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ST. PAUL… They are good. No, they aren’t. They are good… While the Minnesota Wild are providing fans all over the State of Hockey with many opportunities to scratch their scalp lately, the club has been on the uptick recently. This is good because once again the team finds itself in some territory they have seen many times in the past few seasons. It’s getting into late January and on any given night the team is either just into a Wild Card playoff spot, or just out of one. For me, considering how many points the team has given away this year, it’s just part of being a fan of this club. They could be close to or on top of the Central Division right now, or comfortably into a playoff spot. And as is all too familiar, they are neither, and with the season nearing 50 games, the countdown is on.
The year is getting to that point where separation is taking shape in the standings. Just tonight the Chicago Blackhawks took on the team the Wild dispatched on Saturday eve, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are considered one of the top three clubs in the NHL this year and were shutout 2-0. The Hawks might look back and consider this game as the night their playoff chances came to an end. They stand at 50 points in 47 games and are 4-6 in their L10. The Wild are tied with the red-hot Colorado Avalanche with 57 points in 48 games but find themselves in 9th position due to the Av’s currently holding the tiebreaker for a WC spot. Colorado also has two games in hand over the Wild who are 6-4 in their L10.The Av’s are 10-0 in their L10 and showing no signs of slowing down. Do you think the Hawks can make up 7 points with their number one goalie out indefinitely? I don’t. I’m not sure they could even if Corey Crawford was in the lineup for them. Their window has been closed. I don’t see them in the tournament this year. Do the Wild have a chance?
At this point the club has burned up their margin of error. The teams “mulligan” was done for by early January, which also isn’t new territory for this team. On top of that, this team has shown a proclivity to go into the tank for anywhere from a couple of weeks on up to a full month around this time of the year. If they do that this year they will not make the Stanley Cup tourney. There are no question marks surrounding Winnipeg this year, they will be in. Dallas is a contender once again if Kenny Hitchcock has anything to say about it. And what team is showing more “pop” right now then the Av’s? As I said earlier in the season, there will be a couple of teams that were in the tournament last year that won’t make it this year. Could one of them be the Wild?
Right now, I am projecting them to finish with 97 points. If that’s good enough to get them in it will surely be as a Wild Card team, meaning no home ice advantage. The coulda, shoulda’s are telling me that the team blew away at least 3 points in October, 2 points in November, 3 in December, and perhaps 2 or 3 in the month of January thus far. It’s safe to say that they’ve tossed about 10 points into the wind. Those points would have them in the Central Division driver seat right now, as in first place. Sure, I understand that you can’t be 100 or 110% on your game over the course of an 82-game sked. But Championship teams are. They have that type of mental makeup collectively. A fan could go nuts assembling a mental profile of this team.
But back to home ice advantage. This is one of the best home ice teams in the show. They are 14-1-3 in their last 18 tilts at the ‘X’ in St. Paul. (17-4-4 for the season) Like them or not, that’s impressive. They are a totally different club away from home. The team is 9-13-1 on the road. They have 16 home dates and 18 road games to go. It would behoove the team to work on their road game. In studying the stats side of the game, it becomes clear that this is a team that wins when they have all components working together in a common fashion, that is, there are no superstars on this club. I have bemoaned this fact in the past stating that the club has never been good enough to win a Cup, or get close, and not bad enough to end up being able to draft high end talent. That’s not to say that this team doesn’t have some very good players because they do. But does the team have even one Sid Crosby or Patrick Kane type player that can change game outcomes on their own merits? No. Do they have even one young up and comer Auston Matthews-Connor McDavid type player on the roster or in the pipeline? No. Most everything this team does is by committee. And if the committee is all on the same page they can play a very capable game. Most of their wins aren’t Rembrandts, but they are still wins.
Team stats right now have the club at 12th in the league in Goals For, 16th in Goals Against, 14th on the Power Play, a very nice 7th on the Penalty Kill and the Wild are the 9th most penalized team in the NHL. The team has 139 GF and 47% of those have been scored by 4 players. (Staal, Granlund, Zucker and Neidereitter) A playoff run might demand more balance in that department. The balance of this year’s newcomers has had minimal offensive contribution. However, the team defense game has come together over the past few weeks and has been effective.
THE LATEST (1/23 AM)
THE ATHLETIC; tied for 15th with a
56% chance of getting into the
THE SAGARIN; 8TH on a
26-22 record, 7-8 vs. top 10, 15-13
vs. top 16. NHL
STANDINGS by percentage of points
available; 13th at a .594-win percent
on a 26-17-5 record.
Tied for 5th in the
COL at 57 points, COL gets the
tiebreak on ROW record.
The team is 9th in the Wild Card race,
one spot removed from a playoff
berth. Contending teams
include LAK with 55 points/47 games
and ANA with 53 points/48 games.
After that comes CHI,
and honestly, I think they are already
MAJOR CONDOLENCES to the Family & Friends of USA HOCKEY Exec Jim Johannson who passed away suddenly at the age of 53. His overall contributions to the game here have been invaluable… Over & Out!