Call it the most important game for the Minnesota Wild this season. After frustrating games against the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues in which the scoring troubles continued, the Wild travels to Phoenix with just 8 games remaining. With the team reeling and a collapse seeming almost imminent, fans are holding their breathe hoping the Wild can rebound before the playoffs begin.
Several things can be to blame for what has happened recently. The first and most important problem, which is no surprise to anyone, is simply a lack of scoring. This seemingly has been a trend for years now. The Wild ranks 27th in the NHL, scoring a meager 2.4 goals per game. While there may be a lack of goals, there is certainly no lack of offensive chances. Shots and opportunities to score have been abundant, but few players have been able to capitalize on a consistent basis.
Secondly, Minnesota has experienced goaltending woes in the last several games. All season, the bright spot for the Wild has been the ability to keep the puck out of the net. Darcy Kuemper hasn’t been the same red-hot goaltender who took over the starting position in January. Not all the blame can be placed on Kuemper, but his play has diminished exponentially in the past 5 games.
Due to Kuemper’s poor play recently, Ilya Bryzgalov has seen his role expand as the Wild search for the goalie who will shoulder the load in the playoffs, if they make it of course. Bryzgalov, who was acquired shortly before the trade deadline, hasn’t been the reliable backup Minnesota was hoping for. The goalies have created far more questions than answers in recent games.
Tonight, Minnesota plays Phoenix in an absolute “must win” situation. The Coyotes trail Minnesota by a single point in the race for the 7th spot in the playoffs and could overtake them tonight with a win in regulation. With Dallas playing St. Louis later tonight as well, Minnesota could find itself within a game of being on the outside looking in later this evening.
For the majority of the season, the Wild have banked on their so-called “moral victories” such as outplaying a team or stretches of great play. Someone needs to emerge as a true leader and insist that this team strives for something more than mediocrity. There is no shortage of talent for the Wild. But talent will only take you so far in the NHL. If the awful play and lack of scoring continues tonight in the most important game of the season, Minnesota doesn’t deserve to make the playoffs.