Two of the Wild’s best players — Zach Parise and Devan Dubnyk — casually mentioned the NHL playoffs Monday, affirming confidence running through the team.
But there’s a bugaboo during the NHL’s home stretch that also has something to do with confidence, and not in a good way.
The Wild’s power play percentage during its 18-4-1 post All-Star break run has been terrible — as in 7-for-56 (.125) in that 23-game stretch and 3-for-35 (.086) in the past 15.
“It’s not even in the ballpark of where we want it to be,” said Parise, the team’s scoring leader.
And that appears to be the team’s only major flaw entering the St. Patrick’s Day game at Central co-leader Nashville, where the Wild is seeking its franchise-record eighth consecutive road victory.
Practices have been few during a busy spell of games, so Monday’s session was devoted to fine-tuning play with a man advantage.
“When you haven’t been scoring, you start to lose some of the things that are required,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We’re not paying attention to the same detail as far as faceoffs and recovering pucks off the faceoffs … our timing coming up the ice, our entries. And with all that, you spend less time in the offensive zone and you spend a lot more time chasing the puck. And it creates frustration.”
Defenseman Matt Dumba and his booming shot have moved to the right point of the first unit, sending Jason Pominville up front and pushing winger Thomas Vanek to the second unit, replacing second-leading goal-scorer Nino Niederreiter.
“We haven’t practiced it, and the numbers don’t lie,” Parise said. “You need your power play to be really good going into the stretch and into the postseason as well. It’s something we can’t ignore.
“We’d like to get [the puck] up top more. We’re getting jammed down low. Teams are recognizing that and they are collapsing on us. You have to know where your ‘outs’ are when you are in trouble, where you can throw it — sometimes blind. You need to have that familiarity of where the other guy is, and I don’t think we have that right now.”
Wins without power
More stats from the Gloomy Gus Machine: The Wild’s power play ranks 28th in the NHL (14.9 percent) and 30th on the road (10.2 percent), hasn’t scored a road power-play goal since Feb. 1 and is 1-for-22 in its past 12 road games.
Defying those numbers: The Wild is 7-1-1 in its past nine road games and 10-1-1 in its past 12 road games.
“You look at how good our penalty kill has been … and we’ve been scoring a lot 5-on-5. But you have to score on your power play,” Parise said.
Yeo said moving Dumba to the first unit is “trying to take advantage of his shot and seeing what that can open up for us.
“The shot’s the biggest thing. He’s a threat over there. But we feel there’s a lot of strength on the other unit as well. The ice time will be equal, and both will be able to get out there and show what they can do.”
The Wild has 83 points — fifth best in the West, leading the wild-card race, and most for a Wild team through 69 games. Nashville and St. Louis are tied for the Central lead with 93 points.
“Nashville is a possible first-round opponent for us,” said Dubnyk, who will make his 28th consecutive start in the Wild goal. “Any time we have an opportunity to go in and feel good about ourselves, it’s a big step.”
Another big step was the return to practice Tuesday of defenseman Marco Scandella, who missed seven games, and forward Ryan Carter, who missed 17. Scandella hopes to play by the weekend, while Carter is probably a week away. Defenseman Nate Prosser was injured in Saturday’s 3-1 victory at St. Louis, and Yeo said Prosser’s undisclosed lower-body ailment typically keeps a player sidelined four weeks. Christian Folin will replace him.
The Predators were the best team in the West when they lost to the visiting Wild 4-2 on Feb. 26, but that started a streak where they’ve lost eight of 10.
“It’s another good test for us,” Yeo said. “You look at what they’ve done all season long as far as the level of play, the consistency in their game — I know the last [meeting] wasn’t a great outcome for them, but for 40 minutes of that game, they were clearly the better team.”