The Wild hasn't earned an impressive home victory since beating Anaheim 5-1 on Jan. 30. Sunday, the Wild returned home to play what felt like a must-win game and recorded its fourth consecutive loss, 3-2 in a shootout, to San Jose. The previous three losses had come against Chicago, Carolina and a horrid Atlanta team.
During the game Sunday, two key figures chatted in the press box -- Chris Simon, the Wild's only acquisition at the trading deadline, and Wes Walz, whose midseason retirement left the Wild short of centers -- while Mark Parrish, in the second year of an untradeable five-year contract, was allowed to return to the ice after his first healthy scratch since his rookie season.
Once again, the Wild started slow, played soft, displayed an alarming lack of depth on defense and at center and lost, this time in front of a home crowd that had to be awakened from REM sleep by heavy metal music and scoreboard prompts.
Looking around Xcel Energy Center on Sunday, you could see a small army of reasons to think this team is soft, disjointed and declining. Then, about 10 minutes after the loss, coach Jacques Lemaire stood before us all and asked the immortal question:
Who you gonna believe -- me or your own lying eyes?
"I think we've got it now," he said.
The way the Wild has played for more than a month, you have to wonder if by "it" he means mononucleosis.
The Wild has managed to salvage a point out of its past two games, keeping the team afloat in the standings, but that is more a function of the NHL's self-esteem policy -- the league hands out points the way youth soccer organizations hand out trophies -- than a true measure of achievement.
To assess the Wild:
• Management: GM Doug Risebrough made the notorious and apparently less-than-useful Simon his only trade deadline acquisition, even though this might have been the best time for the Wild to make a run, considering the uncertain futures of Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, Brian Rolston, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and the dearth of ready-to-perform talent at Houston.
Since the deadline, the players have performed as if they were sorely disappointed in the lack of help, going 3-5, with their victories coming against lousy teams -- Tampa Bay, Florida and L.A.
• Coaching: Lemaire sees a game few can see, basing decisions on details that escape most casual observers. He's so passionate about quality of play and effort, though, that he is capable of missing the big picture, which is that he needs to rely on his best players even if they fail to earn his admiration on a nightly basis.
Playing games with Gaborik and Parrish is justifiable during the formative months of the season. Now the Wild needs every point it can muster to make the playoffs. Motivational tactics work only so often, even for a legendary coach.
• Players: The Wild managed all of two hits on Friday in Atlanta. They acquired Todd Fedoruk and Simon this season to make them a tougher team, but neither has made an impact of late.
This is a finesse team that is overly reliant on Gaborik, who might leave town soon without ever having bought completely into Lemaire's philosophy.
That's one view of the state of the Wild. Then there's Lemaire's view:
"I think this could go a long way for us," he said, speaking of his team's effort on Sunday. "I believe that. We've been struggling lately, and it's because we've wanted all the guys to work, and we had a lot of meetings because of that, because we had too many guys not working, not being disciplined in their game.
"I think they understand. After so many hours, days or months or years, they understand, and they know that they have to play together to have a chance to win.
"Let's say I'm feeling a lot more positive than I did a week ago."
Amazing. Once again, Lemaire has displayed the ability to see something on the ice that the casual observer completely missed.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. firstname.lastname@example.org