The Minnesota Wild are having a whale of a time winning on the road this year. The club has posted a 6-12-3 road record compared to their 14-3-2 record at home. There isn’t a logical explanation for this disparity. Yet it continues to boggle the minds of fans, coaches and players alike.
Whatever the issue is, the club needs to get this straightened out or else it will be on the outside looking in when the NHL playoffs start. This would be a giant step backwards from where the club was just a year ago. If this should happen, given the amount of money the team has invested in its core, it may trigger some changes in the state of hockey personnel. The club certainly has the talent – even more so than last year in my opinion – to clinch a playoff berth so it will need to get on the right track out of the 2014 gate or the club may fall short of the playoffs this season.
Minnesota Wild Schedule & A Much Needed New Year’s Resolution
Fortunately for the players and fans in the state of hockey, the Minnesota Wild schedule in the week ahead will present the club with a four game home stand. The Wild desperately need to make a New Year’s resolution to win on the road. Their playoff hopes will heavily rely on their success away from St. Paul with the club playing twenty of their last forty-two games on the road to close out the season.
After yesterday’s dual with the Jets, the Wild find themselves on the outside looking in for the playoff race. They have fallen out of the top three in the Central division – these spots are currently occupied by the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. As a result, the Wild are currently battling the Phoenix Coyotes and the Vancouver Canucks for a Wild Card spot. Minnesota is currently one point behind Phoenix for the last playoff spot but Phoenix has three games in hand on the Wild.
Head Coach Mike Yeo needs to right the ship as soon as possible or his club might find itself sitting at home in April while the rest of the league battles for the Stanley Cup. Here is a look at the upcoming week leading into the first few games of 2014. Hopefully the New Year changes the Wild’s fortunes on the road as they battle for a playoff berth in the weeks ahead.
Sunday, December 29: New York Islanders vs. Minnesota Wild, 7:00PM
The Islanders have had a difficult year. The club currently has a 11-20-7 record and it has a -33 goal differential. The Islanders are 3-5-2 in their last ten games. They also have a similar issue with winning games on the road. Their 6-13-0 road record this season is eerily similar to the Wild. However, the Wild square off against the Islanders at the Xcel Energy Center so the inexplicable home karma will be in the Wild’s favor.
Despite their losing record, the Islanders do have several bright spots. Forward John Tavares is having an exceptional year. He has scored thirteen goals and he has twenty-six helpers for a total of thirty-nine points on the season. This puts him just over a point per game on the season. With a young emerging star like Tavares to build around, the Islanders should have more success in the coming years.
Of particular interest to Wild fans is that New York forward Thomas Vanek will make his season debut in St. Paul. Vanek becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He played college hockey for the Minnesota Golden Gophers and there has been speculation that there might be interest on both sides for him to sign with the Wild in the offseason. While this is mere speculation at this point, Wild fans will get to see Vanek in action when the Islanders come to town on Sunday. This game will also mark the return of forward Cal Clutterbuck to St. Paul.
Tuesday, December 31: St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild, 5:00PM
The St. Louis Blues have put together a stellar performance through the thirty-six games they’ve played so far this season. St. Louis has the second-best record in the Central Division at 24-7-5. The Blues have played well on the road with a 10-4-3 and they have yet to lose to a Central Division opponent this season posting an amazing 10-0-1 record.
An area where the Wild have struggled in recent games has been in scoring goals. Minnesota currently has a -10 goal differential and they need to turn this around in a hurry to remain competitive in the playoff race. This is a tall order against the Blues. St. Louis is currently tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the league lead in goal differential with a +43. In addition, the Blues have only allowed eighty-five goals on the season which is the fourth fewest in the NHL.
Injuries have plagued St. Louis in recent weeks. The injury woes have continued with the recent announcement that forward Alexander Steen has been placed on injured reserve with a concussion. These injuries may provide opportunity for the Wild who need to gain ground in the Central Division. However, the Blues play a brand of hockey that allows the club to overcome injuries so this will be a tough battle for Minnesota. The Wild will need to cash in on their scoring opportunities to be successful in this game. With St. Louis giving up so few goals, any missed opportunities could be the difference between a win and a loss.
[See Also: Blues’ Team Play Paying Dividends]
Thursday, January 2: Buffalo Sabres vs. Minnesota Wild, 7:00PM
The 2013-2014 season for the Buffalo Sabres has so far been marked by disappointment. The club has a league-worst 10-24-4 record which is good for only twenty-four points out of a possible seventy-six. Their poor start lead to the firing of Head Coach Ron Rolston and General Manager Darcy Regier.
Despite the club’s poor start, the Sabres have been playing better in recent games under new Head Coach Ted Nolan. The club has won three of their last five and have scored three or more goals in these wins – something not very common with this year’s Sabres.
Buffalo has the league-worst goal differential with a -40 and only forward Matt Moulson has scored more than ten goals on the season. While only allowing one hundred and nine goals, the club has managed to score just sixty-nine which is last in the league and seventeen goals below the next closest team. They are still five points out of the Eastern Conference basement but they have shown some signs of life.
One bright spot for the Sabres this season has been goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller has played tremendously for the Sabres. Despite playing on a team that doesn’t provide much support on offense or defense, Miller has managed a .924 save percentage. He has been peppered with shots this season facing 973 of them but he has only allowed seventy-four goals.
The three lines have to generate some offense here. This can't be all on Ryan Miller's shoulders. Shots are currently 14-3 for the Yotes.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) December 24, 2013
For some perspective, Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith has faced 1032 shots and is the only goaltender above Miller in this statistic. However, Smith has played in five more contests than Miller this season. The shot total against Miller is staggering but it is why many analysts are calling for Miller to be the starter for Team USA at the Olympic Games in Sochi. Minnesota defeated the Sabres earlier this year and they will need to find a way to continue to get pucks past Miller to get the ‘W’ this week.
Saturday, January 4: Washington Capitals vs. Minnesota Wild, 7:00PM
Finally, the Wild will wrap up the week with a tilt against the Washington Capitals. The Caps are currently in second place in the Metropolitan Division with a 20-14-4 record. Washington has a 7-6-3 road record, a 7-7-1 record against the Western Conference, and a 4-4-0 record against the Central Division this season.
The Capitals are led by two outstanding forwards in Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin. Backstrom has scored ten goals and has thirty-four assists already on the season. His forty-four points currently tie him for third in the league with forward Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks. Alexander Ovechkin’s goal scoring has exploded over the past few weeks. His thirty goals lead the league and it puts him six goals ahead of Alexander Steen of the St. Louis Blues who is second in the league with twenty-four goals.
Despite sitting in sixth place in the NHL for goals scored with one hundred and twenty, the Caps have allowed one hundred and fourteen goals against in thirty-eight games. The Wild will need to bring their A game defensively to shut down Washington’s top forwards. The Wild will need a good defensive effort to counteract Washington’s talented offense and hope that the club can find it’s scoring touch to get the win.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW