Zulgad: Wild have the talent to be successful but consistency is lacking
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Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher made an "all in" move last Wednesday by adding Buffalo winger Jason Pominville in a trade-deadline deal that sent two top prospects, Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett, to the Sabres, along with a first-round pick in 2013 and a second-round pick in 2014.
Pominville, an eight-year veteran and six-time 20-goal scorer, joins a team that already proved it was serious about winning by signing free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts last summer. Pominville had another season left on a contract that will pay him $5.5 million in 2013 and 2013-14.
These investments mean that owner Craig Leipold is going to expect to see the Xcel Energy Center filled up well into the postseason.
The problem is there appears to be little certainty the Wild are capable of making a long playoff run.
Coach Mike Yeo's club is talented and has many of the ingredients that are necessary to win games. The problem is this team appears to be sorely lacking when it comes to consistency.
The Wild have ridden a roller-coaster since the season opened in mid-January and each time it appears things are getting on the right track there is another hiccup.
The latest has come in the past three games and began on Monday when the Wild lost 4-1 to St. Louis at Xcel Energy Center. On Wednesday, Fletcher acquired Pominville and, although he did not play in the game at San Jose, it was logical to assume the Wild would come out an excited bunch.
That didn't happen and the Wild paid the price by losing 4-2 to the Sharks.
On Thursday, Niklas Backstrom, who is being asked to carry almost the entire load in goal for the Wild, gave up goals to Los Angeles' Justin Williams and Jeff Carter in the first 3 minutes, 7 seconds of the first period and was pulled. The Kings went on a 3-0 victory.
The Wild, who will play at Columbus on Sunday, have now lost four of five after winning seven in a row. They are sixth in the Western Conference playoff picture with 44 points, two ahead of eighth-place St. Louis. But Minnesota is only two points behind Northwest Division-leading Vancouver and winning the division would assure the Wild of at least the third seed in the conference.
There are injury issues.
Second-line center Matt Cullen was hurt against the Blues and winger Dany Heatley went down in the third period against the Sharks. Cullen's absence is the more costly of the two, given how well he had been playing and the fact he and winger Devin Setoguchi had such good chemistry. Setoguchi has not registered a point since Cullen went out.
The Wild, however, are far from the only team dealing with the absence of important players and nobody wants to hear excuses at this point.
That includes Parise.
He had an interesting quote after last Monday's loss, providing a clear message hat he did not like or approve of what he had just seen.
"We were flat. We got what we deserved. We didn't play well at all," he said. "It was pretty similar to the team that we started the season, that's the type of game we played tonight. Not competitive, too many turnovers, and we got away from that for a while and that's when we started to win. Tonight, it's kind of crept into our game. I think the last few games we've gotten away with it. Tonight, against a team like that, you're not going to."
If this had been an isolated incident it could be dismissed as a poor performance in a lockout-shortened 48-game season that leaves little time for rest or practice.
But this wasn't isolated at all.
The Wild started the season with back-to-back victories over Colorado and Dallas, but then lost three in a row before winning two in a row and then losing three straight again. Sensing a pattern here?
This is what Parise is talking about and he knows that if this cycle continues it could not only catch up with the Wild in the playoffs but it also could cost them a spot in the postseason tournament.
We know one thing for sure: Leipold wouldn't take that too well given the investments he has made and is continuing to make in this so far inconsistent product.