I live in New York. Whoever owns the Center Ice package gets my money every year so that I can see the games at all, albeit on my TV - which is a wonderful thing and I certainly chose to live in New York and root for a team from Minnesota.
And I've gotten to the point where I can see the game pretty well on my TV screen. The only problem is of course that I'm limited by what the camera shows me, and the camera is limited in what it can show me. This is how TV works; I'm not uniquely handicapped for TV being my medium.
This is all to lead up to my stating yet another obvious: that the game is just so much better live and in person. I would say all sports are like that, but I would be lying. I think football is a much better TV sport than live sport. Too much damn down time. Golf is a great TV sport. I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time at the PGA Championship this year, and you just get to see very little of golf, unless you're willing to walk with a group, or get there stupid early and camp out, and then you're still only seeing a few seconds worth of every shot/player in action. On TV they do a great job of telling multiple stories simultaneously and it's just shot, shot shot - insofar as you can say there's "action" in golf, it shows up on TV much better than when you're fighting through five-deep galleries of old people in Easy Spirits. And I wouldn't watch basketball under any circumstances short of you holding my wife and children hostage lest I take in a game. I did got to a pro game a couple years ago for the first time since I was a kid. It was a Miami Heat game and between the pyrotechnics, and the noise, and the wannabe gang members jumping up and down and putting their fists to their mouths whenever a player did something good, and the PA guy growling all the time it was honestly like what I picture hell, or at least purgatory, being like. I would not watch that on a boat, I would not watch that with a goat
On the hockey tip, as my wife said last night, yes the AHL is the closest league to the NHL, but, when you see an AHL game and then an NHL game soon thereafter, it's......not that close.
I took in one of the Wild's open practices during camp this year, but my dad was circling the drain and my kids were with me and they were understandably all antsy, and neither my head nor my heart were really in it.
So last night's game in Buffalo was the first chance I've had to see a live NHL game since February.
What a sport.
I could go on and on about NHL hockey in general, but none of us needs a fluff piece about how great hockey is in this space. If you're already here...
So, about the '13-14 Minnesota Wild specifically:
This team is unlike any other team the Wild has iced in several ways. First, they possess the shit out of the puck. They're not going to win 74% of faceoffs every game, but, even when they lost faceoffs last night, their puck pressure was noticeable and effective. There was no sitting back.
I'm just going to throw this out there now and cover my bases so I don't have to keep caveating everything with it: the Sabres are not good. Their passing is horrible, it's hard to say Hodgson, Vanek and Ott is a legitimate second line, much less a first line. They got good goaltending from Enroth last night (score could have easily been 3 or 4-1). And, despite that, they were in the game. They did not get blown out by any stretch of the imagination. But everything I write about last night needs to be tempered with this paragraph.
On the experience in general: I like going to games at the Aud/Midland/HSBC/First Niagara Center. It's a steeply-pitched seating arrangement so it feels like everyone is right over the ice. The "shoooot!" guy behind me I could have done without, but in general I find Sabres fans to be accomodating and polite. They're a seriously jaded bunch, though. I mean there's obviously cross-over with Bills nation (such as it is) so you can understand why they have such itchy trigger fingers when it comes to switching from cheering to booing and open hostility. Hopefully they get a better product to support here in the near future (although, to judge by Rochester's early season returns - and specifically the play and behavior of Matt Hackett - it might be a while).
Okay back to the Wild. Puck pressure supplements overall strong possession. Very noticeable. And up and down the lineup. I loved the job the third line did on Buffalo's top line. A given shift with those two lines out there would often result in more offensive zone time for us than for them. Our fourth line did not look like it was just there to give the other lines a breather and hopefully not get scored on. I was impressed with the power play units. Yes, the top unit got the goal, but the second unit did not demonstrate a marked drop off - and that's the future, gang. It's great to have these kids (plus Heatley) getting this ice time now, and in that type of situation. Often the decision to send a skilled player down or keep him up hinges on "do we want him scratched or riding the pine in the NHL, or getting TOI in key situations in the AHL?" Well, if we can get these kids PP time - and Yeo and Co. did a good job of getting them their minute on a 2-minute PP - then it's hard to say they would get that much better of an experience in the AHL.
And, when that top line gets going, whoo-boy. They just hound the puck. So strong. It's really something to watch Parise in action. Every "power forward" in the league should watch him around the net and in the corners and try to emulate him. He's such a bulldog. I thought Nino was okay with them last night, but I do look forward to a time when Pominville isn't needed to babysit (sorry: "jumpstart" is the euphemism, right?) Heatley on the second line because I do think his game complements Parise's and Koivu's - although that might be gilding the lily a bit, too.
Heatley, it's easy to pick on Heatley right now. But it is what it is. If he keeps playing like this, he's here for the rest of the season because ain't no one running a charity for lost NHL souls - at least not for ones that cost even a pro-rated percent of $7.5M. Might as well just manage our expectations of him and try to abide the rest of his tenure.
I kept waiting to see Dumba's big shot on the PP, but it never came. SRV was invisible to me.
But I can't think of anything else that was not positive.
I thought the second period was the closest the Wild has come so far this year to being out-played for an entire period. As Russo noted, the Swords did a good job of clogging up the NZ and the Wild did a poor job of Roto-Rooter-ing that clog. But you can hardly blame Buffalo for it - as little as they got in the first period, they pretty much HAVE to play not to lose.
So, I'm impressed. The Minnesota Wild is FUN to watch. They played in control. They didn't simply play down to their opponent. Those three things would have never been said about any other Wild team before. They've lost pretty, and they've won ugly now. These things are all the hallmarks of playoff teams.
Plus, those new road whites are snazzy!
EDIT: just noticed I didn't mention Brodin at all. My bad. He is incredible. The skating...slap-my-ass-and-call-me-Sally, the skating!