The Minnesota Wild have slumped before.
Though the club has steadily gotten better, and added more impressive pieces (some even came from the Isles!) each season before falling to the Blackhawks, it wouldn't be a hockey season if there weren't a period of "What's Wrong with the Wild?" angst filling the printed and webbed world. Sure, that last part is true of just about every franchise and fanbase, but for the Wild it's been a notable annual rite that leads to speculation about Mike Yeo's job.
The 2011-12 season -- the one with the 20-7-3 unsustainable and deceiving start to Yeo's tenure -- brought the first wave as that team crashed in the second half and missed the playoffs. While the Wild would improve each season, it wasn't without mid-season panics, including 13 months ago when Yeo lost it on an underachieving team, hockey's greatest genius was calling for the team to fire him.
Yet the team rallied, started playing like its roster says it should, and "upset" the technically-home-advantage-holding St. Louis Blues in the first round before losing to Chicago because Blackhawks.
Now the Wild come out of the All-Star break on the heels of another drought, 1-6-1 which made them just 3-7-3 in January, with the big problem being focused on offense. There's little reason to doubt they'll rally from this one too, and the Central -- where two points separate 4th-6th -- should send five teams to the playoffs, giving them some cushion. Which is to say the Islanders face a real test tonight in Brooklyn.
The Islanders are likewise in a tight middle bunch in their division, have likewise struggled on offense, and likewise had an uninspiring January (4-4-1). The Isles have games in hand on all their rivals, but the flip side of that coin is a schedule that has them playing nearly every other day throughout February and more than that throughout March.
To help handle the load, "fresh faces" will be deployed, or so they say, starting with spot appearances by yesterday's recalls Scott Mayfield and goalie J-F Berube in tonight's lineup.
Awareness of the offensive dip -- and how to not let it funk them out -- comes from the captain:
"I don’t think it’s any secret that we haven’t been the same [offensive] team this year," Tavares said. "I think a lot of us are going through a lot of ups and downs, certainly myself. A lot of guys will look to me, and you try to handle it as best you can. You’re setting an example. When things aren’t going well, you just have to find a way to work yourself through it."
A team that scored 3.07 goals per game in 2014-15 is putting up just 2.77 goals per game this season. Rather than high-flying pressure and fun, they've lived more off good goaltending and a penalty kill that ends each lengthy consecutive kills streak by starting a new one.
But as every Wild season has shown, and every survived "fire Crappy" (there's an "r" in there, git it?) lull has reminded us, 82-game seasons usually demonstrate more than any single quarter or third can. We hope.
A hectic 35 more games remain to help us find out how this story concludes.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight right this way.