Minnesota may be just four points off last season's pace at the season's red line, but we'd be kidding ourselves to think this team has any crack at postseason revenues this spring.
Guys are hurt. Perhaps more psychologically at this point than physically. Even when healthy, players are demoralized. Assistant captains Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are off their games, and who can blame them with what they've gone through the past few months. However, Suter's heavy workload may be playing a larger factor than anything else in his game as of late. Captain Mikko Koivu has been invisible for much of the season. Top 2014 free agent signing Thomas Vanek has shown flashes of brilliance, but has played an often lazy defensive game and passes up on prime scoring opportunities.
Goaltending has been unnaturally horrid for the franchise, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. In fact, it's gotten to the point where the Wild might as well start the game down 1-0 due to absolutely zero confidence in the men between the pipes. Then there's that third defensive pairing. Ugh.
It just wasn't an easy week for Minnesota, what with a San Jose team looking to avenge it's hurt pride, two match-ups with the ever dominant Blackhawks and a Saturday matinee with Nashville - the best team in the league thanks to a hot shot rookie, the return of Pekka Rinne and a fresh face behind the bench.
Comparatively speaking, this should be a much easier week for the Wild, but, my friends, don't underestimate the ineptitude of the boys in St. Paul. Tuesday night will likely be another prime-time thrashing in front of a national audience against the Metropolitan Division's No. 2 seed Penguins. Then there's the Sabres, who may actually stand a decent chance against reeling Minnesota just two nights later. Finally, there's "Hockey Day Minnesota 2015", and, while the Coyotes are having an unnaturally awful season, Dave Tippett is not an easy man to coach against. He could surprise.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday 6:00 PM @ Pittsburgh Penguins (NBCSN)
Thursday 6:00 PM @ Buffalo Sabres (FS-N, FS-WI)
Saturday 8:00 PM vs Arizona Coyotes (FS-N, FS-WI)
Game of the Week
If Wild GM Chuck Fletcher doesn't fire head coach Mike Yeo, or decide one way or the other what to do with his club's currently quite dismal situation, he almost certainly will if Minnesota falls to Buffalo Thursday night. And what other choice will he have?
The Sabres are 1-8-1 in their last 10 games - having lost seven in a row as of this morning - and are clearly favorites to land one of the 2015 draft's generational talents in either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. A loss to arguably the worst team in the league would guarantee heads to roll, whether it's Yeo or even Fletcher.
The point is, Fletcher can't just stand by and not do anything. Granted, he could, but it would be unacceptable to both the team's owner, Craig Leipold, and a fan base tired of missing the playoffs but being just good enough to miss out on a franchise-altering impact player in the draft. In perhaps the deepest draft the league has seen, for Fletcher to cause the Wild to miss the playoffs, but still draft towards the middle of the first round, is absolutely inexcusable and unforgivable. With that mind, if Minnesota falls to the Penguins and then the Sabres, it's time to close shop and sell off pieces that aren't in the team's long term plans.
Key Player of the Week
After missing the past three games with an upper-body injury sustained in the third period of Minnesota's overtime loss to San Jose on Tuesday, defenseman Marco Scandella could make his return to the lineup. It can't come too soon for a club that has clearly missed the big rear guard with an even bigger shot.
In 34 games this season, the 2008 second round pick leads all Wild defenders with nine goals. His 15 points rank second from the blue line behind Suter, as do his four power play points. Without having his rising defensive star in the lineup, Yeo has been forced to rely more on Suter, as well as his not exactly ideal third pairing of Nate Prosser and Justin Falk, who played together as a pair in Houston under him a few years back. That has proved nothing short of disastrous, though it's not like the team wasn't reeling before.
Will Marco's return help the club get back on track? Realistically, it's highly doubtful, but we here at Hockey Wilderness will be much more comfortable with him on the ice and not Justin "Oops, My Bad" Falk.