Thursday, December 31, 2009
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?
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
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)
Monday, December 28, 2009
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)
Saturday, December 26, 2009
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
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
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
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).
Friday, December 18, 2009
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.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
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 applause...at 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)
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
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
(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
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)
Friday, December 11, 2009
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)
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
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.
Monday, December 7, 2009
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 Wild.com); XM Radio, Ch. 238)
Sunday, December 6, 2009
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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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
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, Jobing.com Arena. Wild TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin); Coyotes TV: FSArizona (both feeds in HD); XM Radio: Ch. 238)
Friday, December 4, 2009
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
"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 'AccessVikings.com' 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.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
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).
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!