What are we supposed to think of this team? How is it anyone can have any kind of confidence in a squad that has dropped 5 of 6 games, is having another horrible December, and at times seems to be as lifeless as a bear in hibernation? What is it about the month of December that the Wild cannot seem to solve? What is the mystery there? It's just a month like any other, so why do the Wild struggle so much in the month that is home to the darkest day of the year?
Last season the Wild were an abysmal 5-9-0 in December. Thus far this season, the Wild are 4-4-3 for the month of December and have 1 game left to play in this month of death. In the past 2 seasons the Wild are boasting a winning percentage of just .360 in 25 games in the 31 day span that is the month of December.
I don't know what it is, I don't have the answers. It's mind boggling that this team can continually shoot themselves in the foot as we prepare to flip the calendar over to a New Year. Much of the season we have been blaming the PP for not producing at anything near a respectable rate. Yet in this month of December, the Wild are 9/42 on the PP, good enough for a 21.42% conversion with the extra man. By comparison, on the season the Philadelphia Flyers are converting at a 21.55% rate, good enough for 7th in the league.
So with the PP finally coming around to produce respectable numbers (lets just forget the first 2 months of the season, eh?) what is left to pick apart?
We've discussed the Wild's goalie situation here ad-nauseum. It plain sucks, there is no getting around that. I'm not going to sit here and rehash some of the same old - same old we've spent the last 20 games discussing. Our goalies are performing terrible, lets move on.
What we're starting to see is a bit of lazy play slipping into to the Wild's game. Bad penalties, bad icings and lazy back-checking have been creeping their heads slowly into the Wild's game the last several weeks. This is not an issue with certain players on the roster. This is a top-down problem.
We saw examples of this in the last couple games with the Kaptain. A poor pass across the ice on the PP leads to a turnover and a shorty for the Jets. Last night again, Mikko Koivu just being lazy takes a penalty that just destroyed any momentum the Wild had built up in the first period on a lazy back-check. The penalty was weak in nature, but if you think about it honestly, you can't be putting yourself in a position where the ref is going to have an opportunity to call that.
That whole situation was caused by Ryan Suter over skating a puck when he had plenty of time to be sure he got it right. Lazy play, not tracking the puck lead to a rush and Koivu was caught napping. Suter himself over the last few weeks has had several gaffes that have led to opportunities for the opposition because he's just not tracking the puck like we're used to seeing. This has cost the Wild games and valuable points in the standings.
It's not just the big names though. We see their mistakes more because we expect more of them. They are more visible, they get more minutes and when they screw the pooch it's about as noticeable as it gets. Marco Scandella has been scoring goals, yet delivering head shots. Mikael Granlund has just been disappointing all season. Charlie Coyle seems disinterested on his best nights.
Aside from a few players like Zach Parise whose effort level is tough to question, nobody on the Wild's roster is immune from this lazy play we have started to notice. Perhaps it's a product of a string of illnesses running rampant through the Wild locker room. Maybe everyone's energy level is just low right now because they all have this sickness on some level, or perhaps it's something a bit deeper.
An issue I haven't heard discussed very much but was raised to me on the twitter machine the other night was the question on whether or not the Wild have a healthy locker room. Not in the sense that everyone is catching mumps or this stomach bug going around, but is everyone buying in to the Mike Yeo system? Are the players in tune with one-another or are we having personnel issues? Josh Harding has put his career on the line with a shattered ankle because of an off the ice altercation with a teammate prior to training camp. Was this a precursor of things to come on the season?
It's easy to say the locker room is in a healthy state when things are going well, but as these losses pile up and players fail to produce at the levels we and they themselves expect, one has to start to wonder if Coach Yeo is even reaching the players on a level that would cause them to want to contribute. We joke a lot about freeing Nino Niederreiter a lot here at Hockey Wilderness, but could his lack of a promotion to the top-6 be the culprit for his recent struggles? Why try when you're not getting rewarded for your efforts?
Thomas Vanek has struggled to score at a rate everyone had expected when he was signed last summer. He's been tossed around the lineup in an attempt to get his game going. He's even made the request to Yeo that he felt he would be more productive on the top line with Parise and Granlund. Clearly by making such a request he felt he wasn't being utilized as he should be. Essentially, he was questioning the system, he was questioning Mike Yeo's deployment of him.
Erik Haula has been a healthy scratch for 2 of his last 3 games. Yeo has stated that his defensive game has not been up to snuff this season. Perhaps he built up this thought in his head that after last season he was poised to break into a top line role and his disappointment that he's not getting played as he would like is showing in his game? It's really not that far-fetched to believe some of these players are growing tired with Yeo's tactics. He has started to raise real frustrations and concerns among the fan base when he continuously taps Stu Bickel or Nate Prosser for a balmy 6 minutes a night on defense, leaving Suter to eat up heaps of minutes when you could be playing a guy with more hockey sense despite being a little green, like Christian Folin or Matt Dumba.
I'm no psychologist, I can't read minds nor do I have the answers. Despite a nice comeback win last night in Winnipeg this team still has numerous issues which we are seeing every game, and I'm beginning to wonder if this goes much deeper than what we are seeing on the ice. If Yeo is losing the faith of his players, he needs to find a way to get it back, and quick. The State of Hockey is restless for a team they can be proud of, and what we've seen over the last few weeks has left a lot of us asking, "Is Mike Yeo the answer?"