Wild’s 11th defeat in 13 games leaves team at loss
The most fitting summary of the Minnesota Wild at the midpoint of their schedule came from defenseman Ryan Suter minutes after their latest flat performance.
”I don’t know what the heck is going on,” Suter said. ”Every day’s a bad day.”
The sobering comment from the team’s lone All-Star came in the dazed moments after a 4-1 defeat at Chicago on Sunday, the Wild’s 11th loss in their last 13 games. They’ve fallen into 12th place in the 14-team Western Conference. Following their breakthrough last spring that landed them in the second round of the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history, the Wild have become one of the NHL’s biggest flops this season.
”It’s not fun to be part of. It’s not fun to play,” Suter said. ”I don’t know what’s going on.”
There is still time for a turnaround, but it has to happen fast. With their record down to 18-18-5, they are seven points off the playoffs cut with three teams ahead of them. With 41 of 82 games remaining, the Wild will have to win a lot more than half of those and hope for some slumps by their conference competitors to reach the postseason.
Last season, they were barely better at the halfway mark at 20-16-5, but they finished 23-11-7 to snag the seventh seed. Their even stronger showing in the playoffs led to a new three-year contract for coach Mike Yeo. That’s hardly security, though, given the way the Wild have been playing.
”I’m not going to get wrapped up in that. I know one thing: I’m just going to keep doing my stuff. That’s the way I am, and I would expect the same from them,” Yeo said.
The Wild are currently missing center Mikael Granlund with a broken left wrist, and they have had all kinds of illnesses during the first half of the season that affected their lineup. Only five skaters have appeared in every game. But the problems have run much deeper than injuries.
Yeo was in a precarious place a year ago after a six-game losing streak to finish 2013, but despite notable absences by Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and the top two goalies, Yeo and his staff not only held together the group but guided a resurgence that transcended the regular season.
”At the exact point in the year when you thought we’d fall apart, we actually became a team,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said last year after re-signing Yeo. ”And there’s a lot of work that went into that, and again Mike and his staff deserve a lot of that.”
The most glaring issue for the Wild is in goal, with a .892 save percentage that ranks second-worst in the league. Darcy Kuemper has been pulled from several starts, and Niklas Backstrom has not been sharp enough to unseat him as the regular starter. Josh Harding would have been part of the plan, but he broke his foot right before training camp and more recently developed complications anew from multiple sclerosis.
The Wild are fourth in the NHL in both shots for and shots against, an indication that Yeo’s system has still been effective. But top offseason acquisition Thomas Vanek has been passive with the puck, with only seven goals so far, and the power play is the sixth-worst in the league.
”I’m confident in what we’re capable of, but we have to better. So I’m not going to just sit around and hope that things are going to be better,” Yeo said. ”We have to find a way to be better. We have to find a way to bring more to the rink every day.”
Yeo erupted during a lethargic practice last week, resulting in dozens of expletives and a snapped stick before he skated off early. Players said afterward they deserved it, but they’ve lost all three games since then. At some point, the message might be irretrievably lost.
”There’s really not much more of a message than start winning,” Parise said.