After a practice at Xcel Energy Center on Monday, Mikko Koivu packed his bag in the Wild’s locker room, preparing for the team’s afternoon flight to Pittsburgh. While the center was eager to hit the road for Tuesday’s game against the Penguins, he wasn’t particularly interested in recalling the team’s last visit to CONSOL Energy Center.
“I don’t want to think about what happened in the past,’’ Koivu said. “It’s about the future.’’
That succinct statement sums up the mind-set the team has adopted since Jan. 13, when a season in free fall hit bottom with a 7-2 loss at Pittsburgh. Mired in a six-game losing streak, coach Mike Yeo said his team had “unraveled’’ and looked “completely lost,’’ and his job security had become an increasingly hot topic. After the game, players held a 26-minute postgame meeting to address a situation that Koivu called “embarrassing.’’
The Wild added goaltender Devan Dubnyk the next day, but that wasn’t the only change that has produced a 38-12-6 record since then. Koivu said the Wild has become a more sharply focused and forward-looking team, one that is better able to withstand the inevitable ebbs and flows in a game and in a season. That ability to keep moving ahead has sent it back to Pittsburgh with 23 points through its first 16 games, one of the strongest starts in franchise history.
“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, you want to get better each day,’’ Koivu said. “You’ll have ups and downs in a game or in a period. Whether you have a good shift or a bad shift, you have to get ready for the next one.
“It’s still early in the season, but I think we’ve been handling that pretty well, whether it’s inside one game or during a long road trip. That’s the way you have to approach things.’’
The Wild still is coping with the absence of winger Zach Parise, who has missed four games because of a sprained knee ligament. Parise has begun skating on his own, but he will not travel to Pittsburgh or to Thursday’s game at Boston. Yeo said Parise will be reassessed after the road trip, and there is no timetable for his return.
Yeo agreed with Koivu that the Wild has been helped immeasurably by learning to concentrate on the next shift, period or game. During its struggles last season, a single mistake often knocked the Wild off-course, multiplying into a flurry of errors that led to defeat.
Yet Yeo said even in that defeat at Pittsburgh, he saw signs that the Wild was capable of escaping its rut. The players cared about each other, and they had not given up. Forward Charlie Coyle said those close bonds encouraged unity and accountability, and the Wild steadied as players gained experience and maturity.
“We were in a bad spot,’’ Coyle said. “But we have great leaders in this room. And what we’ve gone through as a team, we’ve learned to get through those tough times and battle back.’’
Dubnyk noted one other quality the Wild has gained since he joined it the day after that defeat in Pittsburgh.
“We believe in how good we are,’’ he said. “We’ve learned how to win games in every different way imaginable, and we’re comfortable in every situation. We know the important thing, no matter how well or not-so-well we’ve played, is that we’ll find a way to be on the right side at the end. That’s something that’s really grown with this group.’’
Bulmer is back
The Wild recalled forward Brett Bulmer on Monday, one day after returning him to its AHL affiliate in Iowa. Bulmer was first called up on Friday, but he did not play in Saturday’s overtime loss at Dallas and went back to Iowa on Sunday.
Yeo said there is “a greater chance he’ll fit into the lineup’’ against Pittsburgh, and the 6-4 winger said he understands what is expected of him against the Penguins’ highly skilled forwards.
“[Sunday] was a bit different, having to go down for the day and then get ready to come back,’’ Bulmer said. “But it’s all worth it. I’m happy to be here. I just have to bring energy, be a big body out there and be a hard guy to play against.’’