The Wild will resume its season after an eight-day break exactly where it was before the hiatus: in a playoff position.
For the team to hold onto one of the top three seeds in the Central Division, or swipe a wild-card berth, it will likely take a combination of what’s worked so far along with a few improvements to keep the Wild ahead of its competition.
“As a group, we trust that we can get there,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We’ve been there. We’ve been in these situations. We’ve got to the playoffs in just about every way you can imagine the last four years. So we know what it takes to be there.”
However, General Manager Paul Fenton could be in a trading state of mind as the Feb. 25 deadline approaches if the team falters.
“I’m just going to watch here the next couple weeks,” Fenton said, “and then make a decision as to which direction we’re going.”
Getting more goals
Averaging fewer than three goals a game, the Wild’s offense isn’t one of the most potent in the league. What can make it more dangerous, though, is scoring by committee.
The blue line has been involved, tying for the most goals in the NHL at 32, and the Wild has tapped into its depth up front at times. Eight different goal scorers delivered during the team’s current three-game win streak, while 14 chipped in during its impressive 5-2 showing amid seven straight road games earlier this season. But consistency is key and with the Wild scoring two or fewer goals in 11 of its past 19 games, perhaps Fenton will bring in help.
“We certainly want to score more,” Fenton said. “… We’re trying to get guys that have the ability and maybe make contributions that make our lives a little bit easier.”
More power in the power play
While the Wild’s penalty kill ranks third in the NHL at 84.2 percent, the other half of special teams has room to grow.
The power play hasn’t exactly been a disappointment, converting at 20.9 percent, good for 12th in the NHL. But it has struggled to recalibrate since its resident finisher, defenseman Matt Dumba, was sidelined by a torn pectoral muscle in December — an absence that coincided with a 1-for-23 rut. Additions like winger Pontus Aberg and defenseman Brad Hunt could settle in to help the unit take off.
Strong play from Dubnyk
Strong play from Dubnyk will be essential, a steadiness he was providing the Wild before its layoff. He went 3-0 in his last four games, recording a .944 save percentage and 1.29 goals-against average in that span — effectiveness that culminated in his being named the NHL’s reigning third star of the week.
“When he’s on top of his game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said, “he’s as good as there is. He limits teams to two goals, he keeps us in every game, and we’re going to need that all the time — especially coming down the stretch where every game becomes more vital. When you have good goaltending, it really props your team up. It gets your team excited when he’s on.”
Getting early leads
Most of the Wild’s first 50 games were spent in rally mode, as the team opened the scoring just 18 times. Playing catch-up hasn’t been a huge obstacle; it’s actually spurred the bulk of the team’s success since the Wild is 15-15-2 when surrendering the first goal.
But this doesn’t look like a sustainable trend, not considering how tight games could be the rest of the way while teams try to bubble-wrap early leads to safety as they vie to lock down a playoff spot.
More home cooking
Half of the team’s remaining games will be at Xcel Energy Center, an opportunity that doesn’t seem like a slam-dunk considering its recent track record. After dropping only six games in regulation last season in St. Paul, the Wild is 13-9-3 this campaign.
Being an above-.500 team on the road is encouraging, but swoons like the 0-3-1 stretch in December at home can be tough to overcome. The team, however, will have a chance to gain momentum soon; it plays seven home games in February — a spurt that could also go a long way in shaping how the roster looks after the trade deadline.