The Minnesota Wild are certainly doing fine without Marian Gaborik these days. Just when it looked like Gabby was going to return to the lineup and possibly play well enough to establish some semblance of market value, the knifeman cometh and finisheth off what's left of his career with the Wild.
Minnesota started off like gangbusters early in the season (when they knew they'd be without Gabby's services for a while), and they have gotten on another roll after finding out that #10 wouldn't be in the lineup any time soon. As a warped matter of fact (technically, I guess all matter would be somewhat warped if you believe in String Theory, but we digress...) the only time the Wild hit a major slump was around the time it looked like Gaborik would be ready to play. Coincidence? To find out, it's time to fire up the Warpy Quark psychlotron:
dangling sub-atomic participles:
Top Quark(s): Niklas Backstrom, Owen Nolan and Josh Harding get Top Quark honors for their brilliant play in recent games. Backs is riding a two game shutout streak heading into Thursday night's tilt against Jeff Carter and the high scoring Flyers. Josh Harding played lights out against the Red Wings on Saturday, and would've had a chance to pitch a shutout of his own with better defensive support in front of him (more on this later). Warped minds thought Doug Risebrough was making a big mistake when he inked Olden Nolan to a two year deal during the offseason, but he is beginning to prove the Warped One pleasantly wrong. Considering some of Dougie's moves (and lack thereof) over the last year or so, Nolan might end up being the last decent move that Wild fans see for quite some time.
Permanent Top Quark(s): Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Mikko Koivu. If Jacques Lemaire would quit giving his two worst defensemen (Johnsson and Skoula, a.k.a. The Dildaphonic Duo) the highest amount of ice time every game, the Vezina Trophy would be all but cemented in our favor already. Koivu continues to be the best offensive player on the team, and is also one of the better -- if not the best -- defenseman on the team to boot.
Up Quark(s): Cal Clutterbuck continues to impress with his hard nosed and physical play. #22 obviously likes to finish his checks every chance he gets, and yet hits cleanly enough so even Roger Goddell would have trouble finding an excuse to impose any discipline. It's safe to say that Clutterbuck has seen the last of Houston, at least as far as playing hockey goes.
And since it might be a while before we have an excuse to praise Marek Zidlicky again, a big Up Quark is in order for his sweet slap shot goal against the Bruins last night. Nolan and Brunette provided enough screening action so that Manny Fernandez never had a chance. After blogging incessantly about the benefits of having guys like Mark Parrish, Aaron Voros, Todd Fedoruk and Derek Boogaard hanging out in front of the net and making trouble, perhaps Owen Nolan is finally paving the way for the current cast of characters to pick up their goal scoring. One can only hope that Marc-Andre Bergeron was watching the game and taking notes -- something to the effect of "memo to self: good things happen when your shots quit missing the net" could pay handsome dividends later.
Permanent Up Quark(s): Nick Schultz, Brent Burns. Schultz continues to play his usual, solid if unspectacular (and borderline invisible) style of defense. Burns adds some good offensive gusto to the blue line. Both guys will throw regular checks at opponents in their zone, which is more than I can say for most of the other Wild defensemen. Both would have profited immensely from another year of experienced tutoring courtesy of Keith Carney.
Down Quark(s): There's not much to get down on when the good guys are bagging se7en out of a possible eight points, but a Down Quark has to go to the hosers in the Toronto replay room for jobbing the Wild out of a well deserved win against the Wings. Only one angle showed the puck possibly below the crossbar, and that one was taken from a camera a couple dozen rows above the ice; not exactly the most reliable angle with which to make a conclusive judgement. All other angles were too close to call, so the ref's call on the ice -- an immediate and emphatic wave-off that drew nary a peep from the Wings -- had no business being reversed.
Permanent Down Quark(s): Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Man, is this guy having a brutal season! #96 is still doing a decent job of helping out on the defensive end of the ice, but his shooting has been nonexistent, and his passes are being stroked with all the confidence and authority of 1967 original North Stars alumnus Mike McMahon lining up a four foot putt. The major difference is that Mikey is typically on target or thereabouts on his putts, whereas Butch's passes look more like Martin Skoula turnovers in slow motion. To say that Bouchard's play has been disappointing would be a gross understatement; it'll take a pretty impressive turnaround for him to get into the Warpy penthouse.
Bottom Quark(s): In order to reduce the amount of typing I'll need to do on future entires, I'll just plug in Martin Skoula's name here on a permanent basis, and insert the needed details below as needed.
Yep; that worked. Just when I was about to remove Skooly from the Permanent Bottom Quark list -- after witnessing a string of games where #41 upgraded his play from brutal to mediocre (with even some flashes of *gasp* quality play) -- the Master of Minus is deciding to play like his old self again. The first Detroit goal on Saturday was vintage Skoula: facing the wrong way and defending an unused plot of ice while the opponents enjoy a field day behind him. The second goal was almost as good: Skooly standing by the left goal post and doing his usual impression of a dog visiting a fire hydrant, making no effort to remove anyone who might be interested in parking himself in front of the goalie. Nick Schultz's reaction, shown on the replay, was priceless: having been knocked to the ice (while trying to actually defend someone), Schultz looks up at Skoula and sticks one hand up in a semi-shrug motion, as if to say "WTF are ya doing over there?!"
Permanent Bottom Quark(s): Martin Skoula, Kim Johnsson, Marek Zidlicky, Marc-Andre Bergeron. The Dildaphonic Duo of Skooly and Kimmer have some company. The addition of Zidlicky (a.k.a. "my defense looks like a cross between Skoula and Johnsson") turns the duo into a terrible trio, or perhaps the European Triangle. Throw in Bergeron (a.k.a. "master of missing the net and whiffing on checks") and we have a four-sided trapezoid of terror whenever the puck enters our zone: henceforth, The Crapezoidal Quartet.
(new) Higgs Boson award for invisibility: Marian Gaborik clinches this one. At the rate things are going, Europe's Large Hadron Collider will get fired up and detect the real Higgs particle before Wild fans detect Gabby's presence again. Warpy will be rolling out his THC (that's Titanic Hadron Collider, as if you didn't know:) to try and disCERN further information here.
Strange Quark(s): It appears that Jacques Lemaire needs to have at least one whipping boy in his doghouse at all times, and it looks more and more like Erik Reitz is now the unlucky guy. Personally, I think he's one of the better defensemen on the team; he's basically the only blueliner not named Schultz or Burns who is willing to throw a check once in a while. But for some reason, he festers on the bench (or in street clothes) while the Crapezoidal Quartet get all the ice time they can handle, and then some.
Charmed Quark(s): No doubt about it: the Dildaphonic Duo must have some serious dirt on Lemaire in order to stay out of the doghouse, not to mention the 20+ minutes of ice time they keep logging game in and game out. Does anybody out there have a logical explanation as to why these clowns get all the minutes while more competent defensemen sit on the bench?
post-dramatic sin drones:
And in Kihnclusion: The Wild are definitely on a roll, which is a darn good thing considering the strength of their schedule lately. Next up is a tough matchup against the Flyers, followed by a breather (relatively speaking) in Columbus. The way the Wild were playing a couple of weeks ago, it's safe to say that most fans were thinking "boy, the guys are in for one helluva a beating in January" but now that the Kim Johnsson captaincy giveth way to the return of Captain Koivu, suddenly the words "yes, we can!" look realistic after all. GO WILD!!!
...and now, a word from our spawn's heirs...
If my wife to be or not to be is watching, who are you going to believe? Me, or your lying eyes? To the rest of you, thanx for tuning in, keep your stick on the ice, and remember: nothing mixes tangled robs like hockey and politics.