Though the Wild was scheduled to practice Wednesday, only one member of the organization went out on the ice. Breezer, the Labrador retriever puppy the Wild adopted last summer, showed up at a nearly-empty Tria Rink for some playtime with team staff.
The players left their breezers in their lockers, told by coach Bruce Boudreau to take the day off. After Tuesday's wretched show in Pittsburgh — and with a game against high-flying Tampa Bay up next on Thursday — Boudreau decided rest was the best option for his reeling team.
"It's either take them out and bag-skate them, or tell them to get rid of hockey today, go home and come back with a fresh mind tomorrow, ready to go,'' Boudreau said, a day after a 7-3 loss to the Penguins. "We decided collectively as a coaching group that some of these guys, they aren't physically tired. But mentally, they needed a break.''
Boudreau admitted he wasn't sure whether that was the right choice, given the Wild's many problems. He seemed to be at wit's end following Tuesday's hideous performance, which featured costly defensive breakdowns, too many penalties and a lineup-card mistake that left the Wild with only five defensemen.
That deepened the Wild's slide to 1-5-1 in its past seven. The way out gets no easier; though the team will play 11 of its next 12 games at Xcel Energy Center, including Thursday, the upcoming opponents include the Lightning, Dallas and Boston, all among the top seven teams in the NHL.
Wednesday, Boudreau said he would sharpen his own quality control, making sure the lineup card is checked multiple times to avoid repeating Tuesday's unintended scratch of defenseman Greg Pateryn. He wants his players to do the same. Whether it's maintaining a proper pregame routine, avoiding sloppy penalties or having more fortitude, he said the Wild needs to clean up a raft of details to break its slump.
"Mentally, the self-preparation isn't where it should be,'' he said. "When a team is struggling in the first period coming out of the gates, it's because they aren't ready. Hockey is a preparation all day. You go through your routine and you prepare all day, and when you don't do that, it becomes a bit of an issue.
"For the 1-5-1 stretch we're going on, it's the little things that get to us. And we don't overcome the adversity.''
The Wild got off on the wrong skate even before the opening faceoff Tuesday, when its lineup card showed Pateryn as a scratch. He was supposed to be in the lineup, with forward Ryan Donato out. But Donato was listed as being in the lineup, even though he did not warm up.
Game officials pointed out the mistake just before the game started. Pateryn had to leave the bench, and Donato scrambled to get in uniform. Boudreau said Wednesday that he asked if he could correct the card, since the game had not started, but was told he could not.
According to Boudreau, Wild GM Bill Guerin — who was at the game — "was great'' about the gaffe, telling the coach "it was an honest mistake.'' Boudreau took full responsibility.
"That's the first time in 25 years that that's happened,'' he said. "I don't ever want it to happen again, so you can bet there will be more double- and triple-checking going on than ever before. It's a really bad feeling.''
Once the puck dropped, the Wild didn't do anything to make him feel better. Boudreau couldn't explain why a veteran-laden roster isn't fully ready at the start of the game. But he said he saw the same thing last season, when the team frequently fell behind early.
The past few weeks have brought a maddening twist. During the Wild's 11-game point streak from Nov. 14 to Dec. 5, it didn't buckle when faced with early deficits. In recent games, Boudreau said, quick goals by its opponents seem to drain the team's confidence.
"[During the streak], if we got behind, it didn't matter,'' he said. "We kept coming back. In the past three games, we're going pretty good until we get a penalty. And [the opponent] scores on the first penalty all the time. Now, we're chasing the game.
"[Tuesday], we gave up two scoring chances in the first period, and it was 2-0. They're trying hard, then things don't happen that are positive, and they're like, 'Woe is me.' Before, it was like a 'Let's go get them' type of thing.''
Boudreau said many of those early penalties stem from "a lot of laziness'' and could be eliminated with sharper focus. He also plans to remind his players what they can achieve with a can-do attitude — which helped them beat the Lightning six weeks ago.
"No matter what happened, we were coming back at them,'' he said. "That's where we've got to get back to.''