The calendar is about to flip to December, and the Wild once again finds itself on fragile terrain.
Now we know this is an authentic Wild season.
Whether it was Black Friday shopping after midnight or a turkey coma for the ages, the Wild put forth a second consecutive heavy-legged, sleepy effort at home. During a 3-1 loss to a Winnipeg Jets team that had lost eight of its previous 10 games, Wild players threw pucks away, couldn’t execute the simplest of plays and barely tested a 22-year-old goalie making his NHL debut.
Even the faster-than-expected return of Zach Parise, playing for the first time in nine games, didn’t provide the expected boost.
After the hard-to-watch display one game after losing to a Vancouver team that had won five of its previous 17 games, coach Mike Yeo sounded the alarm. The Wild, which has stumbled the past two years in late November and December, is a team on the precipice again, and not just in the standings, where it’s close to falling out of the West’s top eight.
The Wild started this season 10-3-2, with an 8-1 home record. It is 1-4-1 in the past six. Yeo called the Wild’s early record “a little misleading,” saying there were plenty of problems with the Wild’s game the first two months that weren’t fixed and now it’s caught up to them.
“This has gone on all year,” Yeo said of poor puck management, execution and straying from his normal tight-checking, structured system. “The way that we’ve been going is not working. It’s not going to work.
“The league gets better, and if we get to the playoffs, that will not work in the playoffs. We played two very different games in the playoffs last year. We played the first round the way we’re supposed to, we played the second round the way that we’re playing right now.
“We just have to decide. If we want to be a good team, there’s a way that we have to play, and it’s not going to be cute. We’re not a cute team.”
Despite Connor Hellebuyck making his NHL debut, the Wild was outshot 29-15. If there were jitters, nobody will never know. The Wild fired only three shots at Hellebuyck in the first period.
The Jets lined up in a 1-1-3 in the neutral zone all game, and the Wild played right into it, turning pucks over constantly.
“We threw stretch passes right into them,” Parise said of the Jets stacking the blue line. “It feels we’re throwing the puck away a lot. We’re not making good plays through the neutral zone. It’s making us look slow. It’s getting a lot of plays broken up.”
Added Ryan Carter, whose goal in the third period cut a 2-0 deficit in half, “We weren’t committed to getting pucks behind them and skating, and it cost us.”
Mathieu Perreault broke a scoreless tie with a second-period power-play goal, then Dustin Byfuglien scored from behind the net when his shot hit off Devan Dubnyk’s glove and fell between his legs and in. That turned out to be the winner.
“You never want to give those up,” Dubnyk said.
The Dallas Stars come to town Saturday. Yeo doesn’t expect things to change instantly.
“We need guys to pick their game up in our game,” he said. “They need to be better in little areas of our game. … We have to get our eyes straight on what those little things are and what our best game looks like and how they can fit into that.
“This is a good kick in the butt for us right now.”