NHL: While midseason slumps are nothing new for Wild, this one may be different
By Chad Graff St. Paul Pioneer Press NEW YORK -- During the Minnesota Wild's most recent slump -- just three wins in the past 14 games -- the team has taken comfort in the fact that they've been through this before. The Wild survived midseason cr...
By Chad Graff
St. Paul Pioneer Press
NEW YORK - During the Minnesota Wild’s most recent slump - just three wins in the past 14 games - the team has taken comfort in the fact that they’ve been through this before.
The Wild survived midseason crashes the past two seasons only to rediscover their form in time to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
But this version of the Wild’s annual slump could be much more difficult to correct.
In the past, a single problem plagued the team.
Once addressed, the team was back on track. But as the Wild prepare for Thursday’s game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the question is: What most needs fixing this time?
“There is no right answer to that,” forward Thomas Vanek said.
After producing the best first-half record in franchise history (22-11-8), the Wild have bounced from one problem to the next of late and are near the bottom of the Central Division standings with a 23-18-9 record. Scoring has been an issue for some time. But sometimes, like in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders, it has been defensive lapses. In other games, it has been mental lapses, special-teams problems, goaltending miscues or sloppy turnovers.
“What’s concerning,” coach Mike Yeo said, “is we’re finding different ways to lose hockey games.”
Last season, the Wild’s main culprit was goaltending, which they addressed by trading for Devan Dubnyk, who was the best goalie in the NHL over the second half of the season.
This season? How do you fix a team with so many issues?
Even if they determine scoring is the problem - after all, they rank 20th in the NHL with 2.48 goals per game - one new forward in a lineup of 12 of them can’t be expected to provide the same lift as a hot goalie.
“I would say each (slump) presents a different challenge,” Yeo said. “You look at the opportunities we are creating, and you know that if we just had one more degree in certain areas, then it could start going in for us. At the same time, I think it does create a lot more individual focus for the guys - and a lot more individual pressure for certain players. That has been a little bit more of a challenge.”
The easier-said-than-done solution would be for players to return to the style that produced the franchise’s first-half success.
Outside of Charlie Coyle, no Wild skaters are playing particularly well.
Zach Parise has one point and a minus-9 rating in his past eight games - and he is not alone. Mikael Granlund has one point and a minus-9 rating in his past 11 games, Vanek one point and a minus-7 rating in his past seven games, Jason Pominville two points in his past 17 games and Jason Zucker one point in his past 10 games.
“I’ve never seen anything really like this where so many guys are cold at one time,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We just don’t have the confidence that we had at the beginning of the year.”
The recent struggles have left the Wild one point out of the wild-card race. Not good, but not nearly as deep a hole as they were in last season when they were eight points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 14, 2015 - the day they traded for Dubnyk.
General manager Chuck Fletcher is looking to make a deal before the Feb. 29 trade deadline, but with all the various ways the Wild have been losing of late, who or what should he be looking for?
“Every game has been something different,” Yeo said. “You look at some of the ways we’ve lost games - there are a number of plays that happen through the course of a hockey game that add up to the difference. The little winning plays? We’re not making them right now.”
Also concerning for the Wild is that this skid has come even while the roster remained healthy, one of the team’s problems the past two years.
“I don’t think that we should sit here and say that this is like last year, or just because we did it in the past, we’ll do it again,” Yeo said. “But what I would say, the real positive is (we have) a lot of character. We’ve often pointed to the leadership within this group and the character of this group. Certainly it gives me confidence as a coach that we can get out of this again.”
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