It’s never a good sign when your general manager has to address the state of his floundering team two months into the season.
It’s even worse when lays it out ever-so bluntly.
“Incredibly disappointing,” Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told the Pioneer Press on Wednesday.
Fletcher’s comments come just two days after the Winnipeg Jets embarrassed their Central Division foes 7-2 — this after the Wild held a 2-0 lead in the first period — on Monday in Winnipeg.
The Wild’s start to this season is in stark contrast to how they finished the last one.
Minnesota was a dominant force last year, piling up 106 points to cross the regular season finish line in second place in the Western Conference.
A 12-game winning streak, like the one the Wild embarked on last year, or any sustained winning streak for that matter, seems like a pipe dream at the moment for the struggling Wild.
What’s going wrong?
Fletcher specifically called out his forward contingent on Wednesday.
“Until our forwards in particular start to play the game the right way, we will not win,” Fletcher said. “It’s somewhat surprising that Monday’s result hasn’t happened sooner. … We want to encourage our forwards to make plays when they have open ice or when they have an odd-man rush. We want creativity. We want skill. That said, when we’re through the neutral zone and there’s three or four defenders lined up, to think that we can make cute plays through them, I think we’ve seen the results.”
Truth be told, the Wild are 14th in the NHL in goals for with 71. Their goals-per-game is 13th at 2.96. They also own the fifth best power-play unit and ninth best penalty-killing squad heading into Wednesday’s action.
These aren’t the numbers of a team sitting second-last in the Central Division. The Wild are actually 6-3-1 in their past 10 games.
So what’s the real problem?
Consistency, for one.
The Wild have traded wins and losses, winning streaks and losing streaks, this season.
“We just have to get back to work, we have a way to go,” Matt Cullen said after Monday’s game. “I think we’d all agree we’re not where we need to be yet as a group. I think we all need to make a decision about how we’re playing. We’ve got to turn things around. We’ve got the pieces to do it.
“To play the way we did is unacceptable. It falls on all of us. When we’re playing well, we’re playing solid defensively and tonight we had some big breakdowns in our own end that turned the momentum and they cost us.”
Their possession numbers are very poor at 28th in the NHL. They’re 24th in shooting percentage.
Team defense is struggling, even when they’re winning. The Wild are allowing 3.04 goals per game, including 30 goals in their past seven games.
“That’s four-and-a-half goals a game,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after Monday’s loss. “If you’re going to do that, you can’t win in the NHL. It’s almost impossible for me to think you can get three shutouts in a row and seven games later you allow 30 goals. After those shutouts, we were third in the league defensively.”
Furthermore, Devan Dubnyk hasn’t looked like the same goaltender that won 40 games and posted a .923 save percentage a year ago (although he did string three straight shutouts and five straight wins together recently).
Sure, injuries haven’t helped.
Charlie Coyle only returned on Nov. 20 after missing 16 games with a fibula fracture. Nino Niederreiter missed six games ankle sprain, Mikael Granlund missed five with a groin issue and now Jared Spurgeon will miss some time with a groin strain of his own.
Zach Parise has missed all 24 games this season after microdiscectomy surgery in late October. But he’s getting there.
But it takes a team effort to get blown out 7-2. And it’s taken that same team effort to get to where the Wild are now, which is the dumps.
Maybe it wasn’t Mike Yeo’s fault after all.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck