Ryan Suter has the mumps – the fifth defenseman on the Wild to be stricken with the beast, a nasty virus that won’t disappear despite boosters and disinfected locker room and cleansed equipment and time between symptoms arising with players.
Every time the Wild thinks it’s in the rearview mirror, it reappears.
The hope though is Suter, the NHL's ice time leader the past two seasons and again this season, got the Marco Scandella strain and not the Jonas Brodin one.
I say that obviously as a joke.
However, coach Mike Yeo did say Suter is feeling better and “I’m not even ready to rule him out for [Friday’s game against Anaheim]. Marco missed two games with this and Bally (Keith Ballard) missed eight games with it, so it affects people differently, so we’ll see where he’s at [Friday].”
Asked if he’s worried about bring a contagious player back into the locker room, Yeo said, “Well he’s a pretty important player to us and obviously we’ve tried to take precautions with that. Whether he’s around, it’s obviously around us, so I don’t know that’s going to make a huge difference. We’ve been trying to do everything we can to prevent this.”
Yeo’s point is that mumps symptoms usually appear 16-18 days after infection and people are mostly contagious three days prior to salivary-gland swelling and up to nine days after the onset of symptoms.
Suter hasn’t gotten the swollen glands but has other symptoms unique to the mumps. The virus is spread by mucus and saliva from the nose or throat, usually when an infected person coughs, sneezes or touches surfaces.
The virus has affected Scandella (two games), Brodin (seven games, 17 days), Ballard (eight games) and Christian Folin (five games). It has also affected the Anaheim Ducks this season (players like Corey Perry, Francois Beauchemin and former Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner), several St. Louis Blues and reportedly the Rangers’ Tanner Glass.
“It’s bizarre,” Yeo said. “Luckily this hasn’t become a bigger story to be honest with you. And I really mean that. It’s probably something we should be talking about a little bit more. The fact that we’ve overcome this adversity, we’ve talked about the start of the year just how important our D were to the type of game we want to play and when we’re successful how involved we are at both sides of the puck and we just really haven’t had our group together. But our guys have done a good job battling through that.”
Earlier this season, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock joked that the CDC was in St. Louis. That wasn’t really true, but I asked Yeo what the Wild has been doing to try to rid this team of the illness.
“We’ve had the room cleaned and decontaminated or whatever you want to call it,” Yeo said. “But I might have it in me, you might have it in you. Who knows? … Sorry to say that (laughing). Even though we decontaminated and cleaned the room, even though I don’t have it, I might still be bringing it back into the room. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. I don’t really know. I’m trying to learn and probably learning too much about this, to be honest with you. But we’re doing everything we can. But at the same time, we can’t be sitting around thinking about the mumps. We play a pretty darn good hockey team [Friday].”
In the meantime, Jared Spurgeon and Nate Prosser, as the only two defensemen to avoid the beast, were walking around in body suits today. Joking.
If Suter can’t play, the Wild will have to get good minutes from those two, as well as Brodin, Folin, Scandella and Ballard, who all played well in Wednesday’s win over Les Habitants.
“We talked about needing guys to step up and I thought that group did a great job for us,” Yeo said. “Certainly we’re going to need a similar performance [Friday] from them. Those guys in particular (Brodin, Scandella and Folin) jumped out from last game, but I thought that was a real strong team effort. Certainly there’s going to be games where certain guys jump out at you and have real strong performances, but the simple fact is it’s a team game that allows those guys to have that center stage and we need to continue to have that same kind of performance.”
THE 7 FOR 78 POWER PLAY, which interestingly has scored five goals during the Wild’s 7-2-1 stretch compared to two power-play goals for the opponent.
I talked with Zach Parise again today. Obviously he made a postgame comment minutes after a game before he had time to cool off that ticked some fans off, but frankly, I’m the one who asked the question, so I wanted to (partly out of guilt) talk to him again today where I wasn’t on deadline and where I could actually have a conversation rather than a quick postgame scrum.
My point to him last night was, we all know the power play stinks. It has been a seasonlong topic. It has been talked about ad nauseum, written about nonstop. My point in my question though was how much does it make things worse when 18,000 fans are booing on a five-minute major. How do you make a play? Because there’s little doubt the Wild looked paralyzed during the major. In fact, fans in the corners were trying to drown out the boobirds with “Let’s Go Wild!” to spur the team along.
The Wild’s hoping for a little home-ice advantage Friday similar to the jolt it felt in the playoffs. Several told me that off-the-record today. Parise basically said so on-the-record today.
Parise said of the booing, “It doesn’t help. They’re frustrated, and I understand that. And they have a right to be frustrated. We’re frustrated, and then when we get booed, we get more frustrated, and then it snowballs. But sometimes we feel like booing ourselves, too, it’s that bad, so I can’t disagree with them.”
In depth on the power play, Parise said, “We’re frustrated, too. We probably deserved to get booed. It’s been a sore spot for us and we need to work on it. It’s the only way you get out of it. It’s not just going to change.”
The Wild did work on it today and actually had a second unit without a center that I’m sure will have a center inserted whenever there actually needs to be a faceoff. But they may be more of an on the fly unit. The No. 1 unit today had Parise-Mikko Koivu (to win that draw since the other centers on the team have been subpar)-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville-Jonas Brodin (Suter if he plays) and the No. 1 unit had Jason Zucker-Thomas Vanek-Nino Niederreiter-Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon.
What did they work on today? Parise: “More repetition, a little more movement. More shots. We don’t shoot. We’ve got to take some shots and we need a guy in front of the net. It feels like when we do finally get a shot, there’s no one in front of the net. It’s an easy save. It’s not just one thing. It’s a lot of things that are happening. It’s hard to just pinpoint this is what we’re doing wrong because there’s a lot of things that we do wrong that just accumulate and doesn’t work.”
The Wild got off to such a great start this season on the power play. It just didn’t score and then things have gone downhill since. It happens to everybody. I mean, Anaheim, which has a ton of weapons, just snapped an 0 for 19 power-play drought last night. But normally you break out of it. The Wild hasn’t (interestingly, as bad as the Wild’s power play has been on the road (1 for 42), Nashville is actually 1 for 41 at home yet somehow is second in the West and 10-1-1 at home. Weird, eh?
I’m rambling. Back on topic.
Parise: “I don’t think anyone would have expected this. It’s a lot of different things. Just when it doesn’t go well, you get frustrated and then all of a sudden, you know everyone wants to make that play to create the goal and everyone wants to make that pass. It’s a great mentality to have, but sometimes that’s what’s causing us a lot of the plays that are getting broken up or one and done’s. We’re not moving it around crisp, we’re not setting each other up, so a lot of times when we do have an opening, we don’t put it in a guy’s wheelhouse. We throw it in the skates, we throw it behind them. Other times we’re not attacking when we’ve got them coming out of a corner. Like I said, it’s a lot of things. And then the frustration creeps in and then you end up where you are right now.”
But Parise said, “If we were playing terrible hockey and losing games but we had a good power play, what’s the good in that? But right now our 5-on-5 game is great. We’re playing really well. We could definitely use some power-play goals, but we’re winning games. Once we get the power play going, which we will, then we’re going to be really dangerous. But right now it’s not working. It hasn’t worked. But it’s fixable. That’s the good thing. It’s very fixable.”
And luckily, the Wild’s penalty kill is second-best in the NHL and as I mentioned has given up two goals during the 7-2-1 string.
“That’s been a big part,” Parise said. “When you’re not scoring on the power play, if you can kind of nullify their power play, too, and not lose the special teams game, that goes a long way because I think we’re confident we can play with any team 5-on-5. And if we’re not losing the special teams game, then we have a chance to win.”
Yeo said, “We’ve tried a lot of different scenarios. We’re trying to put the right pieces in place. That’s part of it, but more than anything else, I just wanted to make sure we’ve got the right mentality. Whenever your power play’s struggling – and that’s what’s going on right now, we know that – there’s a lot of things you have to overcome, there’s a lot of difficulties that are faced that don’t involve x’s and o’s, that don’t involve things that you can just draw up on a board. You’re talking about confidence, you’re talking about even anxiety, things that can get in your way and inhibit the things that make you successful, so we have to get back to the right approach here and we have little things that we have to do that will make us successful if we do them and we have to stay focused on that. If we go out and have a great power play the first power play and we don’t score, we can’t get too rattled by that. Obviously we want to, obviously that’s the goal, but we have to try to generate as many shots and as much momentum as possible from it.”
I asked more about that anxiety because again, even though these guys are professionals, the nervousness on the power play, the lack of confidence, was visible to the naked eye Wednesday, especially when the fans let the player have it.
“I don’t know that I’m qualified to give you the answer to that one,” Yeo said when asked how to tune that stuff out and overcome the jitters. “We work it repeatedly in practice and hopefully you can build some of that good feeling. Until you start to see the results in a game, it’s not something you can magically make it appear. We have to work for our confidence, there’s no question. And it’s the same way we’ve had to do it with our game, but we’ve got character guys and we’re going to keep fighting through it. we saw this last year. There was a part of the season where there was some difficult stuff going on, and at the time, I said that’s the kind of stuff that can make you better. Well this is the kind of stuff that can make you better, too. We’re finding a way to win despite the frustration that’s been involved with our power play, and that’s something that our guys should be proud of, that’s something we should really be focusing on. As we continue to fight through this adversity, it’ll continue to make us better.”
Yeo said, “I guess what’s tough about the power play is here we are again today and we’ve spent five minutes talking about the power play and yet we haven’t talked about tomorrow’s opponent, we haven’t talked about the game that we’ve won or any success that we’ve had recently. The power play is part of the game – it’s a very big part, there’s no question. But you know what? So is our forecheck, so is our D-zone coverage, so are our faceoffs, so are so many other elements of the game. If we have a great power play and the rest of our areas are not good and we lose the game, I don’t think we should feel good about that. obviously our goal is to become a better team and we do that by continuing to be strong and sharp in the areas that we are and we do that by trying to improve the areas that we’re not. Certainly there’s some parts of our game that we have to make sure that we continue to stay strong with, and there’s other parts like our pp that we have to work to try to get better at.”
Mikko Koivu on the power play: “Every single year I’ve been around, you go through tough times on either penalty kill or power play or 5 on 5 or whatever it is. You’ve just got to come out the next day and work on it and get better at it. Simplify. I think that’s the most important thing.”
On the fans booing: “I think as players, you know if we played a good game. Five minutes on a power play we didn’t capitalize on the way we wanted, we didn’t get the momentum, but at the end we got two points and beat a very good hockey team from out east. We’re not happy with it, the way we had that pp. but at the same time, we worked on it today and we want to get better at it and we will.
Change anything: “You can’t change who you are. If you look at the power plays across the league, everyone plays pretty much the same way. It’s a matter of all the little things that get you that goal. Sometimes when you’re not scoring, you’re starting to think about it and you’re making it more complicated than it should be. I think that’s why it’s good to have a practice and work on a couple things.
Should you just get more pucks on net? “You can’t think that. If you’re thinking that, odds are not good that you’re going to score a goal. It’s the plays before you score that will make that happen. It’s not that we’re not trying to score a goal, but sometimes it’s just not going the way you want it. And you’ve got to give them credit too. They’re a good pk team with a good goaltender. I think it’s a process. You’ve got to do things the right way to score a goal rather than thinking about the goal right away.
On the good PK: “I think it’s work ethic, winning battles and winning loose pucks. It’s a lot of little things that make that happen.”