BUFFALO, N.Y. – Mike Yeo’s not giving up.
That was clear Wednesday when the Wild coach pushed practice back a half-hour to extend a video session, then grabbed veterans and youngsters equally during a workmanlike practice for one-on-one tutorials.
“A lot of work to be done,” Yeo said.
The reeling Wild has lost six in a row and 12 of 14. It faces the Buffalo Sabres, who have lost a franchise-record eight in a row, on Thursday. On Wednesday, the Wild tried to shore up its erratic goaltending by acquiring Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes for a third-round pick.
After a rough 2013-14 season in which he lost his starting job in Edmonton, was traded twice and ended up in the minors, the 6-6 Dubnyk, 28, revived himself in Glendale. He outplayed Mike Smith with a 9-5-2 record, 2.72 goals-against average and .916 save percentage this season and the hope is he can be a Band-Aid and stop the Wild’s bleeding. The Wild is tied with the Oilers for the league’s worst save percentage at .889.
“I don’t think it’s any secret we have bigger expectations for our goaltending than what they’ve provided for us this season,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said of Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom. “We were looking to add a goaltender that’s capable of winning games and pushing the other two as well.
“I thought it was time for me to give this team a shot in the arm and we’ll keep trying. We’ll see if we can add more pieces. If we can do it, great, but it has to come from the inside, too, and maybe this is a spark they need to get going.”
Fletcher, who will rejoin the Wild on Thursday, has been in Fort Lauderdale conducting scouting meetings. He has repeatedly given Yeo public votes of confidence in recently and did again Wednesday, saying, “We’ve got an overall performance issue here. I’m not looking at Mike at all right now. He’s our coach, a good coach.”
Yeo said Fletcher has been “unbelievably supportive” despite speculation running rampant that Yeo’s job is in jeopardy for a second season in a row.
“To say that I’m not worried, of course I am. I’m a realist. I know what’s going on,” Yeo said, adding with a big laugh, “I don’t read the papers right now and I’m definitely not on Twitter right now. But I’m not going to sit around and mope and feel sorry for myself. I’ve got a job to do, and now is when I have to do it better than ever.”
Yeo has received positive thoughts and well wishes from members of the NHL’s coaching fraternity.
“But at the same time, I know there’s not a whole lot of sympathy for us right now,” Yeo said. “That’s the way the league works. It’s an eat-or-be-eaten type of game. That’s why we can’t sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. We know that nobody’s feeling sorry for us. Why should we?
“That’s not going to help us in any way. We have to find a way to get out of this and the only way is with a clear focus on the way that we need to play the game and a desperation and work ethic that can’t be matched.”
After Tuesday’s loss at Pittsburgh, a game in which the Wild yielded seven goals for the second time in three road games, the leadership group of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter locked the doors and held a 25-minute air-it-out meeting.
“There’s been a lot of talking around here the last four weeks,” Parise said. “At some point, we have to start to deliver. The coaches can only do so much. As players, we have to have some thicker skin and hold each other accountable. We’re missing that right now. It’s too easy internally to not compete and it’s too easy for us to quit.”
Parise said the moment the Wild gives up one or two goals, “mentally we quit. We’ve been fragile and we change the way we play. That’s what’s killing us right now. … A lot of it is a mind-set for us. We’re not willing to defend the right way right now. When things are going wrong, we start to cheat for offense and next thing you know we’re spending four or five shifts in our own zone. We’re not strong enough on the puck. Our D-zone coverage hasn’t been good enough, our neutral-zone transition hasn’t been good, our forecheck hasn’t been good.
“But we know how to do it. That’s not a question. We’ve done it. We know it works.”
Parise, who has one goal in the past nine games, said it’s up to “guys like myself to help pull us out of it and to go out [Thursday] and have a great game and lead the way and play the right way. That type of stuff is contagious.”
Fletcher sure hopes so.
“Right now we’re in a perilous position for our season and we have to win some games,” he said. “We’re capable of doing it. But we have to stabilize here. We’ve got to get going. We’re better than this. It’s time. It’s more than time.”