In panic mode, Wild need to get things together to have happy New Year
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - When you're dragging all of the troubles of 2013 into 2014, is it really a Happy New Year?
That's a question coach Mike Yeo and members of the Minnesota Wild must be asking as the clock strikes Midnight, as the team that seemed so solid just six weeks ago dug a few feet deeper in the ever-growing hole that the current season is becoming.
In losing for a franchise-record sixth time in a row on Tuesday, the Wild showed some spark, and played a much tighter game defensively after giving up 11 goals in their two previous games. They held the injury-riddled St. Louis Blues to just a pair.
In the end, all it meant was another loss, 2-1 this time, with Ryan Suter's goal in the final seconds ruining the shutout bid by his former Wisconsin Badgers teammate, Blues goalie Brian Elliott.
Afterward, Suter implied that the Wild are quickly approaching rock bottom as we flip the calendar to the New Year.
"A couple mistakes cost us and that's how it's been lately," said Suter, who has two goals this season - both of them in the last two games. "We did a lot of good things. We played a solid defensive game like we wanted to focus on playing. Like I said, a couple of mistakes and it cost us. When things go bad, usually you have to hit the bottom before you can start going and we're as close to the bottom as we can get."
Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press Tweeted after the game that a source has said Yeo will not be fired on Wednesday, and will coach the team on Thursday when the Buffalo Sabres come to town. And if Yeo wanted to mount a defense of his job, he didn't do it with the players after the game on Tuesday.
"I've stopped talking in the locker room the last couple of days," Yeo said, once again fruitlessly searching for answers to this historic slump. "There's only so many things you can say after a loss. To me, that's their time right now. The message is going to be the same tomorrow when we get to practice. I kind of want to give them the opportunity to have some time to talk and to get their own stuff out. We have practice so we'll be able to get our message out then."
If good teams find ways to win - as the Blues are doing with two of their top scorers on the shelf - the Wild lately have found new ways to almost, but not quite, win.
"We expected a great effort from them and I think we got that. We handled it pretty well," said Blues forward T.J. Oshie, who scored his team's first goal. "The first period they really took it to us and we got saved by our goalie. After that we started to get pucks behind them and that led to our offense."
In a defensive game, mistakes make the difference, and Minnesota made the critical mistake that allowed Oshie to break a scoreless tie in the middle period.
Jaden Schwartz, who later scored his sixth goal in six games, forced Wild center Mikael Granlund to cough up the puck in front of the Minnesota net, then flipped a pass to Oshie, who skated in alone on Josh Harding, scoring on a deft stickhandling move.
Harding had 21 saves in the loss, falling to 14-3-0 at home this season. By means of comparison, the Blues blocked 24 shots, meaning that their skaters had as many saves as their goalie.
"Yep, you got to give them all the credit the way they play defensively," Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. "But at the same time, you just have to find a way. Defensive game was there. You have to build it. It's not going to happen in one night. It's not perfect."
Asked when it's time to panic, Yeo implied that the big red button has already been pushed.
"It's been evident in our play that we haven't been the most composed group right now. Whatever that reason is, we have to figure it out. Guys have to figure out how to come and perform at a high level."
If Yeo is to survive long into 2014, and the Wild are going to get back to playoff contender form, that's a New Year's resolution they will need to keep.