ST. PAUL, Minn. — Just 84 seconds from an uplifting shutout win to take into the All-Star break, the Minnesota Wild got a potentially big power-play opportunity.
What happened next epitomized the midseason skid that has become the norm for this team in five years under coach Mike Yeo.
The Wild gave up a short-handed goal and went on to lose 2-1 in the shootout to Arizona on Monday. The defeat, leading scorer Zach Parise said, was “probably as tough as you’re going to see.”
With a seven-day stretch without games, the Wild have a welcomed respite from the ice. The mystery, once again, will be whether they can play up to their potential upon return.
“It’s no secret. We’ve got a great team in here. Every team goes through little dips throughout the season, so it’s just about getting out of it,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, whose misplay allowed the Coyotes to tie the game with 73 seconds left after the Wild held a 24-6 shots advantage through two periods.
The Wild have lost seven of their last eight games to finish 3-7-3 in January.
“It seems like we go through it all the time,” forward Charlie Coyle said, “but I don’t think we’re the only team to go through this.”
More than two-thirds of the NHL, in an average season, experience at least one losing streak of five games or longer. The Wild have been no exception, with two such skids in 2014-15 and one in 2013-14. They recovered in time to make the playoffs both times, of course.
Considering this pattern, then, there’s a pertinent question about how much these slumps truly matter.
“We do have a tendency sometimes to make things a little more difficult on ourselves than we wish we did,” Yeo said. “But this is another opportunity to fight through some adversity, to build as a team, to get through hard times. And those are things you have to do in the playoffs. To take another step as a team, you don’t do that in the regular season. You can set yourself up a little bit. But it’s done in the playoffs, and so we have to get there.”
This is the NHL, easily the streakiest of the major sports leagues with a tournament that’s more winnable for teams that aren’t the top seeds than in baseball, football or basketball.
Over each of the last 10 seasons, according to STATS research, at least six of the 16 teams in the playoffs had a losing streak of five games or longer. The average number is nine, as with the last two fields. In 2008, only two qualifiers didn’t have one. Some of this is a product of the 82-game schedule, but there’s no glaring statistical reason why struggling in January precludes success in May.
Even some of the deepest post-season advancements of the past decade have been preceded by winter swoons.
The Los Angeles Kings had two losing streaks of five or more games in each of their championship seasons, 2013-14 and 2011-12. The Pittsburgh Penguins (2008-09) and Detroit Red Wings (2007-08) each had one before winning the Stanley Cup. In 2009-10, three of the final four teams in the playoffs each had two such skids in the regular season. In 2008-09, all four of the conference finalists had one apiece.
Dubnyk has played well again in net. Coyle has a career-high 13 goals. Parise has been his usual relentless, productive self. Defenceman Ryan Suter has rebounded from an off year. The Wild are sixth in the league in goals allowed with an average of 2.31 per game.
“Right now, when the game’s on the line, we’re not making the winning play,” Yeo said. “Whether it’s protecting a lead, whether it’s getting a lead when the game’s tied, right now we’re not making the winning play. That’s what we have to fix here.”