Wednesday January 14th, 2015

Off The Draw

Penguins 7, Wild 2.

And with that, the countdown is officially, undeniably, on.

Change is coming for Minnesota. After a shameful performance at Consol Energy Center last night, the latest in a season that’s spinning wildly off course, it has to.

NHL
Minnesota Wild at breaking point with injuries, slumps, illness, tragedy

The only question is, Which of his team’s glaring problems is general manager Chuck Fletcher going to address first?

He has several to choose from. Fletcher's goaltending is in shambles. The Wild allow just 27.2 shots per game, fourth fewest in the league, but they also give up 3.02 goals per game, seventh most in the NHL. The disconnect between the two numbers is telling. Darcy Kuemper’s save percentage is a miserable .902. Among goalies who have played at least 10 games this season, he ranks 41st. Veteran Niklas Backstrom is even worse, with a save percentage of just .887. Both keepers are struggling to make easy stops and control rebounds. In short, they’re struggling to do the bare minimum that a goalie is counted on to do.

But where’s the fix? The Minnesota farm system is bare. The options that might be on the market—Cam Ward, Martin Brodeur, maybe Michal Neuvirth—don’t promise any certainty. And given the way the Wild are tap-dancing out front, Dominik Hasek in his prime probably couldn’t salvage their season.

That's why Fletcher is likely to do the easy thing and cashier coach Mike Yeo.

Fair? Probably not. Judging by the team's underlying numbers, it seems clear that Yeo’s system can work. But with every soft effort, his players are crying out for a change behind the bench. Minnesota didn’t just lose in Pittsburgh. The Wild rolled over. It was as gutless a performance as you’re likely to see, and from a team that has seemed to have barely registered a pulse while losing six straight and 12 of 14, that’s saying something.

Remember, Minnesota thought it had hit rock bottom with a 7–1 loss in Dallas on Jan. 3. Instead, the Wild seem to have found a whole new level of quit.

And Zach Parise, one of the team’s leaders, made it clear whose fault he thought it was.

“We’re so easy to play against,” he said after the game. “We lose battles, we don’t bump off draws, the details of our game are terrible. We don’t even make it hard on the other team. They tic-tac-toe right around us.”

NHL
NHL Power Rankings: Predators retake top spot as Canadiens plunge

Teams don't play like that for a coach they believe in.

Not that Yeo saw it that way. Asked if his team had pulled the chute on him, he leapt to their defense. “It's not about quitting,” he said. “It's about doing things the right way. It’s nice that you want to go out there and try to do something good, but if we’re giving up a huge chance going back the other way then that’s not helping.”

Maybe saying that was a mistake. Maybe Yeo should have ripped his leadership, demanded accountability from guys like Parise and Ryan Suter (–22 in his last 20 games). But with extenuating circumstances in play—both Parise and Suter recently lost their fathers—he took the high road instead,

It’ll probably be the last road he takes with this team.

What to watch tonight

Maple Leafs at Ducks (10 p.m. EST; SNO, KCOP-13)

Play our new daily fantasy hockey game!

On the surface, this looks like a potential blowout: the top team in the Pacific hosting a club that’s lost nine of its last 12 games. But something about lining up against those blue and white sweaters brings out the worst in Anaheim, which comes into tonight’s game hoping to avoid a seventh straight loss to Toronto.

The Maple Leafs dominated the Ducks 6–2 when the two teams met a month ago, putting an end to Anaheim’ seven-game winning streak. In their past six meetings, Toronto has outscored the Ducks  29–12. “They get us into a horse race, and they’re better at that game than we are,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau told the team website. But the Leafs did that under old coach Randy Carlyle. Will they try to play that same style for interim coach Peter Horachek? Probably not. Toronto has taken a collective oath of defensive responsibility and is giving up just 22 shots per game since the coaching change, nearly 13 fewer than the team allowed under Carlyle. That suggests that the Leafs will play with more control on Wednesday night, which might play into the Ducks’ hands. Will Toronto sacrifice two points tonight to keep their larger goal in sight?

Rest of the schedule: Canadiens at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EST; SN, RDS, FS-O); Flyers at Capitals (8 p.m. EST; NBCSN, TVA, SN1); Devils at Kings (10:30 p.m. EST; MSG+, FS-W)

What you missed last night

• The Lightning’s Cedric Paquette learned a painful lesson about scrapping with the BruinsZdeno Chara.

• L.A.’s Twitter handle is often a source of great levity, but not in this case.

• Hall of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek was honored by the Sabres.

• The latest evidence that NHL players are the toughest hombres in sports: Blues winger Jaden Schwartz took a puck to the face, returned to the game and scored the winning goal against the Oilers.

The numbers game

Jaroslav Halak is now the only Islanders goalie other than Billy Smith in 1975 to shut out the rival Rangers in Madison Square Garden.

• Penguins forward Zach Sill’s assist against the Wild on Tuesday night gave him his first NHL point in his 48th game, the second-longest pointless streak to start an NHL-career in league history.

• Rookie Boston forward David Pastrnak, who will be 19 in May, is the youngest player in both the NHL and AHL.

Hot links

• Several Red Wings players were scrambling for souvenirs after taking part in Hasek’s jersey retirement ceremony last night in Buffalo.

• The Bruins have two games left to decide what to do with Pastrnak. After last night’s effort, they probably shouldn’t overthink it.

• Just when you think this Guy Lafleur lawsuit story can’t get any nuttier ...

• For a guy who got cut from his AAA Midget team, Mathieu Perreault of the Jets has turned out to be a pretty decent hockey player.

• The OHL's Plymouth Whalers are moving to Flint, Mich. If you ask me, they should change their nickname to the Stones.

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