Saturday, October 31, 2009

Return to the X

Hello old friend. Great to see you again.

Tonight I was in the house at Xcel Energy Center for my first Wild hockey game in a year and a half. Yes, the Wild View from Section 216 has been a view from the couch for that long. I did see the UMD Bulldogs crush the UND Fighting Sioux there last year, but from a Wild perspective, it’s been a long time.

I don’t know why, but over the time I’ve been away from my friend, “The X” as I call it because we’re tight, I didn’t feel like I’d missed it. Too much going on over the last year and a half. Adjusting to parenthood, crackdown in the wallet, a product on the ice that wasn’t compelling enough to make the extra effort. But tonight, walking up to the building I felt a bit of excitement and it all started to come back to me. First game in the 2000 preseason v. Blackhawks. Inaugural game v. Flyers. Exorcising Minnesota’s hockey demons v. Stars. On-the-Glass seats, row 2 birthday seats, hat tricks, “Who needs Gaborik” chants, playoff games, sneaking-by-the-club-level-security-guards-to-see-the-band nights. We’ve been through a lot in 9 years. Tonight I felt like a part of the Team of 18,000 again. Wild jerseys all over the place. Loud fans. Great hockey conversation with the stranger in the seat next to me (including an NHL2Night reference). Good luck to the Dartmouth women’s hockey team.

I’ve re-caught the bug. I will see you again X. I’ll bring my wife by to see you next, and introduce you to our daughter soon. We will hang out often – our family has alot of catching up to do with you.

Wild 3 Rangers 2
Oh by the way, the Wild played their best game of the season so far, beating the NY Rangers 3-2. They scored first, built a 2-goal lead, and played solid D to hang on. Petr Sykora returned to the lineup after his benching and had a goal and an assist. They won in regulation even. It’s a pretty important win in gaining a little confidence in this rebuilding year. Antti Miettinen and Eric Belanger also scored, Niklas Backstrom gets the win in net.

Shoutout to Ticket King
So tonight was the first time I’ve ever actually used Ticket King. I gotta say, it was pretty slick. I paid $30 per seat – face value was $38. No doubt this below-face pricing was the result of a poor start and no Marian Gaborik in the Ranger lineup, but it worked out beauty for me. Picked up the tix just across the street from the X and was in and out of their office in about a minute. They even bumped us to row 2 when the tix we selected were row 9. I was impressed and will with out a doubt be using them again.

Wild @ Pittsburgh Penguins Sat Oct 31 6PM CST FSN HD

We’ll see if this win builds a little momentum against the Stanley Cup champion Penguins. No Evgeni Malkin, so that’ll help. Still a tough task to get a W. I just want to see consistent improvement. Don’t follow this nice win up with a dud.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Predators 4 Wild 3: 2 Minutes and 18 Seconds of Good Hockey

Guess we won’t be making the playoffs by going 41-0 at home.

Tonight the Wild lost their first game of the season at Xcel Energy Center, dropping their home record to 3-1. Lump that in with their 0-8 record on the road and the Wild have a Western Conference-worst 6 points. 12 games into the season, the Wild are ahead of only the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Florida Panthers in the entire NHL.

Tonight’s game wasn’t exactly entertaining. The Wild were down 1-0 early and 2-0 at the end of the 1st period. Things were looking sweet at the start of the 2nd, as surprisingly the Wild scored 3 goals in the first 2:18 – Burns on the PP, Clutterbuck from the right circle in transition, and Nolan on a weird cross-ice play that had Preds G Dan Ellis going the wrong direction. But that 3-2 lead lasted about as long as the Twins postseason, and the Preds soon had a 4-3 lead. That was that. My head was buried in my laptop for most of the 3rd. Figuring out what is new in Windows 7 was more interesting, and that’s sad commentary.

There’s alot of things not going well for this team. Obviously offensive flow is a big one. But another that’s becoming apparent is poor defensive play. I don’t know if it’s lack of talent on the blueline or trying to implement a activating D system with D that can’t play that style, but it’s difficult to watch. And Marek Zidlicky is the new Martin Skoula.

Speaking of that offensive flow, I don’t get why Petr Sykora would be a healthy scratch after playing only 2 games since coming back from injury. This team doesn’t have alot of offensive talent, and scratching Sykora takes out a major piece of that talent. Don’t you need to play your best players and allow them to work on that offensive flow?

Oh yeah, and the boo birds were out tonight at the X. Oh hey, the T-Wolves won tonight. How long before the discerning Minnesota sports fan chooses to spend his or her hard-earned money in Minneapolis instead of St. Paul? Just sayin…

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Blues 3 Wild 1: At Least it was Fun to Listen to Panger

Mostly more of the same from the Wizzy tonight. A very poor start…Down 1-0 in the first 2 minutes. Outshot 8-0 before they got their first shot. Gave up a 2 on 1 shorthanded goal. It all added up to the Blues’ first win at home and yet another Wild road loss.

If you couldn’t see this game, you didn’t miss a whole lot. Here’s a couple things…

  • Newly acquired F Chuck Kobasew scored his first goal in a Wild sweater.
  • Brent Burns continues to look like he’s lost something. He’s certainly not the guy we were ready to anoint the next Chris Chelios. Actually, I wonder how Cheli is doing with the Chicago Wolves…
  • The Wizzy played better in the 2nd and 3rd and closed the shot margin to 26-20 by the end of the game.
  • Still waiting to see this “offensive” style of hockey kick in. Mostly I see chickens with their heads cut off.
  • Wild D Kim Johnsson left the game in the 1st period with some sort of injury and didn’t return.
  • The loss wrecks the Wild’s perfect record with their new third sweater. Sure, it was only 1-0, but there hasn’t been much else to get excited about. Now that’s gone too.
  • Has Marty Havlat played in a game yet? Maybe I should tweet him and ask.
  • I’ve seen alot of commentary on Benoit Pouliot’s game looking alot better so far this season, so I decided to pay attention tonight. I have to say, I was impressed. At the risk of saying this again and looking stupid, might he have finally figured it out?
  • I love listening to Darren Pang do color commentary. How does a guy like him wind up in St. Louis, and we have to listen to who we have to listen to? Also, there was no obnoxious “Face Off” bit in the intermission. Good on ya Fox Sports Midwest.

Next: Hurricanes @ Wild Saturday 7PM FSN (HD)
The Wild will put their perfect home record on the line tomorrow against Carolina. The ‘Canes only have 2 wins as well, so it should be riveting hockey. You would like to see the Wizzy win this one, and hopefully in regulation.

All 30 teams will be in action tomorrow as well. These are fun nights if you have the Center Ice package. 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Catch Wild v. Blues on Center Ice

Just a quick update on the TV situation for tonight's Wild @ Blues game. It's not on MSP local, but if you are getting the NHL Center Ice free preview from your cable or satellite provider (DirecTV, Dish, Comcast, etc.) you can catch the St. Louis broadcast.

It's always fun to hear the out of towners prattle about your team, so check it out if you can.

UPDATE: Via Russo's Twitter feed, the Wild will be wearing their third jerseys in St. Louis tonight, so there's another reason to watch. Apparently they will wear them tonight, tomorrow @ the X and Monday in Chicago. Interesting that they're wearing them on the road.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wild 3 Avalanche 2 (SO): Improvement and a Win

Tonight the Wild looked a liiiiitle bit better than they have over the last couple weeks. They got to practice the powerplay alot as well, and that certainly helped. The Wild had 8 powerplay opportunities while Colorado had 3, and both regulation Wild goals came on the powerplay .They scored the lone goal in the shootout to get the extra point and just like that we’ve doubled our win total for the season! We’re comin!

Mikko Koivu
Mikko Koivu, in his first game as the first real Wild captain, had a very strong game. He scored the tying goal in the 3rd on a redirected puck in front of the net, and he scored the game winner in the shootout. However, I will not call him “Captain Koivu” as FSN play-by-play guy Dan Terhaar chose to do. Ugh.

Niklas Backstrom
Backy was great again, making 35 saves plus 3 in the shootout. He is the constant on this team, again not flashy but there when you need him.

2nd Period Still Ugly
The Wild dominated the 1st period with the help of Avalanche penalties. But in the 2nd they reverted to the team we saw on the west coast. The Avs outshot the Wild 18-4 in the 2nd when we saw sloppy defensive play, poor breakouts, and an inability to clear for long stretches. Wild D Brent Burns looked especially lost as he ineffectively tried to clear the puck, regained it, then turned it over inside the defensive zone, which led directly to the Avs go ahead goal. Gotta tighten that up.

Busted Glass
It seemed the loudest cheer of the night from the “Team of 18,000” came when an Avalance player knocked Wild D Nick Schultz into the glass at the scorers table just before the end of regulation and the glass shattered into at least 1,394,238 pieces. It was a little comical to see the official timekeeper shield himself from the wreckage while stopping the clock. Good work sir.

Third Jersey
I really like the new sweaters. It was awesome to see the boys in green again, and I think the script lettering on the front is striking. Also, I like that they are 1-0 in them.

Wild hop a plane for a quick rodie to St. Louis on Friday, 7PM No TV (FSN FAIL) The Blues look improved over last season, but they don’t exactly instill fear into my heart.The Wild should show some pride, play a “good road game” and get their first road win of the year.

Congrats to the Philadelphia Phillies for putting away the Dodgers tonight to advance to the World Series. Assuming it’s Phillies v. Yankees, I’m all about a Phils repeat.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Time for Renewal

It's been a long couple weeks since the Wild have played at Xcel Energy Center. A long west coast road trip resulted in a no wins and 5 losses, giving the Wild a depressing record of 1-6. It sucks being a fan of that team. I'm not going to rehash that 0-5 trip - that's been done at nauseum. Let's look at why things will turn around soon for our favorite hockey team.

Back Home
Gotta start somewhere, and the X is the last (only) place they won a game. It's only for one game and they're back out to St. Louis, but then they come back here Saturday. The long road trip is over and at least they get some familiarity with their surroundings. Should impart a better state of mind.

Third Jersey Debut
The Wild will wear their new green third jersey for the first time tonight. Some teams rack up wins in their alternate jerseys and this is obviously purely coincidence, but if it makes the day feel like a special occasion and amps the team up a bit more I'll bite.

More Work on the System
Veteran Wild F Andrew Brunette was on KFAN with Lavelle E. Neil this morning, and they talked a bit about learning the new system. Bruno is always pretty candid in media interviews and he sounded sincere in speaking to the difficulty in going to a new system that is pretty much the exact opposite of what most of the team is used to playing. He said it in a way that makes me believe it's more than just an excuse, that there truly are growing pains of learning Todd Richards' system. He said he feels like each day they get a bit better, and if it's working well they will be a hard forechecking team. It's gotta click eventually.

Another factor Bruno touched on was injuries. Not so much that the injuries have resulted in the losses, but that they've contributed to the learning curve on the new system. A good portion of the team (including Bruno and Koivu) missed most of the preseason with injuries, and now you have Havlat and Sykora missing games. Havlat may play tonight and Sykora sounds close, and out of nowhere Cal Clutterbuck skated with the team today, so things are looking up.

On a downside to the injury thing, Pierre Marc Bouchard was placed on extended injury reserve or some goofy thing. He has concussion symptoms that won't go away. Some people have speculated that his career could be in question. That would be sad - PMB is a good kid.

Chuck Kobasew
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher made a deal with Boston for Chuck Kobasew, a tough winger. He might not be the key to making this team competitive, but he has scored 20+ goals the last two seasons, and the Wild need goal scorers. Fletch gave up a good prospect, but you gotta give up something to get something. Would Doug Reisbrough have made that trade?

The Official Face of the Franchise
Finally, the Wild have a permanent captain. They gave F Mikko Koivu the C for good, even though it has been unofficially his team for the last year or so. Mikko was the fan choice. Richards said he exibits all the characteristics of a good leader. During the presser announcing the move he spoke to the media in a way I haven't ever really heard him speak. You could hear the responsibility in his tone. He said the important thing was that "the older guys" supported him in that role and that he wouldn't change how he plays or how he acts in the clubhouse, but I envision him taking the role and running with it. Some people step up more when others give you more responsibility and I think Mikko, typically thought of as a quiet leader, will excell in this spot.

It's going to get better folks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ducks 3 Wild 2: So Not that Close

It’s been a long 2 weeks since the season started.

It’s going to seem even longer as the season wears on.

Tonight the Wild lose 3-2 to the Anaheim Ducks, and it wasn’t that close. Corey Perry had two goals for the Ducks less than 9 minutes into the game. It was 3-0 before Eric Belanger scored to give the Wild a little (a very little) life. In the third period, there wasn’t much to get a Wild fan excited. Andrew Brunette did score his 4th goal of the year, but it came too little too late with only 9 seconds to play.

Again the Wild looked incohesive throughout this game. They The first Duck goal was a direct result of a bad Wild line change and Wild D Shane Hnidy taking a feeble swipe at the puck before sending Perry on a semi-breakaway. Perry scored his 2nd goal at even strength as well, though it sure looked like a Ducks powerplay. And that was about all she wrote.

I counted 4 odd-man rushes given up by the Wild, and I was only paying loose attention. The Wild didn’t sustain any pressure, even on the power play. There isn’t much reason to watch right now. I missed part of the game for Blackhawks v. Oilers.

Oh, and to top all that off, Wild F Martin Havlat left the game in the 3rd period, with an “undisclosed injury.” Russo is hearing it’s a groin pull. Havlat is as injury prone as Marian Gaborik, so this could be more bad news for a hurting Wild team.

The Wild start the season 1-4. How long with this ugliness last? Is it the new coach factor? Is it a learning the system thing? Or just a bad team? Are we looking at a lottery pick in June?

Next: Wild @ Edmonton – Friday October 16th 8PM KSTC
I don’t foresee much change in time for our first NW divisional matchup of the season. These games in Canada are typically a tough watch. Something always goes wrong for the Wild. And I expect Sioux v. Gophers will be on our TV this weekend, so I’ll be in and out of this one.

Can’t wait until the Wild are must-see TV again.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Wild 4 Ducks 3: EPIC

So I've adopted a new word. Picked it up mostly from the Twitter, and I know I'm late to this party, but that's pretty standard for me. I've hesitated to use it but if I'm ever going to use it, it's going to be now.

In case you've been checked out on some exotic island the last few days, you know that Minnesota has been the center of the sports universe over the last 5 days or so. A couple months ago, it looked like a pretty sweet weekend. Gophers v. Badgers at TCF Bank Stadium Saturday, Twins final series at Metrodome the whole weekend culminating with a celebration after the final game Sunday, Vikings v. Packers on Monday Night Football at Metrodome, and the Wild home opener at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday. 5 great days of Minnesota sporting events in the Twin Cities.

Then the stretch became huge.

Brett Favre signed with the Vikings and the matchup with the Packers at Metrodomebecame huge. The Twins were two games back of the Tigers in the Central division entering play on Friday. We all know what happened there - the Twins swept Kansas City, tied the Tigers, and forced a playoff game at Metrodome. That game was scheduled for Tuesday, and the Wild opener suddenly became the forgotten.

And then the stretch became EPIC.

Favre, Jared Allen, and the Vikings dominated the Packers on Monday and 60,000 Vikings fans left Metrodome elated. On Tuesday, Twins v. Tigers was a nail-biting, stomach-churning affair for both sides. The Twins battled back from 3-0, took a 4-3 lead, got down 5-4, went to extra innings, eeked out of numerous jams, and somehow, someway, walked off as Central Division Champions in the 12th inning. 54,000 Twins fans at Metrodome went banana sandwich. Metrodome is not yet ready to give this team to Target Field.

All that was left was the Wild, just hanging out over in St. Paul, in front of the team of 18,000 (barely), opening their home season with a new coach and new identity. Time to switch gears.

Don't Forget About Us!
I flipped the Wild game on after I'd had my fill of watching Twins players jumping (I mean dancing), spraying champagne, and otherwise adding to their hangover that will make it tough to play well against the Yankees tomorrow. It was the start of the 2nd period, where it was 0-0, and what I saw did not look good at all. The Wild looked out of sorts again, similar to the season opener v. the Blue Jackets. The lack of flow turned quickly into a 3-0 Duck lead. The Duck goals included one from Saku Koivu, which had to drive a bit of a dagger into Mikko and the Wild.

Then EPIC intervened. The 3rd period was a complete reversal of the 2nd. Suddenly the Wild were attacking, sustaining pressure, and getting the puck on Duck G JS Giguere. Mikko Koivu broke through with a powerplay goal from Martin Havlat and Andrew Brunette 6 minutes in. Petr Sykora fired a pretty snap shot past Giguere 6 minutes later, from Havlat and Eric Belanger to make it 3-2. With just over 2 minutes left in regulation, Belanger tied the game, beating Giguere 5-hole from the left circle on the PP, assisted by Havlat again and Brent Burns. And in the overtime, Andrew Brunette cleaned up a loose puck for the game winner - once again on the PP, assisted by Belanger and Kim Johnsson.

The Wild completed the most EPIC 5-day stretch in MN sports history with an equally EPIC comeback. One that we likely would never have seen under the old regime. Andrew Brunette said after the game that they wouldn't let the Twins out do them tonight, and the Team of 18,000 went home as elated as everyone else did over the EPIC stretch of MN sports.

Twins v. Yankees from Yankee Stadium on Wednesday 5 PM TBS...Oh yeah...this is a Wild blog.

The Wild travel to the LA Kings (Thursday 9:30 PM FSNorth HD). The Kings are 1-1 after beating the Sharks tonight and Kings are scoring a few goals in this early season, so the Wild defense will be challenged to continue fine-tuning their offensive system while keeping the Kings scoring chances down. I still think it will take some time, Kings 4 Wild 2.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Blue Jackets 2 Wild 1: Clearly a Work in Progress

Man, what a day. Just finished watching the Wild’s season opener because I had other things on my mind today. Like my last baseball game at Metrodome, the Twins trying to run down the Tigers, becoming a temporary White Sox fan, and…well I guess that’s it.

I watched tonight’s 2009-2010 Wild opener on the DVR, and while it was a bit non-descript, one thing is clear: This is a new brand of hockey.

New Style
This a different kind of hockey from the Jacques Lemaire style that we saw for the first 8 years of the Wild’s existence. It just had a different feel. Actually, JL would probably have keeled over if his Wild played this sloppy. But sloppy is as sloppy does…we will likely see alot of this type of play throughout the season as new coach Todd Richards instills his brand of hockey. There weren’t a ton of great scoring chances in either direction, but it just felt so much looser than a typical Wild hockey game. It’s clear we’re in a new era of Wild hockey.

Andrew Brunette scored the lone goal for the Wild, and it was a pretty goal, set up by Mikko Koivu and Martin Havlat, as he deked Mason and slid it in short side conjuring memories of his goal that ended Patrick Roy’s career in the 2003 playoffs.

Other than that, the Wild didn’t sustain much pressure tonight. They were outshot 39-33, and it didn’t feel like they had that many shots.

That’s about all I’ve got for tonight; I’ve got Twins on the brain. I still believe the franchise is better for this change. It will pay off eventually.

An Aside
Wow…as I finish up this post, the Calgary Flames just beat the Edmonton Oilers on a misplay by Nikolai Khabibulin with 40 seconds to go. Bad bad way to lose a season opener in your home arena.

Home opener Tuesday v. the Anaheim Ducks. Too early to throw out predictions really, but the Ducks lost their opener to San Jose 4-1. This game may be even more difficult to pay attention to…if the Twins and Tigers end in tie after tomorrow’s 162nd game, they will play game 163 at Metrodome on Tuesday.

How bout instead, Twins win, Tigers lose on Sunday…