Ufta. There are a lot more brutal things that can be said about the Wild's dire situation, but that's about all I can come up with at the moment.
Four games shy of the season's red line, Minnesota finds itself 21st in the league standings with an 18-15-4 record and 40 points. That's just nine above third-worst Buffalo and five behind the Sharks, who currently occupy the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. Who do we take on next? That's right, San Jose - a team also looking to avenge itself after suffering a 7-2 defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues over the weekend.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday 7:00 PM vs San Jose Sharks (NBCSN)
Thursday 7:00 PM vs Chicago Blackhawks (FS-N, FS-WI, NHLN-US)
Saturday 1:00 PM vs Nashville Predators (FS-N, FS-WI)
Sunday 7:00 PM @ Chicago Blackhawks (NBCSN, TVA)
Game of the Week
It's easy to pick any of the week's last three games, but the biggest test for Minnesota may come tomorrow night against the swarming Sharks.
San Jose is a solid road team, going 10-8-3 away so far this season. In addition, the Sharks are 6-3-1 through their past 10 games. They're by no means terrible, but a 7-2 loss has a way of making even the biggest contenders do a little soul searching. Just ask the Wild. Considering both teams are going to try to do everything possible to restore their dignity, fans can expect an electrifying compete level and playoff-like intensity.
The Fins are led in scoring by the NHL's 29th ranked point scorer, Joe Pavelski, who leads the club with 20 goals, 33 points and a plus-7 rating in 39 games. "Jumbo Joe" Thornton is right there with him with nine goals, 33 points and a plus-5 rating. However, the big pivot is expected to miss Thursday night's game with an upper-body injury. Will Minnesota be able to dodge a bullet here?
On the back end, a familiar
sasquatch face leads the offensive charge in former Wild rear guard Brent Burns. The big man is fourth on the team with 10 goals and 29 points in 39 games while skating a team-best 23:43 of average ice-time per game (huh, amateur). Finally, in net, Antti Niemi leads the club with 15 wins and has a 2.53 goals against average, a .914 save percentage and three shutouts. His backup, Alex Stalock, hasn't been bad either; the St. Paul native has four wins, a 2.27 goals against average, a .918 save percentage and a shutout in 10 appearances this year.
Key Player of the Week
There's no question Zach Parise is in a really tough place right now. My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to him, and I'm sure this is the way the rest of HW and Wild community feels, as well. However, this team will never turn things around without Parise and other leaders on the team stepping up their games and playing for each other.
Mikko Koivu is Minnesota's captain, but as enjoyable as it is to watch the "Fiery Finn" arise from his slumber, it seldom happens. Instead, Parise is the one setting an example, dictating the desired work ethic and commitment with every shift night after night. He's had other things on his mind lately - we get it, after all, at the end of the day, hockey is just a game - but you can bet J.P. would rather his son throw himself into his work and play every moment to the best of his ability. Because that's what Minnesota needs right now. We need our top line winger at his very best, setting an example for everyone else, because the ship will very likely sink otherwise.
Whether or not Parise finds his courage and strength, things aren't looking hopeful for the Wild. Tomorrow night's game against San Jose could turn into a feeding frenzy by the Sharks, and games against Chicago and Nashville to close out the week could either get the team back on track or set in motion a season-ending fire sale that could include Chuck Fletcher and/or Mike Yeo. There's a lot of uncertainty in the air, and fans are tired of mediocre teams that don't make the playoffs but draft no higher than 10th overall. It'll be very interesting to see what the club could look like this time next week.