The Wild have bought in and you should too
If you’ll forgive me for a moment, I’d like to indulge in writing something that I never in a million years thought I’d be writing this season.
Before any games are played, on December 1, 2011, the Minnesota Wild are atop the NHL.
Let me let that sink in for a moment. The Wild are the top team in the NHL.
Now that we’ve reveled in that momentarily, let’s do what the team has likely done and move on.
The reality of the situation is that the Wild have a very, very difficult schedule coming up over the next two months. In fact, starting tomorrow, the Wild will have just nine home games between then and February 9, when the team starts a four-game home stand.
Not only that, but the Wild are again being hit by the injury bug this season. Currently on the shelf are Darroll Powe and Cal Clutterbuck, though it’s yet to be determined how serious those injuries are, and on the IR are Marek Zidlicky and, most importantly, Guillaume Latendresse.
All of this should, seemingly, spell doom for the team – yet they just keep on winning.
The stretch that they have coming up, though, is going to be their true test.
After having the Devils at home, the Wild embark on a five-game road swing, four of which are against Pacific division foes. They get the Anaheim Ducks (who, make no mistake, will be playing great hockey), then Phoenix,Los AngelesandSan Jose, all teams who are firmly entrenched in the playoff picture right now.
They then get a back-to-back situation, playing the Jets in Winnipeg and the surging Blackhawks the very next night back in Minnesota.
That’s just a taste of what the Wild have in store for them.
But there is good news. A silver lining, if you will. During this stretch, the Wild play just two back-to-back sets. December 13 and 14 and December 28 and 29. Of course, even that silver lining has a bit of a rough patch to it as the first games of each of these are played on the road and the second game at home.
To put it lightly, if the Wild are still in the top-eight by the time they return home for an extended home stand on February 9, this team is a serious threat in the playoffs. If the Wild are still in the top-four in the West by the time they return home from this stretch, well, I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it but if that’s the case, I’ll have high, high hopes for this team.
Why? Because, on February 9 the Wild will have 30 games left in the season. 18 of those games are home games. Up until this point, the Wild have played 25 games, 14 of which were played in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center.
This is a team that can win at home (though winning three of five during their last road trip could raise expectations of the team on the road as well).
What’s more, this is a team that is starting to thrive under adversity, and they’re going to have a lot of adversity in the next two months.
This is all a really round about way to say one thing:
The Wild have a rough road ahead of them, but if I’ve ever been confident in any Wild team’s ability to weather the storm that’s coming, it’s this one. This team is consistently getting better and they’ve bought into Mike Yeo’s system as much as, if not more than, the 2002-03 Wild bought into Jacques Lemaire’s.
I’m not fooling myself into thinking that the Wild are Stanley Cup favorites right now and you shouldn’t be either, but I’m not looking at the schedule anymore picking out the games that the Wild can and can’t win, because I no longer feel like there’s a single game that the Wild can’t win.
And you shouldn’t feel like that either, because this team is for real.