MONTREAL – The Wild’s hardly in a panic situation, although the suit jackets and ties are tightening a bit considering Zach Parise, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Cooke remain sidelined and the Wild has scored one goal during a mini-two-game slide.
The Wild held a brisk, up-tempo practice Friday at the Bell Centre as players seem intent on “stepping up” Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens.
That was the term of the day. Player after player repeated that mantra after an unhappy coach Mike Yeo said following a 3-0 loss at Ottawa that certain players were doing the “minimum.”
“The biggest thing is just getting back to the basics,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “If you’re a checker, be a checker and be good at it. If you’re a goal scorer, start scoring goals. Goaltenders got to be good goaltenders. Everyone just has to focus on themselves and we’ll get this thing turned around.”
Suter continued, saying, some players need to leave their comfort zones.
“No one likes to block shots, but if things aren’t going well, you might have to get in front of one and do things that you maybe aren’t used to doing. Zach’s a tough player to replace. Spurge is tough on the back end. He was coming into his own this year, so it’s tough. There’s a lot of pressure on other guys. They just need to bear down and we all need to pick up a little extra.”
That obviously includes captain Mikko Koivu (three points) and Thomas Vanek (one goal), who combined for 13 shots against the Senators. And that especially includes the always-lauded youngsters.
But one big reason why the Wild isn’t completely freaking out about life for an uncertain amount of time without the concussed Parise is most of these same youngsters impressively “stepped up” for injured players last season. Last winter, the Wild was in the midst of a swan dive when all at once Parise, Spurgeon, Koivu and goalie Josh Harding were sidelined.
The Wild not only turned it around, it was the young kids that Yeo wants so badly to “deliver” again that helped turn the tide. Mikael Granlund broke out, and youngsters Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and called-up Erik Haula all took on bigger roles. Jason Zucker played well until a season-ending knee injury.
“I think this is when you find out about your team with how guys respond,” Coyle said. “There’s definitely a lot of younger guys on this team that have to take on more responsibility, so I think there’s definitely pressure on us. But I think we’re able to do it. I don’t think they’d put us here if we weren’t able to do it.
“The tough times are when you find out about guys. In an easy situation, it’s easy to survive. … You can tell who lives up to the pressure and the hype and who can’t. But I think as a team we can do that, we’ve done it before.”
One good sign for the Wild is that the Zucker-Koivu-Coyle line keeps buzzing, but even Coyle said, “We’ve got to produce goals. Chances are chances, they’re not the end result.”
One player Yeo is clearly underwhelmed with is Haula, who was back on the fourth line in Friday’s practice. Yeo pulled Haula aside for a one-on-one chat near the end of practice.
Haula has been good defensively, but he has one goal, no assists, 14 shots and has won only 42.9 percent of his faceoffs.
“I’ve got to be better offensively and be stronger on pucks and win battles in the offensive zone,” Haula said.
Yeo feels the Wild’s not far off. But in a tough conference that is seeing teams such as St. Louis, Vancouver, Nashville and even Winnipeg roll recently, Yeo said the Wild being “almost there” Thursday won’t cut it.
“We have to find a way to push over the edge,” Yeo said. “We’ve been kind of teetering on the edge of being a really good team and getting to that next level, so we can’t be satisfied with playing well and outshooting a team and thinking that’s enough.
“We have to find ways to win those games, we have to find ways to win games differently, we have to find ways to win games when people are out of the lineup, and that’s what the great teams do.
“I know that our group is capable.”