Unlike last season and the season before, the Wild can’t pin its problems on mumps, stomach bugs or poor goaltending.
The problem during the latest winter meltdown is more complicated.
The entire team is in a scoring slump.
Player after player up and down the lineup has dried up. Despite being the league’s sixth-best defensive team and the best defensive team since Dec. 1, the Wild tripped into the All-Star break losing 10 of 13 games in January to put itself on the playoff bubble once again.
An exasperated coach Mike Yeo said after Monday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Arizona that it makes no sense that the Wild could be on such a losing stretch with such a low goals-against total.
Take this month, when the Wild allowed 2.23 goals per game. That would rank third in the NHL if it was over the full season. That stat would lead anyone to believe the Wild is in the middle of an impeccable run.
But the Wild was derailed because it scored 23 goals in 13 games (1.76 a game). Take away two empty-netters in Columbus, and the Wild averaged 1.61 goals per game with an opposing goaltender in net.
The Wild dominated the Coyotes the first 40 minutes of Monday’s game and generated more than enough chances to score. But Yeo is under scrutiny yet again (the hashtag #FireYeo is being utilized again on Twitter) by folks questioning his deployment of slumping players and whether his defensive system inhibits the ability to score.
Of course, this is the same team that earlier this season was in the top 10 in goals per game, and this is the same team that often generates enough chances to win.
Two players in the largest scoring droughts are the forwards who typically skate with the team’s best goal scorer, Zach Parise.
Mikael Granlund, who has averaged eight goals and 40 points his first two full seasons, and Jason Pominville, who led the Wild with 30 goals two years ago, are having subpar seasons. Besides not scoring, they routinely have been checked off pucks or turned pucks over.
Granlund has one goal, an empty netter, in the past 30 games and only three assists in the past 16. Pominville is on pace for a career-worst eight goals. He has no goals and one assist in the past 16 games after going the first 21 games without a goal.
“Our line has got to score,” said Parise, who has six goals and no assists in the past 13 games. “That’s what we’re supposed to do, and we didn’t do it again.”
Yeo was asked about continuing to play Granlund and Pominville in significant roles.
“It’s not like we have anybody else that’s exactly lighting it up right now,” Yeo said. “There’s a lot of guys. We’re talking about some major, major slumps.”
Nino Niederreiter: Two goals in the past 33 games.
Jason Zucker: Six goals and no assists in the past 34 games.
Mikko Koivu: Two goals (one empty-net) and five assists in the past 19 games.
Thomas Vanek: Three goals (one empty-net) and three assists in the past 20 games and recently held without a shot in four consecutive games.
Jared Spurgeon: Two goals and one assist in the past 21 games.
Matt Dumba: No goals and two assists in the past 19 games.
Jonas Brodin: No goals and one assist in the past 24 games.
“I just hope that right now for this break that it’s a mental break for everybody,” said Yeo, whose team returns to action Tuesday. “We just have to find a way to come out of it. It’s a matter of building confidence. You do that as an individual. You have to earn it, and you do that as a team, you have to earn it.”
Asked, though, if he’s frustrated this team has not shown the past three years that it can take the next step by avoiding these midseason slumps, Yeo said, “We do have a tendency sometimes to make things a little bit more difficult on ourselves than we wish that we did. This is another opportunity to fight through some adversity, to build as a team, to get through hard times, and those are things you have to do in the playoffs.
“To take another step another as a team, you don’t do that in the regular season. You can set yourself up. But it’s done in the playoffs, so we have to get there.”
The good news is the Wild was in a much worse spot last season.
The Wild sat in 12th place in the 14-team Western Conference, seventh out of seven teams in the Central Division, seven points behind Calgary for the second wild-card spot, 14 points behind Winnipeg for the first wild-card spot and 16 points behind Chicago for third in the division.
It came out of the break and went on a 24-5-1 run to fly by Calgary and Winnipeg and briefly pass Chicago.
The Wild, which has not won more than three games in a row this season (four times), can’t expect it to magically happen like that again, but it gives players solace that they’ve done it before.
“We have a good enough team to get through it and come over this,” said Charlie Coyle, who has scored a career-high 13 goals and has goals in three consecutive games. “It’s not ideal. We don’t want to put ourselves in this situation, but this is what it’s come down to again and we just have to claw our way out.
“When things are going bad, you feel like it’s so much worse than it is. We’re still in a decent spot. Usually in crunch time, whether it’s a game in the third period or toward the end of the season, when our backs are against the wall, that’s usually when we bring our best. So I think we’ll get out of this.”