Zulgad: Wild at loss for answers after flat performance extends skid
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Wild held a players only meeting following Monday night's loss in Phoenix. On Wednesday, the team's top line was shuffled in an attempt to create an offensive spark. On Thursday morning, the same players who had hashed things out in Phoenix emphasized to each other that their game against the Vancouver Canucks would carry a playoff atmosphere.
This meant that after losing two consecutive road games there should have been no reason why the Wild wouldn't come out on Thursday evening with a sense of urgency and a bounce in their step before their home crowd at Xcel Energy Center.
The problem is the exact opposite happened.
The Wild were incredibly flat in the opening period playing against their Northwest Division rival. They were outshot 9-3 in the opening 20 minutes and trailed 2-0 when the horn sounded. An attempt to rally in the second period fell far short and as the Wild skated off the ice following a 4-1 loss to the Canucks they were accompanied by boos from a crowd that expected far more from a team that added big-name free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter this offseason.
"This would have been a good chance for us to bounce back after not winning on the road trip but we didn't show up," said an obviously disgusted Parise. "(It's that) simple."
The Wild's three-game losing streak dropped their record to 4-5-1 and turned up the pressure even more on general manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo.
Here's the most troubling thing about the way the Wild is playing.
No one, including Yeo, has any idea what's gone wrong and it appears there is no real clue about how to fix it. Yeo has juggled all of his forward lines, he has attempted to maintain his composure at every turn, something he did not do last season, and Thursday he sent struggling rookie Mikael Granlund to the press box to watch the game as a healthy scratch.
None of it worked and the fact the lockout-shortened season is only 48 games means that time is running out.
"It's not fun to have a game like that on home ice," Yeo said.
The Wild has only 22 goals in 10 games, putting them third from last in the NHL ahead of only Colorado (21) and Los Angeles (20).
The Wild's lone goal on Thursday came from defenseman Tom Gilbert on a power play. The team now has three goals in its past three games. Yeo's decision to put rookie Charlie Coyle on the top line with center Mikko Koivu and Parise did not result in any points, although Parise did have eight shots on goal and Coyle had a couple of excellent scoring chances.
Winger Dany Healtey, demoted to the second line, did not have a shot on goal.
"We have guys that are struggling right now," Yeo said. "Guys that are pressing and squeezing their stick and confidence is down. To me, it's like, 'OK, 10 games, no training camp, no exhibition games, it's a clean slate for those guys right now.' ... The more you press, the more you squeeze your stick, the cuter you try to get, the more you try to force things. All the things that it takes to score goals, believe it or not you start to hurt yourself."
For any long-time NHL fan in the state of Minnesota, the performance the Wild put on Thursday was a frightening flashback to the North Stars of the early to mid-1980s. Those teams were filled with talent that often underachieved.
Back in those days, a flat performance by the Stars would cause one to wonder if general manager Lou Nanne would lose patience with his coach and make a quick change.
Fletcher seems like a more patient man than Nanne, but if the Wild continues to play the way it did against the Canucks, one has to wonder if Fletcher will decide the only way to provide his team with a spark is to make a coaching change.
The problem is this would be an indictment of Fletcher, too. He's the guy who hired Todd Richards out of the minor leagues to coach the Wild, decided he had made the wrong choice and then passed on guys with NHL experience to again dip into the minors and hire Yeo.
Continued flat performances, however, might leave Fletcher feeling as if he has no choice but to make a change. If the Wild misses the playoffs and the Xcel Energy Center is empty this spring, owner Craig Leopold likely will look to make significant changes that could involve Fletcher and Yeo.
Leopold did not shell out huge money to Parise and Suter with the intention that the Wild was entering any type of rebuilding project. This roster was put together to win now and anything short of that likely will be deemed unacceptable.
Yeo knows that.
That's why as he attempted to keep his cool on Thursday night, it was clear this streak of losses was eating away at him. The frustration on his face, did not match his words, which were measured.
"We all feel pressure," Yeo said when asked about his own job status. "We put the pressure on ourselves. We want to win. Having said that, it's where we're at at this point of the year. Certainly the season could have gone different ways, different times and you could argue that we could have won a couple of games earlier in the year and then we'd be feeling great.
"The reality is then we would have faced adversity later. We're facing our adversity now, and I don't think that's a terrible thing to be honest. I really don't. We faced it last year and we didn't do a very good job. Needless to say, obviously, we had a lot of injuries but this is a different group. That's one thing to remember. This is a different group than last year. This is a group that I have full confidence in that will pull out of this."
Yeo's job might depend on him being right.