Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 25-21-6   Wild 23-22-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

ONE GOOD DOSE OF THUNDER: Hockey Wilderness

The Hawks will conclude their mini-trip out of the bye week in St. Paul tonight, before returning home for all of one game and then heading back out where they came from for another five games. That’s some brilliant scheduling if you ask me! You can feel Toews’s rage without much effort. But the Hawks won’t have a lot of time or cause to bitch, because every point is valuable and though the travel schedule might not make much sense the opponents on offer are certainly gettable. That for sure describes the Minnesota Wild these days.

While the Hawks are certainly in the thick of the playoff race, mostly because it came back to them, they aren’t really away from anyone. The Preds and Jets are right there with them. The rest of the division is pretty much out of touch out ahead in the distance. Except for the Wild, whom the Hawks can kind of put out of their misery tonight. That sounds silly to say with 29 games left after this one, but a regulation win would put the Wild five points in arrears and that’s a massive gap. Not that it’s one the Hawks couldn’t cough up, but let’s say it’s unlikely. And the more teams you can cull from the chase the better off you are.

It’s not hard to pinpoint where it’s gone wrong for the Wild. While Bruce Boudreau continues to conjure up his magic potion of not really being a great Coris team but an excellent expected goals team – i.e. the Wild are content to give up attempts but don’t give up good chances–that doesn’t really matter if your goalies can’t stop a sloth in the sand. The Wild give up the least amount of xGA/60 and scoring chances per game in the league, but their SV% is bottom-10 with both Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk especially facing the wrong way and identifying cloud shapes most of the time. That’ll torpedo most teams, and so it has done with the Wild.

Which might just be enough to torpedo Boudreau out of a job come April.  It would be a second-straight playoff-less season, and the team probably needs an overhaul, and there’s a new GM on board these days in Bill Guerin and his weird face. It might not be totally fair to Gabby, but dem’s da breaks. The Wild certainly score enough to be better than this, at 3.06 per game, and their defensive structure has kept the task to a minimum for the goalies. But they haven’t been up to it, and if you were to swap goalies with the Hawks the Wild most definitely would be in the playoff picture if not up among the top three in the Central. Also when your goalies suck it’s hard to have anything near a decent penalty kill, and the Wild very much don’t, second-worst in the league. They’re not good enough to outscore teams by two or three at evens.

Which is saying something for Gabby, because the Wild feel like they’re short on frontline talent once again. Zach Parise these days is a tweener between a first and second line player, and the advanced age of Eric Staal might make him that as well. Mats Zuccarello has always been that, as has Jason Zucker (and he’s missed a fair amount of time this year as well). Kevin Fiala might actually be proving to be something more than sarcophagus filling with 28 points, but he’s not providing what Mikhail Granlund used to (but certainly isn’t now). That Rask-for-Nino trade was such a disaster that Rask is a healthy scratch tonight. There isn’t a lot here, and you can’t say Boudreau isn’t maximizing it.

The blue line is still very solid and finally healthy, as you can do a hell of a lot worse on a top-four than Suter, Spurgeon, Brodin, and Dumba. That’s how the Wild keep things pretty limited in their end, even if it is all getting undone by the men in the mask.

No changes for the Hawks other than it looks like Lehner will get the start with Crow getting the slightly tougher assignment of Patrice And The Pips tomorrow night. New boy Nick Seeler, who is neither loose nor tight, won’t make his debut against his former team tonight and let’s just hope he’s ballast for the rest of the season. You don’t want this rockhead taking regular minutes, believe us.

The key tonight for the Hawks is getting to the middle of the offensive zone. The Wild are more than happy to let you putter around the perimeter and try and thread a needle through to the net from there. Suter and Brodin especially play economical defensive games where they let things come to them and simply prod you back outside the dots or behind the net. So players like Kane and Dach and Strome and Top Cat, the ones who can conjure something out of nowhere will have to, and players like Toews, Kubalik, and Saad who can get to the middle through power will need to do some of that as well. If you can get the shots, the Wild goalies will give you goals.

It’s a big ask to get four of four with the Bruins waiting tomorrow, though they’ll also be on the second of a back-to-back, on the road, the Hawks have been great with those all season, and they’ve caught the Bruins napping before this season. Still, these two points seem pretty vital before that road trip that is going to determine the rest of the season. They’re right there, so take them.

Everything Else

Ben Remington is one half of Giles And The Goalie podcast, and ZoneCoverageMN.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenRemington.

How big is Jonas Brodin’s injury?
I mean it’s not a small deal, but I’m not super convinced it’s a huge deal either. Brodin had been better lately, but was otherwise having a pretty bad season, after he was protected in the Expansion Draft. It means more ice time for the young offensive dynamo/defensively challenged Mike Reilly, which I’m not opposed to. Gustav Olofsson is almost a Brodin clone, and he’ll slide into the second pair, and I think it’ll be alright.

 Injuries have really hampered this team, but they really can’t use Brodin’s injury as yet another crutch, given his body of work this season.

There was some talk that Eric Staal would be on the trade block before the deadline. Where did that come from?
 No sure, exactly. Is HFboards still around?
I mean, logically it makes a little sense, if the Wild were to decide to sell. He’s got a year left on an incredible contract, and teams would be salivating over that. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any kind of push to re-sign him, because he’s hitting his mid 30’s, probably due a huge pay raise, and the Wild seem to have some in house centers they want to give more time to eventually. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him dealt, but the return better curl my toes and expose my O face. It’s crazy to think about shipping out your best player without trying to re-sign him, but if you have a pretty good idea that you won’t be able to afford him anyway, there are worse courses of action, I suppose. 

Matt Dumba has 19 points in his last 29 games. Is this finally his arrival?
 I think so. He got off to a slow start but has really been solid generating offense for most of the season, which is why so many of us wanted him protected over Brodin. He’s only 23, and has shown some incredible stuff that has somewhat outweighed the occasional miscue. I think he’s just scratching the surface on offense, and with his shot could be a Burns-Lite (or even full flavor, who knows).
 What are the Wild going to do before the deadline? They have to at least push it, right?
 I think so, but I’m not expecting much, given their dire cap situation. The big contracts aren’t going anywhere, so anything beyond getting a bottom 6 forward type I’d be surprised by. I’m also a little terrified of Chuck Fletcher making a blockbuster deal at the deadline, since he’s on the last year of his contract and there’s tons of uncertainty on if he’ll be back.
 There’s been talk of them unloading Foligno, which is hilarious given what they paid for him and the contract they gave him. By hilarious I mean depressing, but I’d also be almost as happy about as when they fired Kyle Quincey into the sun. 
Where do the Wild go after this season? They’re kind of contractually committed to this group but it’s getting older. Is this cycle complete?
 Ha, well, yeah, I think? I think they’ll keep taking puncher’s chances at the playoffs every year with this core, but it’s hard to see them doing any real damage unless something drastic happens. Dubnyk is the type of goalie to get red hot for a stretch and carry this team, but we just haven’t seen that in the playoffs, or really this season, aside for his three game shutout streak. If Kirill Kaprisov comes over soon, that could change the whole complexion of this team, but something something Russia something something.
All in all I think this team is very much stuck in a rut through most of the Parise/Suter contracts, barring a miracle. It’ll be interesting to see how they try to build around their corpses in 5 years.

 

Game #55 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

wildthings vs evil empire

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, NBCSN (National), WGN-AM 720
Labour Issues In The Toy Department: Hockey Wilderness

As the broadcast will assuredly punish the listening audience with 7 million reminders of by puck drop, the first game back at home after a road trip is always a TRAP GAME. And it’s even moreso of one by some moronic logic because the Wild have lost 6 of 7 coming into tonight. Or it could just be that they’re just perpetually mediocre.

Everything Else

evil empire at wildthings

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Commit This To Memory: Hockey Wilderness

Before beginning the preview in earnest, first a public service announcement for Halloween weekend.

Under no circumstance is going out in black face acceptable. Yes, it’s 2015 and it’s fucking preposterous that these statements have to be made, but such is the state of affairs. And it’s a particularly gross trend among hockey players. It is your responsibility as a human being to tell anyone even thinking of doing this that it’s a bad, at best colossally ignorant idea. Do not be like these assholes.

hawksblackface

raffi torres

tyler bozak

Everything Else

wildthings vs oldschool

Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet360, TVA2 (Franco), WGN-AM 720
Twin/Tone Records: Hockey Wilderness

While it took a little bit of a roundabout way of getting there, the result in game one on Friday was the same as it has been for now three years and counting for the Hawks and Wild. And if this is going to be a series, the Wild are going to need to empty the tank this evening in hopes of returning to the Twin Cities with a split.

Everything Else

oldschool at wildthings

Game Time: 8:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CNBC, TSN (Anglo), RDS2 (Franco), 87.7FM The Game
What You Want It To Be: Hockey Wilderness

For the second time in as many playoff years, the Hawks will take the brief trek up to St. Paul and the Xcel Energy center with a two game series lead having successfully held serve on West Madison St. And for the second time in as many years, the Wild and their fans figure to treat tonight as a do-or-die proposition within the context of their season.