One or two occasions is an aberration, three or four occasions is a pattern, and lately at home, the Wild is getting off to sluggish starts that has cost points in the standings.
Five home games ago, the Wild put six shots up against Pittsburgh more than halfway through the game. Three home games ago, the Wild trailed 3-1 in the second period to Philadelphia before rallying toward its eighth overtime/shootout loss. Two home games ago, the Wild had seven shots on goal through two periods against New Jersey. And last home game, the Wild spotted Buffalo a 3-0 first-period lead, including two goals allowed in 20 seconds against the Wild’s top line and second defense pair.
The common question from fans whenever a team continually gets off to slow starts is why does it keep happening and who’s responsible for it?
Is Mike Yeo not doing enough to get the Wild jacked before games? Are the players in need of more coffee, electrolytes or energy bars? Are they not getting their pregame naps or spending too much time out on the town before games?
Jarret Stoll has played 928 regular-season and playoff games. He won two Stanley Cups with Los Angeles and went to the Stanley Cup Final with Edmonton.
So he knows a thing or two and still doesn’t know why sometimes teams simply start listlessly.
“It’s a tough question to answer,” Stoll, 33, said. “You try to prepare yourself as best you can. We all do the same things before the game. We’re all very, very superstitious and we all have our routines and you try to make sure the group is upbeat and ready to go and has energy coming out of this room.
“That’s what we try to do every game.”
He says there’s no magic potion or recipe to ignite a team before the opening puck drop. He said the responsibility to be ready is a collaborative effort.
“It’s everybody taking responsibility for it,” Stoll said. “It’s not one or two guys or the coach or an assistant coach or whoever. It’s everybody doing their job. The coaches here do a great job of preparing us to play and play against different teams every night and we have different game plans for every team, and then it’s up to us to go out and execute it.
“We’re not doing that right now on a consistent basis, and we’re paying for it.”
Outside the rink, some players eat the same meals, go on the same coffee runs, take the same routes to games. Inside the rink, there are crazy stretches for some, vigorous warmup exercises for others. Several play soccer, Ryan Suter throws the football, Zach Parise sits on the bench and does visualization exercises, Nino Niederreiter does the same in the stands while taping sticks.
One red flag after Tuesday’s loss came when Yeo was asked why all the slow starts at home lately. The coach said, “I wish I had the right answer for you right now. I have a couple theories, but it’s not going to do us any good right now.”
Yeo didn’t elaborate, but he often has said that game preparation doesn’t just occur when you come to the rink. It means getting proper rest and being pros outside the arena.
Regardless, Yeo said, “We’ve got to rectify it. I think a rest day Wednesday, and I think a practice [Thursday] will be two things that we dearly need right now and things we have to take advantage of.”
The Wild just completed a stretch of eight games in 13 nights. It was 3-1-2 before not taking care of business against the Devils and Sabres.
Since Dec. 18, the Wild has had a grand total of two practices where every player participated. Yes, … two practices in the past 25 days.
The reasons? The mandatory Christmas break, the mandatory four days off per month as per the collective bargaining agreement and Yeo balancing the need for rest with work during such a busy stretch.
He wondered if the players were a little “mentally tired” and indicated the last week that the lack of practices has splintered the Wild’s game.
“We’re not making any excuses. We’ve shown the last couple of our slow starts that we start to push and the game is there,” Yeo said. “But we do need practice, there’s no question about that. … We have to be better than this. Good teams get through stretches like this and win hockey games still.”
Stoll said Thursday’s practice will be critical to get ready for Winnipeg.
“It’s a long year, but you can’t let these things slip,” Stoll said. “One, two losses, and two can turn into whatever. You’ve got to nip it in the bud right away. Otherwise things can run away from you.”