The Minnesota Wild looked to be the dominate team at the top of the NHL’s Western Conference, but a brutal March has fans on the edge of their seats with ten games left in the season.
After their five-day bye that started on Feb. 22, they seemed unfazed, finishing the month off with two wins. But then the Wild went into March and had a miserable 8-3 record, putting them behind the Blackhawks in the standings and posting a five-game losing streak. An 8-3 month isn’t terrible, though not inspiring, it should still not induce panic. The timing of this skid does bring questions about consistency to mind for fans.
The main concerns facing the Wild: are their too many problems to fix before playoff time? And what needs to be patched up first?
The consistency on the offense comes to mind immediately, only because it has been a stubble throughout the season. In November, they averaged 2.31 goals a game, ranking 23rd. In January, they climbed all the way to second, with 3.92 a game, only to fall back to 22nd in March with a poultry 2.30.
While the numbers seem grim, this also may be their easiest fix, as this team was a top-five scoring squad in January and February. Finding that early season gel and getting that chemistry back on the ice is crucial and the formal for success is their consistency.
The bigger concern is on the other end. The Wild let up four or more goals 11 times headed into the break, but since then have given up seven games of four or more scores. While goaltender Devan Dubynk has been sold all season, their is no back-up for him and he sees an extended amount of ice time throughout the season, which could be causing some fatigue that we are seeing now. Since Darcy Kuemper is unreliable and Alex Stalock has failed to take the next step into becoming a sturdy backup, there seems to be nothing behind Dubynk for any kind of relief.
The final key issue is on special teams. The Wild rank 13th in the NHL in power play goals with 42. Being able to take advantage of going a man up on the ice is huge in the playoffs, and with other teams in the Western Conference playoff race (like Edmonton and St. Louis) who are ranked above them will be able to take advantage of the leg up. Again with the scoring potential of the team, some tinkering on the lines to try and find better fits could work.
The bottom line is that this is not a bad team. However, some problems with depth give reason for concern. Also the fact that certain areas on the roster still seem to need experimentation to find a winning formula this late in the season does not exactly ring of confidence headed into the playoffs. This team needs some serious soul-searching over the next month if they are to meet some of the post season aspirations set by an impressive first half to their season.