Sunday, October 16, 2011

So Far, So...?

Middling start reminds one of disasterous 2010-2011 Minnesota Wild campaign

Well, it's been five games. Yes, you're right. Only five games. But some onerous comparisons to the disasterous 2010-2011 season for our favorite NHL team are already rearing their ugly heads:

2010-2011 record after 5 games: 2-2-1
2011-2012 record after 5 games: 2-1-2

Yes, this does include the two NHL Premiere games in Helsinki, Finland. But this also includes games against Columbus and Edmonton both seasons; and Detroit (this season) replaces Vancouver (from last season) as the opponent for game 5. Game 5 last season, the Wild shelled the Canucks 6-2, one of the worst beatings the Canucks would face, en route to their eventual Stanley Cup Finals choke job, at the hands of the Boston Bruins.

2010-2011 record, second 5 games: 2-2-1
2011-2012 record, second 5 games: ?-?-?

The second five games last season started with a western Canadian road swing to Edmonton and Vancouver, respectively, then three home games vs. LA, Washington, and Chicago. Win at Rexall, followed by a 5-1 drubbing at Rogers Centre, Vancouver, then a SO loss at home to the Kings, a 2-1 home win vs. the Caps and a 3-1 loss to the Blackhawks which left the team disgusted and confused.

This season's next five: Home vs. Pittsburgh, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, home vs. Anaheim, home vs. Detroit (again). Now, hopefully, the Wild will play better next week than they did this past week, Last week showed that young, speedy teams (NY Islanders, Edmonton) can have success against the older, slower Wild. It's not that the Wild haven't embraced a youth movement, either; we all know that the blueline after the first three (Schultz, Zanon, Zidlicky) averages about age 10 (my wife said that.)

Josh Harding was the savior vs. Detroit on Saturday night, comitting robbery several times throughout the game, desperately keeping the offensively-challenged (again) Wild in the game. But, as the Red Wings have usually done, they simply turned it up a notch, and won the game in overtime. Some have predicted the demise of the Red Wings; 10 of their 24-man roster were born before Jan. 1, 1980. But they continue to do one thing well: they continue to find ways to win hockey games. Whether it be deflecting pucks, drawing penalties, timely passes to players who seemingly show up out of nowhere, whatever...the Red Wings know what to do to win. And, keep winning. Be consistent winners.

That's what the rest of the NHL wants to be. That's what the Wild (and 29 other NHL teams) aim for. But only Detroit has achieved it. To the credit of the Wings' management and staff, to do it for as long as they have, at that level, especially in that Detroit environment (Joe Louis Arena is now the oldest venue in the Western Conference, and 3rd oldest in the NHL), is a testament to the entire Detroit Red Wings organization, from owner Mike Ilitch on down.  The Wings just seem to plug in veterans and sprinkle rookies in, and just keep winning. They never seem to have a 'down' season.

Yes, we all know that Doug Risebrough 'left the cupboard bare' when he was dismissed following the 2008-09 season, that Chuck Fletcher has worked hard to restock the shelves, both with the Houston Aeros and with the big club as well. The Wild scouting staff has been shaking the trees and raking the leaves to try and find talent, taking 'late bloomers' out of the college ranks who are otherwise free agents to try and rebuild the roster. And, the days of trading draft picks for aging veterans who are, literally, on their last legs are over.

But one question looms large. One question that nearly every NHL team asks, except one. One question which they haven't asked in Detroit, in more than a generation.

When do we have an 'up' season?

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