Frightening. Shocking. Enough to make your skin crawl.
Oh, that’s not a description of trick-or-treaters costumes or a Halloween movie marathon. That’s a description of the Wild’s play on their most recent road trip. Luckily, the Wild have made it home to
their panic room the Xcel Energy Center just in time to face a familiar foe — the St. Louis Blues.
When we last left the Wild, they had once again shown the type of effort that we’ve come to expect on the road in the first quarter of the season — 40 minutes of solid play with multiple scoring chances and aggressive defensive zone play, followed by five minutes of mite-level hockey and another 15 minutes of mentally packing their gear for the flight to the next city. Despite outshooting the Blues 36-26 and skating stride-for-stride in the first two periods, a total breakdown defensively and mentally led to the game-winning goal just 1:39 into the third period. The Wild were not able to answer, losing 2-1 and dropping their overall record to 4-9-0, including a stomach-churning 1-8-0 on the road.
St. Louis is still without Vladimir Tarasenko for the better part of the season, but thanks to efforts from defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and netminder Jordan Binnington, you hardly would have known that he wasn’t out there. Leading scorer Brayden Schenn was held off the scoresheet in Wednesday’s game, and I wouldn’t expect that to happen again.
The good news is the Wild have been much better at home with a 3-1 record, wins in their last three, and scoring an average of four goals per game on home ice. And Xcel has been friendly to Wild players looking to break out of slumps — Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu being prime examples. Saturday’s game would be a perfect opportunity for the Wild to get their first division win this season. And they had better take advantage of every home date they can, as November’s schedule is only slightly more friendly than October’s with five home dates instead of four. In fact, if you want to see the Wild in town (and at this point, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t), you’d better get your tickets now, as after the Blues game the Wild face a four-game road trip, their longest of the season, and they won’t return home until November 14 against the Arizona Coyotes.
Will the Wild rise from the dead against the defending champions? Or will their hopes of a successful season continue to rot like a three-week-old jack-o-lantern? We’ll find out Saturday. Puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
1) Can the Wild put together three strong periods, or at least avoid the five-minute span of “WTF”?
Most of the Wild’s losses this season have been the result of second- or third-period breakdowns, usually within the span of five or ten minutes. In fact, as The Athletic’s Michael Russo reported, the Wild actually lead the league in first-period goals (6), but are tied for giving up the second-most goals in the second period (19) and third period (20). Someway, somehow, this team needs to put forth a full sixty minutes of effort and focus if they’re going to find a way to right the ship. The X is the place to get that done — can they?
2) Can the veteran leaders step up?
Mikko Koivu looks lost. Ryan Suter looks frustrated. Zach Parise, once nicknamed “Captain America”, looks more like end-of-Endgame Steve Rogers - really old and with little interest of carrying the shield. The young guys are looking for more than post-game locker room interview soundbites of “the pieces are here” and “we can turn this around.” The veterans need to show it.
3) Can the Wild improve their faceoff draws?
Another common theme to the losses this season is the performance at the dot for the Wild centermen. Only Mikko Koivu is performing at better than 50%. In fact, offensive zone draws are something that the entire team needs to improve on. A perfect example is the lost offensive-zone face off, and ensuing mistakes by Jason Zucker and Mats Zuccarello, that led to the rush that generated Dallas’ first goal of the game with 47 seconds left to go in the first period. Avoid those mistakes (or win that draw), get out of the period 3-0, and perhaps the third-period breakdown never comes.
In any case, it would be nice to see a game where the Wild can own the other team in the circle. Is this the game?