ST. PAUL — If you agree with the hot takes some have leveled towards the Wild in recent days (looking at you, co-host of 1500 ESPN’s Mackey & Judd), this opinion may not be for you.
The Wild will host the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon. They will enter the game having lost seven straight, 12 of 13 overall, and seven consecutive at the Xcel Energy Center.
For all intents and purposes, Rome is burning around them.
But here’s a hot take of my own: The Wild are on the verge of breaking out of their current slump.
From the end of December into early January, the core of the Wild’s game had deteriorated to the point where anyone watching knew if the Wild didn’t change, a slump was coming.
Their possession numbers were down. In turn, they were allowing more shots. The quality of their own chances went down, which led to scoring fewer goals. They weren’t playing as well structurally. They weren’t consistent winners.
Eventually, victories became more and more rare, and it’s evolved now to where wins have become seemingly impossible to come by.
Nobody could have predicted the Wild’s typical midseason slumber would last this long. But there certainly was a downturn on the horizon.
And just like one could forecast the impending doom almost six weeks ago, the same can be said of the Wild’s pending turnaround.
Will that turnaround be enough to make the postseason for a fourth consecutive year? Will it be enough to advance out of the first round and past the Chicago Blackhawks?
I’m not willing to go that far.
But there should be a turnaround coming. The Wild are simply playing too well right now to continue amassing losses.
In each of the past three games, the Wild have significantly outplayed opponents 5-on-5 for large stretches of time. We’re not talking about NHL bottom-feeders here either; the St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals are three of the best teams in the NHL.
The Wild out-chanced all three clubs, including a 16-12 edge in scoring chances (by head coach Mike Yeo’s count) against the explosive Capitals on Thursday night.
“Another day and another missed opportunity,” Yeo said Friday following an optional practice. “Watching the game over again, I have a different feel. I’m not going to try and sit up here and paint a picture about how great everything is. But I feel the last two or three games, despite not getting the results, there’s a little bit of a flame here. We just have to stoke the fire a little bit more.”
Wild players have reached a point where all they need is a victory. It’s clear they believe they are doing the right things in order to get victories, but at every turn, they’re being denied that satisfaction.
“We gotta find ways,” winger Charlie Coyle said Thursday night. “We keep saying we’re taking strides and that’s the positive thing to do and I think we are, but we gotta get that end result.”
Against the Capitals, it was three of the luckiest goals you’ll ever see that doomed the Wild. One was a shot from the point and off the skate of Zach Parise, right to the best goal-scorer in the world in Alex Ovechkin. Another was a shot that missed the net and bounced back to Ovechkin, all alone, at a sharp angle.
On his third goal, the player they call “The Great 8” banked the puck off the post, off goaltender Devan Dubnyk, off the post again and off Dubnyk’s skate and in.
It was almost like that old McDonald’s commercial with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan playing ‘Horse’ for the french fries.
“It’s just crazy,” Dubnyk said. “I think he’s the best scorer in the league because the puck finds his stick. He’s a special player that way. I don’t know, it was a strange one for sure.”
Even Ovechkin admitted he was lucky.
The thing about luck is that it often turns quickly.
For much of the past six weeks, it’s been bad luck for the Wild. Though if they continue to find good positions, like they have the past week or so, it’s likely that luck will change.
It could come as soon as Saturday against the Bruins.
“I like some of the things I’m seeing, especially from the top guys right now,” Yeo said. “If we continue to do that, I know we’re going to get the results.”