Up until last night, the Minnesota Wild had occupied the number two spot in the Western Conference playoff standings. However, the Vancouver Canucks’ win over the Edmonton Oilers propelled them to the top of the Northwest Division standings as the Minnesota Wild were beaten by the Colorado Avalanche.
Minnesota’s loss to the Avalanche featured the return of Mikko Koivu, but the first line center was unable to carry his team to a victory despite returning to the Minnesota lineup with an assist. The Minnesota Wild were out-shot by the Avalanche and the visiting team made sure that they came out ready to play in the third period against a hungry Minnesota team. While the Wild have played incredibly strong during third periods this season, it was the Colorado Avalanche who took control of the game in the final twenty minutes. Two of Colorado’s thirteen shots made it into the back of the Minnesota net during the third period as Jan Hejda provided the game winner halfway through the final period of play.
On the other hand, Minnesota’s injury depleted lineup suffered another blow as Cody McLeod’s hit on Jared Spurgeon forced the defenseman out of last night’s contest and will prevent him from playing in Wednesday’s matchup against the Predators. McLeod’s hit merited him a five minute major for Checking from Behind and the Wild promptly capitalized on the major penalty when Pierre-Marc Bouchard beat Semyon Varlamov with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the opening frame. However, the Wild were unable to hold their early lead and twice lost a one-goal advantage to the Avalanche.
Even though the Minnesota power-play showed signs of life last night, the Wild’s heavily undisciplined play in the second and third periods can attest for some of the team’s shortcomings in the matchup. The Avalanche were only 1 for 7 with the man advantage against the Wild, but playing 12 out of the last 40 minutes with a skater in the sin-bin will wear down any hockey team. Furthermore, the Wild were grossly outplayed in the second period as the Avalanche managed to put up 12 shots in relation to Minnesota’s 5. Getting consistent scoring chances and shots on goal have greatly hampered the Wild this season and the current losing streak has magnified that problem as the team will seemingly be listless for short spurts and then pour it on in the late going.
More recently, the Wild have been thwarted in their attempts to steal games from their opponents and have lost ground in their divisional and conference standings as a result. While the Avalanche played the role of the Minnesota Wild and stole two points during a crucial third period, teams such as the Vancouver Canucks surpassed the Wild in both divisional and conference standings.
The Vancouver Canucks are currently in second place in the Western Conference playoff picture, but teams such as the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames have positioned themselves to within striking distance of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Since four out of the five teams in the Northwest Division are competing for playoff positioning, it will be increasingly difficult for the Minnesota Wild to keep up with teams that are just as hungry as they are. The Wild have 11 match-ups remaining with divisional foes (only 1 with Edmonton) and must make sure that they earn a majority of the 22 points against teams such as Vancouver, Calgary, and Colorado.
Even though the Wild have lost seven straight games, first year head coach Mike Yeo is not waving the white flag by any means. Yeo still maintains his confidence in the Wild and their ability to move past this long losing streak as he stated:
“I don’t even call it a crisis,” Yeo said. “Luckily we’re in a good spot right now, and we need this. We need it. Clearly we need it, because if it happened later in the year, we would be in deep trouble. We need to learn how to get through this…and when we do that we’ll be better for it.”
A seven game losing streak will put a damper on anyone’s spirits, but the Wild are a resilient team that will manage to find ways to win when the going gets tough. While there is reason for concern, there is still plenty of time in the NHL season for the Wild to re-establish themselves as a force in the Western Conference. As Mike Yeo stated, this current losing streak will enable the Minnesota Wild to learn something about themselves as a unit and will only help the team battle future hardships during the grueling 2011-2012 campaign.