 2009
**Can Boston and San Jose continue their torrid first halves? More importantly, can they translate their success so far into the postseason? The Sharks have long been a top team in the regular season but fade - or fall flat - in the playoffs.
**I know Detroit is really good, but right now, I don't think they're a Stanley Cup-winning team, not until they get their defense and goaltending straightened out. They gave up 184 goals in the regular season last year (2.24 average) and are already at 133 through 46 games this year (2.89). Chris Osgood has not been as good as last year and is now in a virtual 50-50 split with Ty Conklin.
**Just one point out of a playoff spot, what will Florida do with Jay Bouwmeester? About six weeks until the trade deadline, so plenty of time for the Panthers to make it over the hump or return to the bottom. If they're within a couple points of the No. 8 seed, do they move him? What kind of return will they get?
**Can hot rookie goalie Steve Mason carry Columbus into the playoffs? With a league-best 2.05 GAA, a .926 save percentage and league-leading six shutouts, Mason rudely kicked Pascal Leclaire to the curb and has the Blue Jackets two points of a playoff spot with two games in hand on No. 8 Anaheim.
**Speaking of the Ducks, how is this team only the eighth seed? Same with Detroit - the goaltending has been subpar. While Jean-Sebastien Giguere was an All-Star starter, that was only because he's from Montreal. He's not even in the top 35 in GAA (3.08, 38th) and is 28th in save percentage (.904). If he wasn't making $6 million, he would've long ago lost his starter's job completely to Jonas Hiller (2.04 GAA, .930%).
**The playoff push in general. In the West, it's hard to say anyone is out of the mix. St. Louis is in last, and while nine points may seem like a lot of ground to make up, it's possible. The Blues have also been hit hard with injuries to key personnel (Andy McDonald, Erik Johnson to name two) but will get some of those players back. All-Star Keith Tkachuk could be moved, but with the likes of Patrik Berglund, Brad Boyes, David Perron and the return of McDonald, St. Louis has some gifted offensive players. The Blues also have three games in hand on Anaheim. It's not likely they'll sneak in but you never know. If you want to tighten the gap, only four points separates No. 8 from No. 12, and again, Anaheim has played more games than the four teams below it in the standings.
In the East, it's a little more clear. The Islanders will not make the playoffs and it's a long shot for Atlanta, with 39 points, to come close. Ottawa also has 39 points and still boasts studs in Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley. Goaltending and secondary scoring have been the concern here, though Antoine Vermette is starting to get hot and rookie Brian Elliott has grabbed the goaltending reins. The Senators still need a miracle, but no one will want to play them.
It's hard to think they'll make a run, but both Tampa Bay and Toronto are nine points out of a playoff spot. But they are also eight points back of the two teams in front of them, Florida and Pittsburgh. If Tampa trades Vincent Lecavalier, which is a ridiculous notion to me, they'll join the Islanders and Thrashers as "out."
**Both the Penguins and Panthers are one point back of No. 8 Carolina. Few people expected either team to be in that position; most figured Florida would be way lower while Pittsburgh would be way higher.
Pittsburgh is a difficult team to figure out. The Penguins started 14-6-3 for one of the best starts in team history but have collapsed since. With the league's top two scorers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, no team should want to play Pittsburgh in a seven-game series, but secondary scoring has been minimal and the play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been below average since his return from injury.
I think it's still possible for Pittsburgh to get into the playoffs, but I don't see the Penguins winning more than a round or two, if that. Injury to Brooks Orpik, who may be out for weeks instead of days, will hurt the cause, since he is one of the few tough guys they have. There is not enough grit or overall talent on this team to make a long run. I also do not think GM Ray Shero will make a major move at the trade deadline, because this team is more than one player away.
**Which brings us to the trade deadline. Who will be moved, for what, and who will stay? Rumors again have circulated of Marian Gaborik to Pittsburgh, while the Lecavalier and Spezza talk continues to fly around. Some other marquee names being thrown around in trade talk include Chris Pronger, Heatley, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Martin Havlat, Milan Hejduk and Martin St. Louis just to name a bunch.
**The individual races. Can Malkin hold off Alex Ovechkin for the Art Ross? Can Steve Mason sweep the Calder, Vezina and Hart trophies? Should they just change the name to the Lidstrom Award, or will San Jose's Dan Boyle or Nashville's Shea Weber swoop in and snatch it?
Other candidates for the Calder include Berglund, Chicago forward Kris Versteeg, Anaheim's Bobby Ryan and Boston's Blake Wheeler, with honorable mention to Blue Jackets center Derrick Brassard, who was having an excellent year before suffering a season-ending injury.
Nik Backstrom could be the frontrunner for the Vezina; Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez could steal votes from the other (the "you're not the best goalie on your team" argument), while others like Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeni Nabokov have had good years, yet subpar for the high standards they have set. Miikka Kiprusoff may lead the league in wins, but only because he plays every game for a good Flames team; a 2.82 GAA should not win the Vezina.
Other MVP candidates include Ovechkin, Malkin if he remains atop the scoring lead and gets the Penguins into the playoffs; Zach Parise and Ryan Getzlaf. That's just a few. We'll add Backstrom to the list as well.
Some Jack Adams nominees would include Claude Julien (Boston), Todd McLellan (San Jose), Lindy Ruff (Buffalo), Wayne Gretzky (Phoenix) and Peter DeBoer (Florida) if he gets the Panthers to the playoffs. This will get thinned out as the season progresses.
**Finally, which coaches will be fired? Michel Therrien's seat in Pittsburgh is rumored to be heating up, despite assurances from ownership (which are often anti-assurances); Craig Hartsburg (Ottawa), Dave Tippett (Dallas) and Randy Carlysle (Anaheim) maybe shouldn't plan any major home renovations just yet.
It should be another fun playoff push to watch, and trade deadline day will be as exciting as last year's. That's all from me for now.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
The Wild gets back into it against the Buds on Tuesday night. Toronto is a team in flux, and one the Wild needs to beat.
More importantly, Tuesday's game starts out a critical stretch of (mostly) home games (9 of the next 13) that takes the team almost to the end of February. While any protracted home stretch is important, this one is particularly important as it precedes a potentially brutal road stretch.
Following their 2/24 game against the Kings in St. Paul, the Wild plays 14 of their next 17 on the road. Yes, this is a team that plays every game like it's a road game, but, to be sure, this schedule is a recipe for disaster. And, sitting outside the playoffs as of right now, there is really no margin for error in the first place.
Stay tuned, Wild fans.
I know it's not his job to rub me the right way (*ahem*), but I feel like, it's fine for him to be the organEYEzation hardass, but then maybe they should keep him locked up in a backroom like the bean counter he is so that he doesn't keep shooting himself - and the organEYEzation - in the foot by saying obnoxious, arrogant or just plain stupid things - at least not where other people can hear them.
Like this gem from Russo's Sunday piece on Backstrom:
"'The organizations that react to some short-term angst usually make big mistakes, like Roman Turek in Calgary,' said Lynn, referring to what turned out to be a disastrous four-year, $19 million deal the Flames signed Turek to in 2001. 'So the best thing you want to do is look what you need to do strategically and do the right thing for the team.'"
Okay, I'll break it down for you, Tommy boy.
First, since when is the contract situation of your #1 goalie "short-term angst?" The Wild and the current situation with Backstrom is the first time in the history of the NHL that the resolution of a team's top goalie's contract situation has come up? Please. I think it's entirely reasonable to think your #1 goalie is an important part of the team. You don't?
As far as short-term relative to this season, we fans were holding off on the Backstrom situation because your boss (Risebrough) told us he was going to wait until the Gaborik situation was resolved to deal with Backstrom. That's resolved - and in another spectacular black eye for your group, Lynn - so now our focus shifts to Backstrom. "Short-term" is your own doing, not ours. And no amount of revisionist history or obfuscation can change that.
Second, don't ever compare the Wild to the Flames again, unless you enjoy embarrassing yourself, that is. The Flames are currently as well-crafted a team as there is in the league. The Wild doesn't even have a #1 center.
Third, Mr. Lynn, if you honestly think Backstrom is comparable to Turek, then really there's nothing I can do for you. That big contract he got came after one good season (42 wins, 1.95 GAA, 0.912 SPCT with St. Louis in 99-00.) That season came after parts of three unremarkable seasons as a backup. He never duplicated it, no, but he had given Calgary far less reason to think he'd live up to the contract than Backstrom has at this point. And, more importantly, Backstrom has already lived up to one sizable new contract. If that's the best you can do in terms of negotiating tactics then you need to go find a grassy field and some sheep to tend. As Risebrough's dog walker, you must be a player agent's wet dream.
Fourth, you just can't open your mouth without some kind of effete, sanctimonious, "I'm Smarter Than You" crap puking out of it, can you, Lynn? "So the best thing you want to do is look at what you want to do strategically and do the right thing for the team."
So wait, like, as the Assistant GM, you're saying your job is to think strategically and try to put the team's best interests first? Wow....thanks for that. We mortals never would have figured that one out. Tell me, were you guys thinking strategically when you drafted Thelen? How about when you signed Manny to his monstrous deal? What about giving Pouliot a job before camp was even done this season? Or going into the season with only two legit centers? So, that was doing the right thing for the team? Look, your statement might be accurate, but then you and your boss are woefully unable to carry out your own doctrine.
I'm reserving judgment of Risebrough until the end of this season. But Lynn can step off the carousel anytime, as far as I'm concerned. The thought that we have pompous morons like this in positions of power in senior management sadly just makes it that much easier to put the team's current issues into context.
Mr. Lynn, do us all a favor and shut your pie hole. Better yet, just go away.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Last week was not a good week for your blogger here. Due to my illness at the beginning of the week, I was unable to complete a road trip, for the first time in my life, due to the flu, one version or another of which has been parading thru the Twin Cities community like a perennial Torchlight Parade for about two full months now. It manifests itself in various ways, wherever 'it' (the virus) can get an edge.
Well, folks, that nasty bug cost me a cool $500 in lost airfares, rental car (I already had rented it), hotel and game tickets to the Minnesota Wild-Chicago Blackhawks game at the United Center last Monday night. I couldn't even get out of bed to make it to a TV set to watch the Versus telecast, as we have no toilet on the main floor of our home. I had to listen to Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid, laying in bed, waiting for Kevin Falness (Wild Radio 'personality', to use the Russo-ism) to talk during breaks in order to visit the loo. I saw highlights later on "NHL: On The Fly Final" to do the rest of that game blog entry.
Note to self: Start taking 'Airborne' a week before getting away on road trips...
OK, a few thoughts about items in the NHL news:
News Item: NHL players will be suspended one game if they do not participate fully in All-Star activities once selected, according to the League.
There are indeed two sides to this, despite what Gary Bettman thinks. Bettman's side is only one side (the sponsors paid to attach their corporate names to a star-laden event), but when a player is legitimately hurt, and that player's medical needs are unable to be met while travelling (in some cases) up to 3,200 statute miles, one way, just to keep Gary Bettman happy? Sounds like Paul Kelly (NHLPA chief) and Mr. Bettman need to go to a nearby Montreal brasserie (bar) and hash this out like true keepers of the Game do...dropping the gloves and hoping Referee Marc Joanette or Linesman Pierre Racicot, two Laval-area 'boys from the neighborhood' (they grew up one block apart,) step in before the Chief beats the snot out of Bettman.
Seriously: There has to be a compromise for this somehow. If players are hurt (and three, including Sidney Crosby, are) then why have them around, away from their teams' medical staffs, not being able to get off their feet and heal? Where's the justice in that, not only for the players but for their teams (and the other teams that have to beat them to get in the playoffs?
There are some serious questions, with far-reaching implications, to be answered here. And, for the sake of the game, they need to be answered soon. Before this gets out of control.
News item: Canucks, NHL working to improve travel situation
This article tells what Wild players have known for years; that the NHL scheduling staff should have been taken out and flogged long ago. (Just kidding, no harm meant, let's not get violent here!)
Seriously: Any schedule that calls for trips like the Wild's recent semi-transcontinental journey (at Colorado, Boston, Philadelphia and Columbus), the Wild's 15 sets of back-to-back games (8 of which are home-and-away), their upcoming 6-game, 10-day Western Odyssey, Feb. 27-March 8 and the ridiculous scheduling of the weekend of March 20-22, when the Wild play in Newark vs. the New Jersey Devils, then go home to face Edmonton, then return to the Hudson for games vs. the Rangers at MSG on March 24 and then vs. Richard Park and the Islanders March 25 at Nassau Coliseum is an embarrassment to the League and a detriment to its' fan base. By the time the final game is played April 11 at Nationwide in Columbus, the Wild will be absolutely gassed.
How about 'greening up' the NHL, Mr. Bettman? Adopt a plan where teams don't have to play the next night after traveling more than 750 air miles? And get two days off after travelling two time zones or more? The human body needs time to adjust to the shifting sands of time, and Father Time and Mr. Sandman don't work just for the Vancouver Canucks. One-game 'home stands' in the middle of road trips are a waste of jet fuel, teams' physical resources and, most importantly, money.
Help save the Planet. Help your Western teams survive in the most far-flung of the four major North American team sports. Save your teams some money. Fix the schedule, Mr. Bettman.
News Item: Predators may buy own tickets to ensure NHL funds
The old rhyme comes into play here:
"Monkey see, Monkey do,
Monkey does the same as You."
The Nashville Predators, 256 seats per game short of reaching the NHL-mandated 14,000-seats sold per-game average in order to qualify for a full share of the NHL's revenue-sharing agreement, are going to use their own funds to buy tickets and give them away to middle Tennessee charities.
This is not a new practice, folks. The Ottawa Senators were doing this for years, at least until a few years ago when the Sens finally starting going to the playoffs consistently. Other teams, including the Edmonton Oilers and the entire Southeast Division (at least until Ovie arrived in DC,) have also benefited from this unique pool arrangement.
This comes on the heels of several reports out of Phoenix that the Coyotes are on the verge of bankruptcy, a point conveniently trotted out whenever the Coyotes are brought up these days.
Seriously: I wish the other, more successful owners would tell Bettman to quit subsidizing his 'Southern initiative' and keep the NHL in more successful markets, like in areas that were not effected by the 'War of Northern Aggression.' Winnipeg has an NHL-ready arena, NOW, and a nearly 1 million fan base to draw from. Yes, it would still be like it was, the 'Green Bay' of the NHL, but hey, it IS the NHL, it WOULD be in Canada, and you wouldn't have to spend all your efforts into teaching some poor kid in the desert what the meaning of 'Power Play' is.
Both players pulled out of the All-Star game festivities this weekend to nurse those nicks and bruises.
Now, as a result of that, reports say, the NHL has decided to suspend each of them one game.
I've railed in this space before about how ridiculous I feel the All-Star Game is (http://hittingthepost.blogspot.com/2008/11/all-snooze-game.html) so I won't go into that topic again.
But I will say that suspending players for missing this absurd spectacle hits a new low on the, shall we say, faux pas list. I get this demonstration of skills and whatnot is "for the fans" but I've said before I can do without it. The playoffs is far more exciting and is actual hockey than this midseason display of goal-goal-goal-was that a hit?-goal-goal-holy crap a penalty-goal.
Freak injuries happen. Look at Roberto Luongo against Pittsburgh earlier this season. He goes to make a routine save, messes up his knee and is out for a couple of months. Sidney Crosby missed a game before the All-Star break with an injury and received several more bangs in the games he played since. There's no reason to further aggravate that injury. The same goes for Datsyuk and Lidstrom. Each of those guys may have missed the first game after the break anyway.
If Datsyuk left his team's last game because he was too hurt to play, why should he risk further injury? Let the man stay at home and rest, don't force him to go anywhere.
What happens if one of those players jams his elbow, or twists his knee in a collision, and is out for four to six weeks? What does that do to the team's fans and the team itself? How does that take a backseat to this silly exhibition?
The league management just doesn't get it. The all-star game is a waste of time, and now excellent players will miss actual games because they are legitimately hurt.
There's time, misters Bettman and Campbell. Reverse your decision, because once again, it is the wrong one.
It's All-Star weekend, and Montreal is just putting the bow on itself.
The Wild's lone representative, Niklas Backstrom was highlighted in an article over on nhl.com, which also features a poll asking who the best goalie is in the west. Go read and, if you're so inclined, vote.
Also, the Wild apparently made a trade, sending Ryan Hamilton to Toronto in exchange for former Wisconsin Badger Robbie Earl.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Or is this all an aberration, a result of my own illness?
Whatever it was, the Minnesota Wild sure gave away two points Tuesday night in the last game prior to the All-Star break, as the Los Angeles Kings thumped the Wild 5-2 at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild, on the second night of a back-to-back turn, saw their second night record drop to 2-6 on the season as Marek Zidlicky and Owen Nolan scored for the Wild. The main reason the Wild lost, however, was 3 LA goals in 1:14 in the second period, brought on by the lack of support by his defensemen, most specifically Marc-Andre Bergeron, who wound up with a -3 for the night. 'Queen MAB' couldn't handle the younger, larger and stronger LA lineup, and was out of position most of the evening.
Josh Harding relieved Niklas Backstrom for the third period, as the Kings had already done the damage by that point.
Chicken Little: Backstrom should sue for non-support after the second period.
Pollyanna: Hey, what are we going to do during the All-Star break?
Bottom Line: The Kings' younger, stronger lineup give the Wild fits. If the Kings played the Wild 8 times a season instead of 4, they might make the playoffs. The Wild collective heads were just not into this game, maybe looking forward to the All-Star break a bit too much.
Stud: No one in a Wild sweater deserved stud status tonight.
Dud: 'Queen MAB', Marc-Andre Bergeron. -3 on the evening, and he looked lost out there all night long. I know we weren't supposed to expect much when we got him, but a little 'D' now 'n' then would really help the effort.
Next: vs. Toronto, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 7 PM Central (8 PM Eastern) Time, Xcel Energy Center (TV: KSTC-45, SportsNet Ontario (in HD), XM Ch. 239)
Thank goodness Niklas Backstrom made it to the United Center last night, as his 40-save performance led the Minnesota Wild to a 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, the third victory for the Wild in their last four games.
Mikko Koivu's 13th goal of the season and Marek Zidlicky's 2 power-play goals led the Wild, as 21,320 in the cavernous UC looked on somewhat in disbelief (the Hawks were 8-1-1 in their last 10 at home before last night).
The Wild now run their United Center record to 5-2 since the 2004-05 labor dispute.
Chicken Little: Well, let's see now...I'm sure I'll find something...
Pollyanna: You gotta sign Backstrom NOW, DR! It costs you more money every day you don't!
Bottom Line: Any time you can go into another team's building and win, it's a good thing. To do it against a team as good as the Blackhawks are, all the better.
Stud: Backstrom. Not really another choice, is there?
Dud: For once, none.
Next; vs. Los Angeles, Tuesday, 7:00 PM Central (5 PM Pacific), Xcel Energy Center (KSTC-45, FSWest, XM Ch. 209)
WRT (still under the weather, at home...)
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Hey, at least I had fun!
Due to the late start (8 PM Central) of Saturday night's game as part of 'Hockey Day Minnesota', we had dinner with friends near the 'X' then went inside to collect our coffee tumblers (as mentioned in the game blog entry) and then took our seats while waiting for warm-ups. An usher supervisor we know fairly well came up to us and said they had two seats on the new 'Target Hot Seats' rebuilt Zamboni for a ride around the rink at the first intermission. Of course, I couldn't resist that offer!
So, down to the machine we went, with a few stops along the way (to sign legal stuff; y'know, they aren't going to let you do anything if they are liable for it) and then, behind the goal judge at the east end of the arena (behind Niklas Backstrom) for a few minutes 'up close' watching the game. It's a whole 'nother perspective from down there, than it is at the top level where we usually sit. Then, time to get on the Zamboni for our trip around the rink.
The Zamboni has seat belts (you're expected to wear them) and otherwise, it was a very comfortable ride in this 1980's-model hollowed-out contraption, which was rebuilt by a Minneapolis auto custom shop. They left the base of the ice scraping auger in place and put steps (with hockey sticks as handrails!) for access to the seating area. It is supposed to seat 10, we had 8 on board, but they should really say 6 adults, and 2 under age 12.
We went thru the tunnel (Low Bridge! Ev'rybody Down!) then onto the ice we went, taking two complete laps around the center of the rink. One of our fellow passengers noticed how big the building seems from ice level. You can see how, for example, high school kids would be intimidated at the State HS Tournament, played here in early March, when the place is 2/3rds full (for the big schools tournament). Or how intimidating a place this could be for NHL opponents, if the Wild would get a dominating style team together. Just as one of our friends (from earlier) was going to take our picture, they turned the house lights down (to help freeze the ice), as our ride was over.
The ride was all too short, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Thank you to all who helped me get a different perspective on the game that I love.
Was it the weather outside, ref?
Marc Joanette, who disallowed what would have been the tying (at that time) goal in the second period Saturday night, might have been getting a little homesick. He also worked the Oilers-Wild game Thursday night, where the Wild lubed the Oil 5-1. Mind you, the State of Minnesota just saw the coldest temperatures in over 4 years during Joanette's stay in St. Paul.
Maybe we should just start over, or ?
The Wild are 1-1-1 in the 3 years of 'Hockey Day Minnesota' games, scoring 6 goals total in the three games, while giving up 8. (2007: Dallas 2, Wild 1 (SO); 2008: Wild 4, Islanders 3 (OT); 2009: Ducks 3, Wild 0).
Saturday night was not a good night for the Minnesota Wild. Their 'Hockey Day Minnesota' 3-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks now drops them to 3-6 vs. the Pacific Division in 2008-09, 2-1 at home. The Wild are also 3-3-1 in 'Premium' home games (with raised ticket prices) this season, with five premium home games remaining.
'I like it, I love it, I want some more of it'
Atlanta trounced Nashville Saturday night at Sommet Center in Nashville, 7-2. It was 5-0 Thrashers before the Preds scored their first goal, and for once no one was heard singing the Preds' country-themed goal song. Add the 1 win, 3 loss week for the Preds to the general gloom of Nashville in the winter, and the choke job at home by the NFL's Tennessee Titans against the Baltimore Ravens last Saturday, and it's not been a good week in Music City. Preds play Monday night at home vs. New Jersey before going on a 3-game Western Canadian road swing.
Personal Note: My road record this year is an abysmal 0-2, and I put that on the line Monday in Chicago, as we travel to United Center for the seventh Wild-Hawks game in Chicago since the 2004-05 labor dispute. Record: 4-2 all time at the UC. See you there!
The Anaheim Ducks shutout the Wild 3-0 Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, capping off the third 'Hockey Day Minnesota' with a 30-save performance by backup goalie Jonas Hiller.
The Wild, for the most part, looked disinterested, and sometimes just downright lost as the Ducks literally skated circles around them all night long. Nothing the Wild tried worked -- typical of recent Anaheim-Minnesota games -- and it painfully showed, especially in the third period as the Ducks patiently went about the business of showing why they are still considered one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
To make matters worse, Andrew Brunette went down in the second period after slamming into the boards behind the Ducks' goal after getting 'fowled' up with Ryan Getzlaf as they both went into the boards in a puck battle. Brunette, the NHL's current 'Ironman' with 497 consecutive games played, had to be helped off the ice and into the Wild dressing room, reportedly unable to put weight on his right leg. Brunette did not return the rest of the evening.
The only bright spot in the evening for the Wild was the Owen Nolan -- Steve Montador fight in the second period, as the 'Irish God of War' scored a decisive victory (according to hockeyfights.com) over another ex-Calgary Flame. Sadly, that came on the heels of yet another bad refereeing call, this one by Marc Joanette, who blew the whistle too quickly as the Wild battled for a loose puck in front of the Anaheim net. Later in the game, the Wild were almost victimized the other way, as referee Steve Kozaro did not blow the whistle as Anaheim continued to dig for the puck after Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom had covered it in his crease.
Even after the final horn sounded and the fans were packing it up and started home, there was one final bit of irony left in the evening. On nights when the Wild lose, the 'Wild Anthem' is played and then a song for the visitor is also played.
Last night's song? 'Weird Al' Yankovic's parody of the Huey Lewis and the News' hit:
'I Want A New Duck'.
And now, the assembled multitude:
Chicken Little: How bad does this have to get before Doug Risebrough actually DOES something to help this club? You have a big night, big crowd, everyone amped up and you come out flatter than a week-old open bottle of warm beer. Keep playing like this, and April tee times will become hard to get..because they'll already have been taken by Wild players!
Pollyanna: At least they had a decent giveaway last night (coffee tumblers with the 'Hockey Day Minnesota' logo on them, first 10,000 adults thru the door). Backstrom made 34 saves.
Bottom Line: On a night where this team could have really helped itself get into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, the Wild took a giant step. Unfortunately, that step was, once again, backwards. There was absolutely no excuse for how the Wild played last night; they looked like they were going thru the motions, and not executing any offense whatsoever. The one time they did, they were stopped by referee Marc Joanette. Thanks for nothing, Marc.
Stud: Backstrom. His 34 saves kept the Wild in this game a lot longer than they deserved to be.
Dud: After being the subject of Saturday's game story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, you would think Kim Johnsson would have taken that pride and run with it. On the ice for all 3 Anaheim goals (and directly responsible for the first two), the December captain showed his December form. A happy '-2 Hockey Day' to Kim Johnsson.
Next: at Chicago, Monday, Jan. 19, 7:00 PM Central Time, United Center (TV: Versus (in HD), RIS, TSN2; XM Ch. 204)
WRT (who will be in attendance Monday at United Center)
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Analysis: A friend of mine called me and said, "What am I supposed to think of this trade?"
I thought about it for a few seconds, then a few more, then a few more. Eventually, I came up with two possible answers: First, that Marc-Andre Fleury is hurt again. But a strong 3-1 win over Anaheim Friday makes that unlikely.
The second, and more plausible answer, is that management/coaching is not happy with Fleury's performance - nor should they be - so they're bringing in Garon to push Fleury to perform better. Garon (6-8-0, 3.17 GAA, .890 pct) fared well a year ago in a rotation with Dwayne Roloson but his numbers this year have been rather poor. Maybe that's a product of the defense in front of him. I don't see the Oilers enough to judge.
Sabourin (6-8-2, 2.85, .898) was an effective backup, capable of a strong spot start here and there. He's not a starter. He did very well initially in place of Fleury earlier this season, but as he got more starts, he gave up more goals. He won't push Fleury for the No. 1 job.
But I'm not sure Garon will do that either. Nor am I sure that's the right message management wants to be sending to their $5 million goalie. If it lights a fire under Fleury and he becomes a shutdown goalie again, then it'll do the trick. Maybe Garon becomes Ty Conklin 2.0. Conklin almost singlehandedly saved the Pens' season a year ago when Fleury was injured. But it won't be a good sign if Garon supplants Fleury in between the pipes.
Stone was a formerly promising power forward type but had several rather underwhelming training camps and played his way out of the team's long-term plans. His loss is no big deal.
Giving up a draft pick is a bit of a headscratcher too. This team needs to add to its depth, not keep trading away picks.
This deal came out of nowhere. Of all the things the Penguins need - and that list is long - I didn't think a backup goalie was a high priority.
Earlier this month, Atlanta traded Jason Williams to Columbus and Los Angeles shipped Jason LaBarbera to Vancouver. So who's next?
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Well, forget it, folks. the team we have grown more accustomed to is back on the ice.
Led, believe it or not, by Pierre-Marc Bouchard with a sweet goal in the third period and two assists, the Minnesota Wild won their second straight at home, defeating the Edmonton Oilers with a 5-1 greasing at Xcel Energy Center Thursday night. The Wild scored four of their 5 goals at even-strength, which means of the 11 goals scored in the last two games, the Wild have scored at full strength (5-on-5) ten times.
Cal Clutterbuck's screen shot and Krys Kolanos' rebound marched the Wild into a 3-1 lead early in the third period, all against ex-Wild goalie Dwayne Roloson, who must be sick of seeing his old team torch him game in, game out, every time he plays in St. Paul.
And, according to Star-Tribune hockey writer Michael Russo, Kolanos' play has opened the trap door at 'Chateau Bow-Wow' for Benoit Pouliot to sample Texas Bar-B-Que in Houston, as he was sent down to the Aeros during the game. His demotion saves nearly $800,000 off the Wild salary cap (Pouliot has a two-way contract). Pissed off, he reportedly flew out of the arena, all his hockey gear well in tow, heading for the Lindbergh Terminal to join his fellow temporary Texans.
Savor the 'W', folks.
Assembled Multitude? Whaddya think now?
Chicken Little: Thank God we're finally scoring at 5-on-5. Now, can we get some scoring from a few more players?
Pollyanna: PMB saw the light tonight. So did a few others. Hopefully B-B-B-Benny likes Texas beef brisket! (And remember, after practice, it's 'Moon Pies and Dr. Pepper'.)
Bottom Line: This is what the doctor ordered for the Wild; a nice shot of Oil. Greasing MacT and the Oilers is about the Wild's favorite thing (next to beating Vancouver, of course!) and the Wild were so happy to oblige. Next time, it will be at Rexall Place, though, so look out, Boogaard. (He's just SO loved there...)
Stud: We rip on him for not producing, so we have to cheer him on when he does. PMB, Dud-ism doesn't become you. Efforts like tonight, however, put you in everyone's good stead.
Dud: Well...Craig Weller, if for no other reason than the KO dealt to you in the third period, at the hands of Sheldon Souray. If you go with a guy, be sure you have a prayer of at least getting a coupla shots in, OK?
Next: vs. Anaheim, Saturday, Jan. 18, 8:00 PM Central for 'Hockey Day Minnesota' (FSNorth, FSPrime Ticket, RIS, XM Ch. 206)
Keep warm, Wild Nation!
We haven't, and we do.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Also, check out Russo's notebook for a HI-larious exchange between Boogaard and Clutterbuck.
Articles and blogs all talking about how they can't score 5:5 to save their lives...six (6!!) ES goals last night.
Bruno and Koivu called out in the media for not scoring...one goal apiece last night.
The teams stars called out for being wusses/not team players...first Nolan and then Queen MAB (Queen MAB!!!) demand to get back into the lineup, do, and each scores a goal in his return.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of last night's 6-3 win over the Coyotes was how the team settled itself down after Phoenix turned a 4-1 deficit into a 4-3 deficit in just under six minutes in the third period. That was prime "shit the bed" territory for the Wild, but they bore down, Kimmy sends a beautiful outlet to Cal, who beats Bryz high glove to restore the 2-goal lead and then Shep goes all Cobra-Kai on the Coyotes to seal the deal.
That gut check was big.
The Wild has been doing a good job of limiting penalties all season, and they only gave the Coyotes one (22-second) PP all night.
But this ended up being a "get well" game for many different players. Hopefully they can keep it up going into the break.
Chicken Little says: But for a 60-minute effort this could have been a blowout.
Pollyanna says: I just knew they had that offense in them!
Bottom line: Slowly getting that record against the western conference back up towards 0.500...
Stud: Cal was engaged all over the stat sheet last night, hitting, (getting hit), assisting and scoring. Koivu got the GWG, but Cal put it away.
Dud: I said during the live blog that NASA launches space shuttles more quickly than PMB gets shots off.
Up Next: vs. Edmonton, Thursday 8 pm ET. (FSN-North in HD, SNET)
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Monday, January 12, 2009
Half-way. 50 per cent done, 50 per cent to go. Mid-way point. The far turn. (Put your favorite cliche' here.)
And where do the Minnesota Wild stand? And where should they be headed?
Looking back, let's relive some of the better (and, worse) moments of the first half:
Best Home Game: A lot of you blog readers will say the Dec. 31 game vs. San Jose; although that was indeed a good 'un, I thought the best game of the first half was the Dec. 23 game vs. Carolina. This team was THAT desperate that night, and they got the two points in regulation. And, that was the game of 'The Kill II', when the Wild killed off a 5-on-3 for a full 2 minutes. 'Da Boys' sent the pre-Christmas crowd home happy.
Worst Home Game: There are a few...Oct. 23 vs. Buffalo, when the Sabres came back and won in OT after the Wild blew a 3-0 lead; Nov. 20 vs. Vancouver, losing after the Sedins did in the Wild, after the great game vs. Pittsburgh two nights earlier; and, more recently, Dec. 27 vs. Chicago, when the Blackhawks' kids ran all over the Wild and won, 4-1. But the winner is Dec. 17 vs. Calgary, when the Wild had the Flames on the ropes, and let them off the hook, losing 3-2 in OT. The fans went home angry and dismayed after that one, and realistically, they haven't looked the same since then. That loss was the sixth in a row for the Wild at that point.
Best Road Game: This one's easy; a 6-2 thumping of the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center Oct. 16th, when Mikko Koivu registered a 4-point night. The day before, the 'Marian Gaborik saga' began in earnest, as he did not suit up for this game (or for all but one since).
Worst Road Game: A game the Wild should have won, could have won, might have won, but still...a 1-0 game at Nashville Dec. 6th, as Kim Johnsson's questionable penalty late in the third period led to the only goal of the game, with less than 5 minutes left in the contest. That was two points that should have never got away. Others worthy of dis-honorable mention; Oct. 28 at Dallas (4-2 loss with a very shaky Marty Turco in goal); Dec. 11 at Phoenix (a 3-1 loss) and Dec. 13 at Los Angeles (a 3-1 shameful effort which I witnessed in person).
Best player: Mikko Koivu. Fans don't call this guy 'the Franchise' for nothing. Night in, night out, best player on the club. He actually GETS it. Too bad it doesn't rub off on a few others.
Close behind: Niklas Backstrom (another decision of not signing which will come back to haunt this team in the second half); Brent Burns (despite playing forward for most of November and the first half of December, still your best defenseman); Owen Nolan (the 'Irish God of War' is a veteran presence this team has needed since Wes Walz left).
Worst player: Marc-Andre Bergeron. Brought in to help out as an offensive defenseman, he never has lived up to the billing. Granted, two injuries have not helped, but still he is more of a liability than I'm sure they bargained for when they signed him in the off-season.
Close behind: Martin Skoula (although this is actually an acknowledgement of how far he has actually improved this season, since he would have been hands-down the winner in 2007-08); Marek Zidlicky (takes too many of the wrong penalties at the wrong time, despite his booming shot from the point, which he doesn't use often enough); Pierre-Marc Bouchard (way too many 'Spin-O-Turnovers' and not nearly enough shooting, also plays with the puck too much, like it's a game of keepaway, not hockey).
Biggest Surprise: Cal Clutterbuck. If only the rest of the 'grinders' would grind like Cal does, the scoring chances would come in droves. Don't stop hittin' anything in the opponent's sweater that moves, Cal. We likey.
Biggest Disappointment: Andrew Brunette. Brought back in order to do what he did for the Wild prior to signing with Colorado, he has failed to bring that 'Back that big ass up' philosophy back from whence it went. We need garbage goals, Bruno, and you were one of the best at it. Ask Patrick Roy, who you sent into retirement. We need that back, Bruno. The sooner, the better.
And now, that we've looked back, let's look ahead:
Are they really buyers at the trade deadline (Mar, 4, when the Wild are travelling from Vancouver to San Jose), or are they sellers, disposing of tradable assets for future talent (draft picks and/or players) to re-start a building movement?
Depends on where the team is in regards to the standings as we come down to the end of February. A look at the schedule for those last 3 weeks shows 5 home games (Colorado, Ottawa, Calgary, Detroit, LA) and 5 road games (Detroit, Chicago, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver). Two games each with Detroit (probably still fighting with Chicago for the No. 2 spot in the West) and Calgary (the divisional opponent who give the Wild fits). The team will be in the middle of its' season-long six-game Western road trip and will be somewhat insulated from the outside distractions of the media (Michael Russo and John Shipley not withstanding).
For what it's worth, the Wild have an outside shot of actually making it to maybe a No. 6 seed (depending on where Detroit and Chicago land) if they can pull it together and somehow put a few 'biscuits in the basket'. I really don't see them leapfrogging both Vancouver (now the Mats Sundin-improved Canucks) and Calgary to repeat as Northwest Division champions.
On the other hand, with vastly improved teams in Columbus and Los Angeles, and the Edmonton Oilers' youth movement from two seasons ago now starting to take hold, the Wild could very easily be on the outside looking in after the first half of the 6-game road trip. If that happens, throw in the Wild's real wild card:
President/GM Doug Risebrough. Will 'Dougie Ballgame' receieve the edict from majority owner Craig Leipold to spend up to the salary cap, to try and trade someone to juice up the otherwise anemic offense? He could put UFA-to-be Marian Gaborik on long-term injured reserve, retroactive to the day after the last game he played (Dec. 24) to temporarily free up some needed cap space, or he could put some of his less-worthy players (Skoula, Bergeron, Kim Johnsson) up for trade to teams in need of defense. Gaborik is untradable, right up to the July 1 free agency period.
So the question remains? Sellers? Or Buyers?
My best educated guess? The Wild will stand pat, despite getting several offers for various players. Risebrough doesn't have the stones to make the significant acquisitions needed to get this club into the playoffs this season. He never showed it in Calgary, and except for one day in July, 2006, he never has shown it here in Minnesota, either. His lack of conviction, along with a scouting staff which hasn't produced very much in the last four years, combine to hamstring the Wild into doing nothing. Which may, or may not, be their undoing.
After all, this is the Minnesota Wild we're talking about here.
While MAB's return will help from an offensive/PP standpoint, he's just brutal defensively. Hopefully he does more in the opponent's zone than in ours.
And Foster, I know this is going to sound harsh, but keep in mind he's not a very good defenseman to begin with. When he got hurt, he was playing his best hockey of his NHL career. But he's pretty much just a bigger Zidlicky: big shot, questionable-at-best in the neutral and defensive zones. Even assuming he comes back and quickly gets back to where he was when he got hurt, he's still basically a fourth option on the 3rd pair (with Skoula, MAB and Zids) and a second line PP guy.
To say the team is leaving a bad taste in fans’ mouths right now is both understatement and overstatement at the same time. Whether the glass is half-full or half-empty on this season seems to change by the day. But before we get into specifics, let’s recap what the expectations were for this team coming into the season.
1. Make the playoffs
2. Advance (at least) one round
Yes, the team lost veteran forwards (Rolston, Demitra, Parrish, etc). Yes, they were replaced, by a nearly the same number of goals, with a mix of veteran grit and (relatively) young promise. But, those expectations were borne of General Manager Doug Risebrough’s own set of expectations, dating back to day one of the organization: slow, but steady, improvement with the ultimate goal of perennial, justifiable inclusion in the discussion of Cup challengers. The team won its first division championship last season, but then bowed out of the playoffs in the first round for the second straight year. Therefore, if the stated goal is consistent improvement, then making the playoffs should be a given, and advancing would satisfy the “improvement” criterion.
So, through forty-one games, the Wild is sitting in 10th place in the Western Conference, a mere two points (but two wins) out of the all-important 8th spot. Obviously the team hasn’t not made the playoffs yet. And they also have not failed to advance in the big tournament this season either. So, while we may not be able to decide whether or not they have met those expectations, the question at the midway point of the season is: are they on the right track?
Some, with better and more consistent access to the team than me, aren’t convinced.
“This is going to be a tough second half folks. There’s just not enough scoring on this roster to last.” – Michael Russo*
“The Minnesota Wild are an exact combination of defensive greatness and offensive ineptitude forming perfect mediocrity. That may be a sort of balance, but not the kind the team — or its fans — wanted.” – John Shipley*
And I agree with Messers Russo and Shipley: this team does not appear to be sufficiently offensively skilled to meet either of those aforementioned goals.
But, what of the GM? Risebrough is Dr. Frankenstein, and this roster is his monster, after all. For his part, our beloved GM appears to be either blissfully ignorant or uncouthly arrogant (or perhaps both?) to the realities of the value of success this season.
His justifications seem to waffle between the youthful core having reached a point where it was time to throw them into the pool and see if they can swim, or that there is sufficient talent on the team to do what we want them to do, or that there aren’t enough tradable chips to garner the kind of return needed to fill the holes (that aren’t there, one assumes) – which he further obfuscates by blaming the rest of the league for not putting the “right” players out there. Even more comically, Risebrough is currently trying to deflect blame back on the press and the fans – insinuating that fans, initially so “hockey-savvy,” and the media that represents them either don’t or won’t analyze the team in a “balanced” manner. This is a guy that makes Joe Lieberman look consistent.
And perhaps we don’t; wins, important though they may be, are really only one metric when you get right down to it. But Risebrough wouldn’t have to listen to us. Not when his head coach is echoing the exact same sentiments.
"Last year, you could tell there was offense on our team, there (were) players who could make a difference... Now we know that we don't score a lot of goals. Maybe we don't have the talent to score the same amount of goals as last year.” – Jacques Lemaire*
Clearly all these roads lead back to Risebrough. Either the team isn’t sufficiently skilled (which is his responsibility), or they are but then perhaps it’s the coach that can’t get through to them. Either the trades are there and he’s just afraid to pull the trigger, or he’s too proud to admit that one of the kids isn’t working out. Or they’re not, but then wouldn’t that be because we don’t have anyone interesting enough to other GMs? But, if the kids are working out, then why are they struggling so much on the ice?
Meanwhile, for the first time in team history, there are serious grumblings from the Team of 18,000. Malcontent can become a very impactful entity very quickly with a fan base as used to getting the short end of the stick as Minnesotan sports fans are. There is little doubt the team will be profitable again this year, but is that enough to owner Craig Leipold? Is he a business man first, or a hockey fan first?
So the midway point of the 2008-2009 season brings more discontent and question marks than ever before. On the ice, the team skates with little-to-no margin for error. Off the ice, the margin for error is just as small, the only difference being the General Manager seems oblivious to it.
*The quotes herein are from Russo's Rants, and Shipley's midseason analysis, respectively.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
The Minnesota Wild found out first hand Saturday night at Nationwide Arena, as the Columbus Blue Jackets, led by 18-year-old Nikita Filatov, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, scored his first pro hat trick (and the first ever by a Columbus rookie) to lead the Jackets to a 4-2 win over the offensively-challenged Wild. Jakub Voracek chipped in with 3 assists, as the Jackets moved ahead of the Wild into 9th place in the NHL's Western Conference.
Wild goalie Josh Harding took the loss, which ran his record for the season to 1-5-1 overall.
The Wild looked like they didn't really want to finish this game, as they took a 1-1 score into the third period before the youth of the Blue Jackets -- who defeated Washington 3-0 Friday night at Verizon Center -- served themselves as the Wild defense gave way to the speedier, hungrier Columbus rookies. Five Columbus regulars, including star forward Rick Nash, were sidelined by injuries, as the Jackets came home off a six-game, transcontinental road trip.
The highlight -- at least for Wild fans -- was a 'Rock 'em, Sock 'em'-style fight between the Wild's Craig Weller and Columbus' Jared Boll, as the two threw haymakers like they would be illegal after midnight. Here is the fight on YouTube:
The entertaining fight, however, did little to raise the efforts of the Wild, who have now scored 6 goals in their last 4 games, all on the road. The Wild now come home to face another team who, like themselves, have had expectations lowered as the season has progressed, when they face the Phoenix Coyotes for the last time this season Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center.
We found the assembled multitude drowning their sorrows in the Arena District, next door to Nationwide Arena:
Chicken Little: When the Wild really want to stop playing, the results are devastating.
Pollyanna: At least Craig Weller had a good night! (Er, good fight.)
Bottom Line: This game sucked. Is there a contest on who can come out the flattest on this team right now? No offense, precious little defense, and goalies who have no room for error. Bad combo. The ship needs to be righted. The roster needs to be shaken up. Trades need to be made. But Doug Risebrough really doesn't have the stones for it. He'd rather stand pat with this bunch. Wrong way to think.
Stud: They all wore blue sweaters last night.
Dud: Once again, so many duds, so little time...Martin Skoula showed flashes of his true self (e.g., helped give up the first Jackets goal) with his lack of effort, PMB had at least two 'Spin-O-Turnovers', Marek Zidlicky was frequently out of position at both ends of the ice, Benoit Pouliot with one hand on the stick while playing the puck, etc., etc., etc.
Next: vs. Phoenix, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 7:00 PM Central Time (6 PM Mountain). (TV: KSTC-45, FSAZ (in HD), XM Ch. 239)
Friday, January 9, 2009
The Wild, for whom 'illness' and 'post-holiday' go together like cold and snow, had one player just coming back (Stephane Veilleux) and one player back at the hotel espousing on theory (Martin Skoula) as a flu virus ravages this team once again. Despite all this, the Wild went 0-for-8 on the power-play, turning a possible Wild victory into their second loss vs. an Eastern Conference opponent this season (the other being a loss at home vs. Montreal Oct. 30). Scott Hartnell tallied a goal and an assist for the Flyers, who lead the Atlantic Division by three points over the hated NY Rangers.
To top all of that off, no report of last night's game would be complete without a hardy laugh at Philadelphia's Josh Gratton, he who challenged big John Scott to a fight, then, after Scott was ready to oblige, turned tail and tried to run away. No dice, said the referees, who got Gratton for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (which is what Scott got for dropping 'em). Sadly, no punches were thrown, but Scott got his revenge by checking Gratton hard into the boards in the third period. (Now really; would Gary Dornhoefer have ever run away from a fight? Bob Kelly? Dave 'the Hammer' Schultz? Any of the real Broad Street Bullies?)
The Wild -- what's left of them -- now face another team who come home after a long road trip, as they move on to Columbus on Saturday night at Nationwide Arena, where it's 'Rally Towel Night' vs. the Blue Jackets, who end a six-game road trip Friday night at Washington. The Wild will observe the game from individual hotel rooms, as ordered by Doug Risebrough and the medical staff, so as to stem the absences due to the 'creeping crud' going thru the roster.
We found the assembled multitude stocking up on 'Airborne' immunity booster at Walgreens:
Chicken Little: In the only two losses this season to Eastern Conference teams, the Wild are a combined 0-for-18 on the PP. You can't go like this and expect to win.
Pollyanna: The Wild actually scored the first goal of the hockey game for the third straight game! They need to score more, but it's a start...
Bottom Line: The Wild are a depleted team right now, with Gaborik out, 2-3 players sick, another 2-3 injured, and the trade deadline looming. This game could have been a real nightmare for 'da boys', but they did hold in for most of the game, despite the 0-fer on the power play. Would things have been different had more players been healthy and available?
Stud: Well, on a night where not much was going right, was there a real stud? Someone who stood taller than the rest (and didn't barf afterwards?)
Dud: PMB's Dud-ism factor is nearly off the scale. Is it something we said? Too many 'Spin-O-Turnovers', not enough shots. Shoot the puck, Butch...
Next: 'Rally Towel Night', at Columbus, Saturday, Jan. 10, 6 PM Central (7:00 PM Eastern) Time. (TV: KSTC-45, FSOhio (in HD), XM Ch. 209)
Thursday, January 8, 2009
My initial reaction to this news - and at the time, all I knew was the length - was one of mild shock. Not necessarily that Staal signed an extension with Pittsburgh but that it was for four years. Most indications/reports/rumors were that Staal wanted a shorter term deal.
After discovering the amount was $16 million, I just had to put my hand over my face and sigh.
According to nhlnumbers.com, the Penguins have nearly $42 million devoted to 13 players next season. If the salary cap goes down, they're in a heap of trouble. Even if it stays the same, GM Ray Shero will be scraping the bargain bin (read: garbage heap) to finish filling out a team.
Despite the new contract, there's no guarantee Staal will serve out all four years as a Penguin. In fact, with the contract, he might be a more attractive option in a trade.
The Penguins can't afford paying a third-line center $4 million. Perhaps they've rectified that by moving Staal onto Sidney Crosby's line. While I was unable to catch the game tonight, Staal's first with the new contract and linemate, Staal scored. Whether it was merit or luck I don't know. But he did score. And he'll take them any way he can; he has only 12 goals now. He had 29 as a rookie.
Staal needs to return to that 18-year-old form in order to stay in Pittsburgh. Otherwise, he'll turn into deadweight and likely be traded, and the return might not be very good. Maybe Shero could find someone to trade for Staal's potential and not his current production.
With Michel Therrien's line juggling, Staal's time on Crosby's line might've lasted one game. If he goes back to centering the third line, he's well overpaid. If he becomes a scoring winger, then the Penguins solved that problem without having to make a trade. (UPDATE: Staal started Saturday's game as center of the No. 2 unit; Malkin and Crosby were on the same line.)
Staal's still only 20, but the Penguins don't have much time to wait for him. They need to know what they have, whether it's a productive young stud at (potentially) a reasonable contract, or an underperforming, overpaid player who needs a change of scenery to fully develop into the player many so-called experts believe he can become.
So, when he writes something like:
"My gut though is that there’s been recent conversation. Backstrom, as of
three weeks ago, said the Wild hadn’t contacted his agent. Today he said we had
to ask the Wild or his agent, and that he didn’t want to think about his
contract situation, which makes you think something’s going on. Also, Risebrough
kind of let a little subtle, 'The best thing for me to do is do it in a
strategic, quiet manner, so I’m not commenting any further.'”
I'm inclined to go with his gut.
Why does this matter? Well because, with the Gaborik situation on the back burner, this is THE salient "off-ice" topic around the Wild right now.
There's no doubt that Backstrom has been the team MVP (with all due respect to Mikko) so far this season. At $3.1M he's probably pretty well underpaid. Yes, he's partially a product of the system Lemaire has in place, but he's also a damn fine goalie. Particularly endearing is how he identified areas of weakness in his game, worked on them, and has improved in them (ie breakaways/shootouts.) That's professionalism, folks. And you build your team from the goal-out. No doubt about it.
But...(and you knew there was a "but" coming) if we're looking at getting nothing in return when Gaby skates off as a UFA this summer, and you have some holes (read: scoring), and one of your obvious areas of strength is in goal, then I think you have to at least be open to the idea of trading Backstrom.
Now, personally, I think there have to be a few things in play in order to justify doing so:
1. The Wild has to be out of a playoff spot (at the deadline)
2. Riser has to be able to get the better end of the deal (no guarantee, and that means he has to have the stones to be able to pull the trigger on the deal in the first place)
3. Backstrom is looking for more than the Wild is willing to pay, considering Harding is still waiting in the wings, and there are some other enticing names on the upcoming goalie UFA list this summer.
Furthermore, I personally think all three of those things have to be in play in order to justify moving him.
Which makes it that much less likely that it would happen....
....Which makes the question of whether or not Doug has opened negotiations with Backstrom and his agent (Don Baizley) all the more important....
....Which makes Russo's suppositions all the more intriguing.
And there it is. The resolution of the Backstrom situation will go a long way towards quantifying the immediate prospects for the team's success - regardless of whether or not he's re-signed or traded.
**UPDATE** Russo has added that he confirmed with Baizley that there is an open dialogue. Note that does not mean there's been any meaningful progress, per se. But something's better than nothing, right?
I should add that I would like to see Backstrom re-signed. I think you need a top-flight goalie more than you need another 1st round pick. I think Harding has some trade value, if push comes to shove, and he's a RFA after the season. But, if those three things come to fruition, or if another GM calls you with a great offer, you'd be stupid not to at least consider it.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Okay, maybe that's not the first thing in his mind during games right now, but the fact remains that the 30-year-old Wild goalie is unsigned beyond this season. While there is nothing in his public personae to justify any such "of course he's been great this season, he's in a walk year!" statements, the flip side of that mind frame for us fans is "Backstrom isn't signed yet?! WTF is Risebrough doing?!"
The guy has been sensational at best, and very good at worst, for the Wild all season long. Even in December, he was often one of precious few Wild players worthy of overall praise.
But all his brilliance so far this season essentially leads up to last night's performance, a 28-save shutout against the highest-scoring team in the league, in their own building, with the smallest possible margin for error (the dreaded 1-goal lead.)
Boston is a very, very good team. But Backstrom made the routine, the difficult and the acrobatic/ridiculous saves all night long, and earned his second-straight shutout (tied for league lead with 5), running his current shutout streak to 125:26.
The goal was supplied by Marek Zidlicky, on the power play - I know: surprise, surprise - and the team overall worked hard in turning aside wave after wave of Boston marauders.
But take nothing away from Backstrom.
While he is certainly the Wild player who would currently fetch the highest return in a trade scenario, and Harding has really played well in spot duty behind him, it's going to be tough to swallow losing him via trade if the team is still in the playoff hunt. But, of course, Risebrough would need to actually call Nik or his agent if he's interested in re-signing him (as the last reports have indicated that he has not.)
Oh, and petulant Manny Fernandez got the loss - his first at home this season. There's karma for you.
Chicken Little says: But for the grace of an insurance goal...
Pollyanna says: And the recent hit parade continues! San Jose, Detroit, (Colorado), and now Boston!
Bottom Line: The Wild gets two more big points, against another very good team.
Stud: Backstrom, Backstrom, Backstrom. A thousand times Backstrom!
Dud: Bruno is now playing like a snake-bitten player. We can't have that kind of defeatism from one of our veterans, especially one from whom we need as much offense as possible.
Up Next: A visit to the city of brotherly love, and a date with the Flyers. Thursday, 7pm ET. TV: FSN-North, CSN-PH.
Monday, January 5, 2009
But good teams capitalize on the misfortunes of their opponents, and, perhaps surprisingly, the Wild has suddenly decided to play like a good team again. A stirring victory over the Sharks on New Years Eve, a loser point against the Red Wings Saturday night and then two regulation points against a division foe, on the road, after a tough overnight turnaround for a five-points-in-three-games run that seems almost impossible after the angst and drama that this team has produced since November turned into December.
This night it was all about God.
The Irish God of War, to be more specific. Owen Nolan has finally answered our prayers and filled the grizzled veteran leadership hole that has been haunting the team since Wes Walz laid his shoes at the edge of the mat. Incidentally, Mr. Nolan has also filled a void that dates back to the inception of the team: that of a forward who is willing and able to go to the front of the net and score the ugly goals that are so critical in the game today. Nolan bagged his 8th and 9th of the season, his third and fourth in the last three games, and his third on the power play, and first at even strength, respectively, in that time period.
The Wild are just a different team when he's in the lineup. Maybe it's his moxie, maybe it's his balls, maybe it's his gray stubble. Whatever it is, the guy gets 'er done like no one else on the Wild roster, arguably ever. Craig Leipold ought to invest in a hyperbaric chamber for the team, strictly for Nolan's use this season, so valuable is his contribution.
Backstrom, Schultz, Burns and PMB were also strong last night, but the night was all about Nolan. (Cal deserves an honorable mention for getting Darcy Tucker to take a dumb penalty that basically ended any hope the Avs had for a comeback.)
Odd note: for all their struggles to score the first goal lately, the Wild has scored the first goal as often (19 times) as their opponent has (19 times) this season.
Chicken Little says: I hope they don't think 2 goals is enough against healthy teams. Would have liked to see them get another one.
Pollyanna says: Just goes to show you that you can't count a Lemaire-coached team out, ever.
Bottom Line: That was just their second win in 8 division games this season. But it was a win nonetheless.
Stud: IGoW changes the complexion of the team - for the better - when he's in the lineup. Who else can we say that about?
Dud: No one really jumps to mind, so everyone gets a pass.
Up Next: The Wild's tour of division leaders continues on Tuesday night, in Boston to face the Bs. 7:00PM ET start, Versus.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
OK, Wild World. We've all had 72 hours (or so) to digest the news about the 'season-ending' surgery to star forward, UFA-to-be -- and resident 3-year-old -- Marian Gaborik.
The question is put to the blogospere:
How should we, as fans, feel about what has transpired? Should we actually feel sorry for poor Gaby, and actually acquiese to him regarding his continuing hip problems? Or should we scream, 'A pox on all your houses' to both sides (player/agent and Wild management) for allowing this situation to degenerate to this childish level of 'he said, he said'? Or should we just let it all go, just say 'F--k it' and get on with the business of rebuilding the remains into something that Wild fans can actually be proud of?
Let's face facts, people. This team as it had been playing was nothing to be proud of. Yes, a better level of talent than in the early years of the franchise (hey, no Sylvain Blouin or Maxim Sushinsky any more) but definitely heading towards the same result -- nights of losses after losses by close scores. 'Moral victories' is the phrase most commonly used.
Well, folks, I don't know about the rest of you. But I am really tired of 'moral victories'. I want real ones.
Yes, they have done better recently, with an OT win vs. San Jose and Saturday night's SO loss to Detroit. But there have been real stinkers, like the nightmarish 3-game swing to Phoenix and Southern California last month. If the Wild had been playing like they should have been, like we've seen they can, they should have won at least 2 of the 3 games on that road trip. As it was, they went 0-fer the road in December, losing all six games. Now, after spending the New Years' Day holiday at home, they start out on the first 4 (of 7 this month) games on the road this week.
My view on Gaborik:
Yes, he is talented. Yes, he probably will be a very good NHL player somewhere. He may not rack up Hall-of Fame numbers, but he will be a very high-quality player, if he can ever get his 'problem' straightened out.
His problem is said to be in his hips. Maybe. But, in my opinion, I think his real problem is between his ears.
If you want someone to pay you the big money, in any line of work, you have to make yourself so invaluable to that organization so as to have them pay you whatever you ask for. To have the employer blow you away with an offer, you have to blow them away with the quality of your work effort.
So far, Gaborik has never really done that with the Wild. He has been the poster child for the tempermental, moody, petulant, egotistical superstar, the 'I'll play when I want to' of the NHL. Last week's grand announcement that he's off to Vail, Colo., for hip surgery really was the last straw, at least for this blogger.
You don't just say 'see ya' when your team is in its' real hour of need. If you suspected that you needed surgery, why didn't you get it done sooner, like this fall, so you could showcase yourself for the trade deadline? You want that big contract? Seven (or more) years of huge paydays?
If you can lace 'em up, you do so. Gaborik admitted himself that he was at 65-70% of normal in the last few games; but 65-70% of something is better than 100% of nothing, and that's what effort Gaborik's giving the Wild right now. Nothing. Except, of course, a pain in the neck which just won't go away.
You want to see how it's done, Marian? Look across the Wild locker room at a real star. Owen Nolan. He didn't wait for doctors to OK him back into the lineup; no 'easing back in' to the players' bench. He went in and told management that he was coming back. And when he came back, he scored two goals in his first two games. He didn't have to shut up. He 'manned up', came back, and played.
No player in a regular NHL lineup right now is playing pain-free. They all hurt. (In case no one told you, that's part of the deal with getting paid the big bucks for playing hockey.) And yet, you sit back, tell off management (again) and say, 'I can't play. I don't feel 100%', et cetera, et cetera.
The fact of the matter is, your 'contract drive' season looks more like a season's worth of the old comedy series, 'F Troop', replete with Doug Risebrough as Captain Parmenter, the post commander, Jacques Lemaire as Sarge and Tom Lynn as Cpl. Agarn. You are the Hakawe Indian chief who always has something to sell. You shoot yourself in the foot every time you turn around. Any NHL team would want you after your track record, right, Gaby? HA!
So enjoy your 'Rocky Mountain high', Gaby. Enjoy stealing money from we Wild fans who had been behind you, at least until now. Does the landscape look good to you up there? I really hope so. Perhaps you can go back there in the summer. Because, again in my opinion only, after this season, your chances of seeing those mountains as anything other than an off-season visitor are approximately zilch.
Larry Brooks, hockey columnist for the NEW YORK POST, said it best about you, Gaby:
"Good luck to you, young man.
Enjoy your time in Russia."
And now, for the other side:
Doug Risebrough and the Wild Hockey Operations staff are just as 'guilty as charged' as His Royal Highness, the Prince of Trencin himself. They should have insisted on this doctor looking at Gaborik in early November, not over the Christmas holidays. Granted, now in hindsight, not signing Gaborik over the summer of 2008 looks like sheer genius. However, the fact that this locker-room cancer has not been either removed or contained shows that little institutional control exists at MSE. To allow one player to run roughshod over an entire NHL organization in this day and age is beyond allowable expectations.
Risebrough should have dumped this guy in the summer. No waiting for the current season to start. He should have rid himself of this problem 6 months ago. And now, we jeopardize a new contract for your starting goalie, Niklas Backstrom, a player who HAS INDEED put up the numbers worthy of a new contract, and has let his play negotiate for him. All they need to do is mention a number.
The fact that Gaborik is not currently on Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), which would allow the Wild salary-cap relief on a temporary basis, so that they could make a trade in order to get some desperately-needed offense, falls directly at the feet of Risebrough. No one else. And please, don't just outright say 'I'm not trading' for the players needed to improve an offense which currently is the second-most anemic in the Western Conference.
As fans, we are tired of 'Dumpster Doug' and trying to nickel-and-dime a playing roster together. You have been given some wonderful, team-building players (Backstrom, Burns, Koivu, Schultz, Sheppard) and you have signed some others (Brunette, Nolan, Miettinen) who are wonderful complimentary pieces. However you also have nearly more dead wood than you have at any time in Wild history right now (Skoula, Pouliot, Johnsson the primary three, in my opinion) and you need to rid this roster of Skoula especially. Although Lemaire thinks that Skoula is the neatest thing sliced sliced bread, he really doesn't deserve a top-4 spot on an NHL roster. He is a defensive liability of the first order (currently a -8) and he has cost the Wild at least one division title (2007) in his 3 + seasons on the Wild roster. Skoula was rated the worst full-time defenseman in the Western Conference last season, and the sixth worst in the entire NHL. 'Dougie Ballgame' really needs to unload Skoula by whatever means necessary that would get the job done and Skoula sent packing.
Skoula sent packing would unload close to $2 million off the books, which with the LTIR to Gaby would mean over $5 million available for an offense that really, really needs a boost. Now.
The Wild lost to the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, to open their calendar year 2009 by gaining their third point in the last two games.
Owen Nolan, the 'Irish God of War', scored for the Wild, as he tipped in a Brent Burns shot 36 seconds into the third period after Detroit had controlled the play thru most of the first two. It was Nolan's second goal in as many games since he forced himself back into the lineup after sitting out 11 games with a 'lower body' injury. The goal was also the second time in as many games where Nolan also opened the scoring for the Wild. Antti 'Mittens' Miettinen scored 16 seconds later when he stole the puck from Tomas Holmstrom and quickly put it in the net for a 2-1 Wild lead. Johan Franzen tied it up, 2-2 with just under 5 minutes remaing in regulation after a goal was allowed by the NHL's Toronto 'War Room' which looked originally like it was batted in with a high stick.
Burns, who was playing in his 300th NHL game, led all players in Time on Ice, playing 33:33 in the 65-minute affair. Kim Johnsson also played over 30 minutes for the Wild as well.
Pavel Datsyuk scored the only shootout goal, as 3 Wild attempts failed (by Krys Kolanos, Burns, and Mikko Koivu) to get past Detroit goalie Chris Osgood.
The Wild now embark on a 7-day, 4-game road trip, beginning Sunday evening in Denver vs. the Avalanche, followed by games in Boston, Philadelphia and Columbus.
We found the assembled multitude after the game slip, sliding away from the 'X':
Chicken Little: What do we have to do to beat Detroit? I thought we were getting better! Can we finally stop with the 'Hockey Prevent' in the last half of the third period??
Pollyanna: Owen Nolan really IS the 'IGoW' for this team. He really DOES make this Wild team better when he is in the lineup. Josh Harding had to stand on his head a good part of the night. Detroit is on a different talent level than the rest of the NHL; the only thing that the Wild didn't do is win in the shootout.
Bottom Line: While somewhat disappointing, the result actually bodes well for 'da Boys' as they head into one of their worst road trips of the season. Can they keep the momentum up during this 3,600-mile (approximately) 'week of wheels' marathon starting next game? I would hope they would come out of this with at least 4 points; anything else, and the wheels will start to come off again. Anytime the Wild can come out of a game vs. Detroit -- a team they do not match up well with -- with points, you've done well.
Stud: Although Burns deserves strong consideration due to his TOI and assist on Nolan's goal, his blown shootout attempt is a huge minus. Ditto Krys Kolanos, who also didn't put biscuit in basket. This one belongs to the player who stood out above all others; the 'IGoW' himself, Owen Nolan. He truly was a warrior out there, always drawing defenders away, scrapping in front of the net; in short, doing what has kept him in the NHL for 19 seasons.
Dud: Again, we have two for consideration: Andrew Brunette, he of the 'don't hit me in front of the net' appearance; why did the Wild bring you back again? To always be about 1 1/2 steps behind the play? Where's the creating havoc Bruno we used to know, the guy who would 'Back that big ass up' to get garbage goals? We haven't seen much of that lately, and we're getting worried.
The other temporary (we hope) convert to Dud-ism was Eric Belanger, who blew more chances than a pee-wee team to score goals last night, including at least two chances with wide-open nets in front of him. You gotta put it in to get victories, Eric. Not just on net. IN net.
The choice for Dud: Sorry, Bruno. Belanger did just that much less and 'earned' the award. We need ALL forwards to be contributing, Eric. Not just your linemates. You, too.
Next: at Colorado, Sunday (Tonight), Jan 4, 7:00 PM Central Time (6:00 PM Mountain). (TV: Altitude, FSNorth, RDS, all three feeds IN HD; NHL Network-Canada only (no HD); XM Ch. 206)
Friday, January 2, 2009
More on this as it becomes available.
*** *** ***
Russo reporting that there's sufficient animosity between the two camps as to render any chance for even a 1-year extension moot. My feelings were that such a short-term patch would allow both sides an opportunity to maximize the return - Gaborik for his services after this injury is hopefully cleared up and Risebrough for Gaborik. But, obviously Russo's a lot closer to this than I am, so I'll go with his thoughts on that topic.
Thus, we should all prepare for a scenario wherein Gaborik walks on July 1st and we get nothing in return, or maybe we can trade him for "exclusive negotiating rights" for like a low pick or something.
Either way, we're looking at getting an exceedingly small return for the first draft pick in team history, the only remaining original Wild player, and the team career scoring leader.
This situation is so frustrating, that I'm going to refrain from typing about him here until there's a resolution.
*Now that this other thing is "resolved" Risebrough absolutely MUST get in contact with the Backstrom camp immediately. There's been some speculation of late that DR's reticence may have started Backstrom down the "I wonder what I could get on the open market" path. The last time Doug played this hand this way we ended up losing Rolston. Frankly, Riser better have learned his lesson.
*Mikko's back as captain for January.
*I went back and watched the complete Sharks game on the DVR. Best game of the season by a mile. The boys looked like it was a playoff game - and in some ways it was. The list of players who I felt played their best individual game of the year is long. Sheppard, PMB, Skoula, Schultz...the D activated nicely all game, they took the offensive zone with authority and purpose, didn't squander opportunities to get a shot off, created chances, were physical and played their usually-stellar defense. It was a good, solid 3-zone game.
*Can there be any doubt as to the value of Owen Nolan on this team? I've been pining for veteran leadership on this team for a couple seasons. Someone who would grab the kids by the balls and demand accountability. Looks like Owen might be the answer to my prayers.