Wild play at home in front of non-sellout crowd for first time ever, hysteria ensues

1 Comment

wild.JPGWho says history doesn’t happen in the preseason? The Minnesota Wild managed to do something in their 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues that they’ve never done before. They managed to not play the game in front of a sellout crowd. With an announced crowd of 16,219 it marked the first time in franchise history that the Wild played in front of anything less than the “team of 18,000” in St. Paul.

While some Wild fans, blogs, and executives alike lament the disappointing turn out, getting hysterical about not selling out a preseason game and losing a mythical streak is a bit much. Having Wild owner Craig Leipold go so far as to write a letter to the fans about this brings “hysteria” to a entirely new level.

Thankfully Michael Russo of The Star Tribune is here to tell us that all is not exactly lost.

The NHL counts regular season and postseason in active sellout streak, so technically the Wild has a 382-game sellout streak still intact. But it’s brilliant. The Wild makes a huge deal of it now, and now if they don’t sell out Game 3 or 5 or 7 of the regular season, we make it just a footnote in print.

Incidentally, the Wild has still not sold out opening night, so tickets are still available if you’re interested.

The streak was going to end some time in this day and age of a rocky economy, tons of good entertainment and sports choices in this area and the fact that the Wild’s missed the playoffs for two years in a row and hasn’t been past the first round since 2003.

The reality is, put a winner on the ice, the fans will flock again. But the honeymoon’s over. It’s time to win.

These are the sorts of rough days the Wild had to expect going through and changing things up from a staid and uninspiring style to what coach Todd Richards is doing now with the Wild. Simply flipping a switch from one style to another doesn’t work overnight the way many fans wish it would. You need the right personnel to play the game and for the Wild right now, they’re caught in the middle with guys that brought up in Lemaire’s system and former GM Doug Risebrough’s uninspired scouting.

Wild fans are upset and they want a winner that plays a style they can get excited about. That’s a lot to ask for when going through such turnover within the organization and Wild fans are finally responding (perhaps a few seasons too late) with their wallets that mediocrity won’t cut it. Minnesota fans can’t ever be accused of being bad hockey fans, Minnesota is the most hockey-mad state in the union. They do know when they’re not being given something worth spending boatloads of money on though and the Wild the last few years certainly haven’t been that.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

Getty
2 Comments

William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

Getty
Leave a comment

WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

3 Comments

The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

Getty
2 Comments

The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.