On March 7, the Wild boasted an impressive 34-21-7 record. Today, they own a record of 37-26-11. That's three wins, five regulation losses and four overtime/shootout losses in the past 12 games.
The latest debacles include Wednesday's 5-2 trouncing in a home loss to the Canucks, and they were completely steamrolled, 5-1 in St. Louis on Thursday.
Rookie goaltender Darcy Kuemper has suddenly fallen off the face of the earth. The Wild's goalie of the future has allowed at least three goals in four straight games, and his save percentage is a terrifying .851 over that span, according to Pro Hockey Talk.
“I’ll be honest, I feel bad for [Kuemper]. I do,” head coach Mike Yeo said Thursday. “This is a guy, we wouldn’t even be sitting here in the position that we’re in if he didn’t give us the stretch of hockey that he’s given us.”
Kuemper, 23, seems to be crumbling under the pressure of a playoff race. In the loss to the Blues, he got frustrated and cross-checked Spring Lake Park native and former Minnesota State-Mankato star David Backes. Moments later, the Blues scored on the rattled rookie.
“I haven't had a lot of rookie goalies with disrespect like that in front of the net,” Backes told the Star Tribune. “That's where I've played a long time. When I feel disrespected, I'm going to stand my ground and see if there's any response. The result was our guys scored I think like three, four minutes after that. Schwartzy (Jaden) puts one in the top corner and that's enough talking for us. We'll keep playing and keep going and great job by our guys to respond.”
No word yet on whether Kuemper or veteran Illya Bryzgalov will start against the Coyotes.
If the goalie woes aren't disconcerting enough, Minnesota's power play and penalty kill has been downright awful of late, and they were particularly bad against the Blues, going 0-6 on the power play while allowing a shorthanded goal and two power play goals.
“Our special teams have been terrible,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said after the loss . “We have to figure that out, or we’re not even going to make the playoffs.”
The danger of making the playoffs is real. The Wild currently sits in seventh place in the Western Conference, just one-point ahead of the Coyotes, who they play in Phoenix on Saturday night.
Say the Wild lose to Phoenix and fall into eighth place. With 85 points, they are only six points clear of Dallas and Vancouver, and the Stars can trim that gap to four points with a win over Nashville tonight.
Bottom line: The Wild's fight for the playoffs is real, and they could find themselves on the outside looking in if they don't finish the final eight games of the season strong.