Since, different players every night have come through, from Niklas Backstrom winning three consecutive games to Jason Zucker scoring twice, including a game-winner, to Darcy Kuemper redeeming himself for early-season struggles with a gutsy 39-save effort in L.A., to Nino Niederreiter scoring a tying goal and shootout goal in that same game, to Justin Fontaine becoming the first Wild rookie to record a hat trick.
“I feel like we have a lot of young guys following great leadership right now and playing the game we need to play,” Fontaine said. “We stayed tight in the locker room. Everyone stuck together.”
The games haven’t been perfect, but the battle level has been remarkable.
“No question our guys are playing with urgency and recognizing the guys we have out of the lineup,” Yeo said.
Things change quickly
The past few weeks were an emotional roller coaster.
“Mentally, we ask a lot of our players,” Fletcher said. “I don’t know if anybody’s capable of playing 82 must-wins games, yet that’s what we ask of them. There’s so much travel, the schedule’s compressed because of the Olympics, and that’s coming on the heels of a 48-game compressed season, the teams are all so close, there’s never an easy game … ever.
“You never have a chance to breathe, whether you’re a player or coach, you’re constantly going. It’s hard. Losses just compound that stress.”
So do injuries to high-end players such as Koivu and Parise.
But there is a bright side, Fletcher said.
“Developmentally, this is a great opportunity for some of these guys to get minutes and roles they typically wouldn’t have,” Fletcher said. “Night to night, there may be variances in performance, but long-term, I’ve got to think this will be excellent for some of these kids to experience — the good things and the bad things.”
The one thing Yeo learned the past week is how quickly things can change.
“Right now the wave is going the other direction and we have to keep that in mind,” Yeo said. “We can’t start thinking that we’re too good here. We’ve got to recognize that there’s a lot of work to be put in and we need a lot of great performances every night in order to win hockey games.”