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TOFTE… The Minnesota Wild went into the All-Star Game break on a 4-1 run with strong wins over the Vegas Golden Knights (4-2) and against a team that has had their number for the past 18 months or so, the Colorado Av’s, besting them in a dominating win 5-2. The team went into the break in 3rd place in the Central and had the appearance of wanting to continue with their positive play and solidify their playoff positioning coming out of it. The team was in reasonable health with the Matt Dumba injury being the major serious event of the season thus far, and we would believe they would come back with some ferocity, ready to stake their claim to a spot in the Stanley Cup tourney and make their mark.
As the break went on, I thought through a few things like, this is an older club, how do they respond after multiple days off in the middle of an intense campaign? How do their bodies respond? They came back last Friday eve with a 3-1 loss at Dallas who they are locked in a tight battle with for the 3rd position in the Central standings. It was a bit of a plodding game, not a lot of energy, few penalties, and a “lets just play” approach by both teams. The stats were close, the Wild scored on the PP, but Tyler Seguin got the winner just after the mid-point of the 3rd period and added an empty net tally late for the final. It was kind of a ho-hum game really.
The next night back in St. Paul they faced the Chicago Blackhawks who played at Buffalo the night before. Both teams traveled and both were in a back to back scenario. It was a seesaw affair with the Wild scoring first, then CHI going up 2-1 before the Wild tied. The Hawks went back up and it took a late score by Wild newcomer Victor Rask to tie the game and send it to OT where the Hawks would win 4-3 1:19 in on an Erik Gustaffson score, his second of the game. The stat line again was close. The Wild gave up two PP goals which they normally don’t do, all other stats were negligible except for blocks favoring the Hawks 14-8. This game was broadcast as part of a two-game telecast on the main NBC channel and was available for over half of the country. Of note here is that with the Hawks being in a diminished stance over last season and this one, this rivalry does not have the feel or “heat” that it seemed to have just a scant couple of seasons back. There were still a few red jerseys in the crowd, but they weren’t as boisterous as in the recent past. Beginning tomorrow eve, the club will face 4 games in 6 nights.
The current standings in the Eastern, after Tampa Bay (80pts) are bunched up to the rear as is the tail end of the West. Tampa holds a 13-point lead on the club nearest them, and a mere 4 points separate the NYI, PITT, WASH, TOR, MON and BOS. In the last playoff spot is the CBJ at 59 points, and only 9 points separate them and the next 5 teams, BUF, CAR, PHI, NYR and FLA. I think the upper 7 teams holding spots now will hold on to them and that the CBJ will be in a dogfight to hang on to the 8th spot/2nd Wild Card. With the Flyers surging, and the CBJ struggling with the impending trades and/or defections of their two biggest stars they are currently in the tank. They are 4-6 in their L10 and on a 5-game loss streak. The Flyers are 9-1 in their L10 and on an 8-game win streak. The Sabres appear to have lost whatever early season mojo they had, and I look for them to drop back a bit more. I don’t see them securing a spot. Post season UFA’s to be Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky have informed the CBJ that they won’t negotiate until July 1, and that colors them gone IMO. Trade them now, get assets back for them, clean up your room and move on. It’s unfortunate, but I’m not certain Panarin has the mental moxie to win a Cup and Bobrovsky can’t win in the postseason. Deal em’ now… IN THE WEST, CAL (73pts) and WINN (70pts) are the current gold standard with NASH, SJS, and the VGK close by, separated by 11 points. Joining that group now though is DAL at 60 pts. That leaves the WILD in the 1st WC spot at 56 points with VAN in the 2nd WC at 54 points.
However, only 5 points separate the next 6 teams and VAN. They are; COL, STL, ARI, EDM, ANH and CHI. You might argue that the LAK at 49 points still have a shot, but their current trending says no. In fact, based on those trends, I look for STL, ARI and CHI to elevate, and EDM, COL and ANH to continue to drop back. If I were to use The ATHLETICS mathematical formulas to choose playoff entries at this point, you would see CAL, WINN, SJS, NASH, VGK, DAL, WILD and COL from the West. I can see the first seven, but I think STL bumps VAN and COL out. In the East example, I think the first seven clubs hold but that the CBJ continues to slide and PHI takes over that spot. From here forward things are going to get interesting…. PEACE
THE WILD blew two divisional tilts last week, getting 1 point of 4. That hurts. Can they return to their pre-ASG break level of play? Well, that’s up in the air. If it takes 2 to 3 weeks of play to build up to that, I see trouble. They should best the Sabres Tuesday eve, but then the 4 games in 6 days isn’t a positive for an older team with travel included. (1 H-3 A games)
I think this week also decides the team trade deadline direction, even though I think I already know what it is, here we GO; WILD DATA; The ATHLETIC (2/4) 16th, trending for 90 pts, 72% chance at the playoffs, 2% chance for a Cup. The SAGARIN, 14th on a 26-26 record, 6-11 vs T10, 12-15 vs T16, 15th in difficulty of schedule. NHL DATA; 15th in wins with 26, t15th with 56 pts, t16th on pct. of points available at .538%, 7th in the West on a 26-22-4 record, 4th in the Central and in the 1st WC playoff position. 13-9-4 at H, 13-13 Away, 5-4-1 in L10, one game L streak. 25th in GF/145, 9th in GA/148, goal diff of -3. PP t10th at 21.4%, PK 6th at 83.4%. 14th in PIM’s with 447. This week; @ BUF, vs EDM, @ NJD, @ NYI…
Over & Out!