CALGARY, ALBERTA - During last season's Houston Aeros' run to the Calder Cup Finals, Mike Yeo saw the best of Colton Gillies.
Over the past month though, Gillies' game with the Wild has been out of sorts. Tuesday against the Flames, Yeo scratched the 2007 first-round draft pick for the fourth time in 12 games. The latest benching came one game after Gillies took a game-turning penalty and was minus-2 in a 4-0 loss at Vancouver.
"He's just trying so darn hard," Yeo said. "He feels like he's letting the team down. He's not doing that. That's what he has to understand. He just has to go out and play his game. As soon as a guy like that tries to do too much and tries to do other people's jobs, ... that's when you get yourself into trouble."
Gillies, 22, was scratched three times in five games a few weeks ago. His game improved against the Blackhawks and Islanders before Yeo felt he took "another step backwards" against his hometown Canucks.
"I don't want to be just getting by in this league," Gillies said. "I want to make an impact and help the team. I care a lot. When guys get hurt, it's almost like, 'Now's my chance to step up.' Like [Monday] night, it's almost like I tried too hard. My legs tend to take me out of position, and I can't take penalties like that either."
Gillies is playing with shattered confidence. It showed on his dejected face Monday after a first-period hooking penalty, and on missed coverage on Vancouver's third goal.
"He's like a whipped puppy right now," Yeo said. "It's like he's waiting for something bad to happen."
Gillies has no goals, two assists and is minus-5 in 31 games. Yeo hopes the three-day holiday hiatus starting Friday will enable Gillies to clear his mind.
"I'm staying in Minnesota during Christmas because I want to be rested and ready to go after the break," Gillies said. "I do put a lot of pressure on myself. This is my first full year and there's a lot of learning that goes into that. It's just a matter of taking a step back and a few breaths."
Added Yeo: "It's our responsibility to try get him through this."
Playing it safe
Mikko Koivu skated for a third day in a row Tuesday but missed his third game because of a leg injury.
The Wild hopes its captain can play Thursday in Edmonton, but Yeo said, "We're not going to put a guy in there that's not ready to go. He felt it a little bit [Monday] still, so we've got to look at the big picture here. We can't rush Mikko back and then all of a sudden lose him for two to three weeks after that. We've got to be smart about this."
• With Koivu out and Gillies scratched, Yeo dressed seven defensemen.
Justin Falk, who hadn't played since an "upper body" injury Nov. 27, returned, as did veteran Greg Zanon, who was scratched in two of the prior three games.
Mike Lundin, on the ice for three Canucks goals, was scratched.
"I'm not going to just blame him for that loss, but when we've got eight quality defensemen, performance will dictate some of it," Yeo said. "But a lot of it is also I want get Falky back in. He's healthy, he's ready to go."
Yeo said he has been impressed by Zanon's professionalism. "It's real difficult for a guy like that to get scratched, and he's been hard working, he's had a great attitude and he'll compete in a tough [Calgary] building."
• The Wild reassigned Chad Rau to Houston.