Wild

We Learned How Good the Wild Really Are in Denver

Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Humbling isn’t a strong enough adjective to describe how badly the Minnesota Wild played the Colorado Avalanche over the past weekend in a two-game set at Ball Arena. First came a 5-1 disaster on Thursday night, followed by a 6-0 rout on Saturday afternoon. That 5-1 score on Thursday made the game seem closer than it actually was. Colorado could have won by more.

The only thing working for Minnesota in that game was Cam Talbot, who made 50 saves on 55 shots.

Honestly, the two games of this series against Colorado were eerily similar to Team USA’s first meeting with Iceland in D2: The Mighty Ducks. Total oblivion. Gordon Bombay described that game as “pathetic.” He wouldn’t be far off by using that description as well for these past two Wild games.

“These two games that we played, we got a lesson on how to play hockey,” Mats Zuccarello told The Athletic after Saturday’s game. “They played really well. We didn’t really have an answer. They were better than us in every aspect of the game. These two games are not acceptable for us.”

For a team that had won six of their past seven games and were threatening to push the Vegas Golden Knights for the top spot in the division, hearing the team and coach say how badly the Avs dominated them in all aspects of the game was certainly not expected.

So what does this now say about the Wild, who have hit the halfway mark of their season with an impressive 19-10-1 record?

The late Dennis Green comes to mind here when he said, “THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!”

At the beginning of the season, national pundits were not high on the Wild of. But locally they were considered to be a team that could beat up the bottom feeders in the Honda West Division — if maybe not keep up with Stanley Cup contenders Vegas, Colorado, and the St. Louis Blues. Here at the halfway mark, the Wild have done exactly that. They have beaten up the Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings. But they have had struggles with Vegas when they are fully healthy and Colorado.

Due to the COVID pause in February, the Wild have yet to play St. Louis, but those eight games are still on the schedule for the last half of the season.

Over the final half of the season, not only will Minnesota face the Blues for the first time, they have six games scheduled against Vegas and Colorado. So literally half their remaining games will come against the powerhouse teams in the division, with the rest going against the teams trailing the Wild in the standings, against whom they are a combined 15-5-0.

As has been stated repeatedly, just beating the teams behind them will help the Wild make their case for a playoff spot this season. If they can do that in the second half, they should almost be a lock for the playoffs — but that’s about it.

The losses to Colorado (and the Vegas game where Mark Stone and Alex Pietrangelo played) exposed that the Wild are still far from being considered a serious contender. They will have to go through these teams in the playoffs, and there are still some serious deficiencies on this team that are being exploited when they play the contenders. Center play and a genuinely awful power play are the two big ones that come to mind. An inability to make any gains with the man advantage holds them back against the serious contenders. A playoff team cannot go 8.5% on the power play and expect to do anything come April.

While the Wild have enjoyed some success thanks to Kirill Kaprizov and improved goaltending, the weekend series against Colorado shows they still have a ways to go before they are taken seriously in the Honda West Division.

That’s what we should take away from the games in Denver. The Wild are exactly who we thought they were at the beginning of the season. While they have enjoyed some real highs along the way, the low of the last weekend put a bit of a damper on the enthusiasm. But their accomplishments shouldn’t be diminished, either. They are doing what they need to do to get a ticket to the dance.

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Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

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