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'Fragile' Wild believe mindset needs to change

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- The Minnesota Wild looked like they were on the rise in 2013-14. This season, things have been anything but hopeful.

The Wild have lost six consecutive games and 12 of the past 14. They're in last place in the Central Division and 12th in the Western Conference.

"I think we should stop referencing last year," Wild forward Zach Parise said. "We've been doing that way too much. We give up one, two goals and mentally right now, we quit. We've been fragile and we change the way we play. That's what's killing us right now."

One area that's been a significant weakness for the Wild is goaltending. Darcy Kuemper, Niklas Backstrom and John Curry have all struggled. Kuemper has been the best of the bunch with a .902 save percentage, but he's out because of an undisclosed injury.

Backstrom, 36, has struggled with a .887 save percentage. Curry has started once, a 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 27, and allowed one goal in relief of Backstrom in a 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.

"Obviously the goaltending's always an easy thing to point out when things aren't going well, but it's what's done before that in every zone," forward Jason Pominville said. "I think we can pressure a little harder in our end and spend a little less time there."

Other Wild players were quick to point the finger at themselves for how much the goaltending has struggled. The Wild tried to address their goaltending issues on Wednesday when they acquired Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

"That's a position that's always magnified and the way that position works if you have an off night it unfortunately can cost you the game easily," Parise said. "Whereas if you're a forward, you have an off night you can blend in and do other things, but not as a goalie. There's way more that happens before the puck getting to our net that can't happen; the way we're turning the puck over, the way we're not tying up guys. I mean, we're there, but we're getting outworked and outmuscled.

"We're giving up second opportunities that shouldn't happen. That's a big concern for all of us. We're making it pretty easy on the other team."

Goaltending can't hide from the end results, but the Wild are trying to figure out how to defend better as well.

"Pressure-wise, we have to be more on the puck and not give them as much time," defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. "Sometimes we're sitting back a little too much and letting them make those plays. Any player in this league, if you give them that time they're going to make a play. You've got to take that time and space away and close the gap."

The Wild gave up a lot of space to the Penguins on Tuesday. Afterwards, they held a players-only meeting to address some major issues.

"There's been a lot of talking around here for the last, gosh, four weeks maybe," Parise said. "At some point we have to start to deliver. The coaches can only do so much. As players we have to have thicker skin and hold each other accountable. We're missing that right now. It's too easy internally to not compete and it's too easy for us to quit. That's the biggest thing."

The Wild's losing ways makes for a drastic change from the start of the season. Before they lost 12 of the past 14, Minnesota was 10th in the Western Conference with 33 points and 10 points behind the Chicago Blackhawks atop the Central Division. Now the Wild have 41 points and trail the Nashville Predators by 21 points.

What's changed?

"A lot of losses. A lot of losses. It sounds like a simple answer, but even there were times when we were playing good hockey and we were losing hockey games," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "With that, whether you lose confidence, whether you lose sight of a lot of the things that you were doing that are making you a good hockey team. There's a big focus on the end result right now and we need to shorten our focus, clear our focus on the things that are going to bring that result that we want."

A lack of offense is another problem haunting the Wild. They have scored 32 goals during this 14-game stretch.

Zach Parise
Left Wing - MIN
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 30
SOG: 130 | +/-: 3
"You can pull out a video, hit stop and start and slow-mo and pick apart our game, I'm sure there's a lot of areas we need to be better at," Parise said. "A lot of it's a mindset for us. We're not willing to defend the right way right now. When things are going wrong a little bit, we start to cheat for offense and the next thing you know we're spending four or five shifts in our own zone. We're not strong enough on the puck. You could go all the way: Our D-zone coverage hasn't been good enough, our neutral zone transition hasn't been good, our forecheck hasn't been good. We know how to do it. That's not a question. We’ve done it, we know how to do it, we know it works. It's just right now for us it's a mindset. It's not there."

The Wild will try to start making corrections at the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, but they will do so without defenseman Ryan Suter, who was suspended two games for elbowing Penguins forward Steve Downie. If it's a question of mindset for them, how do they fix it?

"It's a good question. I think that's what we're trying to figure out," Parise said on Wednesday. "That's where you need guys like myself to help pull us out of it and to go tomorrow and have a great game and lead the way and play the right way. That type of stuff is contagious. I think that's got to be something that has got to happen tomorrow."

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