Wild needs some home improvement
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Wild had muscled their way back into the playoff race with four straight wins when they arrived home after a late-night flight to face one of the Western Conference's top teams.
They fell flat and lost 4-0 to the Dallas Stars, showing that despite their recent surge they've still got a lot of work to do to if they're going to continue playing in the postseason.
"It will take some wind out of the sails," coach Todd Richards said Sunday after his team's first defeat in 2011. "Any loss does."
Leading the to-do list is home improvement. The Wild are 10-10-3 this season at Xcel Energy Center, where they've usually played much better than that. Last season, they went 25-12-4 in their arena, the second-best mark of the 10-year-old franchise's history. In their first five post-lockout seasons, the Wild have won at least 23 home games.
"You want to play well here and you want to have success here, so right now it's disappointing that we're having success on the road and we aren't able to get it here at home," Richards said.
The Wild picked up wins at Eastern Conference contenders Boston and Pittsburgh last week and were 8-2-1 in their previous 11 games before Sunday's dud against Dallas. The spurt put them in the Western Conference's top eight for the first time since mid-November.
Jose Theodore, before giving up four goals on Sunday, has been filling in capably in the net while Niklas Backstrom is out with a lower-body injury. Brent Burns is having an excellent season on the blue line. Martin Havlat has finally begun to produce after signing a big contract before last season.
"I think there is a confidence right now when we go out on the road, which we didn't have last season," Richards said. "I definitely feel there was a confidence at home last season. I still think we feel good about coming here and playing. We've got great fans, and it was a great crowd today."
Sunday's attendance went down as a sellout, 18,082, but the Wild fell behind right away and the fans were seen and not heard for much of the evening.
"It's a tough atmosphere here some nights, especially when we don't do anything in the first five minutes or on the first power play," right wing Cal Clutterbuck said. "It seems like things go quiet pretty quickly."
Slow starts have something to do with the lack of life at the home rink, but so does a pattern of inconsistency over the past several years. The Wild haven't made the playoffs since winning the Northwest Division and finishing third in the conference in 2007-08, and this season has brought plenty of maddening stretches of lackluster play. Much of that has come at home.
"Maybe we're thinking about it too much," defenseman Nick Schultz said. "On the road we just seem to get out there and get down to work. We get results away from the Xcel. We just need to get down to basics at home."
The Wild have just two January home games left out of the four they began the month with. After hosting Vancouver next Sunday, they'll play on their home ice only once more until Feb. 9.
"Believe me, I'd rather play 82 games at home," Richards said. "We're going to get there, as far as playing at home. I'm confident about that."