Zach Parise understands the angst.
With fans and media “obsessed with playoffs, playoffs, playoffs” because the Wild hasn’t made it to the postseason since 2008, the Wild winger said Wednesday the most important thing for those inside the locker room is to not get caught up in the outside noise.
The Wild has hit the proverbial bump in the road. It has lost five of seven games and is only four points up on ninth place in the Western Conference.
Some players are underperforming. Chemistry and consistent play have been fragmented, in large part because of what injuries to Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley have done to the lineup and the time needed for new addition Jason Pominville to assimilate.
So Parise says what the final nine games must be about for the Wild is rediscovering that consistent quality play.
“I understand that this organization hasn’t been in the playoffs in a while and everyone’s excited that we have a chance,” Parise said. “But in here, we have to make sure we’re worried about the way we’re playing and not what’s down the road.
“We have to make sure we’re playing better, and if we do that, we’ll find ourselves still playing at the beginning of May.”
Coach Mike Yeo is trying to be patient and will keep his forward lines and his top two defense pairs intact to start Thursday’s game against the St. Louis Blues.
But there might come a point soon where the urgency of the situation would supersede everything and cause lineup shuffling.
“That’s the double-edged sword there, walking the line between trying to develop some chemistry and giving them some time to grow that or ‘are we playing with something that might not be the best solution?’ ” Yeo said. “But after two games and only giving up one goal, it’s probably a little bit early to be mixing it all up.
“It’s important that we go into the next game, certainly up front, with the same group that we had.”
So, the Parise-Mikko Koivu-Pominville line will remain together, as will the Cal Clutterbuck-Kyle Brodziak-Charlie Coyle line.
The line that has become a major concern is the Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Mikael Granlund-Devin Setoguchi line. That second line, which was so productive with Cullen pivoting for six weeks, has turned ice cold with the veteran about to miss his fifth game because of a lower-body injury.
The good news is Cullen is getting closer to a return, Yeo said, but if the line is futile again against St. Louis, the Wild might look at recalling rookie Jason Zucker and sitting the once-again slumping Bouchard.
Zucker was reassigned to Houston of the AHL on March 23. He scored four goals in his first 11 games, but after he was knocked from the lineup by a Corey Perry head shot, Bouchard lassoed back his second-line left wing spot with nine points in six games.
When Zucker returned, he played three scoreless games on the fourth line and was ultimately reassigned. Since, Zucker has scored five goals (two winners) and two assists in six games for the Aeros, and Bouchard, maybe without that pressure of Zucker taking his job, has one assist in the past eight games.
The Wild is so tight to the $70.2 million salary-cap ceiling, it can’t recall Zucker without reassigning another player. However, it could place Heatley or Josh Harding on retroactive long-term injury reserve to create the cap room, so that hasn’t been the issue.
The issue is you’re only permitted four non-emergency call-ups after the trade deadline. The Wild had to waste two to make Coyle and Darcy Kuemper eligible for the AHL playoffs.
Granlund is up on emergency recall for Heatley. If the Wild was to call up Zucker without reassigning Granlund, Granlund would be taken off emergency recall and the Wild would effectively hit the maximum four call-ups for the rest of the season.
The Wild doesn’t want to simply swap out Granlund for Zucker because it needs Granlund to play center until Cullen returns.
“After every game we evaluate, and we’re aware he’s playing well, and developmentwise it’s been great for him,” Yeo said of Zucker. “He’s getting quality time, he’s scoring goals. We’re aware of that, we’re aware of what he did for us when he was there.”
Yeo said the players here “in large part have gotten us here and deserve the opportunity to keep going.” But Yeo also indicated that if the second line doesn’t improve, the Wild might just recall Zucker and deal with being at the max.
“We’re certainly not going to beat our head against the wall. If something’s not working, it something needs to change, we’ll do it,” Yeo said.