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Zulgad: January proved to be a month to forget for Vikings, Wild and Wolves

By Judd Zulgad

In an ideal world sports are supposed to provide a reprieve from our day-to-day concerns. Excellence might not be the norm, but competence from the local teams would be nice.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see much of it in January.

The Vikings, Wild and Timberwolves went a combined 6-25 during the month, giving them a woeful winning percentage of .194. Technically, the Wild will claim they were 3-7-3 because they got points in either shootout or overtime losses but the reality is those still were defeats.

Throw in the 0-9 record posted by the Gophers men’s basketball team and the cumulative winning percentage falls to .150.

So how bad was it? Here’s a look at a month Minnesota sports fans would like to erase from their memories.

Vikings (1-1)

Highlight: This one is easy. Mike Zimmer’s team concluded the regular season with a 20-13 victory at Green Bay on Jan. 3 to win the NFC North for the first time since 2009. The Vikings ended the Packers’ four-year reign as division champions and broke a streak of six consecutive games without a win (there was one tie) against Green Bay. Minnesota hadn’t won at Lambeau Field since 2009.

Lowlight: This one also is easy. All Blair Walsh had to do was make a 27-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter against Seattle in the opening-round playoff game and the Vikings would have pulled the upset and advanced to face the Arizona Cardinals. As everyone knows, that didn’t happen. Walsh missed wide left at TCF Bank Stadium to give the Seahawks a 10-9 victory in what was the third-coldest game in NFL history.

Prognosis: Despite the disappointment of how the season ended, the Vikings’ future appears to be bright. Minnesota went 7-9 in Zimmer’s first season and improved to 11-5 in his second year. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater remains a work in progress, but Zimmer has built an excellent defense that should only get better. A playoff berth was considered an accomplishment this season, but it’s likely it will be expected in 2016.

Wild (3-10 or 3-7-3, if you’re being kind)

Highlight: Slim pickings but it probably would be a 2-1 victory at Dallas on Jan. 9 in which Devan Dubnyk stopped 34 shots and Thomas Vanek and Ryan Carter scored goals for the Wild. It was the first time in four meetings this season that the Wild had beaten their Central-Division rivals. There also was a 4-2 win at Columbus on Jan. 5 and a 3-0 win at Los Angeles on Jan. 21. Yes, that’s right, the Wild did not win a game at Xcel Energy Center all month. Oh, wait, this was supposed to be the positive section.

Lowlight: Plenty of choices for coach Mike Yeo’s team as it endured yet another midseason slide. Let’s go with a five-game losing streak against New Jersey (2-1), Buffalo (3-2), Winnipeg (1-0), Nashville (3-0) and Anaheim (3-1) during which the Wild lost the first three at home.

Prognosis: Not good unless this team can find a way to generate offense. The Wild averaged only 1.76 goals per game in January. Minnesota entered the All-Star break out of the top eight (and the playoff picture) in the Western Conference, sitting two points behind Colorado and one point behind eighth-place Nashville. This is a team that should be contending for first place in the Central Division and have an eye on making a deep run in the playoffs. Instead, the Wild, once again, find themselves in crisis mode, looking for a way to break out of a slump that has become a tradition under Yeo.

Timberwolves (2-14)

Highlight: You have two choices: A 117-87 victory over Phoenix on Jan. 17 at Target Center or a 106-101 victory over visiting Memphis on Jan. 23. We’ll take Shabazz Muhammad’s 25-point performance that ended the Grizzlies’ four-game winning streak. The reason? Phoenix and the Wolves entered Tuesday with the same putrid record (14-35), while Memphis (29-20) was in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race.

Lowlight: There are so many choices, but we’re going to go with a 109-99 loss at Philadelphia on Jan. 4. That victory dropped the Wolves to 12-23 and helped the Sixers improve to 4-33. That was Minnesota’s third loss in a nine-game losing streak. It takes work to lose to the 76ers.

Prognosis: It seems like a long time ago that interim coach Sam Mitchell had the Wolves sitting at 8-8. The Wolves are certain to surpass the 16 victories they recorded in 2014-15, but this will mark the 12th consecutive season in which they have missed the playoffs. The death of top basketball executive and coach Flip Saunders just before the regular season has made this a very tough year for the franchise. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins provide hope for the future, but the Wolves will have some crucial offseason decisions to make, including whether to retain Mitchell as coach.

The post Zulgad: January proved to be a month to forget for Vikings, Wild and Wolves appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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