Pick any sports cliché out of a hat to address how the Minnesota Wild can dig its way out of its current slide, but at the end of the day it’s about wins and losses. Sometimes it doesn’t come down to X’s and O’s and the way that a team gets out of a funk is by performing on the greatest platitude of them all—compete for a full 60 minutes.
“It’s only going to take one win to gain some confidence and get on a roll,” Wild forward Matt Cooke said. He joked that you can pretty much use a sports cliché generator right now, but most importantly the club needs to, “have fun and embrace the challenge.”
Tonight, the Wild’s challenge is Cooke’s former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, currently sitting third in the Eastern Conference.
Yesterday, the team traveled to Pittsburgh from Chicago. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said the team used the day off to hit the reset button and “clear their heads.” Today’s matchup against the Pens marks the beginning of the second half of the season.
Minnesota looks to get back on track in the second half after a rough end to the first. With its recent slide, it’s difficult to stay upbeat, but something the team needs to do, even with a string of losses.
“That’s human nature, lets face it, but that’s the challenge we face,” Yeo said. “We have to understand how we’re going to get out of this. Number one, we’re going to get out of it, pure and simple, with our work ethic.
“There’s no other way except to work our way out of this.”
The Wild’s fourth line, comprised of Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Carter, is tasked with brining work ethic and energy to the lineup. Yeo was complementary of the line’s effort during the team’s 4-1 loss to Chicago on Sunday and thought it was Cooke’s best game since returning from injury on Dec. 20. Cooke scored the club’s lone goal and the unit had multiple quality scoring chances. He said that their job is to create extended shifts in the offensive zone and try to wear down the Pens.
Yeo said the team’s second key to turn things around is by picking things up defensively, no easy task against the talented Pens. Pittsburgh boasts two of the League’s top offensive centers in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, ranked fifth and ninth in NHL scoring, respectively.
Charlie Coyle, who will center Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter, is beginning to feel the continuity of the pivot position pay off and is ready for the responsibility in his own zone.
“It’s going to be a good challenge and I’m looking forward to it,” Coyle said. “It’s kind of nice, sticking with this position for a few games now and getting used to it and getting more comfortable.”
The Wild will look to its veterans to lead the way. Yeo said that Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville are instrumental in helping climb out of a hole.
“We know that we have the leadership, there’s no question there,” It’s tough for some of those young guys to understand what’s needed in a situation like this, but those guys with their experience, just to remind those guys there’s only one way to do it and that’s to make sure you’re focused on your job and to make sure you’re ready to do your job at your best level.”
The captain echoed Yeo’s sentiment. He said that it doesn’t matter if it’s a younger player or a grizzled vet; the Wild needs everyone to be focused.
“The message for the whole team…we have to be ready for the next one,” Koivu said. The center said they to simplify things in order to regain its self-assurance. “The way to do it is simplify and play the way you’re supposed to play. Create that confidence again, shift by shift.
One thing is certain, the Wild will need to find a fix for its own game and it starts this evening in the Steel City. That effort will have to come from the entire lineup, top to bottom.
“We can’t wait and hope for any help,” Yeo said. “We can’t hope that things are going to magically turn around here. We have to be committed to making sure that we’re the ones to do it.”
Scandella, Kuemper Update
Yeo said that both defenseman Marco Scandella and Darcy Kuemper are feeling better and will skate back in Minnesota. He didn’t rule out either of them joining the team in Buffalo tomorrow, as the Wild faces the Sabres on Thursday, but it would be a difficult turnaround since they’ll both be missing their fourth game tonight.
“I don’t have an answer on that right now,” Yeo said. “We’ll see how the skate goes today. That may be rushing it a little bit, neither guy has been on the ice, but certainly would be happy to welcome both guys back.”