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things out before the playoffs begin in three short weeks.
Minnesota sports fans are conditioned for failure, but this collapse has been startling and almost unprecedented even by our standards. A few weeks ago, the Wild’s lead in the central division standings stood at nine points over the Chicago Blackhawks. Now they trail Chicago by an seemingly-insurmountable seven points with 11 regular season games left to play. At this point, the Wild need to focus on getting themselves back on the right track over the next couple of weeks instead of watching the standings.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s going wrong at this point (and even harder to pinpoint anything that’s going right), because the Wild are struggling in pretty much every phase of the game. To an untrained eye like mine, the team looks lethargic. They aren’t matching the speed and tenacity of their opponents, they aren’t taking advantage of scoring opportunities when they get them, and their goaltending has taken a major step in the wrong direction.
The start of the Wild’s slide began right around the trade deadline, when the team made a major “win now” splash by trading for centers Martin Hanzal and Ryan White from Arizona. Obviously Hanzal and White aren’t entirely responsible for the team’s collapse, but it’s clear the team’s chemistry was disrupted after the trade. Hanzal is a plodding center (think the big fat dudes in “Ice Hockey” on the NES minus the blistering slapshots) and dropping him into the Wild’s speedy whirling dervish of an offense has obviously gummed up the gears. In nine games with the Wild, Hanzal has yet to score a goal and has posted a +/- rating of -3. That is most definitely not what the Wild thought they were acquiring when they gave up a king’s ransom of draft picks for a rental player who is about to become a free agent. Ryan White skates hard and plays with a chip on his shoulder, but he’s definitely not skilled enough to move the needle for a team that needs to rediscover their scoring punch.
The other elephant in the room is how poorly goalie Devan Dubnyk has played lately. After looking like a strong contender for the Vezina trophy for much of the season, Dubnyk’s play has deteriorated recently, culminating in him allowing five goals in 21 shots in Sunday’s loss at Winnipeg. I understand that Dubnyk is not solely responsible for those goals, but you’re also not going to win many playoff series when your goalie allows the other team to score on 23.8 percent of their shots.
The Wild will finally get a reprieve over the next couple of weeks. Five of the team’s next six games are at home, and after Tuesday night’s game against Pacific Division-leading San Jose, the team will get to face some easier opponents like Philadelphia, Vancouver and Detroit. Before the playoffs start, the Wild need to get back to playing the fast and crisp brand of hockey that vaulted them to the top of the western conference standings earlier in the season. With only 11 games left to play in the regular season, they are running out of time.
Slumping Wild limping toward playoffs
After owning the best record in the NHL’s hotly-contested western conference for most of the season, the Minnesota Wild have lost seven of their past eight games and are in a severe tailspin with the playoffs just around the corner. While the schedule hasn’t done the Wild any favors lately (it seems like every recent game has been against a contending team), that isn’t an excuse for the team’s recent slide. The truth is they’ve been playing sloppy hockey, and they need to figure some
By Andy Thayer