3-0 week for Wild bodes team well despite injuries, schedule, cap woes
By Wild Road Tripper
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.