Will The Real Wild Please Stand Up?

Marc Elliott

SCANLON… If I were a wagering man I’d bet you right now that the Minnesota Wild were on their way to a regular season concluding without a Stanley Cup tournament berth waiting for them. Alas, I’m not into betting and the like and even if I were, this team would be amongst the last I would place my dollars on. You could make money on the Wild so long as you weren’t wagering that they would win. A mere 13 games into the campaign with a 5-8 record and with several lethargic efforts on the books, lets just say that the State of Hockey natives are getting fairly restless. The thing about that is that I just don’t recall the pre-season outlook for the boys being overly optimistic or anything of the sort. No one was marching down West 7th Street in St. Paul sizing things up for any victory parades or anything. But, what we have now is way below what fans thought they might be getting from the team.   Things like an honest effort every night, some crisp, precise play along with diligent net minding were the modest expectations from this group. Suffice it to say that the team hasn’t delivered that yet. They aren’t exactly showing signs of coming out of it any time soon either. It’s not that the team doesn’t show some occasional flashes of their capabilities, but there is no consistency yet. They just went 3-3 on a six game homestand with 2 of the 3 losses being shutouts against them. The only thing I can say there is that in Saturday evenings 2-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawk’s, that may have been the most entertaining game of the young season and as has been the case too many times so far, the team had their chances to cash in and take control of that game…. and didn’t.   Tonight they followed up on that with a pretty inept performance against the injury depleted Boston Bruins and lost 5-3. Don’t let the final score fool you, the boys weren’t in this game from the start. The Wild also scored the 1st goal of the game, which in the recent past was usually an indicator of a pending victory. The Big Swiss National, Nino Neiderreiter tallied at 4:53 of the opening frame to give the locals a 1-0 lead that lasted about 5 minutes. By the end of the 2nd it was 4-1 in favor of the Bruins and by my account at least 2 of the markers allowed by Devan Dubnyk were in the soft category. This is developing into a trend and is troublesome to say the least. This is occurring at least once per game that Dubnyk appears in.   Although the team has had injuries to key players to begin the year with, they still put a formidable amount of talent out for each game. I’m now concerned with the amount of experience they gave up or lost in the off-season, and with the youth and inexperience it’s been replaced with. To compound matters, losing defensive coach Scott Stevens for whatever reason he gave, in my book, was the teams biggest loss of all. That’s the one this club is really paying for but I don’t think there was anything that could have prevented it. Losing Haula, Pomminville, Scandella, in spite of some fan angst against these players diminished the veteran experience factor. Players like Foligno, Ennis, Winnick and Quincey are lesser player replacements then those three, while savvy vet Matt Cullen is still assimilating into the group. I still believe Cullen’s presence will help solidify the penalty kill in the near future. On the youth end Kunin, Eriksson Ek and Oloffson are promising but still gaining experience and trying to learn the pro game. The young prospect that should be here and on the roster, Alex Tuch, was lost in the expansion draft in order to protect others from being chosen, and he has not only made the Vegas Golden Knight roster, but is playing regularly and performing well for them. If he was still here Eriksson Ek could have been left in Iowa to develop. Kunin looks strong though, but is clearly in the process of absorbing the nuances of the NHL. On the 23 man roster there are 8 players who were either not with the club last year or played sparingly and right now it shows. That hardly explains the amount of game time it seems to take the club to get going but can explain some of their overall play….   AFTER THE POOR homestand and game last night the numbers aren’t looking good for the club. Some NHL coaches will tell you quietly that out of an 82 game schedule you are going to get about 5 games that you can fudge through, loaf through etc, and that at the end of the year, all things considered, they probably won’t ruin your overall season. That’s just hockey life they will say. I’m thinking the Wild have already used those up if that’s true. That means that this club, with 69 games left is going to have to go full bore in every one of them. That means that if you are playing 3 in 4, back to backs, whatever, you do not have any mulligan’s left in your duffel bag. From here on out it’s everything or nothing. How will this team make it through that?   THE ATHLETIC; Wild down to 18th with a 47% chance to get into the playoffs and a 2% chance to win the Cup. After the Montreal win last week they briefly cracked the top ten. THE SAGARIN; Wild drop to 15th after elevating to 6th last week. Only 1-4 versus top ten Sagarin teams. NHL STANDINGS by point percent; team drops to 25th by obtaining only 12 out of a possible 26 points available for a .462%. The team hasn’t elevated their combined PP number (17.1%) and PK number (82.0%) to that magic 105 number as of yet. (That’s one coaches prerequisite tally to begin to think about a playoff position.) The Wild are last (7th) in the Central division but have played the least number of games thus far. With the power emergence of Winnipeg, the re-emergence of Dallas, and with Colorado in a dash to erase the memory of last season, the Wild and Blackhawk’s are at the bottom of the Central heap. Will the Central send 5 teams to the SC tourney? Will the Wild and Hawks be spectators this year? Stay Tuned…. PEACE