Watching from in front of the goal — or from the bench — goalie Devan Dubnyk has seen it happen over and over. The Wild hits the second period and hits a wall. But why?
“I don’t know,” Dubnyk said after Friday’s practice. “It’s a strange thing.”
Wild captain Mikko Koivu knows there are points in every game where the opponent will seize momentum. It’s just that too often that turns into a flurry of goals against.
“It’s got to be a 60-minute game,” Koivu said. “A 60-minute effort.”
As the team tries to pull itself out of a stretch that has seen it win once in its past 13 games and go 0-5-2 in its past seven, there has been one big stumbling block:
The second period.
Fans at Xcel Energy Center have seen that in the past two games. Against Dallas on Tuesday, the Wild took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. By midway through the second period the Wild trailed 3-2. Thursday against Washington, after a hard-fought scoreless first period, Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals grabbed control of the game with a 3-1 second period advantage.
Midgame lulls are hurting the Wild. It has been outscored 13-3 in the second period in five games since the All-Star Game break. Over the past seven games the Wild has a 13-11 edge in scoring in the first and third periods, but has been outscored 15-3 in the second.
For a team looking to break out of a slump, this is a good place to start.
“We talk about the areas where we have to improve, and build off, some of it is the way things have gone for individuals,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Confidence isn’t very high, and you can see it reflected in our execution a little bit.”
When confidence is low, perhaps it’s harder to respond when a team pushes you hard.
“They push and we kind of bend a little too much,” Yeo said.
As Dubnyk said: “The most important thing is not to approach the second period and think, ‘Oh, my I hope we can survive this second period.’ We need to play our game, take it to the other team and go.”
Echoing what he’s said in recent games, Yeo said he sees a team improving game to game. At the same time, he acknowledged that saying so when wins aren’t coming can be frustrating.
“Well, what choice do we have?” he said. “We have to keep saying that, and every game we’ll try to get better. … We’re at a point where we have to build it back piece by piece. My sense is that it’s coming. We have two choices. We can quit and abandon everything we’re doing. Or we can keep building onto what we have and see where that takes us.”
After Thursday’s loss Yeo struggled to put a finger on why his team struggled so much in the second period.
“It comes down to puck work, execution,” he said. “You could see there were a number of times we’d make one play but couldn’t make the second play.”
After watching the game again Friday, Yeo had a more specific answer. Missing injured defensemen Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon is a factor, he said. But the team also has struggled with the longer change.
“Those are two keys in our defensive group,” Yeo said of Brodin and Spurgeon. Brodin is out for an extended period. Spurgeon is questionable for Saturday’s game. “And the defense group is key to your execution. But with that, I would say the second period, with the long change, we haven’t executed as well. Because of that we spend a lot more time in our own zone.’’
But Yeo is staying the course. After a night spent considering potential lineup changes, Yeo said he is leaning on not making changes after watching the game again Friday morning.
“It’s another game we out-chanced the opponent, outshot an opponent,” Yeo said. “If we continue to do that, than I know we’ll get the results.”