Wild trying to stay positive amid free fall

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau on team's struggles

About the only positive the Minnesota Wild can take from their play of late is this: The teams behind them in the Western Conference aren’t taking advantage of the opportunity given them.

The Wild ran into arguably the hottest team in the NHL Sunday afternoon. The St. Louis Blues ran their unbeaten streak to 10 games with a 4-0 win over Minnesota as the Wild spent much of the afternoon on its heels and searching for answers.

The Wild are just 13-12-5 at home this season. Since the bye week, they’re free-falling at 1-5-3. They left the ice Sunday to loud boos from their most loyal fans.

“They had their 12 hours to sulk. If you stay sulky, you’re not getting anywhere. It’s a tough business all the time, but you’ve got to feel that you’re ready to start playing better,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after practice Monday.

The Blues earned their third straight shutout Sunday and extended their streak to more than 187 minutes without allowing a goal.

Alex Stalock got the start in net after a disastrous ending for Devan Dubnyk Friday night in a loss to the New Jersey Devils. Dubnyk allowed a soft goal that tied the game with less than three minutes left in regulation.

Then, with the Wild dominating possession in the overtime, Dubnyk committed an inexplicable turnover, leaving a loose puck in front of the net for the game-winning goal for the Devils. Dubnyk has allowed 23 goals in seven games since coming out of the bye week, an average of 3.3 goals per game.

Boudreau isn’t wavering from his confidence in the All-Star goalie, despite his recent struggles. He gave Dubnyk a vote of confidence at practice Monday.

“Just telling him he’s our guy. Sometimes things go wrong, but you’ve held this team together for the whole time I’ve been here,” Boudreau said. “All-Star goalie two out of the three years, so we’re just counting on you.”

Zach Parise appeared as puzzled as anybody by the Wild’s struggles of late. Are there any positives he takes from Sunday’s shutout loss?

There is the fact that the Wild are still technically a playoff team. Despite five total points out of a possible 18 in the last nine games, they’re in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference at 60 points. Vancouver is one point behind at 59. Arizona, Chicago and Colorado are all at 57 points.

Like the car mirror says, "Objects in your mirror are closer than they appear."

“I don’t think anyone coming in and being negative is going to help anything right now. No one’s passing us, so we’re still in the same spot,” Parise said. “With how bad we’ve been playing, we’re still right in the playoffs so I think that’s got to be our approach.”

The Wild might be holding their sticks a little tighter and trying to get through the recent struggles, but it doesn’t appear that there’s any finger-pointing happening. The reality is there isn’t much time for that, with 23 games left to determine their playoff fate.

All that matters is getting there. The L.A. Kings won a Stanley Cup as the last team in the West. Two years ago, the Nashville Predators got to the Stanley Cup finals as the last team in.

 “It’s getting there and then anything can happen. If you don’t believe that, then there’s no use even trying to get in,” Boudreau said. “We believe it and we will fight right until the bitter end.”

The Wild’s reality is in the numbers. They’re 23rd in the NHL in scoring with 163 goals in 59 games. They’re 15th with 174 goals allowed. That’s a minus-11 goal differential.The Wild's top point-scorer, Parise at 49, is 67th in the NHL in scoring. His 23 goals are 44th in the NHL.

The Wild has also gone from one of the top teams in the league on the penalty kill to 13th at 81.1 percent. Simply put, they have to score more goals and do more to keep the puck out of their own net.

“Obviously things aren’t going well, they’re not going the way we want them to go. But being negative about it and moping around isn’t going to help us get off it,” forward Jason Zucker said.

Sometimes all it takes is one win, and the Wild have three games in four days, starting Tuesday night against Anaheim to end its four-game home stand. None of the three opponents is a playoff team.