Path to the Playoff: Minnesota Wild

Coming into the 2017 - 2018 NHL season, the Minnesota Wild were locked in by media pundits and fans of the league as a postseason contender. After all, why wouldn't they be? Minnesota exploded onto the scene in 2016 with one of the most impressive stretches in recent hockey history, going 30 - 6 - 3 at one point last year. Fast forward a couple of months and Minnesota's immediate future is looking grim. Minnesota sits at the bottom of the Central Division, stuck behind some of the most talented teams in the league. However, all hope is not lost and there seems to be a course that can be charted which leads to postseason success.

Analyzing the Problems - Defensive Deficiency.

Right now, Minnesota is sitting outside of the playoff picture despite their early-season optimism and major offseason acquisitions. Still, that doesn't mean that Minnesota's front office or their roster is willing to give up a late-season surge. With just under half of the regular season remaining, the time is now for Minnesota to stare long and hard at the issues that have been plaguing them. Let's start first by looking at their defensive struggles.

Goalie Devan Dubnyk (15 - 9 - 2, 2.72 GAA) has started 27 games this season and in doing so can be pilloried for Minnesota's 18th ranked defense. 11 times this season, Dubnyk has given up at least 4 goals to opposing teams. This paired with Minnesota's struggles with health, which we'll talk more about later, has led to the Wild trying to play from behind far too often. Minnesota needs Dubnyk to find his confidence en route to reverting to his stout 2016 form.

Offensively, there are issues to contend with as well. For one, Minnesota is struggling in both goals scored and fruitful possessions, also known as their Corsi %. Minnesota is at the bottom of the NHL -- literally -- in this important ranking. However, the return of Zach Parise should bear some fruit.

Optimism for the Future - Returning Offensive Studs.

Despite Minnesota's very clear problems on both sides of the ice, optimism is returning in spades for the Minnesota Wild. While Minnesota has struggled at times, the Wild have seen no clear separation from the rest of the division. This has allowed the team to slowly get healthier as they prepare for a real mid-season push.

Zach Parise is returning from injury to take over his spot on the left wing and he'll immediately provide some much needed offensive burst. Last season, Parise provided 42 points (19 goals, 23 assists) while shoring up the team with veteran leadership. When Minnesota's confidence was shaken, Parise would typically be the guy that the roster leaned on in order to get their head back on straight. Another notable return is that of Nino Niederreiter. Nino will immediately improve Minnesota's puck possession rate as well as their scoring ability.

Despite Minnesota not playing up to standards offensively, the Wild still rate out positively in terms of PIM in comparison to their past three seasons. A return to normalcy is almost assured if Minnesota can keep up these benchmarks while maintaining enough confidence to find a hot-streak at some point in the second half.

Kris Lindahl is an official partner of the Minnesota Wild.

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