It has been nothing but March Sadness for the Wild.
Once a fast, structured team that was at the top of the West in goals, goals against, victories and points, the Wild's game has deteriorated since a torrid stretch from early December to late February.
In the first eight games of March, the Wild has lost six times in regulation — the same number it had the previous 38 games.
Coach Bruce Boudreau is at a loss. He wondered if the team is fatigued "or whatever" with the playoffs less than a month away. Even before the Wild ended an alarming 1-4 road trip, Boudreau said this should be a time "everything's running smoothly because we've been doing the same things for six months." Now he sees players freelancing and "going on their own course."
"Some nights one thing is going well and we're missing a part somewhere else, so it's costing us games," said veteran Zach Parise. "But luckily we've got some points early in the season where we've got room to turn it around and figure it out before we get to the playoffs.
"But we have to start playing better right now."
In March, the Wild has scored 2.13 goals per game and allowed 2.88. The power play is 2-for-25 and on the road trip the Wild allowed a power-play goal in all four losses.
The Wild's .750 points percentage (30-6-4) when scoring the first goal is fifth-best in the NHL, but in the past 360 minutes of hockey, it has led for only 12 minutes, 40 seconds and has given up the first goal in nine of the past 11 games.
In Thursday's 3-1 loss at Carolina, the Wild couldn't rally against a team that had the NHL's worst points percentage and was using a goalie, Eddie Lack, with three wins all season.
Lots of players, entering Saturday's game against the Rangers, are struggling. The entire blue line has been erratic.
In 31 games since Jan. 7, winger Charlie Coyle has one goal with an opposing goalie in net. He didn't finish a number of golden chances Thursday.
"We know what we're capable of in here. We've seen it," Coyle said. "It's just about hard work … sticking to our structure, not cheating ourselves, not cheating the structure and finishing those chances."
Parise and Jason Pominville, who missed three games because of the mumps, haven't been the same since the bye, nor has Nino Niederreiter, who has one goal in the past 14 games.
Boudreau met with Niederreiter before Thursday's game and offered him the chance to move back to left wing. Niederreiter likes right wing better, yet he finished with one shot against the Hurricanes.
"Since he got his 20th goal, he's been pressing a little bit," Boudreau said. "I just know when he's a little more aggressive and getting involved, he's really effective."
Goalie Devan Dubnyk is 2-6 with a no-decision in his past nine starts, with a 2.90 goals-against average and .905 save percentage. He couldn't come up with a big stop on Victor Rask on Thursday 90 seconds after Lack made three huge stops in a 1-1 game.
"It's just small things that can kind of bite you when things aren't going well, whether it's changes or if I need to come up with a save or whatever it is, those are just things you sharpen up and the rest of the game comes," Dubnyk said earlier in the week. "We know how good we are in here and we don't have to think about changing anything."
The Wild, struggling to rediscover the game that made it so dominant for nearly three months, hopes playing eight of its final 13 games in St. Paul will help.
"It's nice to be in front of the home crowd, but we've got to bring it ourselves," Coyle said. "It starts with us inside here. We've got to bring our compete level, stick to our structure and turn this thing around."
Asked if he thinks this started because the Wild was getting bored of the regular season, Boudreau said sarcastically that shouldn't be the case since this franchise doesn't have the championship pedigree to get relaxed.
Boudreau felt there were good signs Thursday. The Wild limited Carolina to 24 shots and fewer than 10 scoring chances.
"I've seen them play great, so why wouldn't I think that they're going to fight their way out of it?" Boudreau said. "It doesn't make any sense to think … from the body of work … that they're not going to fight their way out of this."