Good evening from high above the Xcel Energy Center ice, where the Wild put together an ugly preseason debut in front of the hometown fans.
Luckily for the Wild, not a whole lot of fans showed up tonight to watch it. The announced crowd of 16,219 was a heck of a lot more than reality. Lots and lots and lots of empty green seats, which is partly understandable on a rainy night for an exhibition game.
Now, most teams don't sell out preseason games, but tonight was officially the first non-sellout in Wild history, ending the longest active streak in the league of 409. However, you've got to hand it to the Wild marketing geniuses.
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.
Owner Craig Leipold wrote a blog here and sent an email to season-ticket holders, where he assured them he'll continue to spend to the cap, intends to build a Cup championship team and ended the email, "We know, when a new sellout streak begins, it will be because we've earned it."
Just a couple tidbits:
-- As I mentioned this morning, the Wild began working on their tryout guys today. I've confirmed what TSN's Bob McKenzie just tweeted. They have signed defenseman Jared Spurgeon to an entry-level deal, although it's not official until Thursday.
Also, I am also told by sources that the team is close to signing defensemen Colton Jobke and Josh "Scary Tough" Caron.
-- The Wild is expected to make several cuts Thursday. The team will also have two off-ice workouts. No on-ice training Thursday.
-- "Russo Radio" is at 6 p.m. Thursday on 1500 ESPN.
As for the game, it's waaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy too early to panic. One exhibition game where a whole lot of players -- granted a whole lot of players who will be on this team -- looked rusty and overwhelmed by St. Louis' speed, coach Todd Richards acknowledged.
And Richards said he won't rush to judgment.
But the reality is the goals against had to do with mostly individual mistakes. Several times, pucks were on Minnesota sticks moments before goals, so it was poor puck decisions and bad mistakes that led to the goals. The special teams was awful. I saw signs of good things for the power play, but the penalty kill was just terrible. St. Louis scored on 3 of its first 5 chances.
Niklas Backstrom, who's looked rusty to me early in camp, gave up five goals on 18 shots through 40 minutes. Cam Barker was on for four goals. Rookie Clayton Stoner, who played only eight NHL games last season before his two abdominal surgeries, was on the ice for all five.
Stoner didn't want to use the little hockey he's played as an excuse, but Richards said it's to be expected. He said he expects the same rust from Pierre-Marc Bouchard when he returns and that Stoner looked caught off guard by the speed of the game.
"Every bad bounce or bad positioning didn’t go my way or the team’s way," said Stoner. You can see other quotes from Stoner in the paper.
I think the thin blue line is a huge problem. I've been harping on it all offseason. I understand the Wild needs to be more patient with Stoner than one game, but I just don't understand how the Wild doesn't acquire another defenseman with NHL experience.
I know Marek Zidlicky and Greg Zanon didn't play tonight, but one injury to any of their top-4, and this team is in huge trouble. They're relying on Barker to be much better than he was after being traded here and they're relying on 1) Stoner, who's been injured a lot in his career, to stay healthy and 2) that he's NHL ready (which I do think he was close before last second half's injuries). After Stoner, there's all rookies, although Justin Falk and Marco Scandella showed some good play tonight. And I'm intrigued to see Nate Prosser get in the lineup again.
But to me, the blue line is ultra-thin after the top-4, and this is before injuries, that are bound to happen to any team. So I think GM Chuck Fletcher must address this, or there will be scrambling in-season.
I liked much of Matt Cullen's game tonight, as well as Marty Havlat, who scored 42 seconds in. In fact, it was the first goal scored by a Wild No. 24 at the X since Jan. 2006
Once the game turned one-sided, it's like guys just forgot how to play. Even Mikko Koivu visibly struggled. Ben Bishop made some big saves for St. Louis, robbing John Madden and Chuck Kobasew when the Wild could have gotten back into the game.
Also, the Wild held a news conference before the game to announce that the seventh annual USA Hockey National Disabled Festival will take place April 1-3, 2011, in Blaine at the Schwan Super Rink. It will encompass all four disciplines of disabled hockey, including deaf/hard of hearing hockey, special hockey, sled hockey and standing/amputee hockey. Just a real cool event.