You hate to see that.
The Wild’s 4-1 loss to Edmonton—who have been so bad lately their fans have been throwing their jerseys on the ice at Rogers Place—was a real stinker. It was the kind of game that makes the “blow up this team” crowd come out in droves, and honestly, those folks have a pretty good argument compared to the “keep them together” group, which tends to go very quiet on a night like Thursday.
Here’s what we learned from Minnesota’s dreadful defeat to the Oilers.
Thing 1: Paul Fenton’s Trade Deadline Decisions Are Getting Easier
Before the All-Star break/bye week, Paul Fenton did a Q&A with Michael Russo and indicated that he’s planning to let the players guide his decisions at the trade deadline. If Minnesota is in the thick of the playoffs and performing well, he may be a buyer. If the team is out of it, he’ll likely be a seller.
Well, Minnesota isn’t out of it by any means, thanks to poor play by a LOT of other teams in the Western Conference. But with Mikko Koivu joining Matt Dumba on the shelf for the remainder of the season, and the team stumbling out of the break with four straight losses and an absolute dumper of a showing on Thursday, one would have to think that the picture is rapidly becoming clearer for the first-time GM.
Boudreau called it “the last straw” after the game, so if things don’t turn around VERY quickly for this squad, we may soon be seeing several more of the players that have made up its core going the way of Nino Niederreiter.
Thing 2: You Can’t Start Slow… Even In Snowstorms
There was some pretty intense winter weather around the Twin Cities on Thursday, leading to a late-arriving crowd at Xcel Energy Center. Unfortunately, the Wild also arrived late, and as a result fell behind at 2:15 of the first period, when Devan Dubnyk flat out missed what should have been a harmless Darnell Nurse shot from the blueline. There was no traffic, and seemingly no threat, but Dubnyk misplayed it and... poof! It was 1-0. The early goal set the tone for the lackluster game.
Minnesota’s skaters didn’t do enough to answer for the mishap either, as the team seemed to be lacking energy in the opening frame. It had plenty of offensive zone time, but just wasn’t getting pucks through to the net, and really wasn’t generating chances.
In the end, the Oilers capitalized more than the Wild in a sloppy game, and that was that.
Thing 3: Joel Eriksson Ek Should Play With Good Players
The development of Joel Eriksson Ek has definitely not been as swift or fulfilling as the Wild’s rotating brass would have hoped since he was drafted 20th overall in 2015. For a young center, his play on the defensive end of the ice has alway been very sound, but at the offensive end of the ice, where the money is made, he’s always struggled to produce effectively. With just 11 goals and 19 assists in 126 career NHL games entering Thursday’s contest, let’s just say he’s left us wanting more.
A big part of JEEK’s offensive struggles—in the opinions of many in the State of Hockey—has been his constant lack of inclusion in the top six, instead getting buried with the checking lines, where there’s less creativity and skill around him. When banished to the AHL, though, as he had been since the All-Star break, he tends to score, and has actually been a point-per-game player in 18 career games at that level.
Thursday, with Koivu out of the lineup and Eriksson Ek back with the big club, he found himself on a line with Jason Zucker and Luke Kunin late in the game. Lo and behold, Kunin won a battle in the corner and kicked it to Zucker, who found Eriksson Ek in front. Eriksson Ek, who was one of the few players who looked like he cared for Minnesota, made no mistake and potted his 12th career NHL goal.
Give the kid some skill to work with, and good things may start happening.