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BIWABIK… After last Monday's NHL trade deadline was over, from Tuesday forward there were 40 days and 21 games left in the MN WILD NHL regular season. The team had an outstanding week going 3-1 with home & home wins over the CBJ, a blowout 7-1 win over DET between the CBJ games, and they finished it up with a 4-3 loss to WAS in St. Paul last night. An honest analysis will tell you that the CBJ are missing 9 players from their 23 man set, and that 5 of those are upper level players for the Bluejackets. The Tuesday tilt in St. Paul was mostly in the Wild’s favor until they let the CBJ back into the game late, but held on for the 5-4 win. The game versus the Red Wings was a sad display from a franchise that had been so tough in the not too distant past. The 2nd of the 2 games against the CBJ (5-0) was pretty firmly in the Wilds favor from the start. The game against the Capitals was basically over after the Wild gave up 3 goals in less than 4 minutes in the middle of the 1st period. The 4-3 final was at least a little bit of deception.
Tomorrow eve in the Capital of L'Etoile du Nord, the boys will take on the Nashville Predators. This is a club the Wild haven’t fared well against in recent seasons. The Wild are winless in the last 7 games versus the Preds dating back to the 17-18 season. This game will be the 1st of 3 left with them. So, if I’m thinking of a couple of clubs the Wild have not matched up well with recently, I have to be thinking of WAS and NSH right? This evening I did a bit of a pre-scout on them since they were playing EDM at home. For the most part it was a back and forth game, tied at 3 after two periods. And then the dam burst, the Oilers laid a 5 spot on the Preds in the 3rd and that was that. In net for the Preds was Pekka Rinne, a player I’ve admired for years. But between defense letdowns and some mistakes on his part, I wondered if the Wild might have an opening going into tomorrow eve.
It’s a back to back for the Pred’s so they’ll be going with Juuse Saros in goal. At this time I don’t know which netminder the Wild will go with. But of note is that the Caps may have figured out a vital point about playing the Wild when Al Stalock starts. Al likes to play the puck. He likes playing it up to one of the skaters when he can thus minimizing opponents time in the O zone. Last night the Caps either carried it in or placed the puck where Big Al couldn’t play it on shoot-in’s. This created problems for the Wild. Will the Preds take notice of this? Will they adjust? It’s hard to say and they seem to be coming up with ways to stifle the Wild lately. But if the Wild want that playoff spot they have been talking about, the Pred’s are the one’s holding it right now with the Wild and 2 others, WIN and ARI a point away. In the big picture, irrespective of division standings, there are 6 teams in the West after 3 spots. CAL/75pts, is in 3rd in the Pacific, VAN/74pts, has the 1st Wild Card, NSH/72pts, has the 2nd WC with WIN, ARI & MIN at 71 each.
The team makes the Cali swing after the NSH tilt and will play 3 in 4 nights. This concerns me. I don’t like the SJS game right now, but the LAK and Ducks are playing stronger lately. They have both improved. If the WILD are not on their game at either of those two clubs, the result would be a disaster. Then they get the VGK, @ PHI, and at home versus NSH again. Then a home/home with CHI featuring a back to back scenario with WIN the next night. The week after that will feature at home; COL, NJD, & BUF, finishing with a back to back in STL. Then the final week features @ the NYI, @ WAS and @ NSH. Holy Schnikees. That’s an ugly finish. And if those 3 are battling for position or a playoff spot, what would you think of the Wild’s chances?
I don’t like them. But the team has surprised before. Then again it has also baffled us many times. The teams recent play gives hope, but also includes questions. They are beating teams they should now, but losing to upper level teams that have performed in the playoffs recently. The data says it will require about 92 points to get the final WC spot. The Wild are trending to 90 pts, rounded up. To get to 92 the team will need 10 wins and a tie in their 17 remaining tilts. Of the 6 teams bunched up for the 3 spots, I believe the Wild would lose tiebreakers to most. They need to go on an unchallengeable run to avoid that. Within the hockey rubiks cube of games left and opponents to play, does it go in the Wilds favor? There lies your million dollar hockey question. This is a club whose history doesn’t include building up a big points lead and being able to cruise through the late season. It’s invariably the hard way.
Let’s say the tourney began tomorrow and all positions held with the Wild bumping NSH out. The WILD would meet the defending Champ STL without home ice ad. The VGK would meet VAN, then COL vs. DAL & EDM vs. CAL. My hockey heart says anybody has a chance. My hockey brain says the WILD aren’t there yet, and there would likely be a rather quick 1st round exit from the playoffs… again. Would they have been better off losing all year to drive a lottery pick? That’s risky, it doesn’t always work the way you hope. Tankathon has them ending up 20th with only an 8.2% shot at a top three pick, and a 2.5% chance at the number one. It’s the same can’t win a Cup, can’t draft high formula that has held this club back for years now. Who ever said this hockey biz was easy? PEACE
WILD DATA; The ATHLETIC, 20th, trending for 90 pts with a 40% chance at the playoffs, 0% for a Cup win. The SAGARIN, 19th on a 32-33 record, 9-14 vs top ten, 14-24 vs top 16 with a 9th ranked difficulty of schedule. NHL STANDINGS; 6th in the Central, 32-26-7 for 71 pts, 18-11-5 @ H, 14-15-2 @A, 2-3 in SO, 6-3-1 in L10. t13th/GF/204, t11th/GA/203, 8th/PP/21.8%, 27th/PK/76.3% and 13th in PIM’s with 532… OVER & OUT!