Saturday, February 21, 2015

Since we've last met...

Minnesota Wild finally find their goaltender, game, and get back in playoff hunt

'O, the times, they are a-changin'...'

Remember that old 60's song? That phrase could also apply to the Minnesota Wild, as they are rising from the ashes of the NHL Western Conference playoff race, to get back to at least respectability as the 2014-15 season comes into the final 20-22 games of the regular season.

The trade for Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona (nee-Phoenix) Coyotes has been a Godsend for the beleaguered Wild goaltending corps. Not having to depend on second-year Darcy Kuemper, or 37-year-old and physically beat up Niklas Backstrom has steadied the Wild defense, despite injuries to Jared Spurgeon (concussion) and Marco Scandella (cut) in back-to-back games.

On the offensive side, the step-up of Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Schroeder and Justin Fontaine makes up for the unfortunate loss of Jason Zucker (collarbone), Ryan Carter (lower body) and Matt Cooke (sports hernia) in the last 30 days.

The Wild also got a break from the schedule makers, as well: with 9 games in the last 4 weeks against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, the Wild went 8-1 against their former Northwest Division rivals.

The next four weeks are not as kind to the Wild. Two games vs. Colorado, Nashville and St. Louis, all Western Conference rivals. The Washington Capitals also show up twice in the next 4 weeks. Single games against Ottawa, Carolina, New Jersey, and Anaheim should spice things up a bit as well. Hopefully by the time Anaheim shows up (Mar. 13, a Friday night) the Ducks will have solidified a playoff spot, and will be ready to lighten up a bit. For now, at least.

The schedule has 8 home games and 6 games on the road between now and March 21 (a 1:00 PM start) vs. St. Louis. In my opinion, the Wild needs to sweep the home games and go at least .500 on the road. That would bring the Wild to 89 points, within striking distance of clinching a playoff spot.

As of now (yes, shameless optimism), the Wild are:

* 2 points behind Winnipeg, with 3 games in hand (again) after Winnipeg plays tonight at (really) lowly Toronto.

* One point behind San Jose, again with three games in hand after tonight's game vs. the LA Kings at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara (NHL Stadium Series). Should the Kings win in regulation, the Sharks would drop to 9th place, one point ahead of the Wild. (LA and the Wild will have played the same number of games after tonight).

*The Wild can basically make the Dallas Stars irrelevant if they win in regulation tomorrow night. The Stars will be either five or seven points (depending on tonight's Detroit at Dallas game) behind the Wild, and will have played one more game.

*Calgary, Vancouver, San Jose and LA are four teams playing for basically three spots. Which team throws in the towel first?

And, one last tidbit, which should be interesting for Wild fans:

*The Wild are eight points behind Chicago for third place in the Central Division. The Wild have one game in hand on the Blackhawks. And, one game against each other (Apr. 7, at the United Center.)

Just sayin'....