The Minnesota Wild are looking to build upon a few wins in a meaningful way and get back into the thick of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. A win tonight against the Washington Capitals would be a great first step in their journey back towards a postseason position.
The Wild were uncharacteristically sloppy in their own end during their losing streak and need to up their defensive intensity in order to really make a difference on most nights. They have counted on Josh Harding’s excellent play in goal for too many games this season, and need to focus more on being accountable to one another and learning to switch and communicate better on defense.
Over their last ten games, the Wild have won only three. In the midst of breakdowns, turnovers, and poor neutral zone play, the Wild were unable to possess and move the puck the way that they were capable of. D-Men were often caught flat-footed , and need to get back to the solid positional play that the organization has used to achieve success in past years.
The Wild are usually known as a low-scoring, shut-down team that is able to grind out wins through hard work and good hockey IQ. They need to get back to that, and increase their intensity and anticipation to be able to defeat high-scoring teams like Washington.
There have been far too many goalmouth scrambles as of late for comfort. Minnesota needs to be strong on the puck and be able to take the body and block sticks to counteract the rushes of other teams. I have found that simply collapsing in the crease is not sufficient in these situations, and it often causes skaters to screen their goalies, or worse, interfere with them.
Washington comes in with the league’s second-ranked PP at 25 percent. Look for the penalty kill to be of utmost importance, as the Wild will be tested by two of the best in the league: puck wizard Nicklas Backstrom with his great hockey sense and passing ability, and the snap shot and one-timing ability of Alexander Ovechkin. The penalty kill will be the key to seeing if the Wild can block shots in a way that avoids screening their goaltender, as well as if they can consistently take the body and clear the crease from the aggressive attacks that Washington brings their way.
The Wild may not be able to sneak into the playoff picture if they do not make smarter decisions with the puck. Washington is a team that always attempts to pin its opponents in their own zone. If the Wild can avoid getting out shot and out hit by a wide margin tonight, it would definitely help in their efforts to find a team identity.
At the moment, it seems that defense needs to take steps before it can be considered a large part of the Wild’s identity as it has been in the past. There have been good stretches this year, but Minnesota needs to prove that it can consistently shut down opponents to make the playoffs.
With 2.23 goals per game, the Wild sit ahead of only lowly Buffalo in scoring. They need to improve on their penalty kill, ranked 24th in the league.
Minnesota is fourth in the NHL in shots against, so if they can improve their special teams, they will be able to challenge for a playoff spot. If not, they may find themselves out of the running.