The last time the Wild played at Xcel Energy Center, surly fans booed the team off the ice after a dreadful 4-1 loss to Edmonton. That game was five days ago, but coach Bruce Boudreau and his players haven’t forgotten that sound.
It used to be unfamiliar. This season, though, the Wild has lost its home-ice mojo, with an 8-10-2 record at Xcel since Nov. 13. Heading into Tuesday’s home game against Philadelphia, it already has four more regulation losses at Xcel than it had all of last season, an unsettling situation for a team accustomed to a significant home-ice advantage.
The Wild is 13-10-4 at home after going 27-6-8 last season. Tuesday’s game is the first of four in a row at Xcel, and several players said there is no time like the present to rediscover their swagger in St. Paul.
“I don’t understand it,’’ goaltender Devan Dubnyk said. “Ever since I’ve been here, playing at home has been a huge advantage for us. For whatever reason, we haven’t been able to do that this year.
“It’s a huge opportunity to try to get that going. I think if we get some momentum at home, it will really snowball for us. We need to start that now.’’
Boudreau said his team is well-prepared, and he has no quarrel with its effort. Too often, though, the Wild has started slowly. It has surrendered the first goal in 37 of 56 games, including the past four, and has been outscored 54-40 in the opening period.
“First periods are huge,’’ Boudreau said. “To play catch-up, it’s a little bit tough. We’ve got to be ready for 60 minutes right from the get-go.’’
During the first three months of the season, defenseman Anthony Bitetto played in only 18 games for Nashville. He is already making an impression on Boudreau, who has teamed Bitetto with Jonas Brodin on the Wild’s second defensive pair.
Bitetto, who was claimed off waivers on Jan. 25, cracked the Wild lineup Feb. 5 at Buffalo and has not been out since. In his return to his home area last weekend, the Long Island native led the Wild with seven hits in a victory at New Jersey, then added two hits, a blocked shot and three shots on goal in a loss at the New York Islanders.
“He’s just big, and he plays physical, and he plays hard,’’ Boudreau said of the 6-1, 210-pound defenseman. “We’re giving him the opportunity to see how good he can be. And if he takes it and runs with it, then great. And if he doesn’t, then we’ll move and find something else.’’
In Nashville, Bitetto averaged less than 10 minutes a game. In his past three games for the Wild, he has averaged about 17 minutes.
“I feel good,’’ Bitetto said. “This is what you prepare for, to get an opportunity like this.’’
Staying the course
With back-to-back afternoon games last weekend — and the Wild in dire need of points — Boudreau didn’t hesitate to start Dubnyk on consecutive days. The coach thought the goalie would have enough time to relax and recharge following Saturday’s matinee at New Jersey, and he was right. Dubnyk stopped 48 of 52 shots in his first back-to-back starts this season and was extra sharp Sunday, blanking the Islanders over the final 37:59.
Last week, Boudreau said both Dubnyk and backup Alex Stalock will need to be at their best for the Wild to win critical late-season games. But as long as Dubnyk keeps playing well, Boudreau is inclined to stick with him, particularly with no back-to-back games to worry about until Feb. 21-22.
“I thought he’d be fine [last weekend], and he was,’’ Boudreau said. “Right now, we need wins, and Duby’s our No. 1 guy. So we’re going to see how it goes.’’
Joe on ice
The Wild will honor retired Twins star Joe Mauer at Tuesday’s game. In pregame warmups, the players will wear jerseys with Mauer’s No. 7 that will be auctioned for charity. Mauer will participate in a ceremonial puck drop.