Sunday, March 23, 2014

Titanic syndrome on the Wild?

Is re-arranging the deck chairs (or the roster) enough to avoid the iceberg ahead (or the April abyss)?

Well, so this is what the 2013-14 season for the Minnesota Wild has degenerated into.

Happened yesterday, after the Wild managed to lose a 3-2 home game to the Detroit Griffins -- er, Red Wings -- a team so decimated by injury, that eight regulars were out of the starting lineup as the Wild played the first game of a weekend home-and-home, versus their old Western Conference rivals.

The post-game Mike Yeo press conference was delayed (enough so that the presser, normally in the team-produced radio post-game, was not on fans' radios as they sulkenly drove home afterwards, or even on the outstate feed provided by Clear Channel Minnesota). What they missed, or what they didn't, was this:

The start of the third straight Wild end-of-season meltdown. You heard it here, folks. It's begun. Officially. Yeo even defacto declared it yesterday, by trudging out a sheaf of notes, saying that the Wild have points in 10 of 11 games at home (the Detroit loss was the first regulation loss at home, since a 3-0 drubbing by Ottawa on Jan. 14), and that they have a point in 9 of the last 11 overall.

Two seasons ago, it was the 'first-to-worst' total implosion, as the Wild went from No. 1 in the NHL to completely eliminated from playoff contention in just 52 games' time. Last season, it was the final day back-in to the playoffs, as only a late comeback vs. the Colorado Avalanche, coupled with the end of the season troubles of the Columbus Blue Jackets, allowed the Wild to be cannon fodder for the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs.

This season? How about a 2-3-4 record since the trade deadline? How about 3 of the 4 games going to OT, finding the Wild having to come back from multi-goal deficits late in the 3rd period, only to 'achieve' the 'loser point'? And how about who(m) you've managed to do this against?

Things were looking pretty good after the Wild came off the Olympic break. A two-game road winning streak, with back-to-back victories at Edmonton and Vancouver, looking at 5 of their next 6 at home, time to fatten up for the end of the month, right?

Oh, hell no. Not with this bunch.

The month of March started good enough, with a less-than-stunning 3-2 win at home against Calgary. Then, March 5, the trade deadline, and the addition of Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick in the deadline deal which sent Torrey Mitchell to Buffalo. Since then?

Loss to Dallas on 'Mike Modano Night'. (And, yes, Norm Green STILL sucks.)

The next night began a crucial 4-game homestand for the Wild. Result? A shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues, the likely President's Cup winner for this season. Two nights later, Wild take a 3-0 lead after 16 minutes against the Edmonton Oilers, the worst team in the Conference, and proceed to pee it away, losing in the shootout 4-3. After beating the NY Rangers 2-1 on Thursday, the Wild then get 'BOB'ed by Sergei Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets, 2-1, in another shootout, one in which the Wild had a 2-0 lead in the shootout before the Jackets solved Darcy Kuemper three straight times to win.

A three-game road trip ensued; first, at Boston, the Bruins finally figured out how to beat the Wild, as the B's snapped their 6-game losing streak at TD Garden against Minnesota 4-2. The next night, as tens of thousands of fans back in Minnesota said, 'Where has this team been?', the Wild disposed of the lowly Islanders 6-0. Two nights later, as the hatred of Zach Parise overflowed at the Prudential Center in 'beautiful' Downtown Newark, the Wild came from two goals down in the last 10 minutes to force overtime, only to forget that someone has to take the man on the other side, as Matt Greene gave the New Jersey Devils a 4-3 win, which stole yet another point from the Wild.

Then, there was the home game vs. Detroit, a team so banged up, there is a sudden glut of short-term housing in Grand Rapids, as most of the Griffins' top players are up with the big club, as the Red Wings 'Lite' managed to beat the Wild (as they so often do in Minnesota), 3-2. Since the trade deadline, the Wild is now 1-1-3 at home.

The second half of the home-and-home is tonight, at the venerable Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Same conditions apply: Detroit is just as desperate; Minnesota is just as perplexed as they were into the first Detroit game.

And the head coach? Still refuses to see the forest; too many trees in the way.

The apoplexy that would ensue if, say, Dany Heatley were to sit out a couple games in the press box would reverberate throughout Minnesota. Heatley has managed to endear Minnesotans to his 'stand around and wait for something to happen his way' philosophy of offense, instead of using his 6'3" frame to create havoc around the net, using the Andrew Brunette model of 'Back that big ass up' to score goals with his hands (Heatley's stickwork is still good, even if his feet aren't motivated to move as fast as they used to.)

And, after yesterday (especially), would it hurt if Kyle Brodziak joined Heatley next to the popcorn maker in the press box? 'Brodz' was on the ice for ALL 3 Detroit goals yesterday. Great -3 there, Brodz. Work on your defense. Or your shot. Or your footwork. Or anything that won't cost the Wild another goal.

Now, that would mean you would have $10.33 million in salary cap serving up corn in the press box. At that rate, maybe they could even afford real butter.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Perplexion in the 'Plex: One blogger's view

Strange things seem to happen when the Minnesota Wild play the Dallas Stars in Big D. Why?

It happened again last night. The Minnesota Wild were seemingly in control of a tough, hard-nosed game versus the former Minnesota franchise, the now-Dallas Stars, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Ahead by a 3-2 score early in the third period, the Wild were on track to win their 4th game since the Olympic break ended. And then, as has happened so often in Dallas...

...the Wild's train derailed, just outside 'Victory Station' of D-FW's Trinity Railway Express. Again.

The Wild have managed to craft an all-time 4-16-6 record in the Metroplex, including this year's two losses (a 4-0 whitewashing, on Jan. 21st, was the other disaster in Big D this season), against a Dallas Stars team which is struggling to stay in the Western Conference playoff race. A victory last night, and the Wild would have opened up a seven-point lead on the currently-8th place Stars; now, the Wild only have a 3-point lead as they head into tonight's home game vs. the St. Louis Blues, a team which is so hot, they may be able to be No. 1 in the Western Conference, and win the President's Trophy for best overall record in the regular season, if they keep up their winning ways.

The fourth home game in eight nights for the Stars was the best-attended game since Norm Green did his now-infamous Mayflower move, and hijacked the then-North Stars from Bloomington to Big D in 1993. The reason? 'Mike Modano Retirement Night', as his No. 9 jersey was retired and moved to the rafters forever. But even all that wasn't enough to stop the Wild, as Erik Haula did his best to keep the Wild in the game, until Cody Eakin tripped (and nearly slewfoot) Haula as he was going in against Dallas starting goalie Kari Lehtonen. The resulting crash knocked Lehtonen out of the game, gave the Stars a 5-minute, all-you-can-score power play as Haula was assessed a major and a game misconduct for his actions, and screwed the Wild out of any momentum for the rest of the evening.

Now, that wasn't the losing goal; Keith Ballard served that up, on a platter, when his errant pass hit Dallas' Erik Cole instead of Clayton Stoner, Ballard's defensive partner. The resulting breakaway turned into the margin of victory after Cole scored, leaving the Wild empty again in the 'Plex.

The question on the floor, then: Why does this keep happening? Why does the Wild have such an awful record in Dallas?

I can only come up with three possible reasons:

1. The way the schedule is set up, the Wild and Stars seem to always play when one or the other team is on a back-to-back. They may be thinking about the previous game, or the next one; but they sure aren't thinking about THIS one, and that's the problem.

2. The home team is always setting up some special event for when the other team is in town. Modano night could (doubtful, but go with me here) have been 'retaliation' for the Stars being offered up as the opponent for the Wild's nightcap apperance in 'Hockey Day Minnesota', the Fox Sports North-conceived celebration of Minnesota hockey. In fact, of the eight HDM's since the series started in 2007, Dallas has been the opponent more than any other NHL team (3 times), and holds a 1-1-1 record in those games (winning in a shootout in 2007, losing in regulation in 2012, and losing in OT this year on Nate Prosser's rebound, 3-2, on Jan. 18).

3. There really may be some actual animosity between the two teams building, as there already is amongst the fans of the two teams (Minnesota fans still equate today's Stars, with the Norm Green-era group from the mid-90's; Dallas fans hate anything Minnesota, going back to the Cowboys' heyday, and so on).

Wild fans (at least the older ones, like me) especially relish any victory over the former North Stars, it doesn't matter how, where, or when. Dallas fans equate beating the Wild with picking on baby brother: 'But Mom, it's just SO fun to see him like that'.

Someday, these two teams will meet in a playoff series. That will indeed be a series for the ages.

Here's hoping that day is soon.