ST. PAUL, Minn. — Coach Mike Yeo had just witnessed the Minnesota Wild’s second straight shutout loss on Thursday and prepared for the expected questions from media in his postgame press conference.
Minnesota, once riding high as the Northwest Division leaders, had lost six of eight games and slipped to seventh place in the Western Conference. The Wild had been shutout for the third time in four games, the only times all season they’ve been held scoreless. Yeo knew what was coming in his postgame press conference, but what he saw during Thursday’s loss didn’t require any panic.
Yeo walked to the podium and prompted any media questions with the message he wanted to send.
“Before the onslaught begins, I’ll start by saying my message to the team, and the way that we feel, is that we have nothing to apologize for and nothing to feel sorry about,” Yeo said. “We played, obviously, a strong team and we played a good game. I’m not saying we can’t be better in a couple of areas, but obviously the complexion of this game changes if we score first. We got to quit giving up the first goal. But right through the lineup, we competed hard. We did a lot of good things and obviously made a couple mistakes, but we’ve got nothing to hang our head about, that’s for sure.”
Yeo wasn’t going to get down about his team, a team he believes in and one he thinks is learning what it takes to win when playoff implications are on the line. The Wild lost 2-0 to the St. Louis Blues. Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom made 18 saves.
The Wild allowed the first goal for the seventh time in their last eight games. A mostly empty dressing room was silent after the game and forward Zach Parise spoke of his frustration, the team’s frustration with being unable to score.
Yeo stood strong, almost defiant, when a reporter mentioned the lack of scoring chances on Thursday.
“Neither did they,” Yeo said in response. “That’s this time of year. I know the chances were even. And you can shake your head, but bottom line is we didn’t finish. Again, I’m not saying we can’t be better in some areas. We can, for sure. I know that there’s been so much losing around here for so long that it’s almost like we’re waiting for it to happen again.
“But one thing that we’re learning is the final push is the hardest. Let’s not be afraid to write that that’s a pretty good team that we played tonight. They’re a pretty strong team, and we played a good game. We didn’t win it. Certainly we’re not happy about that, but I know what’s going on and we want to write a negative story and we want to feel sorry for ourselves tonight. I’m telling you, it is not happening in the dressing room.”
Minnesota had its chance to set the early tone. About two minutes into the opening period, newly acquired winger Jason Pominville rang a shot off the goal post. Two more tight-checking periods later and the Wild were shutout, despite outshooting St. Louis 23-20.
“I think we’re pretty frustrated,” Parise said. “I think it’s a game we feel, another one that we feel, we could have come on the other side of. But, I don’t know. It’s frustration a little bit.”
Defenseman Ryan Suter, who came to Minnesota last summer with Parise to change the team’s fortunes left the game with an injury. He missed several minutes of the second period before returning then missed the entire third. Yeo said he talked to Suter and “we’re confident that he’ll be fine,” and wouldn’t disclose anything further on what was bothering Suter.
For Yeo, there is no panic. Yes, the Wild have lost back-to-back home games and haven’t scored in 121 minutes, 25 seconds. But Yeo is right. The 1-0 loss on Tuesday came at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, the league’s top team. Thursday’s loss came against St. Louis, which has won six in a row, posted three consecutive shutouts and pulled into fifth in the West.
And most of all, after missing the playoffs for four straight years, Minnesota is learning what it’s like to play in games with immense pressre.
“Certainly there is a lot of gripping the stick really tight and a lot of tension,” Yeo said. “This is something we’re learning to deal with right now, and it will make us better. If we think it’s intense and emotional and it’s tough right now, where we want to get to, the big ‘P’ word, it gets a little bit more. So, this is part of it, learning how to deal with it.”
Pominville said the Wild can’t “feel sorry for ourselves.” Parise said the struggles are a “collective thing.”
Yeo? He’s sticking with his beliefs.
“I’m not going to sit here and say we were great, that we were fantastic tonight and we got totally hosed,” Yeo said. “At the same time, I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Whoa is me.’ That’s hockey. We played a good team and we just weren’t quite good enough in a couple of areas. We just got to find a way to be a little bit better next game.”