Hello again everybody...
Sometimes I feel like I'm getting repetitive when I lead off talking about where we are in the week. Especially when I know that some of my regular readers don't work Monday to Friday. But I can't help it. I'm one of those folks who views each weekday as it relates to it's distance to the weekend. That might not be the most psychologically healthy thing in the world, but it's just how I roll.
So thank heavens it's Friday and most of us are staring down the barrel of 48 hours free from the bonds of our work-lives! Sorry Josh...
Today it's once again time for everybody's favorite segment, the DFTU.
But before I get to that, I'll mention that a couple of those big baseball free-agent dominoes that I mentioned a few columns ago have finally fallen. OF Bobby Abreu signed a one-year $5 million deal with the Angels. And OF Adam Dunn signed a 2-year deal with the Washington Nationals. I love the Abreu signing for the Angels, even if it further crowds their outfield situation. I'm lukewarm on the Dunn deal. It's certainly a boost for a woeful Nationals offense. But it's not like he's the piece that's going to put them over the top. And if you're Dunn, how do you get excited about going to one of the handful of clubs who has absolutely no chance to make the playoffs?
Did I mention that Twins pitchers and catchers report on Sunday? Yeah, A-Roid or no, I'm still excited for Spring Training!
Time for the rest of the column! (copyright Paul Harvey... sort of)
"Writing well means never having to say, 'I guess you had to be there'."
- Jef Mallett, Frazz, 7-29-07 (1962 - ), comic strip writer and artist
I probably should've saved this one for a Running Game Commentary, since the sentiment expressed is precisely what I go for with those. But my archival abilities aren't quite that good... yet.
So let's get on with everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!
Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 28-23-3. That's good for 59 points and 3rd place in the Northwest Division.
I suppose we're far enough along in the season that we should start looking at the Western Conference standings as well. If the season ended today, the Wild would be the 8th seed in the West. The Oilers are only one point behind in 9th. And the Bluejackets are only 2 points behind in 10th. So the Wild's playoff status is far from certain.
I guess at this point I'm feeling cautiously positive about the Wild's chances at this point.
They are coming off of a 3-1 home stand in which they beat Anaheim, Edmonton (see Monday's Running Game Commentary) and Colorado, with a loss to Nashville mixed in. The Anaheim win was solid. The Edmonton win required a shootout to clinch. And the Wild scored the winning goal against Colorado with about a minute-and-a-half remaining in regulation. So they weren't dominant on the home stand, but at this point, I don't think we can expect the Wild to dominate anybody. That's just not part of their game.
And in the interest of fairness, I have to mention that they lost 4-2 to the Red Wings last night. And having watched the game, I can tell you that it wasn't as close as the score would indicate. For some reasons the Wings have the ability to put the teams they play in the position of having to hold on for dear life. It's not that they're unbeatable, but they have so much talent, that they put teams like the Wild at a serious disadvantage from the opening face-off.
In the past I've discussed the "feast-or-famine" nature of the Wild's offense. In the past week and a half, that's flattened out somewhat. And I mean that in a positive way. I haven't done the math, but eyeballing it, I'd say they've been averaging 2.5 goals per game or so over that period. that's not exactly an offensive outburst, but it means they haven't gone in the tank as much as they had earlier in January.
I'm a little worried about the defense recently. The Wild have always preached the "team defense" concept. But they still rely heavily on a few core defensemen and G Niklas Backstrom. Unfortunately, one of those core guys, Brent Burns, has been less than stellar of late. I've discussed this with a fellow Wild fan, and neither of us can put our finger on why. But we both agree that there have been far too many bad passes and turnovers for a guy who's supposed to be a top-tier defenseman. Is it the bouncing back and forth between winger and defensemen? Is it the missing tooth? I don't know. Whatever it is, I hope he gets it fixed soon. The Wild need him to be at his best if they want to make some noise down the stretch.
Coming up, the Wild host the Ottawa Senators Saturday night. I'll be in attendance, but I won't throw another RGC at you quite so soon. Too much of a good thing is still too much. After that the Wild get four days off before they host Calgary next Thursday and the Red Wings the following Saturday (I'm going to that one too, and very well could be doing an RGC).
Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 15-9 overall and 6-6 in the Big Ten, which puts them in a tie for 6th place in the conference.
Wow what a difference a week can make. After a horrible 6-game losing streak, the Badgers have won three in a row. Illinois, Penn State and Iowa are all beatable teams mind you. But as panicked as I was a week and a half ago, I'll take it!
Fellow Badger fan and my freshman year roommate David in Milwaukee put it best:
"Could Bo have the Badgers back on track? If they can take down Ohio State this weekend it would be awesome. They have a real shot sneaking back into the Tourney given their remaining schedule and a modest showing in the Big Tournament. And if he could own Tom Izzo one more year??? Ah, a boy can dream, right? Plus, that would pretty much guarantee you'll get back your bragging rights over the Gophers. I sense them perhaps headed in an opposite direction. On Wisconsin!"
Thank you David. Well put.
I'm not sure about "owning" Izzo this year. After watching the Spartans take apart the Gophers twice this year, I have a hard time seeing that happen. But stranger things occur in sports.
I wish I could give you more depth as to the reasons for the turnaround, but I honestly don't know what's going on. It doesn't look like they're playing much differently, but they're clearly having more success in scoring the basketball. Plus their defense has gone from "rather porous" to "somewhat effective". That may sound like back-handed praise, but considering how bad they were, "somewhat effective" is a marked improvement.
As for their tournament chances? Obviously they've dug themselves a significant hole. It's not impossible that they'll manage to climb out of it, but it's far from guaranteed. They'll need to win 5 of their last 6 to make it to 20 wins. And that certainly won't be easy with road games at Michigan State and (God I hate to say this) Minnesota. But it can be done.
In addition to that, I think they'll need a fairly significant run in the Big Ten Tournament (at least the semi-finals?) in order to secure a spot in the 64-team field. And to be honest, if they drop more than 2 of these last 6, they'll probably need to win the whole thing and get the automatic bid to get in.
As David mentioned, the Badgers host Ohio State on Saturday night, followed by a winnable game on the road against Indiana next Thursday. Then comes the big test on the road at Michigan State one week from Sunday.
That's all I've got for this week folks. Keep rooting for the Wild and Badgers and I'll be back on Monday! Seeing that Twins pitchers and catchers report on Sunday (did I mention that yet?), there's every likelihood that Monday's column will be baseball-centric. We shall see. Until then, stay safe, have a fun weekend, and thanks for reading!