Home inequity: Wild soars on the road, struggles in St. Paul
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Who wants to spend time in Minnesota in January anyway? Certainly not the Minnesota Wild, or so it seems.
It's cold and snowy and dark a lot of the time, and when you're not playing well, the hockey-savvy fans that fill the Xcel Energy Center - as they did on Sunday, as a sellout crowd witnessed a 4-0 loss to the Dallas Stars - will let you know it. After playing so well on the road recently, the Wild just can't seem to get then hang of things consistently when wearing the dark sweaters.
"I think there is a confidence right now when we go out on the road, which we didn't have last season," said Wild coach Todd Richards, who noted that there were no boo birds, only encouragement this time, from the fans. "I definitely feel there was a confidence at home last season. I still think we feel good about coming here and playing. We've got great fans and it was a great crowd today."
Yet among at least some of the players, there seems to be a growing trepidation about playing in St. Paul, and the patience of the Minnesota fans quickly wearing thin. After Sunday's loss, the Wild is now 10-10-2 at home, and 11-6-3 on the road.
"It's a tough atmosphere here some nights, especially when we don't do anything in the first five minutes or on the first power play, it seems like things go quiet pretty quickly," said Cal Clutterbuck, who leads the team with 13 goals and rarely gives fans a reason to be quiet, with his propensity for hitting everything that's not wearing the same color sweater as him.
Some must have seen Sunday's offensive no-show coming, what with the Wild playing a home game less than 24 hours after an impressive 4-0 win in Pittsburgh. But despite falling to 1-6-3 in the second game of back-to-back outings, the team would not take that easy out when it was offered.
"No excuses at all," Richards said. "There was a way to win the game tonight and we weren't able to execute that. Our tanks were low, but I think that's when you have to play a smart game. The first thing to go when fatigue sets in is your mind. And we did some uncharacteristic things as far as how we have been playing hockey."
The good news is that the road beckons again. The Wild is playing eight of 12 games away from home this month, and heads for the airport again soon, playing in Nashville on Tuesday night. For whatever reason, that's a good thing for this team.
"Maybe we're thinking about it too much," said defenseman Nick Schultz. "On the road we just seem to get out there and get down to work. We get results away from the Xcel, we just need to get down to basics at home, simple hockey to start winning some games on home ice."
Hey, it's January. It's cold. There's not much sunlight. There's sure to be more snow on the way. Why would you want to be in Minnesota at this time of year anyway, right?