Friday, January 23, 2015

All-Star Break: For fans and players alike

In this season of almost unbelievable swings of fate, do the Hockey Gods have more woe in store for Minnesota Wild fans? Or, does the pendulum begin swinging the other way, towards the miracle of a playoff spot?

To be honest, I'm not too optimistic that the Wild overtake no less than four teams (three of which were in the playoffs in 2014) and make the playoffs. that's not opinion; that's supported by fact. Teams in the NHL that would not qualify in December, generally don't if they are still out in January. And let's be honest: the way the Wild have played since the middle of December, the Wild have not deserved to be even in the hunt for the playoffs. Eight times since Dec. 15, the Wild gave up 5 goals or more. Eight. Of 18 total games played. That's 44.44% of the time.

You just don't make the playoffs with your goal filling up like that. It just doesn't happen.

Now, supposedly (although it didn't look that way vs. the retooling Detroit Red Wings) the team's goaltending woes were taken care of, with the trade for Devan Dubnyk from Arizona. Dubnyk came in, pitched a 7-0 shutout of the Buffalo Sabres, and the Wild were on their way.

Am I right?

Then they came home, and the jinx which has been the 2014-15 Wild season reared its' ugly head after the Hockey Day Minnesota game vs. the Coyotes, who are also in a rebuild mode. Then, a beleaguered Columbus Blue Jackets team came in, and showed the Wild up. Then, on to Detroit.

Now, the future: After the All-Star break, 7 of the next 12 games are against former Northwest Division foes Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. If the Wild can't squeeze at least 10 points from the seven games, even the most die-hard fan will sit back, and say:

It's over.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Been there, done that. Doing them all...

As the song says...'I've been everywhere, man...'

That's right. I've done all 30 NHL arenas currently in use by member clubs. And all of them to see the Minnesota Wild play.

There have been great games (the first two, a 3-0 shutout of Ottawa, followed by a 6-3 win at Montreal), fantastic finishes (a 5-3 win at Colorado, a 7-6 come from behind shootout win, after bring down 6-3 starting the 3rd period), memorable weeks (2 wins at Chicago five days apart, in 2006-07; the Western Canadian swing in 2008; the New York turn in 2009; NHL Premiere 2010 in Helsinki, Finland; the Florida turn from this past November.)

And then, there was this past week. Yeah. It was absolutely yucky. And I'm not talking weather.

Two back-to-back games where the Wild failed to complete 60 minutes of hockey. Two back-to-back thumpings, at the hands of two of the NHL's best teams (Chicago and Pittsburgh). Two more losses on my record (3-4-3 in my last 10; 24-27-6-1 all-time overall).

But, it wasn't all bad. Lou Molnati's pizza in Chicago, and the massive Veal Parmesan from Big Jim's in the Run in Pittsburgh (it filled a platter!) really made sure we were well-fortified for our evenings ahead. And, the local fans around us were nothing short of fantastic (as they usually are. Hockey fans are cool that way.)

It's been fun, and very educational as well. Every hockey fan should see their team on the road at least once. Get out there and represent your team.

Enough of my soap box, though. The Wild game is on soon from Buffalo. Gotta get going...

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Woe that is Yeo

Goaltending woes, lazy play doom Minnesota Wild to hockey's scrap heap, as season drags on

By Wild Road Tripper

Let's all face the reality of the situation, folks. The Minnesota Wild probably will not make the NHL playoffs this season.

Currently mired in 12th place in the Western Conference, this ragtag group of middling hockey players -- who showed such promise when the season started four months ago -- have fallen thru the bottom of the playoff standings and are headlong destined for the Conor McDavid sweepstakes, if they can't pull their collective head out and play like they did in the first 20 games of the season.

In the last 11 games, the Wild are a maudlin 2-5-4, which, in baseball terms, is a .364 percentage. With a payroll approaching the salary cap of $60 Million, to get this kind of mediocrity from this group of players is flat out unacceptable.

The problems, in my humble opinion, are:

1. Goaltending. Between the two current goalies (Darcy Kuemper, Niklas Backstrom) they have the second-worst save percentage in the NHL. These two cannot stop the proverbial beach ball right now. The Wild need a proven No. 1 goaltender while Kuemper gets his act together; the fact that his confidence has been shattered, as bad as a bull in the china shop, makes the need for a proven No. 1 goaltender that much more urgent. The Wild's ownership cannot afford to have the Xcel Energy Center without its' prime occupant, after the last regular-season game on April 6th. The difference between profit and loss is between the pipes, literally and figuratively.

2. Beat-up Defense. The defensive corps, thin to begin with after years of neglect, became thinner due to illness, injury and Dustin Byfuglien's last two games vs. the Wild. The fact that one team (Winnipeg Jets) is continually allowed to beat up the defense without impunity speaks volumes as to how fragile the Wild's defensive corps really is. And, with next to no help available from within the organization, it looks like the Wild need to trade for a left-shot, right-side defenseman who can play on the Wild's third pairing.

3. Vanek, the ImpalerThomas Vanek has single-handedly impaled the Wild's playoff chances. Between the lack of shooting, the poor passes when he is actually able to get to the puck, Vanek's inability to handle breakaways, and his general disdain for using his size to his team's advantage, Vanek has virtually done everything possible to sink the Wild's playoff chances. While his linemates try to play defense, Vanek does figure skating compulsory figure 8's at center ice, waiting for the puck that will rarely get his way, and when it does, he can't finish the play, as he is too slow to avoid the rush of the defenseman coming up from behind him. While the coaching staff continues to coddle Vanek, the fans sit in awe...of his inability to justify his $6.5 Million annual salary.

He is untradeable, unwatchable...and unbelievable.

4. Medical Woes. First, the mumps. Then, norovirus (possibly spread at a Chuck E. Cheese pizza outlet in a Twin Cities suburb). Whatever the reasons, the fact that this team is always in a bad medical state, leads one to believe that there must be more to it, than just the 'team is always together' theory. Does the entire medical staff need to be relieved of duties, in order to keep the Wild healthy thru the holiday period? Does the team need to 'fort up' in the St. Paul Hotel over the holidays? Or can another way to keep the team healthy be found?

Whatever the reasons, the Wild's season now hangs in the balance. The half-way point for the Wild will come next week on the 3-game road trip, starting Sunday night in Chicago. Changing the coaching staff won't help. Changing the player attitudes, however, is much easier said than done.