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Updated: February 17th, 2012 4:35pm
Zulgad: Mixed messages from Mike Yeo have done him no favors

Zulgad: Mixed messages from Mike Yeo have done him no favors

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Mike Yeo was in the midst of pushing all the right buttons during the early portion of the NHL season when the brilliant observation was made by a talk-show host that the Minnesota Wild appeared to be incapable of falling into a lengthy stretch of poor play.

In his first season as an NHL head coach, Yeo seemed to have the answer every time something went wrong.

Exhibit A, B and C of this was a 3-2 Wild victory on Nov. 13 in Anaheim. It came in the third game of a four-game road trip and occurred after losses at San Jose and Los Angeles. The Wild's 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Kings on Nov. 12 had been especially ugly and the tightly-wound Yeo did not hide his disgust afterward.

The next day, he met with the players and cleared the air. It worked like a charm.

The Wild came out and beat the Ducks, then hopped an airplane for the long flight to Columbus and two nights later defeated the Blue Jackets, 4-2.

Yeo seemed to be a slump-proof coach, or at least a guy who was able to quickly identify a problem and make the proper correction.

There was little reason to doubt this line of thinking as the Wild went on a seven-game winning streak in late November and early December, putting themselves atop the NHL standings.

There was no concern when the Wild lost 2-1 on Dec. 13 in an extremely entertaining game at Winnipeg. A night later, the Chicago Blackhawks came to Xcel Energy Center and left with a 4-3 victory in a shootout.

Yeo was so pleased with what he had witnessed that he declared, "as far as I'm concerned, that's a win for our guys."

That might have seemed like a bit much, but Yeo's team had been playing so well it was difficult to criticize his enthusiasm. 

Three nights later, however, a pattern began to develop - and there is no sign that it has stopped.

The Wild lost 4-3 in a shootout to the New York Islanders at the X and this time Yeo didn't like what he had witnessed. "The last game [against Chicago] was a shootout loss that felt like a win," an upset Yeo said. "This was a shootout loss that felt like a loss."

This was the first clear indication that Yeo seemed to be living and dying with every game and that his emotions would be based solely on what he had just seen on the ice. He liked how his team had played against Chicago, so deep down it felt like a win. He was unhappy with the effort against the Islanders, so this was a loss that left him seething.

This much had become clear about the 38-year-old Yeo: Things were going to be black and white. Performances were either going to have been good or bad and there was little room for any in between.

This might sound fine given that every game has a winner and loser - no matter how idiotic the shootout might be -- but the NHL regular season is 82 games and runs for seven months if you include training camp. It can become a roller-coaster ride if you let it, and for the sake of everyone involved it's best to stay away from frequent feelings of euphoria or anger.

It has been two-plus months since Yeo's emotions began to yo-yo.

The fact his team was in first place in the league as mid-December approached has been long forgotten. The loss to the Jets began a spiral that has yet to stop.

Winnipeg visited the X on Thursday and with many fans having made the trek from Manitoba, the Jets handed the Wild a 4-3 shootout loss.

That means the Wild (25-23-9) has lost 22 of 27 since the Dec. 13 game in Winnipeg.

Thursday's loss also ended a four-game home-stand for the Wild during which they went 0-3-1 and dropped to 12th in the Western Conference standings. They are now six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot and behind three other none playoff teams.

Yeo, meanwhile, has continued his yo-yoing ways - an invitation for professional athletes to tune out their coach.

The Wild's run of four home games began on Feb. 9 with a 5-2 loss to Vancouver.

"We flat-out stink the last two months," Yeo said after the defeat. "We stink, and we come in and we don't have good enough effort from too many guys. That's concerning."

So what did Yeo say after Thursday's shootout loss?

"We're going through a real tough time," he told reporters. "I know a lot of other teams would not handle it the way that our guys are. We're coming out and we're fighting hard every game."

Remember, the Wild did not win one game on this home-stand. What changed to make Yeo see things so differently? In reality, very little.

One would hope that after the season, when things have settled down and Yeo can look at the bigger picture, he's going to realize his goal for 2012-13 should be keeping his message far more consistent.

The truth is that Yeo doesn't have a very good team to work with -- it scored seven goals in these four home games - and what happened early in the season obviously was an aberration.

Yeo worked extremely hard to get to the NHL as a head coach -- serving as an NHL assistant and minor league coach -- and there is no reason he can't be successful as the Wild begins to bring in some of the young talent it has accumulated. He seems to have many positive attributes as a bench boss.

But if Yeo wants to get the most out of these players, he's going to have to learn that his approach since mid-December probably hasn't been the best one.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Mike Yeo
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