With the Wild having gone 3-4-3 in its last ten games, Wild fans across the State of Hockey have become increasingly pessimistic of the Wild's playoff chances. It's getting increasingly harder to tell those fans to have faith when the their favorite hockey team squanders opportunities at home. Not to mention the road woes that have plagued the team all season except for a brief period before and after the Olympic break.
Minnesota went in to Thursday's game three whole points ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes for that 1st wild card spot in the Western Conference. After a lousy effort in a 5-2 loss in front of their home fans Wednesday night, you'd think that the Wild, who are in the thick of a playoff race, would put out a slightly better effort against the best team in the NHL, the St. Louis Blues, on Thursday. What we got to witness as fans was the unraveling of a team that is still very much in control of its own destiny. They came out and put up eight shots on goal right away in the first period on the Blues and even drew an early penalty that, while they had good zone time and possession, failed to capitalize on. It all spiraled downward out of control.
The frustration on the team and the pressure weighing heavily on their shoulders, the Wild didn't disappoint in showing just how much this slide is bothering them. From Darcy Kuemper drawing the ire of Spring Lake Park's David Backes, where he said, "I haven't had a lot of rookie goalies with disrespect like that in front of the net," to Kyle Brodziak getting tossed on a 10-minute misconduct in the third period, the tempers flared while the intensity fizzled.
Michael Russo, the Wild beat writer for the Star Tribune, who was a guest on the Bumper to Bumper Show with Dan Barreiro on KFAN radio just a couple hours before the puck dropped, said that he had heard quotes from Blues players about Thursday's game being a statement game to the Wild and what would be coming their way if they met in a playoff series. Instead of choosing to match that physicality and intensity, the Wild rolled over. Sure the Wild had an 'OK' first couple minutes of the game, but the lack of response after T.J. Oshie scored on just the third St. Louis shot on goal, you could tell that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Hell, you could see it in Kuemper's body language after that goal.
Not to mention the subtle jabs coming from the locker room as the losses pile up and the post-season becomes more and more grim looking with each lost point. Zach Parise made comment in the media scrum post-game about how disciplined the Blues players were about getting pucks deep and not turning pucks over at the blue line, something that Mike Yeo echoed in his post-game presser. Yeo also said following Wednesday's game that the Wild, especially at home, have approached these games with a feeling of arrogance. The Wild have not yet reached that point, not at any point during this season, nor any point in their existence, to be arrogant in the way the play and feel that they can take a nonchalant approach to their game.
This franchise has been starved for goals. Wild fans are constantly yelling "shoot" towards the ice at home games. You could see that in the power plays that the Wild were unable to do much of anything because of standing still, passing around the perimeter, and NOT SHOOTING. The Wild are 27th in the league in shots on goal per game. 27th...in the league...in shots on goal. Behind teams like Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, and just ahead of Calgary, New Jersey, and Buffalo. It's not surprising to see teams like Boston, Chicago and San Jose all in the top five in the same category. The Wild had four shots in their first man advantage, but only managed three shots in the other five power play opportunities - one of which was a four minute double-minor. So when the Wild, who have to work doubly hard to score goals, aren't taking lots of shots, it's super troubling for fans to watch.
The top line of Parise, Mikael Granlund, and Jason Pominville, a line that clicked and was the only line producing for the Wild, has seemingly dried up in the past four games. Pominville just did not have a good game versus Vancouver and Granlund hasn't been able to find him open the way he was able to earlier this season. In fact, Yeo juggled the lines against St. Louis in attempt to find chemistry and goals.
The current stretch they are in is only amplified by the failed chances they had to bury the teams trailing them before this tough final stretch of the schedule. The shootout loss to the Oilers at home, not being able to hold on in Dallas on Mike Modano Night, losing to Detroit at home, all those miss opportunities could have come in handy right about now, eh?
The Wild are still very much in control of their own destiny and are still six points ahead of Dallas in the standings, but they can not afford to let this skid continue on. I still think they will make the playoffs, BUT (and that's a big 'but') they need to have a coming to the Hockey Gods kind of moment and change into a team that is nowhere near the team Wild fans witnessed Wednesday and Thursday. To have a team personality change this late into the season is almost unheard of and would require a miracle, but for the team, their post-season aspirations will be short-lived, and maybe unrealized if this skid lingers.