RALEIGH, N.C. – Wild goalie Alex Stalock has kept his suitcase cracked open on the floor of his closet this season, emptying out the contents to wash them before dumping them right back in once they’re clean.
“The hardest part I think is the packing and getting on that initial, first plane ride,” Stalock said. “You’re like, ‘Really? Are we doing this again?’ ”
After wrapping up a three-game trip Saturday at Carolina, the Wild will have completed nearly half of its road schedule in the first week of December by rattling off 20 away appearances in the team’s first 30 games.
Only one other team (the Blackhawks in 2005-06) has played 20 of the first 30 on the road, according to NHL Stats.
And before this season, the most road games the Wild had logged in its first 30 was 17 in 2005-06 and 2009-10.
“It’s been a lot, for sure,” winger Kevin Fiala said. “We’re excited to go home.”
While this stretch has been unique, a mashup of 28 flights and 30 nights in a hotel over 39 days, it didn’t ultimately wreck the Wild.
Instead, after overcoming a miserable start, the Wild has surged into a playoff spot amid the second-longest point streak in franchise history (8-0-3) — improvement that gives the team a terrific chance to hold on to a berth now that the schedule will begin to balance out.
“We’re working our way back,” center Eric Staal said. “It’s taken a lot of work, but we’ll just keep trying to get better.”
Once the 2018-19 season ended, the Wild began to collaborate with the league on this season’s schedule and it told the NHL it’d accept a road-heavy start.
Not only was the team coming off a poor 16-18-7 performance in St. Paul, but fewer home games in October when the Vikings, Gophers football and potentially the Twins are in action means more time at Xcel Energy Center later in the season when fewer local teams are playing.
But 20 road games out of 30 was more than the organization would have liked.
“After the first seven games or so, I wasn’t feeling very good about this approach,” team President Matt Majka said.
At 1-6, the Wild made the worst debut in franchise history — a sticky rut that extended to 4-9 after back-to-back setbacks that included the squad imploding for its most dramatic collapse of the season, blowing a three-goal lead to fall 6-3 on Oct. 29 in Dallas. And yet that’s the turning point in coach Bruce Boudreau’s mind.
“We were mad,” he said.
Since November, the Wild has lost just twice in regulation and this run has showcased its chemistry, cohesiveness and camaraderie.
Fiala described the group as more like a family, which he said is different from last season’s vibe.
And this opportunity to bond is why then-General Manager Paul Fenton (who was involved in the scheduling process) wanted to be on the road early.
“I’ve probably at some point this year been out to dinner with every single guy on the team,” offseason addition Ryan Hartman said.
Players were even together on a few occasions when they weren’t supposed to be, getting delayed out of Winnipeg on Oct. 10 by 2½ hours because of weather and again last week when leaving New Jersey.
Andrew Heydt, director of team operations and player relations, had to line up hotel rooms in the event the snowstorm rocking the Twin Cities would strand the Wild in Newark, but the team made it out — only to get diverted to Detroit once Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was shut down.
The team landed at 6 a.m. the next day.
“Their memory is short,” Heydt said. “Once we were home, once we won a couple games, it’s in the past.”
The three-game homestand that begins Tuesday is the Wild’s longest to date, and after another three-game trip in mid-December, the Wild has just four road games over its next 22.
Considering it’s 7-1-2 at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild could continue to climb — perhaps boosted by a quirky schedule that previously looked like it could be a trap.
“It’s hard to trust your game when we were where we were at,” Stalock said.
“It wasn’t like we got two weeks at home where we’re going to get practices in and we’re going to have time to work on stuff. We didn’t really have that. We just had to play and work our way through it.
“We had nights where we’d play good, and we wouldn’t get a win or a bounce here and it didn’t work out. Slowly it came.
“I was like, ‘Wow, we played really good tonight. We just didn’t win.’ And then you’d get one and then you’d get two, and you’re like, ‘OK, let’s go now.’ ”
Sarah McLellan covers the Wild and the NHL for the Star Tribune.