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PROCTOR… I find it necessary to acknowledge here that the Minnesota Wild have been showing some steady improvement during the month of November. After Saturday night’s tilt out East in Beantown, the club stands at 5-5 for the month. This is notable since the Sagarin ranking has them with the #1 difficulty of schedule in the league right now. Does this mean the club is on the way to greener pastures team-wise and has the potential for a playoff spot or push? I can’t go there at this point and considering what would happen if they did get in, the immediate question is why would the club go through that facade at this juncture? But that would have me entering the waters of the entire “tanking” theory and debate, and I don’t desire to tangle with that topic, at least not now.
I get the whole thing though, and at least in hockey, I just can’t see a team engaging in a deliberate tactic like that to boost their chances in the draft. Hockey players are not going to alter their personal play in order to obtain something of that nature. If you lace em’ up, you are going out there to do your best and give it what you have that night. I had to laugh in the recent past during the draft year that saw Jack Eichel and Conner McDavid both available. There was a lot of chatter about Buffalo or Edmonton “tanking” to get better position over the other in order to get the pick of their choosing. Neither team had to do any tanking, both had limited capabilities on the ice. They both stunk. On top of that, if you were a team that “tanked” in order to improve your draft positioning, that only gets you into the lottery itself and allots you however many balls in the cage you qualify for. It does not guarantee that you will get into the top one or two spots. So, like the Entry Draft itself, it’s a crap shoot. For the Wild, I believe right now that they will continue to play to their established percentages for this season and likely won’t get into Lord Stanley’s dance. And that’s ok. They’d be a one and done club in my view.
After the OT loss to Carolina on the 16th the team went out to Buffalo and had a nice performance in a 4-1 road victory. With Devan Dubnyk out indefinitely on a personal leave, Alex Stalock has taken over the #1 netminder role and has mostly played well. His bid for a shutout against the Sabres held until they scored with 3:39 left in the 3rd. The club came back to St. Paul to meet the banged up Colorado Av’s on Thursday and they came away with a 3-2 win in this tilt. Even with some substantial players missing the Av’s can still bury you if you aren’t on your game. This tilt was scoreless until the Wild notched 2 goals early in the 2nd, and then from the three quarter mark of the 2nd on the Av’s turned up the heat and forced the Wild to defend their way up until the middle of the 3rd Jason Zucker scored an ESG to put the Wild up by one and that’s how the game would end.
In NHL scheduling that defies understanding the team packed it up and went back out East to face the Bruins on Saturday night. I harbored no major expectations for this game, but was surprised by the early results, and then not surprised by the crash landing at the end. The Wild had two 2 goal leads at various points in this game. Leading 4-2 late in the 3rd the Bruins got an ESG with less than 2 minutes to play, and then 24 seconds later the Wild were assessed a penalty on a Luke Kunin trip and got the equalizer 34 seconds later. I could see this all shaping up. The Wild stopped pressing, the Bruins increased the pressure and it was inevitable that this would happen. A bit over the midway point of the OT period the Bruins Torey Krug got the puck just before the blueline in the Boston end and noticing that the sea had basically parted for him all the way down to Stalock’s crease, he blasted down there and tucked in the GWG with only token resistance. The B’s prevailed 5-4.
I would have been upset if I thought the club had the juice to do something this season. They don’t and the Bruins have had the Wild’s number for many games standing now. Aside from the outcome of this tilt, to fully understand the depth of the workload in front of GM Bill Guerin, you have to look beyond the Wild and check many other factors as well. In one pre-season rank of NHL farm teams (The ATHLETIC) the Wild were at 22nd. In a very interesting recent article ranking team’s “Core 4-U24” (tsn.ca) the Wild were at 27th league-wise. It ranked a teams 4 best players, signees, or drafted property not yet directly in their system and the Wild didn’t even have a player in the top 50. So, it’s going to be a process, and owner Craig Leipold is showing no tendency to even allude to the “R” word yet, which will only prolong the inevitable. Is there a Wild “crying towel” promo coming up yet? No? PEACE
THE GOPHER FB team won at Northwestern last Saturday 38-22. It wasn’t the best performance I’ve seen from the team this year, but a road win nonetheless. The win elevated the Gophers to 10-1 and dropped the Wildcats to a 2-9 record. I’ve seen NU play 3 times this year and they are better than their record, but not as good as the Gophers. This Saturday Wisconsin will come into Minneapolis to a sold-out TCF stadium and the ESPN Gameday show will be live that morning. I have seen the Badgers play 3 times this year too and I look for a very good contest. The Gophers are going to have to put their best game of the season on the field to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Odds have the Badgers as a 2 point favorite…
WILD DATA; The ATHLETIC; 24th, trending for 87 pts, with a 29% chance at the playoffs, 1% for a Cup win. The SAGARIN; 24th on a 9-14 record, 3-5 vs top 10, 4-9 vs top 16 with a #1 ranked difficulty of schedule. NHL STANDINGS; 7th of 7 in the Central Division. 14 of 15 in the Western Conf, 28th of 31 in the league. 9-11-3 record for 21 pts, 64/GF, 77/GA, -13 diff. 5-1-2 @ H, 4-10-1 @ A. 5-2-3 in L10, streak of 1L. 25th in GF/64, 25th in GA/77, 18th/PP/18.8%, 13th/PK/82.6%, 15th/PIM’s/195. This week @NYR, @OTT, vs OTT, vs DAL.
To all “Readers” everywhere, Have a Great Thanksgiving! Safe travels to all! OVER & OUT!