Did you hear that? It may have sounded like Devan Dubnyk’s stellar play falling off its incredible pace. Maybe it sounded like the unfamiliar stride of the defensemen seeing ice time to cover for the recently-injured Jonas Brodin. Perhaps it is the haunting silence of the goal horn, waiting for Charlie Coyle to score a goal. Whatever you thought you heard, it was the sound of the other shoe dropping.
After half a season of hearing about unsustainable PDO, play regression, and the inevitability of injuries, it appears that fans of the Wild are finally witnessing it. Dubnyk’s save percentage over the past five games has been .907. Brodin’s absence is highlighting the gulf between the Wild’s top three defensemen and the rest of the group. Coyle, who spent much of the first half of the season leading the team in goals scored, has only scored once since Christmas. These are just some examples of what has become increasingly evident over the past few weeks, namely that the run of near total domination the Wild enjoyed has come to a close.
In recent years, that realization would be a harbinger of doom, or at the very least a dreaded mid-season swoon. After all, the Wild under former head coach Mike Yeo enjoyed stretches of league dominant play that were soon followed by atrocious collapses that forced the team into fighting tooth and nail just to make the playoffs seemingly every season. Fortunately, there are at least three good reasons to hold off from scrambling for the panic room.
1. Points in the Bank
The Wild have played so well this season that even if they went .500 from this point forward, they would end the season with 102 points. That would be the second-highest finish in franchise history. Does anyone think they’ll actually only win half of their games going forward? Over the last ten games, when many of those unfortunate trends mentioned above developed, the Wild have gone 7-2-1. The team is still finding ways to win, even if they are ugly and involve giving up two goal leads. The Wild have a 14 point lead on the first Central Division team outside of a non-wildcard spot with a game in hand. That is a massive lead that should help the Wild weather any storms that might roll in down the stretch.
2. Forward Depth
The Wild’s identity has always been tied to its defense, but that might change after this season. The Wild score 3.26 goals per game on average, which is incidentally the best in the Western Conference. A big reason for this sudden surge in offense has been the high levels of secondary scoring the Wild are enjoying this season. Seven different forwards have at least 10 goals this season. That means the Wild can roll three lines with at least one double digit goal scorer. By the way, not one of those forwards is Zach Parise (he’s got eight goals but has missed nine games so far this season).
3. Boudreau and Company
Although it has only been roughly half of a season, head coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff have shown that they are not the type to fall asleep at the tiller. Even during the franchise-best win streak, Boudreau was speaking about the Wild getting away from their game and the need to adjust. The execution hasn’t been perfect, but the players clearly trying to honor their coach’s wishes. That’s a recipe for avoiding downward spirals and sustained losing streaks. Recent problems do not have to become permanent issues for this team.