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Hockey Wilderness
  • The Dirty Dozen


    There are just 3 1/2 weeks left in the regular season, so which one of these teams will finish inside the top 8? Lets take a peak at their respective schedules for a little perspective on the prospect of playoffs for both squads.

    The Avalanche have 1 remaining back-to-back series left on their schedule, with travel between the games. Your Wild squad however have 2 remaining back-to-back series with travel between both sets of games as well. Yet, looking through the remainder of the schedule, I can't help but think that the Wild hold a distinct advantage over the Avalanche, at least on paper they do. Neither team has a particularly easy schedule. You know as well as I do nothing ever comes easy for this Minnesota Wild squad.

    While the Avalanche's next 3 games are against some of the bottom feeders in the West as they make their road trip through Western Canada, the remaining 9 games are all against playoff or playoff bubble teams. The Wild will faceoff against just 6 such teams over the remainder of the season. It doesn't take a math major to understand that 9 is more than 6, so in that respect the Avs seem to have a tougher road ahead than the Wild do.

    On top of all that, 7 of Colorado's remaining games are on the road, the Wild have just 5 road games remaining in their final 12. This, is the wildcard folks. The Wild have played so amazingly piss-poor at home since January, having 7 remaining home games on the schedule could actually be a detriment to this squad.

    In 14 home games since January 1st, the Wild have scored just 34 goals at home, while allowing 38. That's an average of 2.43 goals for and 2.71 goals against per game, at home. The margin is slim, but it's trending the wrong direction to give anyone confidence that there is anything resembling a home ice advantage for this squad right now. Furthermore, their record of 3-8-3 at home this calendar year is about as bad as it gets. In fact, it is the worst home record in the NHL since January 1.

    While both squads have some big games remaining on their respective schedules, no game remaining is more important than the showdown on March 26th when the Wild will play the Avalanche, in Colorado. I suppose it's almost a blessing for the Wild this will be a road game. You can be sure the Avs fans will be rowdy and ready, some real playoff atmosphere hockey in just 10 days.

    For the Wild, that Colorado game will be the 4th game in a 5 game-stretch featuring some pretty tough hockey. They start those 5 games on the 2nd night of a back-to-back in Chicago, then back home against the Kings and Flames. Then we go to Colorado and come right back home to play our final game (until the playoffs?) against the Blackhawks on the season. This 5-game brick of contests has to be considered the most crucial point in the remaining schedule for the Wild. Calgary may be considered the duck in that stretch, but it's also a home game and the Flames are not going to come all the way to Minnesota just to give a game away, even if it's (almost) meaningless for them.

    For the Avalanche, essentially every game after their 3-game Western Canada road trip kicking off tonight is going to be against some tough cookies. They have Philly coming to Colorado who are fighting for the 8th seed in the East, then Minnesota who also fighting for that same spot in the West. Nashville could very well be within striking distance for catching the Hawks to earn themselves a better seeding, or at the very least trying to hold on to that 7th seed in the West. St. Louis and Dallas are both looking to be fighting for the top seed in the division and quite possibly the number 1 seed in the West. Even their final game against the Anaheim Ducks could have massive playoff implications for the Western Conference as they will either be fighting for 2nd or 3rd in the Pacific, or if the Kings stumble a bit they could be in a position to grab the 1st spot in the division.

    From a pure hockey fans standpoint, the next few weeks are going to be a lot of fun. Watching as these two teams shuffle back and forth for the final playoff spot in the West is going to make for some great hockey along the way. From a fan of either teams perspective, well perhaps we should invest in some Tums because this drama is going to unfold on a daily basis and unless one of these two teams just falls apart at the seams, it's going to be some real gut-check hockey going on.

    If the Wild are going to make the playoffs though, they absolutely have to solve their troubles at home, and there is no way around that. The NHL was kind enough to grant you a majority of your games at home over the last couple weeks, you need to take advantage of that. Being just -4 in goals at home since January 1 tells you just about everything you need to know. They are right there on the verge of winning these games at the X. Yet a mistake here, a costly turnover there, a bad penalty or an inability to clear the defensive zone has cost the Wild valuable points in a tight race to the finish line. There are 720 minutes of hockey left for the Wild in the regular season, (780 minutes if each game went to OT, lets hope they don't) and the Wild can ill afford to take their foot off the gas for any one of those minutes down the stretch.

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