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*Through 56 games this season, the Wild now has a paltry 58 points. The team is 5-16-5 in its past 26 games.
*Under the much-maligned Todd Richards a year ago, the Wild was 30-21-5 at this point, good for 65 points.
*Even in Richards' first season, the squad was 27-25-4 through 56 games, good for the identical 58 points it has now at the same point.
Plenty of folks watch more Wild hockey than we do. Tell us: Is it the system, the players, a combination of both or something else entirely? And can this season under Mike Yeo be considered anything of an upgrade over the previous two under Richards?
The Wild are getting dangerously close to having a worse winning percentage than the T-Wolves. I wonder when was the last time that was the case?
Good question! Wait, that's DeRusha's bit.
How about, "We're curious, too."
So we went on a mission to find the last time that was true in a meaningful sense. We threw out records from VERY early in seasons; for instance, the Wolves won their first game in 2009-10, so they were technically 1-0 on Oct. 29 -- the same night the Wild fell to 3-9 after a very slow start. But the Wolves proceeded to lose their next 15 games. Therefore, we do not consider this to be a real advantage for the Wolves.
In any event, the last time we can find a date more than a couple of games into the mostly overlapping seasons that the Wolves had a legitimately better record than the Wild was Jan. 20, 2007. The Wolves were 20-18. The Wild was 25-20-4 (which we consider to be 25-24 ... if the shootout/OT wins count as wins, the shootout/OT losses count as losses). on Jan. 21, 2007, the Wolves lost to bring the teams to a virtual tie -- both one game above .500. They lost again the next night, falling below the idle Wild.
The Timberwolves, 20-20, fired head coach Dwane Casey. From that point through the end of last season, they went 90-280. The Wild, meanwhile, ended up winning 48 games in 2006-07 and has not won fewer than 38 games since then. And at no meaningful point in that span could we find a time when the Wolves had a better record than the Wild.
So: five years ago Friday is the unofficial anniversary. Why is it meaningful now? Well, aside from the nice symmetry, the Wild is now 22-17-7 (22-24 in our book, good for a .478 winning percentage). The Wolves are now 6-8 and creeping closer with a .429 winning percentage. A Wild loss tonight at Toronto and a Wolves win tomorrow at the Clippers -- would put the Wild at .468 and the Wolves at .467. Long story short: We might not be too far away from a time when the Wolves' record is legitimately better than the Wild's record.
WILD: Even in free-fall mode, they are still technically in the top 8 of the West for now. But with Mikko Koivu's absence further draining their already depleted offensive firepower, it's hard to be optimistic. They are now 22-17-7, which technically means they've lost two more games than they've won. Last year's squad was 23-18-5 at this point and made it to 30-20-5 after 55 games before the wheels came off the Todd Richards bus. However, you never know when this team will start getting the hot goaltending and smart system hockey that carried it to such a fast start. There also could be a decent amount of help waiting in the system, meaning even if this year ends in collapse next year could be better. Percent chance this is the next of the big four Minnesota teams to make the playoffs: 40.
TIMBERWOLVES: The normally curmudgeonly Jon Marthaler asked the other day if we thought the Wolves -- with continued progress, better health and maybe a well-timed trade -- could make the playoffs this year. Our best guess is, "No." Even with the noted improvement, this still feels like a 25-30 win season (out of 66, remember) -- with a bigger jump, assuming Kevin Love stays and other maneuvering can be done, coming next season. There are still a few too many established teams in the West for it to be likely this season. But an outside chance? Yeah, we can't deny that. When you combine that outside chance with what we would consider a very reasonable chance next season ... Percent chance this is the next of the big four Minnesota teams to make the playoffs: 35.
TWINS: It's a team loaded with ifs. But if you look around the AL Central -- Victor Martinez just tore his ACL, the White Sox are rebuilding, the Royals are improved but still the Royals and the Indians are mediocre -- it's not completely ridiculous to squint your eyes and see a pennant race for the Twins. That said, they won't even get a crack at it until the Wild and Wolves are done, and if the Twins miss in 2012 their odds go down quite a bit. Percent chance: 13.
VIKINGS: Yes, a little under two years have passed since the Vikings almost reached the Super Bowl. The free-fall from 12 to 6 to 3 victories has not been fun. If the wins get halved again, we'll know something really screwy is going on. (Though we suppose 1-14-1 would kind of cut the wins in half since ties count as half-wins when percentages are figured out). That said, we already wrote about how easy -- based on 2011 finishes and projections -- the Vikings schedule is next year. We've also witnessed the volatility of the NFL. Could a team that lost nine games by seven points or fewer in 2011 make a quick turnaround? Sure. Is it likely to result in a playoff berth soon? Not so much. Percent chance: 12.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments. We have a feeling we might be tempted to swap those top two teams in about three weeks. But we're not ready to go there ... yet.
The Wild has now lost eight consecutive games. This streak followed a stretch of seven consecutive victories (and 12 wins in 14 outings). The natural question to ask at this point -- with Minnesota sitting with 46 points, still good enough to be top-8 in the West but no longer leading the league, conference or division -- is which team is the true characterization of what we can expect to see from the Wild for the final 44 games of the season? Is Minnesota the top-tier team that won all those games or is the reality more likely this most recent losing stretch?
The answer is yes.
That is to say, the Wild is both of those things. In fact, right now the squad is probably right about where it deserves to be when all its components -- forward talent, goaltending, system, etc. -- are combined. It seems like a disappointment that they have fallen in the standings only because they overachieved early. Expectations are a moving target, often to the detriment of a team that is hot out of the gate but can't sustain it. Big-picture, the Wild has 12 wins and 10 losses in its past 22 games. Had Minnesota mixed-and-matched wins and losses during that stretch instead of bunching them all up, fans would have been relatively pleased with the progress of the season.
So if we can trust Russo -- and we're not just saying that because he name-checked us in his post-game blog entry -- the Wild played good system hockey last night but is going through one of those weird stretches where the puck just won't find the net. Coach Mike Yeo is paid to believe in his system and his players, and it sounds as though he has faith they will be rewarded by staying the course.
If we had to make a prediction, we'd say the Wild snaps its skid tonight at home against Edmonton. And then it settles into a more familiar pattern of equilibrium for the vast majority of the rest of the season instead of these extreme up-and-down swings. It won't land Minnesota at the top or the bottom. Rather, it will likely be somewhere in the middle -- slightly above the center line -- with a chance to do some damage in the playoffs.
Rodney Williams and Dany Heatley are, undoubtedly, among the most naturally talented players on their respective teams. Heatley twice scored 50 goals in an NHL season. Williams jumps higher than most of us would if we were taking off from the third step of a ladder. Often recently, though, the notion of their talent has transformed into a discussion of potential -- and whether it is being fulfilled.
Heatley, who has just six goals this season, could be the Wild's first true scoring star since Marian Gaborik. Williams has shown flashes of brilliance, but he's also shown a tendency to disappear. In his final two games at the Old Spice Classic -- 52 combined minutes of court time -- Williams had one rebound. To those who watch him leap, that number is just baffling.
Wednesday, then, provided some encouraging -- and important -- moments for both. Starting at power forward instead of small forward in place of the injured Trevor Mbakwe, Williams was fabulous in a 58-55 victory over Virginia Tech. It wasn't just his 14 points and 8 rebounds in 38 tough minutes, but also the way he accumulated those numbers. It was very much a half-court, grind-it-out type of game. Often, those have been the types of games in which Williams drifts and becomes nearly invisible. Instead, this time, he delivered -- including a signature dunk off a post-up that gave the Gophers a late lead in a big victory.
Heatley's contribution was perhaps more subtle and/or singular. But anyone watching last night's Wild game -- which we conveniently could focus on for the entire third period after the Gophers game ended -- saw the very likely chance that one point was going to slip away. After failing to capitalize on an overtime power play and also failing to seal the deal in a shootout when Edmonton was down to a must-make scenario, the Wild found itself needing Heatley to score to avoid a defeat. Heatley's all-time shootout numbers are atrocious -- we don't have them in front of us and can't find them, but we winced when we saw the graphic last night -- but in this must-have situation he came through with a bull-rush to the net and a low shot that slipped in just before he crashed into the cage. One round later, Kyle Brodziak scored to secure another one of those all-important points that we should remember in April.
It was just one night -- and two entertaining, tight games that ended in Minnesota victories. But on Wednesday, at least, Williams and Heatley transformed their potential into clutch performances.
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