With 12 games left in the regular season, the Wild can expect to face opponents playing as if their season is on the line.
First up? The injury-riddled Detroit Red Wings, who enter this weekend’s home-and-home series with the Wild with their 22-season playoff streak in jeopardy.
The Wild needs similar desperation down the stretch, especially from two youngsters.
Charlie Coyle, 22, and Nino Niederreiter, 21, play significant roles and have been up and down lately.
Coach Mike Yeo met with both before Tuesday’s game at the New York Islanders.
“The first thing I said is, ‘What do you guys have in common?’ ” Yeo said. “Age wasn’t the answer. It’s size. These guys have to play big, and we need them to play big. Both these guys have played their best hockey when they’ve played a physical brand of hockey, when they’re finishing checks, absorbing hits, controlling the puck, they’re engaged in the physical part of the game. And then everything else is following suit.
“We want these guys to create, we want these guys to be a factor offensively, but that’s only going to happen when the game is consistently there.”
Thursday night at New Jersey, the Dany Heatley-Coyle-Niederreiter line struggled. At Friday’s practice, Niederreiter skated on a line with veterans Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak, while rookie Erik Haula, scratched in the past two games, skated on the left side of Coyle and Heatley.
Earlier this season, the Jason Zucker-Coyle-Heatley line developed good chemistry. Zucker, out for the season because of a quadriceps injury, and Haula have similar speed.
“That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw the lineup,” Coyle said. “You never know what different combinations will click, but I like a guy with speed on the wing, and Haula’s kind of like a Zucker there. I think it will be good.”
Fighting the puck
Coyle has seven goals and 20 points in 58 games. Niederreiter has 12 goals and 33 points in 70 games. Both admit they’re frustrated.
“I personally put the biggest pressure on myself,” Niederreiter said. “Every night I’m going out there trying to play the same style game and when you have chances and don’t put them in, that’s where you get frustrated.
“Obviously, you think about it. Against the Isles, I had two great chances — one early on the breakaway, one on the power play at the end. Those are chances you have to put in and those are the chances where you look back and get frustrated.”
It’s no coincidence that Niederreiter struggled Thursday in New Jersey, losing battles all game. Similarly, you can tell Coyle isn’t happy.
“Sometimes it’ll get in your head,” he said. “You want to help contribute. But you’ve got to not let it. Everybody goes through slumps and all that. If I’m not scoring and we’re playing good and we’re winning, then it’s fine.
“But I want to help contribute and help this team win in whatever that entails. I want to bring my game every night, be consistent and just make something happen every shift, be a difference maker no matter what that is.”
Yeo wants Coyle and Niederreiter to stop worrying about their lack of scoring.