TAMPA, Fla. – As more games are logged, providing clearer definition to each team’s case to be included in the NHL’s postseason, the Wild’s outlook only seems to get murkier.
After the team’s six-game point streak expired Thursday via a 6-3 letdown against the Penguins in Pittsburgh, the Wild entered this weekend’s All-Star break out of a playoff spot but tied with three other teams for the final berth at 57 points.
Whether it’ll be able to untangle itself from this uncertainty and surge up the standings remains to be seen.
But one of the team’s best chances for doing so isn’t a mystery; a better performance on the road is essential the rest of the way.
“We better turn it around,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We better find a reason why it’s not happening, or we’ll be on the outside looking in.”
The incongruence between home and road play has been one of the most puzzling trends of the season.
While the team has thrived on home ice, securing 17 of its 26 wins at Xcel Energy Center — many stemming from a 14-1-3 run since mid-November — the Wild has struggled to establish a consistent rhythm on the road.
It’s gone 9-14-1, with its latest loss the team’s fifth in its past six road contests. Only the last-place Coyotes have accumulated fewer points away from home (18) than the Wild (19) among Western Conference clubs.
“We’re one of the best teams at home and one of the worst teams on the road,” Boudreau said. “Not that we want to turn that around. We want to keep the home what it is, but we’ve got to find some way to get the road there. We’ve got some tough road buildings to go to yet.”
Mimicking the team’s style on home ice in road games seems like an obvious solution, but it might be easier said than done.
At home, the Wild has the last line change to implement the matchups it wants and it’s likely fueled at this point by a swagger from its success — a confidence that probably can’t translate to the road without the results to back it up.
What may be more feasible, then, is for the group to fix the known trouble spots.
Despite boasting the second-best penalty kill in the league at home, the Wild’s unit ranks 26th on the road, at 75.7 percent. The team has also been shorthanded 103 times (second-most in the NHL), and no team has yielded more than the 25 power-play goals it has surrendered as a visitor.
This deficit isn’t helped along by a team save percentage of .894 (29th), nor a 3.63 goals-against average that is tied for the worst in the league.
And a so-so offense hasn’t bailed out the Wild’s woes in its own end. With 63 goals and a 2.63 goals-per-game average, the Wild’s output on the road slots 24th.
“I just think we have to be a little bit more simple, especially at the start of games,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “There are a lot of teams that are good in their own building that are going to give you a good push from the drop of the puck. Sometimes you have to embrace that and just play simple, not get down. Let them come and then stay simple and get to your game.”
Once the Wild resumes play, it’ll have plenty of opportunity to improve.
Seventeen of its final 33 games are on the road, beginning Tuesday in Columbus against the Blue Jackets, a potential make-or-break stretch that appears to have stirred a sense of urgency.
“We’ve got to find a way,” center Eric Staal said. “Obviously, if we want to put ourselves in a playoff position, we have to win some road games.”
After concluding its pre-break schedule, the Wild assigned forwards Joel Eriksson Ek and Kyle Rau to Iowa of the American Hockey League.