11-28-11: Wild and Vikings and Ballers, Oh My!

Hello again everybody...

Yes, yes I'm back at it again.

I will warn you, however, not to assume any sort of pattern here. There's enough going on to do some quick notes and I had some time of a Sunday eve to write them up. When I'll write next is anybody's guess!

Expectations lowered? Excellent!

So on to today's missive...

Right after the quote!

“A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and an invisible labor.”
- Victor Hugo (1802-1885), French poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, visual artist, statesman, human rights activist, and exponent of the Romantic movement in France.

Next time you see me and it appears I'm idle, think again! I may just be invisibly laboring! Or something like that...

Wild and Vikings and Ballers, Oh My!

Remember when I talked about the Wild going through some adversity? Yeah, this is pretty much what I was talking about...

Minnesota dropped identical 5-2 stink-bombs against division rivals Edmonton and Calgary over the long holiday weekend.

Losing two games is no huge crime - even the best teams in hockey do that. Utterly failing to show up for two very winnable games? That's another matter entirely.

Let's start with Friday afternoon's loss to the Oilers. Nicklas Backstrom flat-out owns Edmonton. He's 20-2-1 with a 1.66 GAA and .938 SV% with 4 shutouts in his career against Edmonton... and he didn't start. There's a perfectly reasonable explanation for that - his wife had a kid on Wednesday and he had a couple of late and emotional nights leading up to that game.

Okay, so run Josh Harding out there, no problem, right? Well... Harding came into the game 2-4-1, 2.59 GAA, .915 SV% against Edmonton, and let's just say those numbers didn't get any better.

The Oilers jumped out to a 2-0 lead. The Wild battled back to tie it late in the second period. And then the wheels came off. Mistake after numb-skulled brainfart led to three straight Edmonton goals (the final one being an empty-netter that occurred mere seconds after Harding left the ice) and the game got out of reach.

What makes that loss even worse? The Wild had beaten Edmonton eight straight times prior to that, and 17 in a row at the Xcel Energy Center. Sure, you could say the Oilers were “due”, but trust me when I tell you that this loss was far more about the Wild failing to execute than it was about Edmonton benefiting from a statistical likelihood!

Now to Sunday. Surely the Wild would bounce back from a bad loss and clobber a team that was coming in on a three-game losing streak and hadn't scored in it's last 74:54 of game time, right?

Um, no, not so much.

This time at least, the Wild scored first. They then proceeded to give up three goals in a little over four minutes. Yes, they mixed another one in there for themselves, but 3-2 at the end of the first period was as close as they'd come for the rest of the game.

Terrible defensive play (don't be the least bit surprised if Justin Falk is a healthy scratch tonight against the Lightning) and suspect goaltending (Backstrom made the start, but was pulled less than halfway through the first period after giving up his third goal) meant that Calgary dominated puck possession and after grabbing the 3-2 lead, never really let Minnesota back into the game.

Not that the Wild seemed terribly interested in trying, mind you.

Head coach Mike Yeo said after the game, “The good news is, that's about as bad as we can play.” Not exactly “a bounce here or there and we could've won that game” type of analysis.

The capability of producing lackluster efforts like this is precisely why I told you that I refuse to buy into this team just yet.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not burying them either. They're still the 2-seed in the West at the moment, and two bad games is too small a sample-size to make any grand conclusions. Remember, they had two stinkers out west (San Jose & L.A.) and ripped off a five-game winning streak immediately after losing those two.

But over the long haul of a season, if you're going to be a true contender, you can't afford to have back-to-back games where you pull a complete no-show. As Wild captain Mikko Koivu repeatedly said after Sunday's game, “This can't happen again.”

Well put, Cap.

The Vikings suck, but not for Luck... Although with this organization, who the hell knows?!

After losing to the Atlanta Falcons 24-14 yesterday, the Vikings fell to 2-9 on the season, tying them with the St. Louis Rams for the worst record in the NFC, trailing only the 0-11 Indianapolis Colts for the worst record - and #1 overall draft pick - in the NFL.

The phrase “Suck for Luck” - referring to Stanford QB and presumptive #1 pick, Andrew Luck - has been tossed about for a lot of teams this season. But after 12 weeks, it's pretty clear that there are only three clubs truly in the running for that slot: Indianapolis, St. Louis, and your Minnesota Vikings.

What makes that picture intriguing is that all three of those clubs have “franchise” quarterbacks on their rosters. Indianapolis has an injured Peyton Manning, who would be difficult to deal if they decided to draft Luck and go in another direction. St. Louis has Sam Bradford whom they selected #1 overall in 2010. Combine his youth with the massive contract they signed him to and he's not going anywhere.

And then there's the Vikings.

Christian Ponder was selected 12th overall in the 2011 draft and paid a good deal of money for it. Not as prohibitively much as Bradford was, so it's within the realm of the possible that they could deal him and draft Luck, but it would be a tricky move at best.

It may be a moot point. I have trouble seeing the Colts win three of their last five. And I've got no clue what the tie-breaker would be if they won just two and finished in a tie with the Vikings and/or Rams.

But for long-time fans of the Vikings, wouldn't it make some form of karmic sense for Minnesota to wind up with the #1 pick in a year with a “can't miss” QB prospect the year after they draft a guy they call their “franchise” quarterback?!

You just can't make this stuff up.

The NBA has reached a labor deal, and there's going to be a basketball season after all... And I bet you're expecting me to say something along the lines of “Jimmy cracked corn and I don't care”.

But you'd be wrong.

I'll give you a moment to pick your collective jaws up off the floor.

Better? Good.

Yes folks, this is the year I give the NBA a chance. I was a big basketball fan as a kid. It was the one sport I played in any kind of organized fashion longer than any other. While my brother worshiped at the altar of Michael Jordan, I had a giant David Robinson poster on my wall.

But somewhere along the way, I lost interest. Or maybe the NBA changed how it marketed itself as a league and I fell outside their target demographic.

Whatever it was, I've been to exactly one Timberwolves game in the last 15 or so years, and it was just last season. To be honest, the only reason I went is because a former co-worker was in town from Vegas, and our mutual former colleague demanded that we go to see the Spurs play the Wolves.

All I can tell you about it is that the Wolves lost and their coach got tossed from the game. Not exactly the sort of mind-changing experience that would win me back.

So why, pray tell, am I giving it another shot?

Two reasons.

One, my employer recently acquired the radio rights to their broadcasts, and I can now go to the games under the guise of doing “work”. This is at least what I tell myself I'm doing while going to Wild games, Tweeting like a mad man, and then collecting a some post-game audio to be uploaded to the station's website.

It's far easier to try out a product when you're not paying to do it, you're guaranteed halfway decent seats, and you have access to the players and coaches after each game.

Two, there's actually reason to have a small amount of optimism for the upcoming Wolves season. #2 overall draft pick Derrick Williams will join the club, as will Spanish wunderkind Ricky Rubio.

I certainly wouldn't wager on the Wolves being a playoff team, but when you combine new talent, a new coach with a proven track record, and a 66-game schedule that becomes something of a crap-shoot, you never can tell what will happen!

Let's be honest though, if the Wolves win 25 of those games, fans should consider it a healthy step in the right direction!

Full details of the season are yet to come, but we do know that the league will kick things off with their traditional Christmas Day triple-header. So the Wolves should kick things off shortly thereafter.

Hmmm... anyone else smell a Running Game Commentary coming on?

That's going to wrap things up for today.

I'm back... well, whenever I'm back. You know the drill by now.

Until then, thanks for reading!

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