Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wild Playing a Mature Game

by NiNY

Last night's game against the Predators was a revelation for me. The Wild was poised, calm, mature and professional for a full 60-minutes as they methodically wore down the Predators (who, in fairness, had played and traveled Tuesday night) en route to a 3-2, come from behind victory.

The Wild even had to navigate the game day disruption of Backstrom becoming unavailable, Harding getting the nod, and the signing of a 51 year old backup before the game.

If you've watched as many Wild games as I have over the years, you saw a level of poise and focus from the Wild that they have rarely exhibited in the past. Additionally, they were able to sustain it for the full 60 and that's, why that's a Thanksgiving miracle!

If Mike Yeo has instilled a mind frame of adherence to a style and strategy and gotten the boys to buy in, then that puts him in sole company with the 2003 Lemaire Western Conference Finals team.

I thought perhaps a few days off from the last game would have given the team the opportunity to read their press, revel in being atop the NHL and come out and lay an egg against a strong Nashville team. Silly me.

The Wild started strong but the Predators got a greasy goal on their first shot. Prior, lesser Wild teams would have sat back and licked their wounds at that point. But not Yeo's team. Not last night. Not, dare I say it, this... season?

It's going to take some time to get used to expecting the team to not fold under duress, frankly.

Years of Richards and, yes, Lemaire-led Wild teams folding their tents and slinking away into the night at the first or maybe second sign of determination from the opposition has created a certain expectation, perhaps in the way of a defense mechanism, among us fans.

This is an exciting proposition. But Minnesota fans will have to be coaxed and prodded into such a demeanor. We're more used to our teams teasing us with moments of brilliance only to burn our security blankets when we start to believe.

I'm willing to give Yeo a chance to be the exception to that rule. Why not?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hockey Hypocrisy


So, what if a couple of Sabres had pounced on Milan Lucic (obivously none of them is tough enough to go with Lucic one-on-one) and beat the shit out of him?

I hated the Sabres (non)reaction last night. I hated it because it's simply not hockey. Hockey is protecting your goalie. Yes, even when he invites calamity by coming that far out of his crease. Even if it puts you on the penalty kill. I have no problem with Lucic's hit on Miller, but I still think the Sabres owed it to themselves, their goalie and their fans to stand up for Miller.

Instead we saw what hockey is in danger of becoming: timid, scared and politically correct. Bullshit.

I don't want to turn into Grapes here, God knows he doesn't need my help.

But hockey's inherent hypocrisy with how it handles the rough and tough aspect of the game just makes me mad.

We all know the NHL doesn't REALLY want to legislate fighting out of the game. If it did, it would have by now. But it can't because all those paying customers who don't know a hook from a hold DO know what a fight is and shell out their hard-earned pennies in the hopes of seeing one.

We all know the NHL doesn't really want to legislate away the reality that players have to play right on the edge in the game of hockey in favor of safer, homogenized hockey. If it did, it would have by now.

So now the talking heads and soft nouveau fans have more cud to chew on. Some will say the Sabres intentionally didn't do anything. Right. The only team that, as my friend GreenStar puts it, uses its power play as its enforcer is Detroit. The Sabres simply aren't talented enough to play that kind of game.

Others will say the Sabres were scared. I don't think that's it either. I think the Sabres just practice the fashionable brand of today's hockey. The "don't want to risk the wrath of the league" type hockey.

As much as I dislike the Flyers, you can't say they accomodate that particular trend. They continue to do things their own special way - and, whether I like it or not, I respect them for it.

The Bruins, too, are an organization that has certainly embraced the uglier side of hockey in its past.

I say good for Lucic. Ultimately, this will be good for the Sabres, too, because it will whip their fans into even more of a frenzy when they're playing the Bs.

But, if you're a Sabres fan who applauds your team's soft response last night, then let's make a deal: you continue to go about living in your academic, high and mighty, "sophisticated" hockey world. But then you don't get to root for the Sabres/Bruins rivalry. You don't get to talk peace, love and understanding out of one side of your mouth and then get all frothed up for the next Bruins game - that is that much more exciting and appealing to your baser instincts because Lucic nailed the wandering Miller - out of the other. You don't get to have your cake and eat it too.

Mmm-kay? Deal? Good.

...And Then


...That happened.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wild Thawing My Cold Heart



2nd in the NW division.

4th overall in the Western Conference.


I mean, blog over, right?

But wait, there's more!

Five game winning streak, three goals-allowed.

NOW blog over, right?

That's not all! If you call now we'll DOUBLE the offer!

8-1-2 against the West (best record in the league vs. the West).

4-0-1 against the NW division.

(Those last two are huge. Huge. Those are all points in the bank for later in the season when you're jockeying for playoff position and tie breakers are important. The importance of getting off to a good start versus the conference and division cannot be overstated.)

I'm starting to believe.

Let me clarify.

I've felt they were on the right track all summer. But I didn't necessarily think that would manifest itself in a playoff season this year. But now....well it's exciting, what they're doing. No they're not world-beaters, yet. But look, you allow three goals in five games and something's going right. Several things, in fact.

Obviously the goaltending is tremendous right now. I can't remember another time when BOTH Wild goalies were as hot as Backstrom and Harding are right now. Backstrom wasn't even at his best last night (four games off will do that to you I suppose) and he still looked great several times and obviously more-than adequate all the other times he had to make a save.

But 0.60 goals per game over 5 games is a meaningful sample to indicate that the entire team is playing well in front of the goalies. Flames fans were lamenting that the 41 saves Backstrom made last night were greater than the number of high percentage shots he had to turn aside - and they are right. The Wild is getting solid buy-in from its defense corps and the forwards are clearly helping out as well. As a goalie I'll take shots from the wall by the hash marks all night long.

No, this is more than the goalies playing great. This is the whole team doing what it takes on defense. If that wasn't happening, the Wild would have allowed a lot more than 3 goals in the last 5 games, and that's not mutually exclusive from the goalies playing great.

Last night wasn't the prettiest game, but honestly I think the 17 minutes of penalties the Wild had to kill played a big part in that. The start was ugly, but the way they rallied around the PK was inspiring.

All this amounts to one thing: I'm starting to believe in this team. This year's team. I'm watching them win games and then reading about Yeo saying how much better they can be and I'm letting my imagination run a little bit.

Maybe they can be a playoff team this season.

They've had non-wins in back-to-back games twice so far, and nipped those potential losing streaks in the bud with a shootout win over Edmonton and a 1-0 win over Detroit, respectively. That's encouraging. If they can continue to limit losing streaks...

They've only not garnered at least one point in a game three times so far, and they've followed them each up with at least one point in the next game each time. Again, that's encouraging.

Yes, it's early. A lot can and will happen between now and when playoff invitations are sent out.

But there's just something about this Wild team...