One victory in the past seven games has caused tension around the Wild. It was evident on and off the ice Monday.
Mike Yeo didn’t slam his stick or storm off the ice like his well-publicized tirade last January, but the coach made his irritation with the Wild’s recent play very loud and clear before practice.
Yeo, who has blasted the team after each of its past three losses, huddled players and lit into them during an expletive-laden speech. He told players to stop moping, to get their act together and if they don’t start building their game for the playoffs, this is all one big waste of time.
Later, in the locker room, defenseman Ryan Suter voiced his dismay with Yeo’s decision to scramble the top two defense pairs, leaving him without a right-shot, namely Jared Spurgeon, as his partner.
“I don’t know what’s going on there. He decided to change things up,” Suter said.
Monday’s events made for an interesting morning hours before the Wild boarded a plane for Tuesday’s game against the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
“It was not designed to be a fun practice,” Yeo said when asked the objective of Monday’s practice. “It’s about looking in the mirror, and we’re not good enough right now. It’s about some harsh reality, and that’s not fun. It’s not fun to hear, it’s not fun to accept, but winners respond.”
Players were surprised Yeo started practice by screaming. The Wild is 1-4-2 in its past seven and went winless in the last three games of a four-game homestand, but Zach Parise said the team arrived ready to move on after Sunday’s day off.
“I came to the rink with a good attitude and ready to work on some stuff and excited to practice,” Parise said. “I don’t think any of the players came here with the attitude to pout around or mope around. We were ready to work and ready to practice.”
Added Suter: “We’re looking for leadership. We need leaders. We need guys, coaching staff, players, we need people that are going to lead. It does no good to pout and get [ticked] off at each other. You’ve got to come together and dig out of this. Now’s when you need leadership more than ever. It’s easy to coach and be a leader when things are going good.”
Suter, who is tied for third among NHL defensemen in scoring, found himself reunited with his partner of the past two seasons, left-shot Jonas Brodin. Marco Scandella, expected to return Tuesday after missing five games because of a lower-body injury, was with Spurgeon, his longtime partner before this season.
Suter was surprised: “Like I’ve said, I need to play with a right-handed defenseman to give me more options, neutral zone, offensively and even coming out of D zone.” He then added of Brodin, “It’s not fair to put a guy on his off side.”
Suter didn’t know if the tinkering was only for practice or if those would be the pairs in Chicago. Asked if he was OK with the move, Suter said, “No. We’ll talk about it. We’ll figure it out. Maybe for certain points you have to do this to play against certain guys and situations. I know Scandy’s coming back, so I don’t think it’s going to be an end a result. He’s the coach.”
After his comments, Suter did make clear that if the coaches think this is the best way to get victories, he will accept it. The coaches are looking for better overall defensive play from the team, but part of the reason for Monday’s changes might be because of Matt Dumba’s continued struggles.
“Our job as coaches is to decide what’s best for the group, and it’s also our job to surround players and give them the best chance to succeed,” Yeo said. “Our group of defensemen is as good as any group in the NHL, so we should be able to put different guys on the ice with whoever and we should be able to be successful as long as we’re all on the same page.”
One way for the Wild to lessen the growing tension is to stop this skid in its tracks. The Wild is suddenly healthy for the first time since October. There are no excuses anymore.
“I think we better get it moving now or it’s going to be a short season,” Suter said. “We just all got to get on the same page. We all want to win. We just have to go about it the right way. … We better start figuring it out because it takes a toll on you when you do have these slumps like this.”
Yeo has mentioned often lately that players need to buy in to the way the Wild must play to be successful. Parise said he “wouldn’t question the amount that these guys want to play hard and want to win and buy in. We have a hard-working group of players that are hungry to learn and hungry to get better.”
That needs to start now, though. The Wild doesn’t want to be forced into putting together a miracle second half like the team somehow achieved the past two seasons.
“I don’t think we want to sit here and say to ourselves, ‘We can go 30-2 after Christmas,’ ” Parise said. “No. 1, that’s not realistic and I don’t think we want to put ourselves in that position again. You look at the standings, we’ve had a tough last stretch, but we’re still right in the thick of it. We just have to start playing better and that’s it.”