After the Minnesota Wild’s dreadful start to the regular season with some questionable coaching decisions along the way, it’s understandable that Wild fans would feel conflicted about their team. Despite an offseason that saw Cam Talbot and Kevin Fiala traded away, they were still expected to do well. The only major question marks were their goaltending and special teams.
After starting the season with three straight blowout losses, it looked like the Wild were falling quickly. However, following those losses, they managed an overtime win, and there finally seemed to be some hope. The hope was short-lived, as their very next game on the road was an overtime loss to the Boston Bruins.
The Wild have managed a couple more wins since then and are now 5-5-1, so they seem to be turning their season around but most fans should remain skeptical, at least for a little while. They still have to prove themselves, and while it’s still very early in the season, with every loss they lose valuable points in the standings.
Wild Bench Rossi
The one coaching decision that has caused the most animosity so far this season was benching Marco Rossi against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 17. Rossi had only two games under his belt at the time and not nearly enough ice time to show his talent. What’s worse, he had no idea until right before the game.
Coaches had Rossi come off the ice as if he’s playing. Rossi says he doesn’t know yet what’s going on, but clearly they didn’t want to bag him in case Zuccarello can’t play https://t.co/VeoBTI9uj3— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) October 17, 2022
It was apparent the Wild wanted to do something to change things up, but sitting Rossi seemed more like a punishment – he took a bad penalty in the game before – than anything. On the other hand, it might have been a motivator for the rest of the team that if Rossi can be benched, so can everyone else. While he hasn’t established himself yet, he is an up-and-coming star who should be getting a lot of ice time to show what he’s capable of.
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In the last few games, now that the coaching staff seems to trust him more and have given him more ice time, he tallied his first NHL point, which may have been just enough to finally break the ice. We’ll see if the coaching staff continues to give him more responsibility or if they’ll settle into a routine, playing him a handful of minutes each game.
Wild’s Terrible Goaltending
Both Marc-André Fleury and Filip Gustavsson struggled a lot at the beginning of the season; Fleury was making mistakes that shouldn’t happen to a veteran goaltender. Gustavsson had a little more slack as a young goaltender, playing only 27 games before he joined the club, but he also made mistakes.
It may have been nerves or rust, but those struggles seem to have since disappeared as both goaltenders have improved recently. Fleury has made the most improvement, starting most games and making those unreal saves that he’s known for. Gustavsson hasn’t had much of a chance to prove himself, but he’s shown he can learn with each game he plays.
Even if the goaltending has improved, as many Wild fans know, that can quickly change. Fleury is 37 years old, so an injury could derail what’s left of his career and hinder any plans the Wild have for the playoffs. Some have to be wondering why the Wild pursued Fleury instead of Talbot in the first place, but given how he has been playing recently, that question should go away. The Wild just have to keep Fleury healthy, which is easier said than done, especially for a goalie with a history of injuries.
Wild’s Silly Mistakes
In the Wild’s opening games, it was painfully obvious that they had some rust to shake off; even their top line struggled to make clean, crisp passes. After a few months off and players coming and going, issues are expected, but some of them are concerning. Early on, Minnesota forgot how to play defense and help their goaltender, which led to a lot of goals against.
Another major problem was the extremely undisciplined penalties taken out of frustration over a non-call. Going forward, the team needs to stay focused and let those plays go; they’re going to happen and it’s not worth being down a man for it.
The bench also took a sloppy too many men on the ice penalty because they weren’t paying attention. With 11 games now under their belt, those mistakes should be few and far between, but they’ve still got some work to do. They need to focus on carrying the puck and making strong passes, ones that won’t get picked off right away. They are improving steadily, but they also need to improve much faster.
Wild Improve Slowly
The Wild have made improvements over the last month, but they need to do more, especially after their 4-0 loss to the Seattle Kraken last Thursday. Given their talent level, Minnesota shouldn’t be suffering blowout losses like that. They have many players who can score goals, and they need to be doing more.
The Wild’s top players will have off-nights, but that’s when someone else has to step up. The team has plenty of players who could fit that role, but they need to start showing it before the team drops too far down the standings. After all that has gone on, Wild fans have a right to feel concerned about their team, but they can also feel relieved that they have managed to find ways to win as well.
Mariah Stark (Holland) is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.