Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wild playoff chances in meltdown mode?

Behind Japanese disaster, Minnesota Wild perfecting world's second-biggest current meltdown

Well, since we last spent time together, Japan has been hit with a disaster of near-Biblical proportions, a civil war has broken out in Libya, the Detroit Red Wings have become merely a mortal hockey team, and the Minnesota Wild have learned how much they depend on two injured players: Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck.

As predicted by many people last week, the death watch for the Wild's playoff chances has begun in earnest. Following a week where the Wild threw away a home win against the Buffalo Sabres, followed by an unbelieveably hard win against the otherwise hapless Colorado Avalanche, the Wild then went out to where they do their best work -- away from home -- and promptly played two of the worst games of the entire 2010-2011 season in successive nights, giving away free points to both Nashville and Dallas with back-to-back 4-0 shutout losses, and starting the death watch in earnest.

Koivu was held out of the Friday game in Dallas, due to the broken finger suffered while blocking a Todd Marchant shot Feb. 18 vs. Anaheim, while Clutterbuck is slowly coming back from the injury that CBC's Don Cherry, he of 'Hockey Night in Canada', said never happened, due to the head shot hit suffered March 2 by the Islanders' Clark Gillies -- which also made him not available so far on the second-longest road trip of the season.

The Wild are in deep, deep trouble. The biggest difference between the Wild meltdown and the Japanese nuclear power meltdown is that unlike Japan, no one will die from the Wild missing the playoffs. (We sincerely hope.)

The other big difference: No help is forthcoming for the Wild, unlike the international effort to save lives in Japan. Other teams WANT the Wild to fail. They LOVE to see the Wild, as their 1-3-0 record on the road in March (along with the pathetic 1-0-1 home record in March) would attest, most other NHL teams see the Wild as 'Free Lunch' right now.

Too bad the Wild can't say the same thing about other teams. Their pathetic 1-5-2 record against the bottom eight teams in the Eastern Conference (win at New Jersey; OT/SO losses against Carolina and Buffalo; regulation losses against Carolina, Atlanta, Florida, the Islanders, and Ottawa; remember, in Helsinki, the Wild and Carolina played twice) with one game to play (vs. Toronto, at the 'X' March 22nd). By contrast, the Wild are 5-2 against the top seven teams in the east, with two games (vs. Montreal next Sunday, and vs. Tampa Bay April 2, both at home) to play. Those are free points that this team GAVE AWAY throughout the season.

So, if the Wild do miss the playoffs by less than seven points this season, don't turn your eyes to the West. Because that's not where the problem was. The problem is to the East. Again, not as far East as Japan. But, for Wild hockey fans, just as troublesome.

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