ST. PAUL — Accountability is something some members of the Minnesota Wild seem to struggle with so before addressing the team’s lifeless and pathetic performance on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center, I need to set a good example by holding myself accountable.
In the midst of the Wild’s five-game winning streak that came around the same time Paul Fenton was making moves near the NHL trade deadline, I proclaimed that Minnesota’s first-year general manager should be dubbed Puppeteer Paul because it seemed like he was pulling all the right strings.
Charlie Coyle gets sent to Boston for Ryan Donato and the Wild reels off victories over the Rangers, Red Wings and Blues. Mikael Granlund is jettisoned to Nashville for Kevin Fiala and the Wild win at Winnipeg and Calgary. It was during the victory over the Flames that I decided to praise Fenton.
That was six games ago.
Since that time the Wild has lost back-to-back shootouts to Nashville, beat the NHL’s best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, on the road and then proceeded to lose three straight — at Florida last Friday, against San Jose on Monday at home and against Dallas on Thursday.
Fenton is the latest Wild employee to learn that any jolt given to this organization has an expiration date that is right around the corner. Me? It’s clear I will never learn the lesson that buying into the fact things actually might be different with the Wild always will end up making you look foolish.
That was proven again Thursday in the Wild’s 4-1 loss to the Stars.
The Wild, playing the second game of a five-game homestand, had fallen one point behind Arizona for the eighth and final wild card spot in the Western Conference and was facing the top wild card team. Minnesota was at 74 points, the Stars at 77 points. The Wild were down to their last dozen games and this one was supposed to have a playoff buzz to it.
Instead, the Wild came out flat and treated the first period as if it was a September exhibition game. The Stars outshot the Wild, 9-7, in the first period, but the quality scoring chances weren’t close and the only reason the score remained tied after 20 minutes was because Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk played so well.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said the team discussed the fact they had dodged a bullet after the opening period. But instead of increasing their intensity, the Wild was down 3-0 by the time 6 minutes, 33 seconds had elapsed in the middle period. It was at that point that red-hot Dallas goalie Ben Bishop was pulled because of what the team called a lower-body injury and backup Anton Khudobin entered.
The Wild appeared to get a lift when Jason Zucker broke the team’s 0-for-18 power-play drought with a goal at 9:14 but that was the only goal Minnesota scored. When the Coyotes beat the Ducks on Thursday, Arizona increased its lead on the Wild to three points. The Wild, meanwhile, are only two points ahead of 10th-place Colorado.
“I don’t really have a lot to say,” Boudreau said after Thursday’s loss. “You guys (saw) it all. If I was going to say anything it would be ripping players, but we were all watching the same game and I don’t want to rip players at this stage. We dodged a bullet in the first period, we talked about dodging a bullet, and to pick it up. We didn’t. You find yourself (down) 3-0 and it’s tough hole when they have the puck the whole night.”
Dallas was the faster and better team for much of the night — the Wild did have a spurt at the start of the third period when they appeared to be engaged — but the Wild again looked like a team that had little interest in playing past the regular-season finale on April 6.
“We don’t have jam right now,” Wild winger Marcus Foligno said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to have heart and we have no heart right now.”
Foligno’s comments were about the most spirited shot any member of the Wild delivered on Thursday. They also were right on. Since Foligno clearly had interest in speaking the truth, there was no reason to stop him. So the question becomes, how does this team turn it around with only 11 games remaining?
“It’s got to come from leadership and guys playing the right way and holding guys accountable,” he said. “Right now, we’re just letting things slip away. I wish I had the answers but at the same time I just think it’s got to come from leadership. This type of playoff push, your leaders have to be the best, myself included, and right now we’re just struggling with it.”
Foligno isn’t wrong in indicting every veteran in the Wild locker room. Again, those players, or at least the ones who lack no-move and no-trade clauses, are making it very easy for Fenton to send them elsewhere this offseason.
The issue with the Wild is that this recent slump almost certainly will be followed by another mad dash at some point by a team that seems to love putting itself in an impossible position in order to prove it can get out.
Even Boudreau admitted to being out of answers. “I don’t have answer for you,” he said. “I wish I had answer. I wish I was up here being able to give you guys answers because I’m asking the same questions.”
Boudreau would never say it but the only thing the 2018-19 Minnesota Wild deserve is a spot in the NHL draft lottery. They went to great lengths to prove that again Thursday before 18,919 fans, and a head coach, who deserved far better.