One month, or 13 games, isn’t enough to cement a reputation, but the first impression the Wild made this season is the kind that requires damage control.
After the worst start in franchise history culminated in the second-most futile October ever for the organization, the Wild (4-9) is stationed in the bottom five of the NHL.
The players are hopeful November, beginning Saturday when it hosts the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blues, can bring a fresh start. Using pitfalls from the past month as a guide of what not to do might be the Wild’s best chance at improvement.
“We’ve got enough guys in here that have played enough games, been through enough ups and downs and believe in what we have in here to get things going,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said.
Home cooking on the road
In a reversal from last season, Xcel Energy Center has been a haven for the Wild, while almost every stop on the road has been a house of horrors.
No one played more as the visitor in October than the Wild. Its nine road games tied for most in the NHL. But its 1-8 response was ghastly.
And the schedule isn’t easing up.
Next week the Wild will embark on a four-game trip out west before rounding out November with four additional road games.
What’s helped the Wild to a 3-1 showing at home — being relatively consistent from period to period — would bode well for better results away from St. Paul.
No more collapses
During eight of the Wild’s first 13 games, the team surrendered two to three goals in less than three minutes. Montreal was the fastest, blitzing the Wild for a pair in 16 seconds.
The Wild was able to overcome that lapse Oct. 20, rallying for a 4-3 win, but mostly the team slumped after these letdowns — like it did Tuesday when the Stars scored twice in 1:55 to overcome a three-goal deficit and stun the Wild 6-3, a collapse that yet again highlights the need for resiliency.
“One play doesn’t make the game,” defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “It can definitely hinder it or help it out. But if you dwell on it and your game starts to suffer from that and you start maybe being scared of making plays or not playing the way you’re supposed to, that’s when stuff starts to go downhill.”
Searching for scoring
Only three teams scored fewer than the Wild’s 30 goals in October, timid production that’s been caused by spotty execution and occasionally poor puck luck.
Sluggish starts by individuals have also been a factor.
Only three players have more than three goals, seven have one and three forwards (Ryan Donato, Kevin Fiala and Jordan Greenway) have none.
“We can just try to gain some confidence from working hard and competing and getting a bounce here or there,” said center Eric Staal, whose four goals are tied for the team lead and nine points pace the Wild. “It’s amazing what that can do for a player and for a person and for a line and for a team. It’s just trying to make sure that we don’t stop working and competing for those bounces and for those looks. Eventually, it’ll come and the confidence will grow.”
Finish instead of fading
At times, the Wild has been its own worst enemy by sabotaging itself when it’s been on the brink of success.
Of the seven games in which it’s been ahead or tied after two periods, the team has lost three.
Overall, the 20 goals against the Wild in the third period during October ranked 29th in the NHL.
Instead of playing poised, the team’s been frazzled — a trait that’s likely symptomatic of its early-season struggles since players haven’t had many positive reinforcements to draw upon.
Find a rhythm
Yo-yoing between wins and losses won’t help clear up the Wild’s image, but getting on a run will.
The Wild was victorious in back-to-back games only once in the first month.
Perhaps getting somewhat of a break from the Central Division in November can be a spark; after going 0-6 against its division in October and 4-3 vs. the rest of the league, the Wild will face only one other rival (Colorado on Nov. 21) this month after taking on St. Louis.
“With where we’re at now, you can’t get into too many [situations] where you’re losing one, winning one back and forth,” Spurgeon said. “We’re going to have to string a lot of wins together in a row and if we do get knocked off, then we gotta get right back on it and start another one.”