WINNIPEG – The theory is the three-day Christmas break came at a perfect time for the slumping Wild.
Players and coaches, in need of a mental break, could get away for three days of quality holiday time with family. They would then regroup Friday morning for a flight to Winnipeg with rejuvenated minds, re-energized bodies and refreshed outlooks as the Wild aims to revive a season in dire need of resuscitation.
Again, that’s the theory.
The Wild won’t be able to magically snap its fingers and correct all that ails its game just because it got some R&R. In fact, the Wild could face tough sledding for a while because it’s believed Zach Parise, tied for the team scoring lead with 27 points, will miss a handful of games because of an injured foot that has plagued him the past month.
When the frustrated team last gathered Monday in Philadelphia, it was at the end of one of the most uncompetitive road trips in recent Wild memory. The team lacked confidence and any resemblance to the puck-possessing, defensively-stifling team that racked up victories in November.
The Wild was swept by the Penguins, Rangers and Flyers and outscored 13-4 to continue a stretch of eight losses in nine road games.
As dejected players pulled off their equipment, they seemed at a loss how to fix things. Coach Mike Yeo emerged and vowed that the losing is unacceptable and will be repaired.
“This is the same group that raised the expectations, this is the same group that got us to a point where we were in a good spot and this is the same group that’s going to get us out of it,” Yeo promised.
Through 39 games, the Wild is ninth in the West with 45 points, tied with eighth-place Phoenix and four points behind seventh-place Colorado. But each of those teams has played three fewer games.
With the Wild set to close the first half Sunday against the Islanders, Yeo is under pressure to turn things around.
In his three seasons, the Wild has either been extremely hot or extremely cold with little middle ground. Two years ago, the Wild was the best team in the league with a 20-7-3 record in mid-December until a four-month, 15-29-8 tailspin that began with an eight-game losing streak.
Last season, an 11-3 March catapulted the Wild to first in the Northwest Division 35 games into the shortened season. But a 5-8-1 April produced a must-win finale to take the final playoff spot.
This pitfall feels awfully familiar, and comes at a similar juncture of the season as the previous two.
Yeo is in the last year of his contract, and there are experienced coaches, such as Stanley Cup winner Peter Laviolette, a runner-up for the Wild job when GM Chuck Fletcher named Todd Richards his first coach in 2009, out of work.
“My expectations now are the same as it was before the season,” Fletcher said Dec. 19 — the morning of the first of three consecutive road losses. “I expect us to compete every night and push hard for a playoff spot. We have to keep growing this team. I think we’re a good hockey team. There’s certainly areas we need to improve.
“But we’re going in the right direction, and I expect us to be very competitive in the second half.”
Goals are scarce
The genesis for all the Wild’s problems starts with scoring, or lack thereof. In the past nine road games, the Wild has nine goals. In a 5-9-1 slump, the Wild has scored 22 times.