Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap day: Wild make trades; Daytona's a wreck

Leap Day! The thought occurred to me late this evening to put up a blog, mostly so then I could have a blog archived on leap day. Why not, right?

As far as sports, the Minnesota Wild are still chugging along. They've played well and they've played horribly with their past few games. Shutting out the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins 2-0 at home and for a nationally televised game was one of their better efforts. Niklas Backstrom even had a career-high 49 saves.

But the game on Tuesday sounded like a disaster against the Los Angeles Kings - a 4-0 loss at home. The boo birds were out yet again at the Xcel Energy Center, allegedly.

Bye-bye Zid
The bright spot was on the trading block for the Wild. Last week, they were finally able to unload defenseman Marek Zidlicky. He had been complaining about the style and made his feelings known to the media and the hockey community that he didn't want to be on the Wild anymore. So Chuck Fletcher pawned him off on the New Jersey Devils.

Don't let the puck hit you on the way out.

The best news was what the Wild got in return though, especially when many didn't think they'd get much back for the mouthy Zidlicky. Former Wild players Kurtis Foster and Stephane Veilleux came back "home," and they also got winger Nick Palmieri and some draft picks. Not a bad deal.

Dayto - er - "Danica" 500
Nascar kicked off its lengthy racing season Sunday (and actually Monday and Tuesday) with the Daytona 500. The race was rained out for the first time ever Sunday, pushing the start eventually to Monday evening. It didn't finally get done until very early Tuesday morning.

Because it's racing, and a marquee race, I tuned in to bits and pieces of the race coverage. Twitter told me that early on, the new series diva, Danica Patrick, had been involved in a wreck and was many laps down. Kind of nice to get her out of the way at the start, I guess.

The race was filled with caution flags and even a lengthy red flag - due to a you-don't-see-this-everyday explosion involving a jet drier and Juan Pablo Montoya's car. He was trying to catch up to the field during a yellow flag when something on his car broke, sailing him into the jet drier truck and causing a fireball.

After that, the race should've been put out its misery. Sometimes in racing if you push your luck too much, it may just run out. I was afraid of a serious crash happening, but maybe my mind is still reeling from the IndyCar season finale in Las Vegas that took the life of driver Dan Wheldon.

Too much focus on Danica
This is Patrick's first year in Nascar full time, away from her open-wheel roots. And boy, did the good ol' boys eat it up. I'm not a fan of hers - she's nothing too extraordinary and she has an attitude with a dash of entitlement.

She crashed prior to the race, a pretty good smack, and the lame in-car camera caught her taking her hands off the steering wheel. This is standard procedure in IndyCar (to protect your hands from injury), and it has been for a long time, so I didn't think much of it. But it was a huge deal for Nascar fellas. So when Jimmie Johnson did it during the big race, Patrick got the credit.

Just one more thing that Nascar will probably try to claim. Just like they did with SAFER barriers and the HANS device. We all know where it started.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

With loss to Columbus, Wild's season sinking fast

I had a long and busy week at work, so I was looking forward to going to the Minnesota Wild game with my parents Saturday. Too bad the boys couldn't find the back of the net more than once as they lost 3-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Like me, this week wasn't a good one for the Wild either. They lost in a shootout in Dallas a week ago Saturday, then lost 3-1 in Columbus (the worst team in the league, by the way), then followed that up with a 5-2 home loss to rival Vancouver. That prompted some harsh words from head coach Mike Yeo about how the team "stinks."

Last night's game may have been one of the nails in the coffin for the Wild's season and playoff hopes. Too soon for a statement like that? Could be. As sports will teach you, it's not over until it's over. But right now, I'm thinking it would be a smart move for the Wild to quit focusing so much on getting into the playoffs, and management should think more about draft picks.

I haven't really looked at the standings since the Wild went on their winning streak and were the best in the league earlier this season - really, it wasn't that long ago. Now, they've been somewhere around the playoff bubble. It's a moot point if the Wild can't start playing better hockey, however.

Failing to light the lamp
The Wild had 35 shots on goal Saturday. Unfortunately, only one of those shots went in. While Columbus goalie Steve Mason did his job in between the pipes, he doesn't deserve all the credit. His glove was sharp, except where Devin Setoguchi beat him in the first period, but he didn't exactly have to turn cartwheels to make some amazing saves either.

I found out later from my mom that Mason was the second goalie for Columbus, who used all new equipment. He also hadn't won a game since Dec. 29, 2011. Just some food for thought.

Old habits
It seems as though the Wild players have gone back to that old mentality of breaking into a zone only to look up and search for a teammate to pass the puck to, instead of thinking about shooting or scoring a goal. Mikko Koivu seemed to be one of the worst offenders of this Saturday.

Although it wasn't frequent, I also spotted the Wild with three players behind the goal line in the offensive zone at times - not exactly the key place to score a goal. But, old habits die hard. The Wild need to worry more about having a stronger presence in front of the net rather than behind it. Maybe if that was the case against the Blue Jackets, a few of those shots would have made it past Mason - as he was being screened.

Niklas Backstrom didn't have that bad of a game. He gave up a goal in the last minute of the first and second periods, but that was a result of Columbus putting on the pressure late. The third goal was an empty-netter that sailed down the length of the ice.

More boo birds
After the final horn, the Wild quickly skated off the ice and into the locker room. They were whisked away to the sounds of boo birds filling the Xcel Energy Center. It wasn't the first time that's happened this season, and it probably won't be the last.

Also? Can we please get rid of the mascot Nordy? He's really cramping my style.