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PIEDMONT… The Minnesota Wild entered the recent Christmas break on a 4-game downturn, the last of those courtesy of a 2-1 OT loss to the Dallas Stars meaning both the team, staff and the fan base would begin the Holidays with a somewhat bad hockey vibe going on. The club would get to experience a 4-day break, spend time with family and friends and clear their minds. For me, I gave the team some thought over the break, but I kept asking myself the same question over and over; what could this team change to correct course when they resumed play in Chicago on Thursday eve? Is there a different playing strategy that could put the team back on a win streak of some sort? Is there a personnel move from an internal standpoint that could help? Trades? Coaching change? Anything?
I was coming up empty. There aren’t many strategic differences in the way most NHL teams approach the game, some subtle ones yes, but nothing earth shaking. The differences between the big clubs lies within their rosters. So, was there anything of significance that the team could do on the 23-man roster? No. Anyone in Iowa that could be brought up to shake things up? There isn’t anyone there at this point that you could call a franchise ‘changer”, but there are a handful of guys you could bring up in time of need or if you merely wished to reshuffle the deck chairs. So, once again the boys are in an early mid-season funkola and it will be up to them to work their way out, if indeed they can. This season I’m not so clear on that.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record I opined early in the year that this team was in possession of a very good veteran core group with a strong level of experience that should serve them well. They have a handful of players in the 4-8 years of experience level that have been through the league enough times to be able to perform at the level of savvy veterans. And they possess a small group of young up and comers. Unfortunately, I’m not talking about McDavid or Eichel level players, but nonetheless young men who can and should develop into very serviceable NHL players. Then what gives with this team? Every team in the show will go through a rough stretch or two during the season. The real good ones don’t let them last. They recognize and minimize. If this team has recognized their inefficiencies, they haven’t been able to minimize them.
Following their 5-2 road trip in early November they went 6-10 prior to the holidays. The reasons are multifold. There are some aspects of the team that belie their current status, and I’ll get to them later. The club broke until Thursday morning when, per CBA rules the team could reassemble, travel to the site of the next game (CHI) and prepare to play that night. I know, not ideal, on the other hand it’s a 90-minute flight. At the end of the day the team winless streak was extended to 5 games in a 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks. Without parsing over the details, the team put up a “busy”, non-productive performance, Devan Dubnyk had a so-so game and was yanked, the Wild outshot the Hawks 48-20, the normally rock steady PK allowed the Hawks to go 2 for 4 on their PP and the boys missed on a handful of point-blank chances. Worst of all was the 7 odd man rushes they obtained where they did not generate a shot. That’s it in a nutshell. A 6-11 streak and a .352-win percentage in that stretch. Today, in a call with my brother Paul I told him I was already mentally writing an upcoming piece on the team considering what will occur on trade deadline day with this team. On a buy or sell day, they surely won’t be buyers.
The team played a Saturday matinee in Winnipeg and ended up with a 3-1 victory. They put up a nice, basic game, Duby was focused and on top of it, and they left with a much-needed win. They gapped up, played a tight checking game, and Coach Bruce Boudreau implored them on odd man rushes for the player that carries the puck into the offensive zone to go ahead and take the shot. No passing or the normal quest for a highlight reel goal. Just shoot it. High energy Matt Hendricks got put into the lineup for some uplift and pop and he gave just that. Matt Bartowski came up from Iowa to take Nick Seelers (inj./scratch) spot on the 3rd pair and got the opening goal. That has been a detriment to this year’s team. They have dropped 12 tilts when giving up the 1st goal this year, ranking 22nd in the league when so doing. This is only one of many statistical woes of this year’s team. Monday Night; back to West 7th to meet the Penguins who are 8-2 in their L10. Which Wild show up?
WILD DATA; The ATHLETIC, (12/29am) 18th, tracking for 89 points, 47% chance at the playoffs, 1% chance for a Cup win. The SAGARIN, 14th on a 17-19 record, 2-10 vs T10, 6-12 vs T16 with a schedule difficulty rank of 18th. NHL STATS & STANDINGS, (12/30am) t19th on 18 wins, t19th on 39 points, t18th on pct. of points avail. @ .527, t10th in the Western Conference (w/EDM-39pts) 5th in the Central on an 18-16-3 record, t4th Wild Card position with EDM with a game in hand, better ROW (18 to 17), and better goal differential (3+ vs -14) 4 pts. out from DAL with 2 games in hand. (43 vs 39pts./39 games vs 37) The Wild rank 22nd in GF with 122, 5th in GA with 104, 10th in PP% at 22.5, 2nd in PK% at 84.7 and are the 9th least penalized with 323 PIM’s. This is what I meant earlier when I said some stats defy their current position in the standings. Usually a team with a 5th ranked GA, 10th in PP and 2nd in PK would be in a playoff position. The Wild aren’t…
I JUST WATCHED TEAM USA drop an OT game to Team Sweden in a 5-4 tilt. The Swedes had their way in the first two periods and built up a 4-0 lead. It seemed as if they got a stick in every lane, on every pass and shot and we didn’t push their netminder too hard. Midway through the final frame UMD Bulldog Mikey Anderson broke the ice for the Yanks and then SCSU’s Ryan Poehling went to work on his Natural Hat Trick, notching the last two in the final minute of play, 13 seconds apart. They couldn’t finish the comeback though and Sweden’s Adam Boqvist tallied to get the win for the Crown. Team USA will play next versus Finland on New Years Eve. HAPPY NEW YEARS TO ALL! PEACE