Bruce Boudreau and his staff have their work cut out for them now.
It wasn’t that long ago when the Wild was a fast, exciting team that was the toast of the conference.
Its five-year pros all seemed to be breaking out, its blue line was considered the strength, Devan Dubnyk was a reliable wall in net that would give up two, then say no more, as Boudreau liked to say so much early in the year.
Now, the Wild’s a fragile, collapsing group that has reverted to being unable to convert on odd-man rushes, can’t hit a wide-open net, can’t stop making, in Boudreau’s words, “ridiculous” turnovers, can’t get a save when needed and most of all and importantly, can’t win.
It wasn’t that long ago when the Wild was a team heading for a record season.
But it certainly feels like centuries ago now.
On Feb. 18, the Wild beat Nashville to take a nine-point lead in the West and Central. On March 18, the Wild trails the Blackhawks by five points.
In one month, a 14-point turnaround. Plus, if the Wild beat the Hawks on Feb. 21, it would have taken a nine-point lead. That became five as the Hawks keep winning and winning and winning.
The Wild’s now 2-7 this month after Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers and has lost four in a row for the first time this season.
The Wild visits Winnipeg on Sunday (4 p.m. puck drop). Darcy Kuemper is expected to start that game. Kuemper has been chased in his past two starts, including Feb. 28 in Winnipeg.
I’m not going to go over all the game details again. Please read the gamer for that. The final gamer should be up at startribune.com/wild soon.
But how the Wild gets out of this, well, tremendous question because it’s hard to believe the Wild will magically revert to being a solid group. It’ll take a lot of hard work and commitment from the guys in the room.
Asked if the Wild’s now pressing all over the ice, Boudreau said, “I'm sure they are. They all want to win. They are trying really hard out there. They want to do the right thing. But right now when things don't go the way you want them to, people start doing individual things. They try to start making the tough plays. They stay out a little longer than they're supposed to just because they want things to happen. We talked to them between the second and third. It's about getting back to the simplicity of what we did early on in the season which is when we had so much success. Just get it behind the D, play in their zone, and don't turn pucks over. You're trying very hard to make the right plays, and you see it yourself out there, there are so many turnovers that it's ridiculous. At the same time, it's hard to tell an athlete not to try their hardest and do what they think is right. They have to get it in their head that what worked will work again. Once that happens then I think will get back on the road to success.”
The Wild has led for 15:41 of the past 420 minutes (1-6). Tonight’s 24th goal by Eric Staal gave the Wild a rare 1-0 lead, and it lasted 3:01.
Wild gets a power play with a chance to make it 2-0, and instead it gives up chance after chance shorthanded. Finally, after the kill, Brady Skjei ties it.
“Frustrating,” Staal said. “We had some great energy to start; kept it simple. We were on the attack and, obviously, got a lead. But right now it just seems that mistakes we’re making are really costing us. We just got to get back to simplifying our game, getting back to the way we had found so much success earlier in the year, and just do it. We can talk about it a lot, but we’re going to have to go out as a group and do it. We’ve got plenty of stretches over this time where we’ve played really well, but it hasn’t been good enough to warrant a win. So, we got another chance tomorrow.
“This is a tough stretch for us right now. No one’s going to help us out, but us. We got to make sure that we come to play tomorrow and get after a win, and get a good vibe going again.”
On the defensive-zone turnovers that were beyond absurd tonight by all the Wild’s quality guys – mostly forwards, Staal said, “It was just mistakes that are costing us. It feels like when we have moments where we shoot ourselves in the foot, they’re capitalizing. That’s been our trait. We do that really well. And right now, I think, when we create offense the other way, it’s not hitting the back of the net as frequent. But it will; it will if you stay with it and stay on it. We had plenty of Grade-A chances tonight, there’s no question. I think we had four 2-on-1s in the second and there’s opportunities there to build a lead and extend a lead but didn’t happen tonight.”
Charlie Coyle, who has one non-empty-net goal since Jan. 7, shanked a 2-on-1 – one of three by his line in the second period. It proved costly because 75 seconds later, it was 2-1 Rangers.
“It was right there,” he said. “I don’t know if it bounced or what. That’s another one. We’ve got to change around, give us momentum if we bury that. But, yeah, we’ve got to execute.”
Boudreau hasn’t seen too many stretches of offensive inability by a good player like this, but he said, “The only thing you can do is you keep putting him out there, cause you’re gonna need him. You need him to hopefully break out, and you see signs of it and it doesn’t happen. But you still gotta keep going and pushing the envelope and having belief and trust in these guys.”
Boudreau said it’s going to take mental toughness now by the Wild, and they’ll be a better team for it.
“When things are going bad, everything’s hectic all around you and you want to simplify all of that a little bit, and that’s what you’ve gotta do,” he said. “And when we simplify it, we’re gonna have success.”
Wild at Jets on Sunday. Kent Youngblood will be there to cover.
“No one else is gonna do it except for us in here and we know that, and thank God we get to play again [Sunday],” Erik Haula said.
Wild’s off Monday, so you’ll probably next hear from me Tuesday (except on Twitter).
I’ll be live from the KFAN studio Tuesday at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Kevin Falness and I are co-hosting for Paul Allen on KFAN, and Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis, the Russo-Souhan Show is back.
Sunday is Staal’s 1,000th game.
His Bauer sticks and gloves will be specially branded with “1,000th game” marks, and he will wear a different jersey each period to mark the milestone. Every player and staff member will wear commemorative Eric Staal T-shirts.
Staal will be honored before the April 4 game against Carolina. His parents, wife, three sons and, of course, Jordan, will be on hand.