On Jan. 15, right before Devan Dubnyk made his first start for Minnesota, we figured the Wild would have to go in the neighborhood of 24-12-4 in their final 40 games to give themselves a shot at the playoffs.
So let’s see here — subtract 7-1-1 from 24-12-4 and you get 17-11-3. There’s your new target.
That’s still a reasonably tough task, but the way Dubnyk and the Wild have been playing of late, it’s definitely doable. According to Sports Club Stats, the Wild’s chances of making the playoffs have risen from a low of 5.5 percent to 36.3 percent today.
And make no mistake, it hasn’t just been the goaltending that’s improved. The Wild have also gotten back to the type of possession hockey they were playing earlier in the season, before it all started going sideways.
In the last nine games, no team in the league has a better scored-adjusted Fenwick than Minnesota, which is a fancy way of saying the Wild have been excellent at controlling the puck since Dubnyk arrived. From the beginning of December to the middle of January, that wasn’t the case.
One theory? It’s a lot easier to trust the system when you can trust your goalie. When you can’t trust your goalie, you play differently, either by cheating and trying to outscore your problems, or by being too conservative.
Or maybe there were other factors at play. Regardless, the Wild are more concerned about what’s coming up than what’s already happened.
“It’s nice to enjoy (reflecting on the past three weeks) on the days between games, but the reason of why we’ve been successful as a group is because we’re just taking it by each game,” Dubnyk said. “We approach each game as its own single game that’s important and we have to win and not look at the big picture.”
Another important game awaits tonight, when the Vancouver Canucks, similarly fighting for a postseason spot in the Western Conference, visit Xcel Energy Center.