Sunday, November 28, 2010

Time for a Change?

Something -- nee, anything -- needs to be done if the Minnesota Wild are to salvage anything from the 2010-2011 season.

After getting shelled for 5 or more goals in three of their last four games, two of which were at home, the time has come for the Wild management to do something about this team's malaises. The days of taking whole periods of games off has to stop. And, it has to stop NOW.

Yes. different players (most notably Nick Schultz and Captain Mikko Koivu) have taken the 'fall on the sword' for recent team bad performances. But, it's not just one or two players that take whole periods off. It's the whole damn TEAM that is taking periods off.

This cannot be allowed to continue. The fact of the matter is that if the Wild are serious in an attempt to even qualify for the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they need to right the ship of state NOW, or else face a long, cold winter of discontent -- something, quite frankly, that this franchise has never really faced before. Unless they get going, and soon, the only post-season activity that will be hockey-related at the 'X', will be the 2011 NHL Entry Draft June 24 & 25.

Should this poor performance continue, it will make four seasons since the Wild will have qualified for the post-season. The statistics (yes, I know, lies, damn lies, and statistics; but these don't lie, people) speak for themselves:

  • The Wild are being outshot 117-54 in the second period of the last nine games (going back to the game in Atlanta, Nov. 11), and 79-24 in the second period of the last five games alone. In fact, the Wild rank 30th -- that's right, dead last -- in shots on goal overall this season. And this for a team which is supposed to have a 'new and improved' offense, under Head Coach Todd Richards.
  • Niklas Backstrom, who was held out of the Nashville victory on Friday, should start thinking of getting a lawyer, and suing his defense for non-support. His goals-against average has ballooned from 1.90 to 2.66 in his last three starts, all of which 'featured' the Wild giving up five, six, and seven goals, against the NY Rangers, Philadelphia and Colorado, respectively. Should the Wild start Jose Theodore in their next game (against Calgary on Monday night, in the Saddledome), Backstrom would start against the Phoenix Coyotes at home, on Wednesday night, against a Coyotes team which has scored 4 or more goals in 5 of their last 8 games, winning 7 of those last 8 games, including a sweep of all three Western Canadian teams (Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver) on the road last week (something the Wild have never achieved, by the way).
  • The next seven games for the Wild (five of which are, thankfully, on the road...I don't feel as guilty shutting the TV off and going to bed, as leaving a home game early) are against Calgary (twice, home and away), Phoenix (same, home and away) and at Dallas, LA Kings and Anaheim. The fact is that the Wild, as they are playing now, stand a better-than-even chance of losing at least 5 of those 7 games, and realistically could find themselves out of the playoff race in the Western Conference before Dec. 19, the start of the NHL's Christmas holiday roster freeze.

The Wild are also hamstrung with three players on injured reserve (Josh Harding, Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard) for which GM Chuck Fletcher stubbornly refuses to request Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) status to get cap relief, to bring in another player who may actually help this club turn its' fortunes around, whether it be via trade, free-agent signing (Owen Nolan is still out there, as example) or otherwise. Now, whether he is trying to 'save' his cap space, so he has more to use later on or whatever, the fact remains that there may not be a 'LATER', if he doesn't do something about turning the fortunes of the club NOW.

The Wild are in free fall, and everyone -- from Owner Craig Leipold, to the most casual fan -- knows it. Will anything be done before they hit rock bottom? The people who DO have all the answers, aren't saying. And the paying public? Those who are 'stakeholders' in this franchise? We're not pleased. And if we aren't pleased, we won't come to games anymore. We'll stop helping pay the bills.

For as fans, the best response to apathetic play, is our own apathy.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Not a way to start Thanksgiving Day

Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. May your day be filled with turkey, stuffing, cranberries and all the good stuff that the holiday will bring. Having said that:

What the hell happened last night to the Minnesota Wild?

The fact of the matter is, in my opinion, that this team has actually forgotten how to win a hockey game. Two games in a row, they have managed to get blown out, at home, in front of some fairly large crowds. Back-to-back home blowouts, to two teams who will be battling it out (literally) for the Atlantic Division title this season -- the New York Rangers and Philadelphia -- while giving up 11 (count 'em!) goals in their last two games. In fact. there was a period of time in Wednesday night's game vs. the Flyers where the Wild did not manage a shot on goal for over 19 minutes of game time. The Wild have no clue as to how to get their collective act together.

And that is the real problem, that there is no plan in place to get the act together. The coaching staff has done everything with this group of players possible to get them motivated and playing as a cohesive unit. Yet, the wheels keep falling off the wagon. Time and again, the Wild get behind in games, attempt to make a furious comeback, only to either a) get blown out, b) mirror the old Lemaire style of 'trap' hockey, or c) just flat out go through the motions and get annhilated. Too often, either A or C has occurred. Way too often, has A or C occurred.

In only one game this season has the Wild outshot an opponent. ONE. Out of 20. Now, that doesn't make for that good a percentage when you are talking about an 82-game schedule. The fact is that this team, like Wild teams before them, is an offensively-challenged unit; the difference is that in the past, when Jacques Lemaire ran this team, they played defense so well, that you would never, EVER see two games back-to-back like Wild fans have seen the last five days. Now, with six games taking place in the next eight days (beginning Friday afternoon, vs. Nashville at the 'X') you would hope that the Wild gets its' act together. They have to. Time is indeed running out. This is the time of the season when the contenders (for the playoffs) separate themselves from the pretenders.

Or are we, fans of the Wild, the ones who have been pretending all along?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Maybe, they need '5-Hour Energy'

It's kind of weird being a fan of the Minnesota Wild these days. You see your team come out like gangbusters, then continually take the second period off, then make for the big finish in the third period. And, this has been happening, game after game after game, most of the season so far.

In fact, the Wild have been outshot 71-37 in the second period of the last six games alone. So, maybe, just maybe the Wild might need that boost in the second period. Maybe they are feeling a bit tired, a bit fatigued, a bit out of it in the middle of the game. Like a lot of us feel in the middle of our shifts on our own jobs.

So, maybe the Wild should do what is advertised on both TV and Radio stations, and get some energy. Namely, 5-Hour Energy, the supplement that is readily available just a few blocks from the 'X' in numerous convenience store/gas stations.

Just think of it. The Wild dressing room at the first intermission, the boys enter the room and find a table with 25 5-Hour Energy bottles lined up in a row as they enter. Everyone grabs one, drink the contents, and then actually go out and play a decent second period, one where they outshoot the opposition and actually score a goal (or two, or three).

Coach Todd Richards says he has no answers for what ails the Wild in the second period of recent games. Maybe, just maybe he's looking in the wrong place. Maybe the answer isn't within his coaching staff, the players, or any other layer of the hockey staff or management.

Maybe it's down the street, next to the donut case, near the cash register.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I wish I was in Dixie...NOT

Wild do better when away from the Confederacy

By Wild Road Tripper

It has always been said that there are three kinds of untruths in this world: Lies, damn lies, and statistics. Sunday night, the Minnesota Wild broke one of the biggest statistics in their recent past, after a 4-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. Here's the stat:

Until Sunday night, since October, 2008, the Wild were 0-5-2 away from the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center against the NHL's Southeast Division. Three of those losses (2 in the shootout) came at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, and single losses at Washington, Atlanta, Florida and at Tampa in November, 2008 round out the statistic, which was finally broken today with their win against Tampa Bay at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The record for the Wild vs. the Southeast for the season stands now at 2-3-1, with one game remaining (April 2 vs. Tampa Bay in St. Paul, a Saturday afternoon game).

The Wild now go back home to face the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday.

Different game, more of the same

Wild southeastern road woes continue in 2-1 loss to Panthers

By Wild Road Tripper

SUNRISE, Fla. -- When will it end?

The Minnesota Wild just can't seem to respond in warm weather. Proof positive was displayed once again Friday night at BankAtlantic Center, as the Wild dropped a 2-1 decision to the otherwise hapless Florida Panthers before an announced (but nowhere close) 15,077 fans.

The Panthers, as motley a collection of other teams' castoffs as there can be, managed to put two goals behind backup goaltender Jose Theodore, as the Wild defense once again came unglued during a key 54-second stretch in the first period, as both Chris Higgins and Mike Santorelli scored for Florida en route to their second straight home victory (the Panthers defeated the hapless Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night) as the Wild record away from St. Paul dropped to 0-3-1 against the Southeast Division.

Andrew Brunette scored for the Wild. Radek Dvorak played in his 578th game for the Panthers, making him the longest serving Panther of all time.

At the end of the game, however, Brent Burns, following thru on a shot right at the buzzer, managed to butt-end Florida winger Steve Bernier, injuring Bernier to the point where surgery will be necessary to repair the damage to his cheekbone. Burns was suspended for three games on Saturday by the NHL for his actions.

The Wild now face another Southeast team on Sunday, as they travel to Tampa to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, in a Sunday twilight game at 5:00 PM Eastern (4:00 PM Central) time at the St. Pete Times Forum (TV: FSNorth, Sunshine Network), a team also reeling after the loss of Vincent Lecavalier on Friday night to a hand injury while skating against the Washington Capitals.

(NOTE: Due to travel complications caused by the recent snowstorm in the Twin Cities and computer issues in the Southeast, this blog entry is indeed one day late. My apologies. -- WRT)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

'Blackhawks South' scalps hapless Wild

Thrashers win 5-1; as for the Wild, the night the lights went out in Georgia

By Wild Road Tripper

ATLANTA -- Thank God the Minnesota Wild Official Road Trip was not scheduled for tonight's game at Philips Arena. Because, they would have been better off across the street, doing the 'Dirty Bird' with 71,500 Atlanta Falcons fans.

At least, they would have had more fun. I know, sitting in the stands tonight, that I would have.

The Wild came out after what Coach Todd Richards called 'one of the best pre-game skates' of the season, with as lacklustre an effort this blogger has seen, since Hartwall Areena in Helsinki, en route to a 5-1 thrashing by the Atlanta Thrashers, in front of an announced 10,055 (were they tickets distributed or seats empty? Only the Thrashers know for sure.)

All three of Atlanta's signings from Chicago this past summer -- Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, and Andrew Ladd -- figured in the scoring. Byfuglien with two assists, Eager and Ladd a goal each, with Ladd adding an assist on Atlanta's last goal, as the Wild flat out failed to launch any offensive pressure tonight at all.

No one had a good game tonight. NO one. They all sucked. And, they know it. They'll spend tomorrow in Sunrise, Fla., prior to facing the Florida Panthers tomorrow night at BankAtlantic Center. Hopefully, the Wild will bring their 'A' game along, because it sure wasn't here in Georgia this evening.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

If only every week was like this past week...

3-0 week for Wild bodes team well despite injuries, schedule, cap woes

By Wild Road Tripper

If only.

If only every week was like this past week for the Minnesota Wild, they might -- might -- make the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, for the first time in three seasons. Now, we know that in a long season like this, not every week will be as successful as this past week was. But, you can't sneer at a 3-0 week, where the Wild somewhat returned to the defense-first style of hockey that made this franchise successful in most of the first eight seasons of its' ten-year history. Especially when you consider that the week started off, with the first regulation-time victory over the usually-pesky San Jose Sharks in five seasons.

In fact, the Wild have a record of 7-4-2 overall, and 6-3-1 since returning from the NHL Premiere games in Helsinki. Normally, a 6-3-1 record would mean the pressure is off the coaching staff. That the old adage of, 'open the doors and the people will come', would once again hold sway at the 'X', as the longest home stand of the 2010-2011 season ended on Tuesday, with a very respectable 3-1-1 record, good for 7 points in the standings, as the schedule's treacherous start has finally fallen by the wayside, giving way to a 5-game stretch of opponents who did not qualify for the playoffs in 2010.

If only we fans knew what's wrong? Why aren't the people showing up to sell out the building? Why is there still skepticism amongst Wild fans (myself included) not believing (or not wanting to believe) that this team, despite missing three forwards (Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse, Antti Miettinen) and one of their top four defensemen (Marek Zidlicky) might be as good as they are now? That this is all a mirage, and one day we will all wake up, and find out that this was all a dream?

If only we knew the answers to these questions. Part of the reason for the non-sellouts is, indeed, the fact that the economy still is in the dumper, and will be for some time, tax breaks not withstanding. People don't have the spending cash for pro hockey when they are trying mightily to make ends meet. Of course, the fact that the Wild have failed to make the playoffs (which means, you admit that you are one of the 14 worst teams in the league) for two seasons now hasn't helped things very much, either.

If only the local pro football team wouldn't grab the headlines nearly every single day, with the Peyton Place-esque behind-the-scenes issues facing that club, that the local college football team wasn't firmly entrenched as one of the sport's Bottom 10 teams, and you have a hockey team which is relegated well inside the pages of the local sports sections.

If only we knew that this past week would be what we could expect, Wild fans could prepare themselves for the future, which would be looking pretty good. Think of the future if Brent Burns holds to at least his current level of play. Wild fans know this guy shows up every night with his engine running, then goes out and plays like it. But now, for the first time ever, it really shows where it counts (on the score sheet) and when it counts (late in games, like Saturday night in Columbus, where he basically took over after the Wild got the 3-2 lead).

If only we knew that Martin Havlat would build on the upswing that we have seen over the last week, he wouldn't even need his agent, Allan Walsh, to beg the coaching staff (via Twitter) to play his guy more. Marty, we hoped you had that in you; why did we have to wait so long for this to come out?

If only the Wild had realized earlier that the power play needed real help, and then they went out and got it in Matt Cullen, who is the big difference between a power play which doesn't get shots off at all, and a power play which is top 10 in the NHL.

If only the Wild had put Burns and Nick Schultz earlier as a defensive pairing. The Wild now have two real top-4 pairings (Burns and Schultz, and the fan-dubbed 'ZZ Top' pairing of Zidlicky and Greg Zanon) on the blue line -- something the Wild has long coveted, while other Western Conference teams (Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, San Jose, Vancouver) have enjoyed this for years.

Now, if only the Wild can stay somewhat healthy while playing in the Southeast this coming weekend, they could come home with a gaudy win streak of 6 games into their next home game vs. Anaheim on Nov. 17th.

If only...