By Scott Taylor
December 10, 2017
Jason Zucker has remained red-hot,Devan Dubnyk is doing just enough and the Minnesota Wild defense is playing just well-enough to hold off the opposition.
The Minnesota Wild don’t look like anything close to a Stanley Cup contender, but coming off a 3-2 overtime win against the Ducks in Anaheim, the Wild are in the hunt in the West.
And that’s big news because two weeks ago, they were heading in the other direction.
On Friday night, the Wild beat the Ducks on an OT goal by defenseman Matthew Dumba at the 3:43 mark of overtime as the Wild played a pretty nice road game.
For Dumba, it was a bit of déjà vu. Last Saturday, in a 2-1 OT win over the St. Louis Blues, Dumba did the same thing. He’s becoming Mr. Overtime, and his goal-scoring skill – or luck, doesn’t matter – couldn’t have come at a better time.
There is little doubt this Wild team is struggling. At 14-11-3, the Wild slipped out of Friday’s action with 31 points, good enough for 10th in the West. It left them two points behind the first Wild Card qualifier (16-12-1 Dallas) and two behind the No. 2 qualifier (14-11-4 Vancouver).
But it’s only early December and the Wild are still in the hunt. It’s kind of silly to be talking playoff positions with 50-plus games remaining, but the Wild could be Edmonton, Arizona or Colorado and already wondering what they’ll have to do to get back in the race – if there is anything they actually can do.
The Wild aren’t great, but they’re fine. And for December, that’s OK.
There was a time this season when 12-of-20 Wild players were not on the team at playoff time last spring. This team – for different reasons – allowed Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Marco Scandella, Jordan Schroeder and Christian Folin to leave. That’s a lot to lose. Pominville had 13 goals and 47 points last season while Haula had 15 goals and has played well in Las Vegas. Zach Parise hasn’t been part of the club all season. They brought in Kyle Quincey, who was a bust. The aging 41-year-old Matt Cullen has been a bad fit. Daniel Winnik has two goals and nine points in 28 games. Tyler Ennis has five goals and eight points in 28 games and plays about eight minutes a night.
The Wild is not a particularly fast team. It is not a consistent team. Its leadership isn’t where it should be. It hasn’t received the goaltending it has in the past two years because the defensive unit isn’t as good as it should be. Head coach Bruce Boudreau is apparently losing sleep.
But despite all the problems, the Wild is a long way from out of the playoff conversation. Zucker scored his team-leading 14th of the season on Friday night, and in the last 16 games, he has 13 points. Zucker has 24 points in 28 games this season, and while he won’t replace Parise every night, he has stepped up and kept his team in the argument.
In 22 games this season, goaltender Devan Dubnyk is 12-8-0-2 with a 2.73 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.
He’s not close to the goalie who saved the Wild in 2014-15 (1.78 GAA with a .936 save percentage), but he was good on Friday (stopping 26 of 28 shots) and while Alex Stalock is a decent backup, Dubnyk will be the guy who will make or break the defensive numbers on this club.
“To see everybody just stay with it when they get one and go to overtime and still get two points was good for us,” Dubnyk said on Friday. “That’s how we can start building good feelings.”
That’s one of the problems, of course. There are nights when this team just doesn’t have any confidence in itself, and putting together a consistent run won’t happen without confidence.
Still, Boudreau is convinced that his group can turn the season around.
“We’ve still got a shot at winning the week, and our goal every week is to just win the week,” Boudreau said. “If you keep winning the weeks, then eventually you’re going to find yourself in the playoffs.
“Starting tomorrow (Sunday night in San Jose) we’ve got five games in eight nights. It’s going to be tough. We’re certainly going to need both of our goaltenders in this stretch. So at some point, Alex is going to play whether it’s Sunday or whether it’s against Calgary (Tuesday) or against whomever.
“We have a chance to make something good happen in the next eight nights. We going to need everybody playing well, and we’ll need good goaltending. But we have a chance to make something if we can win this coming week.”
The Minnesota Wild is not a Stanley Cup contender. But the club is also far from being eliminated. A good week against San Jose, Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton and Chicago will mean that the Wild could be a force by the New Year.
And who would have expected that?