By Joey Cavalier
Let’s just say it has been a rough couple of weeks for the Minnesota Wild (and for the “Team of 18,000”). Only two weeks ago the Wild were sitting at the top of the NHL in the standings, and were finally being recognized as a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. Now, only two weeks removed from the hype machine, the team is in danger of watching the Stanley Cup playoffs from the comfort of their own homes. To put it kindly, it has been an absolutely brutal stretch of games for the Wild.
So what has contributed to this free fall from the top of the standings? Well for starters, the Wild only managed to score ten goals during their eight game losing streak (that was finally snapped last night vs. Edmonton). The offense has been unable to create quality shots, and have been even less capable of burying the puck when given the chance. Yet, the biggest struggle for the Wild’s offense, at least in my opinion, is that no one on the squad has been creating the necessary havoc in front of the net. If you disagree, let me know the last time you saw a member of the Wild getting physical in front of the opposition’s net. When was the last time the Wild were screening and pestering the opposing goaltender over the course of a game? Successful teams station key players in front of the net to create offense, and it pays off time and time again (see: Vancouver Canucks). The Wild simply are not doing that. When the Wild were feasible on offense this year, it was when players were creating mayhem and opportunities in front of the opponent’s net.
The Wild defensemen are also to blame for the recent skid. They have been an absolute joke in terms of contributing offensively. Collectively, the Wild defensemen have scored only six goals on the year. Marco Scandella has three of the six goals, while Jared Spurgeon has two of the six. That means only three Wild defensemen have scored a goal on the year. That is just bad, plain and simple. It is hard to win games when all of the pressure to produce offense is placed on a group of banged-up forwards. When the offense is hurting, the defense must take initiative and generate offense. If the Wild are going to climb up and out of this chaos, they will need the defense to step up and score some goals. If they do not begin producing offensively, the Wild will never see the light of the postseason.
While injuries certainly factor into the Wild’s offensive struggles, the Wild have been dealing with injuries all year. So the injury excuse isn’t sufficient enough to explain the recent disappearing act on offense.
There are certainly other things that are contributing to Wild’s free fall (i.e. bad penalties, ineffective power play, defensive lapses, etc). But offense, or lack thereof, lies at the core of the Wild’s recent failures. Getting Devin Setoguchi and Guillaume Latendresse back from injury will certainly help the Wild put more pucks in the net. But if the Wild do not get back to getting nasty in front of the net, setting screens, and burying loose pucks in and around the crease, they will never rise up to the top of the standings. If the Wild defenders do not begin to take shots and find a way to score goals, then the Wild will become accustomed to looking up to other teams in the standings. Luckily, the Wild still have plenty of games remaining to put it back together, and regain the reputation as a legit, Cup contender.