And yet, nine games into a season buoyed by 200+ million dollars of expectations, Minnesota already had such a meeting. If there ever was a harbinger, this is it- because the path of the team goes in one of two directions.
Up or down.
Nearly two months later, Minnesota beat the same Phoenix team in Overtime, and the ship had been righted and the course was established- but was that lowly February night in Phoenix, where the team had to reinvent the wheel to score, yet watch the opponent match their goal almost effortlessly, really the turning point?
We've written about Ryan Suter's ascension from local punching bag (namely from the uninformed segment of the fanbase who thought Suter was a different type of player) to leading Norris Trophy Candidate, and how that emergence was buoyed by the call up of Jonas Brodin and the subsequent pairing January. His stats reflect how he accepted the challenge of adjusting to new surroundings at the 10 game mark, not 20 like Chuck Fletcher suggested.
Yet, Minnesota still struggled to score goals; after the Feb. 5th game in Phoenix, The Wild still only managed to score six goals over the next four games before scoring three against Colorado, although they fell the same fate; after performing the Herculean task of scoring more than two goals for the first time in seven games, Colorado simply skated up the ice and scores less than a minute later to tie the game, completely deflating the accomplishment. While that game signaled a breakthrough offensively, it was still an incomplete effort- defensive lapses basically kept the Avs in the game, and the complete confidence in the team game just wasn't there...yet.
Here, in my opinion was the tipping point to what has become a 15-5 record over the last 20 games, and the march toward almost playoff certainty and a strong chance at our second (and last ever) Northwest Division Title.
This 30 second sequence against Detroit February 17th:
Zucker's goal tied the game, and all of the sudden Mitchell's seeing-eye goal 30 seconds later gave Minnesota a lead they wouldn't relinquish; they simply locked down the defensive zone around Darcy Kuemper and came out with two points against a perpetually elite team in Detroit. Mitchell's goal was pure luck; in the games previous his shot would have hit a skate, or a stick, or the post, or be stopped the goalie, and in some way exorcised some of the "puck luck demons" that The Wild had been bemoaning in the weeks and games previous.
It was a monumental confidence boost for a team who had pieces settling into place; Suter and Brodin had established themselves as a legitimate top pairing, and Devin Setoguchi and Matt Cullen had found chemistry (which is still showing up) and turning their line into a serious scoring line, taking the heat off of the top line, and stretching out the checkers on the opposition.
You watch this team now; who recently won seven in a row, including FOUR IN A ROW ON THE ROAD in places like Nashville, Detroit, Vancouver, and Dallas (!!!) and its hard to believe its the same team on February calling a player's only meeting following a loss; just last night they battled back from two goals against LA, the best Fenwick team in the league, and calmly won in a shootout.