It is December, and Coach Richards is the sun! With all - and I do mean all - due respect to Sweet Willy S, the Wild and its fans are surely star-crossed lovers this season.
The team, so horrid early in the season, has managed to pull off a rather stunning 6-2-2 run over their last 10 games (10-3-3 over their last 16.)
However, the yang to that yin is that the Wild has moved up in the Western Conference standings from 15th to....well, tied for 12th. And the Wild, with 29 points, is still closer to 15th (Anaheim, 26th) than it is 8th (Nashville, Dallas, 34 points.)
But, let that not take away from the improvements on the ice that are fueling this run.
The Wild is efforting much, much better and more consistently. You can even see the fruits of Richards' emphasis on forechecking, and with more than one forward. They're creating turnovers in the offensive zone - which, having spent so many seasons watching Lemaire hockey, I admit I had to rub my eyes and look it up in the hockey dictionary to be sure of what I was seeing.
They are really skating hard - in all three zones. This is not to say they weren't skating hard before, so maybe it's that they're still skating hard, but they're going with a purpose. It's almost reminiscent of Fred Shero's infamous line "Take the shortest route to the puck carrier and arrive in ill-humor." Well, apart from Richards' definition of ill-humor is more like "be prepared to pressure the poor bastard into giving up the puck" where Shero's was more like "be prepared to beat the snot out of the sonofabitch, or don't bother coming back to our bench."
They're battling better - and to greater success. This was a common refrain from Richards earlier in the season, and only recently have we begun to see what he was talking about. And it looks good.
They're shooting the puck. This is an unscientific analysis, but the Wild appears to be taking approximately 247% more shots than in previous seasons. Now, it might be a coincidence that they have more goals this year through 28 games (78) than they did last season (74) or in 07-08 (70), but it might also be a by-product of what seems to be more shots-taken.
So, while it's going to take an extended stretch of playing at a 0.625 winning percentage to make an assault on 8th place in the west, at least there are some signs of life, and the hockey is considerably more watch-able than it was in the early stages of the season.