The idea, when Charlie Coyle went back to Massachusetts over the NHL All-Star break, was to clear his mind rather than obsess on what was going wrong.
Clearly struggling, a little frustrated, and maybe lacking some confidence, Coyle went home to find his game.
It appears he brought it back.
Tuesday night in a 3-2 overtime victory in Nashville, Coyle scored two goals in a game for the second time in his career. The first gave the Wild a 1-0 lead. His second goal ultimately forced overtime.
Coyle, who has settled into his role as the third-line center, has five points in his past six games, 12 in the 24 games dating to the All-Star break as the Wild soared into playoff contention.
And while points aren’t the only gauge of Coyle’s game, the way he’s playing shows he is more comfortable.
“When things aren’t going well, or things aren’t going as planned, or if you want to be better, it’s nice to just think about things a little longer,” said Coyle, who turned 23 on March 2. “During the season you’re always going practice, practice, game, game. It was nice to just kind of settle down, sit back and just think about what I’ve done, what I could do better and how to do that.’’
He had some help, of course.
While Coyle was reflecting, his dad was talking. Chuck Coyle had coached his son until high school, and he had some strong opinions. You have to play physical, he said. Get into the play, be relentless.
“He knows I’m hard on myself,” said Coyle, who is 6-3 and 220 pounds. “My confidence dips a bit. He just said, ‘You’re a strong guy, you’re a big guy, play like it.’ ”
Ultimately, when a player is struggling with his game and his confidence, it’s up to him to turn things around. That said, Wild coach Mike Yeo did what he could to help.
“We tried many different things with Charlie,” Yeo said. The coaching staff tried patting him on the back, tried delivering a stern message. Coyle was moved between center and wing. Then, just before the All-Star break, Yeo put Coyle and Nino Niederreiter — two young, struggling players — together on the fourth line.
The idea was to put them in situations where they didn’t feel the game was on the line every time they took the ice.
“We wanted them to go out and play and feel a little more confident in their game,” Yeo said. “And I felt, at that time, they started to show some signs of things coming together.’’
But it didn’t really coalesce until after the break, after Coyle had gone home. He relaxed, took his dad’s words to heart. Then he returned to the Wild and started getting his confidence back.
“You have to create your own confidence,” Coyle said. “It starts with a good day of practice, then following that up with a good shift, and a good shift after that. I think, when you’re confidence goes down, and you’re not scoring or not contributing, you kind of get away from some of the details. For me, playing physical helps me get back into the swing of things.”
His first goal Tuesday shows what can happen when Coyle is playing physical. He was battling a Nashville player in front of the net when Jordan Leopold’s shot went off his leg and into the net.
But Coyle knows he has to be stronger with the puck. He has to be stout defensively. But the goals are nice, too.
“It’s been a while since I did that,” he said. “I want to keep that up, but also keep my game level up.’’