Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.
Follow Randball on Twitter
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.
I was fired one time in my life. To this day I still do not understand why a person should get fired from his job at the car wash just for offering discount sponge baths to the customers. PEOPLE WITH CLEAN CARS WANT TO BE CLEAN THEMSELVES! The entrepreneurial spirit is dead in this country and I look forward to the day when we are all serving our Chinese overlords.
A curious development is sweeping across Minnesota this fall: the State of Hockey has not been cursed by mediocre on-ice products from its two biggest and most-recognized teams -- the NHL's Wild and the college Gophers.
After 18 games and a successful five game-road swing, your Wild sit in first place in the Northwest Division with 23 points, a sum that puts them just two off the overall NHL lead. That pace would give them about 105 at season's end if this keeps up.
Your Gophers, meanwhile, are the No. 1 team in the nation in both major polls and seem to possess the proper mix of skill, size, moxie, youthful exuberance, veteran leadership and goaltending to be a serious force as the season goes along.
As such, we have a few questions for those who love the puck:
1) Which of these teams do you think has the best chance to reach the playoffs in good position and make a deep postseason run? For our money, we'll take the Gophers.
2) Which coaching staff deserves more credit for the respective fast starts -- Don Lucia and his crew, which have turned things around so far after three rough seasons or Mike Yeo and co., who were starting fresh?
3) What would be a bigger deal to more Minnesotans: the Gophers winning an NCAA title or the Wild winning a Stanley Cup?
Your thoughts, as always, in the comments.
RandBall’s seething hatred of hockey and inexplicable, innate desire to make grandiose, baseless predictions about the impending success of the local cagers at regular and predictable intervals has reduced him to writing fake news stories about a terrible basketball team that – thanks to a lockout that makes everybody involved look incredibly petty, small-minded, and asinine – is not even playing right now. This madness must end (join the revolution at #OccupyRandBall). But until that day, we must fight fire with fire. To that end here is a fake news story about the Minnesota Wild facing off against the Minnesota North Stars:
(Proprietor disclaimer: Again, this is very, very fake. Just so we're clear).