The Wild have played only 13 games this season, but their 12 points put them last in the Central Division and ahead of only Edmonton (nine points) and Arizona (six points) in the Western Conference.
So how much concern should there be as Minnesota prepares to face Toronto on Wednesday in the second game of a four-game trip? Judging from coach Bruce Boudreau’s comments after a 5-3 loss to the injury-riddled Boston Bruins on Monday the answer is plenty.
Boudreau said afterward that his team “wasn’t very competitive,” adding, “the first two periods … that was probably the most embarrassing two periods I’ve been involved with in a lot of teams.”
That’s saying something considering Boudreau, a hockey lifer, is in his 11th season as an NHL head coach. Boudreau’s exasperation with his team wasn’t surprising. Neither was their underwhelming performance in Boston.
The Wild have made a habit of simply not showing up for length periods of time this season. In its recently completed six-game home stand, Minnesota put together lifeless performances on back-to-back Tuesdays, losing 1-0 to Vancouver and 2-1 to Winnipeg.
Boudreau, who had started the season expressing his lack of satisfaction with the Wild as they opened by winning only one of their first five games, decided to lighten up on his players after their subpar performance against the Canucks.
But Monday night in Boston, the Wild coach didn’t feel the need to bite his tongue after watching a 1-0 first-period lead become a 4-1 deficit after two periods. The Wild played a careless and, at times, lazy game and it cost them.
“It’s like Keystone Cops out there,” Boudreau said. “Guys that know how to play hockey aren’t playing very well.”
After being fired by Anaheim following another Game 7 playoff loss in 2016, Boudreau was hired by Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher to provide a veteran presence behind the bench. Last season, he led the Wild to a franchise record 106 points and second-place finish in the Central before Minnesota was ousted by St. Louis and former Wild coach Mike Yeo in the first round of the postseason.
Yeo had been fired by the Wild in February 2016 following what seemed to be the team’s annual mid-season meltdown. Yeo, who currently has the Blues atop the Central, had become known for expressing his frustration during postgame press conferences in Minnesota.
Now, it’s Boudreau’s turn to wonder what part of his message these players don’t understand.
Devan Dubnyk hasn’t provided the type of consistent goaltending the team needs – he was very good in Saturday’s loss to Chicago and then lifted after two periods on Monday in Boston – and there are many others who aren’t doing what’s expected of them. There was a reason winger Jason Zucker was dropped to the third line to open Monday’s game. Wingers Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle remain out but every team has to deal with injuries.
Boudreau juggled his lines for Monday’s game and is expected to juggle them again in Toronto.
“The bottom line is you’ve got to work if you want to win every night because there are 20 guys that want to beat you,” Boudreau said. “If you don’t outwork them, your talent doesn’t mean a thing.
“I put this on the board a lot, ‘Make simple plays simple.’ In other words, don’t make something difficult that’s an easy thing to do. Whether it be a 10-foot pass or a 30-foot pass. If you play the game the right way like that, and play the game the right way away from the puck, it doesn’t matter who is playing, it doesn’t matter who is hurt. You usually win.”
So far this season, the Wild have won back-to-back games only once and have dropped two games in a row on three occasions. There remains time for the Wild to snap out of this funk, but make the clock is ticking on this team and Boudreau is well aware of that fact.