Saturday, January 30, 2010

'Just a Great Hockey Game', but Wild still wind up as Shark bait

The San Jose Sharks got a real scare tonight. And no, it wasn't a mirage you watched (if you did, given the late hour) Saturday night. The Minnesota Wild were really playing that good.

But you cannot give up four power-play goals, a single-game Wild all-time record, and expect to win on the road in the NHL. And so it was tonight at HP Pavilion at San Jose, as the Wild lost to the Sharks, 5-2, in front of 175 Wild fans on the team's official 'Road Trip', and 17,387 Sharks faithful, as Josh Harding made his third consecutive start, and finished by having suffered his first loss in his last 4 games.

The Wild struck first as Owen Nolan tipped the puck off a Guillaume Latendresse shot by Evgeni Nabokov on the power play, then after Jason Demers whizzed one by a screen Harding to tie it at one-all, Cal Clutterbuck's point-blank redirect of Kyle Brodziak's pass in front of Nabokov found twine in the last minute of the first period.

Demers then took advantage of an errant clearing attempt by Kim Johnsson while the Wild were killing off a questionable penalty against Belanger, netting his second of the night thru another screen, 3:15 into the second period, tying the game at 2-2. Later in the second, Joe Pavelski took advantage of a Marek Zidlicky penalty, stepping around Brent Burns like Burns was a statute, and surprising Harding to put the Sharks in front 3-2 at the 16:57 mark.

Six seconds after Robbie Earl was whistled off for interference, Patrick Marleau tallied his first goal of the evening as his blast sizzled by Harding at 13:14 of the third period, for a 4-2 San Jose lead. Just over 3 minutes later, Marleau made sure the Wild had no comeback as he deflected a shot by Dany Heatley into the net for the 5-2 final score.

Next Game: at Dallas, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 7:00 PM, American Airlines Center. (TV: Versus, TSN2, in HD; viewing parties in Twin Cities area; details at XM Radio, Ch. 209)

-- WRT

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Party Crashers: Wild 1, Avs 0 as Harding shuts out Colorado

Martin Havlat carries the mail as Harding stones Avalanche in Denver

The Minnesota Wild closed out their 2009-10 season series against the Colorado Avalanche with a 1-0 shutout by backup goaltender Josh Harding, and a spectacular 3rd period goal by Martin Havlat, his third goal in his last 5 games, where Havlat shot the puck into the net, while having no less than three Avs players on his back while doing so. The shutout was Harding's fourth all-time NHL shutout.

Harding, who had been injured over the past weekend, was pressed into service when starting goalie Niklas Backstrom developed back spasms after the game vs. Columbus last Saturday night. Harding had played in back-to-back games in his NHL career only once before last night (when he won, 5-2, vs. Detroit) and tonight's game vs. a Colorado team which had won their last six straight at Pepsi Center.

Reports after the game were that Owen Nolan took a puck in the hand during the latter stages of the third period, and that he is listed as of now as questionable. The Wild end their six-game season series against the Avs with a 5 win, 1 loss record.

The Wild start the three-game road trip with two very important points, but the road does not get any easier, as the Next Game is at San Jose, Saturday, Jan. 30, 9:30 PM Central (7:30 PM Pacific) Time, HP Pavilion at San Jose. (Wild TV: FSNorth; Sharks TV: CSN California; both feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 209)

-- WRT

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

At Last: Wild beat Red Wings, 5-2

You know it's a good night for Minnesota hockey fans, when the booing against Todd Bertuzzi stops, as 'Big Bert' becomes totally insignificant.

Yes, that is exactly what happened tonight, as the Minnesota Wild put together one of their better efforts in front of 18,316 at Xcel Energy Center and drubbed the Detroit Red Wings 5-2. The Wild end their three-game homestand 2-0-1, earning 5 of a possible 6 points in the last week, prior to going on their second-to-last roadtrip of three games, beginning Thursday night in Denver.

Antti Miettinen's two first-period goals started things off, but after each the Red Wings would bounce back with Pavel Datsyuk goal to make it even. Then the Wild started to pull away late in the first period, as Andrew Ebbett's tip of a Greg Zanon blast gave the Wild a 3-2 lead after one. No scoring in the second period, but plenty of up-and-down, back-and-forth action as two teams who would rather skate than fight did just that. The third period was a real disappointment to the many Red Wings fans in the crowd, as first Guillaume Latendresse and then Martin Havlat both scored 69 seconds apart, early in the third to give the Wild a nice three-goal cushion as the period wound down. Unlike previous three-goal leads this season, however, this time the Wild did not stop working, even as the Red Wings tried to press the attack.

Josh Harding, who was pulled last week after the first period vs. Detroit for a hip injury, returned and made 26 saves on the night to record his 4th win of the season. With Niklas Backstrom currently having back problems, Harding might just have to start tomorrow night's Next Game: vs. Colorado, 8:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Mountain) Time, Pepsi Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth; Avs' TV: Altitude, both feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 208)

-- WRT

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Blue Jackets show why they're 14th in West as Wild win, 4-2

By Wild Road Tripper

The Columbus Blue Jackets showed again tonight why they are 14th in the NHL's Western Conference, and why teams like the Minnesota Wild beat them, 4-2, as in Saturday night's 'Hockey Day Minnesota' feature game, as the Wild played a solid 59 minutes of good, quality hockey. The victory ran the Wild's all-time record on 'Hockey Day Minnesota', to 2-1-1.

But, about that 60th minute; we'll get to that later.

The first 59 were good, solid hockey, punctuated by the two goals of Mikko Koivu, Eric Belanger's surprise throw-in towards tough-luck Jackets goalie Steve Mason, and Robbie Earl showing again why he could be a finisher-in-training for the offensively-beleagured Wild. And, for good measure, Derek Boogaard made short work of Jared Boll, as Boogaard showed again why he is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the NHL. Even maligned defenseman Marek Zidlicky wound up a +3 for the night.

But it was that 60th minute that shocked the 18,173 in attendance, as the Jackets, behind goals by Rick Nash and Antoine Vermette, not only blew Niklas Backstrom's shutout, but closed the gap quickly to 4-2, but the last goal was scored with 3 seconds left in the contest, and the Wild walked away, victorious in regulation time for the first time in a week and a half, but the Jackets late antics (including a Nash-Nick Schultz fight; yes, you read it correctly, folks -- Schultzie dropped the purse!) left a bitter taste in the mouth of Head Coach Todd Richards, as he explained in his post-game press conference.

Jeff Rimer, Jackets play-by-play announcer, wrote yesterday for his blog on that the Jackets believe that they are still a legitimate playoff contender. After last night, the two most descriptive words about the playoff hopes of Columbus would be:

Fat. Chance.

Next Game: vs. Detroit, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 7:00 PM Central (8:00 PM Eastern) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth; Detroit TV: FSDetroit; both feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 208)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Miller Time, but not Buffalo's: Red Wings 4, Wild 3

Eight-round shootout ends after Sabres' goalie's brother scores game-winner: Harding injured?

By Wild Road Tripper

It was not the kind of game that Minnesota Wild fans were accustomed to, against one of the best franchises in pro sports of the last 20 years, but considering they were down two goals with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation time, losing to the Detroit Red Wings in a marathon, eight-round shootout really doesn't seem all that bad.

Yes, the Wild lost their 4th game in a row and their 6th in their last 10 games. Yes, they even let the Wild fans' uber-villan, Todd Bertuzzi swoop in on a breakaway and beat starting Wild goaltender Josh Harding, who left the game after the first period with an apparent hip injury, following a sequence where he had to make two stops on the same breakaway.

The first period was awful to watch, as the Wild defense let Harding down time and again, leaving him be the 'Lone Ranger' at least three times in the period. After the first, Harding was replaced by Niklas Backstrom, who, although letting in two goals himself, could not be faulted for either one, as one was a classic tip-in and the other a wrist shot which frankly had eyes.

Through the shootout rounds they went, back and forth, burning up both benches, but did anyone tell the Wild that Detroit still has probably the deepest bench in the Western Conference? Drew Miller, who scored Detroit's third goal on that tip-in, got the shootout winner in the eighth round to win it for the Wings, who broke their own three-game losing skid.

Yes, it was exciting to see the Wild come back on goals by Martin Havlat and Andrew Brunette exactly one minute apart in the waning moments of the third, but you have to sit back and ask this question, if you are a real Wild fan:

When will this team play a solid, 60-minute hockey game? A game that start to finish, they can point to and say, 'that's the type of play we needed to win tonight', and they'd actually GET it?

When they do that, is when the Wild will start to consistently win. Until then, it's all pointing towards a fire sale at the trade deadline. Or, sooner...

Next Game: vs. Columbus, Saturday, January 23, 8:00 PM Central (9:00 PM Eastern) Time, Xcel Energy Center, for 'Hockey Day Minnesota' (Wild TV: FSNorth (in HD), along with five other hockey games, ranging from Gophers vs. St. Cloud State to a girls' high school game. 16 hours of hockey in all, in one day! Jackets TV: FSOhio; XM Radio, Ch. 238)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What to make of all this...

A column of the Wild Road Tripper

Petr Sykora: Gone.

Robbie Earl: Doin' the Limbo.

Brent Burns: No more bells a-ringin'.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard: 'The Bells of St. Mary's', still playing in his noggin.

and, needed for Chuck Fletcher: Tums, Maalox, and Rolaids. (Nobody can take just one.)

Such is the current state of the Minnesota Wild, whose up-and-down season takes more roller coasters than Cedar Point Amusement Parks can offer up. Lose 2, win 2, lose 4, win 4, lose 3, and the ride just keeps on rolling. The question is asked: are the Wild going to be buyers at the trade deadline? Or are they sellers, with eight (count 'em: 8) potential unrestricted free agents (assuming someone either takes Sykora on waivers, or he is outright released)?

And, what other moves do the Wild have in store? I just got done watching a Washington Capitals team, who could REALLY use a big body as a 'rent-an-enforcer' for the upcoming playoffs, especially against another team I saw tonight, the Ottawa Senators. Yeah, those guys. Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Neil & Co. That bunch. How about the Rangers? The Flyers, with Daniel Carcillo and 'Stompin' Chris Pronger on their roster: The second coming of the Broad Street Bullies? The Canadiens and their 'pint-sized' lineup? Brian Burke and the Leafs? Buffalo Sabres?

And what about the West? Everyone needs someone to protect their skill guys in the playoffs. Detroit? Chicago? Phoenix? They all need some beef to protect all that cheese in the lineups.

It's less than 30 days from the mandated Olympic break, when the NHL grinds to a screeching halt for 16 days while the best players compete for their home countries. Dressing rooms are closed Feb. 15-23, and re-open Feb. 24. The trade deadline is March 3rd at 3 PM, Eastern Time. So, in closing, may I put the question out for discussion:

Are the Minnesota Wild buyers? Or are they sellers? Hmmm...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dallas strikes back as Stars beat Wild

No Brenden Morrow? No problem. No Jere Lehtinen? No problem. Marty Turco not starting in goal? Fuhgeddaboutit.

The Dallas Stars made up for their suburban cousins -- the Cowboys -- and actually beat a team from Minnesota Monday night, in this case the Minnesota Wild, by a score of 4-3 at American Airlines Center.

The game was yet another evening where the Wild failed to fully show up as the Stars sent waves of forwards at starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who was mercifully pulled after the fourth Dallas goal at the 13:37 mark of the second period. Josh Harding came in, and had to try and clean up the mess, made all that much difficult after he was sat on by Dallas' Steve Ott near the end of the second period.

The Wild's anemic offense was supposed to be helped by the addition of Petr Sykora on the wing, but he was relegated to third-line duty (with Andrew Ebbett and Cal Clutterbuck) most of the evening, not the kind of return either the veteran or his Twitter-feeding agent, Allan Walsh, were hoping for. Walsh had been conducting a Twitter campaign to get his client back in the Minnesota lineup, after Sykora was cleared to play following a concussion, suffered in November. Antti Miettinen scored twice for the Wild (one in the second period, once again in the third) to make it somewhat close, but the deceiving nature of the night was underscored after Mikko Koivu scored to make it close, as close was all they would get tonight.

Brad Richards had three assists to lead the Stars, who won their 11th straight game at home vs. the Wild, going back to 2003. The Wild are scheduled to play the Stars again in Dallas, on Feb. 2, again in a nationally-cablecast (might as well be cable only; ask a DirecTV subscriber who is a hockey fan) game on Versus. The loss is the fourth straight for the Wild against a Pacific Division club as well, and will knock them down to no better than 12th in the NHL's Western Conference.

The Wild will now take a full two days off (for the first time in nearly two weeks) until the NEXT GAME: vs. Detroit, Thursday, Jan. 21, 7:00 PM Central (8:00 PM Eastern) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: KSTC-45; Detroit TV: FSDetroit (in HD); XM Radio, Ch. 238)

-- WRT

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late: Wild lose second straight

Talk about possible hollow victories...ask the Phoenix Coyotes after Saturday night's game at arena, where the Minnesota Wild came back from four goals down, mounting a comeback for the second straight Saturday, this time only to lose to the Pacific Division-leading 'Yotes, 6-4, before an announced 12,631 attendance, throwing the Wild into a two-game losing streak.

With Guillaume Latendresse's first career hat trick leading the way, the Wild didn't even begin to score until the 17:38 mark of the second period, and even with that, the Wild still were outscored 4-3 in the third period by the Coyotes, who won their second straight and 18th of the season at home overall.

Ed Jovanoski, Phoenix's 'senior' defenseman, thumbed his nose and collected four assists on the night, while the 'Yotes Petr Prucha scored twice and added an assist, just two of nine different Phoenix players padding their point totals this evening.

For the Wild, the first two periods were a higher-speed version of Thursday's game in St. Louis, as thru two periods, they had only managed the one goal and 12 shots on Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The top line for the Wild -- Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, and Andrew Brunette, a.k.a. "Two Blondes and a Brunette" -- were a combined -13 on the evening, with Bruno leading the 'retreat' at a -5, an all-time record bad night for a single Wild player. The Wild were found chasing the faster Coyotes around the ice all night, even when they made their push to get back in the game, and that was the difference, for as we all know:

Speed kills.

Now that the Wild are back with the pack (they fell to 11th with tonight's loss) in the NHL's Western Conference, they better not look behind them, especially as to their opponent in the NEXT GAME: at Dallas, Monday, Jan. 18, 7:00 PM Central Time, American Airlines Center. (TV: Versus, TSN2 (in HD); XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204).

Note: For those of you in the Twin Cities Metro Area, there are organized watch parties available for those of you affected by the Versus-DirecTV dispute. For locations, please see .

-- WRT

Thursday, January 14, 2010

40 Minutes of Snoozing, 20 Minutes of Losing

The St. Louis Blues did what better teams, such as Calgary, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Vancouver couldn't do: they put the Minnesota Wild to sleep. And, when the Wild finally woke up, they figured out two points in the standings had been stolen from them, all too late.

T. J. Oshie's goal early in the third period stood up as the Wild semi-saw their four game winning streak come to an unsatisfactory end, losing 1-0 at Scottrade Center in front of an announced sell-out crowd of 19,150, many of whom failed to show up as the Blues ran their regular-season consecutive win streak against the Wild in the Mound City to four, dating back to February 10, 2008.

Oshie made up the only offense on this evening, which was mostly due to Josh Harding's stand-up goaltending which made up for the lack of Wild offense, as the Wild sleepwalked their way thru the first two periods. By the time the sonambulatory Wild started to play like they actually had in the last four games, there was less than 5 minutes left in the game and the Blues proved to be too fresh for the Wild, who were playing their fourth game in six nights.

The Wild have a chance to make up for opportunity lost, but it will not be easy, as the road trip continues in the NEXT GAME: at Phoenix, Saturday, Jan. 16, 7:00 PM Central (6:00 PM Mountain) Time, Arena. (Wild TV: KSTC-45; No Coyotes TV; XM Radio, Ch. 209).

-- WRT

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Antti-Swede: Miettinen scores 2 as Wild beat, beat up Canucks

By Wild Road Tripper

Were the Vancouver Canucks trying to make a statement tonight? If they were, after all was said and done, was this what they meant? Really??

If this was what they meant to say, perhaps it's good that the Olympics will be in Vancouver in less than 5 weeks. Because the Canucks sure didn't make the statement they wanted to. Which is a good thing, if you are a Minnesota Wild fan. The Wild beat the Canucks, 5-2, before 18,356 at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday night, and beat the Canucks up as well, as three (well, actually two, we'll get to that later) fights in the third period -- all of which also wound up in Minnesota's favor -- and an early end to Roberto Luongo's night in the Vancouver goal spelled defeat for the Canucks, for the first time in St. Paul since March, 2008.

Antti Miettinen continues on his goal-scoring tear, as he twice found twine with a shot from the slot on a 4-on-3 power play early in the third, then scored again near midway thru the third period to put the game hopelessly out of reach. Kyle Brodziak, Mikko Koivu and Owen Nolan also scored for the Wild as they won their fourth straight game, all at home, to climb to within one point of idle Detroit and to within two points of Los Angeles.

No mention of the Canucks would be complete without a mention of, 'Pinky and the Brain', better known as the Sedin Twins, Daniel and Henrik, who were held completely off the scoreboard tonight as the Wild shut down Vancouver's top line all evening.

In the midst of all the hubbub, Niklas Backstrom won his 21st game of the season, and his 114th overall, eclipsing the mark for most Wild goaltender victories, set by Manny Fernandez.

The three fights were like this: First, Derek Boogaard squares off against Darcy Hordichuk, a 'fight' in name only, since only Hordichuk threw punches (and not many of those) and Boogaard backed off after pulling Hordichuk's sweater over his head.

The second fight was indeed the most brutal, as 'Big' John Scott proceeded to systematically destroy Alexandre Bolduc, landing a minimum (by my own count) 12 punches clean to the head of the recent call-up. When the fight was over, Bolduc had to be helped off the ice by the officials, as he definitely had checked in on Dream Street. This fight was almost as one-sided as Scott's destruction last March of the Islanders' Joel Rechlicz at Nassau Coliseum. If this doesn't make someone's fight card, nothing in hockey will.

The last fight of the evening took place just 6 seconds before the coaches would have been fined $25,000 if a fight had taken place. This one featured Shane Hnidy vs. Tanner Glass, two guys who would have really liked not fighting each other at all. This fight came out close to even.

The Wild now go on the road for the next week, starting a stretch where 6 of the next 9 are away from St. Paul, with the Next Game: at St. Louis, tomorrow (Thursday, Jan. 14), 7:00 PM, Scottrade Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin); Blues TV: FSMidwest (in HD); XM Radio, Ch. 237)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gui's Big Bite takes down Pens, 4-3

One goal, 3 assist night makes Wild fans forget about Pouliot

By Wild Road Tripper

There was no bigger stage in hockey Monday night. A national cable/satellite audience (except for DirecTV subscribers) in both the USA and Canada, exclusive time slot, big game at home, and the opponent: the defending Stanley Cup Champions, led by the twin stars of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And, with all that, who knew it would be Guillaume Latendresse stealing the show?

The Minnesota Wild won their third straight game as they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in front of 19,044 at Xcel Energy Center, with Latendresse leading the charge, with the game winning goal with 13:47 remaining, and assists on the other 3 Minnesota goals in the back-and-forth, intense game. Eric Belanger also got a goal and an assist, as the Wild defeated the Pens for the second time this season. Martin Havlat extended his point streak to eight games with his 8th goal of the season, and Cal Clutterbuck tallied his ninth on a second period tip-in. The Wild now have a 7-3-3 record against the Eastern Conference this season. The Wild have not lost to Pittsburgh since the first month of the 2007-08 season.

The Wild, playing in front of a lot of Pittsburgh fans (or more accurately, a lot of fans of, 'Sid the Kid') stayed with the Pens throughout the game, as the up-and-down pace meant long stretches between whistles, meaning players were being used up quickly. And, it showed as the game went along, as the pace, although fairly brisk, slowed considerably in the third period, as the Wild waited for opportunities to develop where the offense could take advantage of a somewhat shaky Marc-Andre Fleury in the Pens' goal. Sid did get two goals and an assist in the game, and ex-Wild winger Pascal Dupuis chipped in a goal and assisted on both of Crosby's tallies, to get back at the team that gave him a paycheck for six seasons. Martin Skoula, former Wild defenseman and legend of Xcel's press box popcorn machine, was also reunited with his old mate; he was a healthy scratch for Pittsburgh in this game.

Niklas Backstrom, who was pulled after two periods prior to the unbelieveable comeback on Saturday night against Chicago, made 35 saves, several of the spectacular variety, to win his 20th game of the current season, and his 113th NHL win overall, all with the Wild, which ties Backstrom with Manny Fernandez for most wins by a Wild goaltender in a career. Belanger and Nick Schultz both achieved the 100th point as Wild players with their contributions, as well.

The Wild draw even in points with 10th-place Dallas in the NHL Western Conference, but the Wild have played one more game than the Stars; both teams are four points behind eighth-place Los Angeles, who lost to the Sharks last night. The Pens gain no ground on Atlantic Division leader New Jersey, six points ahead of the Pens. The big question for Wild fans going into the next game will be: can the Wild keep it up?

That NEXT GAME: vs. Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 6:00 PM Central (4:00 PM Pacific), Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth (in HD); Canucks TV: Rogers SportsNet Pacific; also available in HD on NHL Network-USA only; XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Night Chicago Died

Wild come back to score 4 goals in 3rd,
then 'Cowboy' up in Shootout to beat Blackhawks

Game Deemed 'Greatest Comeback in Franchise History'

By Wild Road Tripper

Guaranteeing itself a place as an NHL 'Instant Classic' game, the Minnesota Wild completed the single greatest comeback in franchise history, as they came all the way back from trailing 5-1 after two periods, to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-5 in the shootout Saturday night at a very, very loud Xcel Energy Center, in front of 19,310, the Wild's largest crowd since October 5, 2005, the first game after the NHL lockout/strike ended.

The first 40 minutes was virtually a clinic by the best team in the NHL, as the young and very speedy Hawks took advantage of what few mistakes were made by the Wild, and were depositing them in the Minnesota net like so much trash after a summer picnic. For 40 minutes all was right in the Blackhawk universe, as the hometown sextet was showered with a loud chorus of boos (and the Hawks were cheered loudly by a good number of the estimated 800-1,000 Chicago fans in attendance.)

And then, the Wild went to the locker room. And the veterans stepped in and said that they wanted to win for the other guys in the room. Then they went out and actually did it, to the delirium and delight of the Wild faithful, and the dismay (and anger) of the Hawks fans, many of whom spent considerable effort and cash to get themselves into this game. The first NHL team to come back from four goals down since December 11, 2008, when Philadelphia did it against Carolina. The first team to end two five-game winning streaks in a row (remember, the Wild beat Calgary on Wednesday night) since 2006 (Buffalo).

There are so many heroes on a night like this, such as Guillaume Latendresse and his two goals, the first one early on in the game, and the second, a 'Mighty Mouse' goal ("Here I come, to save the Day!!") to tie the game with 1:33 remaining in regulation; Latendresse now has 9 goals since being traded by Montreal Nov. 23. (Anyone really miss Benoit Pouliot now?)

Then, what would be an eight-round shootout ensued, with Koivu and '20-Cent' Patrick Kane both scoring, and then the real fun began as players from both teams missed or were stopped by the goalies...until Owen Nolan, 'Cowboy' to his teammates, snapped a shot past Huet's glove, then, after John Madden missed, the on-ice bedlam ensued, to the delight of the many, many faithful who had stayed around to the end of one thrilling hockey game.

Also in the 'Hero' department is Kim Johnsson, whose goal started the third period charge for the Wild; Mikko Koivu and Marek Zidlicky, whose goals were part of a three-goal, 2:05 barrage against the NHL's best defense, a team which was 21-1-0 when leading after two periods prior to tonight. And, an unexpected hero was Josh Harding, who, playing goal starting the third period in relief of starting goalie Niklas Backstrom, earned his first win at home in two years.

Cristobal Huet started and finished for the Hawks, whose goals against average will go up after his performance on the night, especially in the third period, where he duly earned every derisive 'Sieve' chant the Wild fans gave him during both the latter third period and the overtime session.

The Wild would love a few days to enjoy the vibe after such a game as this, but the life of a modern NHL'er dictates that you play when you're scheduled, and when the Wild are scheduled for the Next Game: vs. Pittsburgh, Monday, Jan. 11, 7:00 PM Central (8:00 PM Eastern) time, Xcel Energy Center. (TV: Versus, TSN2, both feeds in HD; XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Touche'! Belanger's two goal night burns Calgary

Wild win 4-1 as Belanger raises stakes in contract drive season

By Wild Road Tripper

It was Eric Belanger's world Wednesday night, and the 18,137 in attendance at Xcel Energy Center were only too happy to be part of it for a few hours.

The Minnesota Wild, led by Belanger's two goals, extinguished the Northwest Division's hottest team, the Calgary Flames, by ending their 5-game winning streak with a 4-1 Wild victory. The Wild also ended their own 4-game losing streak in the contest.

Niklas Backstrom outdueled his countryman, Mikka Kiprusoff, for his 19th victory of the campaign, as the Wild moved to 45 points, still good for 11th place in the NHL's Western Conference.

But it was Belanger, whose good luck and good timing came into play on both the Wild's first and third goals, who would be the beneficiary on this night. Playing in his 600th NHL game, the veteran center tipped in a Marek Zidlicky shot high in the slot area for the first goal, then took Owen Nolan's soccer-kick pass and backhanded it past a surprised Kiprusoff just past the half-way point of the game. Not only did this increase his possible trade value (the Wild front office staff, including GM Chuck Fletcher, are meeting Thursday and Friday in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, regarding their 9 unrestricted free agents-to-be), but playing in his 600th NHL game gives Belanger a little extra 'room' on the road. For being that he has played 600 NHL games and is a 10-year veteran, he now gets his own room (i.e., no roommate) under terms of the CBA.

Kyle Brodziak, who the Wild obtained at the NHL Draft last June from the Edmonton Oilers, scored his first goal in nearly two months when he golf-swung a loose puck, which then worm-burned its' way past Kiprusoff to start the second period scoring. Nick Schultz assisted on three of Minnesota's four goals, giving him a +2 on the evening, so he is now a -1 on the year.

Now, the bad news: it doesn't get any easier very soon, as the 4-game homestand continues with the Next Game: vs. Chicago, Saturday, Jan. 9, 7:00 PM Central Time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin); Hawks TV: Comcast SportsNet Chicago, all feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 238)

NHL hits new low, restricts player-parent road trips

League says 'Thank Yous' by teams, players possibly violates salary cap

By Wild Road Tripper

In an opinion almost bordering on the absurd, the National Hockey League has deemed player-parent road trips, where the team pays for hotels, meals and brings Dad or Mom (or other relative, for those players whose parents are deceased) along on a road trip, may be a violation of the league-imposed salary cap. The league, thru Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, has deemed trips of more than two games (three days) length, possibly violates the salary cap, saying that it is a 'player benefit', (game tickets, hotel rooms, meals and city tours are paid for by the club), which could lead to salary-cap violations.

The opinion was published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in Wednesday's editions, the day after the Minnesota Wild completed their second father-son road trip in three seasons.

Wild Road Tripper sez:

This is a classic reason why the NHL is penny-wise and pound-foolish. By the time your average NHL player makes it to the 'big club' level, their parents have logged somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-70,000 miles, having subjugated their professional careers, personal lives and the rest of their families (for those who don't have other kids in hockey), in order to meet the ever-growing demands of playing at the elite levels needed, in order to hone the skills necessary to compete at the top levels. They also have invested somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000-200,000 in their child for hockey equipment, ice time, travel and medical expenses as well. This money provides the base which supports the system which feeds the NHL.

Bringing the parents along is actually great public relations. It shows that the players are not just automotons, that they have families just like we fans do. Families who have put up with a hell of a lot of B.S., in order to have their kids at the pro hockey level. Their sacrifice and their efforts to support their kids (even as adults) should be celebrated, especially when someone else (i.e., the NHL teams) are willing to pay for it. It may take different forms, especially in markets (Phoenix, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose) where hockey and cold weather don't necessarily mix. To limit how each club can take the parents is absolutely ridiculous. Next thing we know, the NHL will arbitrarily limit where they can go (e.g., you may NOT take them to Toronto or Montreal, but you MAY take them to Nashville, Atlanta or Florida only, but never in December, January or February.)

Another great move by the master of 'great moves', NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. He can't even announce this himself; they drag out the hired hand, Bill Daly, in order to do it. Does the cowardice run that deep in the League offices?

I really wonder. So do player parents.

Nice of at least Dad to show up: Hawks 4, Wild 1

Wild drop 4th straight: Is the fire sale looming?

The Minnesota Wild always have had decent success when playing against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. But then, there are times when the local sextet just rolls over, and plays dead. Last night, in front of their fathers, with an NHL-imposed limit to player-parent road trips looming, the Wild decided that last night's game would be something special.

Unfortunately, the Blackhawks had other plans for the Minnesota contingent. And, by coming at the Wild virtually in waves, the odds-on favorite Western Conference representatives to playing for Lord Stanley in June showed the tattered Wild how a real powerhouse works, spotting the Wild the first goal, then charging back to beat the Wild 4-1, in front of an announced 21,381.

Marian Hossa, the Hawks' long-term lease player, scored twice, along with John Madden and Patrick '20-Cent' Kane, as ten different Hawks tallied points against a Wild defense which had a difficult time adjusting to the younger, speedier Hawks and their wave after wave of offense. It looked, at times, like the Wild defense was asleep at the switch.

And, speaking of catching some Z's, Marek Zidlicky and Greg Zanon each wound up -2 on the evening, along with Petr Sykora, the only Wild forward so victimized. The Wild have dropped four in a row, two straight to the Hawks, and failed to win at least once in the cavernous UC for the first time since the 2001-02 season. The Wild wake up Wednesday morning to find themselves still in 11th place, now 10 points out of the 8th and final playoff spot, since no one else below them in the standings can win, either. In fact, the only Western Conference team currently in the top 8 that played and lost last night, was the eighth-place Nashville Predators.

Nashville was defeated by the opponent for the Wild's Next Game: vs. Calgary, Tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 6), 7:00 PM Central (6:00 PM Mountain) Time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: KSTC-45; No Flames' TV; XM Radio, Ch. 207)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Feeling Guilty

Well, it happened again. I cancelled another road trip to Chicago. I will NOT be attending Tuesday night's Minnesota Wild - Chicago Blackhawks game.

For the second consecutive season, I cancelled a road trip to the United Center last night. There were a number of reasons for my dalliance and eventual annullment of this journey:

1. The weather is just too damn cold for transportation to operate reliably. My trips depend on transportation to depart and arrive within a reasonable limit of time. I am as impatient as the next guy when it comes to on-time performance. Severe cold (such as that which has been plaguing the Twin Cities area this past weekend) does not assist in keeping transportation on-time. On the contrary; planes run late, Amtrak does not run at all, buses are cold, drafty and with the post-hoilday rush, everything is over-crowded. When you have a system (which we in the USA do) which is stretched to the breaking point, something has to give.

2. The fact remains that you still have to book hotels, etc., in order to do this trip properly. I could not reasonably give the time needed to the proper planning of this trip. The hotels are having a heck of a time keeping beds filled; there are deals to be had, but the want has to be there. Which leads me to item No. 3...

3. My wife, who normally is my partner in these trips, simply didn't want to go. For that, I can't blame her. When I bought the tickets (in September) the Wild had a lot more promise than they show now. Granted, they had not played a meaningful game yet, so the promise of better things ahead was still there. Not so now. The Wild have been shown to be, at best, a middle-of-the-road playoff wanna-be that may or may not get into the post-season. And, should they still be eligible to play come April 13, they will be just so much cannon fodder for a Chicago, San Jose, Calgary, Los Angeles or whomever. And, should they not get to the post-season, their position will not be top 6; no, they will once again draft in the middle of the first round, where they will find another player for whom the Houston Aeros will be their immediate destination in pro hockey.

Hopefully, I won't be so irresolute when the next road opportunity presents itself. I will be, literally, 'Packed, ready to go'.

Stay warm, everyone.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

One, Two, Three: Langenbrunner nets hattie, Devils haunt Wild

Jacques Lemaire's return to Minnesota overshadowed by Iron Range standout

By Wild Road Tripper

It was a festive evening, indeed. With an overflow 19,155 on hand -- the largest crowd to see a Wild game since October 5, 2005, the first home game following the strike/lockout -- including a few busloads from his hometown of Cloquet, Minnesota, New Jersey Devils Captain (and future US Olympian) Jamie Langenbrunner managed to steal the show from another hockey legend -- Jacques Lemaire, Devils' coach and former Wild bench boss -- as the Devils, behind Langenbrunner's hat trick, his first in his 924 NHL game career, defeated the Minnesota Wild 5-3 Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.

Langenbrunner's 11th, 12th and 13th goals of the season -- the last one an empty-netter as time was running out -- gave the Devils the victory, their 29th of the season, as they lead the Eastern Conference by five points over second place Buffalo. The loss by the Wild was their third straight, the longest current losing skein in the Western Conference, but despite that, they did not lose ground, as both Dallas and St. Louis lost Saturday as well. The Wild have now surrendered the first goal of the game in 17 of the last 23 starts, and fall to 6-3-3 versus the Eastern Conference in 2009-10.

It was an up-and-down fast skating game -- in short, a Lemaire-style contest -- as the two teams went back and forth in the first period. As the second period wore on, the Wild began to make mental mistakes, and when that happened, the Devils were quick to pounce on any loose puck which would find its' way inside of the Minnesota blue line. Two Minnesota penalties were converted by the Devils, including a goal with 3.5 seconds remaining in the second, no thanks to another laziness-inspired Marek Zidlicky penalty -- as the Wild found themselves down a goal heading into the third period.

Anyone tell the Wild that the Devils were 20-0-0 when leading after two periods? (Uh, no.) Well, they were, and now, thanks to some really sloppy play in the latter stages of the third period, the Devils are 21-0-0, as the Wild watched while Langenbrunner skated to the goalmouth, before calmly shooting the puck in to seal the deal for New Jersey, as Lemaire had to just sit back and smile. A little bit. Or, so we thought at the time.

Lemaire was actually displeased with the efforts of his team, save for Langenbrunner's efforts; he likened his team's efforts to complicating the game "a little too much." The Devils are the only team the Wild has only defeated once; their all-time record against New Jersey drops to a nearly-embarrassing 1-5-4.

And the road ahead for the Wild doesn't get any easier, not with the schedule, nor with the brisk winter weather, as they travel to the Windy City for the Next Game: at Chicago, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 7:00 PM Central Time, United Center. (TV: Versus; XM Radio, Ch. 237)

Note: No Minnesota Wild-sponsored 'viewing parties' in the Twin Cities Area have been announced for this game.