It wasn’t that long ago that all was just fine and dandy with the Minnesota Wild.
They avoided the January slump that got their coach fired last year. They were on top of the Western Conference and had a chance to virtually put Chicago away for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
They didn’t win that game against the Blackhawks, but the Wild did win their last two games before the league-mandated bye week. Then, everything changed. Suddenly, the Wild are mostly struggling to score goals. Most importantly, Devan Dubnyk is a mess in net.
The Wild have lost five straight games and are in danger of losing the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference with 11 games to go. Here are four reasons fans should be concerned.
Devan Dubnyk Fighting The Puck
In hockey, you’re only as good as your goaltender. And right now, Devan Dubnyk is clearly fighting the puck. He appears to have lost his confidence in net, and his defenders aren’t giving him much help. The Wild has allowed at last three goals in seven straight games, and that’s not going to get it done when you need wins leading up to the playoffs. Dubnyk allowed two goals on the first two shots he faced in a loss last Sunday at Chicago, and was immediately taken out of the game. For the season, he’s still third in the NHL with 36 wins but has dropped to 18th with a 2.18 goals against average and 15th with a .927 save percentage. He’s been a league-average goaltender for about the last three months.
He’s been shaky, and the Wild need him at his best to have any shot and going deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Nobody knows it more than Dubnyk himself, so he’s got about three weeks to get things figured out.
Wild Not Scoring Goals
The Wild started March coming off its bye week, and it looked like a team that had taken a week off. They scored a total of five goals in four games, in which they went 1-3. They bounced back with seven in a win over the Florida Panthers, but scored a combined five goals in recent losses to the Blackhawks, Capitals and Hurricanes. Especially with the goaltender struggling, the Wild need to get back to scoring more consistently to take some pressure off Dubnyk.
All that said, they Wild are second in the NHL with 229 goals scored on the season and sixth with 176 goals allowed.
Schedule Not Allowing Practice Time
The most frustrating part for a team struggling and on a five-game losing streak is that there is virtually zero time between games to hold a practice and work on what’s going wrong. The Wild has its last 11 games over a 20-day stretch, and there’s not more than one day between games the rest of the season before the playoffs. At some point, you have to take your players off the ice and let their legs rest. The Wild has the luxury of their next three games being at home, starting with San Jose Tuesday night. That should allow them to get some rest and also work on what needs to change.
Wild 4-8 Since Bye
The Wild actually won their first two games coming out of the bye week, but they weren’t pretty. What followed was getting shut out by Columbus, and losses to the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning. After putting up seven goals on the Panthers, the Wild have lost five straight. The good news? The Wild aren’t fighting for a playoff spot, they’re just six points away from solidifying a postseason berth. But that’s not the goal this year, not when you take over the top spot in the Western Conference.
The Wild need to get back on track to feel good about themselves heading into the playoffs. But they also need wins just as badly to keep home ice as long as they can heading into the playoffs. After all, a Stanley Cup run inevitably will go through Chicago. And oh by the way, the Blackhawks are 8-2 in their last 10 games while the Wild are in a free-fall. But none of that matters when the playoffs start, so just get there and start playing well.