Fair or not, the belief among the masses is that Mike Yeo’s coaching tenure with the Wild has been stained by late-season tumbles.
Last year, the Wild went from Northwest Division leader to a team needing to win its regular-season finale to make the playoffs because it went 5-8-1 in April.
Two seasons ago, the Wild went from No. 1 in the NHL to missing the playoffs, thanks to only 15 victories in its final 52 games.
Yeo is sensitive to this appraisal; and the truth is, the Wild’s history of late-season fades does precede Yeo.
But after Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Xcel Energy Center, Yeo came to his postgame news conference armed with numbers. Trying to blockade his players from the outside noise of another late-season Wild implosion, Yeo did his best to persuade everybody that they needn’t think the sky is falling.
The Wild is 2-3-4 since the March 5 trade deadline. That’s two victories in the past nine games. The Wild has won one of its past five home games (1-1-3), and its lead over ninth-place Dallas is down to six points.
“You could also say we’ve got a point in nine of our last 11 games,” said Yeo, staring at a yellow piece of paper. “You could also say that was our first regulation loss in 11 games at home (7-0-3 since Jan. 14). You could also say that we’re 7-3-4 in our last 14 games. So, of course, are we sitting here and saying that we’re completely on top of it? No, definitely not.
“There’s a lot of things that we have to do better. [Penalty kill] is No. 1 on our list. And finding ways to win a lot of these one-goal games. … We’re not completely happy or satisfied, believe me. But at the same time, what I hope is we don’t try to turn this into a big story of, ‘Oh no, here we go again.’ Because I can tell you that inside the room, we don’t have that feeling. ”
Yeo admitted in his next breath, “Obviously it’s up to us to make sure that we prove it, but what I hope is that we start getting excited about what’s coming. It’s up to us build that, I understand that. It’s up to us to win games here. But we’re in the middle of a tough stretch, we have to grind through it, we have to find a way to win a game [Sunday].”
The Wild got on a plane after Saturday’s game for Detroit, where it will close a home-and-home series at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings are 8-0-2 at home since Jan. 20.
The Red Wings are severely depleted by injuries. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Stephen Weiss, Dan Cleary, Jonathan Ericsson and others are sidelined. Still, they’re young, fast and fighting for their playoff lives.
Saturday, the NHL’s hottest goal scorer, Gustav Nyquist, scored the winning goal 5 minutes, 19 seconds into the third period — five minutes after Wild youngster Charlie Coyle tied the score on his first career penalty shot 15 seconds into the period.
Since Jan. 20, Nyquist has 16 goals. It was the fourth time in six starts Darcy Kuemper gave up at least three goals.
In the other net, Jimmy Howard was outstanding. He had several robberies, including on Mikko Koivu, Jared Spurgeon and Zach Parise at the doorstep.
But he was powerless to stop Coyle after the youngster created an open net for himself with a sweeping forehand.
“The puck was hopping a bit, too,” Coyle said. “It almost threw me off. Maybe it threw him off.”
Eight of the Wild’s past nine losses have been one-goal losses (including shootouts and overtime).
“We can’t keep letting these points go to waste,” Coyle said. “It’s coming down to the wire here and we’ve got to make the most of it.”