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Minnesota Wild ‘can’t just expect’ another 2nd-half resurgence

Metropolitan Division forward Evgeni Malkin, right, of the Pittsburgh Penguins shoots against Central Division goaltender Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild during the 2016 NHL All Star Game Skills Competition at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. (Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel / USA TODAY Sports)

ST. PAUL — The Wild were 20-20-6 at the 2015 all-star break and on the brink of missing the playoffs before a second-half hot streak pushed Minnesota toward the top of the standings.

The 2016 situation looks awfully similar, as the Wild sit 23-17-9 and again on the outside looking in at the playoffs. As has been the case the past few years, Minnesota needs a strong finish just to reach the postseason.

“We don’t want to keep being in this position year after year … but that’s just the way it goes sometimes,” left winger Jason Zucker said. “It’s a long season; you’re going to have ups and downs. And for us, we’re excited for the challenge.”

Said coach Mike Yeo: “We know where we’re at, we know what’s gone on and we’re ready to finish writing the story.”

It’s a familiar story line, with a lengthy lull in the middle before things take a turn for the better in the latter stages. That’s what happened the past two seasons. But that doesn’t guarantee a reprise this season.

“We can’t just expect it to happen because we’ve gone through it before or we’ve done it before,” center Charlie Coyle said. “We’ve got to take it upon ourselves and stay positive and just move forward. But we’ve got to give a little more. I think everyone knows individually, and as a team, we’ve got more to give. We can’t wait any longer to not show it. We’ve got to show it right now.”

Starting with their road contest against the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

Yeo said the all-star break came at a good time for Minnesota, which lost 10 of its 13 January contests to go from comfortably in the Western Conference playoffs to barely out.

“It was needed for our group,” Yeo said. “But coming out of it, I think there are some things that we’ve got to talk about and some areas where we know we have to get better.”

Like scoring.

Minnesota averaged 1.8 goals a game in January, the primary issue in a slide that featured some reasonably good defense. Still, Yeo said, the Wild’s offense is statistically similar to where it was early this season, when the team was winning. Only shooting percentage is down, and Yeo said the difference is significant.

“Some of that could be potentially luck,” Yeo said. “Some of it could be definitely mental, whether it’s gripping the stick too tight, whether it’s waiting a little too long to take the shot and I do think some of it is our net-front play. We’re not too far off, we do know that. We’re giving ourselves a chance most games, but we just have to turn it up a couple degrees here.”

Wild captain Mikko Koivu said he doesn’t think there’s any magic to getting the offense back on track.

“You’ve just got to work on it and find it again,” he said. “A lot of times it’s about confidence and making sure that you’ve got to work on it. It’s not going to just happen by hoping about it. You’ve got to make it happen.”

That’s what Minnesota did the past couple of years.

“Everybody was going and we were making it click,” Zucker said. “Every guy is playing hard, playing their role, doing the things they need to do — and that’s what makes things click like that. If we’re just going to sit back and hope that it happens, then it’s not going to happen.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service

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