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But the biggest number is 1. One man that this season could very well ultimately be riding upon. And that man is one few would have counted on at the start of the year: young goalie Darcy Kuemper.
Michael Russo wrote a nice piece on the happy-go-lucky Kuemper for today's paper as the Wild prepares to resume at Edmonton tonight following the Olympic break.
Without a lot of things this season -- the early work of the now-sidelined Josh Harding, a few grind-them-out wins in early January after late December slide and the emergence of some of the team's younger forwards, to name a few -- those playoff odds wouldn't be so keen.
But if you're looking for the savior of the season, the one keeping a very realistic playoff hope alive, in our mind it is Kuemper. He hasn't matched the lights-out brilliance Harding brought when he was healthy earlier this year, but with Niklas fighting an injury and the puck for so much of his season, Kuemper's 8-3-2 record and 2.46 GAA have kept things from falling apart on average nights and flat-out stolen games on others.
The goaltending picture for this team going forward still looks strangely murky. Backstrom's contract and health, Harding's health and Kuemper's relative inexperience will be a riddle to solve in the offseason. For now, the Wild should be thrilled to ride whatever steadiness Kuemper can continue to provide into a quite possible second consecutive playoff berth.
Game of the Week: Wild at Nashville (6pm Sunday, FSN Plus)
Advanced statistical analysis is becoming part of every sport, but the thing that strikes me is how forehead-smackingly simple some of the conclusions turn out to be. In baseball, one of the great conclusions was that outs -- wait for it -- are bad, because after three of them your team has to start over from scratch.
Hockey, too, has seen an expansion of advanced analysis. Allow me to sum most of the advanced stats up in three sentences: A team must score more than its opponent to win. The team that does not possess the puck cannot score. The number of shots a team takes in a game -- including the ones that are blocked or miss the net (depending on the stat) -- is a pretty good representation of how often they had the puck.
Got that? The conclusion is that having the puck is good. Forehead-smacking, right?
I bring all of this up because I want to direct you to the excellent extraskater.com page for the Wild, which contains handy charts that show off a graphical look at the Wild's season. On that page, you can also find the most telling stat for Minnesota: over the past three games before playing Colorado on Saturday, at even strength, Minnesota was getting out-shot more than two to one by their opponents. Winning streak or no, that does not bode well for the Wild.
What else to watch
Sunday, noon: Niners at Panthers (FOX)
3:30pm: Chargers at Broncos (CBS)
There is one reason that football, brain injuries and shortened lifespan aside, will never die, and here's that expressed in one number: 47,100,000. That's the number of people who tuned in to the Packers-49ers game last Sunday, the most-watched wild-card game ever. Or another number: 22, the number of NFL regular-season games that drew more than 25 million viewers, up from eight last year.
This is why ESPN has turned itself into a 24/7 NFL pregame show. This is why NFL talk is inescapable in any scenario. This is why football will never go away; it's America's favorite game and has the eyeballs to match.
6pm Sunday: Wolves at San Antonio (FSN). The Wolves are having one of the weirdest seasons I've ever seen. They are second in the NBA in offense and seventh in defense, and any ranking based on those two stats has them among the top six or seven teams in the league. Yet they're tenth in the West and 18-18 overall, all because they either lose by two (0-10, famously, in close games) or win by 27, like they did Friday night. This game will likely be close. 0-11 or 1-10?
Happy Saturday! Today is, of course, Hockey Day Minnesota, the now-annual celebration of local hockey (and excuse to play high school games outdoors). I've always liked this event, because it feeds into the "State of Hockey" marketing that the Wild created a decade ago. It may not apply to the entire state, but it's nice to have one thing that's different about our state. So I encourage you: sit down and watch some outdoor hockey this morning. Head down to your local arena to catch a game tonight. Be a Minnesotan; be part of our tradition. It's Hockey Day!
A few thoughts and some good reading for you:
*We start with hockey - of course - and the story of how Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke became Canada's leading advocate for gay athletes. It's a really touching story, and heartbreaking, and thought-provoking. And while we're talking hockey, I really enjoyed Michael Russo's profile on Andrew Brunette on the occasion of Bruno's 1000th NHL game. Brunette truly has to be in the running for "best NHL player ever that couldn't beat most goalies in a footrace."
*While we're in profile mode: why not tackle SI's profile of Jake Plummer, the man who did what we'd all like to believe we could do, and walked away before he'd stayed too long. (Including bonus education about the game of handball!)
*Via commenter fasolamatt is this week's fasolalink: some guidance on when to use substitutes in a soccer match. Given that fasolamatt has a long-lost twin that referees state soccer matches, this seems oddly appropriate.
*We have some proof that things are looking up for the Timberwolves: the team's TV ratings are up 86 percent, second in the NBA to only Miami. Kevin Love continues to work his magic, even through the television screen.
*And finally: I think I need to check out this Onion SportsDome show on Comedy Central, because this is truly inspired genius. It's the "Kwame Brown Lottery," a (fake, of course) look at which team has to be saddled with the failed former #1 draft pick. (Hey, at least the Wolves finally won one of these things.)
That's enough for me. Enjoy the weekend, and the warm weather. You've earned them both.
Hocku of the week
Welcome to the latest installment of Rocket's Red Glare, where Commenter Rocket attempts (and sometimes succeeds) to talk about an NHL topic in fewer than 2,000 words. Rocket?
As you might remember from last week’s post, I had the rare opportunity to actually attend the NHL’s Skills Competition and All-Star Game. I wanted to share some insights about the experience with you and, as any true hockey fan knows, the best way to do that would have been through interpretive dance. Unfortunately, the head oligarch of this blog claims that I would have to go through many complicated steps, including digitally filming the performance and “uploading” it – whatever the [redacted] that means – regardless of the many hours I have already been choreographing and practicing. Whatever you say, Comrade RanBball. I guess I’ll just use the paltry English language to fumble my way through some stray observations instead of truly sharing the experience with everybody through movement, art, and soul.