Wild Struggles Persist Against Division Opponents
The Minnesota Wild had been kicking in the new year with style. The team had posted a 4-1 record in it last five games as the team began to get healthy. During the stretch, the Wild outscored their opponents 19-10. As suddenly as the scoring surge came, it vanished en route to a 7-2 defeat on the road by the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
How can a rejuvenated team falter so quickly after having one of its best stretches of the season? The answer is simple: the Colorado Avalanche are a division opponent that was playing at home.
Wild and Their Road Woes
It started with a bang, as the first road divisional contest was against the Chicago Blackhawks back in October. The Wild went home with a 5-2 victory against a team that has tormented Minnesotans since the division merge. Since then, the Wild have played six more road games within the division. They have yet to post another win after losing to St. Louis, Chicago, Nashville, and Colorado once, as well as Winnipeg twice. During the stretch, the Wild have been outscored 33-16. That is embarrassing and the team knows it.
Granted, the Minnesota Wild have not been healthy much this season. Every team deals with injuries and you won’t obtain a sympathy card. It is really hard to make the playoffs if you can’t win a couple of divisional games on the road, healthy or not.
Home, Sweet Home
The Xcel Energy Center has always been an energetic madhouse that gives the Wild a proper home-ice advantage. Their all-time record at the Xcel Energy Center? 359-206-28-64 (W-L-T-OT).
So far in the 2017-18 season, the Wild have continued the trend by going 5-2 against their division (14-4-2 total). They started the year with two losses: one against the Winnipeg Jets and the other facing the Chicago Blackhawks. Since then, the Wild have won five straight. They have beaten St. Louis, Dallas, and Colorado once, as well as Nashville twice. In the seven games, the Wild have outscored their opponents 20-15.
This shows that the Wild score a little more frequently, but more importantly that the defense brings its A-game at home. However, two of those five wins ended with the opponent skating off the ice with a point. Colorado lost in a shootout and St. Louis fell in overtime. Those are huge points for divisional games, so the Wild need to find a way to not give away valuable points at home. Come playoff time, those points could be the difference between making or missing the cut.
Who Is Contributing?
Jason Zucker has been clutch for Minnesota against divisional opponents. He has a team-high five goals to pair with eight assists. Following closely behind is Eric Staal at six goals and five assists, as well as Mikael Granlund, who has four goals and four assists. For defensemen, Matt Dumba leads the charge with four goals and four assists.
The Wild lack leadership in this area. Their captain, Mikko Koivu, has managed only two goals and four assists. The alternate captain, Ryan Suter, equals the productivity of Koivu. Koivu plays a strong overall game, but he should not be matching a defense-first defenseman in points. I’m sure having Zach Parise back will help the team as it desperately searches for a guide to weather the storm. Regardless, Koivu simply needs to score more if the Wild want to pick up a few wins against their division rivals.
In Minnesota, there has been much chatter from fans on if Devan Dubnyk should be replaced by Alex Stalock. I think Dubnyk is clearly the better goaltender, but I will entertain the thought. Dubnyk in these games has posted a .500 win percentage. Meanwhile, Stalock has two wins to pair with four losses. That means each goaltender has the same amount of losses, but Dubnyk has doubled the win total.
The numbers don’t scream confidence, but we can take a little history lesson on Dubnyk. In all-time Minnesota Wild stats, he ranks first in save percentage (.923), first in goals-against average (2.25), second in wins (114), and second in shutouts (18). These stats represent two full seasons, one as a mid-season trade, and the injury-riddled 2017-18 season which is only halfway over.
The Wild have been greedy with great goaltending that includes Niklas Backstrom, Manny Fernandez, Dwayne Roloson, and Josh Harding. Minnesota fans should try to calm down about Dubnyk because he certainly isn’t the greatest concern.
The Wild absolutely need help at every level. The goaltending needs to step up and not let soft goals get past them, the defense must play tight and not turnover the puck, and the offense needs to learn how to score. Eric Staal has been the consistent first-line center that Minnesota has dreamed of since its inception, but lackluster play from Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle continue to plague this offense. The assist numbers are not staggering and the goal production is sinking.
The Wild have time to turn this season around still. They have their captain, Koivu, and two alternate captains, Parise and Suter, healthy to guide this team. Will it be enough? I believe in the Wild, but do they believe in themselves?
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