Dominant At Home
The Minnesota Wild are just past the halfway mark of the season and sit in a wild-card spot if the season ended today. Their record of 23-17-4 in 44 games is a remarkable feat given the injuries the team has suffered this season. The team was without stars Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise for the majority of the first half of the season. The Wild played only two games during that stretch in which they fielded their opening night line-up.
Though the team sits in the second wild-card spot for the Western Conference, a few things need to stay in place for the team to hold on. Can they remain in that spot in the close Central Division? The Central has several teams on the wild-card bubble separated from the Wild by a scarce few points.The Wild need to stay healthy and win on the road to stay on the right side of that bubble.
Wild Need To Stay Healthy
The Wild dominate most teams that play them at home. Their home record of 14-4-3 makes Xcel Energy Center somewhat of a fortress for opposing teams. Their fan base is exceptional. Also, their average attendance of 19,000 places them in the top three of best NHL attendance each season. Much like the new fan base of the Vegas Golden Knights, the Wild fans are definitely a huge factor in the success of the team winning on home ice. Despite that success, the team needs to find a way to win on the road. They recently defeated the division rival Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago 2-1. However, the team finds it difficult to win on the road. With a 9-13-1 record on the road, winning there becomes necessary for the remainder of the season to stay in the playoff hunt.
Eric Staal Leads The Way
After declining numbers in his final two seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, and a poor 20 game stretch with the New York Rangers many questioned the signing of Staal. Fans and pundits feared that his career was nearly over. The Wild signed him in the summer of 2016 looking to resurrect his career and add some much-needed scoring. The faith placed in Staal paid off in the year and a half since his signing. He currently leads the team with 37 points, 19 goals, and 18 assists and was named to the All-Star team for the fifth time in his career. Look for Staal to continue to fill the gap left by injuries to the Wild forwards.
Injuries Continue To Pile Up
Speaking of injuries the Wild have had there share. The number of players on the injured reserve list for Wild could play as a line and then some. The team has played most of the season without star Parise. Parise underwent surgery to relieve lower back and leg pain caused by a herniated disk. He has been cleared for contact and the Wild recently assigned him to the Iowa Wild for a conditioning stint. The Wild hope to have him back for the crucial late-season playoff push and the playoffs.
Niederreiter suffered a high ankle sprain in early October and was out until late December, only to be placed on the IR again in early January. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, goalie Devan Dubnyk, Charlie Coyle and Marcus Foligno have all missed a significant number of games this season due to injury. If the Wild are to make a playoff push they need to get players off of the IR and keep them healthy. As a team with several ageing stars, this becomes more difficult each season.
Keys To A Playoff Run
There is no question that the Wild are a better team with Niederreiter on the ice. When he is healthy his size, accuracy and goal-scoring ability give the team a significant edge. His 13 goals and six assists in 31 games played park him near the top of the stat sheet with 13 fewer games than points leader Staal. If, and that is a big if, he can remain healthy he and Staal will lead the Wild deep into the playoffs.
Dubnyk is the key to the Minnesota defence. He backstops the Wild to many a win in close games. His 34 stops on January 10 against the Blackhawks served as the springboard that created the chance for Ryan Suter to slot home a wrist shot in the third to secure the 2-1 win. Of those 13 stops happened in the first period alone. The Wild can be a team that is slow to start. When that happens Dubnyk is there to allow them to recover from it.
ST. LOUIS, MO. – APRIL 16: Minnesota Wild right wing Nino Niederreiter (22) gets ready for a face-off during game 3 of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues on April 16, 2017, at the Scottrade Center. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)