WINNIPEG, Manitoba – There’s a shortage of goals, the defense isn’t at full strength and it feels like the team is teetering on the brink of a dangerous free fall.
This doesn’t just describe the current state of the Wild.
These were also the circumstances surrounding the group’s demise last spring when it was eliminated in five games by the Jets in their playoff matchup.
Although the team couldn’t overcome that adversity, it still has time to avoid a similar fate this go-round starting Saturday when the Wild will look to end a season-high five-game losing streak during its first regular-season appearance at Bell MTS Place since its first-round exit.
“Of course we can,” center Charlie Coyle said. “It’s up to us to figure that out.”
Scoring just five times amid an 0-4-1 slide is grim, especially considering the Wild has unleashed more than enough shots (181) on net to shrug off this offensive funk.
It also doesn’t help that the stability that gave the team’s defense its identity early in the season has wavered, with Matt Dumba’s recovery from surgery to fix a ruptured right pectoral muscle shuffling the previous order.
Add in a .902 save percentage from its goaltenders during that span, and the Wild has slumped to the uncomfortable no man’s land where it’s just as many points shy of a playoff spot (four) as it is from the basement of the Western Conference.
But unlocking better execution and a steadier defensive posture aren’t new challenges for the core of this group.
Those were also the boxes the team had to check to persevere in the playoffs last season when injuries shelved defenseman Ryan Suter and eventually winger Zach Parise. By Game 5, when the Wild was steamrollered 5-0, the team was relying on five players who made their postseason debuts in that series — including two on defense.
That inexperience combined with a disappearing act from the offense, which finished the season with a scoreless skid of 141 minutes, 37 seconds, were too much for the Wild to overcome, but history doesn’t have to repeat itself.
“It obviously leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you have experiences like that,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “You want to change it.”
While the pressure of the postseason tends to be unrivaled, urgency can still be channeled in December amid rough patches like this and capturing that vibe was part of coach Bruce Boudreau’s post-holiday break message to the players.
“When you lose five games, you can’t be satisfied,” winger Jason Zucker said. “You can’t be OK with it. You gotta look at yourself and figure out what you can do better to score goals.”
Optimism is another tactic; five players already have reached double digits in goals, Zucker pointed out, and many have a track record of being able to produce.
Not only is that encouraging to the Wild, but so is a statement win against these Jets at home, barely a month ago, when the Wild flipped a two-goal deficit in the third period into a 4-2 advantage; players believe that potential is still intact even though the lineup has changed.
The Wild officially assigned center Joel Eriksson Ek to the American Hockey League on Friday, and it’s possible the team ushers up a new reinforcement ahead of Saturday’s afternoon puck drop since defenseman Nick Seeler is sore and took a maintenance day Friday instead of practicing.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk is expected to start against the Jets after he was pulled in the 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday following three goals on 10 shots.
“The only guy who’s not here is Dumba,” Zucker said. “So it’s one of those things that we just gotta know that we have the guys who can do it.”
Tripping over these familiar obstacles is the alternative, a path the Wild spiraled down earlier this year. But where it’s been isn’t necessarily the same as where it’s going.
And the team has a chance to start reversing course in a situation that’s like the one that previously foiled it.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Coyle said. “We had a great start to the season. There’s a bunch of teams that have gone through lapses here, and every team kind of goes like that. It’s just how quickly you can get out of it and head in the other direction. This is a game that can really do that for us.”