It seems the Minnesota Wild’s momentum previously built through the month of March has been effectively drop kicked into oblivion. After a four-day break, the Wild was looking at three games remaining in a five game home stand with an opportunity to secure a playoff spot by earning just a couple of points. Instead, the Wild put its once secure playoff future in serious jeopardy by going 0-2-1 in the final three regular season games at Xcel Energy Center; the latest loss coming last night at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets, 2-0. Beating Winnipeg in regulation or overtime would have clinched a playoff berth for Minnesota, now a regulation loss puts the Jets just 2 points behind the Wild.
This seems like something that has been harped on all year but during the Wild’s now three game losing streak, special teams have been a tremendous disappointment. In the three home losses to the Rangers, Red Wings, and Jets, the Wild is 1-10 (10%) on the power play and 9-12 (75%) on the penalty kill. The Wild has been abysmal all year on the power play but the surprise here is the its league best penalty kill giving up a power play goal against in three consecutive.
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Previously, Minnesota’s penalty killing had basically neutralized what has been a lackluster power play all year. What I mean to say is while the Wild wasn’t scoring any power play goals, at least the opposing team wasn’t either. So it’s not completely surprising that with the power play continuing to struggle, giving up a power play goal in each game has resulted in three losses.
Now it’s not all on the Wild’s power play or penalty kill, Minnesota has recently had its share of struggles five on five as well, scoring just 3 goals in 3 games with both teams at full strength. Nevertheless, the Wild’s penalty kill has been a catalyst for the team’s strong play the last couple months and needs to get back to shutting teams down and
creating momentum that can carry over into 5 on 5 play. The power play has been doomed all year, but 1 for 10 should make even the most forgiving fan cringe.
Either way, both sides of the Wild’s special teams must improve if the team is to get back to its winning ways and secure a playoff berth.
Anything that can go wrong…
Murphy’s Law says anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Anyone who doesn’t believe in it or doesn’t understand what it means must not be a Wild fan. Minnesota always seems to do things the hard way, whether its losing at home to Edmonton, burying itself in the standings with long losing streaks, or failing to win any of its final three home games, it seems this team always finds a way to make fans’ hearts beat a little faster around crunch time.
Last night, the Wild got down early after Chris Stewart took an undisciplined penalty and gave the Jets an early power play. Blake Wheeler then exploited the Wild’s poor defensive coverage on the PK by walking right in on goaltender Devan Dubnyk and scoring on the power play. It looked like he was trying to pass across the slot to teammate Andrew Ladd but Marco Scandella saw it coming and but a skate out to stop the pass; remember though, Murphy’s Law. Scandella ended up kicking the puck under the right pad of Dubnyk and right into the net.
Throughout the game the Wild seemed almost more worried about the referees than the score but after surviving the 1st period, the Wild came out and peppered Ondrej Pavelec but couldn’t beat the Winnipeg netminder despite several grade A chances just missing. Then, fittingly, Drew Stafford scored easily off of a rebound and the Jets basically coasted (oh a pun!) to a 2-0 victory. A tough loss to take if you’re Minnesota considering that you’d already lost the last 2 games and still had a final chance to clinch a 3rd consecutive playoff berth on home ice. But again, Murphy’s Law; anyway, in the words of Bill Belichick, on to Chicago.
Third times the charm?
No rest for the Wild after the Winnipeg loss as the team traveled to the Windy City immediately after the game and
face a familiar foe tonight with yet another chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win. It will no doubt be a tall task though. Chicago has been playing well, even without Patty Kane (see Jason Zucker injury), and the Wild hasn’t played all that well since its four-day break after beating Calgary and LA at home.
It will be interesting to see which Wild team we see tonight. Jason Zucker is potentially in for the Wild tonight which is a great sign. Even if his minutes are limited (which I suspect they would be), his speed and offensive touch have been sorely missed lately and he could provide a big spark for Minnesota.
Either way, Minnesota’s biggest focus tonight should not be on the past 3 games, the referees, or anything but getting back to playing structured, disciplined hockey while (hopefully) collecting two points, a playoff berth, and shaking off that pesky Murphy. Hey, at least the Wild is 1-0 against Chicago in the Dubnyk era, right?…
Nate has been a Minnesota Wild contributor at The Hockey Writers since 2014 and previously spent time covering the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team. For everything Minnesota Wild related, follow him on Twitter @natebauer.