After the Minnesota Wild played a lackluster first half of a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, pinning down the reasons for its lapses was tricky.
"It could be a million things, but regardless of what the cause was, it wasn't good enough," Jason Zucker said.
"It wasn't our best. I'm not sure," Charlie Coyle said.
"We didn't play that great the first half of the game," Zach Parise said.
An obvious starting point when trying to diagnose those opening 30 minutes is fatigue. The Wild had just returned home from a four-game road trip, spanning three states and four cities in six days.
"You can bring up the tired excuse, whatever, it's just how we played, and we have to have that mental focus," Coyle said. "We had a day off yesterday, so there's really no excuse to have those."
That mental focus is something Head Coach Mike Yeo highlighted in the postgame. He said it was something he talked about on the bench with 10:06 remaining in the second period during a timeout he took after Minnesota had fallen behind 3-1.
"We had a pretty decent start, but then they scored, and it seemed to take the life out of us," Yeo said. "We looked tired for the next stretch, and then they got the third one. We kind of addressed it, and it showed the second half of the game that it's all mental."
As the weather gets colder, the NHL schedule condenses. To follow up that four-game road trip, the Wild plays another stretch of four games in six days. Beginning with its New Year's Eve game against the St. Louis Blues up until the All-Star Break, Minnesota will play 14 games in 26 days, nine of which are on the road, with four sets of back-to-backs.
Should the Wild grow tired, there won't be much rest for the weary.
"More importantly we understand going forward just how important it is to make sure you concentrate on the preparation, and understand that it is all mental," Yeo said. "Again, bottom-line is, we had a good start, you could see that we sagged back a little bit after that, and when you're playing in a stretch like this, we have to make some better decisions."
Being tired is a tired excuse as far as it concerns the Wild, who won't say fatigue is or should be playing a role in on-ice performance.
"It's part of the job, and we have to get it done," Zucker said. "I don't know any guy in this room that's going to make an excuse about it. We're here to play hockey, and you have to make sure you find your legs, and battle hard."
Yet when the body begins to tire, the mind follows. That's when the preparation Yeo highlighted becomes so paramount.
"We looked tired, and we didn't have the energy," Yeo said. "We didn't have the jump, and the energy is there right now, but you just have to look harder to find it."
Yeo has experienced the rigors of a professional hockey schedule firsthand. Spending time as a coach in the American Hockey League where teams routinely play three games in three nights (something that never happens in the NHL), he knows what it takes to traverse those stretches.
"It's knowing what it takes to win in those hockey games, and seeing what your team is capable of doing at those times," Yeo said. "That doesn't concern me right now. This was a good lesson for us, and now we can use it going forward."