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The Sporting News put together a map of which states are rooting for which teams in the NHL playoffs based on Facebook "likes." As someone who grew up in North Dakota, the results aren't terribly surprising, but: North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota are rooting for the Wild, while border states west and south of the Dakotas are rooting for the Avs.
Generally speaking, this is how things go with pretty much every Minnesota pro team. The Dakotas have no major pro teams, and residents tend to gravitate toward those in Minnesota. The exceptions are some odd ducks who are Cubs or Braves fans (we fell into the latter category) growing up, or those in the Western part of the state who wind up going for Colorado teams -- particularly the Broncos.
If you want to go start some stuff with an Avs fan, or perhaps scoop up some oil, head west on I-94 deep into North Dakota this weekend.
There are some other interesting nuggets to be gleaned from the map of all 50 states, including the wide swath cut by the Blackhawks and the one-state isolation of the Blues.
Have a look-see at the whole thing:
We've been having a spirited discussion over text message with some of our hockey-loving friends this morning and early afternoon regarding the Minnesota Wild, which begins its playoff quest Thursday with Game 1 against Colorado. The Wild is in the playoffs for the second consecutive season; last year, Minnesota was dropped in five games by Chicago, which proved to be the better team by a fairly large stretch. The question posed over text was this: What does the Wild need to accomplish in the playoffs this year in order to give the impression that progress has been made since last season?
We will boil the discussion down to a few essential points from each participant:
*Friend A: "They need to look like they are an identifiable piece away from a serious run. If, after a round or two you say to yourself that they are a serious goalie or a Vanek away from a deep playoff run then it will be successful. If they look uncompetitive like they did last year, or if one is left with a vague unease of not knowing what is wrong with this team then it will feel like a failure. I don't think you can pinpoint a specific round they need to reach.
*Friend B: "They have a ... goaltender who won't be here next year who is the biggest key to their playoff run. If he stands on his head and they win the Cup, or if he collapses and they get swept, either way it has nothing to do with next season. ... Regardless what happens in the playoffs, the Wild need to address an injury-plagued and inconsistent goaltending situation, and need to figure out how to transform some young prospects into competent second- and third-liners and defensemen."
Friend C: "I can see how the Wild playing strong and losing can give one a better feeling for next season than seeing them play like a high school team and getting crushed."
Also, there were a lot of mom jokes sprinkled in.
To a degree, we can see where A and B are coming from. It's tough and perhaps even unfair to judge the process of building a team on a handful of games, particularly when they could very well boil down to the whims of a goalie nobody imagined would be on the roster when the season started. This was a better team in the regular season than it was a year ago, and that should count for something.
Our main point, though, is this: Fair or not, perception is in large part reality. If the Wild loses in five (or four) games and looks overmatched again, it will be harder to continue to have faith in the path they are on. It also could start a chain reaction whereby high-ranking members of the organization lose jobs, since we believe our line of thinking is consistent with that of owner Craig Leipold.
Losing more competitively than they lost last season is the baseline for judging progress this year. So the Wild needs to pass the eye test and at least look like a serious obstacle instead of a speed bump. Doing so and actually winning the first-round series would undoubtedly elevate this to a season of progress. Anything beyond that just adds to the hope for the future.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.
This is not news, merely review, but as the NHL regular season winds down, we find ourselves increasingly frustrated by the dishonesty of the league standings as currently constructed.
It is laughable that an overtime or shootout victory is counted as a victory while an overtime or shootout loss is merely treated as "overtime." Hey, nothing to see here! The way the points are accumulated is fine, but the categorization gives a false impression of the relative strength of a lot of teams -- including, perhaps, the Wild.
So as a public service, here is our modified Wild record 65 games into the season:
*Basic premise: Regulation wins and regulation losses stay the same. Overtime wins still count as wins because even though it's 4-on-4, it's still real hockey with real goals. Overtime losses count as losses for the same reason. Shootout wins count as ties. Shootout losses count as ties. They are perhaps useful in exciting the crowd and awarding an extra point in a game, but they are otherwise fictional events.
*So the Wild, as currently shown in the standings, are 34-22-9 -- 34 wins, 22 losses, 9 "overtime" (AKA shootout or overtime losses). The problem is that when you just write out that record, it looks like those 9 shootout or overtime losses are ties.
*The Wild is 7-6 in shootouts and 2-3 in overtime games. So subtract seven wins. Those are now ties. The two overtime wins stay in the win column; the three overtime losses go into the loss column; and the six shootout losses count as ties.
*The Wild's new modified record is 27-25-13 -- 27 wins (regulation or overtime), 25 losses (regulation or overtime) and 13 ties (games that went into a shootout). That is an honest accounting of the team, particular when it comes to the postseason where there are no shootouts (and no ties, but still).
*If the playoffs started today, Minnesota would be the No. 7 seed and would face No. 2 seed Anaheim. A lot can change, but that's where things sit as of now. Anaheim's record is 43-15-7. The Ducks are 2-6 in shootouts and have one overtime loss. Their modified record is 41-16-8, one of the few teams that is pretty close to their "real" record.
*Other possible Wild opponents in the playoffs:
The Blues' record is 44-14-7; their modified record is 36-18-11
The Blackhawks' record is 38-13-14; their modified record is 33-19-13
The Sharks' record is 42-17-7; their modified record is 33-19-14
The Avalanche's record is 42-18-5; their modified record is 39-20-6
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.
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?
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