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Our weekly Minnesota Sports Ramble blogs are released on Wednesday (Minnesota Wild related) and Friday (Minnesota Timberwolves related). The first and third Tuesdays feature content from our non-active pro sports teams, the Vikings and Twins respectively at the moment.
Another swoon, Dumba injury, the play of young players, Parise/Suter/Koivu, and more in our latest Wild edition of the Minnesota Sports Ramble. Wild analyst Peter Ripka, along with new contributor Jeff Hartfiel, answer questions from Rambling On god-king Erik Ritland.
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The Wild are in their classic swoon. What’s going on with the team?
Peter: It seems every year this team has a swoon for one reason or another. Usually, they either lose a step offensively by not pressuring and getting shots, or have well below average goaltending.
This year the Wild's soon isn't because of either of those reasons. Yes, Dubnyk has had some poor performances, but I wouldn't call his overall play below average, and he is starting to trend upwards again.
Their biggest problem is that they aren't finishing offensively. They are getting plenty of good chances but simply can't finish. Then there's the weird phenomenon of not getting shots on odd man rushes, which is a cause for concern if they don't remedy it.
Jeff: It seems every year they go through this. That they seem to forget how to win in December is mind boggling. They've had the same system with Bruce for the past three years, you would think it would come natural to them. It's almost like they are sleep walking, going through the motions.
What the Wild need is a game breaker, a guy that can help stop the losing streak, a guy that can create his own chances, which is something they haven't had since Gaborik. Our leaders (Koivu, Parise, Staal and Suter) need to step it up. The swoons need to end if they want to be taken seriously by the media, the league itself, and by Wild fans in general.
How devastating is the Dumba injury?
Peter: The defense has been playing well. It has hurt them the most in transition and on the power play. Dumba has a cannon of a shot, and this year he even had an ability to get it through. It will be interesting to see how the power play shapes up for the duration of his time out of the lineup.
Jeff: It's huge. Even with his occasional mental mistakes, Dumba is a guy that other teams have to game plan for. They need to know where he is on the ice at all times. Dating back to last year, he leads all defensemen in goals (18). The Wild have quietly had a top-three scoring defense over the last two years, and a lot of that has to do with Dumba. That's hard to replace, especially on the blue line. Ideally, Brodin, Spurgeon and Seeler will take more shots, as well as cheat down in the offensive zone to get backdoor shots, without of course sacrificing their defensive responsibilities.
How are the young players doing?
Peter: Erickson Ek received his well-deserved demotion to the AHL. He has been very underwhelming the last three years. Greenway has been exponentially better after his brief stint down in Iowa, having on more than one occasion been the best player for the Wild. Kunin seems to be finding his legs now with a few games under his belt.
Jeff: Joel Eriksson Ek knows his defensive responsibilities and does a good job on that end. He doesn't mind getting in the dirty areas or laying out a hit. His problem, obviously, is with scoring. Since being sent down to Iowa, he's been scoring and working well with his linemates, and hopefully he translates that to success with the Wild.
I'm a big fan of Luke Kunin, who seems to be a winner everywhere he goes (he was one of the youngest captains in Badger history). He isn't exactly lighting up the score sheet, but he is being physical on both ends of the ice, finishing his checks, and staying out of the box. The scoring will come for him, especially if he gets comfortable with the right line. It's great to see him on the ice after last years injury.
Nick Seeler has looked good this year. He could improve, but he keeps mistakes to a minimum and has no issues shooting the puck. I'd like to see him shoot more now that Dumba is out. I can definitely see him moving up to a top four defenseman if he continues to work hard and improve.
After being sent down due to a slow start, Jordan Greenway came back hungry and ready to prove himself. He is using his big frame in the corners and in front of the net, which is where you want him to be. For that stretch the Wild weren't scoring, Greenway scored three of their four only four goals. He will be in the top six permanently if he continues to grow and improve.
Are Suter, Koivu, and Parise pulling their weight?
Peter: Suter still doesn't look like himself. He is still slow and seems to get lost in coverage too often. Koivu has started to look better lately offensively and his defense, which is what he is known for, and that hasn't wavered. Parise has continued the great play he had after he got to game speed at the end of last season. He looks like the Parise from four years ago.
Jeff: Parise is definitely pulling his weight this season. He leads the team in goals and has remained healthy, which is exactly what you want. His worth ethic is second to none.
Koivu is always consistent. He doesn't light up the stat sheet, but he adds value on both ends of the ice. He is easily one of the best two way forwards in the NHL hands down.
Suter is what he is: a great defenseman. He got off to kind of a slow start, but he is back to playing solid defense. When he is paired with Dumba they make a damn good first defensive pairing, complimenting each other almost perfectly.
With the weight of their contracts and their seeming inability to lead a successful team, will the Wild ever be successful as long as Parise/Suter/Koivu are the teams core?
Peter: The Wilds biggest problems aren't those three. The second core of Granlund, Zucker, Coyle, and Nino aren't pulling their weight. They all need to step up their game.
Jeff: It depends how you would measure success. The Wild have had some successful seasons and have made the playoffs almost every year with them as the core.
As far as making a legitimate Stanley Cup run, I honestly don't think they can, at least with this group of players. Coyle, Nino, and Zucker seem to be non-existent when playoff time comes. You need at least three lines producing to make a legit run in the playoffs. Defensively they have a legit top four when Dumba is in line up, and with Seeler and Pateryn holding down the the last two spots on defense, they would be fine defensively in the playoffs. Their problem has always been scoring, though, and until they fix that they won't get very far.
What lines are working together the best and which are lacking?
Peter: The Kunin/Coyle/Parise line has looked really good in the few games they've been together. They'll continue to improve. The Zucker/Staal/Granlund line has been struggling to finish, the definition of what the Wild's problems have been.
Jeff: The first line of Zucker/Granlund/Stall has been lacking easily. They haven't been putting up the numbers the have in the past and are turning the puck over more. Maybe putting Greenway up with Staal and Granlund would get that line going, they seemed to work together well their first few times together. That would bring Zucker down to the Koivu/Nino line, which has also been lacking from a point production standpoint, so that'd hopefully help them.
As for the Kunin/Coyle/Parise, they work together pretty well. The forth line meshes together well and are doing their job.
How have goaltending and defense been?
Peter: Goaltending, as well as the defense, has been up and down. Dev will make some great saves but then give up a back breaking soft goal (see: overtime versus Dallas). The defense also seems to get lost or starts puck watching way too often at times.
Jeff: Dubby has had a few games where you might question him, but overall he has been pretty decent. If the Wild where more consistent with their scoring his record would be considerable different. His numbers since he was traded to the Wild back that up.
They have been more consistent defensively than people give them credit for. Losing Dumba does hurt the team on that end, even with his tendency to turn the puck over at wrong time. But Suter, Spurgeon Brodin are a pretty strong top three. It's finding that forth guy to team with either Suter or Brodin that's an issue. Keeping Seeler with Pateryn on the third pairing seems to work. They need to find "that guy" to fit with the top two pairings while Dumba is out. Giving a chance to Murphy or Belpedio could work, but you won't know 'till you try.
What gives you hope about the Wild and what concerns you?
Peter: My biggest concern is their ability to finish. The only encouraging part of this is the amount of chances that they aren't generating. One would think that they would eventually start going in.
Jeff: The hope comes from the head coach. Bruce knows how to turn a team around and the proof is there. Most Decembers the Wild hit this downward spiral, but usually by seasons end they end up with 100 points, so that gives me hope as well. So does Dubby, as much as people like to blame him for our losses. He has been one of the most consistent goalies in the league since his arrival in Minnesota.
As for things that are of concern it is the Consistency on offensive and team play in general are my main concerns. The Wild continue to lack scoring, which is what keeps them from being a top-tier team and getting out of the first round of playoffs. They need to score, plain and simple. Maybe a trade helps them there.
What are the odds the Wild make the playoffs?
Peter: Baring anything changing I'd put them somewhere around a 30-40% chance. That could change if they make trades or start to score on their chances.
Jeff: As of right now, 50/50. They need to be more consistent offensively and working together as a team.
What do the Wild need to do to turn things around? Will they?
Peter: Either trade for a natural goal scorer or start to finish their chances. Unfortunately, the Wild don't really have the assets to acquire a player of that ability, and they haven't shown signs of having it internally. So I am not that confident that they'll turn it around, but they have proven me wrong in the past.
Jeff: Consistency and execution, it's that simple. A trade is always risky, but sometimes you have to take that chance if you want to succeed, especially with the position the Wild are in. Either you make a trade to help you get to the next level and elevate your team and it's performance, or you start blowing up the team where you can. Out with the old in with the new.
Peter Ripka is the original Rambling On podcast co-host and has been a contributor since its inception. He’s currently the Wild analyst, a position he’s held for several years. A Wild and Twins season ticket holder, his writing combines the passion of a fan and the insight of a beat writer.