The Wild are currently in the midst of a 5-1-1 stretch. Impressive, right? The Wild, currently our of the playoff picture in the Western Conference and in the bottom half of the Central Division, need winning stretches like this in order to become relevant. After a starting the 2017-18 campaign with a spurious schedule, and then not winning those games has put the Wild behind the proverbial 8-ball. Seeing this team make a small run to, at the very least, be in the thick of it by Thanksgiving is great for the team and fans hoping this squad has it in them to make a deep run in the post season.
It doesn’t make their play any less annoying. Sure, to be within striking distance on the by Thanksgiving, an interval most NHL talking heads believe is the first measuring stick when determining which teams will be fighting for the playoffs at the end of the season, is a good thing. But even on this most recent 5-1-1 stretch, with a few big Central Division foes on the horizon, there is still a lot to be cleaned up.
- The Wild goaltending hasn’t been good, or at least up to the standards both Devan Dubnyk and the back-ups have set. Dubnyk himself has been below average. Outside of his three consecutive shutouts at Montreal and back-to-back against the Philadelphia Flyers where he stopped a total of 103 shots, Dubnyk has a brutal save percentage of .895. Now, Dubnyk is a career .916 save percentage goalie and .923 since arriving in Minnesota. I expect him to regain form, but for now, he just isn’t cutting it.
- To continue on the goaltending part of this team, I’m annoyed that there’s been some incredibly soft goals that is making Charmin blush. The first goal that Gustav Olofsson punched in against the Devils was one that Dubnyk just didn’t seem to be in a great position. A goalie scrambling to find the puck in a prone position rather than a butterfly is asking for a goal like that to go in. The Jack Eichel goal where Dubnyk didn’t have the post sealed off is another that stands out. Lastly, Jordan Nolan’s goal from the half wall is one that a goalie that had Vezina Award aspirations absolutely cannot let happen. He just isn’t right when the Wild could make it so much easier for themselves if he was at least his career average.
- Alex Stalock has been better than Dubnyk and sees a huge volume of shots when he’s in the blue paint. In fact, the Wild are giving up 30 shots per game when he’s in, and roughly 60 shots per hour of game time. While he’s been more solid than Dubnyk, he’s 1-3-1 on the season. He’s not getting help, and his 2.56 (just .10 GAA better than Dubnyk) isn’t helping the team win.
- The Wild defense has been better on this 7-game stretch, but it’s still not good. Currently, the Wild sit in the middle of the league (15th worst) in terms of shots against. On the season, the Wild is 5th worst in the league with a 47 percent of shot attempt percentage with a -102 differential. On top of the goalies not being great, the skaters aren’t helping the goalies out by keeping the puck away from their netminders.
- There’s been some glaring awful play by Wild defensemen this season. Mike Reilly earned a benching in the final period in the win over Buffalo. Gustav Olofsson hasn’t really been good all season, and when he’s been better, he’s still not really that good. Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba were, and continue to be, an adventure as a defensive pairing. Dumba isn’t shooting and had that incredibly bad turnover to Nikolaj Ehlers. Brodin, while making a few good shot blocks, has been uncharacteristically beaten with skating and soft stick checks. Kyle Quincey hasn’t been good, regardless of any physicality he brings to the game. Ryan Suter is shooting a lot, but sees way more time on the power play than he should, not to mention 3v3 overtime minutes. Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter have been relied on heavily to provide not just defense, but really, the only offense from the blue line.
- Offensively, the Wild have struggled to score. Before Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund put the team on their backs, it was just Jason Zucker scoring. The Wild are a long ways away from the deep scoring team they were last season at this time. Zucker is the team leader with 11 goals followed by Niederreiter’s eight. Chris Stewart got a bunch right away, but hasn’t found the back of the net in 13 games. Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno combined haven’t replaced the scoring of Jason Pominville. Lastly, I was expecting more from Matt Cullen, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Luke Kunin in terms of scoring. They all have talent, at very different ends of their careers, but there needs to be more right now. Hell, last year, Tyler Graovac pitched in two goals at this point in the schedule last year.
- Emotion. Bruce Boudreau and his staff have brought up the point that this team plays well when they get emotionally invested in the game. It’s been a cause for concern as it’s led to very uneven play by this Wild team. One minute they look like they’re ready to do anything to escape the game. The next minute, they look like a freight train and won’t be stopped on their way to the net and scoring goals.
- If this team can just "decide" to play good hockey, then how about they "decide" to be a good team? If it’s as easy as flipping a switch in the middle of the game, whether it’s desperation, or fear, then it would be nice to see that kind of desperation all game long. We see what kind of team they can be. We see the kind of team they want to be. But we don’t see it all the time and it certainly isn’t consistency. Either they are a good team, or they are not. It’s time for them to decide which one they are.
Finally, it’s going to take a lot to get into the playoff picture. The Central Division looks even more challenging with every team being competitive. The Avalanche are better than they were last season. The Blues are way out in front of the division. The Jets have had good players, but whether it was goaltending, coaching, penalties, or whatever that’s held them back, it seems like Connor Hellebuyck has figured things out. The Predators still boast one of, if not the best defensive corps in the league and will be tough to beat. Everyone is waiting on the Stars to do something, but it would behoove the Wild to not wait for Dallas to make their move first.
I’ve been annoyed at this team for a few weeks now, and I know I’ve shared a lot of these annoyances with other fans and analysts. Injuries have been an excuse, but now that health is on their side (aside from Zach Parise) there’s no time to doddle around. These next games against divisional rivals can help to gain some ground, but if the goaltending isn’t up to snuff, the defense doesn’t help, and no one scores because they were too busy trying to find that emotional spark, then consider it a wasted opportunity.