When the Wild left for their road trip to the East Coast last week they were sitting pretty in the Central Division. They were in third place with 52 points to their name, comfortably clear of the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in fourth place with 47 points.
Oh, the difference a few games can make. When the Wild play host the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center, they will be outside of the playoff picture.
Not only have the Wild (25-17-4, 54 points) been passed by the surging Avalanche (26-17-3, 55 points) in the Central Division, they have fallen behind both the Edmonton Oilers (27-18-3, 57 points) and the Calgary Flames (23-16-9, 55 points) in the race for the wild card.
After earning a 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals to start the road trip, the Wild followed it up with a 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, a 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers, and most recently a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s worth noting that each loss wasn’t created equal. Though the Wild were not even close to their best against the Hurricanes and Panthers, coach Dean Evason was actually pleased with the overall effort against the Lightning. That’s something to build on moving forward.
“I thought we responded extremely well,” Evason said. “If we play like that every night, we’ll give ourselves a better chance to win than we will to lose.”
As much as that might be true, the Wild won’t succeed at a high level unless they get more from their offense at 5-on-5. They currently rank No. 27 in the league with 81 goals at full strength. Only the Avalanche (79), Arizona Coyotes (79), Anaheim Ducks (75), Ottawa Senators (69), and Chicago Blackhawks (68) have scored fewer.
Looking at the rest of this week, the Wild host the Flyers on Thursday night, then host the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night for Hockey Day Minnesota. Those are the final games before the bye week that coincides with All Star Weekend in Sunrise, Fla.
Needless to say, it would behoove the Wild to bank a couple of wins so they don’t have a sour taste in their mouths.
“We’ve lost three in a row,” Evason said. “We’d better have absolute desperation in the next hockey game. We were close tonight with our game. We need to see our absolute best game in a couple of nights.”
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