For most of the season, the Minnesota Wild have been one of the surprise teams in the NHL, surging to the top of the Western Conference standings.
In December, the joy has come to screeching halt. Monday’s 4-2 loss to Colorado dropped Minnesota to 0-5-2 in its past seven games. The Wild are the first team since the 1999 Avalanche to follow up a seven-game winning streak by losing at least seven straight.
First-year coach Mike Yeo said after the game that the team cannot push any kind of panic button.
"Fragile? OK, yeah, maybe a little bit right now," Yeo said. "To me, this is still part of our process. We passed the test earlier, about how we would do if we were having success. Would we be able to come to the rink and not let that get to our head? Would we be able to come to the rink and be motivated and be ready to battle the right way? Where we clearly have to improve is when things are not going well, how does that affect you? Right now, the other team scores and it’s like, ‘Whoa.’ Whereas earlier we were able to deal with it.”
It would be easy for a team unaccustomed to winning to look in the mirror in search of its true identity — especially a team that has been outscored 22-9 during this skid.
"We got to get out of it," said winger Cal Clutterbuck. "We’ve got to work twice as hard as we did to win games as we did earlier in the year to get out of this."
The rough stretch comes just as the number of top Wild players on injured reserve almost surpasses those who are donning the red, white and green sweaters. Among its top forwards, Devin Setoguchi (ankle) has missed eight straight games, and Guillaume Latendresse (concussion) has missed five. Neither is expected back soon. Adding insult to injury, defenseman Jared Spurgeon left Monday’s game after he was checked from behind by Cody McLeod and crashed face-first into the boards.
However, captain Mikko Koivu had an assist in his return Monday, after the center missed four games with a leg injury.
"I think we all can do better, and we have to," Koivu said. “Every team has injuries, and that’s the way it’s going to be. . . . You have to battle through.”
The injuries have been a convenient excuse for Wild apologists when it comes to discussing the team’s power outage during the slump, but Yeo and those on the ice refuse to buy into that.
"We lost seven in a row now," he said. "You know what? That’s fine. OK, it stinks, but let’s go. Let’s draw the line in the sand. Let’s get right back on the horse. Let’s get to the next one. That’s what we have to have right now. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves; we can’t make excuses."
About the only thing Yeo finds positive is that the losing streak is occurring before the calendar turns to 2012.
"If it happened later in the year, we’d be in deep trouble. So we need to learn how to get through this, and we need to do it together. And when we do that, it will make us stronger. We’ll be better for it."
Northwest Division notes:
Calgary, 9-3-3 in its past 15 games, plays six straight on the road, with games at Columbus, the Islanders and Ottawa this week before stops in Nashville (Sunday), Washington (Jan. 3) and Boston (Jan. 5) to conclude the trip. … Entering Tuesday, Calgary LW Curtis Glencross has five goals in his past four games. He leads the Flames with 14 goals. … Flames LW Alex Tanguay suffered an undisclosed injury Dec. 20 and remains day-to-day. … Colorado’s win Monday in Minnesota was its first away from Pepsi Center since Oct. 22 — a stretch of nine games (0-8-1). Conversely, entering Tuesday, the Avs have won eight straight at home, the longest such stretch since the franchise moved to Denver. The past five wins have been one-goal affairs. … Colorado backup G Jean-Sebastien Giguere was named the league’s third star for the week after going 3-0 with a 1.60 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage. … C Ryan O’Reilly had a goal and an assist Monday and has matched his career high for points (8-18-26), set in each of his first two seasons. He also leads the league with 51 takeaways. … Including Monday’s 5-3 loss in Vancouver, Edmonton has dropped 10 of 13. The Oilers have won consecutive games only once since Nov. 3. … RW Jordan Eberle has 16 goals in his past 28 games for Edmonton, including five in his last four outings. … C Eric Belanger has just one goal and nine assists in 33 games for Edmonton, but coach Tom Renney is not concerned. "At the end of the day, what I want him to do is be very good in the faceoff circle, be a sound defensive player and chip in. For the most part he’s been that with the exception of the latter. He just has to keep working and he’ll get his touches and make a difference." … Minnesota has allowed the first goal 23 times this season but is 12-9-2 when doing so. That tops Minnesota’s win total from last year (8-31-4) when yielding the game’s first goal. … The Wild are 1-9-4 when yielding three or more goals, having allowed four goals four times in the past six games. … Nice diving save by Wild G Niklas Backstrom in Monday’s loss. … Vancouver is 8-3-1 this month to move atop the Northwest Division for the first time this season. … LW Andrew Ebbett scored the first two-goal game of his NHL career in Monday’s win over Edmonton. … Canucks’ RW Dale Weise was ejected in the second period Monday after he sent Alex Plante face-first into the glass. Weise received a charging major and game misconduct. … Canucks D Keith Ballard returned to the lineup Monday after sitting out two games with back spasms and a third for precautionary reasons. … Nice pump fake by Alex Burrows to get an assist in Monday’s win.