In my spare time, which is ample, I do enjoy myself some of the English Premier League. Several years ago, during a particularly tense run-in to the final weeks of the season, legendary (and recently retired) Scottish
windbag manager of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, coined the phrase “squeaky bum time” to describe the nerves that were frayed in a tight race.
Having put themselves in the ultimate squeaky-bum position last season, losing so many games down the stretch (Fiasco in Edmonton: Never Forget) only to save themselves in the final regular season tilt, the Wild are quite familiar with this concept, if not the actual nomenclature of “squeaky bum time.”
And with three teams vying for two wild card spots, bums could not be squeakier.* The Wild were, of course, not in action last night, but their playoff hopeful rivals were. Here’s the breakdown of what happened.
Oh, dumpster fire, thy name is the Washington Capitals. Sure they haven’t reached Toronto Maple Leaf levels of tank just yet, but they have lost four in a row do drop two and three points back, respectively, of Columbus and Detroit, the two current Eastern Conference Wild Card holders.**
The 5-0 scoreline is a little deceiving. The Capitals did show up for this one on the offensive end, but ran into an incredibly hot goalie in Kari Lehtonen, who has keyed Dallas since returning from his scary head injury suffered in the Haula collision. Of the three hopefuls, Dallas has the best goaltending situation down the stretch, by far. Lehtonen has been that good, with four 30+ save efforts in his last seven games, including last night.
Jaroslav Halak was less so, and with each passing day I’m more and more relieved that the Wild did not make a play (or at least pull off a trade, if they did actually make an offer) for the man at the trade deadline. Since the Olympics, Halak has looked like a goaltender for whom the league has figured out how to beat when they have to, namely with high shots. He does not look like the game stealer he was in Montreal and his early St. Louis days. He didn’t have much help last night (thanks for the two-on-0 breakaway, jerks) but three of the four goals he allowed, before he was yanked for Braden Holtby, were high on the glove side.
Whomever you want to blame, the fact of the matter is that the Capitals got rolled. On their home ice. While fighting for a playoff spot. Unacceptable.
And they did the Wild no favors in the process. Which begs the question, what did we ever do to them? Oh, right.
Also in the “games we shouldn’t be losing” department, Phoenix hosted a Winnipeg team that was fresh off collapsing against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.
This game appeared to be played at a medium tempo, which is odd considering how desperate Phoenix should be. There were very few highlights or close calls. Seriously, the highlight of the video linked above is some kid from Tempe name-checking all of his teachers on the broadcast during the second period. Playoff hockey in Phoenix. Catch the fever.
On to more hockey-related matters. I feel bad for Thomas Greiss. He’s a perfectly serviceable backup with decent numbers who just happens to be in an impossible spot. Mike Smith is, quite simply, the beating heart of the Coyotes team, and without him they don’t seem to be the same. It is almost fitting that Andrew Ladd’s shoot0ut-winning goal last night came on a shot that hit the post, ricocheted back off of Greiss’ left skate and back into the net. Certainly the same thing could have happened to Smith, but when your team loses a shootout to fall out of a playoff spot, and you are the backup goalie, that goal becomes more than a goal. It’s now a symbol of what might have been.
Phoenix plays again in Los Angeles tonight. A loss puts them one game up on the Wild, two up on Dallas, and already behind. Things don’t look good in the desert.
*I have no idea what actually makes the bums squeaky. Some questions I am just not prepared to ask.
**How bad is the Eastern Conference? I know this is well-worn territory this season, but here’s one more for you. Both of these teams were in the West last year, of course. Had they not been transplanted, they would be 10th and 11th in the conference race and the Ottawa Senators, who have 78 points, would be legitimately in the Wild Card hunt. Brutal.