by Peter Ripka
The Minnesota Wild started their season a couple weeks ago by shutting out the Colorado Avalanche in two consecutive games. That's good.
But then they failed to get the puck into the back of the net in losses to the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. That's bad.
Can we judge how the team will do in 2014 based on this small sample size? Sit back, relax, and enjoy our Wild Season Preview to find out.
Last season ended disappointingly, a bad bounce leading to an overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the playoffs. After a thrilling series the Wild found themselves eliminated and checking around for tee times. Although not the ending they had hoped for, the playoffs did provide a snapshot of what we can expect this season from a young and talented group of players.
With the Western conference set up the way it is I could see the Wild doing anything from contending for the Cup to missing the playoffs completely. They have bolstered their offensive power by adding former University of Minnesota star forward Tomas Vanek (who has a paltry 1 assist on the year as of today) along with the return of players that took a big step forward in their careers last year. They even added some grit with Ryan Carter and Stu Bickel (who’s playing in Iowa with the Wild’s AHL affiliate).
The question is, how does a team that's set up like this succeed?
The simple answer, unfortunately for anyone that has followed the Wild over the years, is goaltending. Without a stable, reliable goaltender a team isn’t going to fare well. How many different goalies the Wild shuffled through last year was an obvious point of interest through the off-season. Continuing the trend, this year even before the preseason had started the goaltending position became a question mark. As long as it stays this way it'll be hard to tell how well the team can do.
Another key for the Wild is the growth and production it gets out of younger players, including a few rookies that cracked the opening night lineup. The phrase “you are only as good as your worst player” holds true. If the 4th line or the 3rd defense pair become a black hole that continually gives up goals the team won’t be able to do much.
I see the Wild finishing 2nd in the Central Division and making the Conference finals this year. This is a bold prediction considering much stronger the Central got over the off-season but I see things clicking for the team this year.
Peter Ripka is the co-host of the Rambling On podcast. He's a blogger and analyst who specializes in sports, particularly hockey and baseball. Reach him via email or find him on Facebook and Twitter.