As the Minnesota Wild officially hit the All-Star break for the 2019-20 campaign, they're looking up the standings at the playoff chase. That was not unexpected when regular season play began back in October. Many expected the Wild to be on the fringe of the playoff bubble.
To put it bluntly, this roller-coaster season that has been filled with high highs and crashing lows isn't a surprise.
Now at the unofficial halfway point of the season, let's reflect on some of the bigger disappointments so far this season.
NOTE: This is a 2-part post. For the bright spots of the season, click here
October...The Whole Month
Minnesota had a preseason that you'd expect from a mostly veteran squad. They had some wins, some losses and they tried things. However, the Wild looked like they'd have rather eased into the season than jump from the get-go. The Wild had a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes of play in the season opener against the Nashville Predators. The lead didn't last long. It was quickly erased by former friend Mikael Granlund 27 seconds into the third. Goaltending faltered and the Wild lost the opener with a dud.
Goaltending became the biggest concern early. A 4.14 goals-against average in the first seven games of the season quickly started the talk of potentially tanking for the first overall pick. The Wild got a couple more wins, but any hope that they had improved was erased by the Dallas Stars on Oct. 29. After jumping out to a quick 3-0 lead and with the Wild looking to coast into their fifth win of the season, Dallas went off for six unanswered goals that began in the final minute of the second period.
It was easily the worst defeat of the young season.
A good team finds ways to win close games. Close games tend to head into overtime. Minnesota was not winning in overtime. By transitive properties a=b, and b=c, then a=c: Minnesota was not a good team. Minnesota is 2-6 on the season when a game goes past regulation. It also continues to be the same things that plague the squad.
Players were extending their shifts for too long. Goaltending just couldn't get the big save when they needed it. There was a reliance on older veterans that didn't have the speed to play 3-on-3. Even as recently as the 5-4 loss late in regulation versus the Florida Panthers on Jan. 20, the expectation of winning that game was low.
The Wild let points get away early by not getting to overtime. Though even when it did get games to the extra session, Minnesota couldn't close for the second point.
Aside from a short time when the Wild called up young goalie prospect Kaapo Kahkonen, the goaltending has been highly suspect. Wild goaltending as a group is carrying a shoddy goals-against average of 3.31. This is coming from a team that in past years could carry close to a 2.50 GAA. The other kicker is that Kahkonen had only a .913 save percentage -- which is essentially league average. If the Wild could get even league-average goaltending, they likely wouldn't be as far out of the playoff chase as they are at the All-Star break.
Sure, Devan Dubnyk has been dealing with his wife's health issues that arose earlier this season. Yes, he's been away from the team for chunks of the season and hasn't been getting his normal practice and workload. However, his .892 save percentage wouldn't be acceptable in any year.
Alex Stalock may be the lovable Minnesota kid who competes hard, but he's not the savior in net. Everyone loves the way he battles and can play the puck efficiently. But when it comes to stopping the puck, he is what he's always been in this league -- a back-up goalie who can win some games, but can't be relied upon as a regular starting goalie.
If there's one area to point to as the reason this team hasn't been better, or that Bruce Boudreau might lose his job before the season ends, it's because goaltending on the team has been sub-standard.
Koivu surpassed 1,000 games played -- all in a Wild sweater. That's a great thing. However, his production isn't worthy of the second-line center position he's occupied the majority of the season. Out of 309 forwards who have played at least 400 minutes this season, Koivu ranks dead last with 0.28 points per hour at 5-on-5. So even while he's as good as he's ever been at choking the life out of opposing offenses, the lack of points doesn't warrant a second-line deployment anymore. This was likely why Koivu was demoted to the fourth line for the home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning last week.
Dumba started the season with a bang. He got a goal in the opener.
He's added just two goals since.
Dumba once hit 50 points in a season, and was on pace for close to 30 goals last season before he sustained the pectoral injury. He entered the season looking to pick up right where he left off. Perhaps he placed too much pressure to perform because he just isn't doing that. He's had some lengthy pointless streaks to go with his goal drought. The longest pointless streak for Dumba this season lasted 14 games. Needless to say, he hasn't regained that form from last year.
Dumba has let his offensive woes affect him defensively too. He's the worst defenseman on the team in expected goals for percentage and second-worst in expected goals against.
I personally don't think Dumba's struggles are anything more than mental and having confidence. He really just needs a puck to go in again. That said, you can't say that with what the Wild were expecting that he hasn't been anything more than disappointing.
Stats and Info courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com and Evolving-Hockey.com
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