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ELY…. Fellow hockey fans, the roller coaster ride (a.k.a. the Minnesota Wild) is going up and down, hurtling toward the end of the season. The good news is that the club is still firmly in the first wild card position. They have 10 tilts left and are sitting at 85 points. The team nearest them would be the MFAN nephew’s Phoenix Coyotes at 77 points. However, the Yotays have gained a game in hand over the weekend, though I am not certain if that would be of any consequence between the two when it gets down to brass tacks.
The next nearest team, and maybe now out of the hunt, is the Dallas NorthStars at 77 points. A minor side point is that the NorthStars now hold two games in hand between them and the Wild. I do not see this as any kind of major factor either, as to whether or not the Wild can get in. Rather, if the Wild can win at a pace relative to both of those clubs, they will protect their spot and get in. If they don’t, it could be a very intense, nerve-racking three weeks coming up. And knowing the Wild, they will make it more interesting than it needs to be.
In fact, in observing them over this weekend past, they are a team that can leave you wringing your hands, jumping up and down, sweating profusely, cursing, and cheering with abandon all at just about the same time. Their recent road trip was a 1-1-1 mini debacle. They were overwhelmed at Boston (which could be expected given the B’s current 12-game win streak—glad we could contribute!), destroyed the hapless Isles 6-0, and then dropped an OT game to the enigmatic NJ Devils, the former club of one Zach Parise.
They returned to St. Paul and dropped a 3-2 decision to the suddenly revived but still mostly injured Red Wings, only to go to the Motor City tonight and beat the Wings in a 4-3 OT thriller on a Matt Moulson marker. They finished the week 2-2-1 for 5 of a possible 10 points. So, somewhat of a typical Wild week? Let’s just say that I have my concerns about this club going into a possible playoff berth. There appears to be a strong likelihood that they will get in, but are they once again just marking time, or do they have some kind of legitimate shot to do something?
Right now this club seems to range between challenged to score and getting timely goals when necessary. They can defend strongly at times, or not, with up and down special teams and goaltending. And there are minor injury situations as well. G Darcy Kuemper had a fairly strong stretch of play when he took the number-one spot from the ill Josh Harding and the injured Niklas Backstrom, but his play has leveled off lately, and his support, the colorful Ilya Bryzgalov, is trying to find his game. I’m not sure Bryz has played enough this year to find a rhythm.
The Wild are 25th in the NHL in goals scored and 26th in goals scored per game. They are 5th overall in goals against, and in goals against average. They are 14th on the man advantage at 18.8 percent and are tied for 25th in the penalty kill at 79.7 percent, which they have been stronger at in the recent past. My overall sense of the team at this critical juncture is that Kuemps needs to tighten back up, and the team needs to find enough playing time to give Bryz a chance to get on top of his game.
I am not one of his detractors. When he has strong play in front of him, he can deliver some strong performances. The team offense seems to dry up at times and then suddenly find a spark and score some timely goals when you least expect it. For team defense, much is made of Ryan Suter’s 30 minutes per game of TOI, but really, is that a recipe for success? When does that burn him out, and then what have you got? To sum up, for this club to get into their Cup window, they will need three more forwards and at least two more defensemen, and their goaltending situation needs to gain some clarity….
In looking at the final stretch here, the Wild have VAN at home, then STL, PHO, LAK, and CHI on the road. Then the Pengwah at home and WIN on the road, before finishing with BOS, STL, and NASH in St. Paul. I see a 5-5 finish here for 95 points. The Yotays have PITT, NYR, and NJ on the road, MINN and WINN at home, LAK on the road, and EDM at home, then go to CLBS and NASH, and finish with SJ and the NorthStars at home. I see a possible 7-4 run for the Yotay for a 91-point finish. The NorthStars have the Jets at home, at CHI, NASH at home, at STL, WASH, CAR, TB, and FLA, then NASH, CLBS, and STL at home, and then at Yotay. Give me a 5-7 finish for an 87-point final and home for the holidays, or golf course, whichever you may desire.
The Wild are 3-3-4 in their L10 or 3-7. They are NOT trending upward. They are probably going to make the playoffs and are probably going to get run out in the first round after drawing a strong contender already in their “Cup window.” What is needed to get into their window? I’ll dive into that post-season. For now I am going to enjoy the home stretch and the greatest professional tournament in the world! Let’s Go Wild! PEACE
UPDATED MFAN NHL POWER RANK FOR 3/24/2014
1. STL BLUE, no flash no dash, just a lot of wins…
2. SAN JOSE SHARK, don’t look now or they will beat you, 7-1-2 L10...
3. LA KING, have goaltending and now scoring too, 7-3 in L10...
4. BOS BRUIN, 12-0 in L12! Can East beat West though?
5. PHI FLYER, 8-1-1 IN L10, new Coach, new direction, better results…
6. PHO YOTAY, defensive minded and 7-3 in L10, tough team…
7. COL AV’S, have cooled off some but will be tough, 5-4-1 L10
8. CHI BLACKHAWK, battling inconsistency and injury, 5-4-1 L10..
9. PITT PENGWAH, injuries taking toll on lineup, 5-4-1 L10...
10. ANA DUCK, fell off of throne, playing avg puck, 4-4-2 L10...
OVER & OUT!
Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota.