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GLEN AVON… Before the Minnesota Wild embarked on a 4-game week I looked at the opposition, considered the current vibe within the team and then thought about how the week would play out. They were up against, with all due respect to their organizations, three patsies (PHI, LAK, ANA) and a club (CBJ) they normally don’t match up with very well. Let’s face it, the Flyers, Kings and Ducks are having poor seasons. The Bluejackets are a better team then those three but have had some minor bouts of inconsistency. The Wild? Well, let’s just say that they are still on my hockey psychoanalysts couch. Right when you think you might have a read on this edition of the Wild the wind changes and thus, so does the team’s fortunes. I figured that if the Wild considered themselves to be serious playoff contenders that they would win the games they should and obtain a 3-1 week. What happened?
They tanked a road trip out to Philly, (7-4) giving up two leads. They came home and eked out a win over a struggling Kings club. (3-2) Then, in playing an Anaheim team that was winless in their previous 12 games, (0-9-3) the Wild played a stink bomb of a game and lost 3-0. How do you lose this game? The Ducks came in 0-12! They somehow redeemed themselves on Saturday in a 2-1 win over Columbus and ended the week 2-2. After dropping the Philly game, I was not going to be surprised by a 1-3 or even an 0-4 week. So, I’m not sure at this point who needs the therapy couch more, the team, it’s fans or me. You can start looking for answers and the most likely place is in the team stats. Nothing jumps out though, shooting percentage is down from last season, .1009 to .877, shots against per game are down slightly from last year, 31.4 to 29.4, goals for per game are down from 3.05 to 2.78, and goals against are up from 2.79 to 2.84. The Power Play is negligible at 20.7 last year to 20.4% currently, and the Penalty Kill is improved this year over last at 84.8 to 80.4%. One item of note is that since goaltender Devan Dubnyk joined the Wild, he has the most Games played, most wins and most shutouts of all goaltenders starting the bulk of their teams’ games. On the downside he ranks almost last in Goals against average related to “Grade A” scoring chances.
But you can look at all the numerical minutiae you can find on this team and it still doesn’t explain the mental lapses this team goes through at points of the season. How does this happen? The team takes a 3 game Canadian road trip and ends it with a totally absent performance in Boston. (4-0) They beat a tough Jets club at home and then lose to the Red Wings (18-32) two days later in a game where most observers say the team wasn’t on the ice mentally or physically and therein lies the biggest question marks surrounding this team. Why does the mindset of this team, a) disappear at times, and b) seem to happen to every player at the same time? The team has gotten back a sliver of redemption with the Columbus win and then by putting up a mostly strong and efficient game this eve in a 4-2 win at Las Vegas. To me the team had one stretch of play against the Knights in the 2nd where they got me up to the edge of my seat and were outshot in the period 19-8. But going into the frame down by one on former Wild Alex Tuch’s goal early in the 1st, the Wild stormed back with 2 goals in 1:11 from Marcus Foligno and Eric Staal. The VGK would tie it up 1:04 later on a Max Pacioretty goal. Just shy of the ¾ mark in the 3rd Charlie Coyle got the game winner and Mikko Koivu got his 200th career goal on an empty net score with 13 seconds left in this contest. This win combined with a loss by Colorado (4-1 vs NASH) propelled the team back into a playoff position at 3rd in the Central. The club is still barely over .500 though and a short losing streak away from danger once again.
The team will play COL on Wednesday eve and then go on to their All-Star Game break. Their recent luck against the Av’s has been poor. It would serve the teams point total and their psyche well to put up a strong game and get a victory before the break. What will the post ASG break look like for the team? There are 5 teams in the West that are strong contenders for the Conference title, CAL, WIN, NASH, SJS and the VGK. After that the pack clumps up and none of the team’s standout over another, the WILD, DAL, COL, VAN & ANA have 2 points difference between them and if you throw in EDM, ARI and STL there is a mere 6-point separation between 8 teams. The LAK and CHI are on the bottom and would require divine intervention to obtain a playoff berth at this juncture. But think about that, 6 points between 8 teams fighting for 3 playoff spots. This is exactly why the Wild can’t take anymore nights off the rest of the season. I believe this club has already had a minimum of 8 games where they were absent. That’s 16 points and the Conference lead right now.
For the Cup tourney, based on The Athletics mathematical projections, right now the Wild would get the 7th playoff spot (1st Wild Card) in the West. Their order of positions (from 1/21am) would have, in the Pacific; CAL vs. DAL (2nd WC) and SJS vs VGK. In the Central the Jets would repeat against the Wild, with NASH taking on the Av’s again. Since the Pacific would only qualify 3 teams, the 2nd WC from the Central would play Pacific leader CAL in the 1st round. But, what the heck, with the muddled middle in the West, anything could and probably will happen between then and now… PEACE
WILD DATA; The ATHLETIC, (1/21am) 17th trending for 88.8 points with a 55% chance at the playoffs and a 1% chance at a Cup win. The SAGARIN; (1/22am) 15th on a 25-24 record, 6-10 vs T10 and 11-14 vs T16 with a schedule difficulty of 18th. NHL DATA; 14th with 25 wins, 15th on 53 points, 15th on pct. of points available @ .541%. 6th in the West on a 25-21-3 record, 3rd in the Central and in the 6th Western playoff position. Goal differential of -3, 13-9-3 at Home, 12-12-0 on the Road, 6-4 in L10, and on a streak of 2W. 24th in GF/136, 9th in GA/139, 15th on the PP/20.4%, 2nd on the PK/84.7% and 13th in PIM’s with 426. OVER & OUT!