Everyone that has been following the Minnesota Wild this year knows that the team has a penchant for playing and winning very close and low scoring games. Recently, the Wild have come undone as injuries have depleted the Minnesota lineup during one of its toughest stretches of the season. The prolonged losing streak has exposed some chinks in the Minnesota armor as the Wild struggle to right the ship. Here’s a look at some of the reasons that have caused Minnesota to lose six straight games:
6.) The Wild have scored only 7 goals in their last 6 games. Scoring in droves has not been a common trend in Minnesota this season, but averaging over a little more than a goal per game in a span of 6 games will not merit many victories in today’s NHL. As a matter of fact, the Wild have scored one goal or less in 5 of their 6 losses and only managed to put up a single valiant offensive effort against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild have had more than their fair share of chances to score in the past week and a half, but those opportunities sometimes come too late in the game. Sluggish starts to games such as those against the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders will only compound the Wild’s struggles. In order to start winning games again, the Minnesota Wild must light the red lamp more often. While it is obviously easier said than done, the Wild cannot keep relying on minimal scoring to get back to the win column and must put forth a strong offensive effort in order to instill a sense of offensive confidence amongst the team.
5.) The power-play for the Minnesota Wild has been dreadful during this six game losing streak. The Wild have been 1 for 15 on the man advantage in their last six games and their last power-play tally was recorded by Guillaume Latendresse a little more than one week ago. While Latendresse returned to the injured list after a brief comeback, the Minnesota man advantage has seemingly followed in the same footsteps. While teams such as the Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders, and Chicago Blackhawks played relatively well behaved games against the Wild, teams such as the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers gave Minnesota a number of chances to score with the man advantage. Minnesota’s scoring woes have been exacerbated by their inefficiency on the power-play and such efforts (or lack thereof) were evidenced in last night’s contest as the Oilers were the team that took advantage of the Wild’s man advantage by scoring a shorthanded goal. Minnesota’s power-play will eventually get a kick start, but the onus will be on the power-play units to get something done sooner rather later in order to prevent a further loss of confidence and the breeding of a losing culture.
4.) Lethargic starts and a lack of shots on goal have devastated the Wild’s chances of picking up any points during this losing streak. While the Wild showed up against the Blackhawks, Jets, and Canucks, they struggled to find their groove against the Oilers and Islanders. The New York Islanders dominated the first 40 minutes of play against the Wild and held the team to less than 10 shots after two full periods of play. Similarly, the Edmonton Oilers held the Wild to a measly three shots on goal in the opening frame of last night’s matchup. The Wild went to the net often and worked hard for scoring opportunities against the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks, but were ultimately stifled in both of those games. With their lack of scoring ability and injury depleted lineup, the Minnesota Wild cannot afford to come out sluggish and pick and choose the periods that they want to compete in. The Wild must come out physical in every game in order to establish their presence. Allowing 20 shots on goal in a single period spells disaster for any team, especially one that has trouble posting up its own consistent shots and scoring opportunities.
3.) While inadequate scoring chances and shots on goal have greatly hurt the Wild, they have also ran into a stretch of goalies that were playing lights out hockey. Ondrej Pavelec stood on his head as he saved 34 of the Wild’s 35 shots last Tuesday. While Ray Emery did not follow with such a strong performance, he played well enough to backstop the Blackhawks to a win over the Wild. Other goalies such as Al Montoya, Roberto Luongo, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Nikolai Khabibulin stood tall while playing the Wild. While Al Montoya’s effort in overtime and the shootout held the Wild to 1 point against the Islanders, Luongo’s stellar play prevented the Wild from attaining any points against the Canucks, let alone a goal. Similarly, Miikka Kiprusoff held the Wild at bay during Tuesday night’s contest and even robbed Dany Heatley on the doorstep just 4 minutes into the third period on what could have been a game tying goal. Even though the Wild were thoroughly outplayed by the Edmonton Oilers in the first period last night, Nikolai Khabibulin did his best to ensure his club received 2 points in regulation and made several key stops that could have shifted the momentum toward Minnesota.
2.) The Minnesota Wild have gone from being road warriors to being road weary. Much of the Wild’s early season success was attributed to the team’s ability to win at and away from the Xcel Energy Center. While the Wild managed to pick up two points during the current losing streak, those points were picked up at home and no points were gathered on the road. Eight of the Wild’s last ten games have been played on the road and consistently winning in an opponent’s building can be hard to maintain over the course of a full NHL season. The Wild have played most of their games on the road in December and traveling from Canada to Minnesota and then back across Canada can take its toll on any NHL team. After all, the Wild are human and every person loves to be in the comfort of their own home and territory. While the road has not treated the Wild very well lately, the team must find a way to persevere through difficult circumstances as they have done multiple times so far this season.
1.) The most obvious obstacle for the Minnesota Wild during this losing streak has been the ability to play around a rash of injuries. While some might argue that it is Minnesota’s lack of depth that has them floundering, it is very hard for any team that loses 3 top forwards (Latendresse, Koivu, Setoguchi) to find consistent contributions from minor league call-ups and fill ins. Mikko Koivu’s offensive abilities are sorely missed by the team, but Latendresse and Setoguchi also factor into the Wild’s offensive production. Even though the Wild previously played through injuries to their goalies, defensemen, and forwards, a team cannot keep on winning consistently when their top players are shelved for extended periods of time. Certain players such as Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Jared Spurgeon, and Jarod Palmer have been playing hard to compensate for the loss of the aforementioned players, but the Wild must have Koivu and Setoguchi return to full strength if they are to keep their strong positioning in the Western Conference playoff picture.
The Minnesota Wild have been struggling as a result of injuries and lethargy, but have also encountered a number of opposing goalies that have kept them from generating much offense. Also, the Wild have been playing a number of their divisional opponents who are hungry to get back into the playoff picture. The Oilers are six points behind the Dallas Stars for the 8th and final playoff spot while Calgary and Colorado sit 3 and 4 points behind the Stars respectively. The playoff race is just starting to heat up and with the Canucks hot on the Wild’s heels, there will be very few divisional games that will be a cakewalk for Minnesota.
Long losing streaks can hurt any professional sports team and their playoff chances. The Wild know all too well about such scenarios as a late season losing streak essentially eliminated the franchise from last year’s playoff standings. However, the Wild are a vastly different and much improved team from last season. The mood in the locker-room might not be at an all time high, but there is enough leadership amongst the players and coaches that will guide this team out of its recent funk. The return of players such as Mikko Koivu will undoubtedly help the Wild, but the team must right the ship against another divisional opponent (Colorado) if they are determined to be a top contender in the Northwest Division and the Western Conference.
In his third year with The Hockey Writers, Toli covers all things related to the New York Islanders. Focusing on the Islanders, the NHL Draft & draft-eligible prospect goalies, and hockey history, Toli can be contacted on Facebook by searching/messaging Toli Metter and on twitter by searching @ToliMetterTHW.