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Updated: December 29th, 2013 11:47pm
Myers: Mike Yeo not using excuses, but Wild not getting results lately

Myers: Mike Yeo not using excuses, but Wild not getting results lately

by Jess Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. - If you've had a happy holiday season, surrounded by friends and family, where all your troubles seemed to melt away, replaced by joy and triumph, consider yourself blessed.

If, by some chance, that mood of joy and comfort was ruined by a once-beloved friend who moved away only to come home and ruin your holiday, then you know roughly how the Minnesota Wild are feeling in these final bitterly cold days of 2013.

We knew they were a mess on the road, where the Wild went 0-4 in their last quartet of games away from home. But inside the Xcel Energy Center, it's all good, right? That was the easy story halfway through Sunday's game versus the woeful New York Islanders. The Wild led 3-0, were dominating both ends of the ice, and had a sellout crowd roaring. For just a moment, even with star forward Zach Parise in the pressbox, resting his injured foot, you could envision a scenario where they were able to ride their home dominance - 1987 Twins, anyone? - to another crack at the postseason.

And then that stress and tension created by the holiday season, which we so often hear about, surfaced at the corner of Kellogg and West Seventh, and this pastoral holiday scene became a nightmare.

Wild coach Mike Yeo paused at the podium for a long time before speaking after his team fell 5-4 to the Islanders on Sunday, for their fifth loss in a row. When he finally spoke, the assembled media got comments, but not answers.

"Don't ask me for the words because I've been thinking about it since the game ended and I can't find a word to describe the feeling right now," said Yeo, who suddenly finds himself on an increasingly hot seat in the midst of this arctic snap. "They scored the second goal and we stopped playing. Believe me, it's our job to find explanations, but Holy Cow, that's a tough one to find an explanation for. There's no reason, there's no excuse for what happened tonight."

One could use the excuse that without Parise they can't score, but they did score, putting up four goals for the second game in a row, including a pair from the defense. You could say that the goaltending was shaky, as Josh Harding played for the first time in more than a week and allowed more than three goals for the first time this season. But Yeo was having none of that.

"I'm not concerned," said the coach, after Harding had 26 saves. "It's one game and he's been great for us all year. ... I'm sure he'll bounce back."

Instead, on this night, it was the Islanders bouncing back. And as is so often the case with holiday stress and tension, it's those you know best causing the friction. The real trouble started when Cal Clutterbuck, playing his first game as a visitor in Minnesota after the late June trade which sent him to Long Island after five years with the Wild, scored to make it 3-2.

"We just changed the way we played, started getting back to what makes us successful," said Clutterbuck. "We kind of gave ourselves a kick in the butt here in the room and decided to kick it into high gear."

In the third period it was another name quite familiar to Minnesota hockey fans - former Gopher and St. Paul native Kyle Okposo - scoring twice for the Islanders to hand the Wild their first home loss in December.

"It was a good one to leave the hometown fans with," said Okposo, who played a full season at the University of Minnesota before jumping to the pro ranks midway through his sophomore year. "I heard about five or six cheers in the audience when I scored, but it's nice to come home and get a win like that."

That was supposed to be the script for the Wild - put the road woes aside, come home for four in a row, and get some wins. Instead they got another chapter added to this deepening drama that has them quickly fading in the Western Conference playoff race.

Yeo, never one for excuses, stressed the solidity of the system he's drilled into this team, and would not use Parise's foot or Mikael Granlund's gradual return to form from concussions or Harding's on-going battle with multiple sclerosis as any kind of reasoning for the troubles. For him, what's ailing the Wild sounds more like a job for a good sports psychologist to tackle.

"There's a lot that's between the ears right now that we have to fix," Yeo said.

Hey, the holidays can be a stressful time, right?

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers