Thursday, December 31, 2009

Crowned: Kings blow out Wild as NYE crowd boos

By Wild Road Tripper

There's no other way to put it, Wild fans. Your team came out tonight and let the air out of your New Year's Eve celebration. Why? They forgot that THEY had to show up for the game.

The Los Angeles Kings, led by Alexander Frolov's two goals and the goal and assist of Michael Handzus, took full advantage of the fact that the Minnesota Wild did not come out ready to play, as the Kings blew out the Wild, 5-2, in a game where the Wild started out flat...and then went straight downhill from there.

Passes were not made at all. The Kings kept the Wild bottled up for shifts at a time, especially in the first period, when they scored the only three goals of that period, while the Wild looked like they were just going thru the motions of playing a pro hockey game. Passes in skates. Passes in shins. Everywhere there were passes, except where they were supposed to be going.

It was an awful evening for the 18,504 who witnessed this less-than-ideal (to say the least) exhibition of shinny, many of whom took the opportunity to boo lustily, curse out their heroes, and then leave early, so as to begin their New Year's Eve celebration before the players left to terrorize the town.

Needless to say, the New Year will not start well for the local sextet tomorrow at practice, as another team who got handed their lunch Thursday night arrives in St. Paul, to exact revenge on his old teammates. His name?

Jacques Lemaire.

Next Game: vs. New Jersey, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2010, 7:00 PM Central (8:00 PM Eastern) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: KSTC-45; Devils' TV: MSG, both feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 209)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One Quacked Up Evening: Wild lose bizarre game

Bobby Ryan just wanted to make sure no one missed any of his Anaheim Ducks teammates. You know, the ones that are Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks' leading scorer, who was 'sliced and diced' by a skate during last Saturday's game at San Jose. Like Teemu Selanne. Like Joffrey Lupul.

The Ducks made sure that their fans went home happy with a 4-2 win Tuesday night at Honda Center over the Minnesota Wild. Ryan, with two goals and one assist, made sure that the 16,960 in the house had no worries as the Ducks frustrated the Wild, again standing four across the blue line late in the game as the Wild pressed for the tying goal.

Unfortuantely, Josh Harding was offered as 'sacrificial lamb' again in this one, as the lack of stellar defense in front of him led to three goals against in two periods. Harding's record this season drops to 2-5, all of those games being on the road (Harding has not played at home in over a year). A personal best for Kim Johnsson, as he scored for the third straight game, the first time in his NHL career that he has scored in three straight games.

Although the Wild kept both Derek Boogaard and John Scott in the line-up, the Ducks decided to scratch birthday boy (age 30, Tuesday) George Parros, Ducks' enforcer and porn-moustache pugilist, due to a supposed hand injury. No matter: the officials were more than enough to keep the Wild in check, as dumb penalties were compounded for the worse by dumb decisions, once those penalties were handed out. Clayton Stoner tweaked his groin during morning skate on the slushy Honda Center ice surface, making him unavailable. That led to one of the most bizarre sequences I have ever seen in over 40 years of following the NHL.

Boogaard, taking on Nick Boynton after Boynton took exception to a missed Boogaard check on Apple Valley, Minnesota-native Dan Sexton, proceeded to attempt to beat the much smaller Boynton into last month when in stepped the linesmen to break up the rout; Boogaard, while wailing away on Boynton, threw a right into the ribs of linesman Tony Sericolo, who got in the way of Boogaard. Sericolo, for his part, said the punch was accidental (it was) and that nothing other than the 10-minute misconduct for touching an official would be meted out.

Then, seconds after that, Scott started to go after Troy Bodie, and (now) lone linesman Lonnie Cameron tried to break both of them up as they began to swing away. Scott swatted Cameron out of the way like you or I shoo away a gnat, but Cameron came back and indeed stopped the fight before damage was done. Yet another 10-minute misconduct doled out to the Wild.

The Wild failed to gain ground on the teams directly above them (Dallas, Detroit) in the Western Conference, still leaving them in 11th place in the West with 43 points.

Next Game: vs. Los Angeles, Thursday (New Year's Eve), 7:00 PM Central (5:00 PM Pacific), Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin); Kings TV: FSWest, both feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 237)

-- WRT

Monday, December 28, 2009

At least one Minnesota team had last minute heroics Monday night...

Minnesota didn't really have that bad of a night Monday. Really. They didn't.

Yeah, we know, the Vikings choked away their last chance at guaranteed home-field advantage in the NFL playoffs by losing in Chicago. But hey folks: anyone look at the calendar lately? It's mid-season in the NHL, and the Minnesota Wild are in mid-season form. Don't believe me? Just ask the Los Angeles Kings.

In front of a sellout -- 18,118 -- at STAPLES Center, the Wild wiped out their 5-game loss skein in Downtown LA with one of their best road periods of the season, as Martin Havlat, Kim Johnsson and ex-King Eric Belanger combined for three second period goals, then Belanger topped that with the game winner late in the third en route to a 4-3 victory, the Wild's third straight win.

The first period was a tight-checking, closely-played affair, as the two teams fought upand down in a constant puck-possession battle. The second period was almost all Minnesota as the Wild put three behind LA goaltender Jonathan Quick. The only blemish was Drew Doughty's B.S. goal which should have never counted, as Doughty fell down on his own after shooting, pushing his legs into Niklas Backstrom as the puck went across the goal line.

In the third period, the Wild's first penalty turned into LA's second goal as the puck glanced off the stick of Johnsson and into the Minnesota net to cut the lead to 3-2. 12 seconds after Scott Parse tied it for LA, Belanger answered with a slapshot from the face-off circle which beat Quick stick side high to make it 4-3, and as the Wild bottled up the Kings in their own zone, the clock ran out on Los Angeles.

The win is the Wild's 10th this month, breaking the old December record of 9, and now they are only one win away from breaking the single-season record for most wins in any calendar month (March, 2007). They are also 8-1-2 away from St. Paul, since their 0-8 road start in October. The Wild now have 43 points, still in 11th place, one point behind 9th place Detroit and tied with idle Dallas for 10th (the Wild have played one more game than the Stars). The Kings, on the other hand, lost their third straight game.

Now, it's down I-5 to Orange County, and the last meeting of the season for the Wild and the Anaheim Ducks in the Next Game: at Anaheim, tomorrow (Tuesday), 9:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Pacific) Time, Honda Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth; Ducks TV: FSPrime Ticket; XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)

-- WRT

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sacre Blue: Latendresse's 2 goals spark Wild win

By Wild Road Tripper

Minnesota Wild fans just can't thank Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey enough. The Habs' insistence of getting rid of what they thought was dead weight, just might be the catalyst for a Wild playoff run, as improbable as that seemed after their disasterous October start left Minnesota for dead in the NHL's Western Conference.

Led by Guillaume Latendresse's first and third period goals, the Wild helped themselves to a post-Christmas 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues before 18,554 merry revelers at Xcel Energy Center Saturday night. Latendresse's two goals, his 7th and 8th of the season, started and finished (respectively) the scoring for the Wild, as Kim Johnsson's breakaway goal and Shane Hnidy's patience, while a screen set up in front of St. Louis goalie Chris Mason, paid off in Hnidy's 2nd goal of the year.

The crowd seemed not quite into it as the two teams went back and forth in the first period. Long, long multi-zone passes that didn't quite connect, went awry time after time for the Wild in the first two periods, creating a very sloppy hockey game. They cut the pass length down considerably in the third period and scored three times for their efforts, but still had to turn the Blues back time and again down the stretch as the intensity racheted up, and the clock wound down.

It really wouldn't be fair to not acknowledge the efforts of Marek Zidlicky is keeping the play alive, single-handedly playing thru the St. Louis defense, in order to feed Latendresse for the game-winning goal. If you want to see how Zidlicky can really play when he is motivated, watch the play that sets up the Wild fourth goal in the third period, and you'll ask yourself: "Where in the hell has THAT been these last two seasons?"

The only real drawback of the night occurred when Chuck Kobasew went knee-to-knee with Blues' winger Keith Tkachuk near the Minnesota net in the third period. Kobasew had to be helped off the ice, not putting any weight whatsoever on his left knee. No word as to his status came from the team following the game, but it is assumed he will not be making the two-game road trip to Southern California on Sunday.

St. Louis, playing their fourth and final game on an extended swing thru the Northwest division, wound up with a 3-1 record on the circuit, as they dropped only their 4th road game of the season. The Blues have earned 25 of their 39 points on the road. If there are 'key stats' in this game, here's one for you: the Wild were 35-for-53 (66%) on face-offs in this game. Another: the Blues' top line (David Backes, Paul Kariya, T. J. Oshie) were a combined -11 on the night.

The Wild now are 19-16-3, good for 41 points and solely in 11th place in the West, two points behind Dallas and Detroit and four points behind Vancouver, who is in 8th place after tonight's 4-1 win against Edmonton. All-time, the Wild are now 2-2-3 on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas, for those of you who've never been into the Dominion to the north of Minnesota), including 1-0-1 at home.

The Wild broke a team record for wins (9) in a single December; if they win one more game this month, they can tie the single-month record for team wins in a calendar month (10, set in March, 2007). They can achieve this record in their Next Game: at Los Angeles, Monday, Dec. 28, 9:30 PM Central (7:30 PM Pacific) Time, STAPLES Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth; Kings TV: FSWest; both feeds in HD; XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

IGoW Rules: Nolan scores, fights his way as Wild grease Oilers

By Wild Road Tripper

When you want to go to war with someone, best to have a God on your side. Especially if that deity is an Irish God.

Minnesota Wild fans saw that first-hand tonight at Xcel Energy Center, as the 'Irish God of War', Owen Nolan, still showed he has what it takes to be successful in the NHL at age 38, as he scored the eventual game-winning goal, and fought Edmonton Oilers defenseman Sheldon Souray as the Wild played the role of Grinch Wednesday night, beating the Oilers 3-1 in front of an announced 18,250 (a good number of whom stayed away due to an impending blizzard in St. Paul, and the approaching Christmas holiday).

Nolan's pinpoint backhand shot late in the second period beat Oilers goalie Jeff Deslauriers high on the stick side, through a space no larger than a half-sheet of paper as the Wild took a 2-1 lead. The Oilers decided that they would take the fight -- literally -- to the Wild in the third period, as the two teams combined for 26 minutes in penalties, marked by the Nolan vs. Souray fight, Souray's first fight against a Wild player since last season, when Souray hit then-Wild winger Craig Weller with his supposedly 'soft' wrist cast in a fight.

The other fight of the night pitted Edmonton's Ryan Stone against Minnesota's Clayton Stoner, a bout that Stoner clearly won by pummeling Stone into submission with a quick series of roundhouse rights which sent Stone crashing to the ice as Stoner stood over him, wanting more. Stoner, recently called up from the AHL Houston Aeros, made several smart plays within the last few minutes of the game as the Wild defense made life miserable for the Oil, bottling them up in their own zone, no where to go.

And, speaking of going, Niklas Backstrom now goes to 14-1-0 against the Oilers all-time, the Grease being the favorite foil for the Wild's No. 1 goalie. The Wild now improve to 39 points (18-16-3) and remain two points behind Detroit in the NHL's Western Conference. The Wild now are off (mandatory) for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but they will return Saturday night for their Next Game: vs. St. Louis, Saturday night, Dec. 26 (Boxing Day), 7:00 PM Central Time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth; Blues TV: FSMidwest, both feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 239)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Local Boy beats Local team: Avs 4, Wild 3

It was a strange night Monday night in the National Hockey League. Ten of the 11 road teams won (only the Phoenix Coyotes, who might as well be a road team most nights at Arena, won as a home team last night.) I wonder how many of those teams got beat with players who grew up in the city where they won last night?

Count the Colorado Avalanche in that somewhat exclusive category, as ex-Blaine, Minnesota Bengal Matt Hendricks, coming back home and playing in front of family and friends, scored what would be the most important goal of the evening at Xcel Energy Center, as the Avs beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in front of an announced 18,244 pre-holiday patrons.

Hendricks' improbable goal -- caused by a massive team 'brain cramp' on the part of the Wild, who were too busy changing shifts to worry about the puck in their own zone, which allowed Hendricks and Cody McLeod to go in alone on a two-man breakaway, after Niklas Backstrom let the puck rebound off the boards behind the goal too far in front of him -- sealed the victory for the Avs, who retain third place in the NHL's Western Conference, and sole possession of the Northwest Division lead, now ten full points ahead of the forgetful Wild, who now have lost two in a row, and are still four points out of a playoff spot.

The Wild were without Robbie Earl (returned to Houston Monday, beating the NHL Holiday roster freeze by a few hours), John Scott (healthy scratch), and Guillaume Latendresse (sick); in fact, Latendresse tried to go, but was unable to make it to pre-game warm-ups. The Wild also took a number of stupid penalties; the Wild didn't press the issue against the Avs until about the last 8 minutes of the third period, thinking 'we can come back from this. We have before.' Well, guess what? Didn't happen this time, folks. Can they do it again? Can they come back? Will they need to? Let's find out Wednesday night, shall we, against another team which got their lunch handed to them on Monday, in what we should call a 'last-minute shoppers special'.

Note well the special starting time for the Next Game: vs. Edmonton, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 6:00 PM Central (5:00 PM Mountain) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth; Oilers' TV: Rogers SportsNet West, both feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 237).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

After all, you KNEW this was going to happen: Senators 4, Wild 1

Bad luck, bad equipment, bad karma, bad everything all conspired against the Minnesota Wild Saturday night in their game versus the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place. And then, the game actually started. And things got worse from that point.

Four Ottawa goals in just over a period (24:50) meant that the Sens walked away with a 4-1 victory in front of a non-sellout crowd of an announced 16,259, driving the Sens' all-time record vs. the Wild to 1-3 in Ottawa, and 2-5-2 overall, as enough different Senators to make a filibuster stick -- 11 -- scored points against the uncomfortable Wild, who were breaking in mostly new equipment after their original game stuff was mostly destroyed in a Ottawa panel truck fire Friday, while returning to the arena after a practice session at a nearby facility.

It wasn't a pretty game to watch, as the Sens' close-checking style, three-across-the-blue-line meant that the Wild could not get any type of an effective forecheck on all evening. Due to the recurring flu virus which has swept thru this team at least twice by now, three players were forced out of the lineup (Eric Belanger, Robbie Earl, Guillaume Latendresse) and the Wild were also forced to play with only 17 skaters (not the allowed 18) and two goalies. The net result was a very slow, boring, dull game, one that if this had been played in the Lemaire years, this game would have been sponsored by No-Doz. Of course, the fact that the 'Human Pylon' himself, Ottawa's Filip Kuba, former Wild obst-er, defenseman -- was a -1 for the night. A small, non-definitive win for the Minnesota side, unfortunately one which did not involve standings points.

The Wild now end the first half (21 games) of their road schedule with a 7-12-2 record away from St. Paul, and are now 1-6 over the past two seasons on CBC's 'Hockey Night in Canada', including losing the last six in a row, on the NHL's premiere presentation north of the 49th parallel. They are not scheduled to appear on HNIC's weekly Saturday evening telecast again this season.

Hopefully things will get better for 'da boys' as their next three are at home, beginning with the Next Game: vs. Colorado, Monday, Dec. 21, 7:00 PM Central (6 PM Mountain), Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: KSTC-45; Avs' TV: Altitude; XM Radio, Ch. 238).

-- WRT

Friday, December 18, 2009

Too Hot: Wild equipment destroyed in Ottawa truck fire

A panel truck carrying the equipment of the Minnesota Wild caught fire and burned as the truck was arriving at Scotiabank Place in Kanata, Ontario, Friday afternoon following an off-day practice, destroying most of the team's equipment as it prepared to play the Ottawa Senators Saturday night.

Wild Assistant Equipment Manager Brent Proulx returned Friday evening to St. Paul, in order to obtain replacement equipment, which will depart St. Paul at 5:30 Saturday morning for the Dominion's capitol aboard the Wild's team charter plane, which was originally scheduled to deadhead from Milwaukee to Ottawa later Saturday morning, following the completion of a team charter for the NBA Milwaukee Bucks.

The damage is extensive, sources told the Ottawa Sun. Some players' equipment was virtually unscathed, while others, most notably goaltender Niklas Backstrom and wing Martin Havlat, said that their equipment was basically destroyed. The truck was owned by the Senators, according to senior Ottawa Fire Department officials as quoted by the Canadian Press.

-- WRT

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Trois Bien! Wild workman-like effort beats Canadiens, 3-1

When you work at your game as efficiently as the Minnesota Wild have recently, very little will be able to stop them. The Montreal Canadiens, the oldest franchise in the sport in North America, found out that old-fashioned effort turns into winning the hard way tonight, as the Wild out-worked the Habs en route to a 3-1 victory before the full house of 21,273 Thursday night at Centre Bell in Montreal.

Goals by Robbie Earl, Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck underscored the effort tonight, as the Habs were frustrated at every turn by the close-checking, hard-hitting, shot-blocking Wild, whose few opportunities were quickly snuffed out by Niklas Backstrom, who made 30 saves on the night. Nick Schultz led the Wild on the night with a +2, as eight different Wild players figured in the scoring. The Wild played a fairly clean game, as there were only three penalties called in the contest.

Guillaume Latendresse, the Quebec native who was traded by the Habs to the Wild Nov. 23, returned home to mostly the start. He was quickly hearing boos and catcalls, reminiscient of when Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi skates at Xcel Energy Center. It was that loud and that inappropriate, especially when they dragged the name of his significant other (singer Annie Villeneuve) into the jeering, as the game went on and the Habs failed to score. While Latendresse failed to score, his five hits were second on the Wild, only behind the hit-machine, Clutterbuck. The Wild victory brings their all-time record in Montreal to a 2-2-1 mark, and it was their first victory in Montreal since 2003.

The Wild also improve to 7-11-2 on the road, 7-3-2 since the disasterous start in October ended in Pittsburgh on Hallowe'en, good for 37 points (17-14-3) which will leave the Wild in 11th place in the NHL's Western Conference, two points behind ninth place Dallas (who lost to Atlanta in the shootoout Thursday night), four points behind eighth-place Detroit, who were idle on Thursday. Their fourth win in their last 5 games, the Wild have also won nine in their last 11, and are 7-2 overall in the month of December.

The Wild went 'old school' for the two-hour trip to Ottawa after the game, eschewing their normal chartered jet...for a 55-seat team bus. After the game, Coach Todd Richards said that after they got some sleep, they would decide about practice 'in the morning'.

The way the Wild have been playing, I really don't think that 'in the morning' will be too early.

Next Game: at Ottawa, Saturday, Dec. 19, 6:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Eastern) Time, Scotiabank Place, Kanata, Ontario. (Wild TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin); CBC 'Hockey Night in Canada' (regional game); XM Radio, Ch. 206)

-- WRT

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blast it! Wild beat Columbus 2-1 on late Zidlicky slapper

By Wild Road Tripper

Normally, the Columbus Blue Jackets shoot a replica 6-pound Civil War cannon off inside Nationwide Arena after they score. Normally, when a cannon goes off, they are doing the shooting.

Tonight, at Xcel Energy Center, the Minnesota Wild brought their own pea-shooter with a cannon: Marek Zidlicky. He shot his cannon off. The result: a last minute, 2-1 Wild victory before 18,084 happy fans, and more than a few pissed off Wild fans that couldn't make it, to the only game in 2009-10 that was not available anywhere on TV, thanks to the NHL's cable agreement with Versus.

Zidlicky's goal with 38.8 seconds left in the third period vaulted the Wild ahead of the Jackets as well as the Edmonton Oilers, who lost at home to Los Angeles Tuesday night, into 11th place in the NHL's Western Conference with 35 points, one point ahead of the failing Columbus club, which lost its' 12th game in their last 14, and second in as many nights, after having lost at home to Nashville Monday night.

The winning shot was a direct result of Mikko Koivu's faceoff win in the Columbus zone, as the two teams seemed destined for overtime. The Jackets' four-across-the-blue-line philosophy held for most of the third period, but as the game dragged on, the third game in four nights for the Jackets finally caught up with them, as the speedier, less-exhausted Wild started to press Columbus goalie Steve Mason.

The first period started out with the Wild flying up and down the rink, as Mason and the Jackets hung on for dear life. In the second period, when the first two goals (Rick Nash's goal, which hung Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom out to dry; and Guillaume Latendresse's tap-in of an excellent Koivu set-up) were scored, the pace slowed down to nearly a crawl, as the two sides tried to figure who was going to beat whom first. The third period looked like 'rope-a-dope' until the Wild wound up and won the game.

I do hope you get to see the second period hit by James Sheppard on Columbus' Fedor Tyutin. Sheppard hits him up high, and when Tyutin's skate hits the glass as he cartwheels from the hit, the glass breaks, just inside the blue line. It takes over nine minutes to clean up the mess.

Hopefully, the Wild will enjoy this run of good fortune this week. The Wild are the second of a back-to-back for each of their next two opponents, beginning Next Game: at Montreal, Thursday night, 6:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Eastern) Time, Bell Centre. Wild TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin). Canadiens TV: RDS (French), TSN (both Canadian feeds in HD); XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204.

Monday, December 14, 2009

WRT's Monday Miscellany

By Wild Road Tripper

(Another attempt to liven up your start of the week...)

Minnesota Wild fans are, indeed, a hardy lot. We go thru rain, sleet, snow, severe cold, six different starting times, all to see our favorite team actually win a game now 'n' then. Now, just think of how it would be if your team played like some of the other teams in the NHL.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans have had it the worst for the longest. The last time they were even in the playoffs was 2003-04, when they were eliminated in 6 games by the Philadelphia Flyers (the series-winning goal? Scored by Jeremy Roenick), and since then, it's been six seasons of losing hockey. Brian Burke was brought in from Anaheim to try and turn around this moribund franchise, and he brought in what he thought was needed -- grit, and lots of it. Well, the Leafs still suck, they play the streaking Buffalo Sabres this coming Friday at HSBC Arena (tickets starting at $78 for the cheapest seats), and they are on the precipice of falling off the NHL radar once again, at least until the entry draft in Los Angeles in late June. Yes, it will take time and effort in order to turn the Leafs' ship of state around. Hopefully for Leafs' fans, the ship isn't named the Titanic...

And, speaking of Philadelphia, Flyers' fans are probably ready to kill anything on skates that is wearing a Flyers' jersey right about now. The Flyers have changed their coach, but they have a different problem; they just don't play well together. They currently have no less than SEVEN players who make over $4,000,000 per season. Flyers' fans feel that they are getting ripped off. And, frankly, who can blame them? Is Kimmo Timonen REALLY worth more of a cap hit than Chris Pronger?

The Flyers are 1-7 since the Thanksgiving holiday; three of those games the Flyers were shutout, and two more they only managed one goal. They cannot depend on their budget-balanced goaltending ($2,400,000 for their top two goalies, paltry by NHL standards) to bail their anemic offense out night after night.

Not that the Western Conference isn't much better. St. Louis Blues fans are asking themselves if they are watching the Rams instead, especially after they came out against Edmonton last weekend, and the Grease slid right by the Blues, 5-3. The Blues have only scored three goals in the last week, and have dropped three straight.

Anaheim Ducks players and fans were asking themselves 'wha' happened?' until they recently started to turn things around to keep the Ducks somewhat relevant in the West. Four of the last five Ducks' games have gone to overtime or the shootout; their 2-0-2 record since the Wild beat them in St. Paul December 4th looks to have saved the job of head coach Randy Carlyle, at least for the time being.

And then, there is the resurgent Wild, with a record of 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, a period of time (late November/early December) when the Wild are traditionally not a very good hockey team. After the Wild's dismal 6-loss-in-7-game start to the season, they players have finally learned to control themselves yet play a more attack-style offense. The new system of Todd Richards is finally taking hold, and Wild fans are loving it. They haven't seen offense like this from a Wild team in franchise history. Reminds me of the starving man who walks into the banquet hall, just as they serve up the steamship round of beef. And, they have done it while at least three players have been recovering from concussions.

Just think of how good the Wild would be if everyone on the roster was healthy...

Have a good Monday!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Czech-marked: Wild end road trip with 4-3 loss

The end of the road was the end of the road, literally, for the Minnesota Wild.

The last game of an five game-in-8 day road odyssey -- the last trip of this length this season -- came up just a bit short, as the Wild lost 4-3 to the Vancouver Canucks late Saturday night, before 18,810 at GM Place.

From a five-goal first period, to a scoreless second, then a third period which was a cross of the first two, this Wild-Canucks rivalry renewal had a lot of everything that NHL fans crave...hits, goals, close play, and more trash talk than most NBA games.

Josh Harding, who started tonight for the second time this season versus the Canucks, had his troubles concentrating on the puck in the first period, and gave up three goals, two of which were on the power play as the Canucks tried to run-and-gun their way past the Wild early in the game. The Wild fought back with first period goals by Shane Hnidy and Greg Zanon, both off plays by Martin Havlat, who may have finally found his touch following his earlier injuries. In the second period, the play became more the kind of game that fans of the two teams are familiar with -- tight-checking, close-knit affairs which left both teams scoreless in the period. Havlat's prowess continued in the third when his rebound of an Andrew Brunette shot, in front of Roberto Luongo, found twine to close the game at 4-3, but that was as close as the Wild would get.

The Wild did set a franchise record for faceoffs, as they won 71% of them (49-for-69) on the night. It was also the first time in team history that the Wild took 40 or more shots in two consecutive games. Other than moral victories, however, the Wild came away empty, but with a 3-2 record on the road trip, the Wild will go home confident, if not happy, with the result of this game.

Next Game: vs. Columbus, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 7:00 PM, Xcel Energy Center. No TV for this game (the only Wild game not on TV in 2009-10); XM Radio, Channel 207)

-- WRT

Friday, December 11, 2009

Torched! Havlat, Shep beat the 'Dome, Wild douse Flames in OT

And just like that, the Saddledome curse for the Wild is history.

Martin Havlat's give-and-go goal with Marek Zidlicky gave the Minnesota Wild a very well-deserved 2-1 overtime victory over the Calgary Flames and the 'C of Red' Friday night, in front of the usual 19,289 at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

Havlat's goal, his first since returning from a hamstring injury, capped off a wild night, one which the Flames fans probably had never before seen, as the Wild peppered Mikka Kiprusoff with 46 shots, the second-most in Wild team history on the road.

The James Sheppard era continued as the former first-rounder took a Shane Hnidy rebound, and flipped it over a prone Kiprusoff to tie the game at 1-1 and send it to the extra session. But, this was not your Wild overtimes of the past. Unlike previous seasons, when Jacques Lemaire would have sat back and held out for the shootout, this group was aggressive, taking chances (especially late in the 3rd period) and kept the Flames bottled up in their half of the ice a good part of the evening. The Flames, for their part, seemed not to get anything sustained going the first 45 minutes of the contest.

Even Derek Boogaard had a victory tonight, as his fourth punch in his second period fight with Calgary's Bryan McGratton sent the ex-Ottawa Senator directly to Dream Street, with a right that connected flush with McGratton's left cheekbone.

The Wild, now 3-1 on this five-game Western swing, could possibly move into third place in the Northwest Division if they can be victorious in their Next Game: at Vancouver, Saturday, Dec. 12 (tomorrow), 9 PM Central (7 PM Pacific) Time, GM Place. (Wild TV: FSNorth; CBC 'Hockey Night in Canada' in HD (doubleheader game); XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)

-- WRT

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

One and Done: Backstrom, Wild zero-out Avs

Just after the Minnesota Wild were done with a winning streak, the teams' health began to fail between Monday in Phoenix, and tonight's game in Denver versus the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche, as it turned out, were just the tonic the Wild needed.

Antti Miettinen's goal, 5:57 into the game stood up as a national Versus TV audience, (except for DirecTV viewers) saw the Wild win 1-0, before a paltry 11,435 at Pepsi Center. Miettinen's goal, helped by Niklas Backstrom's 23-save shutout, his first of the season, made sure the Wild would not repeat their performance of the previous five-game road trip, when they came home with no wins at all. They now have an opportunity to make the road trip a .500 affair with one point, either Friday or Saturday, as the road trip retreats to the frigid (-35) climes of Western Canada. The victory now makes the Wild 4-0 against the Avs, with two games remaining in their divisional six-game series.

With only one goal, and that not on a power play, there's really nothing else left to say, so let's mention the Next Game: at Calgary, Friday, Dec. 11, Pengrowth Saddledome. Wild TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin); Flames TV: Rogers SportsNet-West (in HD); XM Radio, Ch. 237), and let's hope the flu bug has left the team by then.

-- WRT

Monday, December 7, 2009

Snooze to Lose II: Wild shutout, lose 2-0 in the desert

For the first half of Monday night's game at Arena, you could have virtually heard a pin drop. It was, indeed, THAT boring. And that boredom spelled the end of the Wild's 5-game winning streak.

For the second half, the Phoenix Coyotes made sure that the Minnesota Wild stayed that way, as the Wild sleep-walked their way to a 2-0 loss in front of 8,981 announced (actual attendance? Who really knows?) hardy souls on a rainy night in the Valley of the Sun.

Ex-Predator Scottie Upshall and ex-Canuck Taylor Pyatt scored for the 'Yotes 44 seconds apart in the second period, both gift goals due to Minnesota mistakes (by Eric Belanger and Shane Hnidy, respectively) which built the 2-0 lead after the second period.

In the third, the Coyotes played the Dave Tippett trap game to perfection for over 14 minutes, as the Wild were held to just two shots on goal in that time frame. The frustration continued thru the rest of the game, as goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and the Phoenix defense shut down the Wild, as their 5-game win streak went by the wayside. As the game ended, a melee ensued with James Sheppard the recipient of a few punches by Phoenix' Vernon Fiddler. Both received 5-minute fighting majors (huh?) for the end-of-game scrum.

Anyhow, the road trip continues with the Next Game vs. Colorado, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 8:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Mountain) Time, Pepsi Center. (TV: Versus (Wild viewing parties at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants for those of you who do not get Versus, info at; XM Radio, Ch. 238)

-- WRT

Sunday, December 6, 2009

WRT's Sunday Slant

(We promised you some new things here at M&G. This is one of them.)

As we all sit here on this first Sunday in December, a few things stand out in the NHL:

Is it just me, or do the injuries around the NHL seem more severe than normal this season? Or is it not the severity of the injuries, but whom they are happening to? Imagine the NBA without Dwayne Wade, Kevin Garnett, Detlef Schrempf, and Tim Duncan, all at the same time. The NFL without LaDanian Tomlinson, Jared Allen, Matt Hasselbeck, and Ben Roethlisberger, all at the same time. Baseball without A-Rod, Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer and C. C. Sabathia, all at the same time.

I think you get where I'm going with this.

Too many of the NHL's premiere players are on the shelf with injuries, whether self-inflicted (did Ovechkin really need to do that knee in Carolina?), just during play (take your pick) or running into your own teammates (Brent Burns)?

Look at most NHL rosters. The injury list is like a who's who of hockey. Some teams, like the Minnesota Wild, have had upwards of 1/3rd of their entire salary cap sitting injured in the press box recently. Nashville, already in financial trouble, is in a similar fate. So is Anaheim, especially now that Teemu Selanne broke a bone in his hand Thursday night in Dallas. The Stars, also, have had serious injury problems in the first 1/3rd of the season. Carolina, Washington, Montreal, Detroit, the list goes on and on. Nearly every team has had a first-line player from their roster come up on the IR this fall. Yes, it is indeed how those teams deal with those injuries (and still stay under the salary cap), which is driving front offices nuts as the season drags on.

May I offer three reasons for the upswing in injuries?

  1. The protective gear players wear now, while giving more support than ever before, also has less give than ever before. The shoulder pad, elbow pad and thigh pads of 20-30 years ago are light years removed from the high-tech, super-hard-shell protective equipment of today. In some ways, that's better for the player delivering a check. It's a lot worse, however, for that player who is RECEIVING that same check.
  2. The development of equipment, especially that to protect the head and everything in it (eyes, teeth, brain, jaw) is woefully behind the rest of the body curve. Today's player is bigger, faster and stronger than the player of 20-30 years ago. Sure, no one likes to wear visors (they're uncomfortable, fog up, steamy, etc.,) and they are a hinderance when there's no alternative to dropping the purse, but for the sake of the players themselves, the curve has to be pushed out. And soon. The development of the 'Messier 03' (I think that's what it's called) helmet, which is designed to alleviate the impact of blows to the head, is an important step. Now, does Hockey do the right thing and force players to adopt new style helmets? Or do we see the alarming number of concussions we see today continue?
  3. I really do believe the NHL schedule, or more specifically how it is developed, has something to do with injuries as well. Teams are dragged across North America on almost 'Amazing Race'-esque schedules, going from one end of the continent to another and are being expected to play at a high level, regardless of how the circadian rhythms of the body are screwed up by factors such as time changes, climate, (you can't expect a team playing in, as example, Dallas one night and Minnesota the next to fare well), and altitude (Denver and, say, Vancouver). There should be a set pattern (like the NHL had in the 70's and early 80's) of how schedules are set. (Example: an Eastern Conference team playing a California swing should not travel three times across California to play three games. Western Conference teams visiting New York's 3 teams should also do this all in one trip, not two or, in some cases, three trips.) The fact that there are so many back-to-back games (due to the 2 1/2-week Olympic break in late February), and that arena availability in many cities is next-to-non-existent in March and April (as other sports end their seasons) also factor in.

The easiest one of these is, obviously, the schedule one. Will the NHL compress its' schedule in 2014 to allow its' players to compete in Sochi, Russia? The Russian players will almost certainly bail to play in the Olympics in their 'Mother Russia'. And, who really can blame them?

Setting the Olympics aside, the schedule, and the computer program which determines it, is broken. It needs to be fixed. The NHL needs to adopt new divisional boundaries, as the traditional ones the League has had since the mid-90's no longer works, especially in the Western Conference. Two 7-team divisions in the West and two, 8-team divisions in the East (no need to change the playoff format or seedings) would do wonders for all involved. Consider mandatory rest days when a team travels over certain distances. Every team should have at least one back-to-back at home. Limit the travel early in the season to specified periods (a la baseball, who plays inter-league games during specified weeks in the season.)

Like any sport, the best thing the NHL has to sell is the game itself. Save the best asset that the game of hockey has. The travel issues are the easiest items to fix. Fix the travel issues.

-- WRT's Sunday Slant will appear, hopefully, the first Sunday of each month (unless I forget)...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fives are Wild in Nashville as Wild win 5th straight

By Wild Road Tripper

Remember the last Minnesota Wild five-game road trip? Remember how bad that trip started out, and how bad it finished??

Those days were banished, possibly for good tonight in Nashville, where the Wild spotted the Nashville Predators the first goal, then came roaring back by scoring the next five straight, en route to a 5-3 Wild victory, their fifth in a row, at Sommet Center in front of 13,145 mostly stunned patrons. The victory marked the third straight game in which the Wild scored five goals, a team record.

Ten different Wild players tallied points in the game, led by Andrew Brunette's goal and assist, and Martin Havlat's two assists. Even the enforcer got in on the act, as Derek Boogaard assisted on Andrew Ebbett's first period goal, a goal which tied the game at one all late in the first period. James Sheppard scored his first goal since last March 28th, and Antti Miettinen extended his goal scoring run to six in 6 games as the contest became the domain of the Wild. The victory was the second of the season for Josh Harding, who made 26 saves. It is the Wild's fifth straight win, their longest winning streak since October of 2007; the Wild now have 29 points, good for 13th place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of Edmonton, who also won on Saturday.

Dan Ellis started in goal for Nashville, but was replaced by Pekka Rinne for the third period, as the Wild outshot the Preds 39-29. Nashville, with the loss, now is tied for 7th place with Dallas, a 3-2 shootout loser to Edmonton on Saturday. The Preds also wore their newly-released third jerseys for the second time at home tonight. They are 0-2 in the new duds.

The Wild may be able to enjoy the victory for a while tonight, as they travel to the Valley of the Sun for the Next Game: vs. Phoenix, Monday, Dec. 7, 8:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Mountain) Time, Arena. Wild TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin); Coyotes TV: FSArizona (both feeds in HD); XM Radio: Ch. 238)

Friday, December 4, 2009

'Cardiac Wild' hunt down Ducks, win 5-4 in shootout

By Wild Road Tripper

Many of the fans who left the Xcel Energy Center during the third period of Friday night's Minnesota Wild game should be kicking themselves Saturday morning, as they missed a date with Destiny.

Destiny, meet Head Coach Randy Carlyle and the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks saw two two-goal leads evaporate, the second one in the final two minutes of regulation, as the Wild, led by Mikko Koivu and his two goals, one assist night, came back from the dead more times than Freddy Kruger to defeat the Ducks 5-4 in the shootout Friday night. Those of the 18,265 who stayed until the last act of this melodrama saw a shootout save by Niklas Backstrom against Mikko's older brother, Anaheim center Saku Koivu, who was wooed by Minnesota in free agency this past summer before signing with the Ducks.

The Wild victory ran their record to .500 (12-12-3), good for 13th place in the Western Conference, just behind the idle St. Louis Blues, who have a game in hand on the Wild. The OT loss by the Ducks means they stay in the cellar in the West, one point behind idle Edmonton.

But senior Ducks officials were along on this road trip and saw the whole debacle from the Al Shaver Press Box. And, after having seen three games in a row where the Ducks have blown leads in the third period to send games into OT (or longer), they aren't pleased.

The Wild comebacks ruined one for Anaheim as well, as the Ducks welcomed sniper Joffrey Lupul, who the Wild could not figure out all evening, back into their lineup. Lupul scored two goals for Anaheim, and added the only Ducks goal in the shootout. Lupul had been out for nearly two weeks prior to his insertion in the lineup, an event made more necessary due to Teemu Selanne's broken bone in his hand, suffered last night in Dallas in the second period against the Stars. Lupul was all over the place tonight, and he clearly stood out as the best Anaheim player out there.

Nine of the 11 points in the game (4 goals, 5 assists) came from the Wild's current No. 1 line -- Koivu, Andrew Brunette (3 assists) and Antti Miettinen (2 goals, 1 assist) -- as the new system employed by the Wild seems to have developed very much to their liking. Koivu was devastating tonight, always around the puck, and never out of position. Not once. Brunette was his workmanlike self, digging like a nickel miner (hey, he's from Sudbury. Work with me here!) and his passes were spot on most of the evening. The oft-maligned Miettinen, however, is the biggest surprise, as it looks like he has finally figured out how to put the biscuit IN the basket, rather than OVER it.

Miettinen and Guillaume Latendresse scored for the Wild in the four-round shootout, as the Wild take their 2009-10 shootout record to 3-3, and their home record in total to 9-3-1. Home won't be a thing the Wild see much of for a while, however, as they have a rematch with the Nashville Predators coming up tomorrow night at the Sommet Center, to begin a five-game, 8-day road trip. (The Preds won in Chicago on Friday night, beating the Blackhawks 4-1.)

Next Game: at Nashville, Saturday Dec. 5, 7:00 PM, Sommet Center. Wild TV: FSNorth (in HD). No Preds TV: XM Radio: Ch. 239)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Russo to 'Russoville': Come back to the Strib blog

Michael Russo, Minneapolis StarTribune Wild beat writer, who most of us read like a religion (and, shame on you if you don''re missing out on a lot of Grade 'A' Wild info), announced on his blog this afternoon that there will be changes made, in order to repair the fracture in the relationship between the newspaper and its' readership, which came about as a result of a change in format of the Star-Trib's Wild blogsite. I'll let 'the Don' himself tell it:

"Just an update on the new blog format, couple changes you may have noticed and should be noticing in the near future, according to the in-house folks at the Strib:
1. The commenting system has been revamped, meaning there should no longer be delays and comments should all be on one page.
2. And this is the big one, We're in the process of changing the design and display of the blog fronts. We'll now show the entire blog post. It will mimic the old blog experience and make the blog fronts much more visual.
Any feedback once the changes are all in place, please feel free to let me know. But these will hopefully be significant improvements, so if you've taken your blog conversation elsewhere, come back and give us a try."

There have been several sites online (none of which will be mentioned here) that the old blog community, dubbed 'Russoville', migrated to after the demise of the old message boards, which occured shortly after the start of the current season. Despite the warnings from the readership prior to the change, the newspaper's I.T. department charged into the new format, which is similar to the format of the paper's '' website.

The newspaper is currently part of MediaGroup, although an independent group, led by Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and Minnesota financier Vance Opperman, have reportedly entered a bid to buy a minority interest in the paper. The paper filed for bankruptcy in January.

-- WRT

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hey-y-y Eb-bett! Newbie comes up large in OT, Wild come back to beat Preds

By Wild Road Tripper

The only way Wednesday night's Minnesota Wild game at Xcel Energy Center could have wound up better is if it were a playoff game. Then Andrew Ebbett's vision of scoring a playoff winner in the NHL would have been complete.

As it was, the ex-Wolverine came thru in the clutch, by putting the rebound of a Guillaume Latendresse shot past Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, to give the Wild a 5-4 overtime victory in front of an announced 18,071 (just a mere 7 people over seated capacity).

Ebbett's 3rd goal of the season, his first-ever game winner, wiped out a 'FANG-tastic' night for two Predators -- Steve Sullivan, who scored once and assisted three times, and Jason Arnott, who scored twice and had one assist for Nashville. Sullivan's four-point night is only the fifth time such a feat has been done by an opponent in St. Paul. The Predators gave up five goals for the second straight game, having been previously torched by the Calgary Flames, 5-0, on Monday night at Sommet Center.

Ten different Wild players figured in the scoring, led by Latendresse's goal and assist, Mikko Koivu's goal late in the third (to tie the game 4-4) and an assist, and two assists each by Andrew Brunette and Kyle Brodziak. Niklas Backstrom made 31 saves to notch his 10th win of the season, and his 66th all-time at Xcel Energy Center, becoming the all-time team leader (passing Manny Fernandez in that category). The Wild are now 4-0-1 in their last five games, the first time since the opening weeks of last season that they have points in five or more games. The Wild are now 95-3-3 lifetime, when scoring four or more goals at home.

After a first period where the Wild scored three times for the first time this season, the overall pace of the game was draggingly slow as the Preds 3-across-the-blue-line kept the Wild at bay during almost the entire second period and the first half of the third. Then, a Francois Boullion penalty really put the Preds in hot water, and the Wild took only 10 seconds of power-play time for Koivu to get his seventh goal of the season. The Wild seemed to feed off of that until a Koivu hooking penalty (against Jordin Tootoo, nonetheless) killed a lot of the momentum at 17:40. The two teams went into the OT period evenly matched, or so it seemed, until the newcomers, Latendresse and Ebbett, did their thing.

The two teams will face off Saturday night in Nashville, on the second night of a back-to-back for both teams. The first half for the Wild is the Next Game: vs. Anaheim, Friday, Dec. 4, 7:00 PM, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth (in HD); No Ducks TV; XM Radio, Ch. 206).

'Just like a Yo-yo': Sifers recalled from Houston-again

Jaime Sifers is surely on his way to elite SkyMiles status.

The 5-11, 210-pound defenseman/forward has again been recalled to the Minnesota Wild, and will arrive in time to don his Wild No. 26 jersey and play in tonight's game vs. the Nashville Predators at Xcel Energy Center (7:00 PM Central Time; KSTC-45, FSTennessee). This will be the third time that Sifers, signed by the Wild as a free agent July 8, has been recalled by the Wild.

Sifers, returned to the Houston Aeros along with Robbie Earl on Sunday, was recalled due to the uncertain status of Marek Zidlicky, who is expected to return tonight after having sat out last weekend's home-and-home with the Colorado Avalanche, as well as the illness of defenseman Kim Johnsson, who missed practice both yesterday and Monday.

Here's hoping Sifers receives that first-class mileage bonus!

-- WRT

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Return to Sender: Earl, Sifers sent back

With three Minnesota Wild front-line players expected to play Wednesday night against Nashville, the team on Sunday sent forward Robbie Earl and forward/defenseman Jamie Sifers back to their AHL Houston Aeros affiliate.

The Wild are expected to have Martin Havlat (hamstring), Antti Miettinen (illness) and Marek Zidlicky (lower body, undisclosed) back from the injured list in time for Wednesday's game.


WRT's This 'n' That

Well, it's been a while since we've done 'This 'n' That'. So there must be some tidbits out there...

  1. Does anybody who is a DirecTV subscriber really miss the Versus telecasts of NHL games? I do, but only because the NHL's contract with Versus says that no local TV can be showing the same game. And that is the sad part. Those of us who buy NHL Center Ice, should be allowed to watch the Versus games on a NHL CI channel. If DirecTV and Comcast (majority owner of Versus) can't reach an agreement, wouldn't that be a great way to get fans to purchase the Center Ice package? The Minnesota Wild are on Versus 4 times in the next 8 weeks; 3 of those 4 are on the road. Wouldn't it behoove the NHL to step in on behalf of the fans, say 'we have something right here, which might provide a solution for now' and let the games be shown, while the two sides continue to act like they're a couple of 3-year-olds?

  2. Don't think NHL teams are losing fans due to the continued economic recession? Then how come at least seven teams that I regularly get e-mail from (Anaheim, Colorado, Columbus, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Phoenix, and St. Louis) are begging me to buy tickets? How come Ticketmaster is having a weekend sale for hundreds of events (concerts, sports, etc.)? So why doesn't the NHL acknowledge this publicly? The first step in addressing a problem, is to admit it exists.

  3. Despite the misfortunes of October's horrid start, the Wild are only 6 points out of a playoff spot as they begin December play next week, with 2 games vs. Nashville (one home, one away) sandwiched around Anaheim's final visit of the season in St. Paul on Dec. 4th. After the Anaheim game, the Wild embark on their most intense (5 games in 8 days) road trip of the season. The Wild will have already played half of the road schedule (21 games) after the Dec. 12 game at Vancouver. By contrast, the 21st road game last season (granted, a non-Olympic year) was Jan. 30 at Edmonton.
  4. The Wild ended November with a 5-3-3 record, a .590 clip. A lot of NHL teams would like to play at a .590 clip over a calendar month. That would play out to winning 9 of the 16 games played next month (when 9 of the 16 games are on the road). Oh, by the way: Wild play in December on the road in all 4 time zones... 2 road games on Eastern Time (Montreal, Ottawa); 1 road game on Central Time (Nashville); 3 road games on Mountain Time (Phoenix, Colorado, Calgary); and 3 road games on Pacific Time (Vancouver, LA, Anaheim).
  5. Anyone actually like some of the new third jerseys that have come out recently? Nashville debuted their thirds Friday night vs. St. Louis; majority dark blue, trimmed in black and white. Dark blue and black 'checkerboard' design at the waist. Next to no gold on this jersey. (They used all of it on those 'Grey Poupon' mustard-yellow jerseys a few years ago), and fangs on the shoulders. Are the Preds trying to bore their fans into buying new jerseys?
  6. Florida debuted their new, really blah, third jerseys against the Penguins at home Monday night. Nothing about these jerseys says 'buy me', even to the most hardened Panthers' fan. These scream 'Houston Aeros, if the WHA team had actually merged into the NHL' all over 'em. The shoulder has an 'FLA' super-imposed over a sun image. The main logo is a round (similar to Minnesota and St. Louis) with a Panthers' head (only) in the middle. It looks more like the logo for a local elementary school here in Minnesota..."Home of the Kittens." They actually paid someone to design this stuff? Where do I sign up??

Anyhow, that's it for now. Keep warm, everyone.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Newcomers shine as Wild sweep Avs with 3-2 SO win

By Wild Road Tripper

Saturday was 'Beanie Night' at Denver's Pepsi Center. Perhaps it should have been proclaimed 'Newbie Night.'

Minnesota Wild newcomers Guillaume Latendresse scored the tying goal, and waiver-wire wonder Andrew Ebbett scored the shootout winner, as the Wild swept the home-and-home weekend series with a 3-2 shootout win over the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night. The Wild victory ended their November with a 5-3-3 mark, and pushed their record to 10-12-3, good for 23 points overall, the same number as idle Anaheim in the NHL's Western Conference.

Latendresse's goal, the Wild's second, came on a rebound of a great set-up by Owen Nolan, who again figured in the scoring. Coach Todd Richards admitted in the post-game interview with the media, that Nolan was not supposed to be with Latendresse and Kyle Brodziak on that shift, but that he jumped over the boards, out of turn. The Wild are probably very happy Nolan did.

Mikko Koivu also scored in the shootout, as the tempo of the game swung dramatically following Eric Belanger's second period goal, his 5th, to open the scoring early in the second as the Wild fought all the way back from a 2-0 Avs first period lead.

Josh Harding, who started for the first time in over two weeks, was brilliant, stopping 20 of 22 Colorado shots for his first win of the season (Harding is now 1-3). Harding won despite being inadvertantly slew-footed by his own defenseman, Kim Johnsson, which directly led to the Avs' second goal. Despite the inadvertant move, Johnsson had an OK night, being the only non-goalie on the ice with over 31 minutes of ice time.

The Wild now come home to face the Nashville Predators, Wednesday night at 7:00 PM Central Time, at Xcel Energy Center (Wild TV: FSNorth; Nashville TV: FSTennessee; XM Radio Ch. 207).

Friday, November 27, 2009

Kobasew launches hat sale as Wild beat back Avs, 5-3

Three goals by ex-Bruin turn 'Dog day Afternoon' into 'Thank God it's Friday' as Wild go .500 for November

By Wild Road Tripper

Chuck Kobasew made sure his teammates had a good day Friday, as the Minnesota Wild rode Kobasew's hat trick, the first 3-bagger for the Wild in 23 months, to a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche Friday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center, as an announced 18,365 enjoyed what was, at least in the opinion of this blogger, the Wild's best team effort, start-to-finish, in nearly three weeks.

Kobasew led the charge as seven different Wild players tallied points against the Northwest Division-leading Avs, as the Wild beat the Avs for the second time this season. Kobasew's hat trick was the second of his career; the first was also against Colorado, on Jan. 24, 2006, when he was with the Calgary Flames.

The hat trick set off a 'hat trick hat sale' at the team's Hockey Lodge team stores for the rest of the day, as is custom when a Wild player scores three goals in the same game. The last time a Wild player scored three goals in the same game, was Marian Gaborik's five-goal bonanza against Henrik Lundquist and the New York Rangers on December 20, 2007.

Owen Nolan, the NHL's oldest active player, rang up another goal, his 7th, at 9:28 of the first period, moving away from a surprised Avs defense in doing so as well. Derek Boogaard's pass in front, bounced off the goal and into Kobasew's wheelhouse, where he buried it behind Avs goalie Craig Anderson early in the second period, to give the Wild a brief 2-1 lead. Kobasew struck again just over 3 minutes later when, on the power play, Kobasew took a pass again directly in front of Anderson from Andrew Brunette, and gave the Wild a 3-2 lead.

In the third, with the score tied at 3-3, it was Brunette's turn to score after Mikko Koivu received a pass from Marek Zidlicky, that was a result of the Avs not being able to stay away from the sin-bin, as Darcy Tucker was off on a slashing penalty at the time. Kobasew finished off the afternoon's scoring, as he took a pass from Koivu in front of an empty net after Colorado had pulled Anderson for the extra attacker, and calmly slid it into the empty net with 18 seconds left in the contest.

The Wild move to 6 wins, 2 losses, and 1 tie (2002, vs. Colorado) all-time on the day after Thanksgiving, as they get their 4th Western Conference win of 2009-10. The home record of the Wild now goes to 7-3-1 for the season (4-2 against the West), as the scene now shifts to Denver's Pepsi Center for 'Beanie Night', and the rematch tomorrow evening, 8:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Mountain) Time (Wild TV: FSNorth; Colorado TV: Altitude; both feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 241).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Snooze to Lose: B's put Wild to sleep, win 2-1 in SO

By Wild Road Tripper

Tonight's Boston Bruins-Minnesota Wild game at Xcel Energy Center had all the makings of a fun contest. Two teams, going primarily in opposite directions, getting together on the day before Thanksgiving for a inter-conference battle. One question?

Who slipped both sides the L-tryptophan?

The Bruins proceeded to put the Wild to sleep, winning 2-1 in the shootout in the fourth round as David Krejci stickhandled his puck past Niklas Backstrom to win it for Boston, as Chuck Kobasew's attempt to put it between the pads of Tuuka Rask failed to extend the shootout. The announced crowd of 18,208 yawned mightily, then went off into the night, in order to cook Thanksgiving dinners for loved ones who were smarter than to watch this contest.

A not very exciting game to watch, with the Wild already minus five front-line players, and then at the last minute, having Antti Miettinen come up sick after the line-ups were given following pre-game warm-ups. (We hope Miettinen doesn't have his 'sickness' degrade into yet another Wild concussion.)

If you are so inclined, have your turkey sandwiches ready on Friday as the Wild take on the Colorado Avalanche (Wild TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin); Colorado TV: Altitude; all feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 241) for a 1:00 PM Central (Noon Mountain) Time start. Indications are that new Wild winger Guillaume Latendresse may be in the line-up by that time.

Happy Thanksgiving, blogosphere!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Benoit Pouliot era ends

Well, we hope you remember 'B-b-b-Benny' and his time here in Minnesota.

Because, we say au revoir to Benoit Pouliot, as the former Wild first-rounder, drafted 4th overall in 2005, has been traded by the Minnesota Wild to the Montreal Canadiens, for fellow 2005 draft pick Guillaume Latendresse, the 45th overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft.

Both players have similar stats, and similar backgrounds. Both players never panned out to their potential, were vilified in the cities they played in, and might just do well with a fresh change of scenery playing for another team. Both players made the same amount, according to ($803,000 US), although Latendresse comes with a slightly higher cap hit for the Wild, due to his service time in the NHL.

The straight-up trade was approved by the League late Monday afternoon. Latendresse will not be available (due to US labor laws) for Wednesday's Wild-Boston Bruins game in St. Paul; Pouliot, who jammed his wrist against the NY Islanders on Friday night, is day-to-day.

More later.

-- WRT

NHL Swag Watch -- Thanksgiving Week

One of the new things we will be doing from time to time, here at M & G, is looking at the freebies you get at NHL games, as teams will do anything to get your wallet thru the gate, and your butt in a seat. (A couple of these look absolutely lethal, in the wrong hands. But, I digress.) Some teams do not list giveaways in their game listings. All items listed are from the teams' individual websites, via

Here's this week's list (thru November 28th, updated November 25):

Colorado -- 'Beanie Night' for first 10,000 vs. Minnesota (November 28)

Columbus -- T-shirts for all on 'White-Out night' vs. Calgary (Nov. 28)

Dallas -- Team Yearbook (Nov. 28 vs. Tampa Bay)

Detroit -- Wall calendars (Nov. 25, vs. Atlanta); also a 'Riverfront Party' before the game (Nov. 27 vs. Calgary)

Florida -- Panthers' Jersey Luggage Tags (Nov. 27 vs. Toronto)

Minnesota -- McGruff the Crime Dog Crime Prevention Cards for all 14 and under only (Nov. 27 vs. Colorado)

New Jersey -- Energy-Efficient Light Bulb, 18 and over, New Jersey residents only (Nov. 25 vs. Ottawa); Youth Hockey Jersey, 13 and under only (Nov. 28 vs. NY Islanders)

NY Islanders -- 'Baby Crawl' at 1st intermission (Nov. 27 vs. Pittsburgh) with $500 team store 1st Prize

Pittsburgh -- Baseball Cap (Nov. 28 vs. NY Rangers)

Tampa Bay -- License Plate Tags, 1st 7,500 + 2,000 for STH's (Nov. 25 vs. Toronto); Mike Smith #41 hats, first 5,000 + 2,000 for STH's (Nov. 27 vs. NY Rangers).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Andrew Ebbett ('Who?') era begins in Minnesota

The Minnesota Wild have claimed Andrew Ebbett off waivers from Chicago.

The 5'9", 182-lb Ebbett, a 26-year-old center, played last season with Anaheim. He was obtained by the Blackhawks off waivers on October 17th. A native of Calgary, he played college hockey for the University of Michigan. His original pro contract was with the Ottawa Senators in 2006, where he signed as an undrafted free agent. The Sens assigned him to their Binghamton farm club.

The Wild will be Ebbett's fourth NHL organization.

-- WRT

Friday, November 20, 2009

Old Man and the 'C' combine for Wild win

By Wild Road Tripper

The oldest member of the Minnesota Wild, 37-year-old Owen Nolan, and the Captain of the Wild, Mikko Koivu, teamed up tonight at Xcel Energy Center to sink the New York Islanders 3-2 as the Wild ended a 4-game losing streak. Nolan's two goals, his 5th and 6th of the season, started and ended the Wild scoring, while Koivu's 6th of the year, on a close-in shot beat Isles backup goalie Martin Biron. Nolan's 6th goal of the year propelled the Wild's record against the Eastern Conference to a respectable 4-1-2 after seven games against the other conference.

Nolan's first goal was a sharp-angle shot from the goal line which beat Biron 11:44 into the game. Nolan's last goal looked as if even he was surprised on, as Eric Belanger set him up by deftly passing the puck to an all-alone 'Irish God of War' in front of Biron, who put the winner away with just 1:07 remaining in the contest, to run the Wild's home record to 6-3 after 9 home games.

Niklas Backstrom made 29 saves (only 5 in the 3rd period), as did Biron for the Isles, as they drop to 3-5-5 on the road for the year. Jon Sim scored his 2nd goal of the season and assisted on Josh Bailey's fourth tally as the Isles took a 2-1 lead into the third period. Then the Wild took the game away from the Islanders as the pressure was indeed put on as the period waned.

A barely-sold-out crowd of 18,118 (54 over the 'X' 's seated capacity) cheered, well, wildly as the Wild ran their record to 8-11-2, 18 points, good for 14th place in the Western Conference, one point of cellar-dweller Anaheim, who was idle on Friday night.

The Wild return to action on Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, as the Boston Bruins come to town for a 7:00 PM start (Wild TV: KSTC-45. Boston TV: NESN. XM Radio: Ch. 238) in a game which will, once again, feature the Wild's new green third jerseys.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'Our worst performance of the season'

So said Minnesota Wild head coach Todd Richards after Wednesday night's lacklustre 3-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, a loss so bad, other NHL teams now mark the Wild down as their get-well tonic.

Only 18,110 were issued tickets to see this exhibition of insipid hockey, as the Wild came back twice from one-goal deficits, only to have the Coyotes score the game winner only 19 seconds after Antti Miettinen tied the game at 2-2, when Scottie Upshall, former Nashville Predator who moved west in last summer's free agency, bit the hand that once fed him (Craig Leipold, Wild owner) by putting a high wrist shot over the glove shoulder of Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. The aggressive forecheck of the Coyotes also kept Minnesota pinned in their own zone a good part of the night, as the Wild dropped their fourth straight decision in the last 7 days (0-2-2) and their November record drops to 2-3-2 with 4 games left to play in the month.

The Wild now face the New York Islanders on Friday night, in another matchup featuring a Minnesotan (Kyle Okposo) versus the team from his home state.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wild at the Quarter pole

OK, so after ¼ of the 2009-2010 NHL season has been played, what do we have?

  1. 7 of the 16 teams who made last year's playoffs would be out today, if the season ended now.
  2. Six points separate first from eighth place in the Eastern Conference, the same number which separates second from tenth place in the Western Conference.
  3. The Minnesota Wild coming off a combined road record of 2-9-2 after two killer road trips (one road trip five games, the other four games) in a span of five weeks.
  4. Six of the next 10 games for the Wild are against teams who are currently in the playoffs, if the season ended today. Two of the other 4 games are against teams who made the playoffs last season.
  5. The jury is still out on Wild Head Coach Todd Richards and his new 'system' of more offense. Although they actually show signs of doing it the way it's drawn up at times, there are still lapses, such as the third period of last week's game at Tampa Bay, and the first 25 minutes of the game at Carolina last Sunday, a game played so badly, that in that period they allowed a team, who lost 14 games in a row, to get up by three goals. Twice.
  6. The question still exists of whether or not the Wild will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline following the 17-day Olympic break Feb. 14-March 3. And just whom do you trade, anyhow? Those players with expiring contracts only? Or, do you blow the whole thing to Hell and start over? Who gets to pick and choose who stays, and who goes?
  7. It is only a matter of time before the Wild's sellout streak is over; it may even happen before Thanksgiving, as the team plays two opponents who are not really strong draws league-wide (Phoenix, NY Islanders) and a third opponent (Boston) who's major calling card, at least in Minnesota, is no longer with the club (Phil Kessel, now a Toronto Maple Leaf.)
  8. What about the Wild defense? Brent Burns is having an up-and-down season, at best: Nick Schultz, after some horrid nights early on, is slowly adjusting to the new style; Greg Zanon and Shane Hnidy are still getting used to playing with their new teammates; Marek Zidlicky still takes the dumb penalty at the wrong time, still gets caught out of position frequently and makes it harder for other defensemen to do their job; and Kim Johnsson, shoulder injury (or higher up, depending on who you listen to) still isn't the same defenseman he was last season.
  9. Injuries to forwards have plagued the Wild this last six weeks as well. Four of the top six forwards (Petr Sykora, Martin Havlat, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Andrew Brunette) were out at one time or another. Throw in the pre-season woes of Brunette and Mikko Koivu, and you have a recipe for disaster, as no one knows much about who they're playing alongside.
  10. Although one of the brightest spots has been the goaltending of Niklas Backstrom, the lack of defense in front of him means he has seen a lot of rubber already, and we still have 60 + games left to play.

Although the Wild are far from out of the playoff race (it's way too early in the season to even start that talk for any team), they are inching precipitously close to the edge of the proverbial cliff. If they go over, they're like a bad Michael Jackson record.


-- WRT

Why I relaunched M & G

Welcome to the relaunched version of Mileposts and Goalposts!

While there are some minor changes, the largest immediate change here will be the splitting of M & G and the new, more transportation-focused Along the Right of Way (, which will primarily have the transit/transportation articles which were formerly mixed in with the hockey-related blogs, on the old M & G.

Here are a few reasons I relaunched Mileposts and Goalposts:

1. Not that I didn't enjoy my 20 months at Hitting the Post (I did), but I have been thinking about this since last summer. Since then, Nick Henry, HTP's creative force, who I was asked to fill in for, now has more time to spend on that blog. Three voices on one blog is a lot, especially when two of them are doing nearly daily posting.

2. I have an admission to make. I am a control freak.

I have wanted to have more control over what I put out than what HTP allowed. Not that the HTP format is a bad one, but it is very constraining at times, especially when you think that you have a lot to say. M & G will be my own blog, my own thing, done my way. You, the reader, will determine what you like and/or dislike. (And, I hope you join in and let me know what you like and dislike.)

3. There are a lot of Minnesota Wild-based blogs out there. Maybe not as many as some clubs(Original Six clubs, Vancouver, the Alberta teams) but more than most U.S.-based NHL teams. To be heard in this 'sea of me's', you have to come from somewhere different. I am hoping that the fact that I see the Wild in person up to 50 games a year gives me an edge over other blogs.

4. Some of the things I did at 'HTP' will come over here, such as the Wild post-game summary (although sometimes, this will be the next day; I need to get to sleep sooner after most Wild games), 'This 'n' That', and some new stuff as well, which I will develop in the next few months.

I hope you enjoy the ride! And, if there some things that get lost in the transition, we apologize in advance for forgetting them.

Wild Road Tripper
Creator and Publisher

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Minnesota Wild: Out of the Abyss (H)

After a 7-games-in-11-days run, the Minnesota Wild have earned a few days off. The Wild came through that stretch with a respectable 4 wins, 3 losses, and have finally reached double-digits in points. Granted, that and $2 will only get you a small Pike Place blend at Starbucks, but as disasterous as October was for the local six, to pull out of it as they have provides that glimmer of hope for the rest of the season.

Granted, we are still not talking playoff hope. No. Not at all. The hope we are talking about is simply respectability, as the Wild continues to rebuild the organization after the disasater which was left behind following the sacking of Doug Risebrough earlier this year.

There are nine potential free agents in 2010, none the least of which will be defensemen Kim Johnsson and Marek Zidlicky, and forwards Owen Nolan, Eric Belanger, Petr Sykora and Derek Boogaard, all of whom could be used as trade bait to free up cap space for younger, faster, stronger, and smarter players.

What am I getting at? Yeah, let's speak to that. The Wild have a lot of dead weight to unload. Granted, it takes two to tango, so someone needs to step up and say they want one of the above mentioned players. The most talked about (at least here in Minnesota) are Johnsson (currently injured, yet another concussion, although the Wild are loathe to admit it), Zidlicky and Boogaard.

Granted, we are not even 1/4 of the way into the 2009-10 season. But '3-buck Chuck' Fletcher is waiting for your call. Any or all of these players are available...If, the price is right!

Seriously, NHL teams, up against a shrinking salary cap, need to shed dead weight as a whole. There are too many players on 3rd & 4th lines making too much money for doing too little. And now, no thanks to DR, the Wild have little money left to trade salaries to upgrade the talent pool. Few draft picks, thanks again to Dougie and his 'I'll give you a 3rd round pick for a 4th line forward' draft strategy.

So, here we are, Wild fans. They're running what they brung. It's just what they brung isn't getting the job done. Yes, they have finally put three solid periods together, but it took them seven weeks to do so. Granted, there is no way you put in a new offense overnight, but this team has dug itself such a hole, there may be no way that they dig themselves out. So we go back to the 'who wants 'em?' question again.

The winter, to say the least, will be an interesting transition period for the Wild. We'll all find out, together.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chicago fallout; Time to get crackin' (M)

First things first.

I am officially pissed off at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).

After a rainy, cold, disasterous day yesterday, a group of five Minnesota Wild fans (myself and my wife included) were waiting for the #19 United Center Express bus yesterday, late in Chicago's hideous rush hour. We waited, and waited, and waited...for the bus that NEVER CAME, even though the schedule (last printed in 2006-07; go to to see it) says it was supposed to, confirmed by employees at two separate North Michigan Avenue hotels.

Seems that the CTA truncated the route (for budgetary reasons), so that if you are staying in Chicago's Near North hotel district, you take any bus southbound on Michigan to Randolph, and transfer there to the express bus for last night's Wild-Blackhawks tilt at the UC. Of course, no signs at any of the stops no longer served by that route (the bus formerly started southbound on Michigan at Superior) and no way to ask anyone (most of the drivers don't know that schedule, either) to figure that out.

In our case, the CTA lost out on five fares thanks to that momentous decision. I wonder how many other visiting fans are in the same boat? And how many more will be, until the CTA puts out a new schedule with the new, truncated routing on it?

I've officially complained (via e-mail) to the CTA. Let's see what their excuse for not informing anyone (or, updating the schedules) will be.

And now that we've tried to straighten out part of Chicago's transit morass, can we do the same with the Wild?

This team is in deep, serious trouble. Most Wild fans knew that the team would be taking a step backwards this season; who knew, however, that this squad would be on its' way to the worst season (from a wins-losses-points standpoint) in franchise history?

If the current Wild trend continues, the Wild could win a total of 24 games, and maybe come up with 60 points. The current record for fewest points in a season is 68 in 2000-01.

No offense to speak of, precious little defense, no real hitting (except by Clutterbuck and, occasionally, Scott) and no support for the goaltending. This team could be down there in the NY Islanders category of all-time worst NHL teams by the end of the '09-10 season. They are already one road loss from being the second-worst team all-time in road history (only the '92-93 Ottawa Senators, the original expansion year for that club, is worse) and their 356-game sellout steak is in dire jeopardy (It almost ended last Saturday, as less than 100 over seated capacity saw the Wild defeat Carolina 3-2 in OT.)

The management needs to do something soon to at least stabilize the ship of state. Too many players look as if they are going thru the motions out there nowdays. Too many players are acting as if they know more about the game than they really do. Arrogance, dissention, lackadaisical attitudes, lack of effort, all that is rearing its' ugly head amongst those in St. Paul right about now. Even sniping at the press corps is in vogue. Time for a holiday fire sale?

And then, there's the Mikko Koivu bobblehead doll, $25 worth of hockey kitsch that really looks out of place when a team is going this poorly. (BTW: Weren't the Chicago White Sox in last place when 'Disco Demolition Night' took place??) I'm not sure that anyone who really isn't a Mikko fan will buy the thing...

More later.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Did Wild fans really need to worry about...

...Mikko Koivu as the team's first-ever permanent captain?

Nah. No way.

Granted, Andrew Brunette has indeed been the good soldier, and there are others (Owen Nolan, Martin Havlat, Greg Zanon) who have held leadership roles with their former teams (Calgary, Chicago and Nashville, respectively.)

But there really is only one player whom Wild fans recognize as, 'the Franchise', and that is the 27-year-old 'little' brother of Anaheim Duck (and ex-Montreal Canadien) Saku Koivu, himself a former captain of Les Habitants.

The announcement came at a news conference following practice Tuesday. The Wild face the first-place Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night in St. Paul, the first home game in two weeks. The Wild play 4 of their next 6 games at home.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weller traded; roster remodelling continues (H)

The Minnesota Wild have shed some more dead weight.

The Wild traded under-achieving winger Craig Weller, 2009 fourth-round pick Alexander Fallstrom (now playing at Harvard) and their 2011 second-round draft pick to the Boston Bruins for winger Chuck Kobasew. The Wild also placed Pierre-Marc Bouchard on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) in order to temporarily expand the salary cap, in order to absorb the remainder of Kobasew's $2.33M/year contract. The exception will remain until Bouchard is able to rejoin the active roster, for which no date has been set.

Bouchard is scheduled to receive $4M this season.

The Wild also placed Petr Sykora on IR, retroactive to Oct. 10th's game vs. San Jose, in order to place Kobasew on the active roster; however, Sykora, who suffered a groin pull during the Oct. 8 game at Los Angeles, will be able to return to the lineup following Wednesday night's game vs. Colorado at Xcel Energy Center, necessitating another roster move between Minnesota and their AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros.

Kobasew was originally a first-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames (No. 14 overall) in 2001. Minnesota will be the third NHL organization in his career.

JMO: This is a good trade for the Wild. The upsides of Kobasew is that he is known as a hard-skating, fast, grinding-style forward with a bit of an injury history (due to his aggressiveness). With Calgary, he made players better (e.g., Daymond Langkow). His cap number is a bit high as opposed to, say, Stephane Veilleux (who was not re-signed this past summer, now plays for Tampa Bay) but he also has a knack for scoring 20 goals a season; this is a good thing when 3 of your top 9 forwards are injured in one week.

While some may cry hypocrisy over giving up a draft pick, this is the price you pay for the near-decade of letting UFA's go for nothing from DR. Besides which, this is a 2011 draft pick, not 2010; there will be opportunities (especially around the 2010 trade deadline, March 2) to remedy this, with the number of pending UFA's currently under contract to the Wild.

As I said in my previous post, Wild fans will need lots and lots of patience in order to survive this season of transition. This is part of that transition. Any way you can get tangible assets for players who do not fit the new system, you do it. This move by Chuck Fletcher is one of those moves.

A good trade.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Aftermath (H)

The official 5482-mile Minnesota Wild 'Road Trip from Hell' has finally ended.

Thank God.

Four of the worst road efforts in recent team history were followed up by Saturday night's 2-1 loss, to a Vancouver Canucks club which were missing both their top scorer (Daniel Sedin), and half of their top defensive pairing (Sami Salo) while themselves getting their hats handed to them the night before, in a 5-3 loss at Calgary (yes, the Canucks have already visited Cow-gary twice this season).

So, the Wild re-emerge in Minnesota today, for practice in Mendota Heights on Monday, saddled with the worst record in the Western Conference at 1-6-0, only 1/2 game above the record of the totally hapless Toronto Maple Leafs, whose coach, Ron Wilson, received the 'dreaded vote of confidence' after Saturday night's 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers at the Air Canada Centre.

I hope that you, dear reader, do not believe that Todd Richards needs that 'DVOC' yet. He doesn't.

With four of his top 10 forwards out with injuries (Martin Havlat, Petr Sykora, Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard) and his active roster looking like a dog's breakfast, day in, day out, Richards is learning very quickly what NHL expectations are like when you are running the show. And, quite frankly, so are Wild fans learning, that the early success that the previous regime in St. Paul achieved came at a very, very high price.

This organization has no prospects in the pipeline. None. Most of the current Houston Aeros roster will never see NHL ice, for anything more than the proverbial cup of coffee. The ones who think they are that good are either delusional, in the wrong position or just stuck there (see 'Kalus, Petr').

The one bright spot in an otherwise dismal Aeros picture is former (2007) first round pick Colton Gillies, who really is taking advantage of the regular ice time in the 'A', and already has picked up a broken nose for his efforts.

So what now for the big club? Getting the four forwards healthy would be a nice start, but Clutterbuck's high ankle sprain means it will be about Thanksgiving before he returns to the roster; Bouchard's concussion (originally suffered last March, against the NY Islanders) has been so mis-diagnosed, who knows when he will be back; Havlat and Sykora, both with groin injuries, are day-to-day, but then who knows what ice conditions will be like the rest of the fall?

I cannot believe that the NHL would operate that many poor ice surfaces. Is there no quality control for the surface of where your game is played? Teams cannot rent dehumidifier units to control the humidity of the ice surface? (Yes, it's an additional expense, but when you consider that the name of the game is to win the game, it's cheap insurance against injuries). Granted, the fall weather has been really weird (and, wet) in most of North America, but the number of groin injuries league-wide are alarming. Yes, I know, you could also say that the schedule is a problem, players not properly stretching and/or warming up, but the surface of the ice, especially in Southern markets, is getting to be a real challenge. The ice shown during several Wild games last week was downright slush. You could have scooped it up and sold it at Dairy Queen, just add the flavoring and collect the money at the drive-thru.

We who call ourselves Wild fans (including this blogger) are resigned to the fact that you cannot rebuild the disaster that was the latter stages of the Doug Risebrough regime overnight. The Wild need time to clear another (at least) load of dead weight off the roster. The Wild need to get faster, stronger and bigger up front. And, definitely, they need to get younger. Kim Johnsson, Marek Zidlicky, Eric Belanger, Derek Boogaard, Owen Nolan, Craig Weller, Nathan Smith, Andy Hilbert, and the ever-non-expiring contract of now-current Norfolk Admiral Mark Parrish (which is nearly $1M/year in eaten-up cap space) are just some of the challenges to improving the roster anytime soon.

The main thing will be for Wild fans to have patience. Lots and lots of patience. Fans need to know that the DR 'Five-Year Plan' (which was not fully implemented in eight NHL seasons over nine years) was an abject failure, The old regime could never fully adjust to the new salary cap conscious world, post-lockout/strike in 2004-05. And, to this day, that fact and the style of play prior to this season combined to make Minnesota an extremely toxic situation.

It will be interesting to see how those casual Wild fans respond to the 1-6 start. You can almost see the end of the team's nine-season sell-out streak coming sometime in this next three weeks; it's not a question of 'if', more realistically, it's more a question of 'when'.

Six of the Wild's next nine games are at home, where the ice should not be as much of a problem as at arenas like Honda Center, HP Pavilion at San Jose, and GM Place, whose ice was as bad as had ever been seen in Vancouver on Saturday night. Hopefully the players will improve as well as the ice as the weird fall weather moves on, towards places where other, more League-impactful groin problems await.

Like...midtown Manhattan.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Maybe, the basics aren't all that bad; B-b-b-Benny (H)

The basics. It's the stuff you learn early in any endeavour in life, whether it be dressing one's self, driving your car, or playing hockey.

The Minnesota Wild still need to re-learn some of the basics. Like making sure that when four players are attacking the net, one man has to stay somewhat back and let nothing (puck or player) get by him. Like getting back and helping out your teammate as an opponents' 2-on-1 goes for your fearful goalie. Like taking care of business in your own end before going off on one-man, length-of-rink rushes which result in no shots on goal, time after time.

Some teams, they have learned the basics. Pittsburgh. Washington. San Jose. And, apparently, the Los Angeles Kings, who thumped the Wild 6-3 Thursday night at STAPLES Center. Now, the Kings are still learning, especially on the power play, where the Wild were 3-for-5 Thursday night. But, then again, when defensemen are scoring two of your three goals, 2 of your top 9 forwards are riding the pine after three goals in less than seven minutes, and the defensemen who did score, wind up a sad minus three each, then you still have lots of room to learn how to play the game.

The right way. The way that the coaching staff wants you to, not the way that dug you into this hole in the first place. The Jacques Lemaire days and ways are over. No more Doug Risebrough telling you on the event level of the Xcel Energy Center that you need to do more even though you've been injured for weeks. No more Jacques saying 'Hey, You' because he can't remember your name. Those days are gone for good. Start playing like it, for your own sakes, if not for those of the paying patrons you perform for night after night. Please.


This Wild team has more talent, top-to-bottom, than any other in team history. Yes, they no longer have Marian Gaborik (and his plethora of problems), but Player One (Mikko Koivu) to Player 22 (Jaime Sifers), the Wild have more talent now than at any time in the franchise's nine seasons.

But the truth of the matter is, every other team in the West is that much better, also. Many regular 3rd/4th line players from last season now are either out of the game entirely, playing in the AHL, or playing for reduced pay scales on different teams. The downturn in the North American economy has forced NHL teams to drastically cut pay scales, or risk even more Phoenix Coyote-esque situations across the League.

'Hey, wait a minute! There are 23 players on an NHL roster!!'

There are indeed 23 positions on an NHL roster. One of those on the Wild is currently occupied by a young man who really hasn't shown that he belongs there.

Welcome to Roster Spot number 23, Benoit Pouliot.

Derisively nicknamed 'Pool Boy' on the Minneapolis Star-Tribune 'Russo's Rants' hockey blogs, Pouliot's 'Million Dollar Talent, 10-Cent Head' routine has grown exceedingly stale for Wild fans, who clamor for someone willing to be more aggressive to fill that roster spot. Someone who will use his talents to do something -- indeed, anything -- to help his club out. Marshmallow-soft, 'B-b-b-Benny' will not take on any grinding after pucks in corners, will not stay in the play, cannot even take a man out so that the other forwards can attack the net with the freed puck.

And NBA fans said David Robinson of the Spurs was soft? Pouliot makes Robinson look like Ayres Rock, the Australian monolith which is considered sacred to Aborigine peoples.

The waste of this first-round talent is all too apparent. Time for both sides to say 'Au revoir' to each other, and go their separate ways. Pouliot needs a fresh start to resurrect his failing career, and the Wild need cap space, to fill that 23rd roster spot.

With someone who might actually appreciate it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ye Olde Prediction Blog -- Western Conference (H)

OK, we did the East yesterday, so today we do the Western Conference. In order of projected finish, with comments:

Western Conference

1. San Jose Sharks. The NHL's most up-and-down team goes thru another rollercoaster season, achieving incredible highs in the regular season, only to get smashed in the playoffs. Again. How long can they keep going with this bunch and not burn everyone out? Evgeni Nabokov and 'Jumbo' Joe Thornton aren't getting any younger, and now with the trade for Dany Heatley, they have the NHL's biggest headcase.

2. Chicago Blackhawks. The NHL's 'Is This the Year? theme might as well be that for the 'Hawks, for after this season they have to re-sign Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, and the Hawks are already cap-screwed after signing Marian Hossa to a 12-year contract, then finding out that Hossa will not even be able to play until December due to shoulder surgery.

3. Calgary Flames. The Flames biggest problem, now that the whole Jay Bouwmeester episode is behind them? GM Darryl Sutter. 'Mr. Warmth' is about as talkative as a corpse. Fortunately, he also has some excellent talent to work with, provided Jarome Iginla doesn't get seriously injured, and they are able to actually spell Mikka Kiprusoff every so often. 73 games in net are too many at today's NHL level. The Flames actually have some decent talent at the 3rd line level; not all teams in the West can say that.

4. Detroit Red Wings. Ah, yes, the team you love to hate, because with all their problems (Goaltending, defections to the KHL, etc.,) the Wings still pose the single biggest night-in, night-out challenge to any other Western Conference team. The talent level may have diminished somewhat, but what they are losing in experience they are more than making up for in drive. And, the Wings have hockey's best scouting staff and upper management.

5. Anaheim Ducks. Despite trading away Chris Pronger (to Philadelphia) last season, despite the impending final Niedermayer retirement, the Ducks are able to hold on to talent and improve on it (Saku Koivu, most notably). If they could finally get the pieces back together again, they might be a sleeper pick to go far in May.

6. St. Louis Blues. If the phrase 'Youth shall be served' applied to hockey, the Blues would be at the top of the list. Returning a healthy Paul Kariya doesn't hurt. Neither does a solid goalie in Chris Mason. And, you have all that young budding talent that John Davidson & Co. has put together. This is a team definitely on the way up.

7. Vancouver Canucks. No Mats Sundin? No problem, as long as the Sedin twins are together. The potential downfall of the Canucks may be on the blueline, where three of their top six 'D' are over age 32. Of course, there always is the 'what if Roberto Luongo gets hurt?' question to deal with. And, since the Olympics will be held in Vancouver, there's that small matter of the 22-game road trip (14 before the Games, and eight after) to deal with, too.

8. Los Angeles Kings. Another young, talented team, ready to get into that elite group called the Western Conference Playoffs. What the Kings need is good, solid goaltending, something there hasn't been much of since the Fabulous Forum days. The Kings might be good enough to do it this season.

9. Minnesota Wild. This team is a team admittedly in transition right now. New GM (Chuck Fletcher), new coach (Todd Richards), new players (Martin Havlat, Petr Sykora, Shane Hnidy, Greg Zanon) and a new, more offense-oriented outlook. Gone are (amongst others) Marian Gaborik (and his groin problems), Martin Skoula (Hallelujah!) and Marc-Andre Bergeron. The Wild may not survive their October from Hell (6 of their first 7, and 8 of their first 11 are on the road) but if they should be anywhere near .500 after the Carolina game at Raleigh on Nov. 15th, look out.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets. Will Steve Mason stand on his head again this season like he did last year? With the first-ever playoff appearance behind them, the Jackets can concentrate on fine-tuning their roster, and finding two linemates that Rick Nash can play with. A lot for the Jackets will depend on not only who they're playing, but when. Especially with Detroit...

11. Dallas Stars. Like the rest of the lower third of the West, the Stars will find themselves in transition, especially as Mike Modano reaches the 40-year-old mark. Marty Turco needs to reduce his workload for the Stars to be competitive, but with the rest of the West getting better, the Stars may not be able to keep up.

12. Edmonton Oilers. Save for signing Nikolai Khabibulin, what did the Oil do this summer? Precious little, unfortunately. The 'Bulin wall' will have to hold up under a lot of pressure this winter.

13. Nashville Predators. Again, what did they do? Yes, the Preds signed Steve Sullivan, but he's getting long in the tooth, and the Preds need more offense, not less. Pekka Rinne will be one busy goalie as the minutes pile up. Time to blow it up and start over?

14. Phoenix Coyotes. It's good to see that the 'Yotes players still think hockey can work in the desert, even if Greater Phoenix cannot get across the Valley to see them. How much will the fallout from all the court proceedings mean to the on-ice product? You have to ask.

15. Colorado Avalanche. Owner Stan Kroneke is determined to cut costs; anyone tell him that cutting costs == losing? The Avs are in rebuild mode; hopefully Paul Stasny and Wojtek Wolski can carry the offensive load while the rebuild is under way.