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Three reasons for optimism and pessimism with Wild and Wolves

It’s fun having both the Wild and Timberwolves in the playoffs at the same time for just the second time ever and first time since 2002-03. But now that both series are underway, with both teams trailing heavy favorites, you might be wondering: Does either team really have a chance to win and advance?

As such, let’s inject some doses of positive thinking — as well as a reality check — into each conversation. Here are three reasons to be optimistic about the Wild and Wolves, as well as three reasons to be pessimistic about their chances against the Jets and Rockets, respectively.

Wild

Current status: Down 2 games to 1 in best-of-7 series against Winnipeg, with Game 4 slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center (FSN and CNBC)

Reasons for optimism:

1) The Wild didn’t just win Game 3, it won convincingly. There is a difference, I think, between the 6-2 hurting the Wild put on Winnipeg on Sunday and, say, a 2-1 squeaker. Both count the same, but the feeling generated is different. In one game, the narrative changed from “the Wild looks totally overmatched” to “this series looks completely different now that Winnipeg is away from home.” The Wild now has confidence that it can score in bunches and should feel very good about the prospects of tying the series tonight.

2) The reverse side of things is how Winnipeg feels. One loss, even in a blowout, probably isn’t enough to shake the Jets’ confidence. But another one Tuesday, particularly if goalie Connor Hellebuyck struggles again? That would give the Wild a chance to create some panic or at least some uneasiness in what would essentially become a best-of-3 series.

3) There is precedent for the Wild coming back from a 2-1. In fact, of the four playoff series Minnesota was won in franchise history, the Wild was down 2-1 in three of them — and in all four the Wild was the lower seed.

Reasons for pessimism:

1) The Jets had a lot stacked against them in Game 3, including a weird travel situation created by the snowstorm. They arrived late, and it’s possible Game 3 was the outlier in the series.

2) Even in what looked like a lopsided loss, the Jets had chances. It was a 3-2 game before all heck broke loose, and Winnipeg still finished with more shots on goal than the Wild (31-29).

3) Even if the Wild wins Game 4, it will have to win a game in Winnipeg to take the series. These are two of the best home teams in the NHL, and the Jets still have two games left in Winnipeg — where the Wild is 0-4 this season counting the playoffs and has been outscored 18-8.

Timberwolves

Current status: Down 1 game to 0 in best-of-7 series with Houston, with Game 2 slated for 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in Houston (FSN and TNT).

Reasons for optimism:

1 The Wolves held Houston in check from three-point range in Game 1, with the Rockets going 10 for 37 from long distance. That’s five fewer makes and five fewer attempts than the Rockets averaged during the regular season, and anything that decreases Houston’s efficiency creates a better path to victory.

2) The Wolves had a chance to win Game 1 even when they didn’t play their best. Houston definitely wasn’t at its best Sunday, but neither were the Wolves. Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, in particular, struggled to both get involved and to have impact. And yet the Wolves held a slim lead in the fourth quarter and still had a shot to tie on their final possession. That could create confidence on their part and doubt on the part of the Rockets.

3) In the infamous words of Christian Ponder, some of the Wolves’ Game 1 miscues should be easily correctable. If they can make adjustments to exploit mismatches for Towns, their offense could get much-needed easy baskets and run more efficiently.

Reasons for pessimism:

1) Part of the reason Towns struggled is that Houston has a good game plan for him and is determined not to let him beat them by making three-pointers. It’s unclear yet whether Towns, playing in the playoffs for the first time, can make the Rockets pay.

2) Houston probably won’t miss that many three-pointers going forward in the series. Ryan Anderson missed Game 1 with a sprained ankle but could be back for Game 2. He shot 38.6 percent from three-point range to lead the Rockets in the regular season. Also, NBA.com shows that of the 37 three-point attempts by the Rockets on Sunday, 33 of them were either “open” or “wide open.” And players not named James Harden — guys who usually make threes at a 35-37 percent clip — connected on just 3 of 24 “open” or “wide open” threes. If the Wolves allow that many open looks in Game 2, the Rockets could very well blow them out.

3) This is still an 8-1 matchup for a reason, and Game 1 was the game the Wolves needed to win to have any chance of a competitive series. There are no moral victories in the playoffs, only real ones. The Wolves had a real chance to win Game 1, and as encouraging as that might seem it also should be viewed as a missed opportunity that put a big dent in any chance for an upset.

Wild’s once-iffy playoff hopes are now a near-certainty

I’m fascinated by the daily update on various teams’ chances of reaching the postseason that are provided in many leagues, including the NHL.

In the end, I’m not sure they tell us a whole lot we didn’t already know — something we discussed on the debut episode of the North Score podcast, available on Startribune.com and shortly on iTunes as well — but they at least give us some snapshots of how a team is doing.

The Wild, for much of this season, was hovering at or below a 50 percent chance of reaching the postseason in the simulations run by both Hockey Reference and Sports Club Stats. Injuries and early lackluster play put the Wild in danger of missing the playoffs after five years in a row of making it in.

You might have noticed the Wild has been winning a lot more lately, though, and not surprisingly its odds have improved dramatically. It’s been a particularly meteoric rise lately as other Western Conference contending teams — such as St. Louis, which the Wild thumped 8-3 Tuesday — have started to falter.

The result? Minnesota now has a 95 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to both sites. Of note, too, is the most likely scenario now is that the Wild gets in as the No. 3 team in the Central, not a Wild Card.

The Vikings and Twins already made the playoffs this past year. The Wolves have a 97 percent chance of making it, per 538. If the numbers hold up, all four teams will reach the postseason in succession for the first time ever.

Then again, all it takes is a few losses for the numbers to dip down into more dangerous territory.

A failure for so long, Wild suddenly is a master of the ‘extra point’

Extra points have become a sore subject in local sports, mostly as they pertain to the NFL. The Vikings have missed a league-high five extra points this season – one year after they missed a league-high seven.

Perhaps a more damaging and longer-term “extra point” problem, though, has belonged to the NHL’s Wild.

From the start of the 2015-16 season through Nov. 20 this year, a Wild game went into overtime 33 times. Minnesota won in overtime or a shootout just 11 times, meaning in the 22 others the Wild lost and failed to claim the extra point that comes with an overtime or shootout win.

The 2015-16 season start is not an arbitrary date. That’s when the NHL switched from 4-on-4 overtime to 3-on-3 overtime in an effort to increase action have fewer games go to shootouts. In that stated time frame between then and Nov. 20, the Wild was just 5-17 in games that were decided in overtime. Minnesota’s shootout record of 6-5 was decent, but that overtime record was atrocious.

Wild beat writer Sarah McLellan wrote last week about the team’s recent efforts to improve those marks. Working in concert with the organization’s analytics department, which recommended an emphasis on speed as well as a lineup with two defensemen and one forward (instead of the other way around), the Wild entered Tuesday 4-0 in overtime/shootout games since Nov. 20. Three of those wins were overtime wins, with defenseman Matt Dumba netting two of the game-winning goals.

In a Western Conference that could see teams bunched together all season, and with the Wild off to a slower-than-expected start, those extra points are crucial. To really see their impact, though, we can look at past seasons and what might have been.

*In 2016-17, the Wild finished with a franchise-best 106 points. That mark could have been even better, though, if a very good and skilled team had been better than just 7-8 in overtime/shootout games.

Chicago, which won the Central Division title with 109 points, went 13-9 in OT/shootout games – including a head-to-head overtime win over the Wild. A better performance after regulation might have allowed the Wild to hold the division title and claim the conference’s top seed.

*In 2015-16, the Wild was just 4-11 on OT/shootout games. Included in that was a 1-10 mark in such games under Mike Yeo before he was fired during the season. The Wild still sneaked into the playoffs, but the whole context of that season might have changed with a better extra session performance.

*Even in 2014-15, before the OT rule changed, the Wild was just 8-8 in OT/shootout games. Minnesota finished with 100 points. Chicago, with two points more, was 12-6 in OT/shootouts. Nashville, with four more points, was 14-10 in OT/shootouts.

Being good in 3-on-3 and shootouts doesn’t matter once you reach the postseason since the playoffs feature traditional overtime periods. But being good at it can enhance your playoff position – and conversely can harm it if you fail in those specialty situations.

The Wild’s recent sample size is too small to draw any long-term conclusions, but the results so far are positive and the willingness to try something new and take it seriously are encouraging.

By April, an extra point here or there could make all the difference to a team with a five-year playoff streak and Stanley Cup aspirations.

Wild’s problem is simple: Too much talent out, not enough back in

An influx of youth and veteran talent arrived on the Wild during the labor-shortened 2012-13 season. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed identical 13-year deals over July 4 holiday. Jason Pominville was acquired during the season in a trade.

Defenseman Jonas Brodin debuted as a 19-year-old rookie that year. Forwards Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund also made their NHL debuts, while Jason Zucker got a longer look than the six games he had played the year before.

The Wild reached the postseason after missing the playoffs four years in a row.

The talent influx continued the next year. Nino Niederreiter, 21 at the time, arrived via trade. Marco Scandella became a regular on defense. Erik Haula played key minutes as a forward. The following season Matt Dumba and Thomas Vanek arrived and goalie Devan Dubnyk helped save the season when he arrived as a midseason trade. That was 2014-15, the third consecutive year the Wild made the playoffs.

Since then? Well, Eric Staal gave the Wild a nice lift last year, scoring 28 goals as a veteran upgrade over Vanek. He helped the Wild overachieve last year in reaching the playoffs for the fifth straight year before  a disappointing playoff loss to St. Louis.

But now Pominville is gone — traded away along with Scandella this past offseason as his decreased production and high cost pinched the Wild. Parise has dealt with injury woes that have kept him out this entire season and limited his effectiveness last year. Haula was lost to expansion. He has seven goals for Vegas this year, while Pominville has six for Buffalo.

Brodin, Dumba, Suter, Coyle, Granlund, Zucker, Niederreiter and Dubnyk are still here and are part of the core of this year’s Wild.

This year’s team is struggling at 11-10-3, having allowed 30 goals in its past seven games. The struggles were enough that GM Chuck Fletcher addressed the media Wednesday.

Our Joe Christensen reported this quote from Fletcher’s session regarding the decisions the team faced this past offseason as it faced salary constraints: “We built the team a certain way, and we did whatever we could, to be honest with you, to keep [Mikael] Granlund and [Nino] Niederreiter and not be forced to lose [Eric] Staal and [Jason] Zucker and keep four [defensemen]. So this is what we wanted, and if it doesn’t work, you can blame that. But I think we kept the right guys.”

That might be true. The real problem, though, is the lack of a recent talent influx. Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis, the players who came back in the Buffalo trade, have been OK but haven’t given the Wild what Scandella and Pominville did in previous years. Haula was a sneaky loss, leaving a hole 41-year-old Matt Cullen hasn’t been able to consistently fill.

And truthfully it’s been a while since a Wild prospect turned into a bona fide top-9 forward or top-6 defenseman to replace other fringe roster players.

Joel Eriksson Ek and/or Luke Kunin might be those forwards, but both were sent to the minors in Iowa last week after failing to completely seize opportunities here. Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson will be given every chance to be those defensemen after the Wild waived Kyle Quincey on Wednesday. But there’s no guarantee they will succeed.

As Fletcher said Wednesday, this is the team the Wild wanted – or at least the team it wanted based on the constraints it faced. But there’s a real talent deficit right now, and as a result a team that thought it was a Stanley Cup contender is back to scrambling to get back into playoff position.

Dubnyk’s shutout run is impressive, but he has a long way to go for record

It’s interesting how streaks get started.

For much of the early part of this NHL season, Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk didn’t look comfortable. He wasn’t exactly fighting the puck, but the results didn’t lie: Through his first 11 starts, Dubnyk had just a .903 save percentage and had allowed 32 goals. The Wild went 4-6-1 in those games, part of a slow start to a season filled with big expectations.

The last of those 11 games was an unexpected start in Toronto for Dubnyk. Backup Alex Stalock was supposed to play, but instead he was called back to Minnesota to be with his wife as she gave birth to their daughter, Selena. Stalock stayed in Minnesota for a couple more days, and Dubnyk started again the next night after giving up three goals on 18 shots in that game against Toronto.

The next start went much better. Jason Zucker scored three goals, and Dubnyk stopped all 41 shots he saw in a 3-0 Wild victory. He got the call two nights later in Philadelphia, even though Stalock had rejoined the team, and delivered a 32-save shutout. Back home in Minnesota on Tuesday, the Wild rode the hot hand. Dubnyk responded with his third consecutive shutout, again over the Flyers, breaking his own team record in the process by running his streak to 195 minutes, five seconds without allowing a goal.

The Wild is now 8-7-2. With another win at home Thursday over Nashville, Minnesota would have the same exact 18-game record — 9-7-2 — as it did a season ago. One would imagine Dubnyk will play again as long as he’s rolling. The natural questions, then, are 1) How long can he keep this streak going and 2) How long does he need to keep it going to have a chance at more than just a team record?

On the first question, it’s impossible to know but this much is true: Dubnyk is more than capable of putting together long stretches of brilliant play. He had three consecutive shutouts in late October last season as well, which was part of a generally brilliant first half of the season for Dubnyk.

On the second question, there is precise certainty: Dubnyk will need to record shutouts in his next two games (120 minutes total) and for most of the first period of his next start after that as well to match the NHL record streak of 3:32:01 set by Brian Boucher when he was with the Coyotes during the 2003-04 season.

Interestingly, Boucher set his record and notched his fifth consecutive shutout in a game against the Wild at Xcel Energy Center. In an interview with NHL.com earlier this year, Boucher recalled getting a standing ovation from the crowd at the X. “That’s pretty cool on the road to get that,” Boucher said. “You have to catch some breaks and I caught quite a few, like pucks that hit posts or maybe shots that you didn’t see that end up going wide. Goalies know what I’m talking about because these things happen all the time.”

Indeed, his streak ended early in the next game on an awkward deflection. We’ll see if Dubnyk can sustain the combination of skill and luck needed to seriously threaten the record. He’s more than halfway there, at least.

“I get a chuckle every time someone gets two or three shutouts because people will text me or I’ll get a tweet; they’ll get me all fired up,” Boucher told NHL.com. “I’m not going to lie to you, I like having [the records].”

Will Jason Zucker become the next member of exclusive Wild 30-goal club?

In its past two games, back-to-back affairs at Toronto and Montreal, the Wild has scored five goals — and all of them were scored by wing Jason Zucker.

That gives Zucker a team-high eight for the season in 15 games. That makes this a particularly dangerous time to do any sort of long-term extrapolation of Zucker’s stats, but I’m going to do it anyway with some context added.

See, if we would have tallied up Zucker’s pace before these two games, when he had three goals in 13 contests, he would have been on pace for just shy of 20 goals this season. After his outburst, he’s on pace for more than 40. The truth often lies somewhere in the middle of the extremes, so let’s split the difference and ask this question: Is Zucker this season going to become just the fifth different Wild player in history to score 30 goals or more in a season?

Admittedly, that’s not an extraordinarily high bar. But this is Wild history, after all — a stretch of time that has generally trended toward offensive challenges and defensive schemes.

Marian Gaborik reached that 30-goal benchmark five times with the Wild and has the two best single seasons — including his 42-goal season in 2007-08, the only time a Wild scorer has topped 40. The underrated Brian Rolston had 30 goals or more three times for Minnesota. Zach Parise and Jason Pominville did it once each. And that’s it.

In the NHL last season, 26 different players had at least 30 goals. None played for the Wild, though a few Minnesota players were close: Eric Staal (28), Mikael Granlund (26) and Nino Niederreiter (25). Zucker was fourth on the team with 22. Why should this year be any different?

Well, there are three factors that could boost Zucker to new levels.

*First, he’s flat-out getting more ice time. He averaged just over 15 minutes per game last season. This year, he’s up to 18 minutes, 23 seconds per game — third among all Wild forwards and most among wings.

Part of that is based on merit, given that Zucker had a career-high 22 goals last season. Part of it is that is because of all the injuries the Wild have suffered. Zach Parise has yet to play. Charlie Coyle has missed a lot of time. Niederreiter missed six games, while Granlund missed five. Zucker has taken an elevated role and excelled.

*Second, which goes hand-in-hand the first point: A lot of his increased opportunities have come on the power play — where, of course, scoring a goal becomes more likely. Zucker was not a power play regular last year, averaging just 15 seconds per game on the man advantage. This year, it’s 2:38 per game — accounting for most of his overall ice time increase. He had just one power play goal last season, meaning he had 21 other goals. Staal (24) was the only Wild player to score more often in non-power play situations last year.

Zucker has three power play goals already this season — the same number he had in his entire career coming into the season. If he keeps scoring on the power play, he should keep getting those opportunities even when everyone’s healthy.

*Third, Zucker is still just 25 (almost 26) and should be entering the prime of his career. He’s in that sweet spot where he has young legs to go with experience. There’s no reason not to expect big things from him.

Given those factors, if Zucker stays healthy this season I’d expect him to lead the Wild in goals and to crack 30. He might even have a shot at 35 if things break right.

With Wild sputtering, Bruce Boudreau is as cranky as Tom Thibodeau

Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau and Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau both arrived last season with significant expectations as accomplished coaches taking over promising teams. They also brought significantly different styles.

Boudreau is a classic hockey coach, good with a one-liner but also not afraid to show his emotions during a game. He was able to show off the happier side of that mix plenty a year ago when the Wild set a franchise record for points.

Thibodeau speaks almost in a stream of consciousness about how his team must keep working, always, to become better. During games? His facial expression during a 31-51 season a year ago rarely changed from a scowl, unless it was to something worse.

This year, Thibodeau has already declared in the midst of a winning streak that has now grown to five games for a 7-3 team that he is “never happy.” But he’s also shown a smoother edge, according to new Wolves forward Taj Gibson, who played for Thibodeau in Chicago previously.

“That’s what I’ve been seeing behind the scenes over the years,’’ Gibson said recently of his coach. “If you do your job and win games, you’re going to see that, you’re going to see him open up.”

Boudreau, meanwhile, has had reason to be the truly grumpy one of the pair. His Wild, after a sloppy 5-3 loss at Boston on Monday, sits at 5-6-2 and in last place in the Central Division. Boudreau did not hide his displeasure postgame

“We weren’t very competitive the first two periods,” he said. “Those were probably the most embarrassing two periods I’ve been involved with — a lot of teams.” There was more, which you can see here on this video of his postgame remarks.

“What’s going on is people aren’t doing their jobs,” Boudreau said.

Even when his team was playing better, Boudreau wasn’t afraid to deliver critiques with a blunt edge. Through 13 games, though, the Wild is making him a Thibodeau level of cranky.

Wild needs more performances from Dubnyk like the one he delivered Saturday

It’s hard to split Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk’s 2016-17 neatly into two halves, but this much is true: during his first 33 appearances last season, he posted a .940 save percentage with dazzling analytics-based numbers to match. The Wild, in turn, was 28-9-5 through the last of those 33 appearances — a 3-2 win at Chicago.

In Dubnyk’s final 32 regular-season appearances last season, he posted a .905 save percentage. The Wild’s overall play was eroding as well — as was coach Bruce Boudreau’s faith in his primary backup goalie option, Darcy Kuemper. Minnesota’s record over those final 40 games was 21-16-3 — not bad, but hardly the blistering pace at which it had started.

Dubnyk was generally good for the Wild in the postseason, giving up 10 goals in the five-game loss to St. Louis. He had the misfortune of being outplayed by Blues goalie Jake Allen and had his series bookended by allowing game-winning overtime goals in Games 1 and 5.

Alex Stalock made a couple of good starts toward the end of last season and earned the primary backup job for the Wild this season as Kuemper was allowed to move on. Still, it was clear when 2017-18 began that Dubnyk — who agreed to a six-year contract extension in 2015 — was the main guy.

Through the first eight games this season, Dubnyk had started six games and Stalock had started two.

Minnesota registered a badly needed 6-4 victory over the Islanders on Thursday after starting a six-game homestand with a sleeping pill of a 1-0 loss against Vancouver in which Dubnyk played but wasn’t overly tested.

The six-goal outburst against New York was good for the locker room, but it was also the fourth time in his first six starts this season that Dubnyk allowed at least four goals. What the Wild hadn’t done much up until Saturday was win a competitive, tight, low-scoring game. If anything, the Wild’s best example of that came when Stalock helped Minnesota to a 4-2 win at Calgary the previous weekend.

I was curious if Dubnyk would get the call against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins on Saturday. He did, and I have to think it was an important test. The Wild probably wasn’t on the verge of a goaltending controversy — or at least conundrum — but if there were any whispers of such a thing Dubnyk alleviated some concerns with 29 saves in a 2-1 win.

Still, in the early sample size of 2017-18, and even with that strong start against Pittsburgh, Dubnyk’s numbers are rough: a .905 save percentage (same as the second half of last season) and 3.04 GAA in seven starts. His peripheral numbers match those more traditional stats: out of 59 goalies this season with at least 100 minutes played, Dubnyk ranks 47th in save percentage on shots deemed to have come from high-danger areas, and 48th on shots from medium-danger areas. Stalock, in an even smaller sample of just two games, is 23rd and 16th, respectively.

To get where it wants to go this season, particularly as it works through early injuries to key players, it’s pretty simple to conclude the Wild will need Dubnyk to be more like he was Saturday more often. Ideally, Stalock would probably make 25 starts this season to help keep Dubnyk fresher than he’s been in past years when the Wild leaned more heavily on him out of necessity.

It will be interesting, though, to see how the split actually plays out. If Dubnyk gets on a roll, will Boudreau be able to give him the rest he needs? And if Dubnyk struggles to some degree, will Stalock find himself in more games than we thought?

Wild and Wolves Tuesday: Two contrasting, unwatchable styles

On Tuesday, the Wild and Timberwolves received dramatically different types of information about key players missing games. They also responded in dramatically different ways during games Tuesday.

Both events were meaningful. Both games were unwatchable. Both teams got what they deserved.

Let’s start with the Wild, which announced Tuesday that forward Zach Parise underwent microdiscectomy surgery that morning and is expected to miss the next 8-10 weeks.

Minnesota had played without Parise for the first six games this season already, while also losing other key forwards to injuries along the way. Tuesday’s announcement, though, added relative permanence to the Wild’s position. No Parise, probably until at least Christmas. No Charlie Coyle for several more weeks. No Nino Niederreiter for at least the next handful of games.

Head coach Bruce Boudreau had already been grousing about the Wild playing too loose early in the season. Minnesota scored at least four goals in four of its first six games. The problem was the Wild also gave up at least four goals in four of those games as well. The result was a 2-2-2 record going into Tuesday night’s game against Vancouver at Xcel Energy Center.

Whether it was at Boudreau’s urging or Wild players sensed that a defensive struggle might be their best bet to win given the Parise news and the rest of their firepower woes, the game unfolded in yawn-inducing fashion. There was little action either way, and even fewer scoring chances. Vancouver, playing the finale of a five-game road trip spanning just eight days, seemed more than happy to oblige.

The Canucks broke a scoreless tie midway through the third period. In most games, a one-goal lead doesn’t feel insurmountable. On Tuesday, you might as well have turned the TV off. The final, predictably, was 1-0.

Boudreau lamented afterward that, “We played not to win. We played to tie the game. You can’t play that way.’’

If his lads were too loose early in the year, they were too tight for his liking on Tuesday.

The paying customers, once they were nudged awake by the final horn, surely left Xcel Energy Center feeling like their money wasn’t exactly well spent. Had they instead crossed the river to check out the remodeled Target Center, where the Timberwolves were hosting the Pacers, they would have felt the same way.

In that game, it was learned shortly before tipoff that an illness had knocked Jimmy Butler out of commission. Shabazz Muhammad started in his place.

Butler’s absence will be far shorter than Parise’s (though Jimmy will miss Wednesday’s game at Detroit, too). But just as was the case with the Wild, Butler being out seemed to dictate much of what happened to the Wolves.

Butler was brought in as a two-way player and kindred spirit to head coach Tom Thibodeau — someone who could carry the message, with both actions and words, that it takes a professional, two-way effort to win consistently in the NBA.

In Butler’s absence, this madness ensued: The Wolves lost 130-107 to the mediocre (at best) Pacers, allowing Indiana to make two out of every three field goals attempted (and more than three of every four in the second half). If there wasn’t a consensus reached among players that defense was optional on a night when Butler was gone, it was at least implied.

When the cat is away, apparently the KAT — and the rest of his teammates — will play no defense.

“I didn’t like our body language when it wasn’t going our way,” Thibodeau said, while also lamenting noting that it is possible to win a lot of different ways — something the Butler-less Wolves have yet to consistently learn.

If the Wild fans were sleepy Tuesday, Wolves fans were awake and angry — booing the home team on multiple occasions.

One team responded to adversity by playing too tight, and the other responded by playing too loose. Neither looked fully engaged. It’s hard to say which is worse, but both teams deserved their fates Tuesday.

How much will Wild miss Zach Parise? Why didn’t he get surgery sooner?

The Wild announced that forward Zach Parise underwent successful microdiscectomy surgery Tuesday, a procedure that is expected to keep him out for the next 8-10 weeks. With Parise out potentially until Christmas or even calendar year 2018, let’s take a look at five questions regarding this announcement:

*What is Parise’s injury exactly? Parise, 33, is believed to have initially injured his back in January 2016. He played through it, but re-aggravated it shortly before the playoffs that season. Parise missed all six of the Wild’s postseason games as Minnesota was knocked out in the first round by Dallas.

He rehabbed that offseason and played 69 games for the Wild last year but scored just 19 goals — though he did have two goals and an assist in the Wild’s five-game playoff loss to St. Louis. Parise reportedly felt healthy going into training camp, but he experienced a setback and has not appeared in any of the Wild’s first six games. The back injury was causing weakness and pain in his legs — and the surgery is expected to alleviate that.

*Why not get surgery sooner? That’s a natural question to ask considering how long Parise has been afflicted by back trouble. That said, it’s important to remember that back injuries can be finicky and that the impact on his legs is believed to be a relatively new symptom. As noted in that above link from spine-health.com, this surgery is more about alleviating the symptoms in legs than the back. The surgery “relieves the pressure on a spinal nerve root by removing the material causing the pain. During the procedure, a small part of the bone over the nerve root and/or disc material under the nerve root is taken out.

*How much will the Wild miss Parise? This part is debatable, but let’s start here: Parise’s game has slipped over the past couple seasons. Whether that’s a function of age, this injury, some other factor or a combination of a bunch of things, it’s true.

Parise finished eighth on the team in points last season (42), and even if he hadn’t missed time he wouldn’t have finished higher than sixth. He averaged 0.61 points per game — his lowest total in a full year since his rookie season more than a decade ago.

More telling, perhaps, are his puck possession stats. For much of his career, Parise’s teams (New Jersey and Minnesota) controlled the puck for about 55 percent of the time in even strength situations when he was on the ice (a stat known as Corsi). Over the last two seasons, that mark has been just under 50 percent (49.7). Parise isn’t solely responsible for that, but it is telling.

All that said, Parise is still a top-six forward on this team and belongs on one of the first two lines. He works well in small spaces and has 96 career power play goals. His determination can lift a line — and perhaps an entire lineup. He will be missed while he is gone — just not as much as he would have been missed four years ago.

*What does the Wild lineup look like for the next several weeks? Thin. Very thin. Minnesota has played several games without Mikael Granlund, who is battling a groin injury. Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter are weeks away from coming back. That’s a lot of offense missing from a team that can’t afford to dig too much of a hole. The Wild is 2-2-2 after a strange first six games and how has six consecutive home games. We’ll see how the depleted lineup responds.

 

*What’s the long-term impact? The best-case scenario is that Parise returns in the time frame indicated by the Wild and can resume playing relatively symptom-free this season and beyond. If the Wild can hang in through all these injuries, it could be a force down the stretch if everyone is healthy.

The worst-case scenario is two-fold: Shorter-term, if the Wild can’t at least tread water with all these injuries, the season could take a bad turn. Longer-term, if the surgery doesn’t fix all of Parise’s problems and his back or leg problems linger, he still has seven years left on his contract after this one.