The Wild has had more than half a season to reveal whether it’s more like the team that imploded in the first month or the one that was almost unbeatable from mid-November into December.
But after getting flattened 6-1 by the Bruins on Saturday in front of 18,009 at Xcel Energy Center at the outset of a critical February, the Wild’s identity is as murky as ever.
And that uncertainty could pave the way for General Manager Bill Guerin to decide the team’s potential with his maneuvering leading up to the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
“He’s been frank with us that he’s going to wait as long as he can,” Matt Dumba said. “But we’ve got to play better, and we’ve got to show him that this is the group. We’ve got to be better.”
A familiar problem sabotaged the Wild’s return from the All-Star break and bye week, as the team’s penalty kill was burned three times by the Bruins’ top players in the second period — including twice in just 1 minute, 16 seconds — to bust open a rusty performance by the Wild.
Boston’s Torey Krug scored twice and added two assists, David Pastrnak had a goal and two assists and Brad Marchand buried a goal and set up another.
“If I start talking about it, I’m going to start using names,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Wild’s 30th-place penalty kill (73.5%), which finished 1-for-4. “I’m not going to talk about it. It’s just obviously as bad as you can possibly get in this league.”
The Bruins were already up by a goal when their power play took over.
At 12:28 of the first period, Krug cut through the middle of the Wild’s zone before unleashing a backhander by goalie Devan Dubnyk.
Then an offensive-zone interference penalty by Ryan Hartman started the slide, with a fortuitous bounce doubling Boston’s lead.
Krug’s shot caromed off the post, hit the back of Dubnyk and tumbled into the net at 4:39.
On the next shift, Eric Staal was dinged for interference in the neutral zone and again, the Bruins took advantage.
This time, Marchand capitalized on a one-timer from inside the right faceoff circle at 5:55 to flip a one-goal cushion into three in just 1:16.
“We have to figure [the PK] out quick or else it’s going to keep going this way,” Jared Spurgeon said.
Before the period adjourned, Boston received one more power play (when center Joel Eriksson Ek was called for holding in the offensive zone) and improved to 3-for-3 when Pastrnak buried a loose puck amid a scramble in front of Dubnyk with 4:31 to go for his NHL-leading 38th goal.
Since Dec. 31, the Wild has given up 15 goals in 37 shorthanded situations for a league-worst 59.5% efficiency in that span.
“Everyone has to hold each other accountable, hold themselves accountable for what’s going on on the penalty kill because it hasn’t been good here for the last couple months,” Dumba said.
The Wild, meanwhile, blanked on its four power plays. Its lone goal came from Mats Zuccarello at 14:31 of the third, but the Bruins responded with two goals in 31 seconds from Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk to polish off the rout. Boston goalie Jaroslav Halak had 25 stops, while Dubnyk made 28.
“They won every battle,” Boudreau said. “They won every race to the puck. They were blocking shots at the end of the game when they’ve got a 5-1 lead.”
That’s the type of effort the Wild needed considering what’s at stake.
Not only is the team still chasing a playoff spot, but the gap widened to seven points after Saturday.
“What a steppingstone it would’ve been to beat these guys with three more games coming this week. It’s just very frustrating,” Boudreau said. “… I guess you’ll see what they’re made of by Wednesday. They either believe or they don’t believe. So we’ll see what they do.”