The Minnesota Wild are in the midst of their worst slump of the season. They have lost their last seven games, and have only scored nine goals in said games. The word I’m seeing thrown around the internet the most is “Regression,” and it is usually followed by some nasty words, some smack talk, and some praise for the Canucks. The Wild have seen their lead in the Western Conference disappear completely, and their division lead shrink to one point over Vancouver (who is playing great hockey right now, as we would expect them to). But “Regression” is not the whole story for the Wild. The Wild are certainly not playing their best hockey right now. They are having tremendous problems scoring goals, they have a horrific Power Play, and they have spent a lot of the past few games looking lost on the ice. “Regression” may be a part of it, but “Attrition” and “Survival” are major factors in this stretch as well.
“Attrition” has been the burden for the Wild as of late. The Wild have suffered some brutal injuries in the last month. “Every team battles injuries” is as true a statement as there is in hockey, but not every team plays long stretches of their schedule without 3 or 4 of their top six forwards. The Wild have lost over 25 games combined from Devin Setoguchi, Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Mikko Koivu (Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, and Casey Wellman have also missed significant game time). Overall, the Wild have lost over 120 man games on this season, and we are not even half way through yet. The Wild were fortunate earlier in the season to be able to plug role players into their system and keep winning, but they are slowly being depleted. Role players are one thing, but it is a challenge to any organization to replace 3 or 4 of the top 6 on your team. The Wild have also lost Defensemen Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky, Mike Lundin, Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk, and as of yesterday Jared Spurgeon for at least 3 games apiece (Zidlicky, Scandella were because of concussions, Spurgeon may be next to be diagnosed). That is indeed the whole Defensive Corps for the Wild. They have gotten great depth from guys like Nate Prosser and Kris Fredheim. This Defense was young to begin with, and they may have overachieved at the beginning of the year, but they have not been terrible even with the injuries. The Wild have also used rookie goalie Matt Hackett when Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom were hurt. Hackett was great, and I suspect that we will be seeing him back in Minnesota fairly soon.
“Survival” has been the goal as of late. The Wild are clearly banged up, and they are in what is by far the toughest part of their schedule. They have nine home games in December and January combined including two back to backs in December. The Wild need to “Survive” this stretch. “Survival” is objective in the sense that we won’t know what that means until after it happens. Will the Wild’s hot start be good enough to survive their current hardship? We will only know in hindsight. That being said the Wild need to end the win drought they are in, and they need to get healthy. If this team can get healthy around mid January, they could still make a run at a top playoff seed, and maybe even the division depending on how well the Canucks continue to play. The Wild will also be able to make some deals at the trade deadline if they decide they need an upgrade. The Wild has been able to show off a lot of its depth over the past couple months, and may have caught the eyes of some other NHL teams with needs. They may have also made some of their NHL guys expendable. We shall see.
As always, thanks a ton to all who read.
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