ST. PAUL, Minn. — Learning how to handle the grind of this lockout-shortened NHL season is one of the most difficult challenges teams will face, a constant trial-and-error in regard to travel and practice time, when to work players and when to rest them.
The Minnesota Wild travel more than any team in the NHL this year. Minnesota planned on changing its travel habits, possibly staying overnight in West coast cities more often and discovering how to make the most of the grueling schedule in which teams will play 48 games in 99 days this season.
The Wild stayed overnight in Vancouver following Tuesday night’s loss to the Northwest Division-leading Canucks and flew back home on Wednesday. Minnesota didn’t practice Wednesday because of the travel and held a morning skate before hosting the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.
Then, after playing three games in four nights and traveling to Calgary and Vancouver during that span, the Wild lost 4-3 in a shootout to Colorado, a game which had Minnesota coach Mike Yeo choosing his words very carefully in the postgame press conference.
“I don’t think we were prepared to play the right way,” Yeo said. “I think some of that is, whether it’s the travel or what, I mean. I know one thing, if you only play well this year when you’re feeling really good then that’s going to be a problem. If you only play well when you feel like you’re really fresh and you’ve had lots of practices, then it’s going to be a problem because it’s not what we’re dealing with this year.
“You’ve got to find a way to prepare, to have the urgency in your game, to have the focus in your game, to have the battle in your game and the guys that had that tonight were successful.”
The Wild’s reunited top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley accounted for two of the three goals and 13 of the team’s 29 shots. Parise had nine shots and scored his seventh goal of the season to erase a 1-0 deficit. Koivu’s had a goal and assist, his third goal of the season giving Minnesota a short-lived 3-2 lead with 8:04 remaining in the third period. Heatley had two assists.
Mike Rupp, the veteran forward acquired by the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 4, scored his first goal with the Wild and snapped a 52-game goal-scoring drought dating back to Jan. 14, 2012 when he was with the New York Rangers.
Minnesota had scored one goal in regulation in each of its past six games. After three goals Thursday, Rupp called the loss “probably one of our poorest games as of late.”
“I just feel like we weren’t really engaged in battles,” Rupp said. “I feel like the game was up in the air for either team to grab, and we didn’t seem to take a step forward and do it early on, and in the second period as well.”
Yeo agreed with Rupp’s statement.
“It was there to be taken if you do the things to take it,” Yeo said.
Yeo said there was a lack of urgency. He said it was a shame to waste the games put forth by Parise, Koivu and Heatley.
Yeo doesn’t want to hear about travel issues.
“We have to deal with it,” Yeo said. “Everybody’s faced with the same thing. Some people will make the excuse and some people will find a way. You can’t allow yourself to play a bad game. You can’t just chalk it up to, ‘Oop, we had travel. Oop, we played three games in four days. Oop, we haven’t had practice.’ It doesn’t matter. You have to find a way to be good, at least.”
Especially after taking the lead in the third period.
Following Koivu’s goal, which gave the Wild a 3-2 lead, Minnesota allowed Colorado to tie the game on the next shift. Just 46 seconds later, Matt Duchene, from behind the goal line, sent a puck to the front, which ricocheted off of defenseman Jared Spurgeon into the goal after Spurgeon went low to try and block the puck.
“Very disappointing, but it was sort of indicative of the game that we were playing,” Yeo said of the goal. “Giving up a rush like that so easily, giving them a 2-on-1 and losing battles 1-on-1, soft coverage.”