ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Wild’s roller-coaster season continued on another dip Monday night with a 3-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks at Xcel Energy Center. It was the Wild’s fourth loss in the past five games, following a five-game winning streak; dropped them to 1-5-3 in their past nine home games; and featured a power play that is now 0-for-18 in its past six games.
It was the last item on which veteran winger Zach Parise elected to focus his postgame comments and he seemed to have little interest in holding back with his criticism of why the Wild have looked so poor with the man advantage.
“We need to practice it,” said Parise, making it clear he didn’t feel enough emphasis was being put on the power play. “Right now, it feels like it’s five strangers on the ice. We don’t know our. … Good power plays have their outs, their free outs, they know where guys are and just right now it doesn’t feel like we know that. The units have been switching a lot so at this time of the year, when teams are getting their penalty kills really dialed in, you need those free outs. You need to know without looking where a guy is and how you can settle down their pressure. We’re struggling with that big time.”
The Wild power play went 2-for-2 on Feb. 26 in a 3-2 victory at Winnipeg. The Wild won their fifth in a row with a 4-2 victory on March 2 in Calgary, but the power play began its cold spell that night by going 0-for-2. Minnesota entered Monday’s game ranked 15th in the NHL in power-play percentage, having scored 41 times in 205 opportunities (20 percent).
Despite Monday’s loss, the Wild continued to hold onto the eighth and final wild card spot in the Western Conference with 74 points. Arizona (73 points) had a chance to pass Minnesota, but the Coyotes lost, 7-1, in Chicago. Colorado (72 points) could have tied the Wild, but the Avalanche lost, 3-0, to visiting Carolina.
The losses by Arizona and Colorado gave the Wild an opportunity to create some separation, if they could have beat a very good San Jose team that is now in first place in the Pacific Division with 92 points. A good game from its special teams would have helped Minnesota, but that did not come close to happening.
The Wild’s power play has a different look after general manager Paul Fenton shook up the roster before the trading deadline by dealing Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle. The grind of the Wild schedule in recent weeks — don’t get me started on the silly bye week that is followed by a race to the end of the regular season — has meant rest has been a priority for coach Bruce Boudreau, when it’s available.
Yet, it sure sounded like Parise thought the Wild should have been using more of their limited practice time on working on special teams. At one point Monday, Parise was on the power play with the Victor Rask, who was acquired from Carolina for Niederreiter and had missed the previous 12 games because of injury, and Pontus Aberg, an in-season acquisition from Anaheim.
Maybe that’s why Parise did not hesitate to reiterate his answer when asked a follow-up about the Wild not doing enough work on the power play in practice.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys and we’ve been switching the units a lot, we’ve been switching the lines a lot, and there hasn’t been a lot of communication on the ice, so it makes it tougher,” he said. “It makes it really hard. Sometimes it just feels like you don’t know where that next guy is.
“To me, when you’re on a good power play, when you have a good power play, you know without even looking where that guy is. … Again, we need to practice it. There’s no question, we need to practice it. Work out the kinks like that and break it down to where you know you can put the puck and start from there.”
Boudreau made it clear that Parise will get his wish when the Wild practice Wednesday before playing host to Dallas on Thursday night. Boudreau also defended how he has conducted business of late.
“Quite frankly, we’ve tried new things and we haven’t had the practice time to really emphasize it,” Boudreau said of the power play. “I can guarantee you the next practice we have will be mostly special teams. Last week, we played five games in seven nights. We’re not going to practice the other two days. With the addition of new guys, we’re having to do it visually and verbally and sometimes it’s just not as effective.
“You have to look at the good versus the bad here and is it conducive to practicing every day? Are you going to get more out of the practice than you are out of the rest? Last week, rest seemed to be pretty good for us. Tomorrow, we’re not doing anything either and then we’ll have a good special teams practice the day before Dallas, and hopefully we can find some continuity with the lines, let alone the power play units.”