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KALAMAZOO…. The Wild season came to a quick end in the playoff with their 4 games to 1 series loss to the STL Blues. And in looking back, between the playoffs and the regular season, this was a tale of two teams right? Wrong? I have heard a few analysts offer that this team is built for the regular season but not for the playoffs. And after the conclusion of the Cup tourney for this team, they might be right. If the regular campaign is a karate meet with guys chopping up boards with their hands and feet, the playoffs are strictly chains and crowbars territory and the Wild only have two players even remotely close to that game. The playoffs aren’t built for a nicey-nice club, and well, the Wild are just that aren’t they?
I witnessed all too many times where a Wild skill player would get popped by an opponent and see no reaction whatsoever. Sure, you have to be disciplined, but at some point you have to let the offender know that you aren’t putting up with that. That’s not to say that there isn’t some pushback here and there, it’s just never serious enough to snuff it out and get on with the game. I could name names but if you are an avid fan you already have the list. However, that’s only part of the reason for the teams demise. You could say that even the regular season had two distinct parts to it; October to February and then the last 6 weeks.
The first five months of the regular season were splendid. The final 6 weeks not so much. The team put up a 6-3 October, a 5-8 November, a spectacular 12-2 December, then a 10-3 January, they went 8-4 in February, the disaster 4-12 March, and finally 4-1 for the early April regular season finale. You could surmise that December and March kind of cancelled one another out. The team ended with a record number of wins (49) and points (106) and was a favorite for a time to win the Central Division and the Western Conference. When the Chicago Blackhawk’s surged and the Wild floundered that quickly fizzled. In fact, after an 8-1 run versus the Hawks, the Wild won a late January tilt before losing the final 3 games against them in the regular season. But the Hawks have their own problems now.
There are up and down stretches in every season and the Wild’s seemed to be extreme this year. At any rate they finished 2nd in Goals For (263), 7th in Goals Against (206), 9th in Power Play % (21.0), 8th in Penalty Kill % (82.9) and had the 7th least amount of Penalties in Minutes (669). When you finish in the top ten in these 5 vital categories you surely must have a good team right? It did not translate to the playoffs. So, again, who and what is this team? A 30-9 run over 3 months that made them the toast of the hockey world and then the monster fall from hockey grace. Go figure. Don’t allow the April record to make you think the team was on the right track heading into the playoff. They lost to a very good Nashville team (3-0 shutout) and the victories were against bottom dwellers playing out their own disasters.
My takeaway from it was that Eric Staal was better then anticipated and the young players the team had been waiting on to move up finally had career years, Granlund, Zucker, Neiderreiter, Coyle, Spurgeon and more stepped up to the plate. In addition the team had 4 of the top ten players in the plus/minus stat. Suter led the league, followed by Zucker and Spurgeon and Koivu was 10th. So, was the club well positioned for a playoff run?
No. The last 6 weeks was a downward spiral that could not have come at a worse time. Instead of building momentum, whatever game they had constructed was torn apart to an extent. There were no total blowouts in the 12 losses and 6 of them were by one goal, 5 by two goals. So they were showing up, but not getting results. If you are looking for some coulda, woulda, shoulda, if they get 2 more wins in November and/or 4 less losses in March they win the West and who knows then. They did earn home ice versus STL and it did nothing for their chances. So, is a B+ too generous for the regular season?
IN THE PLAYOFFS I will give you my up front, harsh thoughts on what happened. The Blues are a real big team with some players who can bruise and intimidate you and the Wild aren’t. The Wild are skilled but the Blues aren’t far behind them on that account. The Blues have a goal scoring game buster (Tarasenko) and the Wild don’t. In G1 when it became apparent that the Blues weren’t going to give the Wild the middle of the ice in the offensive zone, the Wild did what they usually do; they went into their “busy” hockey mode, amassing a huge number of shots and thus an advantage there, but it’s ineffective and it’s an illusion. It makes fans believe that they are trying there keisters off, but it is largely ineffective. It almost borders on dishonest hockey. That’s where the “chains and crowbars” comes into play and the Wild didn’t have any.
At that point, and for the rest of the series the Wild played that way, couldn’t score and that was the series. The Wild DID play very well defensively. It was their shriveling offense that did them in. The Wild were 2nd in GA, 4th in GAA, one of 6 teams to post a playoff SO, 15th in GF and GFA, and 15th in shooting percentage. The party is over, but I am still keenly observing the tourney and it has been stellar thus far. Right now can anyone stop the Pens?
Who can stop the Wild? The Wild can and probably will. Once again they don’t have a Cup contender, they are in poor drafting position and up against the cap to an extent with a couple of guys that need to be signed this summer. This is an excellent, first class organization with a roster full of outstanding young men. Guys want to play here, but it is clearly time for a major shakeup. What will that be? Not that far away, not that close…. PEACE