Whether or not the Wild will make a strong enough push to close the gap on a playoff spot is to be determined.
But its chances sure look bleak if it can’t fix its special-teams play.
Again, that facet of the game derailed the team Saturday, with a 1-for-4 showing by the penalty kill and 0-for-4 night for the power play headlining a lopsided 6-1 loss to the Bruins at Xcel Energy Center in the team’s return from a nine-day break.
“We gotta find a way to kill some,” defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “Anytime they go 3-for-4 on the power play, it's going to be hard to win a game and especially when our power play wasn't very good tonight either. So, we just have to be more committed to it, whether it's getting pucks out or blocking shots or just being in lanes.”
What might help the sputtering PK find some confidence and mojo is simply staying out of the box.
Three of the four penalties committed by the Wild came outside of its defensive end, either in the neutral zone or Boston’s side of the rink.
And the Bruins made the Wild pay for those mistakes, scoring on three consecutive power plays in the third period – including twice in just 1 minute, 16 seconds.
“One of the keys to the game was no lazy penalties,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If you’re not going to compete, you’re not going to get penalties. And we didn’t compete hard enough.”
Before its next challenge Tuesday at home against the Blackhawks, the Wild will have two days of practice to search for a solution.
“It’s not fun playing like that, getting embarrassed in your home building like that at any point,” defenseman Matt Dumba said. “So I think we all felt that tonight. Tomorrow we’ve got to go to work and use these next two days to really get ready for Tuesday and be strong because tonight wasn’t good enough.”
Continually being on the penalty kill is one way to stifle an offense, but the Wild struggled to sustain quality pressure against the Bruins even when it was at full strength.
Not until the waning stages of the third period did the team spoil goalie Jaroslav Halak’s shutout bid on a shot by winger Mats Zuccarello.
“There was spurts of it,” center Eric Staal said. “Overall, not even close to the level we need to be at to compete nightly. It starts with those 1-on-1 battles and those races for pucks and the forechecking. When we're aggressive and in people's faces, we're more effective. And tonight we weren't, and we gave them lots of time. If you give good players time, they're going to make you pay.”
Ahead of puck drop, the Wild paid tribute to Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the seven others who died last Sunday in a helicopter crash by holding a moment of silence.
During the national anthem, Dumba – who wears No.24 like Bryant did – was the only Wild player on the blue line. He was surrounded by youth hockey players.
“I thought it was fitting that the kids were on the ice with me because as Kobe switched his chapters, that was his big thing was giving to the next generation and that was his legacy that he left behind more than the rings and all the points,” said Dumba, who wore a jersey with Bryant's name on the back for the pregame skate.
The idea to have Dumba stand on the blue line solo was winger Zach Parise’s idea, Dumba said.
“He’s a big Kobe fan,” Dumba explained. “We both, this last year, read his book. We’ve talked a lot about that. I know there’s a couple big Kobe fans in the room. … Me and [goalie Devan Dubnyk] were lucky enough to see him a couple years ago against the Mavericks in Dallas. … It’s so much bigger than basketball.”