The Wild has enjoyed this climb from the bottom of the Central Division standings, but there was still an uneasy air hovering over Bruce Boudreau’s team at Wednesday’s practice.
Devan Dubnyk can’t stop every shot forever. Eventually, his three-game shutout streak will end, and Jason Zucker might not rescue everyone with his recent scoring touch.
Other components of the Wild’s arsenal need fixing, especially with the defending Western Conference champion Nashville Predators in town for Thursday’s game at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild has scored just four non-empty net goals during its three-game winning streak, its power play is in a 2-for-34 slump, and the list of forwards who’ve gone without a point over the past six games includes Mikko Koivu, Tyler Ennis, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Matt Cullen, Chris Stewart and Marcus Foligno.
“I think offensively we have another gear,” Cullen said. “I think we’ve created more scoring chances, and things are going in the right direction. But we’re at that point where we need some pucks to start going in here.”
Cullen fed Foligno with a nifty pass between a defender’s legs for one of those scoring chances that just missed in Monday’s victory over the Flyers. Ennis couldn’t convert on a breakaway. Goaltender Brian Elliott robbed Koivu for the second time in as many games.
It was another 1-0 nail-biter until Eric Staal and Zucker scored their empty-net goals. The Wild was coming off a 1-0 win in Philadelphia, where Zucker scored his sixth consecutive goal for the team. Zucker’s hat trick (including one empty netter) and Dubnyk’s 41-save brilliance had given the Wild a 3-0 victory at Montreal last Thursday, starting this streak.
“Oh, there’s lots of room to improve,” Boudreau said. “I think people forget — our record at this time last year was 9-7-2, not 8-7-2 [like now]. And our power play was lingering near the bottom, and then we went on a tear.
“And not that the same thing can happen every year, but this is where we were last year.”
The Wild has tightened its defense, killing all 14 opposing power play chances over the past five games. Mikael Granlund, who has scored just one goal this season while battling injuries, has been a big part of that penalty kill success, along with Koivu.
But those two also have had ample time on the sputtering power play. Boudreau made the power play a point of emphasis again at Wednesday’s practice.
“The power play has to be good if you want to be successful in this league,” Koivu said, “and it’s something we need to work on and be better at.”
The Wild rank 16th in the NHL in goals (2.88 per game) and that total is a bit padded when you consider it leads the league with seven empty-netters.
“The important thing is you’re getting chances,” said Ennis, who has just missed on several of late. “They’re going to go in; it’s just the law of averages.”
If not, there’s always Dubnyk. His shutout streak has reached a personal best 195 minutes, 5 seconds. Backup Alex Stalock hasn’t played since Nov. 6 at Boston and hasn’t started since Halloween.
But when asked about the starting goalie decision for Thursday, Boudreau said, “There’s no decision. I think pretty well we know who’s starting.”
Dubnyk will be back in there, facing a high-flying Predators team that has scored 23 goals during its five-game winning streak.
“They’re playing great hockey right now, so it’s a big challenge,” Koivu said.
Added Cullen: “I think a lot of guys feel like we’re right on the edge of breaking out a little bit. We have a number of guys who are due.”