On Saturday, the Minnesota Wild will begin their final stretch of the season — where they play nine games in 15 days.
Thanks, schedule makers!
Minnesota will play just one game in that nine-game stretch against a team not in the playoff chase. The odds are favorable for the Wild to still make the playoffs, as they sit five points clear of St. Louis — who is the first team out of the West at the moment — but don’t talk to Minnesota hockey fans about odds (see: Gophers men’s hockey odds last Saturday).
With a tough and crucial stretch ahead for the Wild, let’s highlight some key areas where they will need to do well at if they want to keep their spot in the standings and secure a sixth straight postseason appearance.
It has not been exactly a great March so far for Devan Dubnyk. His save percentage is .895 in eight games this month, which rivals that of his .889 last March when the Wild were hit badly by a swoon and really never recovered.
The Wild are by no means in a swoon, but when your starting goaltender’s save percentage starts with an eight, that is certainly a key ingredient to starting one.
Ben pointed out some areas in Dubnyk’s game where there can be improvement, but maybe an extra night off or two in favor of Alex Stalock might help the Wild goaltender as well. However the Wild are no sure bet to make the playoffs yet, so we probably won’t see many, if any, nights off.
To reiterate what Ben said, the Wild go as Dubnyk goes. Some stellar play in goal will certainly help their cause.
Last season, the Wild had eight forwards who tallied 40-plus points. This season, they are on pace to have just five forwards hit that mark — unless Nino Niederreiter has a ridiculous final nine games. But if Friday’s practice lines are any indication of where he will be during that time don’t bet on it.
This has been an area of concern all season for the Wild, and they need it now more than ever.
Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno — who were brought in this summer for one of the Wild’s 40-point forwards last year Jason Pominville — have just produced 22 and 20 points respectively and have been mainstays in the bottom six. Ennis is now a prime buyout candidate this offseason, as the Wild cannot afford to have his $4.6 million cap hit on the books next year with new contracts for Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba on the docket for this summer.
Luke Kunin was supposed to help in this regard, but that plan took a nosedive. Matt Cullen has picked it up since Feb. 1 — 10 points in 23 games — but he can not make up for the rest of the bottom two lines who are lacking in scoring.
If any line in the bottom six can get going, the Wild should fare alright in the final nine. It will also certainly help their road play, which has been less than stellar this season as well.
Win The Home Games
You may not know this, but Minnesota has been a really good home team this season — with a 24-6-7 record in St. Paul.
In the final nine games — they have four of them in St. Paul — with games against Nashville, Boston, Dallas, and Edmonton. Winning those games is a lot easier said than done, but if the Wild can continue their good home play they are giving themselves a good chance at securing said playoff spot regardless of how they fare on the road.
Also of note: The Wild have lost their last two home games.