Good afternoon from Xcel Energy Center’s press room, where the Wild had a long, workmanlike practice in advance of Thursday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
All players were present and accounted for, except injured Tyler Graovac. Nino Niederreiter, coming off an outstanding game with linemates Jason Zucker and Mikko Koivu on Sunday in Anaheim, did leave practice early. Coach Mike Yeo said Niederreiter was experiencing tightness and they got him off for precautionary reasons so he’s ready to go Thursday.
Yeo called today a “working day” where they worked on execution, pace and conditioning.
One focal point for the Wild was how it comes into defensive zone coverage.
“It resulted in a few goals against last game and usually an area where we are pretty sharp,” Yeo said. “That’s normal. This time of year, it seems like you work on one thing and something else struggles and then you work on that and something else slips. That’s just part of the process of just building our game.
“Our gap can be better. That’s not always on the defensemen. I think our D can hold lines a little bit better, but quite often it’s where we’re losing pucks or not having an F3 or the back pressure that we need. So it’s a group thing that I can think we can do a better job of, but how we come into our defensive zone, the communication we have, stopping in position and making we sure we don’t have any circle – that’s when you swing out of position. It’s typical for this time of year, but we have to make sure we continue to improve on it.”
I mentioned the other night how word from the video room to challenge a goal hasn’t made it to the bench two times this season. Yeo said the system isn’t fixed yet, but it will be by Thursday. I’ll probably write more about that in my game notebook Thursday for Friday.
Matt Dumba, who has been so-so this season, was a big topic today. The Wild is trying to stop a sophomore slump at the pass, so it’s clear Yeo and the coaches have been with Dumba and are having video tutorials with him.
Yeo was pretty candid today about Dumba’s play and Dumba, to his credit, stood like a man in front of the media and answered questions. In fact, he was exceptional with his quotes and accountable.
Yeo said, “We can talk to him about some of the things we talked to him about before the year and we can show him things on video, but to me it’s more about him. It’s about how he handles it. We talked about this coming into the season. For me the biggest thing is the respect for the league. This is the NHL, it’s the best league in the world and you’re on the ice against the best players in the world. I feel that his game has been very similar to the first half of the season for him last year, and what we have to do is get his game closer to what it was in the second half of the season. There’s times and there’s moments in games where he’s going to have to do something very good and something that catches your eye and there’s other times where you just have to make a smart, simple play and again it’s not always how much you give, it’s how much you’re giving up as well. We know what he’s capable of. We saw it last year, but it’s sort of getting back to that mentality of being solid first and looking for opportunities to jump.”
Like Erik Haula two years ago, Dumba had great success in the second half. Haula had a down year last year. The Wild’s trying to avoid that with Dumba and Yeo said it’s human nature that all the stuff goes to your head when you read the press clipping and hear nothing but good.
Yeo said Dumba should have confidence because he’s a great player, but he said there’s a “foundation to his game that has to be there and there’s a way that we play the game that it has to fit into. That’s not to say that every shift and every game has been bad for him, but I would say similar to last year we just have to get rid of and clean up some of the areas that aren’t quite there.”
I did ask about whether the minors could be an option at one point. I believe that the Wild can send Dumba to the minors without waivers until he plays 160 games. The Wild regretted not sending Haula to the minors last year before that waiver trigger.
Yeo said that would be an option but not one the team would ever make lightly.
Yeo said bottom line, “We’re counting on him to perform at the level that he performed at last year. We know that he’s capable of doing it. And so, we’re not just going to easily push him down or throw him down to the minors because he plays one, two bad games. It’s our job to try to get him back to that level.”
Dumba said, “It’s early. All this could go away after this weekend if I play three good games, and then it’s all cleared up. And that’s my plan. I’m going to use these next two days to get myself focused, get my mind ready and just go play good hockey like I know I can. I believe in myself. That’s going to be it, that’s going to be the conversation afterward. I’m not too worried about it.”
Dumba said he knows he can have success in this league. “I know I can play up to my potential and I just haven’t done it as of late. I know that and I’m going to make that difference. That’s on me and me alone. That’s something I’m figuring out in the next two days. Come Columbus, you’ll see a different Matt Dumba.
“It’s a good league, you can’t just go out there and do whatever you want. You’ve got to play hard within the system, follow the team’s structure and do things within that and within yourself. I might’ve been trying to force a little too much. I see that. I’m going to go over video and work out those kinks. This is all part of a process. I don’t think one or two games has ever made a career out of anyone. It’s an accumulation of that. I’m going to find that consistency and that’s something that I’m learning. I’m happy I can figure it out early in the season rather than late. That’s what I want to use these next two days for.”
That’s it for me. I am off Wednesday and will be back with you Thursday. Rachel Blount will be covering practice Wednesday, so she’ll blog and tweet @blountstrib.
A reminder, Thursday at 4 p.m. at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub, I’ll be co-hosting the Russo-Souhan Show (all archived on malepatternpodcasts.com) with columnist Jim Souhan. Come on down and take part or just listen. I’ll also be on Fox Sports North on Thursday.