The Wild had an 11 o’clock air-everything-out meeting this morning (more on that below). It was supposed to be followed by an optional skate. Afterward, virtually the entire team took the ice.
“They all guilted me into going out,” coach Mike Yeo said, smiling.
Good spirits down at the rink today after last night’s 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames. With three games left against Los Angeles on Tuesday, Edmonton on Friday and at Colorado on Saturday, the Wild executed a big roster shuffle this morning, reassigning rookies Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker for veteran checkers Jake Dowell and Stephane Veilleux.
“When you look at those guys, it’s a bit of different identity to the players,” Yeo said of Dowell and Veilleux. “A little bit harder, and probably the veteran side of it is important this time of year, too, and that had a lot to do with it.”
It is clear Zucker and Granlund have struggled. Zucker played five games without a point since his recently callup. After his turnover-laden game in Calgary last week, I heard that the Wild met with him and made it very clear that he can’t play like that again or he’d be returned to Houston on the next flight. Yeo actually alluded to that today, saying, “If something’s not working, you give those guys the opportunity to respond, and if it doesn’t change, then you have to look to doing it a different way.”
Granlund just doesn’t look ready to me and his penalty on a power play and wall play yesterday hurt.
This quote below by Yeo pretty much provides the Wild’s decision-making process in a nutshell: “It’s not an easy time of year for young kids, and that’s also a real compliment to Charlie [Coyle] and Brods (Jonas Brodin) that they’re still able to go out and play and not play like young kids. But it’s a tough time right now. And the game is tough and we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got everybody in the lineup going out and helping us to get to our game, playing the game the way that we should see it be played.”
In other words, Granlund and Zucker were not sticking to the system and the Wild can’t afford it right now.
Still, the Wild has scored four goals in an 0-4-1 home stretch. Dowell, 28, and Veilleux, 31, have combined for seven goals and 17 points in 70 games for Houston.
I asked Yeo about weighing the need for goals and bringing up to physical, energy guys, and he said, “I think you look at the fact that we’ve given up  goals in the last four games, I think. I think that’s a bigger issue. When you get behind like that, it becomes increasingly more difficult to score goals. We’ve proven if we’re playing our game and we’re getting to it and we’re doing the right things that we can score goals. Also, that being said, I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think that we’re this offensive juggernaut. That’s just not who we are. When we’re winning games and when we’re at our best, certainly we score, but we’re a team that’s very difficult to play against, we’re a team that’s good defensively and plays with the right structure, the right details and plays the game with an edge.”
As for today’s meeting, it was an opportunity, Yeo said, for players to talk as a group, get “the feelings out” and “see where everybody’s heads at.”
The common theme was the Wild has to recognize it’s still in a good spot. I put the math on last night’s blog, but 2-1 should get the Wild in easy.
“We can all talk about how we arrived here and the bottom line is, our group has worked very hard – very hard – and sacrificed an awful lot to get us in this position,” Yeo said. “And we should be proud of that. We’ve got a great opportunity. We should be excited about it. One thing we talked about is ‘why should it not be hard for us?’ This is the first year that we’re trying to get there in five years. It’s supposed to be hard for us. That’s part of the battle. But we’ve still got work to do.”
Yeo said, “One of the great comments from today from one of our players and I don’t need to say who it was, but it was ‘We can’t sit around and hope for anything. We can’t sit here and hope that a team we’re ahead of loses. We can’t sit around and hope that the outcome is …,’ we just have to take care of what we can take care of. And if we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Last night, the Wild seemed to expend so much energy early that it was depleted late. Yeo said, “It is absolutely normal that guys are going to be nervous, that you’re going to have those butterflies before the game. This is not unique to us. I know that every team that’s fighting for position and every team that’s fighting to get in, they’re all feeling the same things. It’s a matter of dealing with them and still being able to go out and focus and execute the right way.”
It was also very clear last night that Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter tried to will this team to victory. The effort level by those three was clear as day to see. It is now up to others to follow suit. Some guys have had very tough years and the Wild needs them now.
“Those guys had, what, 21 shots in the game between those three guys,” Yeo said. “That’s a great thing when your leaders are going out and doing that. The rest of the group definitely has to keep up and recognize how they’re doing it -- they’re doing it the right way. The shifts in the offensive zone and that shooters mentality, but playing the game the right way with the right structure and defending hard and defending the right way as well. They’re just going out and just playing the game and that’s what we need. That’s what leaders do right now and we need everyone to do it.”
Mike Rupp skated at the start of practice today but not late, so he’s obviously out vs. the Kings. Zenon Konopka practiced on his broken foot, but he’ll need more sessions.
Niklas Backstrom will start vs. Los Angeles.
Josh Harding was back from his two-game conditioning stint and looked real good. He got the 33-for-36 victory in Friday’s win at Austin to help the Aeros clinch a playoff spot. He then played a planned two periods last night in a loss.
He’s now back up here, activated off injured reserve and say he is ready to play when needed.
“We think we got [the multiple sclerosis] under control here,” Harding said. “I went and played and I felt good and nothing bothered me. The circumstances [in the AHL] aren’t like the NHL. It’s hot and humid down there, you’re bussing, the travel schedule is difficult, your routines are different. And if I can play there under those circumstances, I know I could play here.
“… I have a responsibility as a teammate and for this team to get myself ready in case I get in there, even in practice to make the guys better by trying as hard as I can. That’s my responsibility right now. I owe it to the team to do that.”
Speaking of the Aeros, their five-game series against Grand Rapids begins Friday in Houston.
In Des Moines today, Wild owner Craig Leipold, COO Matt Majka, GM Chuck Fletcher and assistant to the GM Jim Mill unveiled the Iowa Wild’s new logo and uniforms. They can be seen on www.iowawild.com
. By the way, as I’ve written many times, the Wild plans new road whites next year. I am told those Iowa whites are not them.