Rest or practice? For Wild, it’s a difficult balance
ST. PAUL -- With the Minnesota Wild in the stretch run and fighting for every point it can get, coach Bruce Boudreau is trying to balance rest and practice. With new players in key roles, that balance is proving a delicate one.
“With our team, rest is probably more useful than grinding the motor at this stage,” Boudreau said. “On the other hand, we have a lot of new guys in the lineup from the last month, so we have to get something out of every practice.”
With only 12 games remaining, and the Wild clinging to a Western Conference playoff spot, there might not be a definitive answer, but the specter of chemistry raised its head after Minnesota went 0 for 3 on the power play and failed to generate many good scoring chances Monday in a 3-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks at Xcel Energy Center.
Forwards Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato, acquired at or near the Feb. 25 trade deadline, have played well since joining the Wild but that hasn’t helped on the power play, now scoreless in its past 18 chances.
Asked after Monday’s game how the Wild can fix it, veteran wing Zach Parise said, “We’ve got to practice it. Right now it feels like it’s five strangers on the ice.”
Boudreau acknowledged the issue.
“Quite frankly, we’ve tried new things and we haven’t had the practice time to really emphasize it,” the coach said. “I can guarantee the next practice we have will be mostly special teams. But last week we played five games in seven nights. We’re not going to practice the other two days. And with the addition of new guys, we’re having to do it visually and verbally, and sometimes it’s just as effective.”
The Wild practice Wednesday, March 13, ahead of Thursday’s 7 p.m. puck drop against Dallas at the X, a big game against the team ahead of them in the conference playoff race, and promised an intensive effort to improve the special teams (the Wild killed all three Sharks power plays on Monday).
“Good power plays have their outs, their free outs. (You) know where guys are,” Parise said. “Right now, it just doesn’t feel like we know that. I mean, the units have been switching a lot, so at this time of the year when teams are getting their penalty kills really dialed in, you need those free outs. You need to know without looking where a guy is and how you can settle down their pressure, and we’re struggling with that big time.”
It wasn’t just with a man advantage against the Sharks, which won for the fifth straight time and moved into first place in the West by a point over Calgary.
Center Victor Rask has been in Minnesota since being acquired Jan. 17 in a deal that sent Nino Niederreiter to Carolina but played Monday for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury on Feb. 12. Whether it was rust or conditioning, he struggled to control the puck and keep up with linemates Parise and Fiala until Boudreau replaced him with Eric Staal for the third period.
In the first two periods, the Wild’s second line combined for just one shot.
“The reality this time of year is the deadline (deals) subtracted some familiar faces and added some new names, lots of changes,” Parise said.
Starting with Dallas, the Wild play four home games in six days; that includes a March 19 game against Colorado, which on Tuesday sat two points behind Minnesota in the standings.
The Wild have lost two straight but are 6-2-2 in their past 10 games and seem to have recovered from a 1-7-2 return from the all-star break that briefly knocked them out of a playoff spot.
There is no more time for that kind of skid.
“You have to enjoy it (the race). This is why we play,” goaltender Devan Dubnyk said. “You can be at this point in the season and have it not matter, and that’s not fun, it’s not where you want to be. This is why we play and this is where we want to be, so you have to enjoy the opportunity and the pressure that comes with it and go play.
“With that, you can’t let one mistake or one play crush you, or affect what you’re doing. You just have to make sure that you have real good focus and understand that the margin between winning and losing is very small, and that we’re more than capable of winning hockey games.”