It is an indication of how difficult January was for Wild that the team fell out of the playoff picture while on All-Star break.
It was that kind of month. After winning only three times in 13 games, the Wild was two days into its All-Star break when both Nashville and Colorado won Wednesday. Those results pushed the Wild out of the playoff picture.
At least for now.
So the team starts the final push of the season Tuesday, on the road against the New York Islanders, knowing that goals have to start getting scored and games won.
“We just have to play better,” Zach Parise said. “There is no way around it. We have to start scoring, we have to start winning. We were in a pretty comfortable spot. And now, all of a sudden, we’re on the outside looking in. Hopefully we can have a good road trip and start this last 30-some games right.’’
The lack of goals is well documented. Several players the Wild had counted on for production have faltered. Mikael Granlund has one goal in 30 games, and it was into an empty net. Jason Pominville has zero goals and an assist in his past 16 games. But they’re not alone. Nino Niederreiter (two goals in 33 games) and Jason Zucker (six in 34) also are struggling.
But coach Mike Yeo, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t change his lines from the ones he used in the final couple of games before the break.
So the team hit the ice for Tuesday’s practice with intensity and an edge. Perhaps a sign of that edge came during a battle drill when captain Mikko Koivu and Matt Dumba got involved in a dust-up. There was some clutching, grabbing and pushing — Dumba lost his helmet — but no punches were thrown.
“It’s a battle drill and things happen,” Koivu said. “It’s not the first time, it’s not the last time and we’ll go from there.’’
Said Yeo: “I think we’re not ready for the game [Tuesday] if we’re not competing at a real high level today. And so I like seeing the intensity today.’’
Yeo said he had a talk with the team before practice and was pleased with the work the team did on the ice. He didn’t divulge exactly what was discussed.
“We know what we’ve done,” he said. “We know what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone well. And right now we’re looking ahead. … We know where we’re at. We know what’s gone on, and we’re ready to finish writing this story.’’
The past two seasons have been cliffhangers with similar plots. Strong starts followed by a swoon, followed by a late charge back into the playoffs. Last year the team, with goaltender Devan Dubnyk acquired in a trade, went 24-5-1 after the All-Star break.
So this team knows what it’s like to go through this. But just because the Wild has rebounded before, that is no guarantee this time.
“Really, what we did last year, the year before, has nothing to do with tomorrow or the day after,” Parise said. “I don’t think we are assuming that will happen again.’’
Defensively, the team appears on good footing, allowing 2.23 goals per game in January. Problem is, the Wild scored only 1.76 per game.
“Yes, goal scoring is a big issue,” said Charlie Coyle, who himself had a goal in three consecutive games leading to the All-Star break. “But we have guys who can put the puck in the net. We’ve shown it before. But it’s not just going to happen for us. We have to make it happen.’’