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CARLTON PEAK… The Hockey Gods giveth, the Hockey Gods taketh away. And so it is, after going 5-2 on a lengthy time away from the comforts of home, the Wild resumed play in the Saintly City and just put up a 1-3 week. Last week I posed the question if the Wild were really good on the road trip or had they merely wined and dined upon inferior opposition. We at least have a current answer to that question at this point in time. The good news is that it is American Thanksgiving week. And if the theory holds true that the standings at this National holiday are a mirror of who will be in the playoffs come next April, the Wild will get in once again. But the fans are thirsting for quite a bit more then just getting a spot in the Stanley Cup tournament, the fans want the team to actually win a couple of rounds, if not more.
Can this team make that leap of faith? Well, yesterdays tilt in the Windy City versus the Blackhawks, a 3-1 loss marked the 21st game of the campaign. The season is 25% complete. What conclusions can we draw on this edition of the team as the other 75% unfolds? First, lets take a quick review of last week. When the road weary Wild beat STL last Sunday prior to coming home the praise for the effort from the team was effusive. And not to diminish that feat, a 5-2 road trip is respectable in a very tough league, but one thing stood out to me.
The two teams that have had their game together for the most part, SJS and VAN, both beat the Wild. This past week, coming off that roadie, the Washington Capitals spanked the team in St. Paul 5-2, a game in which the Wild were in briefly in the 1st period, then they bested a Canuck team that was on the last game of an extended road trip of their own, and looked it in a 6-2 Wild win, then South Saint Paul native Phil Housley brought his Buffalo Sabres to the Xcel Center for a Saturday matinee and in a game that they were decidedly not in for the better part of 2 ½ periods, waited patiently and stole the contest by a 3-2 score. And, I am compelled to expound here, the Wild were up 2-0 at one point in the game, and were out-chancing the Sabres badly, but instead of going up 3-0 or even 4-0 they could not finish, Buffalo hung around, the team coughed up a late goal to former Wild forward Jason Pominville and that was that. The air went out of the ‘X’ in grand fashion. It was that deflating.
Last night in Chi-Town the team looked lackluster as well. The Wild went down 2-0 in the 1st, got one back at almost the midway point of the 2nd, then put up some serious push-back, but then gave up a late empty netter for the 3-1 final. I would have to say that the team didn’t exactly launch everything but the kitchen sink at Hawks tender Corey Crawford, but I can’t deny that the “Crow” did have an efficient night between the pipes. Considering that, the Hawks are not one of the tougher teams in the show this season. If the Wild were “on it” they should have left town with 2 points. So, 4 games, 3 losses, in regulation no less, which also means no points, and along those lines, 2 out of a possible 8 points for the week. Not good. On top of that, even in the VAN tilt, this team looked tired all week long. It’s too early in the year to be looking like it is late March. Is this week a forebearer of what is ahead for the team?
Well, perhaps the team can recharge this week. They have but two tilts on the docket, a Wednesday night affair versus the Ottawa Senators and a Friday matinee against their divisional nemesis the Winnipeg Jets. These are both lose-able contests. Which Wild team will appear? And then the club has the entire weekend off, not playing again until the following Tuesday in St. Paul with the Arizona Coyotes in town. Then off to Columbus for a game against the current Eastern Conference 2nd place BlueJackets. That is not a typo folks. The CBJ are near the top of the heap in the East. Then it’s back to the ‘X’ for a game with the high-flying Maple Leafs. This could be a make or break couple of weeks for the Wild and my optimism is fading quickly.
So, in a week that is centered around some culinary largesse, back to last weeks question and the road trip success; were the Wild feasting upon inferior opponents? There can be no other answer after this past dud of a week; YES. Can the Wild get into the SC tourney next spring? Probably. Can the Wild get out of the first round and into the second? Probably not as currently constructed. I guess I’ll have to throw out another question; what will/can change between now and the playoffs for the Wild? I will begin the search for answers right now…. PEACE
WILD DATA; the ATHLETIC, 8TH, trending for 97 points with a 72% chance at the playoffs, 3% chance at a SC win. The SAGARIN; 10TH on a 12-9 record, 3-3 vs T10, 5-5 vs T16 teams, 25th in difficulty of schedule. NHL STANDINGS; tied for 4th overall at 12-7-2, 2nd in the Western Conference with 26 points, 9th on pct. of points available @ .619, 2nd place in the Central Division. I find it necessary to mention that WINN is in 3rd @ 24 points with 3 games in hand. Friday’s game in St. Paul will be a 4 pointer, can the Wild get through that in good fashion?
NHL NEWS: Zach Parise’s goal in Saturday’s loss to the Sabres made him the highest goal scoring Minnesotan in NHL history at 341. He surpasses Dave Christian (340) and had already passed Housley (338). THE NHL settled its concussion litigation last week with former players that were signed on as petitioners. The litigants originally tried engaging this as a Class-action matter and a Judge struck that down in an earlier ruling. At that point I felt that it was going to be hard for the former players to be victorious in a decisive way. I will do some more digging into this for a future story. This is an issue of major concern to me…
I want to wish everyone a very HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Please be safe and sound in your travels and don’t forget to have an “attitude of gratitude” during these Holidays! As former Viking Coach Denny Green used to say, do something good for someone today, and don’t tell anybody! OVER & OUT!