ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Nine days ago, one victory would have put the Wild one point behind the St. Louis Blues for third in the Central Division with three games in hand.
How much has changed since?
Four losses later, and the Wild opens a three-game road trip Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks nine points behind the Blues.
Sure, the Wild still has four games in hand, but with Minnesota feeling fragile, looking stressed and lacking confidence, the team better find a way to score goals on this trip and win a few games in some very tough buildings to stop the bleeding.
The skidding Wild is clinging to the first of two wild-card playoff spots, and the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks are right on its tail.
“We talked about it as a team. We’re still in a good spot,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, backstopping a team that hasn’t scored in consecutive games and only has 29 goals in the past 15. “We’re on top looking back right now, but it’s not going to take much.
“We just need to find that bounce here and there and get that little bit of confidence back, and we’ll get going. But at the same time we need to understand it needs to happen soon. We can’t wait around until it’s desperation time. It needs to be desperation time now.”
The Wild had an all-skills practice Sunday, then a fun charity bowling event. Monday was a day off, Tuesday was a long practice in Anaheim in which coach Mike Yeo didn’t tinker with the forward lines but did revamp the power-play units.
The Wild is 1-for-29 on the power play in the past 15 games and 0-for-January.
Up front, Zach Parise skated with Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, who set things up from the right wall. Granlund had been on the left. The other forward group was Thomas Vanek, Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter. Koivu set things up on the right wall, his spot in previous years. Usually this season, he had been stationed high between the circles.
The pointmen were Jason Pominville and Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba and Ryan Suter. Yeo interchanged them on both units in practice and indicated the defensemen could be sent out with their unit of forwards.
“We’re trying to find a solution here,” Yeo said. “We have guys in spots that they’re comfortable in.”
Anaheim is a place the Wild typically outplays the Ducks yet always seem to come out on the short end. Los Angeles and San Jose typically aren’t friendly to the Wild either. But the Wild played its best game in a week on Saturday in Nashville, and other than winger Ryan Carter being out until after the All-Star break because of a hand injury, the team is healthy.
“We want to win. We need to win, but the wins follow us playing really good games,” Yeo said. “The biggest challenge right now is being able to stay focused on that and not getting caught up in what else is going on.
“When you do that, the results will follow. There were a lot of good things in the Nashville game [Saturday], but bottom line is we didn’t win the game. It’s still not good enough. We’re a better team than what’s going on right now, so we have to find a way to bring it.”
One big relief would be scoring the first goal for a change. The Wild has chased the past four games, has given up the first goal in eight of the past 10 and has had precious few leads all season on the road. Six of the next seven games are on the road.
“We’ve got lots of good shooters on this team,” Dubnyk said. “That’s one thing I know for sure. There’s a group of guys in here that can score goals. We’ve shown it in the past, so I’m not worried about that.”
Yeo knows the pressure’s on. The team has looked stale all month, but he said, “I’m not sitting here saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe what’s going on.’ This is what we have to deal with, so we deal with it. We would have liked to have had a mulligan on the last three weeks, but I don’t think they’re going to give us that.
“So we’re going to have to find a way to get ourselves out of this. And self-pity is certainly not the answer.”