Sometimes, in a crowded locker room late at night, you need an athlete-to-English dictionary.
Thursday, after the Wild beat Montreal 7-1 at Xcel Energy Center, center Eric Staal talked about his team spending so much time in the “O” zone.
Did he mean the offensive zone? Or the ozone?
When your team scores seven on one of the world’s best goalie while building the best first half in franchise history, they might be one and the same.
Since Nov. 21, the Wild is 17-2-4, producing points in 21 of 23 games. In the fourth of a six-game midterm that would measure their mettle, the Wild has produced seven of a possible eight points.
Usually, January is the cruelest month for this team, an annual harbinger of the darkest days of winter. Sunlight dissipates and so does optimism.
Four of the past five seasons, the Wild has become the swoon platoon. That hasn’t happened yet this season, and by the looks of the team on Thursday night it might not happen at all.
This marked the fourth game in a rugged six-game stretch. The Wild earned five of a possible six points on their California swing, then returned home to face the Montreal Canadiens.
The final: Wild 7, Montreal 1, tying the largest home-ice margin of victory in franchise history.
Before leaving for California, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau sneered at questions about the franchise’s past lulls. The sneer has more credibility today than it did then.
Boudreau’s point: This is a different season; he’s a different coach. But we know that institutional memory matters in sports. The Cubs didn’t break their curse with one managerial change, or 10.
This season’s Wild team has earned the benefit of and the erasure of doubt. The boys have set a record for most points in the first half of a season and there is little flukish about their play.
They are not dependent on one or two scorers, or one or two defenders. They are winning with Zach Parise at less than full health. And for the first time in years the franchise looks deep both on the NHL roster and through the system. The team’s top prospects have thrived this season, meaning the franchise’s lack of top-of-the-draft picks may not be as debilitating as expected.
The Wild has experienced only one two-game losing streak this season (in games ending in regulation) and has swept the season series with a strong Montreal team.
And while a slump can occur any time to any team, the Wild now has only two games remaining in this difficult stretch — at Dallas on Saturday and Chicago on Sunday.
“We didn’t feel we needed to prove anything, but it’s a confidence builder,’’ Staal said of the successful California trip. “That’s a tough three buildings to play in on the nights we did. That’s only going to build your confidence. I think we know we’re good team, but you have to deliver when you have those opportunities.
“That’s a good feeling.’’
Devan Dubnyk leads the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, and he probably would have had a shutout Thursday if Chris Stewart hadn’t earned a penalty by confronting a Canadiens player who smacked his goalie.
Boudreau praised Stewart’s vigilance and said he was glad Stewart made his point without earning an instigating penalty. Asked if he would have asked Stewart to pay the $10,000 fine levied on the coach under such circumstances, Boudreau admitted he didn’t know that aspect of the rule.
“Oh,” Boudreau said, “I would have killed him.”
He was smiling, and why not?
The Wild is two points behind Chicago with four games in hand.
It has scored at least four goals in 16 of 40 games this season. In 2015-16, it managed that in 20 games all season.
Dubnyk has outplayed Price twice.
This may be the rare Wild team that spends February contemplating the top of the playoff seedings. The part up there in the ozone.