The Minnesota Wild are in the process of trying to get their season back on track after scraping together three points in their last two games. A rough start saw them drop three in a row at home to open the 2022-23 season as the entire team struggled to find their footing. The defense and goaltending have dropped the team to dead last in the NHL in goals-against-average (GAA), with Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson combining to allow 27 goals against in only five games played.
An overview of the statistics to start the season would lead you to believe that the Wild are one of the worst teams in the league, and while they have not been playing well by any means, things are not quite that bad yet. Right up until the first game of the season they were looked at by most as a team with playoff aspirations, and even had the potential to compete with the Colorado Avalanche for the top of the Central Division. So how did things get so bad so fast?
Tough Opponents Exaggerate Wild’s Slow Start
The Wild walked into the Xcel Energy Center on Oct. 13 after a successful preseason and were broken by the New York Rangers. Allowing seven goals in a home/season opener is a very hard pill to swallow and it has obviously shaken a majority of the players, but it has to be noted that this loss was against a very good Rangers team. They have some elite goaltending in Igor Shesterkin, some lethal offensive players like Artemi Panarin, and Norris-caliber defense with Adam Fox. If this loss happens in game 21 instead of game one, I don’t think anyone considers it a big deal.
What made it a big deal was the next game against the Los Angeles Kings. While still a good team, no one expected the Wild to allow seven goals in this one; however, they played like a team on edge. The goaltenders were clearly shaken, the defense was off, and the play inside their own end was choppy and broken. The Kings saw this, pounced early on a rattled team to go up by three goals in just over 11 minutes, and the Wild just could not recover.
Obviously not on the top of their game, the Wild were struggling to find consistent lines, confidence in the goalies was low, and they just couldn’t get a lucky bounce. So of course, the next game was against the reigning Stanley Cup champions. The Avalanche are the holders of that title for a reason, and there was just no chance the Wild were going to get their heads straight and rebound against a team that can prey on mistakes as easily as the Avalanche can.
3 Points Against Canucks & Bruins
If any team in the NHL was ailing more than the Wild were, it was the Vancouver Canucks. After breaking a record for losing the most games in a row after holding a multi-goal lead to start the season, the Canucks were going to be desperate in their game against the Wild. You could feel the angst from both sides in this game as they tried to find any rhythm to build off of, and the eventual overtime win went to the Wild. A massive relief for the team and its fans, as those two points kept them from losing all four games at home.
With the pressure of finding their first win of the season off their backs, it felt like the Wild went into their first road trip of the season with some positivity. Their first opponent, the Boston Bruins, has been one of the best teams in the league so far and if it wasn’t for some ill-timed penalties, and Linus Ullmark being spectacular, this one could’ve easily gone to the Wild. Any time a team can come back from a multi-goal deficit and still get a point, it is a good sign that team is headed in the right direction.
Wild Face Critical Four Game Week
If they plan on turning the season around, this week will be the time to do it. It’s a heavy schedule with four away games in a single week, including games against the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and a doubleheader against the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks; but it is a week that can potentially flip the script on the season.
On paper, all four of these games should favor a Wild victory with the Canadiens and Blackhawks projected to be at the bottom of the league, and the Senators and Red Wings still trying to find their identities. If the Wild can manage to find even a little bit of defense in their game, it should be enough to allow their solid offense and surprisingly good powerplay to carry them to victory, as they have managed at least three goals in every game so far this season.
The next seven days hold a lot of power in determining what the 2022-23 season will look like for the Wild. A sweep of the games this week would put them right back in contention at 5-3-1 on the season with all of their losses coming against teams with playoff potential. The real concern will come in if they are unable to pick up points against the teams that are more likely to win the Draft Lottery than a ticket to the postseason. Should they drop most, or all, of the games this week it would likely mean the start of some big changes, as playoff aspirations will fade rapidly.
The week ahead for the Wild:
Oct. 25 @ Montreal Canadiens 6:00 PM CT
Oct. 27 @ Ottawa Senators 6:00 PM CT
Oct. 29 @ Detroit Red Wings 6:00 PM CT
Oct. 30 @ Chicago Blackhawks 6:00 PM CT
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Being from the east coast of Canada, I’ve grown up immersed in hockey since before I was old enough to walk. The Minnesota Wild joined the league right as I was trying to find a favourite team and I have been committed to them ever since. I like to take breaks from my day job of writing reports as a Scientist by writing articles about my hockey passion. Follow me on twitter @tysmck15 for my latest.