With the Wild mired in an extended goal-scoring drought, the team made some changes Friday. Coach Mike Yeo altered his lines, and the team recalled winger Jason Zucker in an attempt to inject some new spark into a dormant offense.
Beyond that, Yeo is advising his players to stay the course. The Wild, which ends a three-game homestand Saturday against Columbus, has been shut out in three of its past four games and has not scored a goal in its past 121 minutes, 25 seconds. It’s the kind of situation that can cause players to overthink and doubt and try to force things, and Yeo wants to prevent that.
The coach could not avoid one concern Friday: the health of defenseman Ryan Suter, who missed the third period and much of the second in Thursday’s 2-0 loss to St. Louis. Suter skipped Friday’s practice because of an undisclosed injury, and Yeo would say only that the Wild linchpin is day to day.
As for the lack of goals, Yeo is relying on a reallocation of resources and the power of positive thinking. He moved right winger Charlie Coyle back to the first line, with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. Jason Pominville, who had been with that pair, will skate with center Kyle Brodziak and left winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Zucker, who leads the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Houston with 24 goals and 50 points, will team with center Mikael Granlund and right winger Devin Setoguchi.
Those moves, Yeo said, were designed to bring better balance to an offense that has seen every line go cold. While he tinkered, he urged his players to maintain their focus and their optimism, which he views as the only way out of a slump that includes six losses in the past eight games.
“The biggest thing is between the ears,’’ said Yeo, whose team has six goals in its past six games. “It doesn’t get any easier this time of year. I know what we’re looking for is goals and wins, and the only way to get that is to be focused and go out and do the things that bring those.
“For us, what’s important is that we stay realistic and keep remembering where we’re at. I know we have work to do, but we have a great opportunity.’’
Suter played 15 minutes, 35 seconds Thursday, about 12 minutes shy of his average. Yeo said that given his prodigious ice time, it was best to give him a good rest Friday in the hope that will help him recover enough to play Saturday. While Suter thought he could continue playing Thursday, Yeo said, it was decided he should not risk further injury.
Coyle teamed effectively earlier in the season with Koivu, who has no points in the past six games, and Parise, who has two assists in that span. Yeo said he moved Pominville not because of any disappointment in the line’s play, but because he thinks the Pominville-Brodziak-Bouchard mix has excellent scoring potential.
He also theorized that shifting Cal Clutterbuck to the fourth line with center Torrey Mitchell and winger Mike Rupp will make the best use of Clutterbuck’s skill set, creating a line that can generate momentum and challenge opponents. In 34 games this season, Clutterbuck has only three goals and five assists, but Yeo is happy with other areas of his game.
By recalling Zucker, the Wild has exhausted its quota of non-emergency callups for the regular season with eight games remaining. Zucker scored four goals in 14 games with the Wild earlier this season.
Several players echoed Yeo’s caution against allowing desperation to creep into their play. They also agreed that their position — in seventh place in the Western Conference standings, with a playoff berth in their grasp — makes it easier to stay positive.
“When you look at past years, this time of year, [the Wild has been] out of a playoff spot,’’ goaltender Niklas Backstrom said. “It’s tough to lose games, but you have to look at the bigger picture. I think everyone is pretty positive and confident here.’’