The Wild professes to be doing everything right. And yet, it has lost two games in a row.
“It’s hockey,” center Charlie Coyle said. “It’s a weird sport.”
That’s one way to explain the seemingly unexplainable. The Wild, at 17-14-2 and two spots out of the final wild card spot in the NHL’s Western Conference, has been a playoff team for six consecutive seasons. But it has struggled to make the postseason often in that stretch, and with the halfway point of 2018-19 approaching, appears to be in the same situation.
Take the past four games, all at home, a place where the Wild is historically pretty successful. The team won against Montreal and Florida by a combined 12-2 before losing to Calgary and San Jose by a combined 6-1.
“We’re doing a lot of things right,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We’re just not doing offensively the things necessary to score goals.”
That sounds like a pretty big problem. But Coyle reduced it down to just finishing.
“If you’re not getting the chances, then there’s something wrong, and we’ve really got to look at that,” Coyle said. “We had some chances to score. It’s just capitalizing and making sure we try to make the right play and do the right thing.”
The obsession with being “right” already has affected the players, as Boudreau mentioned observing his players “holding the stick so tight” in the San Jose game after not being able to score. And with the team in need of a winning streak to turn its momentum, that stress could exacerbate.
“Hey, sports is pressure. If you can’t take it, get out of the game,” was Boudreau’s unsympathetic retort. “If you’re going to sit there and fade because we haven’t won as many games as we’d like to right now, then we’ve got the wrong guys here.”
Boudreau reshuffled lines at Wednesday’s practice to try to find some scoring. Jason Zucker moved up to the first line with Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu centered the second line with Zach Parise and Nino Niederreiter.
Zucker said he’s not looking too far ahead; the Wild plays in Pittsburgh on Thursday night and faces Dallas on Saturday in their final two games before the Christmas break.
“Everyone is in need of [a run] all the time. I think it’s just a nice thing to be able to do. But it’s a very, very hard thing to do,” Zucker said. “For us, we’re looking forward to a good game in Pittsburgh and finish off that homestand against Dallas and then have a break and be able to get away from the game.”
Note: Goalie Alex Stalock hasn’t played since Dec. 7. Mainly deployed in back-to-back situations, he could sit out for a full month until the next back-to-back Jan. 7. Boudreau said he thinks about Stalock’s situation “every day” but didn’t elaborate on when the backup would make his next appearance.