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ISABELLA… The National Hockey League kicked off another season last Wednesday eve and featured the Pittsburgh Penguins raising another Championship banner then doing battle with the St. Louis Blues. This was a seesaw affair which found the Blues up 4-2 after scoring early in the 3rd period and then the Penguin Champions resolve kicked in and they tied the game at 4 before eventually succumbing to the Blues 5-4 in OT. That the game made it to OT is a nod to the quality of the Pens core group and overall roster skill. On the other hand, that they couldn’t finish the job against a tough STL club might be an indicator that a three-peat is going to be an epic challenge. There is a reason why that hasn’t happened since the eighties. They played in Chi-town the next night and got totally spanked 10-1 before facing the Nashville Predators, last years SC Final opponent and waxing them 4-0. Who and what is this team? If I were to make some pre-season picks this year (and I still might, not sure yet) would I pick the Pens to achieve that? My immediate thought is that they lost too much over the off-season, mainly three forwards in Bonino, Kunitz and Cullen to say with any confidence that, sure, they can do that. But any club with Sid Crosby and Geno Malkin is going to be dangerous right? The single item that makes me wonder about this team is going to be between the pipes. Is Matt Murray really ready to be a fulltime regular season #1 goalie? Can he do that without Marc Andre’ Fleury pushing him from behind? Antti Niemi is his backup now and his past couple of years post Blackhawk’s have been unremarkable. This seems to be a team that always figures it out, so we’ll see, but right now my crystal ball is fairly fuzzy on a three-peat.
Tomorrow the team will go the White House to be feted for last seasons Stanley Cup Championship. There has been much discussion as to whether the team should go or not considering other athletes from other leagues protests relative to various issues. The team and a couple of prominent players have said they don’t want this day to be about politics. I have to admit I am very torn regarding this. By going are they turning a blind eye to the issues that are driving the angst of other athletes in this country? Are they signifying that it doesn’t matter to them that the current POTUS and his administration are basically a bunch of bigoted elitist vermin bent on turning our Government into even more of a fascist oligarchy? I’m imagining that some of the teams fan base are happy they are attending while others aren’t. Count me amongst those that believe their attendance tomorrow is contemptible. I wish they weren’t going….
OUR MINNESOTA WILD have begun their season as well and in two games have gained one point and were fortunate to get it. The boys had the privilege of playing the inaugural tilt in the new Little Caesar’s arena versus the Detroit Red Wings and honestly it was an indifferent performance. They started off by scoring twice and having both tallies disallowed. Replays proved the officials to have made the correct calls on both. Late in the 2nd period the Wings scored twice on power plays 23 seconds apart. The Wild tied the game early in the 3rd only to forfeit two more scores to the Wings for a 4-2 regulation loss. The Wild dominated face-offs, hits and possession time and failed to finish on key scoring chances. I hope this isn’t going to be a trend but I am concerned. They took on the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday eve in a game that featured little to no structure and if not for a Mikko Koivu score with basically less then one second left would have lost this game in regulation rather then in the shootout. Netminder Alex Stalock was easily the best Wild player in this game if not the overall first star. I also believe he played better then anointed #1 goalie Devan Dubnyk did in the Wing tilt.
The Wild gave up a 3-1 lead to the Canes and Stalock held them off in the OT frame only to give one up in the last Canes shootout attempt. Eric Staal missed on the Wilds final attempt and that was that. The team will travel to Chicago for a Thursday eve engagement and in judging the Wild’s first two games versus the Hawks first three I think it could be a rough outing for the Wild. As mentioned earlier the Hawks spanked the Pens 10-1, then throttled the Columbus Bluejackets 5-1 before dropping a most interesting game this evening to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They held a 3-1 lead toward the middle of the 3rd period before allowing the Leafs to tie and then win in OT on an absolutely spectacular play and shot by Leaf star Auston Matthews. This kid is already a superstar in my book and I never use that term loosely. He is for real.
And that’s why the Wild have not been able to elevate to Championship level and won’t anytime soon. They will continue to be pretenders until they obtain a player of this caliber. That will require the club to go into the tank for a 2 to 3 season period and then get the 1st or 2nd draft pick overall and hope like heck that the best player that year will be on the level of a Matthews or McDavid, Crosby etc. Until then the Wild will continue to be in hope mode. Hope they never get any significant injury, hope that the core they have plays over their head and hope that puck luck and the hockey gods are smiling upon them. I don’t like to hold this opinion but I am also kicking off my 57th year of watching this great game. My playing and coaching days have been over for 10 years now but I hope I learned something about the game along the way. This is how I see it….
IN THE FIRST SIX days of the new season I’ve seen 13 games. While it’s too soon to say that I see some emerging trends I can say that the Matthews kid is spectacular. So is Alex Ovechkin. When Steven Stamkos is in the lineup, Tampa Bay has a pretty formidable team. Why did the Jets sign Steve Mason? The Leafs will be better then last year, the Canadiens won’t and maybe I should do that forecasting thing after all! PEACE