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Could be better.

Could be worse.

A week into their season, the Wild are a shoulder shrug, a ho-hum 2-2 during a neck-and-neck race between their strides and setbacks.

Can they pick up the pace?

"We're level," coach Dean Evason said. "We haven't seen even close to our best game in all four, but we haven't seen us being terrible either. So, we need to get going a little more."

Through four games, the Wild have run the gamut, in cause and effect.

They opened the season with precise defending and a 41-save shutout from goaltender Filip Gustavsson in a textbook 2-0 win over Florida. But two nights later, the Wild changed the locks on their zone and were overrun 7-3 by Toronto.

Fast forward to Tuesday, and the team recalibrated with its experience.

While playing short a man because of recent injuries and a salary-cap pinch, the Wild leaned into a special-teams battle that downgraded the importance of rolling four lines; their power play (three goals) and penalty kill (two) were behind a savvy 5-2 victory over a rebuilding Montreal lineup.

But then on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild were flustered by a two-goal, 12-second blitz from Los Angeles in the first period that started after a controversial ruling went against them.

Pierre-Luc Dubois kicked the puck ahead before it rolled five-hole on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, but the NHL decided after a video review that Dubois got a stick on the puck before it entered the net to negate the illegal kick. On the very next shift, Dubois scored again and the Wild were routed 7-3.

"Obviously would have been nice to get that one called back," Fleury said. "But it is what it is. We gotta move on. It's a long game. There's still a lot of minutes to be played."

Not only did the Wild outshoot the Kings the rest of the way, they had four power plays compared to none for Los Angeles — just the 12th time in franchise history the Wild played a penalty-free game.

Coming off that scoring spree vs. the Canadiens, the power play was lights-out, right?


The Wild went 0-for-4 and managed just four shots.

"Our power play has to be better in a game like that," Evason said. "We needed them to score tonight. Obviously, we didn't have a penalty kill. Our special teams could have made the difference here tonight, and they did not."

Up and down. Back and forth. On and off.

That describes the Wild right now going into a Saturday matchup vs. Columbus in St. Paul.

"Better than last season," said Fleury, referring to the 0-3 start. "But obviously we want more consistency and more wins."

Achieving both would probably be easier if the Wild were at full strength.

Instead, they are without captain Jared Spurgeon, winger Matt Boldy and defenseman Alex Goligoski, all sidelined because of injuries. Getting healthy might be a prerequisite to the Wild revealing their potential, but they can't hit the pause button until that happens.

Still, they have an ally to help them shift out of neutral, and that's time.

"We're not super happy," defenseman Jake Middleton said. "I wouldn't say we're completely distraught or anything at the moment. We're only four games in. We would like to string together a few in a row obviously. But with it only being four games, the first four, fortunately there's a lot of hockey left."