The Wild have been a playoff team for five-straight seasons and play under a coach with eight division titles in 11 seasons. But a combination of bad bounces, average goaltending and a few injuries up front have put Minnesota in the league’s basement.
For a franchise that has made the playoffs each of the past four seasons and posted 100-point seasons in two of them, this is uncharted territory indeed. The Minnesota Wild wake up this morning looking up at 26 teams in the standings and it’s not because they’ve only played 14 games. They’re 27th when it comes to points percentage, too.
Or as Wild coach Bruce Boudreau put it after watching his team dominate the game and lose 4-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night: “This is a team that’s accustomed to winning. I’m accustomed to winning.”
It’s very, very early in the season, but there are some voices out there that are wondering what exactly is wrong with the Wild. A lot of them originate from their local fan base, which is a good thing because it indicates they care. It’s tough to put a finger on exactly what is wrong with this team. Consistency of effort has been an issue, as has goaltending from Devan Dubnyk, a guy who was on top of the world this time last year. But there’s nothing glaring that sticks out as a reason why this team is so low in the standings.
“I don’t think you heard me once talk about puck luck last year,” Boudreau said, “but I think sometimes that’s where it is.”
That was certainly the case Wednesday night. It seemed the Wild had the puck on their sticks all night and according to naturalstattrick.com, the Wild had 14 high-danger chances compared to just three for the Leafs. That indicates the Wild came out on the short end of the goalie battle and that has simply happened too many times for the Wild this season. Dubnyk admitted as much himself.
“I don’t know what else to tell you,” Dubnyk said. “It’s tough. I’m not going to lie. After each game you tell yourself it’s bound to stop and it keeps going. You try to keep playing your game, but it’s getting old.”
Not having Charlie Coyle or Zach Parise in the lineup is a huge blow to the offense, but it’s not as though the Wild can’t score. They’re certainly not an offensive juggernaut, but they’re no worse than a middle-of-the-road team when it comes to scoring. And that’s where the goaltending comes in. You can read it between the lines in almost everything the Wild players say about their troubles this season. When they talk about outplaying teams and all the bad bounces they’re getting against them, that’s code for saying their goalie isn’t making the saves when they most need them.
And again, the numbers tell us it’s not as though the Wild are being stifled by not being able to bury their scoring chances. According to naturalstattrick.com, the Wild have the ninth-best shooting percentage in the league and are 10th in scoring percentage on their high-danger opportunities. So for the most part, they’re burying their chances.
“I feel like we get down,” said workhorse defenseman Ryan Suter. “We give up a couple of bad goals or they get a couple breaks on goals and we’re chasing. I feel like the third period of both our games (against Toronto and Monday night in Boston) we’ve started to play the way we need to play. But it is difficult. I feel like every night it’s something different.”
And it’s convenient and easy to dismiss this as an early-season slump. And that might be exactly what it is. But American Thanksgiving, that telltale sign of how good or bad a team actually is, is looming. “We know there’s some urgency,” Dubnyk said. “We know we’re going to have to start playing with some of that urgency and get this thing going.”
If the Wild play the way they did against the Leafs Wednesday night, they should start winning their fair share of games. And the best thing is they won’t have long to stew about their loss because they face another test tonight in Montreal. “At one point we’re going to go on a good run and it’s going to make up for all this stuff,” Boudreau said. “And we’ll look back at it and we’ll be a better team for going through this. We’ll take that effort (tonight) and see where it leads. If we play like this (tonight), we may lose, but at the same time that’s the kind of effort we need to win.”
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