Official permission to freak out is granted, Wild fans. Minnesota’s hockey team isn’t “sort of” in a slump. They’re in a tailspin headed for the bottom of any one of the state’s 10,000 lakes.
Last week, the Wild lost 4-2 in Chicago and pulled Devan Dubnyk early in that one. Plenty of Wild angst, but a team is warranted a little slump in a season where it’s excelled for months. They just slumped in March rather than January.
Well, now the Wild have lost four more games this week for a five-game losing streak, pushing their March-Maddening record to just 2-8 with 23 goals scored. Sunday’s contest was a 5-4 loss in Winnipeg followed by a players-only meeting and a very brief postgame press conference in which head coach Bruce Boudreau apparently stormed off after giving a couple heated answers to questions.
Yes, things are indeed going swimmingly.
The panic level of Wild fans rose at different levels for different people. By this point, it would be near impossible to not be at least a little worried about this bunch. They have 11 regular season games left to get back into first place in the Central Division. Chicago is now a whopping seven points ahead of the Wild (with one game in hand), who held the top spot throughout much of the season.
It’s not really about the division title at this point, though. It’s about finding their hockey game again.
Sunday, the Wild were down 3-0 at the first intermission and then 4-0 before they scored four goals to tie it in a 10:24 span in the second period. Charlie Coyle got the scoring started, followed by Mikael Granlund on the power play with his 25th of the season. Chris Stewart made it a 4-3 deficit 39 seconds after that, then he made it a tie game with 12.6 seconds left in the period.
The Wild had life with a great comeback, no doubt. But the first period was rough. Taking penalties, allowing relatively easy goals with poor defense, not capitalizing on their own scoring chances. The Wild finished the game outshooting the Jets 48-21. Those 48 shots for the Wild set a franchise record for most shots in a road game, but Winnipeg scored the game-winner with 7:17 left. The Wild had plenty of chances and pucks in the blue paint with a late power play but couldn’t finish.
So, after the loss, the players had a meeting among themselves. That’s not a good sign of the current status of a team when that happens. Boudreau’s postgame press conference was reportedly less than 30 seconds in duration. According to Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune, Boudreau was asked about the second-period rally and if it was something to provide encouragement.
“Well, you know, this isn’t a good day,” Boudreau said. “Because I’m going to say something stupid. So I don’t want to answer that question.”
The next and final question, as it turned out, focused on the team’s resilience in the second.
“Hey, listen,” Boudreau said. “We stunk in the first. We’d better come back in the second. Holy crap, it’s not resiliency. You’re making us sound like we’re good. I’m done.”
That was it. He walked away and the press conference was over.
Diving into the nuts and bolts of what exactly has gone wrong might be worth another story. A couple things stand out. Dubynk played extremely well earlier this season, and lately, he hasn’t been so great. This is the time of year when teams need to be playing at their best, and for the Wild, that includes getting outstanding play from their star goaltender.
It seems like a cop-out without much evidence right now, but maybe the bye week was a bigger deal than anyone realized. The Wild bucked the NHL trend initially, winning their first two games back-to-back out of the bye week (5-4 in overtime over Los Angeles and 6-5 over Winnipeg on Feb. 27 and 28.). That was good. Then the calendar turned to March with a grueling schedule ahead, including plenty of back-to-backs and games basically every other day otherwise. Maybe that week off for vacation time clouded the priorities on the ice.
Of course, players are slumping offensively, too, which has resulted in playing from behind during the 2-8 month. This team consistently scored three to five goals this year. The production has dropped off lately.
Anyway, those are just a couple ideas right now. The Wild have been here before, unfortunately. It’s usually just not so late in the season.
The Wild don’t have much time to regroup; they host San Jose on Tuesday night. That will be the ultimate test to see how the fallout from Boudreau’s comments and the players-only meeting will affect their play once the puck is dropped again. They could be on the way up, or still waiting to hit rock bottom this season.