The circumstances might have changed, but the message has not. Monday, as coach Mike Yeo discussed the Wild’s three-game winning streak, he cautioned that his team can’t live in the past — the same thing he told his players when things weren’t looking so rosy.
Yeo didn’t want the Wild to wallow in the misery of a 3-7-2 stretch before the NHL All-Star break. Now, he’s asking it not to dwell on the satisfaction of a road sweep through western Canada. Though he was relieved to see his team’s confidence restored, those victories didn’t change the Wild’s position in the Western Conference standings, and he doesn’t want players to feel so pleased with themselves that they lose sight of the task still ahead.
Their next challenge begins Tuesday against Chicago, when the Wild opens a three-game homestand. A team that has typically played well on home ice — and began this season with a 7-1 mark at Xcel Energy Center — has lost its way, going 2-4-4 there since Dec. 17 and winning only four of its past 15 home games. The Wild cannot climb toward a playoff berth without solving that issue, and Yeo hopes the lessons learned on the road will stick with his team back in familiar surroundings.
“We have to get better at home, that’s for sure,” Yeo said. “We’ve always prided ourselves on being a good home team and playing well in front of our fans and, recently, we haven’t been as good as we need to be.
“The road trip was great. But coming back home, we have an opportunity to continue to push forward here. What we have to make sure we do is have a similar approach to what we had on the road. As cliché as it is, it’s one game at a time.”
Winger Zach Parise and goaltender Devan Dubnyk led the Wild out of its slump by adopting an even more micro mindset. Parise has encouraged the team to break down games into small, manageable segments — one period, or one shift — with the idea that tiny victories will add up to larger ones. Dubnyk has done the same, tightening his focus to 10-minute increments.
Dubnyk was named the NHL’s third star of the week Monday for his play during the road sweep. He stopped 88 of 91 shots in the three victories for a save percentage of .967, and a 1-0 defeat of Calgary gave him his second shutout in seven games since he was acquired by the Wild.
By filling the void in goal, Dubnyk has been a major factor in stabilizing a season approaching the cliff’s edge. He has handled the pressure by concentrating on the small picture, a philosophy he believes will benefit the entire team.
“We obviously need every win we can get,” said Dubnyk, who is 5-1 with the Wild. “But if you approach a game and think, ‘Oh, my God, we have to beat these guys in regulation,’ it’s just not a good way to be successful. It’s not a good approach. If you can knock it right down to a push and a stop and beating a play, it helps.”
Before he came to Minnesota, Dubnyk viewed the Wild as a team built on good structure, consistent effort and solid support. He said he hasn’t changed his assessment, crediting his teammates’ strong defense for allowing him to focus solely on his job.
Parise and Yeo contend that the opposite is true, too. In the depths of its slump, Parise said the Wild changed the way it played, becoming passive on offense and allowing its opponents too many quality chances. Dubnyk’s command of the net has allowed his teammates to stop fretting about the goaltending and tend to their own roles, which has shored up the Wild’s overall game.
“When you can get bailed out of mistakes you make, it keeps you in the game,” Parise said. “It makes a huge difference.”
That commitment to consistent defense, Yeo said, will be critical to making the most of the homestand. So will a firm focus on the here and now.
“We can’t be looking back at this road trip and feeling too good about ourselves,” he said. “There’s still an awful lot of work to be done.”