Sunday, October 30, 2016

The one with all the scoring

First off, I hope some of you enjoy the headline. This Minnesota team is scoring goals so far this season. This is a big deal.

It may be a fundamental and pretty basic part of the game, scoring more goals than an opponent in order to get the win. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to accomplish, of course. That’s why we’re all here in the blogosphere.

Everybody loves scoring. Maybe more than Raymond. The Minnesota Wild has put plenty of pucks in the net this season, which is truly great to see. Mikael Granlund finally got himself in the G column Saturday against Dallas, thanks to a nice give-and-go feed from Mikko Koivu. Granny became the 17th Wild player to put the puck in the net this season. Talk about scoring depth.

You get a goal! You get a goal! 
With his goal Saturday, Eric Staal put himself into the goal lead for the Wild with four. Charlie Coyle and veteran D-man Ryan Suter are next with three tallies apiece. Seven other fellas have a pair each. Eighteen different players have a goal.

The team’s four-goal effort in the win over Dallas on Saturday pushed the Wild to the top of the NHL heap again in goals scored with 32. The undefeated (8-0-1) Montreal Canadiens and Philly Flyers are next in line with 31 goals each.

Let’s give that a full paragraph on its own to sink in: The Minnesota Wild is leading the league in goals.

They’ve won games scoring 4, 6, 3, 5, 4 and 4 goals this season. What’s great about this is everyone is getting on the scoresheet. For one thing, it helps win games. For another, it gives guys – and their lines – confidence going forward. There isn’t the same kind of pressure to put the puck in the back of the net when you already have a couple by your name so early in the year. We all remember how much Jason Pominville was a focus last season when he couldn’t score.

Zach Parise pressed a little bit last week, especially with the added pressure of getting his 300th goal against his former team in New Jersey. Then he scored two in one game, because when it rains, it pours. (And now it looks like the rain has turned into an injury storm.)

Even tough-guy Chris Stewart has a couple goals this season. That’s a bit of a surprise. Although if he still has the 2 by his name three months from now, that wouldn’t shock me either.

Joel, or however you say his name, is good
Much of the buzz lately has been rightfully focused on the 19-year-old Joel Ericksson Ek. Apparently his name is not pronounced like all of us Americans are used to, since he’s a Swedish lad. It just complicates all the drama that goes along with his nickname. JEEK, EEK, Young Jeezy… I guess I’m going with JEEK or EEK until I hear that there’s an official declaration on what the fan base is calling this guy.

Anyway, he’s really impressed so far with two goals and three assists in five games. It helps to get noticed when your goals look so pretty, too. It’s like how the Wild always want to get that highlight reel goal, which can result in too much passing or bad decisions with the puck. But Mr. Ek made it look good right away. His presence might be pretty helpful coming up, since it appears the injury bug is already biting Minnesota.

Let the good times roll
The Wild ranked tied for 18th in the NHL with 213 goals last season. They’ve been a defensive-minded team in the past, and sometimes the focus can be there a little too much. I like what I’ve seen so far in terms of the offensive zone play, for the most part, driving the net and scoring. Is that a Bruce Boudreau thing? I’d like to think that has something to do with it.

Some of the issues with this team still linger, like with those bad starts which look terrible compared to some strong second periods (or sometimes the other way around). Right now though, with the Wild playing well and pumping the puck in, it’s easy to feel good about where they are as a team.
I’ll take these high-scoring affairs and scoring depth as long as they last.

This was originally posted at

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Don't stress over back-to-backs

Consider this somewhat of a preemptive strike to speak out on back-to-backs, since we are still in the very beginning of the season. This issue is a bit of a carryover from last season when it was bothering me a bit. The Wild will face its first back-to-back test this weekend when it goes to New Jersey and then a visit to the New York Islanders.

Sports schedules aren’t perfect, and the NHL is a bit different than other major sports like baseball or football that play nearly every day or just once a week. It’s pretty predictable. Hockey varies. Sometimes a team will have a long road trip, sometimes it will play three games in four of five nights and sometimes it will get a four-day break.

This certainly mixes it up with opponents, too. For instance, the Wild hadn’t started its season yet, but the Blues played the night before in Chicago. So that’s a back-to-back with a travel day when an opponent was theoretically fresh. Of course, we all know what happened in that Wild v. Blues game. The Wild came out sluggish and the Blues held the momentum from the night before.

Back-to-backs this season
The Wild have 13 back-to-back games this season. All but one of them comes with travel. Already this season, two of the Wild’s first four opponents will have played the Wild on the second night of a back-to-back.

I guess my bottom line here is I’m sick of seeing this part of the schedule used as a reason why a team did or didn’t play well/win the game, etc. It’s part of the NHL schedule that you can’t change, so figure out a way to deal with it.

Sure, it can be a little annoying when a team plays for the second night in a row on the road against a team that’s been lounging at home all week. But just look past it. Look at the players on the ice and ask what they could do to improve their game, not sit there and blame the schedule.

How they did last season
Last season, the Wild had 15 back-to-back scenarios. Thirteen of those came with travel with either one game at home and one away, or both games on the road. The Wild went 12-13-5 (one shootout loss) in all back-to-back games, going 5-7-3 on the second night. Take it all with a grain of salt with the 38-33-11 Wild team last year, but I suppose you could say the Wild needs to improve in these situations, especially in the second games. Real hot take right there.

I don’t think the reason the Wild lost those 13 games solely had to do with the fact that they played the night before. Even if the fatigue was a factor sometimes, so what? It all evens out with your opponents over the course of a season because the skate is always on the other foot at some point. It’s like in tennis when it was a very gusty day on the courts. Both players have to deal with the wind and try and play their game.

So, this is just a friendly reminder to not get too stressed out about these back-to-back games this season. They’re just part of the schedule. That’s it.

This was originally posted at

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Hockey is back. Get excited!

A new season, a new coach, a fresh start. NHL hockey is back, and the Minnesota Wild start with a 0-0 record just like everyone else. The optimism is never higher than it is on day one, right?

Let’s face it: Everyone had a bad taste in their mouths after that Game 6 loss at home to the Dallas Stars in the playoffs last spring. There was the lackluster effort for most of the game, then that (called) no-goal that went against the Wild. Not trying to rehash what’s been done for months, just pointing out that it doesn’t even matter tonight. It’s all about 2016-17.

There’s been a lot of good content on from our talented group of writers surrounding predictions and expectations for players. Will they make the playoffs? Will the 24-year-olds make some positive strides? It’s all good stuff.

For me, the biggest reason for excitement is the new coach, Bruce Boudreau. It’s also why I’m having a bit of a tough time really nailing down some predictions about what will happen. Last spring, I wrote that I was excited for the Boudreau hire as the Wild’s next coach. It wasn’t a great market to pick from, but I thought he was the best choice.

I’m very curious to see how he will make a difference with this team. Yes, the players are responsible for how they play. Yes, I don’t expect Boudreau to snap his fingers and make the Wild a division-winning team overnight. I get all that. I think I’m really just hoping to see something positive, some key difference from the year before.

Really, that’s what it all comes down to for me. It sounds basic and simple, but I just would like to see steps forward on a lot of levels with this team, individual players included. I want to see that from the coaching perspective, too.

Perhaps the main thing I’ll look for is the Wild’s offensive zone setup. For years, and over the span of multiple coaches, this team’s system has done the same thing more times than I can count: Put three guys behind the goal line. I hope some of you know what I mean here.

I’m no x’s and o’s coaching expert; I just know what I see. They’ve got the puck in their offensive zone, passing it around, trying to set up plays. The puck goes behind the goal line, maybe there’s a battler for possession in the corner. Then a third player dives behind the line, too. When the puck finally gets loose, who’s out in front of the net to accept a pass and get a shot on goal? Usually no one.

This isn’t something that happens on every play. It’s just happened enough over the years that I’ve noticed it, and I know others have, too, because we’ve vented about it on Twitter together.

Like I said, I’m no coaching expert. I don’t know if this is a typical strategy that teams like to put in place, if it’s the players doing it or if the coaching staff is directing it. I just see it a lot and I don’t think it’s effective. I’ll be interested to see if this pattern continues.

Anyway, I’m cautiously optimistic about the team this year, because it’s the very beginning and easy to drink that positive Kool-Aid. I’d like to believe that Boudreau can carry over some of the regular-season success he’s had with other clubs and bring it to Minnesota. I’d like to see them avoid yet another mid-season swoon and have a comfortable entrance into the playoffs. That’s probably very wishful thinking right there, but it’d be nice, right?

Then again, the negative side of me knows what these players have shown in the past, knows injuries could be a real pain and knows the chances of them missing the playoffs are probably just as likely and wouldn’t shock me. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of negative takes on this team as the season moves forward.

For now, I’ll take the excitement of opening night with a new face behind the bench. Let’s play some hockey, boys.

This was originally posted at

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

The positives from Target Field in 2016

We all know the Minnesota Twins ended 2016 with the worst record in their team history. Plenty of bad vibes and stats to go around. For a change of pace though, I decided to go through my stack of Twins notes from the home games this season, to recall some of the positive things that happened at the ballpark.

Because yes, there were some exciting moments. I promise.

2016 Target Field bright spots:

  • Joe Mauer started the season with a 28-game on-base streak. He did it again in May and June, marking the third time in team history that a player had two 28-plus game streaks in the same season. The last one was Rod Carew in 1977. 
  • Robbie Grossman went 3-for-4 v. the Blue Jays in his first game in a Twins uniform May 20. He doubled in his first at-bat and homered in the 9th inning.
  • Kurt Suzuki singled for his 1,000th career hit in a 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays May 22. That ranked him fifth in hits among active catchers in baseball. 
  • Mauer hit his 20th home run at Target Field v. the Royals May 23.
  • Eduardo Nunez hit his first career leadoff home run in a 7-5 Twins win over the Royals May 25. Right after that, Brian Dozier hit a homer. It was the fifth time in Twins history the team started the game with back-to-back home runs.
  • Taylor Rogers recorded his first MLB win in a 6-4 game v. the Rays June 2. He tossed two hitless innings with two strikeouts.
  • Nunez hit his first inside-the-park homer to start the game June 2. It marked the 50th inside-the-parker in Twins history. It was also the first time it came in the leadoff spot.
  • Buddy Boshers earned his first career win June 7 v. the Marlins in a 6-4 decision. He pitched 0.2 innings and fanned both batters he faced.
  • The June 7 game was a walk-off win with a Dozier homer in the bottom of the 11th. It was the fourth walk-off win of the season. It was Dozier's third career walk-off homer and fifth walk-off hit. 
  • Again in that Marlins game, Nunez hit two homers, in the first and fifth innings, for his first multi-homer game of his career.
  • Brandon Kintzler turned into the Twins closer this season, recording his first career save in a 7-5 Twins win v. the Marlins June 8. 
  • Max Kepler made his first career home run a dramatic one. It came in the 10th inning with two men on base to win the game 7-4.
  • Trevor Plouffe legged out a triple in a 14-10 victory June 21 over the Phillies. It was his first triple since Aug. 1, 2015.
  • Suzuki went 4-for-5 and just missed the cycle (no triple) in that game against the Phillies. He drove in six runs, a career-high, and matched his career-high in hits. It was his first four-hit game since 2010. All nine Twins starters reached base in that game. 
  • Fernando Abad (who was later traded) tossed 1.1 perfect innings for his first career save June 22 v. the Phillies.
  • Kepler had a two-homer game in a 17-5 victory over the Rangers July 2. They were each three-run homers. He ended up with seven RBI for the game, which is a Twins rookie record for RBI in a game. Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia and Tony Oliva each held the record previously with six RBI. 
  • Nunez went 4-for-5 in that 17-5 game, with a pair of doubles and his 27th multi-hit game.
  • Nunez was the lone Twins representative for the All-Star game. He held a .316 average, a career-high 13 homers and 35 RBI at the time. He didn't have an at-bat in the All-Star game, instead playing the infield for the 9th, helping to record a game-ending double play. He was traded away before the deadline.
  • After the latest start in Target Field history July 5 because of rain (a delay of two hours and 42 minutes, starting at 9:52 p.m.), Kennys Vargas and Kepler hit back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning. The Twins beat the A's 11-4. 
  • Ervin Santana threw a complete game v. the Braves July 26. He's the first Twins pitcher to toss multiple complete games in a season since Carl Pavano in 2011. Unfortunately, the Twins didn't offer any run support on this night, and the Twins lost 2-0. 
  • Mauer reached the 800-walk mark in a 6-5 loss to the White Sox July 30.
  • Another player got his first career save: Ryan Pressly in a 6-4 Twins win over the White Sox July 31. It came in his 152nd career appearance.
  • Catcher Juan Centeno hit his first career triple in a Twins 3-1 victory over the Astros Aug. 8. 
  • Vargas hit a pair of homers in game one of a doubleheader Aug. 11, one from each side of the plate. He was the fourth Twins player to hit homers from both sides of the plate. He was the first since Ryan Doumit in 2012. Roy Smalley and Chili Davis were the others. It was the first career two-run homer game for Vargas.
  • Dozier hit his 100th career home run Aug. 13 v. the Royals in a 5-3 Twins win. He was the 16th Twin, and first second baseman, to reach that mark and first since Mauer in 2013.
  • Mauer also reached the 800-RBI mark, driving in the milestone run in a Twins loss v. the Tigers Aug. 23. He's the sixth Twin to reach that mark.
  • Dozier set a new career-high for himself in home runs when he hit his 29th of the season Aug. 23. He hit 28 in 2015. 
  • Twins sent 13 batters to the plate in the third inning of a 11-3 win over the White Sox Sept. 3. Four Twins players homered (Dozier, Byron Buxton, Sano and Plouffe). They scored eight runs in the third alone, tying a team record for the most runs scored in that particular inning. The last time they did it (five total) was May 22, 2001 v. the Mariners.
  • They followed up that game with another four homers the next day, in a 13-11 loss. This time it was Buxton, Dozier, John Ryan Murphy and Sano with the homers.
  • Buxton's home run was hit first career grand slam, coming in the second inning. It was the second grand slam of the season for the Twins; Kepler hit one in Texas. Buxton went 3-for-6 and homered in consecutive games for the first time.
  • The man of the season was Dozier. He had a three-homer game Sept. 5 v. the Royals, giving him No. 36, 37 and 38 on the season. No. 38 means he had the most home runs by any Twins player since the legendary Harmon Killebrew hit 41 in 1970. Forty-six years ago. Dozier and Killebrew are the only Twins players to ever to hit at least 36 homers in one season. Dozier also became the sixth Twins player to hit three homers in one game and the first to do it at home.
  • Dozier homered in five straight games in September, which ties the great Killebrew for a Twins record. Killer did it three times. Marty Cordova also did it once, in 1995. 
  • Alex Wimmers got his first career win with a 6-5 Twins victory over the Royals Sept. 7. 
  • Twins hit homers in 11 straight games, a streak that ended Sept. 11. They hit 25 home runs in that time.
  • J.T. Chargois got his first career win with a scoreless 12th inning Sept. 10 v. the Indians. The Twins won 2-1. 
  • Mauer had just his second career walk-off hit in the 12th with an RBI single. His only other walk-off hit came July 15, 2007 v. the Athletics. It was his third career walk-off, however, because he earned a walk-off walk July 29 this season. 
  • James Beresford made his MLB debut after years in the minors. He started at third base and also got his first career hit, a single in the seventh inning. His parents flew all the way from Australia to see him play.
  • Sept. 22 in the first game of a doubleheader with the Tigers, Dozier set an American League record with his 40th home run as a second baseman. He also scored his 100th run of the season, reaching that mark for the third season in a row. The only other Twin to do that was Chuck Knoblauch in 1995-97.
  • Dozier had a 24-game hit streak that ended in the second game of the doubleheader. It's a career-high and was the longest for a Twins player since Brian Harper hit in 25 straight games in 1990.