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Yeo said it’s imperative the Wild takes advantage of the home portion of the schedule, “but you know that we’re not going to be able to just run away with things and be able to cruise in. We’re going to have to finish the season strong and that means we’re going to have to play well on the road.”
The Wild is 4-3-1 in its past eight on the road. Zach Parise is back from a broken foot and captain Mikko Koivu is close to returning from a broken ankle. That should help Yeo.
“You’re not handcuffed as much by matchups [when the home team has last change],” Yeo said. “We can do a lot more things and have a lot more creativity from behind the bench to try to get certain guys on the ice and maybe get a bit of a mismatch or at least make sure we’re not faced with one.”
3. No Olympic hangover — and youngsters “at their best”
One has got to assume that the disappointment of the United States not medaling in the Olympics won’t drag down Parise and No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter. They’re veterans and know the importance of this final stretch.
And one has got to assume the high of being the Olympics’ third-leading scorer and making the all-tournament team while helping lead Finland to the bronze should allow Mikael Granlund, who turned 22 Wednesday, to return oozing with confidence.
Granlund already left for Sochi on top of his game. Fellow Olympian Nino Niederreiter scored in his past two games, including an overtime winner Feb. 6 against Nashville, to stop a 12-game drought.
The Wild will need quality play the rest of the way from Granlund, 22, Niederreiter, 21, Coyle, 21, Jonas Brodin, 20, Erik Haula, 22 and injured Jason Zucker, 22.
“We’ve asked a lot of these players. They’ve played big roles all season long,” Fletcher said. “It’s kind of the way this season was set up with the cap going down last summer. I don’t see us deviating very much from that before the trade deadline.”
The Wild is the 25th-ranked offensive team in the NHL (2.36 goals per game, although 2.8 goals per game the past 20 games). It needs more from Coyle, who scored six goals and had 12 assists in his first 47 games.
“I’m not saying I was brutal, but I want to be more consistent with my play and bring my best game every night,” Coyle said. “I definitely want to step up and contribute more.”
4. Health is paramount
The Wild has done a commendable job this season overcoming significant absences from key players.
Koivu could be back this week and Parise is back from his foot injury. Harding, Coyle, Granlund, Backstrom and defenseman Jared Spurgeon have been out for stretches.
Through all that, the team survived, and sometimes thrived.
But the Wild needs its full cast of players to soar toward the playoffs, especially with the hectic schedule down the stretch.
|Tampa Bay - LP: J. Odorizzi||2||FINAL|
|Boston - WP: J. Lester||6|
|William & Mary||74||FINAL|
|North Dakota St||83|
|South Dakota St||60||FINAL|
|South Dakota St||58|
|San Jose St||75||FINAL|
|(5) West Virginia||71||FINAL|
|San Diego State||63|