A tremendous second-half surge by the Minnesota Wild saved Mike Yeo’s job last season. With an encore looking increasingly unlikely, a change was inevitable.
John Torchetti will be behind the bench Monday night when the Wild open a three-game trip through Western Canada against the Vancouver Canucks, with the interim coach now in charge of preventing the team’s season from spiraling further.
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Despite a recent vote of confidence from general manager Chuck Fletcher, Yeo was dismissed after the Wild were dealt a franchise record-tying eighth consecutive loss and 13th in 14 games with Saturday’s 4-2 home defeat to Boston.
A playoff participant under Yeo in each of the past three seasons, Minnesota (23-22-10) has fallen five points behind Nashville for eighth in the Western Conference.
"Things have just fallen apart for us," Fletcher said. "We’ve had a tough four weeks. We had some good meetings last week in St. Louis and I really like the way we played the three subsequent games, and then (Saturday) we took a step back. So I made the decision after the game to let Mike go."
Torchetti, who had been coaching the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Iowa, has been in this position before. The 51-year-old went 15-19-1 with four ties as an interim coach for Florida (2003-04) and Los Angeles (2005-06).
Fletcher had been hoping Yeo, who was 173-132-44 in five seasons, could orchestrate a similar turnaround to last season, when the Wild went 28-9-3 from Jan. 15 on and later defeated St. Louis in the opening round of the playoffs.
But Minnesota’s defense, a strength for most of Yeo’s tenure, has remained a liability during the slump. The Wild have allowed four or more goals in six straight games and 30 overall during the streak, which matches an eight-game slide from Dec. 13-28, 2011, as the franchise’s worst.
Devan Dubnyk, whose play sparked last season’s run, has contributed to the demise with a 4.07 goals-against average over four consecutive regulation losses. A backline that’s missing Jonas Brodin (fractured foot) and Jared Spurgeon (bone bruise) has been a factor as well.
Dubnyk, who’s lost nine straight starts, could have an easier time against a Canucks team that’s 28th in the NHL in scoring and has scored 10 goals in its last six. Vancouver (22-21-12) also possesses one of the league’s least effective power plays and is 1 for 20 over an 11-game stretch.
The Canucks also sit five points behind Nashville due to an inability to capitalize on their own opportunities. Their 9-11-5 home record is the league’s second-worst mark, and they’ve dropped four straight at Rogers Arena following a 5-2 loss to lowly Toronto on Saturday in which they were outshot 38-19.
"We take penalties, turn the puck over, a lot of the same little things that don’t make us very successful," forward Jannik Hansen told the NHL’s official website. "There is a reason we are in the situation we are right now."
Vancouver is also dealing with injuries. Defenseman Alexander Edler (fractured fibula) and center Brandon Sutter (fractured jaw) will each be out multiple weeks after exiting Wednesday’s 2-1 win at Arizona. Bo Horvat, whose eight goals and 16 points since Jan. 4 are each team highs, also will miss Monday’s game with a foot injury.
The depletions could increase the pressure on Ryan Miller, who’s lost four of five starts despite a 1.80 GAA.
Miller has a 5.25 GAA, however, in losing four of his last five against Minnesota, which reached him for six goals in two periods of a 6-2 home win Dec. 15. He made 31 saves in a 3-2 road victory Nov. 25.