For everything, there is a season. A time to rage, a time to prod, a time to fume, a time to encourage.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau — whose current purpose under heaven is to get his team unstuck from an 0-3 rut — is choosing to rely on the prodding and the encouraging. For now, at least. A day before the Wild’s home opener Saturday against Pittsburgh, Boudreau continued to focus on the good things his team has done, declining to exercise the nuclear option after three road losses.
That doesn’t mean the raging and fuming won’t happen. There could be some changes to the lineup in the season debut at Xcel Energy Center, and Boudreau, who joked recently about his lack of patience, made it clear that his good will is not limitless.
Saturday, he wants to see his team show more resilience, avoid early penalties, cash in on scoring chances and play better in situations other than five-on-five. It will need to do all those things to bust a franchise-record string of three regulation losses to open the season.
If it doesn’t, Boudreau’s mood could turn sour in short order.
“[Friday] was a really positive day,” Boudreau said after a practice at Tria Rink. “When you look at the video, and you think about the last two games especially, there’s a lot to build on.
“[The coaches] were talking about it, whether it was keeping it positive or coming down hard. I thought after three road games in three tough buildings, all [against] playoff teams last year, this wasn’t the time or the place to really start doing that. But if it continues, then the demeanor will be changed a little bit by the coaching staff.”
A handful of players didn’t skate at Friday’s practice or stayed for only part of the session, including Ryan Suter, Mats Zuccarello and Jason Zucker. Boudreau expects the full roster will be available to play Saturday, but that doesn’t mean the lineup will remain the same. Changes “will be discussed,” Boudreau said, though he pointedly noted it would be useless to do so as a way to catch the attention of one or two underperforming players.
“You could send a message to eight guys,” he said. “We don’t have eight [other] guys to put back in. So if we did [make a change], it would be just to alter a little bit of the chemistry.”
In the first three games, the Wild has shown little chemistry despite lots of line juggling. The forwards the team is counting on have come up largely empty; Eric Staal, Zuccarello and Kevin Fiala have no points and have combined for only 10 shots on goal. The Wild has been outscored 14-6, with two goals in each game, and is scoring at the second- lowest clip in the NHL.
Boudreau said he is generally happy with the five-on-five play, praising it for generating “a ton of chances” in Thursday’s 5-2 loss at Winnipeg. But the Wild has taken quick penalties in losses to the Jets, Nashville and Colorado, stunting its ability to get into a rhythm early. Thursday, the Wild also faltered badly during a four-on-four stretch, giving up two goals in 28 seconds.
That gave the Jets a 4-2 lead and repeated a distressing pattern. In each of its three losses, the Wild has surrendered two goals in quick succession.
“We’ve had five-minute caveats in all three games,” Boudreau said. “Goals [are] scored, and we go, ‘Aw, heck.’ And by the time we start to realize it, they score another one, right off the bat. We’ve got to be more determined when bad things happen to us.”
That applies to the bigger picture, too. Forward Zach Parise said the Wild is frustrated by its slow start, but players have to let go of that.
“We can’t do anything about those games now,” Parise said. “Our schedule’s not going to get any easier. We don’t have time to dwell on where we are. We need to take a deep breath, and we’ll be fine.”