ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo walked away from his postgame press conference on Wednesday night, perhaps dangling a carrot in front of his two goaltenders.
Yeo summarized a game Thursday — calling it a "weird game" — in which he changed goaltenders and said he hadn’t decided who would be in net when Minnesota turns around quickly and plays in St. Louis on Thursday. Darcy Kuemper started Wednesday’s game but was replaced to start the third period by Ilya Bryzgalov.
"Obviously we’ve got a lot of games coming up and this is what we’ve talked about," Yeo said. "As a team we can be better, and certainly those guys have an opportunity. Somebody has an opportunity to grab hold of it."
Yeo is waiting for Kuemper or Byrzgalov to seize the opportunity with nine games left in the regular season and a likely playoff spot on the horizon.
The Wild allowed 16 shots in a 4-3 win at Detroit on Sunday. Minnesota outshot Vancouver 31-19 on Wednesday in a 5-2 loss.
"I want to be careful on that one," Yeo said, when asked if the issue was goaltending or defense. "I’m not saying that we can’t be any better between the pipes, but at the same time there’s some quality chances that we’re giving up.
"Obviously, we have to do our part to make sure those guys are in the right frame of mind, as far as our goaltenders are concerned. But as far as I’m concerned, I know it’s not just about the shots. I know that our team has another level to our defensive game that’s not there right now."
Kuemper made nine saves on 12 shots through two periods on Wednesday. Bryzgalov played the entire third period, making five saves on seven shots.
Kuemper was screened on two of the three goals he allowed.
There’s guys in front of you, but you’ve got to see it through those bodies," Kuemper said. "Don’t feel good about that (game). Obviously we were controlling the play and to find ourselves down 3-1, yeah I’ve got to help the guys out a little bit better."
Kuemper doesn’t feel his game has slipped since his early 2014 run.
"Tonight was a different one, but the other games, watching on tape, things were good," Kuemper said. "It seemed to be one bounce a game that was ending up being a goal against. But no, I’m feeling good about my game, just got to get in there and get some wins going."
Yeo said it’s up to him to make sure the recent results don’t get in the rookie Kuemper’s head.
"It’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t," Yeo said. "So, we’ll have a conversation with him. He’s got the ability and this is probably a bigger challenge than he’s had to face. I can’t remember which game it was earlier in the year, but I remember standing up here in front of you guys and basically saying ‘this is his biggest challenge that he’s faced yet.’ He came back the next game and I think he got a shutout. So, I know he has the ability to and it’s up to us to pull it out of him."
Yeo had a simple reason for switching goaltenders Wednesday.
"Just try to change the momentum in the game, as much as anything else," Yeo said. "I’m not going to sit here and try to protect Kuemps or anything like that. But in a situation like that, the way things were going, the way they were playing. They were trying to play tight and we knew that if we gave up another goal, that it was obviously going to be very difficult. So, yeah, just try to change the flow of the game and see if we could get something to spark there."
Kuemper was the constant as Minnesota made its move up the Western Conference standings in January and February. Bryzgalov went 2-0-2 in four starts with the Wild since being acquired at the trade deadline.
Yeo spoke a day earlier about hoping to see a goaltender emerge as an every-game starter for the playoffs. Yeo heads into Thursday with a decision to make between Kuemper and Bryzgalov.
"This is the challenge to those two guys for sure, every game is a new game and how you respond to that," Yeo said.