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Playoff Window Closing for Wild

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If I were to tell you that the Wild have gotten points in 9 of their last 15 games, you’d figure that this was a pretty impressive feat, no?

Indeed, getting points in 9 of 15 games looks very nice on the resume.  But when you look at the actual wins and losses, the picture becomes much, much more grim.

The Wild, in need of a late season push to make the playoffs, have just four wins in their last 15 games.  Thank goodness for the consolation points.  In their last 15 games, the Wild are 4-6-5.  Hardly an impressive record; much less a record for a team that is trying to remain in the playoff race.

The good news?  The rest of the bottom half of the Western Conference is just about as inept at winning as the Wild are currently.  The bad news?  The Wild lost its games in hand without coming away with a single victory.

The Wild need a spark, and badly.  A lot has been made of the leadership on the team this season, and this team is showing a distinct lack of leadership with Mikko Koivu at the helm.  He’s had a fantastic season as the captain of this team, but has been near invisible since being named the captain in March.  In the month of March, he has 2 goals, 4 assists and sitting at -4.  Hardly the numbers you want from your team leader in the most important stretch of the year.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think that Mikko has more leadership in his little finger than the majority of the team does.  But it’s time for our best players to be our best players.  The Wild have started the disturbing trend of digging themselves a hole early, and our top players need to step in and put an end to this.  How bad is this trend?  The Wild have scored first in just two of our eight games this month.  They have dug themselves into large holes too often and have had to play catch up too much.  This is not a winning formula.

The bottom line is that, though they are just a point out of a playoff spot, the window in which they can control their own destiny and make some noise in the playoff race is slowly closing.  The Wild play two of their next three games at home before heading on a crucial road trip that starts out east, then heads to Canada.  If this team is to make the playoffs, they need to step their game up, stop playing catch up and win hockey games.

The Picture of Irony
Ironically, the Wild’s troubles in the month of March have not been of the offensive kind.  With the exception of a few games, the team is finding the back of the net.  The problems that the Wild are encountering are not stemming from their offense.  They are stemming directly from a lack of team defense.

It’s amazing to me that Niklas Backstrom even allows Lemaire to put him out on the ice anymore with the distinct lack of help that he is getting.  This team is completely lost in their own zone at the moment.  Opposing teams are allowed to get to Backstrom with frightening consistency and our players are doing little to nothing to stop them.  One of the biggest differences between this team and last season’s team is grit.  While Sean Hill and Keith Carney may not have been the fleetest of foot or have made the best decisions, one thing that they would not stand for were players pushing around our team in front of the crease.  With them gone, this is now met with ambivilence at best and apathy at worst.

This team needs a complete change in mindset going forward and, even if they do make the playoffs, I can’t imagine it would be more than a one and done series as I don’t believe that this team has the fortitude to last an entire playoff series.

The addition of John Scott has added a lot to this blueline and it’s starting to show as well.  Scott is a physical presence and is playing very solid, defensive hockey.  If the Wild is going to do anything in the last weeks of the season, it is going to be on the backs of players willing to get physical and play soundly in their own zone.  If we control our own zone, the offense will follow.  It’s just a matter of keeping the puck on the other end of the ice.

The Walking Wounded
With all signs pointing to this team being one of the softest in team history, it is quite nice to see some players emerging to lead by example.

It started with Owen Nolan, who was tired of watching the team perform poorly and stepped up in practice, letting Lemaire know that he was playing.  It continued to Marc-Andre Bergeron, who exploded upon finding out he was scratched when he felt that he was healthy enough to play.  Nolan once again set the bar high by flying out to Vancouver, broken foot and all, to join the team and now there is news of Andrew Brunette playing with a torn (or at least partially torn) ACL?

This, my friends, is what real hockey players are like.  They don’t pack it in at the slightest sign of discomfort as some “superstars” have done.  They don’t disappear when the going gets tough.  They don’t sit by the wayside and ignore their team.  They do whatever they have to do to help the team win.

Pleasent Surprises
How about Peter Olvecky?  Over the last few games, we have really seen him come into his own.  The youngster has a large frame and a nose for the net and is even showing that he is improving in his own end.  He has began to earn the trust of Lemaire; so much so that, with the game on the line against the San Jose Sharks, Lemaire put Olvecky out on the ice in place of James Sheppard.  From the little we’ve seen of Olvecky, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I defintely like what I see and hope that he can find a permenant place in the Wild’s line up.

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