The Wild has played five games in the past nine days. Four of those have been at home.
The local NHL skaters will now be on the road for four games as the competitors in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships take over the ice. Take away the music and it will be difficult to tell the difference between those pirouettes and what took place with the home team on Friday night at Xcel Energy Center.
The Winnipeg Jets were the visitors. They had played host to Nashville on Thursday night and won 5-4 in overtime, while losing forwards Drew Stafford and Adam Lowry to injury.
The Jets should have been easy pickings for the Wild. Then, that also should have been the case vs. Philadelphia, New Jersey and Buffalo, the three Eastern Conference also-rans that had preceded Winnipeg to St. Paul.
Instead, the Jets got a goal from Blake Wheeler at 3 minutes, 7 seconds of the first period and had that stand up. The 1-0 loss was the first shutout imposed on the Wild of the season, but certainly not the first reek-out witnessed by a 2016 sellout crowd at the X.
The Wild are now 0-4 at home in the new year, with Friday’s loss joining 4-3 in overtime to the Flyers, 2-1 to the Devils and 3-2 to the Sabres. And if you just go by final outcomes and not those free points for an overtime or shootout defeat, the Wild now has won 22 and lost 22 on the season.
If this was what those hardworking families from Woodbury were paying good money to watch, bring on the figure skaters. The action certainly will be much faster than Winnipeg’s Jets vs. St. Paul’s Hang Gliders.
Friday’s game was the 101st consecutive sellout of regular-season and playoff games for the Wild. If there was another major Twin Cities winter sports entity worth watching, that might change after this string of home-rink clunkers.
There isn’t, of course, so the sellout streak figures to continue, even if this turns into a bona fide slump, rather than a January snag.
Wheeler, the former Breck and Gophers super-prospect from Plymouth, had scored the overtime goal to give Winnipeg its victory on Thursday. He had an outside hunch that Friday’s early goal could be of similar importance.
“Once that one went in, you could almost feel it was going to be one of those 1-0 or 2-1 games,’’ Wheeler said. “It didn’t seem like there was a whole lot out there for either side …
“It was the perfect road game. You want to try to limit what they’re able to do, especially in this building. They feed off the crowd. If you get this place quiet, time seems to clip off pretty quickly.’’
Wheeler smiled when asked if the puck had “fluttered’’ on the way toward Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk for the goal.
“That’s my changeup,’’ he said. “I think [Dubnyk] had the exact spot I was going to shoot covered. Right when I let it go, I think it hit something in the ice or did a little knuckle.’’
Wheeler is now 29, eight years removed from the Gophers, and has become an NHL standout. The new All-Star selection system, with only six forwards from each division, has left objective observers pointing at Wheeler as a deserving player not selected for the game.
Paul Maurice, the Winnipeg coach, isn’t objective and has no doubts Wheeler deserves All-Star status.
“This was a positional decision and a Central Division issue, not whether Blake is an All-Star,’’ Maurice said. “He’s an All-Star for us, but he’s an All-Star in this league.’’
Wheeler was asked about another controversy:
The criticism that Don Lucia, his former coach with the Gophers, has been facing — particularly in a long, extremely critical piece in the current edition of City Pages. Wheeler is held up as an example of a player not reaching his potential with the Gophers.
“I haven’t read any of it,’’ he said. “I went to the University of Minnesota pretty raw … a lot of bad habits, a lot of things in my game that needed refinement. You look at me playing in the USHL and my three years at Minnesota, and I was ready from Day 1 to play in the NHL.
“They prepared me to hit the ground running in the NHL. Without that development, who knows where I’d be.’’