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ST. PAUL… Just one short event filled week ago the Minnesota Wild were flirting with something few fans thought would be possible this year; a playoff berth. They were a mere two points out of the 2nd Western Conference Wild Card spot. That was then, this is now. After a week that saw them go 1-2 including the coup de’ grace on Saturday, at home, in St. Paul, on home ice, a thorough, (not sure if that word is descriptive enough relative to the futility of the game) 6-0 butt whomping at the hands of their suddenly epic rival, the Winnipeg Jets. Worse yet is that due to the proximity of “The Peg” to the Metro, they usually have a fair amount of fans in attendance when these two clubs meet up. This game was no different with many Jets fans on hand in all their full throated cheering glory. The Wild did apply some heat at times but netminder Conner Hellebuyck was equal to whatever the Wild threw at him, obtaining the shutout of the Wild with 31 saves on 31 shots.
It certainly isn’t any consolation, but this was only the Jets 2nd win in the last 8 trips into the Saintly City. But make no mistake, whenever the Jets put the wood to the Wild, it usually ends up being a pretty mugly game. Any way you look at it though, last week was a definite setback for the Wild, in addition to the game losses the club has lost forward Jason Zucker to a broken fibula and he will be out for up to 6 weeks. The team did regain the services of both Devan Dubnyk (personal lv) and Jared Spurgeon (UBI) so that helps, but obviously didn’t help enough. The team did win the Arizona game that Dubnyk returned in but it was a slopfest with the Wild hanging on for an 8-5 win. The Big Swede Joel Eriksson Ek is set to return this afternoon versus Calgary in St. Paul, and that will be a plus. His offensive production is enigmatic but he drives a lot of what happens out there when he is on the ice, and is one of the team's three best penalty killers in my view.
After defeating the Flyers at home on Saturday the 14th, the team went to Chicago and played a fairly disjointed game in a 5-3 loss. Traveling on to Vegas to face the Knights, where the Wild had yet to lose a game, they did just that in a 3-2 close shave. In Phoenix the team went on a scoring jag, actually both teams did, in a defensive coaches nightmare of a game, but did notch the win 8-5. The Jet game was a painful display although the stat sheet and the final would leave you scratching your head. The Wild did present Hellebuyck with some challenging chances but could not convert. Afterward it was time to take a quick inventory of where the club was and what their chances were moving forward, The indifferent things to contemplate was that the club was now 5 points out of a playoff berth, and had just surrendered 19 goals in 4 games. On top of that, in examining the upcoming schedule for the remainder of the month, and for the 2 weeks beyond that, this could be a “make or break” part of this seasons entire schedule.
Consider additionally that this is usually the time of the year when this franchise has experienced some major swoons in their play, not to the good either. The team has more than half of their road games out of the way, so home cooking may help, but for the rest of this month; vs CAL, @ COL, vs NYI, vs TOR. Then, for the first two weeks of January; vs WPG, a home/home with CAL, then vs VAN, @ PIT, vs TB and vs DAL. Following that the team will play twice more before the All-Star break and their subsequent bye, going against FLA and DET. Folks, how does the club do here? A lot of us thought this was going to be a plodding, slow, ineffective group that couldn’t keep pace with the younger faster clubs. They consistently give up a lot of first goals, they get behind by multiple points, and yet somehow keep right on going at it without let up. They have had the clunkers here and there like Saturday but overall seem to have established a competitive game. Of a possible 26 points available coming up, how many can they get? A .600 clip would net about 16. Coming back from their bye they will have 32 games left in the season.
KICKING THIS ALL OFF this afternoon in St. Paul the boys redeemed themselves to an extent from Saturdays debacle by defeating the Flames in a 3-0 whitewash. Devan Dubnyk started and got the shutout. Joel Eriksson Ek returned from injury and got the GWG. I am a huge fan of this kid. He isn’t an offensive wunderkind but his defense and penalty kill abilities are upper level. And a lot of his lines shifts are spent in the other teams O-zone. So, this is a step in the right direction, I think. And at some point soon, Zucker and Captain Koivu return. Let’s say the boys get in the playoffs. Can they do anything and win a round? If the answer is no, as it has been in the recent past, why aren’t they rummaging around on the bottom of the league standings so they can get the chance at that high end draft pick this team needs so desperately? It’s that old hockey pride and renders other’s “tanking” theories into the baloney they are. When the biscuit is dropped, whether at Madison Square Garden, The ‘X’ or up at Glen Avon, everyones playing for keeps… PEACE & HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
THE 2020 WORLD JUNIOR Tourney kicks off on the 26th and features a USA vs Canada contest. This year's USA entrant will be coached by UMD Head Coach Scott Sandelin. As far as handicapping the event goes, yes, there are betting odds established. They favor Canada for Gold at 5/2, with Russia right behind at 4/1 and then the US club at 7/2. Team Sweden and Finland come in behind. If you have access to NHL Network TV in the States, you’ll be able to see quite a bit of the event! Go USA!
WILD DATA; The ATHLETIC, 21st, trending for 88 pts,w/a 32% chance at the playoffs, 1% for a Cup. The SAGARIN, 25th on a 17-20 record, 3-10 vs top ten, 7-13 vs top 16 with a 2nd ranked difficulty of schedule. NHL Standings, 5th in the Central on an 18-15-5 record for 41 pts, 10-2-3 @ H, 8-13-2 @A. 5-4-1 in L10, streak of 1W. 12th/GF/114, 29th/GA/125, 20th/PP/17/4%, 24th/PK/