The New Year has not been kind to the Minnesota Wild.
Since the beginning of January, the Wild has gone 2-5-2, managing to score only 15 goals in the nine-game stretch. This team can use all the excuses it wants – too much travel, bad ice, tough opponents, etc. – but there is no real excuse for the way Minnesota has played all month long.
The Wild is coming off of back-to-back shutout losses against the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators. In both of these games, as well as the previous seven the Wild has played in January, it’s clear this team is sinking fast.
Minnesota just can’t seem to put anything together. The players that are supposed to be scoring aren’t even shooting, and Minnesota ends up falling behind early almost every game, unable to dig themselves out of the hole. The Wild has to wake up and realize the only way to win hockey games is to put pucks in the net. I realize that’s blatantly obvious, but with the way this team has played lately, maybe they need to be reminded of this. You can’t win hockey games without goals.
The strangest part of the Wild’s January slump is that Minnesota’s opponents really haven’t been that challenging. This past week, the Wild dropped games to Winnipeg and Buffalo – teams that both sit at the bottom of their division. The one team that seemed challenging, the Dallas Stars, was one of the two teams Minnesota actually defeated this month. Explain that to me.
Minnesota seems to take a nosedive each year around this time, but that’s no excuse, either. The Wild has to find a way to get things going again – and quickly – or this team is going to play itself out of the postseason.
The Wild are playing terribly right now, but everybody from the players to the fans (maybe Mike Yeo, too) knows this. So enough about the negativity. Minnesota showed some flashes of life Saturday night in Nashville, so maybe there’s still hope. In the upcoming week, the Wild plays the Anaheim Ducks, the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings on a three-game West Coast road trip. If this team is going to find a way out of this slump, it’s going to need to start now.
Anaheim is near the bottom of the Western Conference, so Minnesota has a decent chance at starting the three games off on a positive note, although who knows what will happen with this team. The Wild historically has a losing record against the Ducks, but maybe by the time Minnesota arrives in California, the team will be sick of losing and finally willing to play with some energy. The Wild will also have a three-day break before playing the Ducks, so there’s absolutely no reason for Minnesota to look tired on the ice.
These two teams have already played each other twice this season, with Anaheim winning the first game 4-1, and Minnesota winning the second 3-0. This road trip is the perfect opportunity for Minnesota to get something going since the Wild knows it has defeated the Ducks previously and is capable of doing it again.
San Jose Sharks
San Jose may present more of a challenge for Minnesota, but the Wild should still be capable of pulling off a win. Minnesota shut-out the Sharks 2-0 a little over a month ago, and will hopefully be able to find some of the same energy they had back in that December game.
Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles will no doubt be the most difficult opponent for Minnesota on this road trip. However, if the Wild can find a way to gain some confidence and beat the previous two California teams, maybe there’s a chance Minnesota can defeat the Kings, as well. Los Angeles plays Dallas two nights before taking on the Wild, so Minnesota will either have to hope Dallas wears them out, or just start playing better hockey by then.
Things don’t exactly look bright for the Wild, and there’s no Devan Dubnyk to come and save the season this year, either. This team just has to find some way to snap out of it. Despite the Wild’s shutout loss in Nashville, the team did look somewhat more energetic, and at least attempted to shoot the puck more than usual. I’m not saying that’s enough to win games, but it’s a start. Minnesota needs to continue to build on that energy in the upcoming week if this team is going to stay afloat.