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There isn’t a team in the NHL right now with the shattered confidence and absolute bewilderment of the Minnesota Wild.
This is Zach Parise – undeniably the team’s leader, though he doesn’t wear the ‘C’ – after Tuesday night’s pathetic 7-2 loss at the Pittsburgh Penguins, on how to fix this:
“I feel like we’ve been asked that question for the last three weeks now. We’re not getting out of it. We’re so easy to play against. We lose battles, we don’t bump off draws, the details of our game are terrible. We don’t even make it hard on the other team. They tic-tac-toe right around us. Can’t happen.”
So that’s coaching, right?
After all, Mike Yeo went bat-crap crazy on Jan. 7 after consecutive losses to the Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks by a combined total of 10-5. After that tirade? Four straight losses, by a combined score of 18-6.
I don’t want to say Mike Yeo looks like he's done, but the timer went off and the microwave is smoking. All the telltale signs are there, from blowout losses to players-only meetings to general bafflement over their fortunes to his having been there for a quite a while in coaching terms to the Wild being a playoff caliber team that isn’t playing up to that standard.
But even in his darkest hour, he’s got champions. Like, for example, Sidney Crosby, whom he coached with the Pittsburgh Penguins as an assistant:
“That’s when you’d really see his impact,” Crosby said of Yeo, via the Star Tribune. “He’d be the guy talking to us and trying to be positive or he’d be the guy who’d have a face-to-face and say, ‘You’ve got to be better.’ He was an easy guy to talk to because he had the right amount of intensity, but if you needed to chat, he could chat, too.
“They’re going through a tough time. It’s not the time to beat around the bush and sugarcoat stuff. Sometimes you just have to be told how it is. It doesn’t always feel good at the time, but at least it’s the truth.”
While we’re dealing with truth, let’s be honest here: a coach is only as good as his goaltending, and the Wild’s sucks.
That’s the reason I left them on the outside looking in for the playoffs in our postseason predictions. That 3.02 GAA as a team is 24th in the NHL, after the Wild were seventh last season at 2.42. So either Thomas Vanek is a defensive cancer, or the goaltending is nowhere near as good as it was last season.
Lambert was ahead of the curve (as usual) in targeting the Wild’s goaltending as the root of all of this evil, and the Minnesota media has rallied to that cause too. From Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune:
The Wild is so screwed up and looks so dysfunctional that firing the coach would be like giving a clunker a new set of tires.
The problems run deeper than just Yeo.
Yes, the coach bears ultimate responsibility for the product on the ice, but shouldn’t players and the man who assembled this roster — General Manager Chuck Fletcher — be held accountable, too? But since firing 20 players is impossible, the coach typically takes the fall.
Personally, I’d give Yeo another few weeks to see if he can pull his team out of this death spiral. If nothing changes and his players continue to mope and perform like a bunch of shrinking violets, then maybe this operation under Yeo truly is a lost cause.
Combine that with Michael Russo saying this team needs a goalie desperately, and the onus is on Fletcher to find one.
Fletcher has said that Yeo is safe, and that might be true for a moment. The Wild are at Buffalo, at home to Arizona and Columbus before finishing the month on the road to Detroit, Edmonton and Calgary. There are some very winnable games in that mix, and perhaps Fletcher gives Yeo a little more runway to see if this thing can take off, rather than judge him against six straight losses to five of the best teams in hockey (and the Dallas Stars).
Better than giving him leeway: Getting him a goaltender.
The easiest thing to do would be to lay this at Yeo’s feet, but the fans in The State of Hockey are a savvy lot. There’s as much support for him as there are people saying he should be fired, which is remarkable when you consider the Wild’s current plight.
Perhaps they know where the blame really falls.
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