Remember earlier this season, not long ago in fact, when everyone soiled their unmentionables over the headline, “Minnesota Wild First in Western Conference?” Oh, how things change.

For those of us feeling bummed or pissed or confused about the Blackhawks’ latest string of losses, we should thank our snowblowers that we’re not Minnesota Wild fans.

The Wild have two wins — that’s TWO WINS — in their last 13 games. The second one came against San Jose just this past Tuesday, when they blew a 2-goal lead and needed a shootout to finally get the W. They now sit clinging desperately to 7th place in the Western Conference, having dropped from 1st in just over a month. Unbelievable.

Guess they should have held on to Cam Barker, huh?

What’s wrong with the Wild, you ask? Well, apart from having uniform colors better suited for Santa’s elves there’s nothing on the surface that jumps out at me. But one interesting story of the Wild’s season may give you some perspective.

Early on, a young defenseman named Marco Scandella was turning heads and drawing comparisons to departed veteran Brent Burns. He was 3G + 3A with a flat plus/minus through December 10th as the Wild ascended to the top of the standings. Then, for some reason, things went south — badly. Scandella didn’t notch another single point, and dropped to -10 in just 11 games. His confident, aggressive play disappeared, and his game went with it. On Monday, with 8 healthy defensemen on the roster, Scandella was sent to minor league affiliate Houston.

Scandella’s rise and fall mimics the Wild’s season thus far: achieving beyond their talent level for the first two months of the season, only to have reality send them crashing down like Lindsay Lohan’s acting career.

A little digging shows that there may be one part of the Wild’s game that is lacking. Defense is not a serious problem, with the Wild sitting 6th in the league in combined goals-against, and they have a top-10 penalty kill. The “best players” are being the Wild’s “best players” on a consistent basis, almost to the point of absurdity. Newly-acquired power forward Dany Heatley has points in 14 of his last 20 games played. And as if that wasn’t good enough, Miko Koivu has points in 17 of his last 20 — which includes 6 multi-point games.

But it appears to be goal support that has killed the Wild this last month. In this seemingly endless stretch of losses, the Wild have scored more than two goals only once. That was against Chicago back on December 14th. We still managed to nick them in the shootout 4-3.

So the key to getting past Minnesota will be to bottle up Heatley and Koivu, and find a way to penetrate the Wild’s defense. Given the Blackhawks’ difficulty in performing even the most remedial tasks of late, this will by no means be easy.

The ‘Hawks did have a good night on Tuesday, however. We beat Columbus 5-2; Viktor Stalberg got a hat-trick; Dave Bolland notched his 10th of the year — another shorty, quickly becoming his trademark; Jonathan Toews hit the post on a deflection from Duncan Keith’s slapper (mind you, the puck deflected off his face); call-up fan favorite Ben Smith scored in his first game back with the big club; rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes continued their strong play, earning 16 minutes of ice time each; and Nick Leddy was only a minus-2 — we’ll ignore for a moment that this is the 2nd time in 3 games that he was on the ice for every… single… goal… the opponents scored.

But that was Columbus: worst team in the league, and a team we had beaten twice already this year. Tonight’s game against Minnesota is the warm-up for a string of tough opponents that includes Detroit, San Jose, Florida (currently LEADING the SouthEast Division), Nashville (twice) and Vancouver. The effort and energy we put in against Columbus is going to have to be coupled with more contributions from across the lineup if we are even going to clear the .500 mark against these teams.

Administrative nonsense: Minnesota’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse are both on Injured Reserve, as are Patrick Sharp and Marcus Kruger for Chicago. The Blackhawks’ Daniel Carcillo is still serving his 7-game suspension — with a still-undisclosed knee injury. Niklas Backstrom got the night off against San Jose, so he will likely be in net for Minnesota; and Ray Emery will be between the pipes for Chicago.

7:30pm puck drop at the U.C. tonight. Comcast SportsNet has your TV coverage; WGN AM-720 has the game on broadcast radio; XM subscribers can find the game on channel 206; and Sirius premiere customers should look for the game on channel 217.

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