WILD stunned by late Panthers goal and still battling to move upward

Marc Elliott

Florida's Noel Acciari scores with  6 seconds remaining to tip Wild 5-4
Florida's Noel Acciari scores with 6 seconds remaining to tip Wild 5-4

RANIER… In one of the more entertaining NHL games you will see this season, the Minnesota Wild locked up with the Florida Panthers in St. Paul tonight and lost on a goal by Noel Acciari with 6 seconds left in the game. (5-4F) I’ll do a brief recap shortly. But with the team in the midst of a home friendly schedule and having played better in the recent past, the buzz around the Xcel Energy Center has been more positive lately, but with an undertone of seriousness as well. There are several teams in the process at this moment that are trying to decide if they will be buying or selling at this years trade deadline. (February 24th, 2PM/CT) When pressed on that matter earlier in the day by a National hockey media scribe, Wild GM Bill Guerin stated that he had yet to decide on that and that tonight's game and the game Wednesday night versus the Detroit Red Wings would likely make up his mind on the matter. 

Personally I think Guerin knows which way he is going, but the reporter got an answer for his troubles. I understand how the game gets played and especially regarding trades, you don’t walk around with a sandwich board on advertising to all what your intentions are. But tonight was Game 49 of 82. Bill said when he came in that he wanted to take a long hard look at the team and determine what he had here before making any decisions about basically anything. I understand. On the other hand, Guerin has been on the management side of the game for 8+ years now. He has a book on pretty much everyone in, around or close to the show, including these same guys he now states that he has to learn more about. He can rank the hot dogs in all 31 NHL arenas. He knows. And he most likely has a small handful of somewhat significant transactions ready to go under specific game outcome based scenarios.

The rumors have it that Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba are drawing strong interest along with Jonas Brodin. Other names being mentioned are Marcus Foligno as a hard nosed power forward, along with a couple of the younger players in the fold, Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway. Trades are always a challenge though, and with the Wild as a team in flux, pulling the trigger on any deals could be quite hard. The online trade rumors about the team are all over the map with Toronto lining up as a trade partner because of their supposed desperation for some upper end defensemen. A quick assessment of the Wild is that they are strong on ‘D’ as far as their top 5 go, mid-level in goal, and it’s a mixed bag of forwards. The stats leaders are aged veterans with deals no one else would likely take on, and those players have no movement clauses anyway. There are some younger players with upside, but at full hockey “maturity” what is the other team getting? More half a point per game players?

So, it’s a tough call and then again it isn’t. At best this club could play like a machine the rest of the season, get a couple of breaks and make the playoffs. I think it’s unlikely at this point, but there is a faint hope. And then what? Another first round washout, the usual hand wringing, and the inevitable conclusion that this team needs a full scale rebuild. But will owner Craig Leipold allow it? I’m not convinced of that yet…

THE TEAM HAD A respectable week for the most part after their dismantling (7-3L) at the hands of the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Devan Dubnyk was in goal and gave up 7 markers in a lackluster effort from both himself and the team. I have to give Duby some space though based on the family challenges he has faced this winter. Al Stalock has started the last 3 tilts going 2-1. Upon returning to St. Paul the team beat the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning by a 3-2 score and looked very good in doing so. On Saturday to cap off Hockey Day in Minnesota, the boys faced our old club, the Dallas Stars, and put a beat down on them in a 7-0 pasting. That’s no typo friends, and it was for real. The Stars arrived in St. Paul with a 7-3 record in their L10. The Wild got on them from the start of the game and never let up.

Then tonights stunner. In a seesaw game with the Panthers that saw 4 lead changes before the GWG was scored, the Wild played a hard game but left me with the feeling that the Cats had just a little bit more of a grip on the game then the Wild. The stats had the Wild better on shots (33-25), and on faceoffs, (31-28) but behind on hits, (15-10) and blocks. (15-7) But in my view, FLA has some higher quality upper end talent on offense. They have 10 skaters with 20 pts or more, the Wild have 7, FLA is 5th in GF in the league, the Wild are at 18th. The Cats are 6th on the PP, the Wild are now at 13th. When FLA tied the game at 4 each with 4:08 left on the clock I had that sinking feeling, knowing how good offensively they were. Their chances were strong, the Wild were scrambling to hold them off.

And then the unthinkable, on a shot from the point that appeared to get tipped twice, the second of which was a borderline high stick, the puck got past Stalock and was ruled a good goal on the ice. After seeing the replay numerous times I’d have to concur with the officials, it was close but was a good goal. Less than 6 seconds remained and I knew what the final would be. The club was in line for at least a point and went away with none. Last Thursday they were 7 points out of a playoff spot, and still are. The boys take on a struggling Red Wing club, destined for the lottery draft come June, on Wednesday night, then on to the ASG break and Bye. Does the team drop this game and give Guerin permission to start shipping guys out? Does he really need it at this point? PEACE

WILD DATA; The ATHLETIC, ranked 23rd, trending for 87 pts, with a 22% chance at the playoffs and 0% chance for a Cup. The SAGARIN, 22nd on a 22-26 record, 5-9 vs top ten, 10-14 vs top 16 with a 3rd ranked difficulty of schedule. NHL STANDINGS; 7th in the Central Division on a 22-21-6 record for 50 points. 13-6-4 @ H, 9-15-2 @A. 1-2/SO, 3-6-1 in L10, streak of 1L. 16th/GF/151, 28th/GA/162, 13th/PP/20.5%, 27th/PK/75.2% and 15th in PIM’s with 397. OVER & OUT!